ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - All 12 mayors of towns in the province of Basilan supported an all-out war campaign against the Abu Sayyaf urging the military to wipe out the crime group that has links with the international terror network al-Qaida.
The mayors took the stand days after Mujiv Hataman, governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), recommended the all-out war campaign against the Abu Sayyaf, which the military had claimed to have decapitated with the killings of several of its key leaders.
In a manifesto signed on Nov. 5, the mayors condemned recent atrocities committed by the Abu Sayyaf in the province, including the ambush that killed five soldiers and a junior officer in Sumisip town.
"We, the mayors of the local government units of Basilan, strongly condemn in the highest possible terms and denounce the terroristic activities of the ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group)," the mayors' manifesto said.
"We, the local leaders of Basilan, are asking the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to neutralize and intensify its military action against the ASG to restore peace and order in our province," the mayors said.
Those who signed the manifesto include Mayors Rose Furigay of Lamitan City, Gulam Hataman of Sumisip, Tong Istarul of Tipo-Tipo, Alih Sali of Akbar, Durie Kallahal of Tuburan, Talib Pawaki of Mohammad Adjul, Darussalam Lajid of Al-Barka, Jomar Maturan of Ungkaya Pukan, Muctar Junaid of Tabuan-Lasa, Rustam Ismael of Lantawan, Jamar Mansur of Hadji Muhtaman and Indanan Daud of Maluso.
Tipo-Tipo town Mayor Istarul, in an interview, told Inquirer that the terror activities of the Abu Sayyaf "have become a perennial problem not only affecting Basilan but as well as the entire Western Mindanao."
Tuburan Mayor Kallahal said even small "sari-sari" store owners "are not spared by ASG extortion."
Al-Barka Mayor Lajid said although there are ongoing road projects in his town, "we need to reinforce security to make sure it's not hampered by these armed elements."
But a Muslim human rights group warned against an all-out war against the Abu Sayyaf, saying civilians are likely to be the first casualties of such a campaign.
Amirah Ali Lidasan, national chair of Suara Bangsamoro, said her group believes that such a campaign is prone to abuses.
In a statement, Lidasan said based on past all-out war campaigns by the government, civilians had not been spared from military operations.
Since 2000, Lidasan said the government has been on the offensive against Abu Sayyaf, with the help of US forces, but the military operations are hurting civilians most.
The military announced on Wednesday the release of another Sayyaf hostage, Li Pei Zhei, in Zamboanga Sibugay. No ransom was paid, the military said.
Lidasan said Abu Sayyaf thrives because of collusion between government officials and members of the crime group, especially when ransom is involved.