, AUGUST 11, 2007 (MALACANANG, OPS) Saying that terrorists should not be allowed to hold the southern Philippines as their hostage, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered today the chief of the Philippine Army to the front lines.

“I have ordered Army Commanding General Romeo Tolentino to the front lines, to help oversee the theatre of operations and to be nearer my soldiers,” thus announced President Arroyo in her third statement of the day regarding the renewed fighting in Sulu between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the terrorists Abu Sayyaf Group.

The President also ordered the temporary transfer of the Philippine Army headquarters to Zamboanga while the battle rages.

“The Army HQ will now be temporarily set up in Wescom (Western Command) in Zamboanga until the situation normalizes,” she said.

“I expect General Tolentino, considered as a soldier’s soldier, not just to orchestrate punitive actions against those who wantonly maim and kill but also to evaluate peaceful overtures of those who will demonstrate remorse,” President Arroyo added.

Earlier in the day, the President announced that the military “will continue its offensive against the Abu Sayyaf,” pointing out that “we cannot allow terrorists to hold the South hostage to their agenda of mayhem and bloodsport.”

“The military offensive against the Abu Sayyaf must continue, not as an act of vengeance but as a strategy to win the peace,” President Arroyo said, adding that “We seek peace with those with peaceful intentions.”

The Chief Executive, however, clarified that “we also seek justice for our soldiers, civilians, and communities affected by this conflict.”

The President is hopeful that “our troops will prevail because our intentions are just and noble.”

She commended the soldiers who are fighting it out with the enemy in Sulu, while condemning the violent Abu Sayyaf. “We commend the bravery of our soldiers even as we grieve for those who offered their lives in the line of duty, while pursuing our quest for peace and justice.

The President stressed that “there can be no let-up in our fight against terror (as) the Abu Sayyaf deserves public condemnation for its acts of violence that have stalled peace and progress in the southern Philippines.”

Meanwhile, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon today identified four of the 10 “body count” on the enemy side from the Aug. 8 and Aug. 9 encounters. Two casualties were identified in each of the two encounter sites.

The military said there was a total of 32 casualties on the enemy side – 10 body count and 22 based on troops’ accounts and civilian reports.

The identified enemy casualties from the five body count in the Aug. 8 encounter in Lanao Dakula, Parang, Sulu were Jahili, a member of the rogue Moro National Liberation front (MNLF), and Parad Astig, aka Rambo, of the ASG under the Radulan Sahiron group. Parad was number 17 in the military’s order of battle.

From the Aug. 9 encounter in Tambaking, Maimbung, Sulu, identified among the five body count were Salip Edimar aka Longhair, of the ASG, who served as security of Radulan Sahiron; and Mazdal Jumdail, also of the ASG, son of Dr. Abu (Pula), and right hand man of (Albader) Parad.

Sahiron, Oula and Parad are among those believed to have initiated the encounters with the AFP elements who were then “not on battle mode,” according to Maj. Eugene Batara, spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command.

Batara noted that like the earlier Basilan attack last month where 14 Marines were killed, 10 of them beheaded and mutilated, “they’ve (the enemy) been attacking our soldiers when they are not in battle mode.”

While the number of enemy wounded in those encounters remains “undetermined,” troop accounts and civilian reports have it that “many (ASG members) were wounded.”

So far, some 57 people have been killed in the three-day running gun battle between government troopers and members of the Abu Sayyaf and their rogue partners from the MNLF.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved