Bongao, Tawi-Tawi—Government forces have occupied an island near the border with Malaysia to prevent it from being exploited as safe haven and staging point of piracy and kidnapping by the Abu Sayyaf Group.
Brig. Gen. Custodio Parcon, Joint Task Force Tawi-Tawi commander, said they established a camp in Panguan island in Sibutu town to drive away ASG bandits.
“We conducted beach-landing operations and established a camp in Panguan,” Parcon said in an interview Thursday.
Locally known as Malamanok, Sibutu was created out of Sitangkai by virtue of Muslim Mindanao Autonomy Act No. 197, which was subsequently ratified in a plebiscite held on Oct. 21, 2006.
Parcon said the ASG bandits had used the island as an observatory area and jump-off point for piracy and kidnappings since it is near Mataking, an island resort in Malaysia. He said the ASG also used Panguan Island as a resting and refueling place for staging kidnappings in Malaysia or at sea.
In previous years, the ASG bandits seized more than a dozen seafarers, mostly foreigners, from cargo ships that pass near Panguan Island, Sibutu.
Lt. Senior Grade (Lt.SG) Euphraim Jayson Diciano, Bongao Coastguard Station commander, said Panguan Island is less than two nautical miles from the Philippine border with Malaysia.
Diciano said Sibutu serves as a passageway for ships, noting that about 17,000 foreign cargo vessels pass the area yearly.
Parcon said the marine forces deployed in Panguan Island are complemented by personnel from the Philippine Coastguard. He said the ASG bandits have been denied of access in Sibutu with the establishment of a camp in Panguan Island and with the ongoing tri-lateral naval patrol agreement with Malaysia and Indonesia.
Meanwhile, he said 26 ASG bandits have already surrendered while 14 were killed by troops under his command in this province within this year.
“The others have left the province since it would be dangerous for them to stay,” he added.
Also on Thursday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the driver of a van that blew up at a checkpoint in Lamitan, Basilan, killing 10 people, was Moroccan.
“We are certain that he is really a Moroccan,” Lorenzana said.
He said the bomb attack was staged to avenge the death of his child in Sulu.
“He was trying to convince the local ASG in Basilan to conduct a suicide bombing, but no one joined him,” Lorenzana said.
Meanwhile, a think tank said Friday it has received information that the Islamic State terrorist group sees Mindanao as a part of its province in East Asia.
Rommel Banlaoi, president of the Center for Intelligence and National Security Studies, told ABS-CBN News that his information stated that ISIS recognized its followers in Mindanao as part of its “Wilaya East Asia,” meaning ISIS province in the region.
Banlaoi said this would mean more funds would be infused to ISIS followers in the Philippines with which they can launch more terror attacks.