Philippine military chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon gestures as he speaks to new Western Mindanao Command chief Maj. Gen. Nelson Allaga in Zamboanga City on Wednesday Aug. 29, 2007. And Filipino travelers look at posters of wanted Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya leaders and pictures of an IED at the Zamboanga International Airport in Mindanao. Gen. Esperon ordered security forces to intensify the offensive against the militants in the troubled region, where fighting already killed more than 100 people since last month. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 29 Aug) – The chief of the Philippine Marines has been named as new commander of military forces in the troubled region of Mindanao.
Maj. Gen. Nelson Allaga on Wednesday formally took over the Western Mindanao Command headquarters and replaced Army Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo, who has retired after more than 33 years in the military service.
Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, the country's military chief, presided over the ceremony held in Zamboanga City, just south of Basilan island where security forces are battling Abu Sayyaf militants whose group is tied to the al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya terrorists.
"Nothing has change. We will continue with our operations against the terrorists," Allaga, a decorated marine commander who battled communist and Muslim insurgencies in Mindanao, said.
Thousands of Marines have been moved out from Luzon since last year and deployed in the southern Philippines to fight the Abu Sayyaf and the New People's Army.
"We are emphasizing the fleet marine concept of deployment in this area. You must have noticed that almost all the marines are now in Zamboanga (Peninsula), Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi (provinces) and in the southern tip of Palawan in tandem with out naval forces exactly for the strategic task of securing our southern part of the archipelago," Esperon said.
President Gloria Arroyo has ordered the military to crush the Abu Sayyaf so the government can begin a massive development programs in the restive region.
"The national leadership has a specific vision for western Mindanao one that is marked with true peace and sustainable progress and to realize this vision, the AFP has been tasked to end armed rebellion to all levels and sources be it an insurgent, secessionist or terrorist or lawless elements."
"I am confident that with the array of forces that you now have in this area, you will be more than equal to the task that is given to you. Indeed I expect no letup on the operations against the Abu Sayyaf and other lawless elements," Esperon said.
Esperon also announced the creation of the National Development Command, a new unit in the Armed Forces of the Philippines that would especially focus on the basic socio-economic development and infrastructure projects in conflict-affected areas.
"Through it, we hope to contribute in the convergence of efforts by the different line agencies of government in the repair and construction of schools, health centers, sources of potable water, roads and bridges and in the process rebuild lives that have been disrupted by terrorist activities and violence," he said.
He said President Gloria Arroyo also ordered two battalions of army engineers to Basilan island to finish the circumferential road project which has been stalled since the 1990s because of the insurgency problem. The road project is aimed at connecting seven towns on the island and was previously under the military's Basilan Task Force.
Esperon also gave out five orders to military commanders in southern Philippines and among them is to destroy the NPA and the Abu Sayyaf, blamed for the spate of terrorism and kidnappings in the region.
"Remember our marching order (from the President) is to defeat the communist-terrorist movement by 2010 and destroy the Abu Sayyaf and other lawless elements soonest," he said.
He also told soldiers to uphold and protect human rights and assist police authorities and other government law enforcement agencies and bodies in investigating extra-judicial killings.
Esperon said the military should work closely with the Philippine National Police to carry out internal security operations and for the soldiers to support the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, but warned that the AFP will punish those who would disrupt the government peace process in Mindanao.
"Very importantly, sustain the gains in the peace process, but we must punish the peace spoilers," he said. (Mindanao Examiner)