MANILA, Philippines – Around 30 armed men believed to be members of the group led by former Moro Islamic Liberation Front leader Waning Abdusalam are reportedly hiding in Zamboanga del Sur, according to Zamboanga Sibugay Governor Rommel Jalosjos.
Jalosjos told ANC’s “On The Scene” on Wednesday that latest intelligence reports said Abdusalam and his group may have already left Zamboanga Sibugay.
Earlier reports from residents of Zamboanga Sibugay said Abdusalam’s group was spotted in remote jungles in Barangay Mamagon in Naga town, a 15-minute drive from Ipil.
Abdusalam, who has a warrant of arrest for kidnapping and robbery, is believed to have been critically wounded in a recent clash with the military.
Authorities said they are closing-in on Abdusalam's exact location but arresting the armed men has been difficult because the suspects are related to some residents and even government officials in the province.
Jalosjos said they are also aware that some of the information that they receive may be hoaxes.
“Some of the constituents are related to the lawless elements. I have men working on the ground to help hunt them down,” he said.
Jalosjos noted that government forces in the province have the upper hand and that an attack from Abdusalam’s group is nearly impossible.
“It is impossible for Abdulsalam to mount an attack. We have local support, support from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police. Everyone is working together to achieve one goal which is to stabilize Sibugay. Everyone is very cooperative, especially the mayors and barangay captains, we have a neighborhood watch system,” Jalosjos said.
There have been reports that Abdusalam’s group may reach 200 to 300 men, a number that Jalosjos said won’t match the troops in the province.
“Our armed forces here are at a few thousands. Bring it on. It’s all psychological warfare for me. This is what they have been doing the past few years. To me, it’s only hogwash, they just want to terrorize our constituents so they can control them, extort money and kill innocent human beings here in Sibugay. I think I have the upper hand,” he added.
Jalosjos said he hopes for the immediate arrest of Abdusalam, but stressed that there is no guaranteed time frame for the manhunt operation.