Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana acknowledges being embarrassed as the number of kidnap victims of the Abu Sayyaf has nearly doubled during the Duterte administration.
"The problem in the southern Philippines is actually giving me personally a headache. Sometimes I can't sleep at night thinking of how to solve the problem there," Lorenzana said.
"Kidnapping has not abated. When the president was inaugurated on June 30, there were only 18 hostages being held by the Abu Sayyaf. Now there are 31. So dumami pa. It is very embarrassing to the whole world."
Most of the hostages currently in captivity are Vietnamese citizens abducted at sea. Lorenzana said he spoke to the Vietnamese ambassador and gave two recommendations. He suggested Vietnam allow the arming of fishing fleets, a proposal Vietnam turned down, citing international law.
The second suggestion was to have Vietnamese vessels inform Philippine authorities when they are about to enter a conflict zone so they may be protected.
The countries have so far agreed on an established sea lane in the Sulu Sea, where vessels passing through are assured of protection by the military.
Lorenzana also said that after several trilateral meetings, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia are almost ready to launch their joint patrols of the sea area concerned. The joint patrols are set to begin sometime next month or May.
The AFP is also set to create a task force in Bongao municipality, Tawi-Tawi, headed by a two-star general and supplied with fastcraft, ships and even drones.
"For the Abu Sayyaf, I believe we can solve this problem by maybe end of June. Or if not, we'll give them another couple of months. We will also station a permanent command there. We'll transfer one division in Jolo," Lorenzana said.