COTABATO CITY -- Officials are anticipating more attacks by militant commanders now squabbling for the post left vacant by the slain Abu Sayyaf chieftain Isnilon Hapilon.
Local officials in Basilan said on Sunday that Radzmil, a henchman of Hapilon, has been instigating trouble since last month to create the impression that he is the best successor to their late “emir,” Hapilon, self-proclaimed leader of all local Islamic State-inspired groups in Mindanao.
Hapilon and his ally, Omar Maute, founder of the Maute terror group, were killed last month by pursuing soldiers in Marawi City.
Hapilon, of mixed Yakan and Tausug descent, and Maute, an ethnic Maranaw, led the five-month deadly siege in Marawi City that left hundreds dead and caused the dislocation of more than 300,000 villagers.
Two off-duty militiamen were killed and beheaded on Friday in Basilan’s Sumisip town, the birthplace and hometown of Radzmil.
Residents are certain the attack was another show of rage over the on-going construction of the P1 billion Basilan transcentral road that will traverse the remaining enclaves of the Abu Sayyaf in the Punoh
Mahadje and Sampinit areas in the island province.
The transcentral road will connect the towns of Sumisip and Maluso to Barangay Santa Clara in Lamitan City, the capital of Basilan.
The executive department of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is presently constructing in Barangay Santa Clara a P150 million worth regional government center for all provincial offices of ARMM agencies.
The Police Regional Office-ARMM and the Western Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines separately reiterated on Sunday their commitment to prevent Abu Sayyaf forces from getting close to workers constructing the transcentral road.
ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman, Basilan Gov. Hajiman Salliman and public works officials, among them Engineer Soler Undug of the District Engineering Office in the island province inspected on Saturday the on-going concreting of a stretch of the transcentral road in Barangay
Tumahubong in Sumisip.
The area they toured is not too distant from Barangay Pamatsaken in Sumisip, scene of Friday’s ambush that resulted in the deaths of Samie Jairulla and Abdullah Tabjili, both members of the Citizens Armed
Forces Geographical Unit.
Abu Sayyaf gunmen killed and beheaded a week before 58-year-old Yakan farmer, Hadji Najir Bohong, who strayed in their lair near Batolareg, also in Sumisip, in search of missing cattle.
Residents of Batolareg stand to benefit from the transcentral road.
Hataman, chairman of the ARMM regional peace and order council, said the construction of the transcentral road will continue despite threats of sabotage by the Abu Sayyaf.
Commanders of the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan are worried the ARMM’s P1 billion overland arterial network will make their lairs accessible to police patrol cars and Army armored vehicles.
“Apparently this road project will usher in developments that will weaken their influence on the local communities,” said Hataman, whose office is funding the project with allocations from the region’s
yearly infrastructure budget.
The threats by the Abu Sayyaf to sabotage the infrastructure projects of the ARMM government in Basilan escalated last week after the brutal
murder and beheading of Bohong by militants.
The Abu Sayyaf thrice tried to kill Undug, whose office is overseeing ARMM’s costly infrastructure projects in Basilan, using powerful
improvised explosive devices.
Local residents said the military and the police should tighten their surveillance on four Abu Sayyaf commanders, among them Radzmil, who are all aspiring for the leadership of Hapilon’s group.
Major Gen. Carlito Galvez, Jr. of the Western Mindanao Command said on Sunday that more soldiers will patrol now in the surroundings of ARMM’s on-going infrastructure projects.
“We are thankful that the ARMM government is helping neutralize the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan through socio-economic and infrastructure interventions that can defeat the group,” Galvez said.
Friday’s inspection by ARMM and Basilan provincial officials of regional government projects was capped off with the launching of a newly-constructed water supply system in Lantawan town.
The P30 million water supply facility was a joint project of the ARMM regional governor, the office of Undug and the Lantawan local government unit, now benefiting thousands of villagers, many of them
related by blood to Hapilon.
Hapilon was born and raised in Lantawan, where he has many relatives who detested his criminal activities and even welcomed as “answered prayer” his death in an encounter with the military in Marawi City.