Arroyo orders soldiers to press attack in South

ZAMBOANGA CITY – President Arroyo yesterday ordered the commanders of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) to continue the offensive against the remaining Abu Sayyaf-linked al-Qaeda terrorists in Basilan and Sulu and nearby areas in the south.

However, the Chief Executive reiterated her previous directive to all field commanders to strictly observe a “humanitarian offensive,” and only in “specified and selected targets,” said AFP chief of staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr.

The President issued her order during a closed-door command conference here with the military commanders.

She specifically ordered field commanders to maintain a “certain vigilance” against any spillover of violence outside the two southern island provinces.

Esperon told his commander-inchief that final “Oplan Ultimatum 2” is “ready to hit towards selected targets” on the enemy line.

Almost 10 combat Army maneuvering battalions, attack Philippine Marines, operation control units (Opcon), elite forces, navy and air force, armor brigades, PNP, coast guard, and a company of Presidential Security Group are already positioned within the enemy line. More than 100 persons were already killed since the start of the campaign.

Nearly 24,000 people have also fled their homes and farm lands in Basilan and Jolo, Sulu. They are now staying at various evacuation centers and getting basic rations of rice, coffee, salt, sugar, noodles, sardines, dried fish, and other basic needs from government relief agencies.

Other organizations including the United Nations World Food Programme are also in the battle front taking part in the relief operation.

“The President recognized the heroism and professionalism of our troops, especially those in the field,” Esperon said.

In his brief remarks after the command conference, Esperon thanked the President for supporting the AFP’s offensive operation against the Abu Sayyaf bandits in Basilan, Sulu, and nearby areas in Zamboanga Peninsula.

The President also announced a R240 increase in the monthly pay of the combat troops.

She ordered Esperon to coordinate with the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to fast-track the granting of the increase in combat pay of those involved in actual combat operation.

After the command conference at the AFP’s Western Mindanao Command (WestMincom) here, the President flew to Isabela City and, with her top field commanders, joined lunch with the soldiers in a “boodle fight.”

“Keep your morale high,” the only message given by the Chief Executive to the field troops after taking lunch with them.

She also ordered the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to fast-track the construction of the Basilan circumferential road.

Arroyo bares plans to increase combat pay of soldiers

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