Beheading of Vietnamese sailors a propaganda ploy – AFP

MANILA-- The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday said the beheading of two Vietnamese hostages by the Abu Sayyaf is a propaganda ploy by the terrorist group to project strength amid heightened military operations that "tremendously degraded their capacity."

This (beheading) is a show of force although they are not that strong anymore. In short, it is propaganda, said AFP Spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. at the Mindanao Hour press briefing in MalacaAang.

Earlier, the military confirmed that the Abu Sayyaf group (ASG) had beheaded two Vietnamese nationals that they have held hostage for almost eight months.

The Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) identified the victims as Hoang Thong and Hoang Va Hai, two of six crew members of a ship kidnapped by the ASG in waters off Basilan in November last year.

The military said that residents found their bodies in Barangay Tumahubong in Sumisip town at around 5:40 a.m. Wednesday.

Padilla said the ASG killed the hostages because the bandit group could not cash in on them due to the government's no-ransom policy.

But just the same, the pressure that the ASG is experiencing, particularly the group of Furiji Indama in the island of Basilan from the forces that we have there is a positive indication that their forces are almost spent, he said.

The many months that we have not heard of any abductions in the seas around Zamboanga, Jolo, Tawi-Tawi area is an indication that their capacity to perform or do these criminal activities has been degraded tremendously. And we would like to keep it that way, Padilla said.

After arresting the series of abductions, the military official said the objective of the AFP in the area are now two-fold.

One is to continue the focused military operations to continuously degrade and reduce the number of armed groups in Basilan, Jolo, Tawi-Tawi and nearby areas. The other is to continue improving relations with the community to remove local support for the ASG, Padilla said.

He said the second objective is important since the ASG distribute part of the ransom they receive to the local community ala Robin Hood.

So the loyalty of the populace and the residents in the area is always bought because of this. And now that they have seen that this is not sustainable and this is not the right thing to do, we have been getting a lot of information regarding whereabouts of armed men, he said.

The change of mindset of our residents in the area coupled with the fact that the number of increasing members of ASG surrendering is proof that our relationship with the community is bearing fruit, Padilla said.

According to the Wesmincom, 97 Abu Sayyaf members were killed in military operations in Western Mindanao, where the group is largely based, since the start of the year.

In the same period, 67 others were arrested while 98 have surrendered.

Source: Philippines News Agency