PH gov't condemns ‘brutal and senseless’ murder of ASG hostage

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) – A spokesman for President Benigno Aquino III condemned the beheading of a Canadian hostage by the Abu Sayyaf, saying the atrocity only strengthens the government’s determination to end the group’s “reign of terror.”

“We strongly condemn the brutal and senseless murder of Mr. Robert Hall, a Canadian national, after being held captive by the Abu Sayyaf group in Sulu for the past nine months,” presidential spokesman Sonny Coloma said in a statement Tuesday.

Coloma made the statement while the police and the military were still trying to confirm the victim’s identity.

In a statement, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government had “compelling reason to believe” the victim was Hall.

“The vicious and brutal actions of the hostage-takers have led to a needless death,” Trudeau said. “Canada holds the terrorist group who took him hostage fully responsible for this cold-blooded and senseless murder.”

Also read: Canada, UK: No to paying ransoms

The military said the head of a Caucasian-looking man was found in a plastic bag near a church in Jolo, Sulu, late Monday, hours after the Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) received intelligence reports that Hall was decapitated by the Abu Sayyaf.

In an interview with CNN Philippines early Tuesday, Wesmincom spokesman Maj. Filemon Tan Jr. said the military could not immediately confirm if the severed head found in Sulu belongs to Hall.

“His features indeed show that there is a high probability that he is the one,” Tan said.

Tan said police forensic investigators in Manila have taken tissue samples from the severed head for DNA testing to help in confirming the person’s identity.

The Abu Sayyaf had threatened to execute one of the remaining hostages they seized from a resort on Samal Island in September last year if the group doesn’t receive ransom payment by June 13.

The group demanded P300 million for each of the three captives – Hall, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and Filipino Marites Flor. They beheaded Canadian John Ridsdel in April after no ransom was paid for him.

Read: Malacañang reiterates 'no ransom policy' amid Abu Sayyaf threat

“We extend our deepest sympathy and condolences to his bereaved family,” Coloma said.

He added that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) have launched determined operations for the past two months to weaken the terror group.

Also read: Who are the Abu Sayyaf?

He said these efforts have “degraded the capability of our enemies and limited their movements.”

“This latest heinous crime serves to strengthen our government’s resolve to put an end to this reign of terror and banditry,” Coloma added.

Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor, PNP spokesman, said police forces are determined to “neutralize these lawless elements and thwart further threats to peace and security.”

Canadian ambassador to PH: Address peace and order issues

The Canadian ambassador to the Philippines, Neil Reeder, urged the Philippine government to improve the peace and order situation in the country to encourage more visits by foreign tourists.

“There are peace and order issues in parts of the country and that has to be addressed in order to provide a secure environment for tourists so they'll feel safe and want to come back,” Reeder said Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a tourism forum in Makati City, Reeder said he remains optimistic about the economic relations between the two countries, especially in terms of tourism.

He said Filipinos are among the top three immigrant nations in Canada and Canadians are among the largest groups of foreign visitors to the Philippines.

Outgoing tourism secretary Ramon Jimenez thanked the Canadian government for its continued commitment in supporting the Philippines in its anti-poverty and development programs.

“In the face of unbearable and condemnable treatment by enemies of peace, you have upheld the friendship and unity,” Jimenez said of Canada.

CNN Philippines' correspondent Cecille Lardizabal contributed to this report.