AFP Chief: We want to finish Abu Sayyaf soon

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya is confident of achieving the target to crush the Abu Sayyaf before the end of the year.

"To date, there are about 32 killed Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and 22 in Basilan, so that makes it 57. Although we also incurred some casualties, tatlo sa [three in] Basilan and we have 15 sa [in] Sulu. We are making good," Visaya said in an interview with CNN Philippines' The Source.

The top military official said he hopes to topple the Abu Sayyaf "before December," or when he retires from service.

"We would like to finish our fight against the Abu Sayyaf as soon as possible, but there are some things that we have to consider, especially the safety ng mga kidnap victims [of the kidnap victims]. So we are very careful with that. Kaya mahirap 'yung may deadline talaga [That's why it is challenging to follow a particular deadline] but... we are increasing the tempo of our operations there," he said.

Visaya rules out the possible imposition of martial law in the provinces of Sulu and Basilan.

"With the situation that we now have in Sulu, I think there's no need for us to declare martial law," he said.

In June, Visaya said there may be a need to declare martial law in the two provinces to dismantle the Abu Sayyaf. Martial law gives the President broad powers to quell lawlessness, rebellion and terrorism.

Meanwhile, Visaya said "the arrest of the suspect" in the Davao City blast would help hasten the possible lifting of the state of lawlessness declared by President Rodrigo Duterte in early September. 

"Actually we are on red alert up to now, and I am asking my staff kung pwede nang mag-ano kami (if we can switch) to blue alert, mag-downgrade kami ng status [we'll downgrade our status]," he said. 

PH relations with U.S., Russia, China

Just weeks ago, the President called on the U.S. to withdraw its troops from Mindanao for their own safety - but Visaya believes otherwise.

"Personally, we still need them because of the equipment. Pagka meron na tayong equipment, siguro we can go on our own... Kasi we have joint training exercises, and there are some donations of mga kailangan natin. Not only in the military but even sa mga communities natin. Malaking tulong naman talaga sila (U.S. troops)," he said.

[Translation: Personally, we still need them because of the equipment. When we already have equipment, maybe we can go on our own... Since we we have joint training exercises, and there are some donations necessary for us. Not only in the military but even in our communities. They are of great help.]

Visaya welcomes the President's plan to purchase defense equipment from Russia and China-- a first for the country.

"Kumportable naman kami diyan dahil we know na talagang quality ito, 'yung mga galling sa States. Ang procurement natin ng mga defense equipment ay hindi lang naman sa U.S... South Korea. Kumuha na rin tayo sa Indonesia, 'yung mga barko natin," he said.

[Translation: We are comfortable with that because we know that this really quality, those from the States. Our procurement of defense equipment is not just done with the U.S... South Korea. We also procured some of our ships from Indonesia.]

Meanwhile, Visaya hopes China will recognize the international arbitration court's ruling on the South China Sea case.

Visaya said Filipino fishermen should also be allowed to carry on with their livelihood in the Scarborough Shoal area.

"Masakit man talaga kasi they are being prevented from fishing dun sa vicinity ng  Scarborough Shoal or the Bajo de Masinloc, that is why there is an effort from our government na talagang they have to allow sana iyan kasi kawawa naman ang mga ito. Because this is where they earn their living. So I hope that this will be ironed out with the Chinese government," he said.

[Translation: "It's really a burden because they are being prevented from fishing at the vicinity of Scarborough Shoal or the Bajo de Masinloc, that is why there is an effort from our government that they really have to allow because they are not in a good state. Because this is where they earn their living. So I hope that this will be ironed out with the Chinese government.]

AFP in the war on drugs, first 100 days

Visaya said the AFP plays an "active support role" in the war on drugs, in tandem with the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).

"We provide them (authorities) with information, we can assist them kung kinakailangan. Kung halimbawa 'yung target nila ay mga malalakas na grupo, just like what happened in North Cotabato wherein we assisted the PNP there at apat 'yung namatay na military," he said.

[Translation: We provide them with information, we can assist them if needed. For example, their targets are big groups, just like what happened in North Cotabato wherein we assisted the PNP there and four members of the military died.]

The military is also cleaning up its ranks in line with the anti-drug campaign.

"We have our own cleansing, wherein we have 'yung we call it 'yung, random drug testing," Visaya said. "For the past five years, there were about 600 that were discharged because of gumagamit sila ng illegal drugs."

The administration's 100th day in office is on October 8 - and Visaya believes the country's "peace and order situation has greatly improved with the ongoing peace talks" with the communist movement.

"Wala po tayong nababalitaang [We have not received reports of] atrocities committed by the countryside and also this is being undertaken with the MILF and MNLF," Visaya said. "We are continuously doing our operations against Abu Sayyaf as instructed by our President and ito nga [this] is our support to the anti-drug campaign of the PNP."