Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Troops Rescue 15 Basilan Hostages; Priest, 3 Others Die; 2 Foreigners Dead in Jolo, Say Abu Sayyaf

May 4, 2000, Manila Bulletin, Troops rescue 15 Basilan hostages; priest, 3 others die; 2 foreigners dead in Jolo, say Abu Sayyaf, by Isabel C De Leon, Aris R. Ilagan,

Catholic priest Fr. Roel Gallardo was killed, along with three other hostages, in an encounter between their Abu Sayyaf Group captors and government troops that flushed the rebels out of a school building in Tumahubong, Basilan, Malacanang reported last night.

"This is a deplorable act," Press Secretary Ricardo Puno Jr. said during an emergency press briefing called at 9:15 p.m. at the Kalayaan Hall, adding that the identities of the three other fatalities were still unknown.

Puno said the confirmation that Fr. Gallardo's body had been found at the scene of the battle at Claret School in Tumahubong was received by Malacanang at 9:03 p.m.

He added that a total 15 of the 27 hostages held by the Abu Sayyaf had been freed and are now in the custody of government authorities.

Five of the 15 rescued were wounded in the crossfire and were identified as Robert Ahon, Christy Vergara, Jennifer Imo, Lydia Ahon, and Emelyn Catchuela. They are now being treated at local hospitals.

"Ten are still out there and we hope that they (Abu Sayyaf) will treat them fairly. These are innocent civilians," Puno said.

The 10 other freed hostages were Rodolfo Iran, Maria Christina Francisco, Reynaldo Rubio, Joan Bernardo, Rowena Mendoza, Kristen Diva, Charry Vergara, Criselda Selvana, Ricardo Gregorio, and Marasi Saute.

They are now in the custody of government authorities.

* * *

Officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) announced yesterday that they have rescued 15 of the 29 civilians in Lantawan, Basilan, who were held hostage by members of theAbu Sayyaf Group in the nearby Sumisip town, reports reaching Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City said.

In a report to AFP chief of staff Gen. Angelo T. Reyes, Lt. Gen. Diomedio Villanueva, Southern Command (Southcom) chief based in Zamboanga City, said that as of 7:30 p.m., 15 hostages had been rescued by elements of the 1st Infantry Division led by Maj. Gen. Narciso Abaya in a remote barangay in Lantawan town at noon yesterday.

With the 15, however, were the bodies of four persons, believed to be among the hostages held captive in Sumisip, Basilan, by the Abu Sayyaf.

Villanueva assured that the military will contine combing the hinterlands of Lantawan town in search of the remianing hostages

Immediately after the rescue operations, supporting elements from the Philippine Army Special Operations Command (Socom) provided security to the 15 hostages on their way to Basilan Provincial Capitol.

Villanueva said that the 15 hostages, mostly women and children, were in good health condition when rescued by Army troopers.

Villanueva said military operations will continued against the Abu Sayyaf members led by Khaddafi Janjalani until the 15 other kidnap victims have been accounted for by authorities.

Southcom officials expressed belief that the 15 rescued victims were left behind by the escapingAbu Sayyaf members who have been subjected to large-scale military operations from their hideout at Camp Abdujarak in Sumisip, Basilan more than a week ago.

Operating elements from Philippine Marines and Philippine Army have overran Camp Abdujarak but failed to locate the 29 hostages.

Military authorities expressed belief that the terrorists escaped through the tunnels they constructed at Camp Abdujarak.

2 killed?

JOLO (AP) - Two foreign hostages died during a pre-dawn clash Wednesday between military troops and Muslim rebels who are holding 21 people, including 10 foreign tourists, on Jolo island in the southern Philippines, guerrilla leaders said.

Military officials said they had no knowledge of any hostage fatalities, and said the claim may have been propaganda by the extremist Abu Sayyaf rebels.

The clash apparently occurred when the hostages were being transferred to another location, officials said.

Troops seized the bamboo hut where the hostages had been held, but found no one inside. No bloodstains were evident inside the hut, and medicines brought by a doctor on Monday were left behind, police said.

Meanwhile, at least 15 of a separate group of 27 hostages who had been held by other AbuSayyaf rebels in neighboring Basilan province were rescued Wednesday, said Brig. Gen. Narciso Abaya of the military's Southern Command. Five of the hostages were injured, he said.

Military sources said some of the other hostages were killed by the fleeing guerrillas.

Soldiers spotted the rebels fording a stream just five kilometers (three miles) from downtown Isabela, Basilan's capital, officials said. The hostages, who included 22 children, were kidnapped March 20 from two schools.

The rebels offered earlier Wednesday to release all their captives if the military halts its pursuit of them.

Troops overran their mountain stronghold over the weekend but found no hostages.

On Jolo, fighting between soldiers and Abu Sayyaf rebels continued Wednesday after heavily armed guerrillas attempted to escape from an encirclement by the military. At least two soldiers were killed and six injured, officials said.

Commander Robot, an Abu Sayyaf leader, claimed in a telephone interview with the local ABS-CBN radio network that a white foreign man had been accidentally shot in the fighting and a white foreign woman had died of a heart attack.

He apologized to their families and said it was not the rebels' doing.

Another rebel leader, Abu Escobar, later repeated the claim in a call to another radio station and said the rebels would proceed with a previous threat to behead two foreign hostages if the military does not pull back from the rebels' hide-out.

Col. Ernesto de Guzman of the military's Southern Command said the troops would stay put.

"We will not move in and we will not move out," he said.

He said the overnight fighting was very far from where the hostages are believed held.

The 21 hostages were kidnapped April 23 from a Malaysian diving resort and brought to a bamboo hut in the hills of Talipao on Jolo, about one hour away by boat.

The hostages have pleaded to the government to halt military operations in the area.

In announcing their threat Tuesday to behead two of the foreign tourists, Escobar said the troops had moved so close to the rebel hide-out that the kidnappers could see them.

Nur Misuari, the government's hostage negotiator, said the rebels have refused to begin formal talks unless the troops are moved from the area. He also urged a halt to the military operations.

"I want only peaceful means because I believe this is more effective in getting them released safely than military means," said Misuari, a former Muslim rebel leader.

Misuari said he had conflicting reports that the two hostages were dead or merely injured.

Several foreign countries have offered to help negotiate, but the Philippine government said Wednesday it could take care of it alone.

"We've asked them to please give us the opportunity to handle the problem," presidential Press Secretary Ricardo Puno said. If needed, he said, "we will get their advice and we will get whatever assistance they can give us. But the ball is in our court at this time."

The Abu Sayyaf is the smaller of two groups fighting for a separate Islamic state in the Philippines' impoverished Mindanao region, home of the country's Muslim minority.

The other group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, claimed responsibility for a number of bomb explosions in the southern Philippines Wednesday that killed at least four and injured dozens.

The Jolo hostages include tourists from Germany, France, South Africa, Finland and Lebanon as well as resort workers from the Philippines and Malaysia.

Several have written letters to their embassies asking them to pressure the Philippine government to speed up negotiations and remove the troops to prevent further clashes and let the kidnappers obtain food.

Several journalists who accompanied a doctor to the simple bamboo hut Monday were able to interview the hostages, who complained of food shortages, fevers and infections. The doctor later reported that most of the hostages appeared exhausted and dehydrated. She said she told the rebels that two captives need to be hospitalized, but the rebels did not immediately agree.


President Estrada yesterday authorized Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to get the children who have been held as hostages by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and to deliver them back to their families.

The President gave the go signal to Macapagal Arroyo following the ASG's disclosure of their plan to release the 22 minor hostages to the vice president.

Hours later, however, President Estrada withdrew his approval for Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to fly to Jolo, Sulu.

Press Secretary Ricardo Puno Jr., also presidential spokesman, said President Estrada told the vice president not to proceed to Basilan or Sulu at this time when government troops are engaged in battle with the rebels.

"The President clarified that the vice president's mission is not to negotiate but to receive the hostages who will be released by their captors," Secretary Puno said.

Earlier yesterday, the Vice President was contacted by Abu Sayyaf spokesman Abu Sabaya through a local radio station of Radio Mindanao Network (RMN) to tell her about the hardlinerebel group's intention to "release" to the vice president several children hostages they are holding in the nearby island province of Basilan.

Vice President Macapagal Arroyo, who is concurrent secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), said she immediately contacted President Estrada and asked for his consent, which the President gave, so that she could fly to Sulu to receive the hostages.

In initially granting clearance, according to Macapagal Arroyo, the Chief Executive had expressed his concern over the safety of the vice president, knowing that the security situation in Mindanao has somewhat deteriorated with a series of bombings killing at least three people in General Santos City yesterday.

"There is definitely a personal risk involved here, but I am going to Mindanao as part of my sworn duty to serve the public," said Mrs. Macapagal Arroyo in a press conference at noon yesterday, before the President withdrew his approval of the trip.

In a related development, Press Secretary Ricardo Puno Jr. reassured the international community yesterday that the Philippine government is working to ensure the safe release of some 20 foreign hostages and a Filipino who were kidnaped by the Abu Sayyaf rebel groupin Sabah, Malaysia and later taken to Sulu.

Puno said the government is closely coordinating with governments representing the foreign hostages in providing them with information about the latest series of actions being taken to ensure their safe release.

"We've asked them to please give us the opportunity to handle the problem. We will get their advice and we will get whatever assistance they can give us. But the ball is in our court," Puno said.

NINOY AQUINO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT - Former President Fidel V. Ramos yesterday advocated the involvement of key groups and individuals in dealing with the Abu Sayyaf for the release of both the local and foreign hostages rather than using military solutions.

Ramos made the comment yesterday before boarding a plane for Bangkok where he is guest speaker at the 33rd annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank.

The former president disclosed that during his time as commander-in-chief, he

issued shoot-to-kill order against the Abu Sayyaf who the government treats as mere bandits.

He revealed that the shoot-to-kill order came out in April 1995 after the rebels aided and burned down the town of Ipil, in Zamboanga del Norte.

"I gave the shoot-to-kill order immediately after the Ipil incident before they could take any hostages as they retreated to Zamboanga del Sur," Ramos said.

However, he added that he hesitates to recommend the same solution now or to render judgement on what the present military leaders are doing in the south to deal with the latest atrocities being committed by the rebels.

Ramos however maintains that the solution to the problem in Mindanao is not a military approach but a combined approach that employs expertise, talent, goodwill, compassion and generosity in the community.

"I am not saying that what works for us during our time will work now," Ramos said.

He added that the situation at present in Mindanao is different from what is happening today and must be dealt with in a slight different manner.

"If it is the Abu Sayyaf, you better have preponderance for protective forces. But if it is the MILF, there is a better chance of dealing with them as they are more open to negotiations," Mr. Ramos said. (Anjo Perez)

Spare civilians

Lawmakers yesterday called on protagonists in the Mindanao conflict to spare innocent civilians from the on-going war.

Led by House Speaker Manuel Villar, House members said civilians have become helpless victims as both warring forces intensified their attacks after the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) decided to break a ceasefire agreement with the government.

"Pity those who have nothing to do this war who may get hurt in the cross-fire," Villar said.

He described as "cowards" combatants who use civilians as shield in winning the war.

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