June 4, 2001, AP / LJWorld, Kidnappers escape siege, Detained Kansan asks priest for prayers,
Lamitan, Philippines — Aurora Samson was waiting for a prescription for her ailing granddaughter when the men in fatigues barged into the small hospital before dawn, raised their rifles and yelled "God is great!"
Thus began a day of terror for doctors, nurses and patients engulfed by the hostage saga that has descended upon their island.
Word spread and the military moved in. The heart of Lamitan, one of two Christian towns on predominantly Muslim Basilan Island in the southern Philippines, quickly became a war zone.
And right in the middle of it were two Kansans, among an original group of 20 people taken hostage by Muslim guerrillas eight days ago.
Helicopter gunships fired rockets as the sounds of guns and mortars from troops and tanks reverberated across the island.
"We survived from explosion to explosion, fearing the next one would kill us all," said Samson, a 60-year-old teacher who hid with her granddaughter under the bed and in a bathroom where pools of urine soaked their clothes.
A group of Catholic nuns walks hurriedly past an armored car in front of St. Peter's Church in Lamitan, Philippines. A priest from the church when it was stormed by Abu Sayyaf rebels.
"I thought there would be no tomorrow," she said.
The Abu Sayyaf guerrillas on Sunday were fleeing a massive military assault and dragging along a pack of hostages, including three Americans seized May 27 from the Dos Palmas resort in western Palawan province.
They quickly occupied a walled compound that includes the privately owned St. Pete's hospital, a church and an adjoining convent in this remote town, taking patients and medical personnel hostage and positioning snipers on the roof and in the church belfry.
Despite the military onslaught, the guerrillas managed to slip out late Saturday. Some of the original hostages escaped, but they were replaced by new ones from the hospital.
Sunday, each room in the hospital was a jumble of mattresses that apparently served as cover, crudely opened sardine cans, bottles, concrete debris, broken glass and spent bullet cartridges.
A medicine stockroom appeared ransacked. The guerrillas were looking for a doctor when they blazed into the hospital, witnesses said. When they left, they took two nurses, a midwife and a hospital accountant, said hospital administrator Antonio Aguilera.
Among the hostages was a Roman Catholic priest, Rene Enriquez, who was taken at gunpoint from a nearby convent and held in the hospital with the three Americans seized in last week's resort raid.
It was the first confirmed sighting of Guillermo Sobero of Corona, Calif., and missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham of Wichita, Kan., since they vanished with their captors across the Sulu Sea.
Enriquez said he was approached by Gracia Burnham, who asked, her voice shaking: "Can you pray for us so that we will be saved?"
The hospital raid was one of the Abu Sayyaf's most unprecedented shows of defiance against the government and the latest episode of terror in an impoverished town long accustomed to the horrors of guerrilla war.
Many concrete houses and grass huts near the hospital were destroyed in Saturday's battles.
Asuncion Antonio allowed three neighboring families, who live in huts, to take shelter in her house, which has cement walls. She and her husband were among about 30 who lay on mats on the damp kitchen floor, crawling when they needed to move and praying frequently.
"I let them in," Antonio said. "They also wanted to survive."
Despite the destruction and suffering, many residents said they wanted the military to finish off the guerrillas.
Many men packed the main road about a block from the battle scene, applauding wildly each time a MG-520 helicopter fired rockets that shook the hospital grounds. Every time a rebel sniper bullet whizzed by, they ran to the side, then moved back to the street again.
The Abu Sayyaf, mainly based in the southern islands of Basilan and nearby Jolo, claims it is fighting for a separate Islamic nation in the southern Philippines, a mostly Catholic country.