June 4, 2001, AFP, Military seeks emergency-like powers to crush kidnapping group,
Monday 5:37 PM
LAMITAN, Philippines, June 4 (AFP)- The Philippine armed forces sought emergency-like powers Monday to track down Abu Sayyaf Muslim guerrillas who escaped a military cordon and fled with up to 59 hostages, including three Americans.
Military spokesman Brigadier General Edilberto Adan told a news conference that the government needed to impose a state of emergency on Basilan island, where the rebels holding the hostages had run circles around the military.
He said the additional powers could be used to crack down on a large group of Abu Sayyaf sympathizers who were supplying and sheltering the gunmen, and had done for years.
"We have no state of emergency. We have no martial law in Basilan or any part of the Philippines which, if it was done, would perhaps make things easier," he said.
In an immediate reaction, President Gloria Arroyo said she would study the military suggestion.
"Right now it's being evaluated if it is really necessary," said her spokesman, Rigoberto Tiglao.
But he added that "it might not be at all necessary," citing legal implications and restrictions.
Adan said political and military action was needed to solve the Abu Sayyaf problem, which he said had descended into terrorism and banditry.
The military on Monday poured more troops onto Basilan to track down the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas, who fled with the hostages after they broke through a military cordon on Saturday night.
Five army battalions of 2,500 troops were combing the island to look for the estimated 100 rebels and a naval blockade had alsobeen imposed, Adan said.
National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said the Abu Sayyaf gunmen might have taken with them up to 50 hostages from among 200 people they held captive while in a hospital and church they occupied in Lamitan town in Basilan.
This is in addition to nine hostages, including three Americans, they took from a tourist resort off the western island of Palawan on May 27
The Abu Sayaf rebels first took 20 hostages from the resort but nine of the captives fled while the rebels were battling the military as they were holed up in the hospital.
Two others -- staff from the resort -- were slaughtered by the captors. One was beheaded.
"It is possible that they might be holding up to 50 civilians, some of them nurses," taken from the hospital before they broke through a military cordon and fled, Golez told local television network ABS-CBN television.
Golez condemned the Abu Sayyaf for killing the hostages, saying the gunmen, who claim to protect Muslim rights, had "gone mad and wild."
"This action deserves to be condemned," said Eid Kabalu, spokesman of the Philippines' largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is preparing for peace talks with the government.
"Kidnapping is condemnable, un-Islamic and unacceptable to Islam," he told
President Gloria Arroyo urged Filipinos to pray for the safety of the remaining hostages amid condemnation of the Abu Sayyaf, described by one military commander as having a "history written in blood."
The gunmen had tied the hostages' hands when they left the hospital, linking them like a chain so they could walk out single file to stop them escaping, a Roman Catholic priest who nevertheless managed to flee from his captors said.