June 1, 2001, Inquirer News Service, Dos Palmas hostages reported in Basilan, by Carlito Pablo, Julie Alipala-Inot and Jonathan F. Ma, Posted: 1:14 AM (Manila Time)
IT appears that the bandit group Abu Sayyaf has given the military the slip.
A day after conceding that the bandits and their hostages might have reached Sulu, Armed Forces spokesperson Brig. Gen. Edilberto Adan said it was "very possible" that they had also landed in Basilan.
In a press briefing late yesterday, Adan said government troops were "confirming reports of recovered items (belonging to the hostages) in Basilan." He said the yet unidentified items were found in Saluping Island, a part of the province.
Adan also said the possibility of the Basilan landing appeared to have been bolstered by "reports of (local) politicians," whom he did not identify.
Despite this, however, Adan said the AFP could not yet say when it would initiate armed contact with the Abu Sayyaf.
"It's hard to make estimates," he said.
But in Zamboanga City, Philippine National Police Director General Leandro Mendoza dismissed reports of landings and sightings of the bandits and their hostages in Basilan and Sulu as "plain diversionary tactics."
Mendoza, who was in the city to oversee and assess the PNP's participation in the search and rescue operations, said the reports were intended to confuse government troops.
He also announced the formation of Task Force Mindanao, which would handle the tracking down and prosecution of those involved in the May 27 hostage taking.
"The idea here is, as soon as we get the warrant, the task force will conduct the manhunt," he said.
The supposed landings in Sulu and Basilan are consistent with the May 28 claim of Abu Sayyaf spokesperson Abu Sabaya that the 20 hostages had been divided into two groups of 10 each and taken separately to the two known strongholds of the bandits.
Sabaya also said his Basilan group was holding the three Americans and seven of the Filipinos, and the Sulu group of Galib Andang (alias Commander Robot) and Mujib Susukan, the 10 other Filipinos. The military launched land, sea and air operations immediately after the bandit raid on the Dos Palmas Resort in Palawan.
In Malacañang, President Macapagal-Arroyo's spokesperson Rigoberto Tiglao said the government was open to the idea of designating mediators to convince Abu Sayyaf leaders to free the hostages.
Tiglao also confirmed that the Abu Sayyaf had apparently slipped through a military cordon in the Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi area.
"It's a disappointing development," he told reporters, adding that a radar set had met with some problems.
Tiglao said the government was still hoping that the hostages would be released through a military operation, as what happened in the case of American Jeffrey Schilling in April.
"And we are hoping that a particular task force or company . . . would be able to take out the hostages once the Abu Sayyaf is spotted," he said. With reports from Martin P. Marfil, Armand N. Nocum and TJ Burgonio,