ARMED MEN SPOT­TED ON OLANGO?

Cebu Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - by Ador Vin­cent S. Mayol and Ben­jie Tal­isic

Gov­ern­ment troops have sur­rounded a coastal vil­lage on Olango Is­land, 6.4 kilo­me­ters from Lapu-Lapu City on Mac­tan Is­land, after a res­i­dent claimed to have seen two armed men in the area past 2 p.m. on Thurs­day.

When po­lice re­sponded to the place, they heard suc­ces­sive loud bursts be­lieved to have come from long firearms at a forested area in Si­tio Bas To­ral, Barangay San Vi­cente, ac­cord­ing to Chief Insp. Miguel An­desa, chief of the Olango Po­lice Sta­tion.

He said dif­fer­ent units of the po­lice, along with mem­bers of the 47th In­fantry Brigade of the Philip­pine Army, and the Philip­pine

Navy are cur­rently con­duct­ing clear­ing op­er­a­tions in the area to ver­ify whether or not ban­dits have en­tered the is­land.

But An­desa would nei­ther con­firm nor deny the pres­ence of armed men in the area.

“Ev­ery­thing is sub­ject for con­fir­ma­tion. We are val­i­dat­ing the claim of a wo­man re­gard­ing the pres­ence of armed men. At the same time, we still have to con­firm whether or not those bursts came from firearms,” he told CEBU DAILY NEWS over the phone.

The Philip­pine Navy, he said, has cor­doned the for­est, a part of which is filled with man­groves and co­conut trees.

“It’s night. We have to be care­ful. The best we can do now is to sur­round the place so that in case there are re­ally armed per­sons in the place, we can eas­ily go after them,” An­desa said when reached by CDN past 9 p.m. yes­ter­day.

The clear­ing op­er­a­tions started at around 4 p.m. yes­ter­day. As of 9 p.m., An­desa said they have not seen the re­ported armed men.

“The man­groves and co­conuts are quite many. It’s a good place to hide,” he said.

At 2:20 p.m., a wo­man, whose iden­tity was with­held by the po­lice, sought their as­sis­tance after she al­legedly saw two men whose faces were cov­ered with cloth and have brought long firearms while walk­ing along the shore­line of Barangay San Vi­cente, Olango.

The po­lice then went to the place and heard at least six bursts of what ap­peared to be com­ing from firearms.

Many res­i­dents were alarmed es­pe­cially after re­ports that there are still at least eight re­main­ing mem­bers of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) who sur­vived the gun­fight with gov­ern­ment troop­ers in In­a­banga town, Bo­hol, last April 11.

This de­vel­oped as po­lice held for ques­tion­ing six “sus­pi­cious-look­ing” men on board a van in Barangay Tanawan, Os­lob town, 121 kilo­me­ters south of Cebu City.

Five of them are Mus­lims from Lanao del Norte while one is a Chris­tian from Iloilo, said SPO1 Ar­turo Bal­mores, deputy chief of the Os­lob Po­lice Sta­tion.

Ex­cept for the driver of the L300 van who pre­sented a driver’s li­cense, the rest have no iden­ti­fi­ca­tion cards or doc­u­ments, Bal­mores told CDN by phone last night.

“We will hold these men for now while an in­quiry will be con­ducted,” Bal­mores said.

Found in­side the van were sev­eral toy guns and as­sorted cloth­ing placed in­side at least six sacks.

Based on their ini­tial in­ter­view, Bal­mores said the six men claimed to be sell­ing goods, like toy guns and pieces of cloth­ing, in places where there are fi­es­tas.

“They said they came from Ban­tayan Is­land (dur­ing the Holy Week). They dropped two of their com­pan­ions in Balam­ban and were on their way to Ne- gros Ori­en­tal for an­other fi­esta, pass­ing through Os­lob,” he said.

Ear­lier yes­ter­day, law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties said the eight ASG rem­nants of last week’s fire­fight in Bo­hol were con­firmed to still be on the is­land, trapped some­where around In­a­banga town.

The Armed Forces of the Philip­pines al­ready has an idea con­cern­ing their where­abouts but is not at lib­erty to re­veal their ex­act lo­ca­tion, af­firmed Capt. Jojo Mas­car­iñas, spokesper­son of the 302nd In­fantry Brigade of the Philip­pine Army that is lead­ing the man­hunt for the mem­bers of the ban­dit group in Bo­hol.

“They are be­ing mon­i­tored now. I won’t tell you the ex­act place, but they are still here,” he told CEBU DAILY NEWS by phone yes­ter­day. The lo­ca­tion of the eight ban­dits came from vil­lagers who, ac­cord­ing to Mas­car­iñas, have been read­ily pro­vid­ing au­thor­i­ties with nu­mer­ous in­for­ma­tion even be­fore the P1mil­lion re­ward was dan­gled by Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte.

He said Bo­holanos are keen on find­ing the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) mem­bers who are be­lieved to have been trapped in In­a­banga town.

“Peo­ple have been pro­vid­ing us with sev­eral in­for­ma­tion ev­ery day. Many of them are true. The peo­ple here are just very co­op­er­a­tive,” he said.

If P1 mil­lion has to be given to any­one who can lead to the ar­rest of each of the ASG mem­bers now in Bo­hol, Mas­car­iñas said he would not know how the amount will be dis­trib­uted with the many valid in­for­ma­tion that have so far reached the mil­i­tary.

“I re­ally don’t know the me­chan­ics. Many of the in­for­ma­tion we re­ceived are valid. I just could not tell you now be­cause the op­er­a­tions are on­go­ing,” he said.

Frank Bay­lo­sis, public in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer of the Mu­nic­i­pal­ity of In­a­banga, said the army has been tight-lipped re­gard­ing the where­abouts of the re­main­ing ASG mem­bers.

“There are ru­mors that they are stuck here in In­a­banga. But there has been no of­fi­cial re­port from the mil­i­tary,” he told CDN.

But Bay­lo­sis also ad­mit­ted that some res­i­dents of Barangay Napo, where gov­ern­ment troops and the ASG clashed last April 11, have opted to re­main in the evac­u­a­tion cen­ters lo­cated in ad­join­ing vil­lages, still fear­ing for their safety even as some have al­ready re­turned to their re­spec­tive homes.

Num­bered days

Philip­pine Na­tional Po­lice (PNP) chief Di­rec­tor Gen­eral Ron­ald “Bato” dela Rosa on Thurs­day said the gov­ern­ment will se­ri­ously go after and crush mem­bers of the ASG, not only in Bo­hol but also in Sulu prov­ince where the group is based.

“Bi­lang na ang mga araw nila. (Their days are num­bered),” he said upon his ar­rival at Pier 3 in Cebu City from Tag- bi­la­ran City close to 1 a.m. on Thurs­day.

Dela Rosa, who was with Pres­i­dent Duterte in Bo­hol on Wed­nes­day, said the Pres­i­dent al­ready vowed to stamp out the Sulu-based ter­ror group that has gained no­to­ri­ety over the last two decades for their bru­tal kid­nap-for-ran­som op­er­a­tions, of­ten vic­tim­iz­ing for­eign­ers, some of whom had been be­headed for fail­ing to pay the de­manded ran­som.

“Know­ing the Pres­i­dent, if mo­sulti gani siya, tinud-on gyud na niya. Tin­udon na ang all-out war. Hu­manon na na sila. (Know­ing the Pres­i­dent, if he says some­thing, he will re­ally do it. The all­out war against the Abu Sayyaf is true. It’s time to fin­ish them off),” he said.

No to sur­ren­der

Dela Rosa said the P1-mil­lion cash re­ward of­fered by the Pres­i­dent to any­one who can find the re­main­ing eight ASG mem­bers in Bo­hol is a big help in lo­cat­ing the ter­ror­ists.

“Pan­gi­taon gyud na sila sa mga tawo. (Peo­ple will re­ally look for them),” he said.

Should the eight sus­pected mem­bers of the ter­ror group come out and sur­ren­der?

“Nah, mao ra gi­hapon. Moguwa sila, P1 mil­lion ra gi­hapon. (It’s still the same. If they come out, that still means P1 mil­lion),” the feisty PNP chief said.

Dela Rosa called on the public not to be alarmed since the ten­sion is con­fined in In­a­banga town only.

The rest of Bo­hol and Cebu, he said, is safe.

“What hap­pened was very iso­lated,” Dela Rosa said. He was grate­ful that the per­sons who saw the armed men im­me­di­ately re­ported it to the au­thor­i­ties.

“Know­ing the Bo­holanos, they are sim­ple peo­ple but they don’t al­low these peo­ple (armed men) to reign,” he said.

Dela Rosa said the po­lice, to­gether with the Philip­pine Army, will con­tinue to se­cure the some 200 del­e­gates at­tend­ing the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions (Asean) trade meet­ing on Panglao Is­land from April 18 to April 22.

Hero

Be­fore leav­ing Bo­hol, Dela Rosa dropped by the wake of SPO2 Rey An­thony Nazareno in Calape town. He was a mem­ber of the Spe­cial Weapons and Tac­tics (SWAT) of the Philip­pine Na­tional Po­lice in Bo­hol and was among the four gov­ern­ment troop­ers who died in the gun­fight with the ASG mem­bers.

“Al­though the fam­ily grieved for the loss of a loved one, they are still proud that he (Nazareno) of­fered his life for the coun­try,” he said.

Dela Rosa con­ferred on Nazareno’s fam­ily a Medalya ng Kadak­i­laan (PNP Hero­ism Medal) to rec­og­nize Nazareno’s brav­ery and ded­i­ca­tion.

“The recog­ni­tion is due him. He did a good job,” he said. “Los­ing one’s life is part of the life of a po­lice­man’s life. We just have to be care­ful,” he added.

Dela Rosa gave a cash aid to Nazareno’s fam­ily, but he re­fused to re­veal the amount. (see re­lated story on page 2)

Four mem­bers of the ban­dit group, in­clud­ing their leader Mua­mar Askali alias Abu Rami, and two lo­cal res­i­dents were killed in the gun­fight in Barangay Napo, In­a­banga town last April 11.

Three soldiers — 2nd Lt. Estelito Sal­dua Jr., Cor­po­ral Meljun Ca­ja­ban, Sergeant John Dexter Duero — and SPO2 Nazareno also died.

Civil­ians in the cross­fire

While Pres­i­dent Duterte was firm on his de­ci­sion in en­gag­ing ASG in an all­out war, Cebu Gov. Hi­lario Da­vide III ex­pressed con­cerns about civil­ians who may get caught in the cross­fire.

“Be­fore go­ing to war, for me, I think the Pres­i­dent is very con­fi­dent that our Armed Forces, even the Philip­pine Na­tional Po­lice, are ca­pa­ble of re­ally go­ing on a full-scale war against the Abu Sayyaf. My only con­cern is that the cit­i­zens, the in­no­cent civil­ians, would get caught in the cross­fire,” he said in an in­ter­view yes­ter­day.

Da­vide said the au­thor­i­ties should first de­ter­mine if there is a ne­ces­sity to en­gage the ASG in an all-out war.

“Per­haps the De­fense De­part­ment or the PNP should first as­sess and eval­u­ate if it’s re­ally ad­vis­able to en­gage in a full-scale war as what hap­pened in Min­danao in the ’70s might hap­pen again where many died and lives were wasted so we should be cau­tious. I’m not say­ing that the Pres­i­dent is wrong as he has his own ba­sis to de­clare such war, just as when he de­clared war against drugs,” he said.

Da­vide said the P1-mil­lion re­ward of­fered by Pres­i­dent Duterte to lo­cate each of the ASG mem­bers in Bo­hol does not give any­one the li­cense to kill.

“You know how the Pres­i­dent says things. It all de­pends on his point. In my un­der­stand­ing, al­though I am not au­tho­rized to in­ter­pret what he said, but in my view, it’s only when there is real dan­ger to our lives in the pres­ence of the Abu Sayyaf that you have the right to re­pel it, to fight back,” he said.

Cebu City Mayor To­mas Os­meña, mean­while, will ask Philip­pine Amuse­ment and Gam­ing Cor­po­ra­tion (Pag­cor) to al­low the city gov­ern­ment to do­nate P500,000 of the Pag­cor fund as fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to the fam­i­lies of the soldiers and po­lice­man who were killed in the In­a­banga clash.

Cebu City re­ceives P4 mil­lion a month from Pag­cor as its share from the op­er­a­tion of the casi­nos in the city, but it is meant for spe­cific uses that does not in­clude giv­ing it as aid to fallen po­lice­men and soldiers.

He said he also in­tends to give a P100,000 cash re­ward to any per­son who can tell au­thor­i­ties about the where­abouts of the ban­dits./

CDN PHOTO/TONEE DESPOJO

Po­lice wade through a por­tion of the In­a­banga River as they pur­sue mem­bers of the Abu Sayyaf Group who es­caped from last April 11’s en­counter with gov­ern­ment forces in Si­tio Ilaya, Barangay Napo, in In­a­banga town in Bo­hol prov­ince.

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