‘Sus­pi­cious-look­ing’ men are in­no­cent

Cebu Daily News - - NEWS - By Ador Vin­cent S. Mayol, Nes­tle L. Semilla and Ben­jie B. Tal­isic

The six “sus­pi­cious-look­ing” men who were held for ques­tion­ing in the south­ern Cebu town of Os­lob were re­leased from po­lice cus­tody past 10 a.m. on Friday.

“They are not mem­bers of the Abu Sayyaf Group but mere ped­dlers who sell un­der­wear and other goods dur­ing fi­es­tas,” said Supt. Jaime Quio­cho, chief of the Cebu Pro­vin­cial Po­lice Of­fice (CPPO) Com­mu­nity Re­la­tion.

Upon ver­i­fi­ca­tion from the in­tel­li­gence units of the CPPO, the six men — five from Lanao del Norte and one from Ba­colod City — have no pend­ing crim­i­nal record, much less any link with the ter­ror group, said Quio­cho.

The six men, in­clud­ing a 17year-old boy, were on board an L300 van when they were flagged by a joint team of po­lice­men and soldiers in Barangay Tan-awan, Os­lob town, 121 kilo­me­ters south of Cebu City, at around 5 p.m. Thurs­day.

Quio­cho said they re­ceived a re­port from the po­lice in Balam­ban town in south­west­ern Cebu re­gard­ing the pres­ence of sus­pi­cious-look­ing men who passed by the mu­nic­i­pal­ity on their way to Os­lob.

There were orig­i­nally eight men on board the ve­hi­cle in­clud­ing Mahid Sang­ga­cala, a Mus­lim who lives in Balam­ban town.

On Thurs­day af­ter­noon, Sang­ga­cala was in with the oth­ers in the van when he dropped by a clinic in Balam­ban for a

checkup. The clinic’s se­cu­rity guard was alarmed be­cause, although the men speak in a mix of Ce­buano and Ta­ga­log, they spoke with an ac­cent, prompt­ing him to call the po­lice.

Vi­cente Gal­van, one of those held for ques­tion­ing, said they were sur­prised when law en­forcers flagged them down and pointed long firearms at them.

“Natin­gala gyud mi. Gi­ha­rang mi sa dalan. Gi­panaog mi sa among sakyanan. Gi­pata­likod un- ya gi­ing­nan og ‘Ayaw og li­hok.’ Nag­tuo ko nga e-sal­vage mi. (We were re­ally sur­prised. They blocked our way. We were or­dered to get out of the ve­hi­cle and asked to turn around, while telling us, ‘Don’t move.’ I thought we were go­ing to be killed),” he told Cebu Daily News.

At the Os­lob Po­lice Sta­tion, how­ever, Gal­van said they were treated well. ‘Not Abu Sayyaf’ Sammy Ura, a Mus­lim who lives in Ba­colod City, re­minded the pub­lic that not all Mus­lims are Abu Sayyaf Group mem­bers.

“We are just try­ing to earn a liv­ing. We have never been held by the po­lice un­til this hap­pened,” he said in Ce­buano.

The po­lice also found the van only con­tained fold­ing beds, sev­eral toy guns and as­sorted cloth­ing placed in­side at least six sacks, said SPO1 Ar­turo Bal­mori, deputy chief of the Os­lob Po­lice Sta­tion.

Gal­van said his group has been sell­ing goods that in­clude un­der­wear, shirts, bags, toy guns, and other things dur­ing fi­es­tas in dif­fer­ent ar­eas in the coun­try for at least 12 years.

He said they had no brushes with the law and were sur­prised they were mis­taken to be dan­ger­ous men.

The group came from Ban­tayan town where they sold prod­ucts dur­ing the Holy Week. The town is known for its pro­ces­sions of life-size im­ages de­pict­ing the pas­sion and death of Christ on Holy Thurs­day and Good Friday, draw­ing thou­sands of do­mes­tic and for­eign tourists.

From Ban­tayan, Gal­van said they pro­ceeded to Balam­ban to drop off Mahid Sang­ga­cala and Jess Padilla, who will sell goods dur­ing the fi­esta ac­tiv­i­ties in the town. The oth­ers were to go to Hi­noba-an, Ne­gros Oc­ci­den­tal for an­other fi­esta sale event.

On their way to the pier, while travers­ing the na­tional high­way in Os­lob, they were flagged down by the po­lice and mil­i­tary.

Although they were in­con­ve­nienced, the group has no plan to file charges against the po­lice.

Gal­van said they un­der­stood the po­lice and the mil­i­tary were just do­ing their job, fol­low­ing re­ports that eight ASG mem­bers sur­vived the gun bat­tle with gov­ern­ment troops in In­a­banga, Bo­hol, last April 11.

“We could not blame the po­lice. They were sim­ply do­ing their job. They are just think­ing about se­cur­ing the peo­ple. It just so hap­pened that we were the ones who were re­ported to the po­lice,” he said.

CDN PHOTO/TONEE DESPOJO

Some of the six “sus­pi­cious-look­ing” men who were held overnight by the Os­lob po­lice reload their be­long­ings into their van af­ter they were found to be law-abid­ing Mus­lim traders and were cleared to leave. One of them (back turned, in red) is be­ing in­ter­viewed by CDN Se­nior Re­porter Ador Vin­cent Mayol.

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