‘Suspicious-looking’ men are innocent
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.
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.