human rights in the Philippines

Abducted Europeans still in Tawi-Tawi, AFP insists

David Yu Santos
Report on hostages transferred to Sulu 'inconsistent'

MANILA, Philippines – Authorities in Western Mindanao insist that the 2 European birdwatchers abducted on February 3 are still in the island province of Tawi-tawi and have not been handed over to the notorious Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in the adjacent Sulu island.

“So far, there is no confirmation nor any corroborative report that will support that claim,” Col. Jose Johnriel Cenabre, acting commander of the Jolo-based Joint Task Force-Comet told Rappler.

Quoting intelligence reports, Rappler reported on February 22 that Dutch Ewold Horn, 52, and Swiss Lorenzo Vinciguerra, 47, who were seized while birdwatching along with Filipino guides in Panglima Sugala town, have been handed over to the ASG leader Yasser Igasan in Sulu. Their transfer from Tawi-Tawi to Patikul, Sulu was allegedly coordinated by MNLF commander Tahil Sali and Abu ASG leader Radullan Sahiron.

Cenabre admitted his unit has received a report “two weeks ago” that the Europeans have been moved to Sulu, a known lair of the ASG, “but this was never confirmed.”

“That particular information needed further corroboration,” Cenabre pointed out. “What is important is that there is an eyeball witness of the captives being in Sulu. So far, there is no consistency in the reports that they are indeed here.”

Another senior military officer based in Western Mindanao who asked not to be named since he is not authorized to speak on matter said the local authorities in Tawi-Tawi who are asserting that the captives are still in their province.

“Besides, our intelligence reports are based on the ground troops. So we believe them,” the officer said, adding a group who may have links with a local rebel group was behind the abduction.

Based on police interrogations made on a number of local residents by the local, the abduction could have been a result of a dispute among local guides, the officer said. “In fact, our intelligence reports show that the abductors are demanding a pullout of the troops pursuing them.”

Accordingly, even before news broke out that an abduction incident occurred in Tawi-Tawi last February 3, the military in Sulu have been placed on alert and established “naval blockades” in strateic areas to “track the movement” of captors and their hostages.

But another senior Marine officer based in Sulu who also refused to be identified told Rappler that they are continuously verifying the reports so that appropriate actions could be taken. “But a search and rescue operation is still out of the picture,” the Marine office said.

Tawi-Tawi police director Sr Supt Rodelio Jocson said on February 19 that the local Crisis Management Committee (CMC) remains “clueless” on the whereabouts of the hostages and has appealed to the media to refrain from reporting “based on speculations” that could supposedly jeopardize on-going search and rescue efforts.

“Discussing the intricacies of the government’s operations in public may put at risk the lives not only of the pursuing troops, but of the victims as well,” Cenabre said. –

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