MANILA, Philippines – The military has focused its search and rescue operations for a kidnapped couple on the Zamboanga peninsula and its immediately surrounding islands, where they believe British national Allan Hyrons and his wife Wilma Hyrons are held by their still unidentified captors.
“Tuloy-tuloy naman ‘yung aming search and rescue effort. Naka-concentrate tayo dito sa mainland kasi hindi pa, mukhang hindi pa nakatawid papuntang Basilan or Sulu,” said Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana in a media interview on Monday, October 7.
(Our search and rescue effort continues. We’re concentrating here on the mainland because they haven’t, it looks like they haven’t yet crossed the channel to Basilan or Sulu.)
To prevent the captors from taking the couple to the region's remote islands, the military has set up a naval blockade and sent air patrols around the peninsula, where ground forces are closely watching coastal areas.
The AFP Westmincom has created “Task Force Hyrons” to boost the search for the couple. The unit will be led by Major General Roberto Ancan, Commander of the 1st Infantry Division of the Philippine Army based in Zamboanga del Sur.
Although no evidence yet points to the Sulu-based Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Sobejana said they were looking at the group as possible suspects because of its history of kidnappings in the same area.
Investigators are also looking at the dismissal of 5 teachers from a school the couple owns in Tukuran, Hyrons College Philippines, as a possible motive for their abduction.
“Baka ‘yung mga pamilya ay gumanti lang, parang personal na ganito (Maybe the families just wanted revenge, something personal),” Sobejana said.
He declined to give further details of efforts to rescue the couple for operational security.
Meanwhile, Zamboanga del Sur Governor Victor Yu has offered a P1 million reward for anyone who could supply information to locate the couple and their abductors.
On Friday evening, October 4, Allan and Wilma Hyrons were alighting from a van at their resort in Tukuran, Zamboanga del Sur, when around 4 gunmen took them by force and led them to two motor boats manned by two other suspects waiting on the beachfront. The “more or less” 6 suspects then boarded the boats with the couple and sped away, according to local police.
The couple had been living in Zamboanga del Sur since 2013. – Rappler.com
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.