Residents flee island after false text on 'terrorists'

DAPITAN CITY, Philippines – It all started with a harmless text message.

As the text message was passed from one person to another, its content became a false warning about supposed terrorists plotting to return to the island of Aliguay Island in this city.

This prompted at least 600 residents or 157 out of 172 families on the island to flee last Sunday, August 16, to a government center here.

Aliguay’s barangay captain, Rodolfo Buligao, was kidnapped and recently beheaded by alleged members of the Abu Sayyaf Group in Sulu. He was abducted in May this year along with two Coast Guard personnel on Aliguay Island.

Aliguay’s acting village chief, Seselda Mendez, said 70 families are now at the government center here while others decided to stay with their relatives in nearby Dipolog City and in Apo Island near Dumaguete City.

Ang akong mga tawo dili mamalik sa isla kun walay mouban nga mga Army (My people are not going back to the island if there are no Army personnel going with them),” Mendez said during an emergency Peace and Order Council meeting called by Dapitan Mayor Rosalina Jalosjos on Monday, August 17.

Chief Superintendent Divin H. Cereales, Dapitan City police chief, told Rappler that Buligao’s relative in Leon Postigo Municipality, about 130 kilometers west of the city, was trying to send a text message to a relative for Buligao’s sister to come over to get their share of copra proceeds.

“Because of poor signal, the text message was coursed through another relative somewhere in Negros Oriental and then passed to Aliguay where the message, perhaps jokingly, was already [altered] with kamo na ang isunod (you will be next). The text message was then passed to Dapitan where the relatives of Buligao were attending the wake of the Aliguay chief. When the text message was passed back to Aliguay, it already said: Kidnappers are coming, they will kill whether the old, women or children,” Cereales said.

At the height of the mass evacuation on August 16, Mayor Jalosjos called up the Army’s Special Forces (SF) stationed in Barangay Taguilon here to conduct patrols by the Dapitan Bay “just to show to residents of Aliguay that they should not panic.”

However, SF commander Captain Dante Ampoan told her they cannot deploy without clearance from the Army’s 101st Brigade. But when Mayor Jalosjos called up the 101st Brigade headquarters, nobody answered, she said.

“I’m really disgusted with you,” Jalosjos told Lt. Col. Mario Jacinto, commander of 10th Infantry Battalion who attended the POC emergency meeting.

Jacinto replied that he was just sent to represent 101st Brigade Commander Jesus Mananquil, who he said was in Manila. 

He said he will send a squad of soldiers to put up a detachment in Aliguay. –