No Sulu sighting of hostages – AFP

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The military yesterday clarified reports that the three foreigners and Filipina kidnapped in Samal Island last week have been brought to Sulu remained unverified.

Armed Forces spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla said they have not received information validating the report and that the focus of operations against the abductors remains in Davao.

“We have not received confirmation (that the victims were brought to Sulu),” Padilla said in an interview yesterday.

“(The information is) continuously being validated. For now, we do not have updates yet,” he added.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday claimed to have received information that the four kidnap victims had been taken to Sulu by boat from Sarangani province.

Duterte’s statement seems to have been bolstered by reports that the boat used by the kidnappers was found in a fishing village in Parang town last Friday.

Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado, commander of the Joint Task Group Sulu (JTGS), said they have yet to determine if the boat was used by the kidnappers.

Arrojado said the police Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit (CIDU) from Davao City will also be coming to Sulu to verify if it was the same boat used by the kidnappers.

He said there were personal belongings on the boat, including a cellphone.

Arrojado stressed this could be another diversion since the gunmen knew of the military operation in Sulu.

He said there were also other leads that the gunmen could have slipped towards Central Mindanao.

“Everybody is working as to the first one who can give the proof of life,” Arrojado said.

Arrojado stressed they have no information that the four hostages were sighted in Sulu.

“I cannot confirm this (information) unless there are two to three military ground units of their ‘alpha’– meaning their asset – who could really confirm on the ground,” Arrojado said.

He said so far the reports were mostly from field intelligence outside his area of responsibility.

However, Arrojado said whether the victims taken from Samal Island were brought to Sulu or not, their relentless operations to rescue the rest of the kidnap victims in the island continue.

“The instruction to us here regardless if they are heading here or not the important thing is we will get all the (kidnap victims) here,” Arrojado said.

On the other hand, Armed Forces Eastern Mindanao command chief Lt. Gen. Aurelio Baladad was tight-lipped on the issue, saying he could not divulge “operational matters.”

When asked to react to reports that the kidnap victims are now in Sulu, Baladad said: “I cannot confirm nor deny that information because it is not within my area anymore.”

The province of Sulu is within the area of responsibility of the Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command.

Armed Forces Eastern Mindanao Command spokesman Capt. Alberto Caber said search and rescue efforts are still ongoing along the coast lines of the region.

“There have been sightings but these are being validated. The effort (of security forces) is in eastern Mindanao but that’s all I can say,” Caber said.

Duterte, chairman of the Southern Mindanao regional peace and order council, maintained yesterday that the hostages are being held by a group allied with the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu. He added the hostages are safe. 

“I would say that once in Sulu, they are already held by a group allied with the Abu Sayyaf,” he added. 

Duterte added the group that supposedly carried out the snatch has not demanded any ransom.

“There has been no ransom demand yet for the freedom of the hostages. We still do not know yet,” Duterte said.

“I already sent word, if I could go there. And if it is for ransom they just have to say so and how much so as not to lengthen the captivity which would also force the military to act on it and pursue them,” he added.

Duterte is suggesting the possible involvement of the Abu Sayyaf in the kidnapping of Canadian tourists John Ridsdel, 68, and Robert Hall, 50, as well as Norwegian resort manager Kjartan Sekkingstad and Hall’s Filipina girlfriend, Maritess Flor.

The islands of Sulu are home to the Abu Sayyaf, an al-Qaeda-linked group that has been blamed for the country’s deadliest terror attacks as well as ransom kidnappings of foreign tourists and Christian missionaries. – Roel Pareño, Edith Regalado

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