Sayyaf kidnap victim worried over brother's arrest in Sabah

John Unson (The Philippine Star) - June 16, 2014 - 5:41pm

NORTH COTABATO, Philippines --- Kidnap victim Mercelita Dayawan-Tamalla has come home but remains worried over the detention in Malaysia of her older brother who was implicated in her abduction along with Chinese tourist Gao Hua Yuan on April 2 in Sabah.

The 40-year-old Tamalla said her brother, Roberto Dayawan Sr., 58, and wife, Vivian, 54, were arrested about a week after she and Gao were snatched from the Sengamata Reef Resort in Semporna in the Malaysian island state of Sabah by Tausog-speaking Abu Sayyaf bandits.

“My brother and his wife have been working in Sabah for three decades already, living and working there peacefully. Who, in his proper frame of mind, will connive with kidnappers just like that? Saddening, so saddening,” Tamalla told The Star.

The detained couple also own a small store selling canned goods and other merchandise adjacent to their house in Kampung Parigui, also in Semporna, a 10-minute commute from the resort where Tamalla had worked.

A widow of a Philippine Marine soldier, Tamalla, of Barangay Agriculture in Midsayap, North Cotabato said her brother and  wife were arrested and detained on suspicions they have links with the kidnappers that snatched her and Gao while at Sengamata Reef Resort in Semporna, Sabah.

“I myself was also suspected of being one of them. Malaysian authorities, at first, assumed I was an accomplice of the kidnappers. I was cleared after undergoing extensive questioning after my release. Sadly, my brother wasn’t,” Tamalla said.

Tamalla and Gao were spirited by their captors to Sulu, a component province of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, where they were held captive for 48 days.

“It seemed we were held not far from a downtown because there were times our captors served us nicely cooked food, placed inside disposable containers with the restaurant’s name on it,” Tamalla said.

She said she overheard their captors mention of Talipao and Patikul, both seaside towns in Sulu, while talking about their whereabouts, as they transferred her and Gao from one area to another.

The disposable containers of the food the kidnappers supplied to Tamalla and Gao were marked with the name of a popular fastfood outlet in downtown Jolo, the capital town of Sulu.

Tamalla said their kidnappers were also holding captive a pregnant woman named “Sugar,” whom she learned is from the island town of Sibutu in Tawi-Tawi, also an ARMM component province.

Tamalla said she had repeatedly told the kidnappers that her family in North Cotabato is poor and cannot raise any amount for ransom. She and Gao were set free by their captors in Parang town in Sulu, where they were fetched by Philippine and Malaysian security authorities.

She said she has no idea if Gao’s family had paid ransom to the kidnappers. 

“I’m appealing to the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) to please look into the plight of my older brother, Roberto and his wife, Vivian, they are both innocent,” Tamalla said.

Dayawan’s son by his first wife, the late Rondina, Roberto Jr., who is an enlisted member of the Philippine Army, had urged the national government to help his father and stepmother.

"My father and stepmother are both innocent. I wish that the Malaysian government would set them free," an emotional Roberto Jr. said.

Tamalla said her brother and his wife were taken by the Malaysian police in a detention facility in Tawau, a seaside town in the southeastern coast of Sabah.

“That was the last information, pertaining to their whereabouts, that I got from friends and their neighbors in Sabah before the Malaysian and Philippine governments facilitated my return to the Philippines after we were released by the kidnappers,” Tamalla said.

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