Engineers inspect a newly opened section of the 55-kilometer ARMM-funded Basilan Transcentral Road project. Philstar.com/John Unson
 
Abus beheaded Vietnamese captives to show opposition to road project
John Unson (Philstar.com) - July 8, 2017 - 10:31am

COTABATO CITY, Philippines  The July 5 beheading in Basilan of two Vietnamese by the Abu Sayyaf was partly a vengeful rage against a highway project that will make their only bastion now in the province accessible to the military, officials said Saturday.

The decapitated cadavers of Hoang Trung Thong and Hoang Van Hai were dumped by their captors along a road in Limbo Tulan area in Barangay Tumahubong in Sumisip town in Basilan, a strategic spot where the P1 billion-worth Basilan Transcentral Road would soon cut through.

The construction of the 55-kilometer Transcentral Road is a joint high-ticket project of the Office of the Regional Governor in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and its regional public works department under engineer Don Loong.

At least 19 kilometers of its 55-kilometer span had been opened, now ready for concreting.

The overland artery will connect Barangay Santa Clara in Lamitan City, which is the capital of Basilan, to Sumisip town, stretching through mountain ranges in the heart of the island province.

Abu Sayyaf bandits thrice attempted to kill using improvised explosive devices engineer Soler Undug, chief of the Basilan District Engineering Office, for his involvement in the colossal road project.

Undug is also overseeing dozens more of current ARMM-funded projects in former enclaves of the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan that original settlers have reoccupied recently with the help of authorities.

Military officials and local executives said on Saturday that the remaining band of the Abu Sayyaf holding out in hinterlands in Basilan’s adjoining Punoh Lumot and Batu Lareg areas, touted as the group's “last frontier” in the province, executed their two foreign captives partly to show their opposition to the road project.

Local officials, the police and the military restored government control over larger Abu Sayyaf camps in the island province in recent months through governance and security interventions that also resulted in the surrender, in batches, of more than a hundred armed extremists, now being organized into livelihood cooperatives.

A Christian elder, whose house is not too distant from the spot where the beheaded Vietnamese were found, said via mobile phone Saturday that bandits are keeping more than a dozen improvised explosive devices they intend to use on road-building equipment once workers start constructing the section of the highway traversing their remaining camp.

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. of the Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City said indeed there could have been two objectives in the execution of the two Vietnamese.

“Information relayed to us by people there indicated that it was `two-pronged’ and also aimed at creating an impression that the group still exist in the province,” Galvez said.

Galvez said the Vietnamese were killed to dramatize opposition to the Transcentral Road project and to avenge the deaths in encounters with soldiers of a big number of Abu Sayyaf gunmen who participated in the violent incursion into Marawi City of the Maute terror group.

“All of their camps in the lowlands in Basilan are now controlled by duly constituted barangay governments, secured jointly by the police and the military and, in some areas, by forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front,” Galvez said.

The national government has separate diplomatic overtures with both fronts.

Senior members of the inter-agency Basilan provincial peace and order council corroborated the assertion of Galvez.

“One reason why they dumped the dead bodies of the two Vietnamese near Barangay Tumahubong is to embarrass the local government unit of Sumisip, whose local officials are hostile to the Abu Sayyaf,” said a key provincial staff of the Department of the Interior and Local Government-ARMM.

The Abu Sayyaf tried to kill using a powerful roadside bomb the vice mayor of Sumisip, Adnan Hataman, early this year.

Irate political supporters of Hataman and armed Sumisip residents immediately counter-attacked, forcing local Abu Sayyaf members to abandon their homes and retreat deeper into forested hills in the Limbo Tulan and Sampinit areas.

The ARMM’s Transcentral Road project would reach the remaining Abu Sayyaf lairs possibly by middle of 2018, according to a timeframe set by engineers.

There were evacuations by ethnic Yakan families in the Punuh Lumut, in Batu Lareg and in Upper Limbo Tulan areas in the past four weeks as Abu Sayyaf forces became restive due to a continuing military crackdown.

Villagers are worried the Abu Sayyaf would hostage and use them as shields to prevent soldiers from closing in.

Bandits have threatened to execute villagers on suspicion that they led Hoang Vo, a compatriot of the two slain Vietnamese, to a daring dash to freedom about a month ago while an Army artillery unit atop Hill 457 in Barangay Tumahubong was pounding with 105 Howitzer cannons the surroundings their lair.

The murdered Thong and Hai, and the rescued Vo, who is now in Vietnam, and companions Pham Tuan, Do Trung Hieu, Tran Khac Dung, were crew members of  the Vietnamese ship M/V Royal 16 that bandits hijacked off Sibagu Island in Basilan in November 2016.

Villagers also reported that a group of Abu Sayyaf gunmen arrived there from Marawi City on June 24 with 10 “Maranaw men” in tow.

Three of the Maranaws looked wounded, according to an unimpeachable source.

Another source said the report gained credence when stories spread around last week purporting that a motorcycle carrying two men from Lamitan City, en route to Barangay Tumahubong, figured in an accident that scattered the luggage of passengers on the concrete pavement, spilling off newly-procured assorted medicines.

“Some of the medicines in foils were labeled Cloxacillin and Mefenamic Acid,” said the source.

Mefenamic Acid is a potent pain reliever while Cloxacillin is an antibiotic recommended  for infections due to Staphylococcus Aureus bacteria that causes inflammation and pus build-up in open wounds.

Wesmincom intelligence units are now validating the reported return to Basilan of Abu Sayyaf members who helped the Maute terror group lay siege to several barangays in Marawi City.

Chief Superintendent Reuben Theodore Sindac, ARMM’s police director, said he has directed the police director of Basilan, Senior Superintendent Nickson Muksan, to monitor closely the activities of remnants of the Abu Sayyaf in areas soldiers are trying to secure now to ensure the unhampered construction of the Transcentral Road.

“Coordination with people on the ground who are against the presence of Abu Sayyaf terrorists  is being initiated to hasten our effort,” Sindac said.

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