A top military officer quelled fears that some bandits from the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) have crossed to Cebu.
Capt. Jojo Mascariñas, spokesperson of the 302nd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army, said the eight remaining ASG members who survived the gun battle with government forces in Barangay Napo, Inabanga town last April 11 are trapped in the village.
“Ang walo ay nasa bundok ng Napo. Monitored namin sila. (All eight bandits are in the mountains of Napo. We are monitoring them),” he told Cebu Daily News over the phone on Friday.
He nonetheless advised people from Bohol and Cebu to be vigilant at all times and to help government troopers in fighting the bandit group.
On the other hand, government troops continue to search for two armed men who were spotted along the beach lines of Barangay San Vicente on Olango Island on Thursday afternoon.
San Vicente Barangay Captain Cyrus Eyas, however, said the sightings and the presence of soldiers and policemen created fear especially among residents of Sitios Basdaku and Baskural where the two armed men were reportedly seen.
He said they feared the two were members of the ASG who were being hunted down in Inabanga since the Bohol town is located just across Olango Island and can be reached in a little over an hour’s travel by pumpboat.
Trapped in Bohol
Bohol Gov. Edgar Chatto also maintained that the Abu Sayyaf bandits were still in Inabanga town, about 71 km. from the capital city of Tagbilaran.
“Until last (Thursday) night, the information received from the police was the armed men were still in Inabanga,” Chatto told reporters during his weekly program “Kita Ug Ang Gobernador” at the Governor’s Mansion.
Mascariñas added that not only were the eight ASG members still trapped in Bohol; one of them, Joselito Milloria, a Bohol native, sustained a gunshot wound on his left shoulder during the gunfight.
Since Milloria hails from Inabanga town, Mascariñas said there is a possibility that he now serves as the leader of the bandit group that entered Bohol.
“Milloria is familiar with the place. He must be serving as the leader of the bandits,” he said.
With over a week since the gunfight between the ASG members and government troopers, Mascariñas said they did not know how the bandits survive in the mountains.
“Where do they get food to eat That’s the big question we could hardly answer. But perhaps they start to beg for food to survive,” Mascariñas said.
Frank Baylosis, spokesperson of the Inabanga municipal government, told CDN by phone yesterday that many residents of Napo still stay in the evacuation centers, returning to their village only at daytime to tend to their flock and farms.
He said they feared that some residents returning home during the day might be abducted by the bandits to be used as human shields. But he said the local government could not stop them since they are worried about their crops and animals.
Based on government records, Napo, a farming community, currently has 163 registered families, which translates to 781 individuals.
“I appeal to the people to stay vigilant. If they see suspicious-looking persons, report it right away to authorities,” Baylosis said.
Posters with the names and photographs of three of the eight remaining ASG members in Bohol were distributed to the people to help government troopers monitor the area.
“We were informed by the military that the bandits are trapped in the mountains of Napo. We don’t know why our troopers have not neutralized them. I believe there are tactical moves they need to consider,” Baylosis said.
He added: “Of course, the bandits are on the mountains. They apparently have an advantage over our soldiers.”
Mascariñas said they need the help of the public in monitoring the remaining bandits.
“Frankly speaking, it’s hard to secure Bohol considering its very wide coastline. Let’s help one another. The community must serve as the extended eyes of the government forces,” he said.
He reiterated that the tension is nonetheless confined in Barangay Napo.
“The rest of Bohol as well as Cebu is safe,” Mascariñas said.
At least six ASG members, including their leader Maumar “Abu Rami” Askali, were killed in the seige that also killed three soldiers and a policeman.
But eight others bandits — Joselito “Alih” Milloria and those with aliases Richard, Asis, Ubayda, Poy, Dah, Saad and Amra — escaped.
President Rodrigo Duterte has offered a P1-million reward to anyone who could lead to the capture of the ASG members in Bohol, dead or alive.
Not all Muslims are Abu Sayyaf
Malo Manonggiring, director of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos in Central Visayas (NCMF-7), meanwhile, said they are also on the lookout for the presence of ASG members in Cebu.
“We can assure the public that there are no sightings of Abu Sayyaf members in Cebu,” Manonggiring said.
He also appealed to the public to be alert at all times and report to authorities any suspicious-looking persons and unusual activities.
“Labanan natin itong naghahasik ng gulo. Magkaisa tayo. Dapat protektahan natin ang ating sariling bayan. Walang magtutulungan kung hindi tayo.
(Let us fight those who spread violence. Let us be united and protect our country. There’s no one to help each other but us),” he said.
“Religion is not a barrier. We are all Filipinos,” he added.
Manonggiring clarified that not all Muslims or those from Mindanao are members of the ASG.
“Even our President (Rodrigo Duterte) is from Mindanao. If you come from Mindanao, it doesn’t mean that you are an Abu Sayyaf,” he said.
He said the Muslim community in Cebu understand that the police were just validating all reports when some of their Muslim brothers or sisters were held for questioning, similar to what happened in Oslob on Thursday.
“All reports should be validated by the police. We could not be complacent,” he said.
Manonggiring urged the government to make good of its plan to rid the country of the terror group from Sulu, adding he has high hopes that President Duterte will fulfill his promise to go after the bandits.
“Sana maubos na yang mga taong baloktot ang pagiisip. Tapusin na yan. (I hope these people with twisted thinking will be suppressed. Finish them off),” he said.
Manonggiring said the ASG has been operating for decades, yet the previous administrations have failed to stop their banditry.
“The problem was previous administrations are not sincere in getting rid of the Abu Sayyaf. If only the government is sincere and will use its entire force, I’m sure this group will not thrive,” he said.
Manonggiring said ASG members are not real Muslims because they have no respect for human life and dignity.
“Abu Sayyaf members are criminals. They are not real Muslims. They only claim to be one. Real Muslims are not involved in kidnap for ransoms or killings. Instead, Muslims protect the rights of others. If you kill even just one person, it’s as if you kill whole of humanity,” he explained.
He said ASG members just want to enrich themselves by kidnapping people, particularly foreigners.
“Pera-pera lang yan. Walang silang alam na religion. (They are only after money. They know nothing about religion),” he said.