By Roel Pareño
Publish in Philstar.com
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. has ordered his men to rescue the remaining 14 hostages, including seven foreigners, still being held by the Abu Sayyaf bandits, a military official said over the weekend.
The order came as doubts were cast on the government’s “no ransom policy” with the alleged payment of P250 million for the release of German hostages Stefan Viktor Okonek and Henrike Dielen last Oct. 17.
“Catapang wants all the remaining hostages be rescued,” Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, AFP public affairs chief, told journalists here.
Military and police records showed that the remaining hostages are Europeans Elwold Horn and Lorenzo Vinciguerra; Malaysians Kons Zakiah Aleip and Chan Sai Chun; Chinese Li Pei Zhel, Dina Lim and Yahong Tan Lim; Japanese Toshio Ito and Filipinos Michelle Panes, Ronnie Sandagon, Jerel Pepito, Hadjan Perong, Joshua Bani and an eight-year-old girl.
Cabunoc said the military is verifying the number of captives in a certain location, believing that not all hostages are in Sulu.
“We believe it’s not just one group that is holding them. The other hostages may be in Basilan or Zamboanga,” he said.
Strengthen partnership with civilians
Catapang also ordered field commanders to strengthen their partnership with the civilian communities in Sulu to prevent them from joining the Abu Sayyaf.
Cabunoc said military commanders were ordered to visit local communities to identify problems that encourage the people to join the bandits.
Army Col. Allan Arrojado, chief of the Joint Task Group in Sulu, said Catapang directed them to contact village leaders, know their problems and identify projects and other social interventions that would address the problems.
Arrojado is confident the military will capture the terrorists responsible for the kidnappings.
He said most of the soldiers pursuing the bandits are new to the province and are still familiarizing themselves with the terrain. He said such challenges do not discourage them from fulfilling their task.
“Expectations are high. The whole country and the people are expecting results. We won’t stop until we track them down,” he said in Filipino.