SEARCHING for the three remaining Abu Sayyaf members is like looking for a "needle in a haystack."
This was how Capt. Jojo Mascariñas, spokesperson of the 302nd Brigade of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, described the manhunt in Bohol for Asis, Abu Omar or Saad and Ubayda after they discovered that the three are looking for ways to escape, individually.
"It was much easier if we are hunting a group because we can isolate them from the community. But with this, we are looking for three separate persons and our troops will have a hard time," Mascariñas told SunStar Cebu in a phone interview.
The military official said that the three may have already discarded their only firearm so they can approach residents in far-flung sitios in Inabanga and Clarin for help.
Fact from fiction
Recently, a man suspected of being Ubayda asked a farmer for food in Buenos Aires, Tubigon.
Mascariñas also appealed to the public to only provide firsthand information and not hearsay.
"It's hard for us to segregate true information from a bogus one because of the influx of reports. Our troops go from one town to another to verify. Just imagine if only a few are positive and the rest are negative and just rumors," he said.
Mascariñas said residents can conduct a citizen's arrest if they're sure they're dealing with an Abu Sayyaf member after authorities plastered posters with the three men's pictures all over the island.
"But be careful," he added.
Authorities continue to monitor the bandits' movement. Two of them were sighted on board a bus from Talibon to Trinidad last Tuesday afternoon.
Bohol Provincial Police Office Director Senior Supt. Felipe Natividad said they're encouraging bus liners in Bohol to put up the posters with the Abu Sayyaf men's pictures inside their vehicles.
"We are receiving reports. We’re talking to the conductors, the drivers and there are a lot of people helping us now so it will take us time to verify all of the information," he said.
Natividad said the bandits are having a hard time blending in with the community.
"They are not being supported by the people. They're all angry at them, even the Muslims in Bohol. They don’t consider the Abu Sayyaf as Muslims because Muslims are good people," Natividad said.
According to the Military Intelligence Group (MIG) 7, Asis and Abu Omar were recognized when they rode a bus last Tuesday.
The conductor, the inspector and the driver confirmed their identities through a poster at the Talibon Bus Terminal.
The Coast Guard and local police have been coordinating after the two men reportedly got off in Trinidad.
Police have set up a checkpoint in the town, while the Coast Guard is checking departing ferry passengers.
According to the latest update from the Special Investigation Task Group-Bohol (SITG), two of the Abu Sayyaf members were sighted in Barangay Buntod last Thursday night, while the other one was spotted in Barangay Cantuyok yesterday morning. Both barangays are in Clarin.
Natividad said they are verifying information that an Anthony "Tony" Yosup, allegedly Melloria's contact, got on board a boat in Cagayan de Oro and sailed to Jagna, Bohol.
"There are many names that are cropping up. There's a certain Alden Yosup, there's an Anthony and then there's a Saad. We are still verifying the information," he said.
Natividad assured the public that the remaining three Abu Sayyaf members in Bohol will find it difficult getting out of the island.
"The stragglers are still in Bohol, unable to escape, tired and in hiding while possibly waiting for or arranging rescue efforts," the SITG-Bohol said.