THE hostage-taking Monday of two civilians in Pangangan Island, Calape, Bohol, meant the Abu Sayyaf threat persisted, the bandits were moving and they were willing to take civilians in their escape.
According to police reports, the same Abu Sayyaf bandits who were involved in the Inabanga, Bohol, gun battles in April were part of the hostage-taking in Calape. The distance from Inabanga to Calape is 30.7 kms or some 40 minutes of travel time through the Bohol Circumferential Road, a check with Google Maps showed. Not very far but Calape was closer than Inabanga to the southern part of Cebu. Both Inabanga and Calape are third-class municipalities found north of the capital, Tagbilaran city.
The hostage-taking Monday was different from past hostage incidents blamed on the Abu Sayyaf. The bandit group was known for kidnapping people, mostly foreigners, for ransom. Those who failed to pay were beheaded or held for longer periods until payment is made or government forces intervened. Held by the Abu Sayyaf in Calape were an old man and his grandchild who were gathering seashells. Their value to the bandit group was probably as guide to help the Abu Sayyaf move or as insurance the bandits would not be attacked by the police. The two hostages were eventually rescued and brought to the local police station for their safety.
The two members of the bandit group, Abu Asis and Abu Ubayda, who were reportedly behind the hostage-taking were in turn killed in police and military operations. Abu Ubayda was first killed by police during the rescue, followed by Abu Asis who was shot to death during military pursuit operations. They were believed to be the remaining members of the Abu Sayyaf group that entered Inabanga town last April. Were they the last of the group in the Visayas? That is not yet clear from police and military reports.
Last April, the bandit group’s incursion into the Visayas was foiled when government forces tracked them and engaged them in gun battles that left fatalities in both the government and Abu Sayyaf sides. Reports said the bandits targeted Bohol’s beach resorts, favorites among foreign tourists, to get fresh hostages for ransom. It was to be their first foray outside of their stronghold in Basilan in Mindanao. Foreign governments that time warned their citizens from going to parts of Bohol and Cebu because of threats of kidnappings.
Did the two deaths Monday mark the end of the Abu Sayyaf incursion into the Visayas or could there still be stragglers hiding in some dark, uninhabited place? Hard to tell. Government forces have to confirm the identities of all those killed in the operations against the bandit group in the Visayas and get statements on their numbers.
Until government categorically declares the threat is over, vigilance in the communities should continue and the police and military have to maintain their presence. And the displacement and tension experienced by residents of Inabanga and Calape sadly would remain.