The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) in Northern Mindanao is holding five persons of interest it intercepted at the port of Macabalan, Cagayan de Oro City, around 10 p.m. Monday, June 19.
Captain Leo Panopio, PCG-Northern Mindanao commander, said the five men were held after Coast Guard personnel found them using fake identification cards (ID) to gain entry to the passenger terminal to board a vessel bound for Manila via Bacolod City.
Panopio said the men, all aged between 20 to 35 years old, identified themselves as Alinor Dimaporo, Ameroding Unte, Bashit Unti, Abubacar Ibrahim and Abdel Cali Hamid.
"Pumasok na sila sa passenger terminal para sumakay ng barko yung ID nila ay suspicious na at kaagad na-observe na parang balisa sila so lahat ng mga (When they showed their IDs, it was suspicious and we also observed that they were absent minded. All) suspicious at (and) suspected ay (are) subject for questioning," Panopio said.
The PCG-Northern Mindanao commander said the five men later admitted to having used fake IDs.
Panopio said the group came from Marawi City and Lanao del Sur and claimed to be Muslim missionaries.
He said the five men are not in the list of wanted terrorists but said the PCG has alerted both the military and police and efforts are now underway to verify if the five men have links to extremists fighting government forces in Marawi City.
Authorities said they will subject the cellphones of the arrested men to forensic examination.
Panopio said they are also investigating whether the five men stayed in the city before leaving for Manila.
"Tinitingnan din natin angulo kung sila ba ay nakacheck-in dito sa hotel or may kamag-anak ba dito. Wala sila ibang document yung fake ID lang at cellphone (We will investigate whether these five men checked into a hotel here or have relatives here. They don't have any documents aside from the fake IDs and cellphones)," Panopio said.
The five men are being detained at the holding area of the PCG-Northern Mindanao while the investigation is ongoing on their real identities.
Panopio said the five will face appropriate charges relating to the use fake IDs.
"Ito muna ang kasong masasampa sa kanila. Hindi sila sumasagot kapag tinatanong sa (As of now, this is will be the charges. They don't answer if asked about) Marawi siege," Panopio said.
Panopio warned Maute fighters and sympathizers fleeing Marawi City could not escape authorities' rigid security inspections at the different ports in the region.
"Yung nagbabalak na sumakay sa barko gamit ang pekeng ID hindi kayo makakalusot dahil triple yung efforts natin sa inspections (Those who planned on boarding a passenger vessel using fake IDs, you won't pass through as we will triple our effort for inspection)," Panopio added.