LESS than 24 hours after the local enforcement units said they have not received threats in southern Cebu, a suspected Abu Sayyaf member was caught in a raid in Barangay Ocaña, Carcar City past 3 a.m. yesterday.
The arrest of Oger Roma Pelonio, also known as Juncal and Aktoy, came after Malacañang ordered a surveillance on him.
The directive was based on intelligence reports from the military, dyLA radio reported.
Pelonio, 69, denied being an Abu Sayyaf member and disowned the evidence seized from him.
“I even served in the army before and now I was accused of being part of the Abu Sayyaf? I’m old and I can’t walk properly anymore because of my arthritis and I have maintenance medicine for my diabetes,” he said.
Pelonio named a retired police officer as the owner of the house he was renting in Ocaña. Investigators will check the former policeman’s profile.
Pelonio was allegedly involved in extortion acivities in Mindanao. When politicians and businessmen would not give in to his demands, he would make a scene by setting off an explosive.
Pelonio had reportedly started to extort money from fast food chains in some parts of Central Visayas before his arrest yesterday. He allegedly threatened to set off a bomb outside the establishment if his demands were ignored.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines-Central Command (Centcom) placed Pelonio under surveillance after the bombing in Lamitan, Basilan last July 31.
“We automatically strengthened our defense posture, alerting our troops especially on the entry and exit points coming from the south to make sure that we wont have an incident here similar to what happened in Basilan because it was very disastrous,” said CentCom spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar.
Ocaña Barangay Captain Dario Ramos, in an interview, said Pelonio had no known relatives in their village.
Though generally quiet, Ramos said, Pelonio has no friends in the area and is known to be irritable whenever someone tries to look him in the eye.
Earlier this year, Ramos summoned Pelonio to the barangay hall over complaints that he refused to remove his two vehicles in the village driveway where he frequently drinks.
A year before, Ramos had two confrontations with Pelonio over the same problem.
When he heard reports that Pelonio was arrested yesterday, Ramos said he was surprised.
The barangay captain said that some residents in his village thought that Pelonio was often acting suspicious.
In yesterday’s raid, operatives seized from Pelonio two .45 pistols with live bullets, a loaded Ingram submachine pistol, a .38 revolver with bullets, a hand grenade, two rifle grenades, bomb-making materials, religious materials, eight aerial maps, a printed sketch of a bomb, cellphones and a pocket Wifi.
A search warrant issued by Regional Trial Court Branch 18 Judge Gilbert Moises authorized the operation conducted by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group 7, Police Regional Office (PRO) 7, Cebu Provincial Police Office, Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP), Intelligence Service Group-Philippine Army, and National Intelligence Coordinating Agency 7.
Early this week, the British Government issued an updated travel advisory discouraging British nationals from traveling to southern Cebu “up to and including the municipalities of Dalaguete and Badian, due to the threat of terrorism.”
Other parts of the country, including Palawan, western and central Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago, were also included in the advisory.
Col. Noel Baluyan, Centcom’s Task Force Sugbo commander, said last Wednesday that Cebu is under “threat level 2,” which means that the province may still be a target of terrorism but that there are no monitored activities.
Supt. Janette Rafter, provincial police spokesperson, said that police and military are in place in southern Cebu.
Senior Supt. Angelito Dumangeng, PRO 7 deputy director for operations, said that investigation on Pelonio’s connections in Cebu and other provinces in Central Visayas will continue.
Carcar City Mayor Nicepuro Apura, meanwhile, thanked authorities for Pelonio’s arrest.
He urged the public to be extra vigilant.
Despite Pelonio’s arrest, Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale said Cebu is still generally safe for tourists.
But Cebu Provincial Tourism Officer Joselito Costas said Pelonio’s identity as a suspected Abu Sayyaf member is a “cause for concern.”
Centcom assured the public, though, that they are doing their best to prevent any terror activities in Cebu and the Visayas. (KAL, JOB, JKV WITH KOC)