THE Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) has directed all its units to intensify intelligence monitoring to deny a group of gunmen from transporting hostages into the Philippine territory.
Major Arvin John Encinas, Westmincom spokesperson, said this came after the Joint Task Force Tawi-Tawi received an information relayed by Malaysian counterparts that gunmen intercepted a tugboat around 3 p.m. Friday, January 17, off Lahad Datu, Sabah.
Encinas said it was not mentioned in the relayed information what specific group was behind the incident.
The tugboat, with body number SSK-00543, had eight Malaysian crewmen aboard, but only three were aboard the watercraft when Malaysian authorities recovered the boat in Lahad Datu, Sabah.
The recovered crew were identified as Abdul Latif, Daeng Akbal, and Pian bin Janiru.
Missing were Riswanto Bin Hayono, Edi Bin Lawalopo, La Baa, Arizal Kastamiran and Arshad Bin Dahlan.
The recovered crew told Malaysian authorities that six gunmen clad in black suits with masks intercepted them in high seas.
The gunmen were aboard a gray boat powered by 40 horse power twin engine.
Encinas said intelligence monitoring has been intensified in all areas the gunmen might use as entry point to the country.
Encinas said they have also maximized the utilization of the Barangay Intelligence Network and fisherfolk "for information collection in coordination with the local government units to deny at all cost the group from transporting the victims through our area."
"We already conducted maritime security patrol though it is not yet confirmed the gunmen brought the victims to the area of operations of Westmincom," he said. (SunStar Zamboanga)