DAVAO CITY -- The entire Davao region was placed under red alert status while a special task group was formed to go after gunmen who seized three foreigners and a Filipina from a resort in Samal Island Monday.
Senior Superintendent Aaron Aquino, deputy regional director for operations of the Police Regional Office (PRO)-Davao, said even the neighboring provinces of Davao del Sur, Compostela Valley, and Davao Oriental were under red alert status, as all police officers in the region, including personnel from the Philippine Army, Coast Guard, and Navy, were mobilized to go after the gunmen who attacked the Holiday Ocean View Resort in Barangay Camudmud, Babak District, Island Garden City of Samal.
The group of fully-armed men seized from the resort around 11:30 p.m. Monday Kjartan Sekkingstad, a Norwegian national and operations manager of Holiday Ocean View; John Ridsel and Robert Hall, both Canadian nationals; and Tess, a Dabawenya and Hall's girlfriend.
Until late afternoon Tuesday, Tess’ full identity was not available.
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, as chair of the regional peace and order council, convened a command conference early Tuesday after being sought out for help by the owner of the resort.
Soon after, the Special Investigation Task Group (SITG) "Ocean View" was created by the PRO to go after the gunmen.
"I will be the overall commander of the SITG Ocean View while Senior Superintendent Samuel Gadingan will be the deputy since the incident happened under his area of responsibility. But our operations will be assisted by the Army, Coast Guard and Navy," said Aquino.
He said the 20 hooded armed men infiltrated the resort and initially abducted five individuals, including an American national identified as Steven Tripp, along with his Japanese girlfriend.
Tripp and his girlfriend were hauled into the motorboats but they fought back, escaped from the hands of the kidnappers, and jumped into the waters as the two motorboats sped off.
"Since nagkaroon nang commotion, pinabayaan na lang sila ng mga abductors. They were brought immediately to a hospital in Igacos. They are safe now and were released from the hospital," Aquino said.
Commodore Joselito dela Cruz, commander for the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Southern Mindanao, said the Coast Guard and Navy launched a hot pursuit operation against the unidentified abductors.
"We have dispatched three vessels, which are considered as floating assets. They are in-charge of patrolling the Davao Gulf area for possible traces of the suspects' whereabouts," Dela Cruz told Sun.Star in a separate phone interview.
He admitted that the Coast Guard has a sub-station in Samal but it is far away from the place of incident.
"Tini-trace natin ngayon ay kung saan nila dinala yung mga victims. We are basically monitoring the coastal areas near the place of incident," he added.
Around 9:10 a.m. Tuesday, two motor boats were found abandoned along the coastline in Barangay Tibanban in Governor Generoso town in Davao Oriental. They were believed to be the ones used by the armed suspects. But Dela Cruz said they have yet to confirm the report.
"Pinupuntahan pa ng tao natin along with the Navy and Davao Oriental police officers," he said.
Senior Superintendent Joseph Sepulchre, police director of the Davao Oriental Police Provincial Office, also said that they are tracking the presence of the armed group in their area following the discovery of the two abandoned motor boats.
"Kahit hindi pa yun confirmed na ginamit ng mga bandido ay may sightings na rin kasi dito sa ating area, so nakadeploy na ang mga tao natin," Sepulchre added.
Eastern Mindanao Command public information officer, Captain Alberto Caber, said that Commodore Rafael Mariano, commander of the Naval Forces EasMinCom, initiated the Navy to provide support to the Philippine National Police (PNP) in its operations.
A piece of paper with a note that says, "Katarungan ng aming commander" with an alleged signature of a New people's Army (NPA) was recovered by the responding officers from the Igacos PNP.
Aquino said they will also try to investigate the possible involvement of the NPA rebels in the kidnapping incident.
"Isa yan sa mga titingnan natin. We don't have concrete evidence yet but it might be a strategy to sway our investigation but we won't take chances din," Aquino said.
Police said they managed to get a copy of a closed circuit television (CCTV) camera inside the resort but it appeared to be blurred, making it difficult for them to even identify one of the abductors.
While pursuit operations and investigation are ongoing, Igacos Mayor Aniano Antalan, in his statement issued to the media, urged all the resort owners in Samal to double check their security measures to protect their visitors.
He also asked them to install more high definition CCTV cameras inside their resorts and get additional well-trained security guards.
The Davao City Police Office (DCPO) also said that it will not take chances in its security measures even if the incident took place in Igacos, which is a different city in a separate province.
Chief Inspector Milgrace Driz said the DCPO also deployed more police personnel along the coastlines of Davao City, particularly in beach resorts in Talomo and Sasa area.
"We are closely monitoring all resorts in the city and we provided additional maritime police. Maximum security ang ipoprovide natin but so far, negative sa ating intel ang presence ng armed group dito," Driz said. (Sun.Star Davao/Sunnex)