Informants get cash reward; hunt on for ASG
TAGBILARAN CITY — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Saturday handed the cash reward from President Rodrigo Duterte to the habal-habal (motorcycle taxi) driver and other informants who provided the vital information that led to the death of Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) members in Bohol.
“I am also here to deliver the promise of the President. We already given the reward for the people who helped neutralize the Abu Sayyaf. The informants also thanked the President for the cash (reward),” Gen. Oscar Lactao, the AFP Central Command (Centcom) commander, announced in a press conference at the Governor’s Mansion in Tagbilaran City.
The AFP, however, declined to say how much was given out and how many received the cash money, saying it was “classified information.” The habal-habal driver and other informants privately got their rewards and were not presented to the media for security reasons.
Also present in the press conference were Gen. Arnulfo Mataguihan, commander of the Philippine Army 302nd Brigade; Senior Supt. Felipe Natividad, director of the Bohol Provincial Police Office; Bohol Gov. Edgar Chatto, Provincial Administrator Alfonso “Ae” Damalerio, Provincial Board Member Ricky Masamayor and Clarin Mayor Allen Ray Piezas.
Chatto said the informants also received a P100,000 reward money from an anonymous donor.
“The province of Bohol gave the reward money to the same persons based on the report of the Armed Forces of the Philippines since they are in the best position (to know) who are the persons who gave the right information,” said Chatto.
Lactao hoped the reward will compel other people to help the government in its fight against terrorism and report sightings of the three ASG stragglers still hiding in Bohol.
Natividad said the habal-habal driver is heavily guarded to protect him from possible retaliation from the terror group. It was the habal-habal driver’s information on April 22 that led authorities to Barangay Bacani, Clarin, where the Abu Sayyaf members who survived the government’s siege in Barangay Napo, Inabanga, on April 11 had been hiding.
The ensuing firefight led to the death of four ASG members, including Joselito Melloria, the Boholano who had guided the ASG team that slipped into Bohol via the Inabanga River on April 10 for a kidnapping and terror mission.
The Clarin clash brought to eight the total number of slain ASG members, four of whom were killed in the Inabanga clash on April 11, including their leader Abu Rami.
The failed rescue
At the height of the Clarin clash, law enforcers manning a checkpoint arrested Supt. Maria Cristina Nobleza and her alleged boyfriend, suspected Abu Sayyaf member and bomb expert Renierlo or Reneer Lou Dongon alias Kudre.
The two were later found to be on a mission to rescue the two remaining ASG members trapped in Bohol. They were also suspected to be on a bombing mission on the island just as Bohol was hosting the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) pre-summit meeting on Panglao Island.
Nobleza and Dongon, both of whom have been brought to Camp Crame in Quezon City, are now facing multiple charges.
Judith Dongon was released pending further investigation and has returned to Mindanao. The 13-year-old boy in their company was turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Natividad said.
Natividad said the owner of the apartment on Panglao Island where Nobleza and her companions were staying was not included in the case since the owner was innocent and cooperated with the police. He said they were still investigating if there were policemen who helped Nobleza in her trip to Bohol.
Difficulties and sightings
Mataguihan, meanwhile, said the terrain and topography of Bohol have made it difficult for them to locate the ASG remnants despite the military’s manpower and artillery.
“We all know that in Bohol, there are hundreds of caves in the area na puwedeng pagtaguan (where they can hide). Inisa-isa namin ito (We are scouring these caves one by one). That’s the situation it ground,” Mataguihan said.
He added: “We would like to assure the people that we are continuing operation and we expect positive result.”
Capt. Jojo Mascariñas, spokesperson of the Army’s 302nd Brigade, said the ASG remnants might have been separated from each other following the clash in Clarin, as they were spotted in two different areas in the province including Trinidad and Clarin towns since Tuesday.
Masamayor, the provincial board’s peace and order committee chairman, said on Friday that the sightings were reported by the Special Investigation Task Group (SITG), a composite team of policemen from various police divisions.
Based on information gathered by the SITG’s intelligence network, a suspected ASG straggler was seen in Barangay Cantuyok, Clarin, at 7 a.m. on April 28. On Tuesday, two men believed to be members of the bandit group were reportedly spotted in Trinidad while they were about to ride on a Southern Star bus at the Trinidad Bus Terminal at 3 p.m. Both sightings were still being confirmed, the military said.
So far, however, the 302nd Brigade only made public the report of a farmer in Buenos Aires, Tubigon, who reportedly saw an ASG straggler wearing new clothes and who had asked him for food and slippers. Buenos Aires is a village that shares border with Clarin.
Mascariñas noted that the bandits might have left behind their firearms so they could easily blend with villagers.
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