Sighted ASG remnants ‘slip through’ dragnet
Calape, Bohol — Two remaining Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits hiding in the mangrove swamps of Pangangan Island, Bohol, are now believed to have escaped a government dragnet, a source privy to the manhunt operations told Cebu Daily News.
According to the official who spoke on condition of anonymity, the two ASG stragglers known only as Abu Asis and Abu Ubayda are nowhere to be found, two days after assault government troops and navy vessels surrounded the island on Thursday.
The bandits were believed to have been hiding in a mangrove forest preserve connected by a four-kilometer causeway to mainland Calape town.
But the police official said that Asis and Ubayda managed to slip through government forces and checkpoints under the cover of darkness when pursuing troops decided to stop the search at nightfall on Friday.
Army soldiers began combing the island’s five-hectare mangrove swamps since early Friday to look for the two bandits, but they remained elusive.
“They could possibly swim their way to freedom at night and escape the military cordon,” the official told CDN.
“They might go to Sandingan Island or Cabilao Island in Loon town,” the source added.
Earlier on Wednesday afternoon, several island residents spotted the two men paddling a stolen boat from Sitio Abucayan in Barangay Liboron, still in Calape.
They were also seen together somewhere in Barangay Candungao in San Isidro town near Calape last Monday.
The villagers immediately reported the sightings to authorities.
On Thursday evening, checkpoints were set up in the seven barangays on Pangangan Island.
By the crack of dawn on Friday, government troops were already seen on the island’s Barangays Kahayag and Lawis.
Rubber boats from the Philippine Navy roved the waters surrounding the island while helicopters hovered at night to prevent the ASG members’ escape.
But Bohol Provincial Police Office (BPPO) director Senior Supt. Felipe Natividad Jr. said that it was possible that the bandits escaped from the island through the causeway to get to mainland Calape.
While authorities continue the manhunt against the suspects, Natividad said, they had yet to verify the sightings reported by villagers.
“Hindi pa natin masasabi na sila yun hanga’t hindi pa nahuhuli. But yung informant sabi niya kamukha ni Asis talaga,” Natividad said.
(We can’t really say if those were the bandits until we catch them. But the informant said that one really looked like Asis.)
Asis and Ubayda are reportedly armed and dangerous with pistols and grenades.
Government troops continued to scour Pangangan Island searching for the bandits while residents went on with their lives, celebrating the feast of their patron, Our Lady of Fatima.
The two are the remaining members of a group of about 11 ASG members who entered Bohol last April 10 on board three kumpits (two-engine motorboats) on a terror and kidnapping mission in Bohol and neighboring provinces.
Four ASG members, including their leader Muammar Askali alias Abu Rami, were killed in the government’s initial assault in Barangay Napo, Inabanga town on April 11.
Over a week later, on April 22, four of the seven remaining ASG members who were on the run were killed after they were sighted in Inabanga’s neighboring town of Clarin.
Among those killed was their sub-leader Joselito Melloria, a Boholano and a native of Inabanga town.
Last May 4, Saad Samad Kiram alias Abu Saad was arrested in Barangay Tanawan in Tubigon town after he came out of hiding to look for food in the village.
But less than 24 hours after his capture, he was gunned down by police for allegedly trying to escape while being transported to the Bohol District Jail.
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