ZAMBOANGA CITY - The local terror group Abu Sayyaf mocked President Duterte’s appeal for the bandits to take a holiday break from their criminal activities for a peaceful Christmas season, snatching four more victims off Sulu province.
Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesperson for the military’s Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom), said the latest victims are four crew members of the fishing boat FB Ramona. They were kidnapped at the Celebes Sea around 2:30 a.m. on Tuesday.
While Tan was not categorical about Abu Sayyaf involvement, the bandits are known to operate in Sulu.
Abu Sayyaf had been behind a series of kidnappings that took place in the high seas surrounding three countries—Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Among Abu Sayyaf captives are Indonesian, Malaysian and Vietnamese fishing boat crewmen.
Tan said the still unidentified kidnapping suspects boarded FB Ramona and took Noel Besconde, the boat captain; Reyjim Rocabo, engine mechanic and crewmen Roy Ramos and Roel Liones. All the victims are from the town of Tukuran, Zamboanga del Sur province.
Tan said the kidnapping was discovered when the crew of FB Melissa 2, a sister ship of FB Ramona, became alarmed when the crew of FB Ramona failed to respond to radio messages since early Tuesday.
He said FB Melissa 2 sailed to the last known location of FB Ramona to find out what was wrong, only to discover that none of FB Ramona’s crewmen is there.
Tan said crewmen of FB Melissa 2 found two-way radio equipment and GPS device of the FB Ramona missing although personal belongings of the crewmen were intact.
FB Ramona is part of a tuna fishing fleet operating in Mindanao.
Tan said the anti-kidnapping Joint Task Force Sulu has sent forces to possible docking sites in Sulu while the Naval Task Group Sulu had been instructed “to initiate appropriate action for possible interception of the perpetrators with the kidnap victims.”
He said local authorities had also been alerted and ordered to send patrols to Basilan, another province where Abu Sayyaf is known to operate.
On Dec. 17, Duterte said in his visit here that he wishes for a peaceful Christmas as he urged communist rebels and Abu Sayyaf to “take a vacation.”
He said he is appealing to Moro and lawless groups to “find it in their hearts” to take a break from committing crimes because the Christmas season “is closest to the hearts of the Christians.”
“I appeal to everyone to let us have a peaceful Christmas,” he said. “Maybe we can resume fighting some other day,” Mr. Duterte added.
Kidnappings of boat and cargo crewmen by Abu Sayyaf and allied gunmen continued despite efforts by the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia to bolster sea security.
Without any known foreign support, Abu Sayyaf has depended largely on kidnappings, extortion and other acts of banditry to raise funds. —JULIE ALIPALA WITH AP AND AFP