Kidnappers slip past dragnet

SECURITY forces continued their search for the three foreigners and a Filipino who were abducted by still unknown armed men, spurring fears that the kidnappers may have slipped past the dragnet in Southern Mindanao.

Capt. Alberto Caber, spokesperson of the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command, said operations were no longer limited to the Davao Region, fueling speculation that the victims could have been taken out of the main island of Mindanao to Basilan.

Reaction patrol. Coast guards board a boat off Davao City and Samal Island on Friday as law enforcers continued to search for three foreigners and one Filipina hostage who were kidnapped from their yacht in Samal Island on Thursday. AFP

Police Chief Supt. Federico Dulay, head of Task Force Oceanview, said the police believes the kidnappers and their victims —Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, and Filipina Tess Flor—were still in the region.

Meanwhile, Malacañang oppose on Friday the offer of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte that exchange himself for the freedom of the victims.

“Operations are already underway to rescue [the victims]. It would not be prudent for government to place another in a risky situation,” said Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte, in a text message to the Malacañang Press Corps.

At the same time, Malacañang maintained that the Philippines is a safe place for tourists, and that the Samal Island kidnapping incident is an isolated case.

“The Island Garden City of Samal is one of the most popular and favored tourist destinations in the country on account of its scenic location, superior facilities and peaceful environment,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. during a press briefing in Malacañang.

“Records show that the last known high-profile criminal incident in this tourist island happened in 2001 when there was a foiled attempt by a group allegedly the Abu Sayyaf—an alleged kidnapping attempt on the part of the Abu Sayyaf,” Coloma said.

“So that was 2001 or 14 years ago. The police and military authorities are doing their level best to track and arrest the perpetrators so they can be brought to the bar of justice and they are working for the early and safe release of those that were abducted from Samal Island,” said Coloma.

Coloma declined to state whether the authorities still consider the Abu Sayyaf Group as suspects in the abduction.

“In my opinion, what is important is the authorities’ focus on arresting the suspects, whoever is responsible, as well as the safe rescue of the victims who were forcibly abducted from the island,” Coloma said.

Coloma said the issuance of “travel advisories” against the Philippines is a right of any foreign country.

“However, we assure them that the government is doing everything it can in order to ensure the safety of all foreign nationals in our country, and to stop criminality. Because we want to maintain peace and order nationwide,” said Coloma.

“It is clear that in the recent abduction in Samal Island, which is a favored tourist destination, this is not a usual incident in the area, and records showed it has been more than 14 years since a similar incident happened,” said Coloma.

“We hope that the situation would stabilize,” said Coloma. 

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