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Abu Sayyaf behind latest Basilan abduction - AFP

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The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Tuesday blamed the Abu Sayyaf bandits for the recent abduction of several Chinese and Filipino nationals in Basilan province.

Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr. said the 30 armed men that reportedly snatched plywood factory workers belong to the same Abu Sayyaf faction that also abducted and beheaded school principal Gabriel “Bong" Cazinares.

The latest victims were abducted Tuesday past midnight at Sitio Tehem, Barangay Buto, Townsite, Maluso, Basilan.

Several reports on their number and identity, however, differ.

A police report in Basilan province identified the victims as Michael Tan, Oscar Lu, and Mark Singson. In Manila, the National Police Commission (Napolcom) said victims were Michael Tan, Oscar Tan, Jerry Tan, and a certain Mark, who were abducted together with an unspecified number of factory workers.

Brawner said the latest abduction could either be another kidnap-for-ransom case or a “diversionary tactic" against the government, following the ongoing military operations against Canizares’ abductors.

Meanwhile, the authorities are rushing rescue operations in the hope that they could apprehend the suspects before these could reach the forested area of the island province.

“We hope to intercept or catch up with the kidnappers before they reach the mountains and immediately rescue the victims," said Navy spokesman Lt. Col. Edgard Arevalo.

Arevalo said reinforcements both from the Army and the Navy have been deployed in the municipality to pursue the kidnappers. Units from the Army's 1st Division based in Zamboanga were rushed to Basilan to reinforce the Marines, he said.

Units of the 520th and 519th Provincial Mobile Groups were fielded to reinforce the Maluso police. Checkpoints were also set up along major routes and back roads to limit the suspects’ movement.

A municipal crisis management committee was likewise formed by Maluso mayor Sakib Salajin to coordinate all government and non-government efforts in securing the safe release of the victims.

The recent abduction was the fifth kidnapping incident in southern Philippines in a span of one month, following the abduction of Irish priest Michael Sinnott in Zamboanga del Sur, school principal Gabriel “Bong" Canizares in Sulu, seven personnel of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Agusan del Norte, and architect Pablo Mercado in Lanao del Sur.

Brawner acknowledged the long-standing problem and encouraged local residents to help the government in going after the perpetrators. - Aie Balagtas See, GMANews.TV
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