• 2 abducted Basilan charity workers freed

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    Kidnappers have freed two teachers working for a Catholic charity foundation in the restive province of Basilan in the Muslim autonomous region in southern Philippines, police said on Saturday.

    Police said the victims—Frederick Banot and Cherden Masong—were seized by gunmen on September 4 in the village of Tairan in Lantawan town and had been released in the neighboring province of Sulu after more than six weeks in captivity.

    “The victims were released by their abductors in [the village]of Bagsak in Talipao town and brought to an unnamed Catholic priest in Jolo,” Senior Superintendent Abraham Orbita, the Sulu police chief, told The Times.

    Capt. Jefferson Somera, a spokesman for the 1st Infantry Division, said the victims were forcibly taken by the gunmen from a staff house in Lantawan town and dragged them to waiting speedboats and escaped.

    The duo arrived in Zamboanga City and was met by Spanish priest and peace advocate Fr Angel Calvo, who also heads the Zamboanga-Basilan-Integarted Development Alliance, and has been active in community development and Christian-Muslim peace and reconciliation works in southern Philippines for many decades now.

    “Fredrick and Cherben, the two volunteers from the Claret Samal Foundation, were finally released in Jolo, Sulu. They are safe, sound and they arrived in Zamboanga City for debriefing and [medical]check up yesterday morning,” said the Claretian priest.

    The foundation helps in various programs aimed at uplifting the lives of ethnic Badjao and Yakan tribes in Basilan, one of five provinces under the autonomous region.

    It was unknown if any ransom is paid for the Banot and Masong’s freedom and no individual or group claimed responsibility for the abductions, but Abu Sayyaf rebels and bandits are actively operating in the province and have been previously blamed for many ransom kidnappings and killings.

    In May this year, gunmen also abducted a social worker Jennelyn Enprera in Basilan’s Ungkaya Pukan. The woman, who was later freed, works for the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and was said to be in-charge of the government’s anti-poverty alleviation program called Pantawid Pamilya, whose objective is to provide financial support to poor families for the children’s health and education.

    Another group of gunmen is also holding Lucio Gonzales, a skipper of a fishing trawler seized off Lantawan town. The kidnappers demanded P15 million for the freedom of Gonzales.

    Basilan is one of five provinces under the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and is notoriously known for its kidnappings and ambuscades. Provincial government officials rarely release any statement about local abductions and are hardly accessible for media interviews. AL JACINTO

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