Police, military track down gunmen
DAVAO CITY: Armed men stormed a tourist resort in southern Philippines and seized three foreigners and a Filipino woman, the military reported on Tuesday, saying a massive search was launched to recover the victims.
The raid on Ocean View resort on Samal Island in Davao del Norte province, according to the military, happened before midnight of Monday after gunmen overpowered private security guards.
Army Capt. Alberto Caber, a spokesman for the Eastern Mindanao Command, has confirmed the abductions and said two Canadians and a Norwegian, including the Filipina who was identified only as Tess, were taken by the gunmen who escaped on a speedboat.
“We still don’t know who these men were, but there is already an operation to track down the captors and their victims,” Caber said.
He identified the Canadians as John Ridsel and Robert Hall and the Norwegian as Kjartan Sekkingstad.
Reports indicated that at least 20 armed men wearing bonnets and black shirts swooped down on the resort and initially took five people.
But a Canadian named Steven and his Japanese wife, Kazuka, were able to escape from the raiders.
The couple are now confined at a district hospital on the island.
Sources said Ridsel was a former senior official of Canadian mining firm TVI Resources Development Inc. in Zamboanga del Norte province.
He was vacationing with his girlfriend and was on a yacht moored in the resort’s marina when the incident happened.
Caber said there were more than two dozen people, mostly foreigners, on the resort and that two Japanese men tried to fight off the attackers but failed.
The two men escaped the abduction, he added.
No individual or group claimed responsibility for the raid and it was unknown if the rebel group Abu Sayyaf–notorious for kidnapping of foreigners and raiding of tourist resorts in southern Philippines and Sabah– was behind the attack.
Samal is one of the famous tourist resorts in the Philippines and is a favorite destination of wealthy Filipinos because of its pristine beaches.
The government also on Tuesday said the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are on the trail of the abductors.
In a news briefing, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said President Benigno Aquino 3rd is “closely monitoring” such an “important event.”
“At present, the PNP anti-kidnapping [force]is in pursuit of the suspects in coordination with the Eastern Mindanao Command [of the AFP]and other government agencies to immediately resolve the [abduction],” Coloma also told reporters.
The abduction of Sekkingstad (the Norwegian operations manager of Ocean View resort in Barangay Camudmud, Babak district on Samal Island0, Ridsel, Hall and Tess, came barely two weeks after President Aquino went to the area to inspect the Island Garden City of Samal (Igacos) circumferential road project aimed at enhancing Davao del Norte province’s tourism industry.
“The PNP is thoroughly investigating the incident as it continues to track down the perpetrators,” Coloma said.
“It is given that in cases such as this, the PNP and AFP and other government agencies concerned are taking the initiative to do what is needed,” he added.
Reports sent by Senior Supt. Lito Impas of the Samal Island Police Office said the armed men stormed the island resort before going door to door and forcibly took all of the occupants.
They added that the raiders were initially believed to be rebels from the communist New People’s Army or a mix of members of the Bangsamoro Army, which is believed to be composed of breakaway members of the separatist Muslim groups Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Moro National Liberation Front.
The reports said the gunmen left a message that read “Alay namin sa aming Kumander [Tribute to our Commander]” at the resort before leaving the island and bringing along with them their captives.
They said local units of the Philippine Coast Guard are also conducting pursuit operations.
In 2001, the terrorist Abu Sayyaf tried but failed to abduct tourists from Samal Island’s Pearl Farm where three employees died when they engaged the raiders in a firefight.
Also in 2001, the terrorist group seized local and foreign tourists at the posh Dos Palmas resort in Palawan, including US missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham.
WITH JOEL M. SY EGCO