ZAMBOANGA CITY: Five masked gunmen believed to be Abu Sayyaf members seized a school principal on Monday morning in Basilan province.
Basilan police director Sr. Supt. Mario Dapilloza said 60-year-old Benita Enriquez Latonio of Manggal Elementary School was snatched by men wearing bonnets at 6:20 a.m. while on board a passenger jeep headed to Isabela City.
Investigation showed that the rebels flagged down the vehicle at Sitio Mompol, Libug village in Sumisip town.
No individual or group claimed responsibility for the latest abduction, but intelligence reports suggest the involvement of Abu Sayyaf leader Juhaibel Alamsirul.
The motive of the abduction is still unknown, but police and military have tagged the Abu Sayyaf in many cases of ransom kidnappings. The group has been raising money through kidnappings for the purchase of weapons and to fund future terror attacks.
Meanwhile, the Department of Education (DepEd) strongly condemned Latonio’s kidnapping.
“DepEd expresses our utmost disgust of this dastardly act against an educator who is committed to caring for children and learners in the community,” DepEd Secretary Armin Luistro said in a text message.
As for the safety of public school teachers assigned in conflict areas, Luistro said it is up to concerned local government units to address the peace and order in the communities.
“We [at DepEd]rely on and will work with the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the local governments as lead agency in securing the safety of our personnel and providing protection for our teachers and students,” he said.
“We ask the general public to pray for our dedicated DepEd personnel and build communities of peace where everyone feels safe and cared for,” he added.
The Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC) said the government must ensure the protection of teachers who are assigned to teach in conflict areas.
“It is just proof that teaching especially in conflict areas requires sacrifice and teachers are exposed in many dangers—including threat to their security and life,” said TDC national President Benjo Basas in a text interview.
Earlier this month, Sulu elementary school teacher Alrashid Jahang was kidnapped by armed men allegedly linked to Abu Sayyaf. The victim was released the day after his abduction.
Basas also noted a young female teacher in Zamboanga City who was abducted by armed men last year and was released a few weeks ago.
In 2009, Sulu elementary school principal Gabriel Ca–nizares was abducted and beheaded by suspected members of the rebel group.
Authorities have repeatedly linked the Abu Sayyaf to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya which were blamed in deadly attacks not only in the Philippines, but also in Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, in an effort to establish a regional Islamic caliphate in Southeast Asia.
Just recently, Abu Sayyaf rebels attacked a marine post in Bungkaung village in Patikul, triggering a firefight with troops that injured three civilians.
The Abu Sayyaf, founded in 1991 by Ustadz Abdurajak Janjalani in Basilan, has been blamed for the spate of terrorism and ransom kidnappings in the southern Philippines. Many of its members now are young men and sons and relatives of original Abu Sayyaf fighters who had been fighting for a separate Islamic state in the country.
Janjalani was killed in 1998 in a firefight with policemen in Basilan and his younger brother Khadaffy took over the Abu Sayyaf, but he too, was slain in 2006 in Sulu’s Patikul town. His death fragmented the Abu Sayyaf into several factions in the South with different leaders operating autonomously from each other.
WITH REPORT FROM NEIL ALCOBER