CENTRAL Mindanao or Soccsksargen (South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and General Santos) was placed under heightened alert status after the provinces of Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani have been alarmed over the presence of armed men, suspected members of the Maute Group, in at least four towns there.
Police and military authorities in the region have been strictly enforcing checkpoints in the wake of the Marawi siege, after receiving reports about the presence of Indonesians with 30 armed followers believed to be members of the Islamic State (IS).
The heavily armed groups were reportedly seen in the coastal towns of Maitum, Kiamba, Maasim and Glan in Sarangani.
The 1002nd Brigade Command Headquarters based in Pulatana, Barangay Malandag in Malungon Sarangani under Army Col. Tyne Bañas, however, did not confirm nor deny reports of the presence of the armed group.
On Monday, classes in the towns of Kiamba and Maasim were suspended after unidentified group ambushed soldiers of the 27th Infantry Battalion. Private First Class Gelgian Tañamor was wounded in the encounter.
About 75 families have fled their homes for fear of the presence of armed men in Glan who reportedly ask for food and money in support of their “revolutionary cause.”
Both Christian and Muslim communities in the area fear that Sarangani would be the next target of the Maute terror group after Marawi.
The townfolk in the four coastal towns have confirmed sightings of fully armed men who embarked from a pumpboat (a two-engine sea craft) on the shorelines of Sarangani last week.
Philippine Coast Guard district commander Rolando Lorenzana has reported the arrest of two Indonesians, identified as Kader and Bansalao, who claimed to be fishermen.
Regional authorities said they have investigated and interrogated several suspected and undocumented men wearing Muslim clothing who arrived in Glan by sailing from Indonesia.
Mohammad Kaharudin, an IS recruit who backed out from his training, told The Manila Times that prior to the Marawi siege, Sarangani was among the provinces on their list of training grounds and they have studied the language and culture of the Christians, as well as familiarized themselves with the route map of Mindanao.
Their test mission as IS recruits, he added, was to carry out bombing activities in the region.
He also confirmed that the arrested Indonesians, identified as Bahrun Naim and Muhammad Sholeh Ibrahim, and their two unidentified companions will train the ISIS recruits in bomb making.
Meanwhile, Sarangani Gov. Steve Solon in a public statement aired over local radio in General Santos City, denied reports about the wounded Maute members who sought medical assistance at a government hospital in Glan, adding that the military and police have very tight security measures in the province.
Appeal for calmness
Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi on Wednesday urged residents to remain calm amid circulating text messages that terrorists from Marawi City have mixed with the local residents.
In a public advisory, Guiani-Sayad asked the people to refrain from speculating on the city’s security situation that could only trigger panic and sow fear among residents in the 37 barangay (villages) in the city.
One of the many circulating text messages tells of a plan by the Maute terror group to attack peaceful areas in central Mindanao, including the cities of Cotabato, Koronadal, Tacurong, and the provinces of Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.
The mayor has ordered the police to enforce stricter checkpoints in all entries to the city, implementing a “No ID, No Entry” policy.
Major Gen. Arnel dela Vega, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, also said the local police and the Office of the Mayor are in close coordination with him to prevent the entry of terrorists into the city.
“The authorities are in control. The present Cotabato City local government is known for its tough posture against lawless elements that could harm its constituents. There is nothing to worry about,” he added.
with JERRY ADLAW