ZAMBOANGA CITY: Marines swooped down Friday on an island off the southern Philippine province of Tawi-Tawi near the Sabah border, and recovered an arms cache as well as rescued 10 people, who were victims of human trafficking, a military spokesman said.
“The victims of human trafficking were all from Pagadian City,” Captain Roy Trinidad, of the anti-terror Joint Task Group Tawi-Tawi, told The Manila Times. He said the troops also detained a man linked to human trafficking.
He added the operations involved Fleet Marine units of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao, and are part of the ongoing “Operation Pagbabaybay” targeting kidnap-for-ransom gangs.
The operations, Trinidad revealed, led troops to the island called Siluwag, where security forces seized two machine guns, five automatic rifles, two handguns, and grenade launchers.
The military operations coincided with Malaysian proposals for a joint maritime patrols and aerial surveillance with the Philippines and Indonesia in the Sulu Sea at the border of Sabah.
Malaysia’s Defense Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein earlier said that his country would tackle the piracy and kidnapping problems in the Sulu Sea with his Filipino and Indonesian counterparts, Voltaire Gazmin and Ryamizard Ryacudu, respectively.
The Philippines signed border patrol agreements with both Malaysia and Indonesia in the 1990s. The country – through the Western Mindanao Command and Eastern Mindanao Command – holds separate naval war games every year with Malaysia and Indonesia.
But despite this, Abu Sayyaf rebels have kidnapped Malaysian and Indonesian nationals in Sabah and in the waters of Tawi-Tawi. And since 2000, the Abu Sayyaf intruded into Sabah and kidnapped 21 people mostly Europeans in the posh Sipadan resort.
On March 26, Abu Sayyaf rebels kidnapped 10 Indonesian crew of the tugboat Brahma 12 off Tawi-Tawi and then four more Malaysian crewmembers of the tugboat MasFive 6 were kidnapped in Sabah’s Semporna district. And recently, four Indonesian crew of tugboat Henry were also kidnapped off Tawi-Tawi near the border.
The Abu Sayyaf has beheaded a Canadian hostage John Ridsdel on April 25 after his family and government failed to pay the P300-million ransom that his kidnappers had demanded.
The jihadist group is still holding Dutchman Ewold Horn, who was kidnapped in Tawi-Tawi; Canadian Robert Hall, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad – who were all seized from the resort-island of Samal, in Davao del Norte province; and Japanese treasure-hunter Toshio Ito, also known as “Amir Katayama Mamaito.” AL JACINTO