ZAMBOANGA CITY: Marines who swooped down on an island off the southern Philippine province of Tawi-Tawi near the Sabah border on Friday recovered an arms cache and rescued 10 people who were victims of human trafficking, a military spokesman said.
Captain Roy Trinidad, of the anti-terror Joint Task Group Tawi-Tawi, said the operation involved Fleet Marine units of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao.
“This is part of the ongoing ‘Operation Pagbabaybay’ targeting kidnap for ransom gangs operating in the area,” Trinidad said.
Troops also detained a man linked to human trafficking. The victims were all from Pagadian City, Trinidad told The Manila Times.
He said the raid led troops to the island called Siluwag where security forces seized two machine guns, 5 automatic rifles, two handguns and grenade launchers.
Also on Friday, government forces in hot pursuit of members of the Al-Qaeda linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) recovered an arms cache and a speedboat belonging to the brigands during an operation in Silug and Mamauk Islands in Tawi-Tawi.
Troops led by Rear Adm. Jorge Amba raided the suspected staging points of the ASG in Tawi-Tawi.
Recovered were four M-16AI automatic rifles, one M-79 grenade launcher, a US carbine, a .38 caliber revolver, a .357 Magnum revolver, an M-16AI with an M-203 grenade launcher, a caliber 60 machine gun, and a .50 caliber Browning machine gun.
Also seized were assorted ammunition and a “jungkong” speedboat believed to be used by the ASG in their illegal activities.
The military operations coincided with Malaysian proposals for joint maritime patrols and aerial surveillance with the Philippines and Indonesia in the Sulu Sea at the border of Sabah.
Defense Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein earlier said that Malaysia would tackle the piracy and kidnapping problems in the Sulu Sea with his Filipino counterpart Voltaire Gazmin and Ryamizard Ryacudu of Indonesia.
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 – regularly holds separate naval war games every year with Malaysia and Indonesia.
This agreement however, has not deterred the Abu Sayyaf rebels from kidnapping Malaysian and Indonesian nationals in Sabah and in the waters off Tawi-Tawi.
In 2000, the Abu Sayyaf intruded into Sabah and kidnapped almost two dozen mostly European hostages in the posh Sipadan resort and ransomed off the victims to Malaysia and Libya.
On March 26, Abu Sayyaf rebels kidnapped 10 Indonesian crew members of the tugboat Brahma 12 off Tawi-Tawi, and then four more Malaysian crew men 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 P300 million ransom. The jihadist group is still holding Dutchman Ewold Horn, who was kidnapped in Tawi-Tawi; Canadian Robert Hall and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, who were both seized from the posh resort of Samal Island in Davao del Norte province; and Japanese treasure hunter Toshio Ito also known as Amir Katayama Mamaito.