This is the assessment by Army officials and commanders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front this afternoon as Malacañang announced the appointment of historian and Mindanao State University (MSU) professor Rudy Rodil as the new officer-in-charge of the government negotiating panel.
“The reports that the priest was seen here was all talk. We found out that nobody has actually seen the priest,” Mike Alamada, spokesperson of the MILF forces here said.
Alamada also said that reports that the kidnappers reportedly have taken the Italian priest to the nearby mountains is not “credible.”
“These are the reports that prompted us to come here to investigate. We found out that these are not correct,” he said.
Armed Forces Chief Of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon earlier announced in Manila that the priest would be released afternoon of June 20 with the help of the MILF who are engaged in a peace talks with the Philippine government.
The schedule of release has passed but Bossi remains missing.
The 67-year-old priest was kidnapped by unidentified men while on his way to say mass in Payao town, Zamboanga Sibugay last June 10
Residents of Barangay Payong reported that they saw the priest alight from a white pumpboat two days after. They also reported that the priest was with seven Tausug-speaking men and two Maranaos whom they identified to be members of the Pentagon kidnap-for-ransom gang.
Col. Darwin Tiam Watt, Army ground commander, said they have no idea who the kidnappers of the priest are and where they are.
“We do not have even an exact location where we can start our negotiations with them,” Tiam Watt said.
“I might recommend to higher headquarters to terminate this operation if nothing comes up in the next two days,” he added.
Tiam Watt said he had already asked the help of barangay officials in Sultan Naga Dimaporo but the priest’s location remains unknown.
Still, the joint military operation by government troops and the MILF here, which started ten days ago in Barangays Payong and Picong in Sultal Naga Dimaporo, has become “ a showcase of unity.” .
Despite the termination of the mandate of the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group on June 21, the MILF said they will continue to stay in the area to help look for Father Bossi.
Rodil told MindaNews his first act in office is to instruct the government side of the AHJAG to continue operations to recover Fr. Bossi. Beyond that, however, the two panels must meet to renew the AHJAG guidelines.
According to www.luwaran.com, Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace panel, has authorized Atty Abdul Dataya, head of the MILF AHJAG to continue conducting joint rescue operation with the Armed Forces of the Philippines to free Father Bossi.
“We are doing this for humanitarian reasons,” Von Al Haq, chief of the MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) said.
“This shows the kind of cooperation we are getting from the MILF,” Brig. Gen. Edgardo Gurrea, chief of the government CCCH, said.
The exact location where Father Bossi was brought was supposedly a secret. Army and MILF officials asked journalists not to disclose the location but they could not hide their presence to travelers between Malabang and Pagadian City.
Hundreds of Army soldiers, Scout Rangers and MILF fighters have been deployed along the Cotabato-Pagadian highway in Sultan Naga Dimaporo town since June 12.
Wearing new military fatigue uniforms, the MILF rebels are conducting checkpoints along a ten kilometre-stretch of the highway from Barangay Payong to Barangay Picong.
Less than 200 meters away, Army soldiers have established a small camp that bristles with trucks and Humvees ready to run after the kidnappers holding the Italian priest in the nearby mountains.
But the victim they are supposed to rescue might not even be there. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)