Soldiers, MILF don?t know how kidnapped Italian priest looks like

Their superiors did not provide them with pictures of the 67-year old priest. 

"Basta may puti. Ipababa na ninyo. May balbas iyon (If there is a foreigner, let him step out of the vehicle. The priest has a beard," an officer barked an order. 

Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters guarding the other end of the Malabang to Pagadian City highway face the same dilemma.

Pictures of Father Bossi are not available to hundreds of government soldiers and MILF fighters who have fanned out in nearby mountains here and highway to search for him. 

The soldiers and MILF fighters have also encountered problems like poor communications and rough terrain in the mountains during the 11-day search in barangay Payong here. 

Payong and nearby villages have poor television and mobile phone signal that soldiers have to tie their phones to a tree to send their text messages back home. A particular tree in the barangay is the only location where text messages may be sent or received. 

"We can not even call the ground commanders of the MILF to coordinate our operations," Col. Darwin Guerra, head of the government Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) here said. 

To coordinate their movements, Guerra has to travel for 15 minutes to another village to see Abo Jawap, chief of the MILF 115th Base Command. 

Jawap said their fighters also encountered some difficulties scouring the mountains near the towns of Nunungan and Sapad. 

He said the fighters had to walk slowly because the mountains are so steep and the paths laden with sharp thorns from creeping rattan vines. 

"If Father Bossi is really up there, I believe his kidnappers let him ride a cart," he said. 

The rebel officer said the advance age of the Italian priest would make it difficult for him to traverse the forest and mountains north of Payong. 

Acting government peace panel chair Rudy Rodil and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal both issued directives to their men to continue the joint rescue operations for the kidnapped priest after the agreement creating the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) expired last June 21. 

The AHJAG is a joint undertaking of the government and the MILF to conduct operations against criminals and kidnap-for-ransom gangs within communities controlled by the rebels. 

But until Friday, nobody was certain if Father Bossi was really in the mountains in the boundaries of Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur. 

Jawap said he would have sent an MILF squad to rescue Father Bossi when initial reports came that the priest was sighted in Sapad town last week. 

But he said top MILF officials stopped him fearing that a rescue operation could harm the priest. 

He said that by the time they had properly coordinated with the Philippine government, Father Bossi and the kidnappers were gone from Sapad. 

"I do not know if that report was true because they were not in Sapad when my men got there," he said. 

He said they have been receiving more information on the whereabouts of Father Bossi and the kidnappers since their disappearance from Sapad. 

"Some residents told us that the kidnappers do not stay in place for more than a day and everywhere they sleep they pay the house owner," he said. 

But he cautioned that that the information they are getting are "raw" and needs to be validated by their fighters. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)

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