Senior Supt. Francisco Cristobal, provincial police director, told reporters, “we are now initiating safety precautions to protect our local and foreign missionaries, including troop deployment plans near parishes and churches.”
The move came after Fr. Jesus Reynaldo Roda of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) was killed in Tabawan, South Ubian town in Tawi-tawi, by armed men.
Last week, Army Major General Nehemias Pajarito, chief of the Army's 1st Infantry Division, said there were threats anew to kidnap Italian priests assigned within the Zamboanga Peninsula areas.
Pajarito said the threat was monitored after the release of kidnapped Italian priest, Giancarlo Bossi.
Gunmen seized Fr. Bossi, 57, on June 10, 2007 while he was on his way to celebrate a mass in coastal town of Payao in Zamboanga Sibugay. He was freed on July 19, 2007 in Karomatan, Lanao del Norte due to intense pressures brought about by continuous police and military pursuit operations.
So far, Pajarito said there are only four Italian priests on missionary service in the provinces of Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga del Sur that fall within his area of operations.
He said they have already coordinated with the superiors of the Italian priest, who are all under the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions (PIME), to transfer the four Italian priests to safer areas as part of the precautionary measures.
Pajarito, however, clarified that the lead agency in providing security to the Italian priest is the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the military serves only as back-up force.
Cristobal admitted there are still groups engaged in kidnap-for-ransom activities in the province.
His office, he said, is in close coordination with Ipil Prelature Bishop Julius Tonel to work out the safety of the foreign and local missionaries in the area.
The Prelature of Ipil covers the 16 towns of the province and three towns of Zamboanga del Sur.
A parallel effort is being done to neutralize these groups, Cristobal said. (Antonio Manaytay/MindaNews contributor)