Inter-religious group says unsolved killings, kidnappings may hamper peace efforts

Three days before the killing, a home-made bomb exploded near a hardware store in the town’s commercial center.

Army Colonel Alexander Dicang, commanding officer of the 102 Infantry Brigade, said the bomb exploded at around 4:10 a.m., and damaged the façade of the L & A Construction and Electrical Supplies. No one was reported killed or injured.

“Suspects remain unknown for the moment while the motive of the blast is be

ing investigated. The Army is actively assisting the police in the investigation," Dicang said.

A climate of fear and insecurity prevails in the province, says Gualberto Largo, head of the Social Action Ministry (SAM) of the Ipil prelature.

But Largo said it is not only in Ipil where cases of  extortion, kidnapping, and killings have increased.

Extortion activities victimizing the local businessmen in the towns of Alicia and Malangas of the province, Largo said are “done openly without qualms of being seen by the public.”

“Piracy in these towns is also widespread, victimizing small fishermen in the towns of Malangas and Alicia,” he said.

Alarmed, a group of imams, pastors, and priests called the attention of  the police, military and the provincial government to take appropriate action.

“The A’Immah, Pastors, Priests Forum (APPF) is urging authorities to take measures to curtail, if not eliminate, these criminal acts perpetrated by lawless groups operating in Zamboanga Sibugay,” says Largo, who also heads the secretariat of APPF.

The APPF was convened last February under the auspices of the Inter-Religious Dialogue Program of the Prelature
of Ipil with Bishop Julius S. Tonel as adviser.

As outlined in the APPF’s primer, the group was convened primarily to promote “dialogue and reconciliation as an approach and winning strategy in bringing about values formation and education as a way of changing deep-seated prejudices and mistrusts while at the same time creating opportunities for understanding and cooperation between the believers among the Lumads (IP)), Muslims and Christian settlers.”

“It is observed that these criminal activities have undermined our efforts to promote understanding across cultures and religions because people are beginning to see what is happening as reminiscent of the conflict in the 1970’s,” Largo lamented.

Six teachers have been abducted on two different occasions in the Zamboanga Peninsula.

Three teachers from Zamboanga City were kidnapped in January and are believed to have been taken to Basilan. Last March 13, police reported that a gang of pirates snatched elementary teachers Jocelyn Enriquez, Jocelyn Inion, and Noemi Mandi in the island barangay of Bangkaw-Bangkaw, Naga town, this province.

A day before the kidnapping of the three teachers in Naga town, a personnel of the 109th Provincial Mobile Group was ambushed in La Paz village, Naga. The victim, identified as Senor Police Officer 1 Romeo Lachica, survived the attack.

“The APPF is gravely alarmed (of)  these incidents that threaten to tear away all our efforts for peace, dialogue and reconciliation. That’s why we are urging our leaders in the government especially those tasked to secure the lives and properties of the people to address the problem before it is too late,” Largo said. 

Earlier, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) condemned the kidnapping of the three teachers and the early dawn bombing of Ipil town center.

Barahama Ali, spokesperson of MILF Base 113 Command, in a statement lamented the deteriorating peace situation in the province as they vowed “to work closely with the government to address the problem.”

“We are looking at the possibility of convening the Ad-Hoc Joint Advocacy Group (AHJAG) to properly coordinate our efforts to stop these criminal acts that may undermine the ongoing efforts to resume the peace talks with the government,” Ali said.

AHJAG is a mechanism for coordination and joint action to address specific problem related to peace stipulated in the 2003 ceasefire agreement between the government and MILF.  (Antonio Manaytay/MindaNews)