2 hostages freed; negotiators await minors’ release

PROSPERIDAD, Agusan del Sur (MindaNews/03 April) – Two of the 15 persons held hostage since 4 p.m. Friday earned their freedom quite unexpectedly 47 hours later.

Teachers Hipolito Lastimado and Diosdideth Cabantac, were ordered by their abductors to go down to the poblacion of Barangay La Purisima where the Crisis Management Committee set up base, to get food and some medicines, especially as one of the two children with them had fallen ill.

Arriving nearly 3 p.m. on board a motorcycle, Lastimado and Cabantac were immediately whisked off to a house by policemen and soldiers who were surprised by their sudden appearance.

The committee led by Prosperidad town Mayor Albin Magdamit decided not to let them return   even as the abductors had warned them to return or the remaining hostages would be harmed.

The area where the hostages were taken is reportedly about three kilometers away.

But Magdamit told reporters the teachers “will not go back to bring the  food and medicines.”

Josefina Bajade, provincial social welfare and development officer, who has been negotiating with the armed men, most of them reportedly in their teens, said they bargained with the abductors not to harm the remaining hostages if Lastimado and Cabantac will not return.

Bajade said the crisis committee even went further and took some risks.

“We told the gunmen they would not get the food and medicines if they do not release the two minors,” she said.

Bajade said the leader of the armed men, Kenken Perez,  agreed to release the two minors, one of whom was stricken with fever.

At least five armed men believed to be in their teens, abducted the 15 persons in Purok 7, Sitio Balite in Barangay La Purisima at around 4 pm on April 1.   Initial reports said ten gunmen were involved. They were armed with  an M16, an M14 and a carbine.

Aside from Lastimado and Cabantac, and the two minors, the crisis committee identified the rest of the hostages as  Narciso Oliveros, district II, school supervisor; Joel Sausa, Values teacher, Sta. Irene Elementary School; Apolonio Alibangbang, head teacher, La Purisima Elementary School;  Manuel Mordeno, teacher-in-charge of Maasin Elementary School; Allan Galdiano, teacher; Filipina Quitoy, teacher-in-charge of Inagawan Elementary School; Arnold Quitoy, Filipina’s husband; and  Mary Jane Bedrijo, pre-school teacher.

Also held hostage were motorcycle dirvers Zaldy Rodriguez and Rico Binambang and a passenger named Galvan Vocales.

The gunmen earlier demanded the release of Ondo Perez, the leader of the armed men who also took hostage 125 persons, including students, in Sitio Maitum, Barangay San Martin in December 2009.

Ondo and 13 of his men are detained at the Agusan del Sur provincial jail for various crimes ranging from murder to the hostage taking incident.

But Caraga regional police director Chief Supt. Reynaldo Rafa said they managed to convince a judge to issue a temporary release order for Ondo to allow him to convince the gunmen, who were mostly his relatives,  to release the hostages.

“The idea is for Ondo to explain the legal technicalities why he cannot be released as they demanded,” Rafal said.

Lt. Ray Cocon, civil military officer of the Army’s 402nd InfantryBrigade, said the gunmen changed their demands and insisted that Ondo and all 13 of his men who were imprisoned be released.

“They wanted us to bring Ondo and his men to a forest where they would also bring the hostages for the exchange,” Cocon said.

Cocon said the gunmen hide the hostages in an area shaded by falcatta trees during the day and bring them to the houses in the evening. He said this makes it harder for the PNP Special Action Force to mount a rescue operation.

As a gesture of good faith, Cocon said a company of soldiers was withdrawn near Purok 6 and 7 where the hostages were believed to have been taken. (Froilan Gallardo with a report from Alden Pantaleon/MindaNews)