The Philippine Star, Sep. 13, 2002
By Roel Pareño
ZAMBOANGA CITY — They are still alive, but the military cannot assure that the four female evangelists now held by the Abu Sayyaf will be rescued alive.
“They (hostages) are still alive. The Abu Sayyaf are bringing them along as they flee,” Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Southern Command (Southcom) chief Lt. Gen. Ernesto Carolina said.
“Like in any hostage scenario, we have no assurance that we will get them out alive, but we are doing all we can to get them,” he added.
Carolina said hostage situations similar to the one in which Jehovah’s Witness evangelists Norie Bendijo, Emily Mantic and sisters-in-law Cleofe and Flora Montulo are in always put hostages at great risk. The risk to the four women is especially high because they are being used as human shields by the bandits.
“When there is a hostage (situation), there is no (assurance) that you will get the hostages out alive,” Carolina said. “Even in the United States, (where) they have the best equipment, you will not find anybody who will assure you ‘we will get the hostages out alive,’” Carolina said, responding to questions about the safety of the hostages now that the operation to neutralize the Abu Sayyaf and terrorist groups affiliated to the bandits has gone into high-gear.
Tough, hand-to-hand fight
The military faces a tough fight to recover the hostages, as they have counted out bombing and shelling the bandits to increase the hostages’ chances of being rescued alive.
“That is why the fight is hand-to-hand combat. We cannot bomb the target (area because) we might hit the hostages,” Carolina said. “We could make this war easier if we are not putting the lives of the hostages under serious consideration.”
The Southcom chief said the AFP intends to bring the war to the Abu Sayyaf’s turf and create a situation that will force the bandits to defend themselves rather than keep the hostages. This tactic, Carolina said, should give the hostages some opportunity to escape.
“We intend to find the hostages, then we will be able to get them,” Carolina added. To increase the hostages’ chances of survival an American-trained and anti-terrorist unit, the Light Reaction Company, has been placed on standby. The LRC is to extract the hostages from the target zone once ground troops have cornered the Abu Sayyaf.
The four hostages were kidnapped along with two male companions by Abdulmuin Sahiron, nephew of Abu Sayyaf leader Radullan Sahiron in August.
Their two male companions were beheaded and the severed heads were dumped in a public market in Jolo, Sulu.
The female hostages were turned over to the Abu Sayyaf by Abdulmuin’s followers after he was reportedly killed in the first salvo of “Operation Endgame,” a series of fierce clashes between the military and the Abu Sayyaf that began Friday last week.
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