THREE MEMBERS of the Zamboanga City Protected Area Management Office (PAMO) and their boatman were reported missing on Tuesday and search operations are ongoing while authorities determine the circumstances of their disappearance. Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar, in a statement issued late Tuesday, said the “full force of the city government” along with police and military forces have been deployed for their rescue and the investigation. Aside from maritime resources, the Philippine Air Force is also using its drones to locate the four. They were identified as PAMO workers Badzair Attan, Mudzmar Habing, and Ibrahim Hassan, and their boatman Rasbi Ambiting. All four are residents of Sta. Cruz Island. The Great and Little Sta. Cruz Islands, located south of Zamboanga City, were declared as a Protected Landscape and Seascape in April 2000. Ms. Salazar also appealed to the public for information that will help in the search. “At this time, we ask the people of Zamboanga to remain calm and vigilant, and above all, to pray for the safety and recovery of our missing personnel,” she said.
Authorities are treating the incident as a maritime accident and not a terrorist-initiated action, according to City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Officer Elmeir E. Apolinario. In a separate statement from the city government, Mr. Apolinario, who also heads the Emergency Operations Center, said the Sta. Cruz Island beach remains open for visits and tours. “We see no reason why we have to close the island to tourist for security purposes unless there are evidences presented to support the same. As of now we continue operating the island as a tourism hub,” he said.