No saved foreigners, say officials, MNLF

Posted on February 08, 2013

ZAMBOANGA CITY -- Moro rebel leaders, security and local government officials have debunked claims that Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters have rescue three foreign hostages from the Abu Sayyaf.

Habib Mujahab Hashim, a senior member of the MNLF central committee and chairman of the group’s Islamic Command Council, told BusinessWorld yesterday the rebel leadership could not confirm reports quoting a certain Emmanuel Fontanilla, who identified himself as an MNLF spokesman, that the three victims were freed after rebel fighters overran an Abu Sayyaf camp in the provinces.

Mr. Hashim added he does not even know Mr. Fontanilla.

"I only heard his name a few days ago, and I never met him," he said.

Provincial officials and security in Sulu also denied Mr. Fontanilla’s reported information.

"It’s unconfirmed. No such report has reached me from my field officers and from MNLF sources here," Sr. Supt. Antonio J. Freyra, provincial police chief, said in a separate interview.

"There’s no truth to that report," Sonny Y. Abing III, provincial information officer, said.

In a radio interview, MNLF commander Habier Malik, who is leading the assault against the Abu Sayyaf in the town of Patikul, also denied they have rescued three hostages.

Rodrigo T. Gregorio, spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command, said some quarters are spreading misleading information.

"They are fabricating reports. No truth per report from our field unit," he said.

Mr. Freyra said there is no monitored movement of armed elements in Patikul.

"Up to this time and date, there is no unusual movement from both groups [MNLF and Abu Sayyaf]," he said.

On Sunday, fighting erupted between the MNLF and Abu Sayyaf after negotiations from both sides to surrender foreign hostages held by the bandits bogged down.

The MNLF, led by Malik, launched an attack at the lair of the Abu Sayyaf in Patikul, killing eight MNLF members and 14 bandits.

Prior to the fighting, the Abu Sayyaf has released two Filipino hostages who are the crew members of an Arabic news channel. Jordanian journalist Baker Atiyani and four other foreigners, are still being held by the Abu Sayyaf. Most of the victims have been captive in Sulu for almost a year already. -- Darwin T. Wee