MANILA, Philippines – A military official on Thursday denied the claim of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that it had rescued three foreign nationals from the hands of the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group.
Colonel Rodrigo Gregorio, Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) spokesman, said he talked to Col. Orlando de Leon, commander of the Sulu-based 2nd Marine Brigade, who denied that the terrorist had released the three hostages to the MNLF.
"Nag-usap na rin kami and he (de Leon) is strongly denying na may ganoong existence. Iyung may ganoong tao sa kampo ng MNLF, iyung nagke-claim na may na-release na hostages, at may mga ganong casualties. Wala pong katotohanan yun according to him," Gregorio told ANC's Headstart.
"Hindi namin alam kung ano lang ba iyan - disinformation campaign ng ilang grupo or what? Ganoon [na nga] po. Kasi walang nangyaring ganoong insidente," he added, when asked if the group was just lying.
MNLF spokesperson Atty. Emmanuel Fontanilla earlier said that the Nur Misuari-led organization rescued on Tuesday three foreign nationals, composed of two Dutchmen and a Swiss national.
Fontanilla said the group intends to turn the hostages over to the government as soon as Misuari returns from Egypt.
Aside from Jordanian national Baker Atyani, at least four other foreign hostages are believed still held in the south by Abu Sayyaf and other militant outfits -- a Dutchman, a Swiss national, an Australian and a Japanese man.
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr last month welcomed news that Warren Rodwell, 54, was alive after being held hostage for more than a year but said his prolonged captivity was a "major concern."
European birdwatchers, Dutchman Ewold Horn, 52; and Swiss national Lorenzo Vinciguerra, 47, were kidnapped in February last year. The Japanese man, Toshio Ito, was seized in July 2010.
No soldiers involved
Gregorio, meanwhile, said the MNLF is acting unilaterally in its supposed efforts to retrieve the Abu Sayyaf hostages.
A firefight erupted in Patikul town last Sunday between MNLF and Abu Sayyaf forces following the botched negotiations for the release of Atyani. At least 22 men from both sides died.
Atyani's two Filipino companions, Roland Letrero and Ramel Vela, were released on Saturday.
Gregorio said government soldiers were not involved in the MNLF-Abu Sayyaf gun battle last weekend. Thus, the report that at least four soldiers were killed in the firefight is not true.
"Ayaw naming ma-involve pa kami. Ang sa amin, iyung pinaka primordial concern ay safety at security ng innocent civilians. Ang effort namin is more on ma-contain ang conflict at ma-isolate sa isang area lang at iyon ay sa Patikul," he said.
Asked in a radio dzMM interview on Thursday about the agenda of the MNLF for negotiating with the Abu Sayyaf for the hostages' release, Fontanilla said: "Hanggang ngayon kami naman ay sinasabing kasali sa Abu Sayyaf. We were forced to go out at sabihin na wala kaming conspiracy. If ever there are relations, may mga kamag-anak ang MNLF sa Abu Sayyaf. Inevitable po iyan."
Fontanilla also claimed that some of the soldiers who supposedly died in the clash were discovered to be fighting alongside the members of the al Qaeda-linked terrorist group.
"Derechuhin na natin, kasi kasali sila (soldiers). Hindi natin sinasabi na official, kaya lang ang mga elemento nandoon. So paano matatapos kung kayo ang gumagawa?" said Fontanilla, when asked why government forces are unable to finally neutralize all Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the region.