MANILA - (2nd UPDATE) Islamist militants with links to the regional network Jemaah Islamiah (JI) beheaded three men on a remote southern island in the Philippines, the military and church officials said on Saturday.
The three men were gathering wood near Maluso town on Basilan island on Friday when they were abducted and later executed by Abu Sayyaf militants, Brigadier-General Eugene Clemen, commander of marines on the island, told reporters.
"We received reports this morning the three lumberjacks had been beheaded," Clemen said. Troops had been sent to search for the men's bodies, he said.
The three were residents of barangay Abong-abong in the municipality of Maluso in Basilan. They were abducted on Friday, June 11, at around 3 p.m.
Basilan provincial director Police Senior Superintendent Tony Mendoza identified the victims as Elipidio Amemensi alias Pido, Daduh Lumatangan, and Manuel Lumasag.
Based on the initial investigation of the Basilan Philippine National Police, the three victims were towing some lumber when they were abducted by the armed group believed to be members of the Abu Sayyaf group.
The local police in the area was not informed immediately about the incident. When the Basilan PNP learned about the abduction, Mendoza immediately dispatched some of their intelligence operatives and assets to try to look for the abducted persons.
But to their surprise, the three loggers were found lifeless in sitio Pali in barangay Abong-abong, beheaded by their abductors.
The cadavers of the victims were retrieved by the local authorities and brought to their respective relatives.
Mendoza said one of the possible angles that they are looking into is the possibility that the terrorist group had a grudge against some of the residents in barangay Abong-abong because of illegal logging.
Outgoing Maluso Mayor Sakib Salajin condemned the barbaric acts of the Abu Sayyaf, and appealed to the military officials to further intensify their operation against the Abu Sayyaf, headed by its leader Puruji Indama.
Last week, the Abu Sayyaf group led by Indama also killed 3 kidnap victims in the municipality of Sumisip, Basilan. The victims were shot dead as they reportedly tried to escape amid a surprise operation of the military near their hideouts.
Legacy of rebellion, separatism
A simmering Muslim insurgency in the south of the mainly Roman Catholic Southeast Asia country is one of the problems the new government of President-elect Benigno Aquino III will have to contend with when it takes office later this month.
The Philippines is also facing one of the world's longest-running communist insurgencies, which has killed 40,000 people and stunted economic growth in resource-rich areas outside the capital Manila.
Reports of the beheading came as outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo sought to list her accomplishments in a speech before a military and civilian parade to mark the country's 112th independence day celebration.
"We have been a leader in the fight against global terrorism," Arroyo said.
Church leaders on Basilan, however, were disappointed over what they said was the government's failure to stop violence on the island, which is known for its rubber plantations.
"It's a bitter and painful independence day when three parishioners were abducted and later beheaded," Bishop Martin Jumoad told reporters. "There is no freedom here."