Authorities not sure yet if armed group in Cauayan were Abu Sayyaf

Yasmin Pascual-Dormido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 15 2017 08:51 PM

The Philippine Army couldn't confirm if the armed men allegedly seen in Cauayan, Negros Occidental, on Friday night were members of the Abu Sayyaf group. 

First Lieutenant John Tumamao, commander of the bravo company of the 79th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, said on Saturday that soldiers have been hearing different stories from locals.

According to Tumamao, some residents claimed to have seen armed men passing by a river in Sitio Capaclan, while others weren't sure whether the men they saw were carrying firearms or were just backpacks.

He added it is also possible that the gunshots heard by some residents in Barangay Inayawan came from New People's Army rebels.

But what has worried residents was the white pump boat found near the shore in Inayawan.

On board the boat were American national Frank Blaskis, 74, and his 12-year-old daughter. Blaskis allowed the coast guard to check his boat and cargo.

But the suspicion that armed men boarded his boat or that they were on two other boats believed to have arrived at the same time with him angered Blaski.

Blaskis explained that he and his daughter were from Bacong in Negros Oriental and that they were traveling to Iloilo but were forced to seek shelter in Cauayan due to huge waves.

He also denied hearing gunshots and seeing armed men upon arriving in the area.

Village chief Sanderson Sumugot Jr. said barangay officials could not establish a link between Blaskis and the two other boats reportedly used by the armed men.

The coast guard who inspected the pump boat did not see anything suspicious. Blaskis and his daughter later returned to Negros Oriental.

Government forces continued to patrol the town and the neighboring areas as intelligence reports are being validated.

Authorities advised residents to remain calm and to cooperate and coordinate with local police and the military.

Most residents in Inayawan were not able to sleep Friday night after reports that members of the Abu Sayyaf who clashed with government forces in Bohol may have reached their place.

Members of the Philippine Coast Guard on Saturday inspect a white pump boat in Cauayan, Negros Occidental that some residents believe was used to transport armed men to the town. Yasmin Pascual-Dormido, ABS-CBN News