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18 hostages freed, 2 escape in Agusan kidnapping
By Abigail Kwok
First Posted 14:47:00 12/10/2009

MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE 2) Eighteen of at least 65 hostages kidnapped by gunmen Thursday in Agusan del Sur province have been released, police said.

All of the hostages freed were children except for one adult, according to Chief Superintendent Lino Calingasan, Caraga regional police director.

In a separate interview, Senior Superintendent Nestor Fajura, chief of operations of Caraga police, said that aside from the 18 victims released, two more teachers were able to escape from their abductors.

Fajura identified them as Nene Alemendares and Marilou Gregorio, both of whom are now under the custody of their district supervisors.

Fajura said that 15 armed men belonging to the criminal group Ondo Perez took the hostages around 8 a.m. in Sitio (sub-village) Maitum, Barangay (village) San Martin in Prosperidad town.

Fajura said that authorities were to serve an arrest warrant for multiple murder against Perez, the group’s leader, when the hostage-taking occurred.

Perez’s group was involved in the murder of the relative of a local enemy, Fajura said.

“[The hostage-taking] was due to the fact that warrants of arrest for multiple murder would be served against Perez,” Fajura said.

When police were trying to serve the warrant, the suspects fled and took the hostages, including students of Maitum Elementary School.

Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang, spokesman of the Eastern Mindanao Command, said that among those held hostage were two foresters from the Casilayan Softwood Development Corporation.

The group, armed with M16 rifles and shotguns, reportedly fired warning shots while they were taking the hostages some 2.5 kilometers from the sitio, Fajura said.

Immediately after the incident, a crisis management committee was formed to negotiate the release of the victims. The committee was led by Governor Tina Plaza, Fajura said.

“The crisis management committee appealed to the suspects to release the children first,” Fajura said.

The remaining 55 hostage victims, Fajura said, were in good condition.

The demands of the suspects are: for the presence of journalists in the site; the arrest of their enemy June Tubay; to stop military and police operations in the area; to drop multiple murder charges against Perez; and batteries for their flashlights.

Fajura said it would be up to the crisis management committee to negotiate for the release of the remaining victims.


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