ZAMBONGA CITY- Special forces of the elite Philippine Marines are hot on the trail of a separate group of Abu Sayyaf bandits in an effort to rescue the three remaining Malaysian hostages in Sulu.
"There is an ongoing hot pursuit operation. We are going after an estimated 20 members of the Abu Sayyaf," Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay, Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) information officer, told the Philippines News Agency on Thursday.
The continuing operation is against the group of Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Alhabsy Misaya, which the military believed is still hiding somewhere between the coastal town of Kalinggalan Caluang and the island town of Pata.
The pursuit operation was launched after the Philippine Marines Ready Force-Sulu intercepted a small wooden boat and rescued two Malaysian hostages at around 2 a.m. on Thursday.
The military identified the rescued victims as Tayudin Anjut, 45, and Abdurahim Bin Sumas, 62. The two were earlier taken as hostage, along with three others, when the Abu Sayyaf bandits hijacked the tugboat Serudung 3 on July 19, 2016 in the coast of Lahad Datu, east of Sabah.
"The marines have prior information that the victims will be transported at that exact time," she said, adding that "upon seeing the naval vessel, the captors abandoned the victims."
There was no report if the marines sighted the three remaining Malaysian hostages, but Petinglay said the hostages could still be in the area.
Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., Westmincom chief, said the victims were immediately brought to a military hospital in Jolo, Sulu, for medical check-up and debriefing.
"The rescued kidnap victims are weak and in a sickly state when they were rescued by our troops. Military doctors are now attending to them, as we speak, in our hospital in Sulu," Galvez said.
He said the "focused military operation" was hatched following intelligence information that the Abu Sayyaf will transport the victims to another possible hideout following a previous military operation in Kalinggalang Caluang area.
"Following the successful operation of the Marine troops in Capual Island last February 7, where eight Abu Sayyaf members under Misaya were killed, our troops on the ground have maximized their intelligence monitoring and have been closely pursuing the group of Misaya to safely rescue the hostages," Galvez said.
Capual Island is one of the barangays in the town of Omar, north of Kalinggalan Caluang and the island town of Pata.
The military deployed their naval assets in the seas between the coastal town of Kalinggalan Caluang and the island town of Pata to go after the group of Misaya.
"We believed they are still in the area. Our naval assets are there. This is to deny them the escape route. We believe we will be able to catch this group anytime soon," Petinglay said.
Galvez said the successful rescue operation is "a product of the combined efforts of our soldiers and the different stakeholders in putting pressure on the kidnappers for the past months."
"Westmincom troops are continuing the pursuit against kidnap for ransom groups to rescue the remaining kidnap victims and continue the pressure on the Abu Sayyaf to release their hostages and possibly for them to surrender to authorities," he added.
The Abu Sayyaf bandits have splintered into several groups, constantly hiding from one municipality to another, to avoid detection from the military.
It is believed that each group tags along its kidnapped victims--numbering to over 30 individuals, mostly foreigners.
Two Canadians were beheaded last year after its government failed to meet the Abu Sayyaf's ransom demand. Last month, a German national was also executed for the same reason.
The Abu Sayyaf bandits, numbering to about 300 to 400 members, had been actively hijacking foreign commercial vessels and yachts in the seas bordering Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia in recent months.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier ordered the military to finish the Abu Sayyaf within six-month period. The deadline will lapse on June 30.
Source: Philippines News Agency