Sunday, December 19, 2010

Kidnapping for Ransom for the Fourth Quarter of 2010, Part II: The Resurrection of the Pentagon Gang

Perhaps an alternative title might be, "The Philippine Government Invents Time Travel." How else does one explain how a group that was made extinct in 2007 not only committed a misdeed in 2010, but did so under a leader that was killed in 2002? The group in question was led by MILF guerillas, Faizal Marohombsar and Tahir Alonto who ensconced themselves deeply within the impenatrable Liguasan Marsh. The Marsh, which encompasses land in 4 provinces (North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and Lanao del Sur), covers nearly 180,000 hectares in Central Mindanao and is mostly immune from penetration by AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) Ground Forces. The group which engaged in extortion as well as KFR (Kidnap for Ransom) was 1 of 3 simila groups (al Khobar and Abu Sofia being the other 2) was most active from 2002 to 2005 and was made extinct in late 2007.

Though the group splintered after the death of Alonto (Marohombsar was the 1st of the 2 leaders to be neutralised in what amounted to a PNP execution on Luzon in 2002) in 2007, none of the surviving members managed to capitalise on the name or to produce anything even remotely approaching the sophistication of the Marohombsar/Alonto organisation. With Alonto (along with 15 if his highest ranking followers) was vapourised by two 500 pound aerial bombs (which set off a Secondary Detonation of all the ordnance stockpiled in the group's Liguasan headquarters) Central Mindanao was able to breathe just a tad bit easier...until December 16.

On Thursday, December 16, 2010, in Barangay Poblacion #1, in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato Province, 44 year old rice trader Allan Tamayo was impatiently waiting for his daughter Krizalda whom he was driving to her school, Montessori Center, before heading to his warehouse . 8 year Krizalda, or KC as her family and friends call her, was trying to finish her breakfast, excited about the Xmas Party her 5th grade class was holding later that morning. As KC ran to her father's pickup truck a white sedan screeched to a stop. As its driver stayed withe the idling car the 3 men with him got out, armed with M16s. As KC climbed in next to her father 10 of the 3 men reached into the truck and her. Allan immediately grabbed hold of KC and with 1 hand began punching the attacker. At this point 1 of the 2 other kidnappers riddled Allan with bullets. As the white sedan sped off with KC neighbours and family members rushed to the pickup truck and drove Allan Tamayo to the nearest hospital but to no avail, he had died almost immediately after being shot.

In the rush of adrenaline the driver of the white sedan, Abdul Kasim, lost control of the escape vehicle and took a guardrail of 1 of the numerous small bridges dotting the landscape in the town's Barangay Culasi. Though the accident only injured Kasim the car's entire left side was disabled. Grabbing their rifles and KC the 3 gunmen left their slightly injured driver with the disabled car and blocked the road forcing a hapless Triksiad (one of the most basic form of transportation in the Philippines, consisting of an off road motorcycle, enveloped within an aluminum shell in which a small bench is placed next to the driver along with a 2nd bench in the rear) to pull over. At gunpoint the Triksiad was forced to drive his 4 passengers to the town's outlying barangay of Panatan, which borders Liguasan Marsh.

As soon as they entered Barangay Panaton the driver pointed out a sign confirming that they were indeed in the barangay and the 3 gunmen, evidently not knowing that the entry to Liguasan was still several kilometers away disembarked with little KC. At this point the party split up and agreed to reunite inside the marsh. Back in the white sedan Abdul Kasim was set upon by angry villagers who had learned about the crime via cellpjone. Nearly killing Kasim they only relented when a well armed detachment from the 40IB (Infantry Battalion) forced them to do so at gunpoint. Kasim was taken by the soldiers to the same hospital thad earlier pronounced Allan Tamayo dead. Alas, Kasim himself had expired on the way to the hospital (strangely, this often happens when soldiers transport injured subjects, go figure). Aside from the lost opportunities a proper interrogation might have produced (1 plausible theory concerning why Kasim was killed relates to that since Kasim happens to have been the Team Leader of the 4 kidnappers. Most kidnappers work in orhanised teams funded by powerful local politicians who also have nominal control over local security assets like the police and army), it was disovered that he was under Warrant from PACER (Police Anti-Crime and Emergency Response) so that he was also a valuable quarry for traditional law enforcement as well.

As the 3 remaining kidnappers split into 2 groups and made their way towards the marsh entrance the Governor of North Cotabato Province, Emmylou "Lala" Talino Mendoza leaned on area municipalities so that the combined police departments of Midsayap, Pikit, Aleosan, Kabacan and Libungan joined the Pigcawayan department (as well as the 40IB) in searching the perimeter of Liguasan Marsh for the remaining 3 kidnappers and KC. As 2 of the kidnappers managed to enter the marsh by nightfall, the 4th, Jomar Ulangkaya merely walked in circles with KC. At 445AM the next morning, Friday December 17, Ulangkaya and KC were sighted, still within Barangay Panaton. The 40IB was the nearest asset in place and so they were deployed to prevent Ulangkaya from taking KC into the marsh.

At 510AM the 40IB made contact when a forward detachment opened fire on Ulangkaya. Unlike a properly trained force the AFP Infantry units almost always engage (shoot) before talking. Instead of ordering a person to stop, put dow your weapon, put your hands on your head and move away from the girl, the AFP simply let's the guns blaze and so often this simply produces tragic results, as one might expect. Ulangkaya, like Kasim, from Barangay Gang in the town of Sultan Kudarat (town as opposed to province of the same name) in Maguindanao Province was cowered and ummediately dropped his M16. While Ulangkaya was apprehended uninjured little KC was not so lucky, an army bullet wounded her but she will recover (physically).

Worth noting is Governor Mendoza's personally taking charge of asset deployment. By law. As the chief local executive she is personally in charge of such matters (within reason), but reality is almost always different. In this case Mendoza prevented Ulangkaya (though his own disorientation actually was the reason) from entering the marsh. It was an on point decison and for the first time ever her province had a highly coordinated deployment of a Blocking Force. Just from the perspective if inter-operability between various disparate assets she deserves credit. If I practiced arm chair psychology I might reckon that her pro active stance may have arisen from both her and father (a longtime local mayor) having been tagetted for extortion by the al Khobar Group (all Ilonggo* politicians in that province are). Whatever her rationale was she acted with the control and leadership needed at such a crucial time. Of special interest is the government's involvement in Time Travel. This was revealed when the government not only announced that the PENTAGON GROUP had been behind the kidnapping, but that the "Team" belonged to Kumander Faizal (as in Faizal Marohombsar). Amazing, really.

Also taking place on Thursday, December 16, 2010, in Barangay Lanote, Isabela City on Basilan Island, Tsinoy (Filipino-Chinese) Lario "Larry" De los Santos was standing outside the offices of his popular hotel, "Farmland Resort" when a van sped up, men quickly jumped out, bundled him inside at the point of M16s and sped away. Mr. De los Santos also owns a popular eatery, "Font's Restuarant," also in Isabela City and is sometimes known as, "Mr. Font." Quite wisely, as Tsinoy almost always do, his family is handling the situation themselves.

In my last entry, which like this entry was devoted to KFR (Kidnap for Ransom), I discussed the October kidnapping of 10 year old Cekim Gromonit and his 59 year old grandmother Babet Gromonit, both of Pagadian City on the Zamboanga Peninsula. On Friday, December 17, 2010 Babet's badly decomposed body was dug out of a shallow grave in the town of Sultan Naga Diamporo, just over the Zamboanga border, in Lanao de Norte Province. Her body was found after the family received an SMS (text) from her kidnappers warning that the same will happen unless yje family agrees to pay a ransom. The family, under the leadership of Babet's brother, has steadfastly refused to even negotiate a ransom, let alone pay it. He said, after the body was discovered, that this was Babet's decison, that she wanted the kidnappers to realise that kidnapping is not a free payday, that they won't be rewarded for their misdeeds. Of course Babet would have never been allowed to communicate such thoughts from captivity, even if she felt them (and forgive me, but with a 10 year grandson also being held I don't want to imagine anybody that unemotional. I admire the very rational sentiment but is entirely counter-intuitive). She was in such a state of advanced decomposition that her remains had to be identified via her dentures so that she was believed to have been killed on or around December 10.

I had mentioned in my prior entry that there was a female among the 4 kidnappers and that they, like the victims were Cebuanos (Bisaya). The town in which Babet's grave was discovered, Sultan Naga Dimaporo, is the location of the MILF 113 Base Command's Main Camp. The 113 Base Command, like the 114 Base Command on Basilan, and ro a lesser degree 102 Base Command on the Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur provincial borders is neck deep I KFR. For the 113 and 114 it is their main source of funding. However, the 113 at least rarely if ever executes captives. It is quite possible to find Cebuano speaking MILF guerillas but they are rare, let alone finding 3 that speak it as a first language? To find any MILF willing to work with females (as the group that kidnapped the Gomonits did) would be amazing (the MILF does sometimes train women in very basic combat skills but only as a propaganda exercise and because of Shari'a, Islamic Law, would never allow a group of mixed gender). Despite the location of the grave I would reckon this to be family centered if not family perpetrated directly.

Another kidnapping I discussed in my afore mentioned entry was that of Mary Cris Cuatrocruz, a 21 year old nurse from Zamboanga City's Barangay Manihacan. A disturbing development took place in this case on Thursday, December 16. An uncle of Mary's, Pedro Sogradiel Jr. was arrested and 2 Warrants have been taken out for his friends Mubin Bakwang and Jaidin "Abu Jai" Abdursalam. Earlier. On the day Mary was kidnapped, Uncle Pedro and friends engaged in a marathon drinking session and when Sogradiel began bragging about the wealth of Mary's family 1 of the men got in touch with a relative in a neighbouring barangay. The relative was part of a 3 man team casing a potential kidnapping victim but when told of an extremely easy payday acted out of impulse.

Mary was taken to Zamboanga Sibugay Province that night but from there the trail is cold since she was immediately sold up the food chain. In most nations Uncle Pedro would have been labelled a lot of things but "Kidnapper" would not be one of them. I am wagering he had one hell of a hangover the next day and will carry this with himself the rest of his (probablly very short) life.

Again, in my previous entry, I discussed the case of Cecillia Sosas, Vice Principal of Baas Elementary in Barangay Baas, Lamitan, Basilan Island. Although Ms. Sosas is now enjoying her freedom (being feted in Manila as she and her husband enjoy a much needed get away on the Department of Education's tab). Just after Ms. Sosas was kidnapped 4 schools in Lamitan were shut down after the AFP received Intelligence concerning an impending ASG abduction of non-Muslim teachers. The schools were locked down as AFP Marines came and loaded all school staff (but not children) onto 6 X 6 military trucks and drove them to TF Basilan Headquarters. Fast forward 3 weeks to Thursday, December 12 and 11 more elementary schools in the Lamitan area were shuttered. Now things might go from bad to worse since Ms.Sosa's revelation. During her initial de-briefing that Kumander Malik, the Abu Sayyaf sub-commander of the Jamiri Faction (the Abu Sayyaf faction that held her) gave her a message to relay. In essence he vowed to target non-Muslim staff until all non-Muslim teachers are removed. As of now only those 14 schools (whose student body is 100% Muslim) remain shuttered. Hopefully the situation will stabilise so that Muslim schoolchildren can enjoy the same educational opportunities as their non-Muslim peers.

On November 26, 2010 lightning struck twice for Zamboanga City's Eliseo Hablo. Back January 08, 2009 Mr. Hablo was getting nice and soused (drunk) with some mates at his Julie's Bakeshop franchise in Barangay San Jose Gusu. Using the poor critical thinking skills that so many drunks seem to have, Mr. Hablo set off in his Starex van to "inspect" his 2nd Julie's Bakeshop franchise in Barangay Santa Maria. Somewhere between his 2 bakeries he was waylaid by gunmen and abducted.

Identifying themselves as Abu Sayyaf the erstwhile kidnappers initiated ransom negotiations. Thinking they were successful the kidnappers sent a courier to pick up the ransom on February 10, 2009 (as opposed to Abu Sayyaf who use routed bank deposits to ensure a level of anonymity). Knowing now that they weren't dealing with "professionals" the task force assigned to the case grabbed the teenager that had been sent in the city's Barangay Calarian. After a quick beating, I mean "interrogation," the hapless teen revealed that Mr.Hablo was being held in a home several street's away, in a section known as "Southcom Village." The section gained that name because it is home to WESMINCOM (Western Mindanao Commamd, 1 of 2 AFP Commands on Mindanao). Prior to the 2004 re-organisation that split the here-to-fore unitary command structure, WESMINCOM had been named SOUTHCOM. In other words, the kidnappers had been in what was widely believed to be the safest place on Mindanao.

Raiding the home they found a naked Mr. Hablo blindfolded and handcuffed to the wall, though laying on a cot. Arrested in the house was the ring-leader, attorney Hassan Alam and a police officer, PO1 Marcial Gabitaninan Lim, and several others includin the attorney's wife, Grace Mabatan Gonzales Alam.

Hablo was considered extremely lucky, not oy was he being held by rank amateurs instead of a group known for literally sawing off the heads of living victims (Abu Sayyaf), he had been rescued in relatively good condition without a single shot having been fired, all actors were nabbed and to boot, all his ransom was recovered (seeing as how it ogten disappears even when it never leaves AFP/PNP custody he was lucky indeed). That was until November 26, 2010. As the sun rose that day the "GMD 1," a boat in the Hablo-owned "AMR Fishing Inc" fleet was waiting to take aboard the night's catch in the waters off of Pandukan Island, which is itself in the waters immediately opposite the municipality of Mohammad Ajul on Basilan Island. Larger fishing companies, like AMR, deploy teams of boats with the largest one serving as a repository for the night's catch.

As the GMD 1 was slowly being piloted between Basilan and Pandukan a motor banca (a banca is a type of locally built boat) pulled along side with 3 gunmen. Very quickly 2 gunmen came aboard and identified themselves as "Bong" and Olsen," and demanded a percentage of the daily catch. A little known fact is that the AFP's Force Multiplication Programme* has extended to fishing boats but alas, the Hablo fleet has 2 SCAA (Special Citizens Active Auxiliary) soldiers aboard each repository craft (since the catches are concentrated on these boats they become the most lucrative asset to target during robberies and extortion attempts). The SCAA are akin to CAFGU (Citizens Auxiliary Force Geographical Unit), which is itself an Army Reserve that may only be deployed within a single municipality, with all personnel having to be residents of said municipality. I suppose a Wetern equivalent might be a "Home Guard," of the type one sees in some European nations. CAFGU are funded, trained, and armed by the AFP. The SCAA is fubded by private business owners, like Mr. Hablo, but are supposed to be trained, armed and nominally supervised by AFP cadres. In reality of course this is often not the case.

As Bong and Olsen (sounds like a pop group) demanded fish, they were confronted by SCAA soldier Faustino Labastida, armed with an M14. Labastida drew down (aimed his rifle) and ordered the gunmen, armed with 1 M16 and 1 AK47 to disembark. They then shot the outgunned Labastida to death but not before he was able to get off a single burst (3 bullets). After killing Labastida they stormed the wheelhouse (the boat's operational centre) and killed the 2nd SCAA soldier, Noel Enolva, who was inexplicably piloting the craft instead of backing Labastida as the boat traversed the most dangerous part of its trip, the waters off of Basilan.

After throwing both men's bodies over the side of the boat the 2 men left empty handed, aside from an M14 and an M1 (Garand) taken off of the dead men.

Six days later, on November 30, Zamboanga City PNP (Philippine National Police) arrested 21 year old Justali "Bong" Salih, of Maluso, Basilan while he was recovering in Zamboanga City Medical Center. In a stroke of luck 2 of Labastida's 3 bullets caused a wound in Salih's arm that went septic (became infected). Doctors had just amputated the arm. Olsen remains at large.

On Saturday, November 06, 2010 in Barangay Baliwasan, Zamboanga City, 30 year old Taiwanese expat Lai Yeh Jung Fah was sitting in his office at " JC Import Export Marine Products," located on the Baliwasan Pier. At just past 9AM three men posing as customers entered the building and after initial small talk grabbed Fah and attempted to push him out of the building and into a waiting motorbanca. Despite the odds of 3 to 1 Fah gave a good fight and after shooting him in the kneecaps his assauilents left. By Tuesday, November 09, Fah had abandoned his business and returned to Taiwan for good.

October 17, 2010 in Barangay Santo Nino in Cagayan del Oro City, in Misamis Oriental Province, 29 year old Jeffrey Regelado Almonia was trying to do a good deed. His uncle was inconsolable over the loss of his cellphone. What hurt him more perhaps is the fact that his son, Jeffrey's cousin, had pawned the phone for 1500 Pesos (32 US) during a shabu binge ("shabu" is a Japanese slang phrase meaning "go fast" and is used to describe the smokable form of methamphetamine that Americans call "Ice"). Jeffrey sent an SMS (text) to the 3 drug dealers and agreed to meet them to redeem his cousin's debt and redeem the phone.

Arriving at the agreed upon location he was met by the 3 men who instead of returning the phone abducted him. E of the men forced Jeffrey into his own Toyota Vios and compelled him to drive to Lumba Bayabao, Lanao del Sur Province. Jeffrey's family then received an SMS demanding 50,000 Pesos (1,100 US) for his freedom. On Tuesday, October 19 a villager in Lumba Bayabao was walking buy the Vios when he saw Jeffrey handcuffed to the steering wheel as his captors, still inside the house where Jeffrey had been held were gathering things and getting ready to transfer him to a 2nd location. The villager called the town's PNP Station which amazingly (since the town is a kidnapping centre, 1 that I discussed in my previous entry) respomded and freed the man.

Since I mentioned the following episode in both a Barangay Election entry AND an NPA entry I will only give the briefest of details; On Thursday October 14, 2010 in Sitio Abungkad, Barangay Kinam, Malapatan. Sarangani Province, the Maguan brothers, Tony and Diel were illegaly logging. The 2 B'laan Tribesmen (Lumad, the label for the non-Negrito Animist Tribes on Mindanao) were confronted by a NPA Front 71 avout their enthusiastic support for a candidate for Barangay Captain in that same barangay. The candidate in question is vehemently anti-Communist. When the talk was judged non-productive by the NPA they abducted both men, only to free them unharmed 6 days later after the 2 men had had enough time to re-think their political leanings.

On September 27, 2010 in Barangay Banggolo, Marawi City, Lanao del Sur Province, 18 year old student Hashim Otto was walking to classes when 3 men on 2 motorcycles stopped and accosted him. Otto was then told on gunpoint to get on back the passengerless motorcycle. Complying they hadn't gone more than 3 blocks before Otto saw a group of PNP officers standing on a corner. Yelling for help the PNP responded and quickly freed the young man. The 3 kidnappers;

Amenoding Naga, 26, from Barangay Bualan, Balindong, Lanao del Sur Province

Tocod Mohammadali, 29, from Barangay Biaba Damag, Marawi City

and

Esmail Baute, 21, also from Barangay Biaba Damag, are all said to be farmers unaffiliated with any local insurgent or criminal group. Knowing how prevalent kidnapping is on the island and being impovershed themselves impetuously hatched their poorly executed plan. On the bright side, for them, they will soon find themselves released fron prison and drafted by the big boys, unless Otto has some powerful friends and/or family, un which case the 3 men will turn into fertiliser.

September 15, 2010, in Barangay Bubong-a- Madaya, in Marawi City, well known local businessman Abdulcarim Magarang, 42, was freed by his abductors. Back on August 31, 2010 he was taking a Triksiad to the City Market in Barangay Lilod Madaya when 5 gunmen blocked the street. Holding an M16 on the driver, Amiladen Comilao, 4 of the men grabbed Mr. Magarang and placed him in an idling Honda Civic without liscence plates and sped off. Later that day he was able to phone his wife assuring her that he was OK before the call was cut off.

On Sunday, September 06, 1 of the 5 gunmen, Khalid Saripada Pansar was cornered while being arrested on a Warrant taken out by attorney Amina Mimbala of Regional Trial Court, Branch 10, over the Thrill-Killing of a local farmer cum Islamic cleric, Ustadz Andalawan Hadji Salic who just happened to have been walking by when Pansar felt like testing a new M16. Pansar was also involved in several cases of revenge against "Rural Bus Lines," because a Pansar Clansmen was accidentally run over and killed in Wao, Lanao del Norte in July, 2010. On August 06 a Rural bus travveling National Hiway in Barangay Buntongan, Wao, was hit by sniper fire at 430AM, killing driver Ronnie Poblacion, Conductor (Ticket Collector) Catsteven [sic] Egagamao, though Catsteven's brother, Maradarito, employed as an Inspector (for IEDs) aboard the same bus survived a shot to the head as well as to his arm and his thigh. After an intial headshot took out the driver, the bus managed to come to a stop without crashing. 2 snipers than took out the other employees as the bus sat in a rice paddy.

On August 26, not long before Pansar took a role in kidnapping Mr. Abdulcarim (hey, at least noone could call him lazy) he dressed him self in a PNP uniform and helped man an impromptu "PNP" checkpoint in Kaptagan, Lanao del Norte. When a Rural bus pulled up to the checkpoint 2 passengers told a boarding "PNP" officer believed to have been Pansar, that they too were PNP officers deployed as plainclothes "marshalls" to stem attacks against busses. Pansar then gave a blew off their heads with his M16. The employees and passengers were then left alone and the attackers dispersed. Though it is not known whether Pansar had a hand in the church bombing across the border in Bukidnon Procince, also related to the Clan's attacks, let's just say it was probable.

In ,y event, Pansar decided to go out in a blaze of glory and after a 1 hour firefight he was finally killed. Documents on his body allowed the task force assigned to Mr. Magarang's kidnapping to apply pressure and after a minimal ransom negotiated by the provincial government's "Board of Elders" (an innovation unique to Lanao del Sur Province) he was released at 230AM in Barangay the same barangay in which he had been abducted, Lilod Madaya.

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