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Philippine military launches operations to rescue 3 Sayyaf hostages lined up for beheading

ZAMBOANGA CITY – The Philippine military has launched an operation to rescue three people – two of them members of the Coast Guard – being held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf in the restive region of Mindanao, officials said Saturday.

The rebel group said it would behead the hostages, Gringo Villaruz and Rodlyn Pagaling; and village chieftain Roberto Buligao, if the Aquino government fails to pay their ransom demand.

The rebels have reportedly demanded P10 million in exchange for the safe release of the trio – abducted in May 4 on Aliguay Island in Dapitan City in Zamboanga del Norte.

Marine Captain Maria Rowena Muyuela, a spokeswoman for the Western Mindanao Command, said it has already coordinated with police authorities to rescue the hostages.

“The Western Mindanao Command, through our Task Forces on the ground, is in close coordination with the local police and local government unit to expedite arrest of the perpetrators and facilitate the safe release of the kidnap victims,” Muyuela said.

Muyuela also condemned the latest Abu Sayyaf kidnappings. “We condemn the continuous criminal acts perpetrated by these threat groups to innocent civilians in the provinces of Mindanao.”

“From the start, Western Mindanao Command Joint Task Forces have exerted all efforts to assist the Philippine National Police in the law enforcement operations matter in the same way that we are providing support to the local government units. The city government of Dapitan had already convened the City Crisis Management Committee to look into the incidents,” she said.

A video posted on Facebook showed the hostages – their eyes covered with handkerchief and hands tied behind their back – begging to the Aquino government to help them, saying their captors have threatened to decapitate all of them if their demands were not met.

The Coast Guard has confirmed the two men in the video were Villaruz and Pagaling, and said it will not pay ransom to the kidnappers.

One of the armed men in the video, who was clad in a police uniform, read a message from his cell phone and said: “Kami ay nakabihag ng dalawang Coast Guard at isang barangay captain, nanawagan kami na maibigay ninyo ang hinihingi namin sa lalong madaling panahon kung hindi ninyo maibigay ang hinihingi namin ay pupugutan namin ang ulo ng isa sa mga bihag na ito o lahat sila.” (We are holding two Coast Guard and a village chieftain, we are calling (on the government) to give us our demand soon and if you will not heed to our demand, we shall behead one of the hostages, or all of them.)  (Mindanao Examiner)

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