BUTUAN, April 2, 2011 (AFP) – Philippine tribal gunmen abducted 16 children and adults in a bizarre bid to have their leader released from prison after he was jailed for another mass kidnapping, police said Saturday.
The kidnappers have threatened to kill their hostages, who include at least two students and were taken captive on Friday from a number of schools in a remote town on the violence-plagued southern island of Mindanao, police said.
“They should behave because if they continue to come into our area we will make an example out of the hostages,” the kidnappers’ leader, Reyjoy Brital, told a negotiating team’s mobile phone that was handed to a journalist.
Brital, a former communist rebel who had since left the insurgency, is demanding the release of fellow Manobo tribesman Ondo Perez and three of his followers who were jailed for kidnapping 79 people from the same town in 2009.
Government negotiators had promised not to arrest Perez and his men if he freed his hostages, who also included children.
But police detained the abductors once all of the hostages were released after an ordeal that lasted four days and made international headlines.
The kidnappers in the current crisis are all relatives of Perez, said Alvin Magdamit, mayor of La Prosperidad from where the 16 were abducted.
Police estimated that there were at least six armed kidnappers, who took their captives into nearby mountainous terrain.
Magdamit said the location of the hostages and their captors had been pinpointed and all the abductees were safe.
Regional military spokesman Major Eugenio Osias said soldiers had been deployed in the area and were awaiting orders from the negotiating team.
Magdamit said he was contacting other parties who could help to settle the matter peacefully, although he would not identify them.
But Magdamit stressed that the government could not give in to the demand to release Perez and his men.
“Their request for the release could not be granted because it needs a court order so what we are trying to do is explain to them that we have a law to follow,” the mayor told AFP.
“We are doing things that I cannot divulge to you. We are just hoping these things will work out and at the end of the day, the hostages will be released.”.
Perez seized the 79 people in 2009 as part of a long-running feud with the Tubays, a rival Manobo clan.
“The hostages were seized (in 2009) just for media mileage. He said there was an injustice done to his family so he took hostages to get attention,” said Magdamit.
Before that, Perez and the Tubay clan had accused each other of various murders and had several cases pending in court in a feud over conflicting claims to tribal land.
Mindanao is a resource-rich but impoverished island, which makes up roughly the southern third of the Philippines. Communist and Muslim insurgencies have claimed thousands of lives there over recent decades.