10/20/2008, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Support police who defend the law, Basilan archbishop says

The prelate urges people to work with security forces upholding law and order in the province against attacks by armed gangs and Abu Sayyaf Islamic fundamentalists. The abduction of a priest is thwarted last Saturday. Mystery still hovers over the fate of two kidnapped aid workers.

Basilan (AsiaNews) – The archbishop of Basilan strongly reiterated his “support for the police and marines” involved in upholding the law in a province under “attack from armed gangs and Islamic rebels.” For Mgr Martin Jumoad the presence of police forces helps “prevent the abduction of men and women religious and attacks against the civilian population.”

The statement issued by the archbishop of Basilan, a province in southern Philippines, comes a day after Fr Felimon Libot was almost abducted. A group tried to kidnap the Claretian priest, who heads the Claret School in Isabela City, as he travelled along the road that connects this city to Maluso and Sumisip on his way to Tumahubong, 92 kilometres from the provincial capital, where he was supposed to say Mass.

About seven kilometres from his destination four people attacked the car in which he was travelling, but thanks to the immediate reaction of his escort of Filipino marines and the intervention of security forces, the attempt failed.

During the incident the priest was slightly wounded, and four members of his escort were hurt.

A security vehicle eventually drove Father Libot to his destination as a military helicopter took the wounded to a hospital in Zamboanga.

At present it is not clear who the kidnappers are. For some they are tied to the Abu Sayyaf group, al-Qaeda’s cell in the area. Others suspect a local armed gang involved in ongoing factional conflict over mismanagement of land reform cooperative funds.

Mindanao Representative Mujiv Hataman, a native of Basilan, said he would present a resolution to make it mandatory for police forces to guarantee greater security by being more visible around the province.

Monsignor Jumoad backs the initiative “because crimes are constantly rising.” With more policemen on the ground “many incidents, like kidnappings, can be prevented.”

In Basilan, two Spanish aid workers were abducted on 15 September.  Esperancita Hupida, 42, is in charge of ground operations for the Nagdilaab Foundation, an association that provides humanitarian aid to local populations affected by the war. Millet Mendoza works for an NGO, Tabang Mindanaw.

After more than a month, there is still no news about their fate. Police have not had any success in their investigation.

Last night in Manila during a nationwide televised Mass Fr Mario Sobrejuanite prayed for “Father Libot’s health” and the “release of the two abducted volunteers.”

With contribution from Santosh Digal

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