May 27, 2001, [Philippine] Inquirer Service, Bandits abduct 20 in Palawan resort, by Jofelle P. Tesorio and Geraldford Ticke,
Posted: 10:45 PM (Manila Time)
PUERTO PRINCESA CITY--At least 20 heavily armed men, believed to be members of the Abu Sayyaf bandit group, kidnapped 20 persons, including three Americans, from the upscale Dos Palmas Arreceffi Island Resort here at dawn yesterday.
The military immediately launched a massive search by air and sea. Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Diomedio Villanueva said the group apparently had been tracked down several hours after the raid.
President Macapagal-Arroyo condemned the kidnapping as a "dastardly criminal act of desperate, ruthless bandits." She gave assurance that the government would "do everything within its powers" to ensure the safety of the hostages.
She canceled her visit to Baguio City where she was to act as principal sponsor at the wedding of actor Aga Muhlach and actress Charlene Gonzales today.
Dos Palmas, the only high-end resort at Honda Bay in Palawan, is 600 kilometers southwest of Manila. It is an hour by boat from Puerto Princesa.
Wearing bonnets and armed with a machinegun and assault rifles, the intruders docked at the receiving area of the resort around 5 a.m.
They were on board a big kumpit (speedboat) with three engines, the resort’s security officer, Lt. Rudy Gorgonio, said.
After holding two guards at gunpoint, Gorgonio said the raiders immediately proceeded to the nine cottages near the receiving area where tourists were sleeping.
They grabbed 17 guests, two security guards and one male kitchen staff member, he said.
"It all happened very quickly. Everyone was stunned and no once could talk . . . It was all over in 15 to 20 minutes," Gorgonio said.
Dos Palmas officials said there were about 100 tourists at the resort.
The military’s Western Command said three of those abducted were Americans and the rest were Filipinos, including an 8-year-old boy.
The Americans were identified as Martin Burnham, 41, and his wife Gracia, missionaries from Wichita, Kansas; and Guillermo Robero, 39.
The Burnhams have lived in the Philippines since 1986 and have been working for the New Tribes Mission, Tim Grossman, who was at the organization’s Manila office yesterday, told the Associated Press. They flew to the resort Saturday and listed their address as 333 Shaw Blvd., Mandaluyong City.
According to the AP report, Martin has spent most of his life in the Philippines. He and his wife--both children of missionaries--had been living in Nueva Vizcaya.
Robero, believed to be of Spanish descent, placed his address at 4045 Moody St., Corona, USA. He was with a Filipina, identified as Maria Fe Rosadeno, a native of Dagomboy Village here and reportedly Guillermo’s girlfriend.
The boy was identified as RJ Recio, of Suite 520 MBE, 105 Leviste St., Salcedo Village, Makati City. He was reportedly with Recio Luis Raul de Guzman, Angie Montealegre and Divine Montealegre.
One of the hostages was identified as Regis Romero, 41, of 136 Malakas St., Diliman, Quezon City. It was not immediately known if he is the same Romero who owns RII Builders Corp.
With Romero was Maria Riza Rodriguez Santos, 30, of Hemady Street, New Manila, Quezon City.
The other hostages were identified as Janice Ting Go, 30, of Philamlife Tower, Makati, and her companion, Luis Bautista III, 32, of Mandaluyong City; Francis and Teresa, both surnamed Ganzon, of Parañaque City; Lalaine Chua; Kimberly Jao; and Letty Jao.
Also abducted were the resort’s kitchen staff member Sandy Daquer and security guards, Armando Bayona and Eldrin Morales.
Military officials said planes and ships were deployed to search for the abductors and their captives in the high seas of Mindanao, many areas of which have been plagued by Moro separatists, pirates and other outlaws.
National Security Adviser J. Roilo Golez told a radio station that a motorboat believed carrying the kidnappers and hostages was spotted near Bugsuk Island on the southern tip of Palawan.
Capt. Djo Jalandoni of the Wescom said the raiders might be headed for Jolo Island, where the Abu Sayyaf is based.
Dos Palmas security officer Gorgonio said the gunmen spoke Tausug, the dialect spoken in Jolo.
Police interrogated two fishermen who had approached the receiving area before the armed men arrived at Dos Palmas. The fishermen, identified as Brando Cervantes, 20, and Alvic Cobillo, 20, said they were looking for some fishermen-friends.
It is not clear whether the fishermen, who were not presented to the media, were used as guides or were accomplices of the kidnappers.
Gorgonio said the security guard and the staff member were the ones who saw the incident. The attack lasted about 30 minutes and other guests did not learn of the presence of the armed men until news broke out in the morning.
Reports from the Puerto Princesa police said the armed men took with them some containers of gasoline and a handheld radio.
The kumpit reportedly sped off toward the northeast, although police officials said this might be a diversionary tactic and the boat could have changed course later.
A fisherman, who identified himself as Salvador Aton, told radio station rgMA here, that he saw a big gray kumpit around 6:15 a.m. coming from nearby Dos Palmas. It was heading southward, he said.
"I saw a kumpit which almost looked white as it sped. On board were bonnet-wearing men. It was going toward San Miguel, Tawi-Tawi," Aton said in Filipino.
The fisherman, who just came from tuna-fishing in the Malunao area, said he was familiar with the seas so he could not be mistaken about the direction where the boat was going.
Operations at Dos Palmas Resort have remained normal. Guests who have been booked could still get to the island, but walk-in arrangements are no longer being accommodated.
No demand for ransom has so far been relayed to the resort management.
All other tourist resorts in Palawan have been put on alert. Navy ships, as well as Air Force helicopters, had stepped up security around the island, the military said.
Allan Padian, spokesperson of Dos Palmas, said that after a similar raid on another resort island last week, security at the resort had been more than doubled before the kidnapping.
Padian said some panicky guests checked out and left the island under Coast Guard or Navy escort. But he stressed "we have pacified the fear of the guests," many of whom had chosen to remain.
Gen. Diomedio Villanueva arrived here Sunday and immediately met with Gov. Joel Reyes, who also had a briefing with officers of the Wescom and the police.
"We are now scouring the shores of Palawan. It is an open sea and our aircraft and all available Navy vessels are scouring the area," Villanueva said.
Brig. Gen. Rodolfo Rabago, Wescom chief, said he had dispatched two Navy vessels and one S-211 aircraft to intercept the kidnappers and their victims.
Army spokesperson Lt. Col. Jose Mabanta said a contingent from the Marines had been deployed to support interception and rescue operations.
"We will deal with this with caution and resolve," Mabanta told defense reporters. "The Philippine Army and the entire armed forces will not tolerate this."
It was the second attack by gunmen on a tourist resort in the country’s volatile south in five days.
Just before midnight on Tuesday, gunmen attacked the Pearl Farm, a tourist resort on the Island Garden City of Samal, killing two people and snatching two hostages, who were later released.
Troops are chasing the gang, which retreated to the mountains after snatching four villagers to use as human shields.
With reports from Carlito Pablo and Inquirer wires