Troops occupy Tawi-Tawi island used as Sayyaf jump-off point

BONGAO, Tawi-Tawi — Government forces have occupied an island near the border with Malaysia to prevent it from being exploited as safe haven and staging point of piracy and kidnapping by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

Brig. Gen. Custodio Parcon, Joint Task Force Tawi-Tawi commander, said they established a camp in Panguan island in Sibutu town to drive away ASG bandits.

“We conducted beach-landing operations and established a camp in Panguan,” Parcon said in an interview Thursday.

Locally known as Malamanok, Sibutu was created out of Sitangkai by virtue of Muslim Mindanao Autonomy Act No. 197, which was subsequently ratified in a plebiscite held on October 21, 2006.

Parcon said the ASG bandits had utilized the island as an observatory area and jump-off point for piracy and kidnappings since it is near Mataking, an island resort in Malaysia. He said the ASG also used Panguan Island as a resting and refueling place in staging kidnappings in Malaysia or at high seas victimizing seafarers.

In previous years, the ASG bandits seized more than a dozen seafarers, mostly foreigners, from cargo ships that pass near Panguan Island, Sibutu.

Lt. Senior Grade (Lt.SG) Euphraim Jayson Diciano, Bongao Coastguard Station commander, said Panguan Island is less than two nautical miles from the Philippine border with Malaysia.

Diciano said the Sibutu serves as passage way for ships citing approximately 17,000 foreign cargo vessels pass the area yearly.

Parcon said the marine forces deployed in Panguan Island are complemented by personnel from the Philippine Coastguard (PCG). He said the ASG bandits has been denied of access in Sibutu passage with the establishment of a camp in Panguan Island and with the ongoing tri-lateral naval patrol agreement with Malaysia and Indonesia.

Meanwhile, he said 26 ASG bandits have already surrendered while 14 were killed by troops under his command in this province within this year.

“The others have left the province since it would be dangerous for them to stay,” he added. Teofilo Garcia, Jr/