Thursday, October 22, 2009

Kidnappers free 2 of seven forest rangers in southern Philippines

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / October 22, 2009) – Two of seven kidnapped Filipino forest rangers were freed unharmed late Thursday and their captors demanded the government to return their ancestral lands and to cancel all forest agreements with commercial loggers in areas where there are presence of indigenous tribes, police said.

Police said the kidnappers released Emeliano Gatillo Jr. and Efren Sabuero, but held on to the other hostages - Gabriel Arlan, Rito Espinido, Teofredo Pujadas and two others identified only as Clar and Abogatal.

They were taken on Wednesday near a forest checkpoint in Butuan City in Agusan del Norte province. The hostages are all employees of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

“The freed hostages, Emeliano Gatillo Jr. and Efren Sabuero, are being debriefed,” said Chief Inspector Martin Gamba, a spokesman for the police task force handling the case.

The fate of the remaining captives is unknown, Gamba told the regional newspaper, the Mindanao Examiner.

He said the two were freed in the village of Kulambugan in the town of Sibagat in Agusan del Sur province. “The two men are okay,” he said.

The military said the kidnappers have made four demands in exchange for the freedom of the hostages after a man who claimed to be the leader of the gang holding the foresters contacted the DENR.

“A man claiming to be the captor of the seven foresters has made four demands for the release of the hostages. We are leaving the negotiations to the police and local government authorities for the safe release of the foresters,” Major Michelle Anayron, a spokesman for the Army’s 4th Infantry Division in Mindanao, said in a separate interview.

Anayron said the captors demanded the cancellation of the Community-Based Forest Management Agreement in the town of Sibagat; the awarding of the Certificates of Ancestral Domain Title; government approval of customary farming and the cancellation of the Integrated Forest Management Agreement with commercial logging companies in their area.

He said the man who made the demands identified himself as Anoy Behing, a native of Sibagat town.

The province is a known lair of illegal loggers and a stronghold of communist New People’s Army insurgents. The illegal logging in Agusan del Norte continues unabatedly and is threatening water shed areas in the province.

Last year, some 500 leaders of indigenous tribes and representatives of nongovernmental organizations and the Catholic Church appealed to Manila to put an end to illegal logging and destructive mining in the province and other areas in the Caraga region considered as ancestral domain. (Mindanao Examiner)

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