State of emergency declared in Jolo

MANILA – Philippine authorities imposed a curfew and a state of emergency on Tuesday on a remote southern island where an Islamic militant group has threatened to kill one of three Red Cross workers it holds hostage.

Provincial Governor Abdusakur Tan issued the proclamation of emergency minutes after the expiry of a rebel ultimatum to authorities to withdraw troops from much of Jolo island. The Abu Sayyaf group had said it would execute one of the hostages if their demand was not met by 2 p.m. (0600 GMT).

“We’re preparing for the worst,” Tan told reporters. “We’re not taking this sitting down,” he added.

There was no immediate word on the fate of the hostages after the expiry of the deadline.

Tan had earlier said the rebel demands were impossible to meet.

The emergency order allows security forces to set up checkpoints and gives them wide powers to apprehend and search suspects.

Scope of emergency

Proclamation No. 01, Series of 2009, titled “Declaring a State of Emergency in the Province of Sulu,” Tan cited the ASG’s abduction of three International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) workers as basis for declaring such an emergency.

It said the kidnapping constituted a terroristic act and a “heinous crime that deserves to be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”

The resolution also cited legal provisions such as the Human Security Act (R.A. 9372), which declared that kidnapping and serious illegal detention is an act of terrorism.

The governor also invoked Section 465 of the Local Government Code which empowers a chief executive of a province to “carry out such emergency measures as may be necessary during, and in the aftermath, of man-made and national disasters and calamities.”

The declaration calls on the Philippine National Police (PNP), with the assistance of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Civilian Emergency Force, to implement the following:

1. Setting up chokepoints and checkpoints in areas of the province, to be decided upon by the PNP;

2. Imposition of curfew for the entire province, subject to such guidelines as may be issued by proper authorities, and which, according to ICRC hostage crisis military spokesperson Lt. Col. Arevalo, will vary in every municipality and will be dependent upon the nature of employment of each citizen;

3. Conduct general search and seizure operations, including arrests, in the pursuit only of the kidnappers and their supporters;

4. To conduct other such actions or police operations as may be necessary to ensure public safety.

The declaration was signed by Tan at about 2:15 or 2:20 p.m.

Last-minute appeal

Richard Gordon, head of the Philippines chapter of the Red Cross, made an emotional last-minute appeal on national television for the freedom of the hostages.

“They have not done anything wrong but serve, visit prisons, provide potable water and feed the hungry and treat the wounded and comfort the afflicted,” he said, wiping away tears.

“They have already helped a lot of people in your areas so there is a need to free them and I appeal to the government to restrain themselves, a little sobriety and not add to the situation.”

Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba, Swiss national Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni, all staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), have been held in the jungles of Jolo since Jan. 15. They were abducted after a visit to a local prison where the Red Cross is funding a water project.

The government said it had complied earlier this month with rebel demands to move back the security cordon around them.

By Sunday, nearly 1,500 soldiers, police officers and armed civilian volunteers had moved back by about 15 km (9 miles) from the rebel position in the interior of southern Jolo island.

Reuters

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Published in: on March 31, 2009 at 3:31 pm  Comments Off on State of emergency declared in Jolo  
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