by Mars Mosqueda
Olango Island, Cebu — Authorities barred tourists from going to Olango Island, a bird sanctuary in Cebu, on Friday after residents reported the presence of masked armed men there.
The Central Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines sent troops to Barangay Sabang after one resident said four men, wearing masks and carrying bags which reportedly contained long firearms, asked food and money from her.
Aida Patigdas, who owns a convenience store in Sitio Tuburan, said the four men went to her house Thursday noon and asked for money and food. Patigdas said she refused to give the men money because she was scared.
Responding police heard gunfire at Sitio Bas Toral, Barangay San Vicente.
Police, along with soldiers from the Army’s 47th Infantry Brigade and the Philippine Navy were said to be searching the island for criminal or terrorist groups.
Authorities however had not confirmed the presence of armed men and if they were members of the Abu Sayyaf.
Olango is adjacent to Inabanga town in Bohol, where a clash between the Abu Sayyaf and government troops left nine people dead, including three soldiers and a policeman.
Chief Insp. Miguel Andesa, Olango police chief, said Navy vessels were patrolling the island’s shoreline which is dotted with mangroves and coconut trees.
The fighting in Inabanga has raised concerns that the Abu Sayyaf has infiltrated Bohol where it plans to set up a base from which to launch attacks in the Visayas.
Police officials have downplayed such a concern, saying there is no evidence the Abu Sayyaf has established a base in Eastern Visayas.
Just the same, Police Regional Director Chief Supt. Elmer C. Beltejar told Manila Bulletin that they asked the public to be vigilant and report to the authorities any suspicious strangers in their communities.
The military has said troops were looking for the remaining seven members of the Abu Sayyaf that engaged soldiers and policemen in Barangay Napo, Inabanga, last week. (With Nestor L. Abrematea)