Gunmen yesterday freed the 47 hostages they were holding at a jungle hideout in the southern Philippines after government negotiators agreed not to arrest the outlaws for the abductions or past murder charges, officials said.
The remote jungle encampment had been surrounded by troops and snipers. Vice Governor Santiago Cane of Agusan del Sur province said the hostages left aboard two army trucks. The gunmen, former government-armed militiamen, then surrendered their assault rifles, grenades and ammunition.
Looking tired but relieved after three days in captivity, the mostly male hostages waved and smiled at journalists and army troops waiting at a nearby muddy village.
All wore new white shirts given by government officials who fetched them. They will be taken to a hospital in Agusan del Sur’s capital town of Prosperidad, about 515 miles (830 kilometers) southeast of Manila, for a checkup.
“I’m happy that it’s over,” said freed hostage Josafer Bautista, 35, adding he and the other captives were not harmed by their kidnappers but endured harsh conditions.
Bautista said he and other captives were crammed like sardines in small bamboo huts that leaked when it rained. At a hospital, he was treated for a gash that he sustained when a broken bamboo floor strip scraped his leg.
A regional police commander, Lino Calingasan, said the 15 gunmen will be investigated and questioned then turned over to a Roman Catholic bishop while their criminal cases were reviewed by a tribal court.
The hostage crisis began Thursday when the gunmen, led by Joebert Perez, abducted more than 70 people from a village school and nearby houses after police attempted to arrest him on a murder charge. Several schoolchildren and women were freed earlier, leaving 47 in captivity.
The crisis ended after Perez signed an agreement Sunday with government negotiators to free the rest of the hostages in exchange for a pledge that he and his men will not be arrested for either the abductions or past murder charges that arose from a violent land dispute with another clan.
Government negotiators, invoking a law that protects the rights of ethnic groups, agreed to Perez’s demand to have his case handled by a tribal court. Police also promised to disarm his rivals, whom Perez has accused of killing some of his relatives over the land dispute, officials said.
As a resolution to the crisis loomed, tribal leaders slaughtered a pig and chickens then sprinkled the animal’s blood on the ground and on palm fronds in an ancient ritual meant to appease the spirits. The gunmen belonged to the local Manobo tribe.
The kidnappings were the latest in a series of security crises that have gripped the Philippines volatile south, including a jailbreak by Islamic militants Sunday on the island province of Basilan, and a massacre of 57 people, including 30 journalists, allegedly by members of a powerful clan and loyal militiamen in Maguindanao province.
The involvement of former and active militiamen in the hostage-taking and the Maguindanao massacre have sparked calls for the disbanding of paramilitary forces, which have been armed by the government to help in counter-insurgency assaults.
The militias, drawn from the ranks of the unemployed, landless farmers, former rebels and ex-soldiers, have become notorious for abusing civilians, looting homes or ending up as private armies of political warlords.
Fubara Set To Create New Cities In Rivers
Rivers State Governor, Sir Siminalayi Fubara, has disclosed that arrangements are at advanced stages to achieve the development of new cities in the state that would help to decongest Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor Local Government Areas.
Fubara said that the new cities would end the one city status of Rivers State and attract more investors into the state.
The governor stated this when he inspected the Greater Port Harcourt City Development Authority’s (GPHCDA) office and project sites in Ikwerre Local Government Area of the state.
Fubara said: “I can assure you that in our time, we might not achieve the dream of that big city in four years, but we will add a few things that would also help us in getting at that target.
“This is because, we are thinking of decongesting the present one city state that we have, which is Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor. We are thinking of developing other parts of the state and our coming here is to see what the agency has been doing, what you have done already and what we can also do to make us achieve more new cities in our state.”
Fubara noted that despite the challenges the agency has been facing, there would be remarkable difference in what it would achieve within his tenure if the agency’s development ideals are aligned with those of the state government.
He, however, charged the agency to be self-sustaining by attracting investors as outlined by its establishment law.
Also speaking, the Sole Administrator of GPHCDA, Amb Desmond Akawor, said that since its establishment in 2009 by the Greater Port Harcourt Law, the agency has been slowed down in creating more cities because of its operational structure and the nature of the Public-Private Partnership it adopted.
Akawor, who is the Rivers State chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), explained that a new legal framework has been fine-tuned by the last GPHDA board, which the current management would present to the governor.
He said: “I am sure that with your directives, we will be able to reschedule some of the projects so that we can move forward with all of our partners, especially in the area of reforming or strengthening the public private partnership arrangements.”
Majority Leader Seeks Immortalisation Of Slain DPO
The Majority Leader of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Hon Edison Ehie, has appealed to the Police High Command to consider the immortalisation of the murdered Divisional Police Officer(DPO) in charge of Ahoada East Divisional Headquarters, SP Bako Angbashim, and commiserated with the State Commissioner of Police, CP Emeka Nwonyi; officers and men of the Police Force; and the family of the deceased over the brutal murder of the DPO.
Ehie, who made the appeal in a statement said the slain DPO deserves to be immortalised as he was a gallant, fearless and courageous police officer who distinguished himself in the fight against criminals and bandits in the State, adding that the calamitous killing and decapitation of the DPO by Mr Gift David Okpara Okpolowu, alias 2 Baba and his criminal gang is “an unprecedented low which shocked me beyond words and threw my constituents into an endless mourning circle”.
As the Honourable member representing Constituency 2 at the Rivers State House of Assembly and the incumbent Leader of the House, Ehie said he is using this medium to unreservedly condemn the senseless killing and decapitation of the DPO, and also to reiterate the call for the immediate apprehension and prosecution of his killers and everyone associated with the condemnable act.
Describing SP Angbashim as a gallant, fearless and courageous police officer who distinguished himself in the fight against criminals and bandits in the State, the lawmaker said the slain DPO was the one who single-handedly restored peace and order in Ogoniland.
“Even within the few months he spent in Ahoada East Local Government Area, the results of his gallantry were visible for all to see and appreciate.This is why his killing is not only calamitous and lamentable, but an affront to the government of the day in the State”, he said, adding that no government worths its salt will fold it’s arms and allow criminals and bandits to freely prey on its citizenry in order to make the State ungovernable.
On this score, therefore, Ehie thanked the Governor of the State, Sir SiminalayiFubara for prompt response to the situation which he said has already started yielding wonderful fruits, with some of the criminals associated with the killing of the DPO now under police detention and interrogation.
He also thanked and commend the officers and men of the Police Force as well as operatives of other sister security agencies in the State for their uniquely stellar efforts in fishing out the killers of the DPO.
The Majority Leader, however, called on all Ekpeye people, traditional rulers, chiefs, political elites and the general public to gratuitously assist and work with the police and other security agencies in ensuring that the killers of SP Angbashim are fished out, apprehended and made to face the full weight of the law, saying, “May our State never again witness this type of murderous orgy and life wastage”.
Ehie also appealed to the Police High Command in the State to consider the immortalisation of the slain DPO, while also appealing for meaningful and deserving support to his family and dependants.
While conveying his heart-felt condolences to the Nigerian Police, especially the officers and men of the Rivers State Police Command, the lawmaker prayed the Almighty God to grant them the fortitude to bear the monumental loss. He equally extended his deepest condolences to the family of the DPO, and prayed God to console them and heal their wounds.
Ehie further noted that “the biggest debt we collectively owe SP Bako Angbashim is to redress his killing by arresting his killers and subjecting them to justice.”
Appeal Court Upholds Banigo’s Senatorial Election Victory
The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, yesterday, upheld the judgment of the Rivers State National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal that declared Dr. Ipalibo Harry Banigo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) winner of the Rivers West Senatorial District Election held on February 25, 2023.
The Appellant Court, in her judgment, dismissed the appeal filed by the All Progressives Congress (APC) Senatorial Candidate, Hon. Asita O. Asita as “lacking in merit”.
In her reaction shortly after the verdict at the court premises, the Banigo hailed the judgment, describing it as an “incontrovertible victory of irreversible Senate seat”.
She expressed gratitude to the Almighty God, the leaders/stakeholders of the PDP and the entire members of the Rivers West Senatorial District for their unflinching support.
Banigo assured them of her loyalty and total commitment towards realising the tenets of her Kingdom Mandate.
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