Five gunmen seized two European tourists and a Filipino photographer who were bird watching in Tawi-tawi last Wednesday (February 1).
Fifty-two year-old Ewold Horn from The Netherlands and forty-seven year-old Lorenzo Vinciguerre from Switzerland were taking pictures of rare birds with Filipino guide Ivan Sarenas while onboard a motorized boat off Sitio Luuk-Luuk in Barangay Parangan in Panglima Sugala town.
At around 2 in the afternoon, five gunmen aboard another motorized boat arrived, seizing the two foreigners and Sarenas at gunpoint.
A unarmed policeman and a village councilor who were escorting the tourists failed to stop the gunmen.
As the gunmen were circling the island, Filipino guide Sarenas managed to escape by jumping off the boat and diving deep into the sea. Nearby fishermen helped him while residents hid him in the island while waiting for the police to come.
Malacanang said the Tawi-Tawi crisis management committee was immediately activated with Gov. Sadikul Sahali in charge of resolving the kidnapping case. Governor Sahali will oversee all of the police and military operations.
“Joint elements of the Philippine National Police, the Philippine Navy, and Philippine Marines are now conducting search operations. For its part, the Department of Foreign Affairs has notified the embassies of the nationals concerned, and will keep them abreast of all relevant information and updates on the situation,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
Valte likewise advised tourists visiting the country to inquire with the Department of Foreign Affairs or their own embassies, regarding advisories on conditions that may affect their travel plans.
In an interview over dzMM, Sarenas said he has been to Tawi-tawi four times already. The third time was two weeks ago when he went with two other foreigners.
Sarenas, in the interview, said he met one of the foreigners through the Internet. “One of them emailed me several times about wanting to go to Tawi-Tawi because he wanted to see a hornbill. We have a common friend from Thailand who said I should guide him. I thought of it as a way of promoting the tourism potential on Tawi-Tawi,” Sarenas said.
Sarenas said he tried to talk to the gunmen by asking in Tagalog where they were headed. They asked him why was he asking. He told them that their feet hurt.
“Binalik kami sa Bongao but when it made a loop turn pa-north alam ko na pa-Jolo na ito so I got really scared for my life. Pero all the time, iniikutan lang namin ‘yung island ng Tawi-Tawi,” Sarenas reportedly said.
“Before I jumped, nagpaalam ako. They agreed. They wished me luck. May details pa na ‘di ko pa na kailangan i-share. May opportunity. May lantsa na malapit, mga 700 meters kaya naisip ko ‘di sila magpapaputok kapag may malaking boat na malapit sa kanila kasi mahuhuli sila. At hindi naman ako importante sa kanila eh. Medyo sugal talaga, may fishermen rin naman doon. Siguro 2 kilometers away from the shore. Dagat kami the whole time ng abduction,” Sarenas was quoted.