ZAMBOANGA CITY - Members of the terror group Abu Sayyaf seized yet another government worker shortly after releasing another in two cases that, authorities said, were a sign that the al-Qaida-linked crime gang is now indiscriminate in its targets.
The latest victim of kidnapping is Lailani Bernabe, a midwife at a district hospital in Luuk town, Sulu province.
According to Dr. Raden Ikbala, of the Sulu integrated provincial health office, Bernabe was on her way to work Friday when she was seized by members of the Abu Sayyaf in Barangay Libug Kabaw, Panglima Estino town.
Chief Insp. Arthur Valdez, of the Antikidnapping Group (AKG), said Bernabe was believed to have been taken to Barangay Bagsak in Talipao town.
The AKG is an antikidnapping task force of the Philippine National Police covering Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces, and Zamboanga City, where kidnappings are frequent.
Bernabe's kidnapping is the second in recent days in Sulu.
On Wednesday, a resident of the city, Ronald Pelegrin, 39, was released by his kidnappers right inside the provincial capitol in Patikul town.
Pelegrin was held for 12 days and the Abu Sayyaf had demanded P15-million ransom for his release.
Since 2013, over a dozen regular or contractual employees of the provincial government have been taken captive.
According to Valdez, the kidnapping of ordinary employees established a pattern showing that the Abu Sayyaf is now targeting victims "regardless of their status in life."
Valdez said that unlike in the past, when the Abu Sayyaf chose its victims according to their capacity to pay ransom, "the Abu Sayyaf of today abducts people regardless of whether they can pay, as long as they are easy to snatch."
"It's based more on vulnerability now," said Valdez.
He said the terror group could also be trying to embarrass the provincial government, particularly Sulu Vice Gov. Abdusakur Tan, who is being credited for a relentless campaign against terror groups in the province.
"They might be also trying to send a message to the Sulu government that they can create trouble," said Valdez.
Senior Supt. Abraham Orbita, Sulu police director, said Pelegrin had told authorities that he was kept by his captors in Barangay Danag, also in Patikul, before his release in the provincial capitol's motor pool area.
It was not certain if ransom was paid for the release of Pelegrin.
Pelegrin and his cousin, Dante Avilla, a mechanic, were kidnapped on Aug. 16. Avilla resisted the armed men and was killed in the process. Julie Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao