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(Updated 2:25 p.m.) Rescue operations are ongoing against suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits who reportedly abducted two independent filmmakers in Sulu on Saturday, a Mindanao-based military spokesman said Monday.
In a phone interview, Western Mindanao Command spokesman Col. Rodrigo Gregorio clarified earlier reports that said the two, sisters Nadjoua Bansil and Linda Bansil, are Filipino-Algerians.
"They are Filipino citizens of Moroccan descent," he said.
Last year, the sisters produced the film Bohe, the first ever Badjao film, which was screened in the 2012 Cinemelaya Philippine Independent Film Festival and in the Cebu Documentary International Film Festival.
"This year, Bohe was nominated in the Gawad Urian," said acting national coordinator Ledrolen Manriquez of the Peace and Conflict Journalism Network Philippines (PECOJON). The two filmmakers are members of the group.
Daughters of Tausug imam
Gregorio said the sisters were abducted in Sitio Baunuh in Barangay Liang in Patikul town on Saturday morning.
He said they have yet to verify if the two were working in Sulu at the time of the abduction. "Marami kasing posible. Hindi kasi sila nagpaalam sa amin," Gregorio said.
In a statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) Zamboanga City chapter said the sisters traveled to Sulu to take footage for a film they are working on.
They are daughters of a Tausug imam who grew up in Zamboanga, but presently reside in Metro Manila, PECOJON said in a separate statement.
"They still [go] often [to] Mindanao to visit family, friends and for the work they do in Amnesty International and in film documentary," it added. The sisters were in Sulu to shoot a film and were hosted by the Sulu Sultanate Darul Islam (SSDI), the group said.
"For a long time, Nadj has been banking a story of coffee growers in Mindanao. When the contacts were established, she decided to take her sister Linda with her to shoot the film," Manriquez said.
Citing information from Yasir Rajim of the SSDI, Manriquez said the two, with some members of the local group, were on board a jeepney Saturday morning when the road was blocked by armed men.
"Rajim said that they were not able to stop the kidnappers from taking the sisters. The kidnappers were armed and SSDI were not. He also said that they insisted to be taken as well but the kidnappers only wanted to take the two ladies," she added.
Gregorio said operations by the military and police are ongoing for the rescue of both sisters.
Human rights activists
Manriquez described the sisters, both members of PECOJON, as independent filmmakers and human rights defenders.
"Their films are based on issues on human rights, the Moro culture and extractive industries such as mining," she said. "They are Moro women concerned for the plight and preservation of the culture of the Moro people."
Manriquez added that both women finished their college degree in Ateneo de Zamboanga University "where they have always been active in human rights issues." —KG/KBK/YA, GMA News