The leader of an armed tribal group that abducted and held hostage more than 70 people in Agusan del Sur two years ago has escaped from the Surigao del Sur District Jail in Tandag City along with another detainee, police said.

Joebert “Ondo” Perez, charged for kidnapping, serious illegal detention, and robbery in band, was discovered missing from his cell around 7 a.m. Sunday, when the duty jailer conducted the routine headcount, Caraga regional police spokesman Supt. Martin Gamba said.

Also missing from the cell is Babring Tejero, charged with kidnapping and illegal detention.

Initial investigation showed that the two cut the steel bars at the cell’s back portion using a hacksaw.

“Accordingly, they climbed through the concrete perimeter fence near the visiting area and eventually leaped outside, unnoticed by the guards,” Gamba said.

Pursuit operations are ongoing to recapture the two, he said.

On December 10, 2009, Perez’s group abducted more than 70 people, including 17 schoolchildren, and held them hostage in the mountainous area of Sitio Maitum, Brgy. San Martin, Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur.

Perez’s group demanded that members of a rival group be disarmed and that murder charges filed against them be withdrawn.

The hostages were eventually released in batches until all were freed on Dec. 13. Perez’s group was placed under custody afterwards.

On April 1, 2011, Perez’s nephew Reggie “Kenken” Perez, held hostage 16 people, including local officials of the Department of Education, to demand the release of his uncle.

The second hostage-taking lasted until April 6, when the younger Perez and his men abandoned the remaining victims in the forest.

“Kenken” was eventually arrested for carrying a gun on May 13, 2011 and was taken to the Regional Rehabilitation Center for Youth in Prosperidad.

He escaped from the facility last March 7, only to surrender to authorities on March 24. (John Roson)

– end –