Bandits Take Hostages in Philippines

Suspected bandits seized about 75 people, including schoolchildren, teachers, and parents from the remote hamlet of San Martin in the southern Philippines on Thursday after clashing with police in a nearby village on the previous day. Social welfare officer Josefina Bajade said she had negotiated the release of 15 children, leaving 60 people, including some children, as hostages. The gunman, believed to be former government-armed militiamen who turned to banditry and extortion, apparently took hostages to use as human shields as they attempted to escape authorities. Authorities are still negotiating with the armed group, and Bajade said that winning the children's release is her priority. The southern Philippines is known as a volatile region plagued by banditry, loosely supervised militias, and communist and Muslim insurgents.