Quote for the Week..

"Why are the country’s political leaders quick to act on amending the Constitution to change nationalistic provisions for the benefit of foreigners or to extend their terms of office but are allergic to amending the Constitution to address the people’s aspirations for self-determination?" - Marvic Leonen,Dean of the UP College of Law, in a keynote address delivered at the 1st International Solidarity Conference on Mindanao; March 16-18, 2009 in Davao City, Philippines.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

All-out offensive vs kidnappers launched

‘No letup until we crush them’
MANILA, Philippines—With the release from captivity of an ABS-CBN news team and a peace advocate, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Wednesday ordered the military and police to launch an all-out offensive to pursue and neutralize their kidnappers in the jungles of Sulu.

Meeting separately with Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Alexander Yano and military commanders in Mindanao, the President ordered them to launch “intensive punitive actions” against the kidnappers of ABS-CBN senior reporter Ces Drilon, her cameramen Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderama, and Mindanao State University Prof. Octavio Dinampo, according to Press Secretary Jesus Dureza..

“We will be using the full might of the government forces in that area to go after them, of course without unduly compromising the safety of the civilian communities,” Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres, the Armed Forces spokesperson, told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo.

Chief Supt. Joel Goltiao, police director of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said his men were now on “operation mode” against the kidnappers believed to be Abu Sayyaf bandits responsible for a series of kidnappings, beheadings and bombings in Mindanao.

“We are on an all-out offensive against these kidnappers and the perpetrators of the crime,” Goltiao said.

Goltiao said some of the kidnappers had been identified through pictures and aliases. He said Drilon had picked out some of the suspects from a photo gallery.

Drilon told the press conference that some of their kidnappers were “as young as 12.”

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said the kidnappers were young members of the Abu Sayyaf faction of Radullan Sahiron. He described them as amateurs.

In Sulu province, Brig. Gen. Juancho Sabban, chief of Task Force Comet, said troops started operating in the tri-boundary of the Indanan, Patikul and Talipao towns “right after Ces was released.”

“There will be no letup until such time that we are able to crush them,” he said.

But Sabban refused to name who government forces were pursuing: “We cannot afford to make it public at this time, lest it jeopardize the ongoing pursuit operation.”

Drilon, Encarnacion and Dinampo were freed in Sitio Danasi in Barangay Lower Sinumaan, Talipao, at around 8 p.m. on Tuesday. Sen. Loren Legarda, Indanan Mayor Alvarez Isnaji and Sulu Vice Gov. Lady Anne Sahidulla had negotiated for their release.

“I immediately sent men to Danasi to collect the three, and they arrived in my house at around 11:45 p.m.,” Isnaji told Inquirer Mindanao.

The ABS-CBN team and Dinampo, who served as guide, were kidnapped on June 8 by a group of armed men. Valderama was released in Talipao on June 12 after the payment of a “board and lodging fee.”

Ex-captives’ reunion

At 3:45 a.m. Wednesday, two Air Force helicopters carrying the freed hostages, Mayor Isnaji and his son Haider landed at Edwin Andrews Air Base in Zamboanga City.

The ex-captives were taken to the PNP Zamboanga office where they were reunited with Valderama, according to the Philippine National Police spokesperson, Chief Supt. Nicanor Bartolome.

They were later attended by a medical team led by Dr. Roberto Calupitan of the AFP’s Western Mindanao Command, and “allowed to rest after a light hot meal,” Bartolome said.

Drilon, Encarnacion and Valderama arrived in Manila in a private jet at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

After a brief press conference, Drilon and Encarnacion were flown in an ABS-CBN helicopter to the Lopez-owned Medical City on Ortigas Avenue in Pasig City, where they were met by family members and some colleagues in the network.

Security was tight at the hospital, and other members of the media were barred from the presidential suites at the 15th floor where Drilon and Encarnacion were confined for a medical checkup.

Separate debriefings

The Isnajis were flown to Manila where, according to PNP Director General Avelino Razon, they were to undergo “further debriefing.”

Dinampo was debriefed starting at 7 a.m. At 3 p.m., when Inquirer Mindanao reached him on the phone, the professor said he was “still being debriefed by the PNP.”

Razon said Dinampo was being considered “a victim,” not a suspect.

The Isnajis reportedly arrived at the Manila domestic airport at around 8 a.m. and reached the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) headquarters at around 9 a.m.

The CIDG chief, Chief Supt. Raul Castañeda, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the Isnajis were being questioned on the negotiations “to get the whole picture” of the kidnapping.

Asked if Mayor Isnaji, the chief negotiator, was being considered a suspect, Castañeda said: “As of now, no.”

A source in the CIDG told the Inquirer that the Isnajis were undergoing “tactical interrogation” by investigators and lawyers.

Said Puno: “We want to find out exactly what [Mayor Isnaji’s] role was. Isnaji was identified by the kidnappers as their representative … I don’t think you are a representative if you’re a stranger to me. We want to know where they came from, who were the emissaries.”

Puno confirmed in Davao City that Senator Legarda was one of three people who served as backdoor channel in the negotiations to free Drilon et al.

He refused to name the two others but said they were from the military.

Peace in Mindanao

At the Apo View hotel in Davao City, the President issued the order to launch police and military action against the kidnappers in the course of delivering a speech at the second round of consultations between the merged Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats and Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino.

Ms Arroyo said her administration was “firmly committed” to achieving peace in Mindanao, which, she stressed, was “the central ingredient to the nation’s and the island’s future.”

“This [commitment] includes defeating the New People’s Army, wiping out the Abu Sayyaf once and for all, and returning the Mindanao countryside to the people,” she said.

With the President’s order for “those responsible to be held into account,” Puno said “a serious pursuit operation shall be forthcoming or is underway” in Sulu through the “coordinated and joint effort” of the police and military.

Puno also stressed that Drilon et al. were freed with no ransom paid.

“Nobody in PNP will talk ransom. We don’t want to see money changing hands as this translates into bullets for the enemy,” he said, adding:

“This one is kind of like a negotiated release. You know, you up the pressure and you promise them that you would not move 12 hours after the release—that sort of thing. We’ve kept our side of the bargain.”

The kidnappers had earlier demanded P15 million for the freedom of Drilon et al.

Duffel bags

In Zamboanga, Razon also said the release of the captives was “a joint effort of the police, the military and local government officials,” and that no ransom was paid.

When asked about the two duffel bags reportedly transported to Sulu in a Seair plane on Tuesday afternoon, he said: “We are investigating that.”

He said he had instructed Chief Supt. Jaime Caringal, police chief in Western Mindanao, to look into the reported delivery of ransom money.

“We do not know the content of the duffel bags,” Razon said.

But in Malacañang, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said a “small amount” could have been given to the kidnappers as a “token.”

“I’m just being realistic to say that, maybe, there is a small amount [given], but you might not call it ransom. We all know that .... [the kidnappers] have asked for a higher amount. That’s the very reason why they engaged in kidnapping, expecting such [a huge] amount,” he said.

Ermita said the negotiators had pursued the administration’s no-ransom policy. He said Malacañang did not take a role in the actual negotiations, and allowed the local peace and order council—composed of local officials and police and military components in the area—to take the lead.

But he said a ransom demand was to be expected because the captives “stayed in [the bandits’ lair] for some time.”

He pointed out that the kidnappers had to feed Drilon et al. for nine days.

Ermita also denied the reported delivery of money in two duffel bags.


“I don’t believe that there’s a large amount of money that passed hands,” he said. “But if there was money that passed hands, I don’t suppose it’s really in the amount that [was demanded].”

The AFP’s Torres estimated around 4,000 soldiers in Sulu.

He said the units on the ground were composed of six Marine battalions, elite Army troops and contingents from the Navy and Air Force. (Some 500 soldiers comprise a battalion.)

“We have already enough troops on the ground, and it’s just a matter of focusing our operations and all our efforts toward the accomplishment of this particular mission,” he said.

Torres said the “general location” of the kidnappers had been identified.

He said that based on the AFP’s last assessment, there were around 380 Abu Sayyaf members, mostly based in Sulu.

The PNP’s Bartolome said police troops in pursuit operations were from the Sulu provincial police, the elite Special Action Force, the Regional Mobile Group and the ARMM and Region 9 units.

Bartolome also said kidnap-for-ransom charges were being prepared against two suspected kidnappers, Ottoh Wals and Sulayman Pattah.

He said investigators were establishing and confirming the identities of the other kidnappers numbering about 20.

“We are now concentrating on our law enforcement function—that is, the legal offensive against the suspects. We will continue the investigation. The proper charges will be filed,” Bartolome said. (With reports from Ed General, Germelina Lacorte and Dennis Jay Santos, Inquirer Mindanao; Michael Lim Ubac and Beverly T. Natividad)

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