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.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Military now mum on ICRC kidnapping

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines -- (Update2) The military suddenly fell silent Saturday on the abduction in Sulu of three workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"Please be informed that for the time being, Westmincom will not be able to provide updates regarding the ICRC abduction incident," Lieutenant Esteffani Cacho, spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command, said in reply to an Inquirer query.

But Cacho said they were not implementing a news blackout on the progress of efforts to secure the release of Swiss Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni, and Filipina Jean Lacaba from their captors.

The victims were on their way to the Jolo airport after conducting fieldwork in Patikul town when abducted by a group which allegedly involved a nephew of Abu Sayyaf leader Albader Parad on Thursday.

Senior Superintendent Julasirim Kasim, Sulu provincial director, said witnesses also claimed that Parad himself participated in the kidnapping.

Aside from Parad, he said another Abu Sayyaf leader, Sulaiman Patah, was seen with the group that snatched the victims.

"They were positively identified as part of the group that abducted the three ICRC workers," he said.

Earlier, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro spoke of a massive military effort, which is now centered on Talipao, where the victims were reportedly sighted on Friday.

That was the last information provided by authorities regarding the incident.

"This is not a media blackout but rather a precaution to ensure that the operation on the ground is not compromised and that the safety of the victims is not jeopardized," Cacho said.

She pledged to release information "should there be some major developments in the case."

"We hope for your continued understanding, especially at this time when information is critical and could spell the difference between the success and failure of our efforts to safely bring home the victims," she said.

Cacho's reply to the Philippine Daily Inquirer's query on the progress of the manhunt in Talipao came after Teodoro made a brief stop over here from his visit to Sulu, where he proposed a ban on the media, on Friday.

During his stop over here, Teodoro proposed a ban on foreigners from visiting Sulu.

Aside from foreigners, Teodoro also said journalists should be banned from Sulu unless they coordinate their visit with authorities.

"We have to make it plain and simple to them that enough is enough, and we do not want to risk our soldiers' lives because of this (kidnappings)," he said.

Teodoro defended his proposal by saying that the Abu Sayyaf does not make any distinction between ordinary people, foreigners, and journalists.

Sulu police director Kasim said by phone that only those who do not coordinate will be banned from the province.

"We will not allow them to move around without notifying either the military or police, they have to register and we will provide them with escorts. If they will not follow then they better not stay here because we will surely end up in trouble again," he said.

Teodoro said the ICRC team had indeed coordinated before they came to Sulu but they declined security escorts offered by the military and the police.

"They refused escorts, they indicated in their communication that there should be no armed escorts," he said.

But Senator Richard Gordon, chair of the Philippine National Red Cross, said the international organization could not work that way.

"I just told my people. Even if you go to Quiapo, you have to let the military know," said Gordon. "That's not the way we work."

Red Batario, coordinator of the International News Safety Institute, also cautioned journalists and photographers "to exercise utmost precaution in terms of security in covering dangerous or hostile environments."

Sulu, for example, has a history of journalist kidnapping, the most recent of which was the kidnapping last June of ABS-CBN broadcaster Ces Drilon, two members of her crew, and peace advocate Professor Octavio Dinampo, Batario pointed out.

"In terms of security, the journalist on the ground has better judgment of the security situation. It's going to be a call of the journalists and photographers covering the area. They know better the security situation," he said.

Reacting to the ban, Batario said journalists and photographers have the responsibility to get the real story and the truth must not be sacrificed.

But he said they should "always think about the possibility of being kidnapped."

Dr. Reynaldo Guioguio, ICRC communication manager, told the Inquirer by phone that they were sad about the kidnapping because it happened in a place that is supposed to be safe.

Notter and his companions were taken just outside the Sulu provincial capitol in Patikul town.

"Despite the incident, we are not going to stop our projects there. We continue to monitor any projects we have set up," Guioguio said.

He also confirmed that the ICRC has already set up a response team "to coordinate efforts to get our colleagues back safely and its main thrust is to get them safely."(By Julie Alipala)

No comments: