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.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Talks begin to free Red Cross team

ZAMBOANGA CITY— Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan said Sunday “heads will roll” if provincial jail employees are implicated in the abduction of an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) team by suspected Abu Sayyaf kidnappers.

An investigation this week will look into the Jan. 13 jailbreak of 12 inmates that left one dead and its possible connection to the abduction of three ICRC staffers two days later.

A dismissed jail employee is one of the suspects in the abduction of Andreas Notter, 38, a Swiss national and head officer of the ICRC Western Mindanao Region; engineer Italian Eugenio Vagni, 62; and engineer Marie Jean Lacaba, 37, a water sanitation expert from Davao City.

The three were snatched by armed men just a few meters away from the Sulu provincial jail in Jolo town.

Tan admitted that he was not discounting the possibility that some jail personnel could be behind the abduction “or have knowledge about it.”

Senior Supt. Julasirim Kasim, Sulu police chief, said that Raden Abu, Sulaiman Patah and Albader Parad had been identified as those who boarded the Land Cruiser of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC), which was used as getaway vehicle.

Raden Abu, son of a SPO4 Faizal Abu, a native of Indanan town, was dismissed as a provincial jail guard for alleged indiscriminate firing weeks after Tan took over as governor.

Kasim said witnesses also identified Raden Abu as behind the unresolved kidnapping of Xili Wu, a Chinese businessman’s son, in Jolo on Dec. 14.

Abu Sayyaf connection

Prof. Octavio Dinampo, a former kidnap victim, said Raden Abu is a nephew of the late Abu Sayyaf commander Totoh Sali “whose aunt, a sister of Raden Abu’s mother, is the third wife of Albader Parad.”

Sulaiman Patah, Dinampo said, is a cousin of Albader Parad, a son-in-law of Abu Sayyaf leader Umbra Jumdail, alias Doctor Abu.

“Their connection to the police as relatives and sympathizers inside the town of Jolo made this kidnapping possible,” said Dinampo, a peace advocate.

Dinampo said politics might have something to do with the kidnapping.

Tan admitted to the Philippine Daily Inquirer that a few months after he assumed his post, he fired several people “because they are very unproductive.”

Dinampo said most of those dismissed were identified as allies of some politicians.

Tan simply laughed off the possibility that the kidnapping was politically motivated.

“I don’t think my political detractors are so insensitive that they could easily do such thing,” he added.

Negotiations

In a report attributed to an unnamed senior police source, Agence France Presse said Sunday that talks had begun for the release of the ICRC team. AFP said the kidnappers called up Tan’s staff to say they were willing to begin talks.

“We expect they will call again anytime soon. The caller did not identify himself and did not mention a ransom payment,” said the source, according to the French news agency.

In a radio interview, Tan declined comment on the report.

Sen. Richard Gordon, PNRC chair, said in another radio interview that talks were being carried out through the cell phones of the three hostages but he did not give further details.

News blackout

But Gordon stressed that the Red Cross does not pay ransom.

“If we start paying, we can’t do our jobs anymore,” he said. “The Red Cross serves because we have the confidence of all combatants.”

Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said the military would stop releasing news on the efforts to recover the three hostages.

“This is being done to avoid the possibility of compromising our operations and unnecessarily risking the safety of the victims,” he said.

A day after the kidnapping, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Alexander Yano ordered a 2,000-strong force organized to go after the Abu Sayyaf bandits in Sulu to intensify its operations and information gathering to rescue the victims.

Eid Kabalu, spokesperson of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said his group was also conducting an operation for the release of the ICRC workers. (With reports from Christine O. Avendaño, Jocelyn R. Uy and Agence France-Presse)

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