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.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

US offers help to rescue ICRC workers

The United States Tuesday offered to help Philippine authorities hunt down the abductors of three members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Sulu province.

US Ambassador Kristie Kenney condemned the kidnapping, saying it was "unacceptable anywhere, anytime."

"If there's any information we have or any way that we can provide anything that leads to their safe return, we stand ready to do that," Kenney told reporters at the vin d'honneur hosted by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in MalacaƱang.

"These are international Red Cross workers. They should be returned safely now. Those who captured them should be brought to justice and held responsible. Period."

Swiss national Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba were abducted last week outside the provincial jail in Jolo town by suspected members of the notorious Abu Sayyaf kidnap gang.

American soldiers are frequent visitors to Jolo, the main island in Sulu, for joint exercises and community building projects with their Filipino counterparts.

Sulu is a known bailiwick of the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf, who were also implicated in the June 2008 kidnapping of an ABS-CBN news team and the string of kidnappings of foreign nationals that started in the late 1990s.

A small contingent of US troops is in Western Mindanao, training local forces in hunting down the Abu Sayyaf. The American soldiers are barred from taking part in combat operations.

Kenney said the latest kidnapping did not necessarily deal a blow to the Philippine government's effort to address the problem in Mindanao, including the bigger issue of terrorism.

"I think the Philippines has done a great job in combating terrorism," she said. "I also think the Philippines has done a wonderful job with its many partners in Jolo in promoting development. They are a great people there ... I think they deserve the kind of prosperous and peaceful life that they will get."

"We appreciate the support of the Philippine government and we hope that they show some results," Swiss Ambassador Peter Sutter said. "But all players have to coordinate closely to achieve positive results."

Sutter said he was hoping that "the perpetrators would become aware of what they have done in abducting humanitarian workers doing very, very positive things."

The Italian ambassador declined to comment on the matter, saying all information must come from the ICRC.

Guarded statement

In a statement Tuesday, Alain Aeschlimann, head of the ICRC delegation for Asia-Pacific in Geneva, said: "Our main concern is to ensure that they continue to be unharmed and that they are let go, without any conditions, as quickly as possible."

"The ICRC is also very concerned about the effect that rumors, conveyed by media, may have on the families of our kidnapped colleagues. We will not comment on public speculation about who is holding them, where or why," he added.

"We are being guarded in our statements because we do not want anything to jeopardize our colleagues' safety or well-being. We hope that everyone will respect this."

"We continue to hope that our colleagues will soon be able to hold their families and friends in their arms, and they can return to their activities in favor of people in need in the Philippines."

Kidnappers' demand

On Monday, Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the Philippine National Red Cross, passed on to the military a demand by the kidnappers to stop military operations to secure the release of the abducted ICRC staff.

The kidnappers' demand was mentioned in a telephone call by the victims to their office on Monday, Gordon said.

Armed Forces chief General Alexander Yano on Tuesday rejected the abductors’ demand.

Yano said easing the pressure on the kidnappers would allow them to further evade government forces on Jolo island.

"We cannot unilaterally declare the termination of our rescue operations," said 1st Lt. Esteffani Cacho, spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command.

"The best course of action in addressing the crisis situation is collectively being undertaken by all stakeholders," Cacho said.

Gordon said the ICRC had dispatched two staff members to relieve "stressed out" personnel. He denied that the two would negotiate with the kidnappers.

"We don't do that ... We don't also pay ransom," he said, referring to media reports the abductors were asking $5 million in exchange for the release of the hostages. (By Joel Guinto; With reports from Christian V. Esguerra, Michael Lim Ubac, Kristine L. Alave, Julie S. Alipala and Ed General; Associated Press and Agence France-Presse)

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