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, March 21, 2009

Hostages: ‘Why does gov’t want us to die?’

Angry, exhausted and frustrated, the three Red Cross workers held hostage for two months by Abu Sayyaf kidnappers poured their hearts out in a phone conversation Thursday with Sen. Richard Gordon.

First allowed to speak at 2:20 p.m. by gang leader Albader Parad was Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba, who sounded afraid in the forested Indanan hideout on Jolo island, which was encircled by troops a day after clashes over the previous 48 hours had left five dead and 19 wounded.

“It is difficult to remain calm if your life is constantly on the line,” Lacaba said in Filipino in a soft pleading voice, obviously shaking in fear as Gordon, who was in his Makati City office, coaxed her to remain strong.

“You don’t know where a bullet will hit you,” she said, “your head, your back … you can see the fire fight.”

Gordon replied: “Do not show them that you are weak. I am proud of you. Be strong.”

Lacaba said she and the two other workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)—Eugenio Vagni of Italy and Andreas Notter of Switzerland—remained together during the clashes.

“It was terrible. We saw the gun battles in front of us. We saw the killings. It was really terrible,” said the 37-year-old Filipino engineer.

“We have been here for 64 days,” she said. “I don’t know if we are ever going to be free.”

Gordon told Lacaba not to lose hope. But Lacaba replied that it was tough to be courageous in the situation they were in. “It is easy for you to say that, senator, but it is very difficult …”

Lacaba passed the cell phone to Vagni, 62, who did not even bother to greet the senator. Apparently in tears, he shouted: “Why does the government want us to die? I don’t understand! I don’t understand!”

‘What is gov’t doing?’

“I am not the government, Eugenio,” said Gordon, chair of the Philippine National Red Cross. “I just can’t turn my back on you. I need you to be strong. You need to be strong; can you do that for me?”

Still in high-pitched voice, Vagni yelled: “I am strong. We are strong. But what is the government doing? We came to the Philippines to do something good. Why do we have to die?”

Sobbing, he said: “We have to be strong. We will be stronger. But if the military will not pull out, we are going to die.”

“I am trying my best,” Gordon said. “I’ve had my pains in life, but it’s nothing compared to yours.”

Vagni, who is reported to be ailing, said the last few days had been very painful.

Sensing that the Italian was losing hope, Gordon said: “Remember who you are, Eugenio. I am going to fight for you, you remember that, but you must show your dignity… Do not give up. We are doing our best.”

“OK, senator. OK, OK,” Vagni said.


Notter was on the phone next. He sounded in a rage.

“The situation is very bad. It is catastrophic! I really cannot understand what your government is doing. Rescue? The government sent the military to rescue us? No! These guys came to kill us, have us killed, not rescue us!” he screamed.

Notter, 38, said the ICRC was invited by the Philippine government in 1982 to undertake humanitarian mission. “Now they are going to kill us?”

Gordon tried to cut him, but Notter railed on: “One more attack, they are going to kill us! And let me tell you this, senator, if I’m going to survive this, I’m going to make sure that the whole world knows what happened here. This is going too far!”

Notter said the military action was a “completely wrong move.” He asked what Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Alexander Yano was doing.

“I cannot understand the military. There is a chain of command but what is General Yano doing?”

Notter also mentioned the number of days since the three were seized by the Abu Sayyaf bandits on Jan. 15.

Word of honor

The conversations with Gordon lasted over an hour. The last time the hostages were allowed the use of a cell phone was on March 11, when they talked with their ICRC colleagues.

Parad had called Gordon on Tuesday to deny that he had been killed in the fire fight.

The kidnapper sounded apologetic Thursday. Gordon pleaded with him to release the hostages, saying they would not be in that condition if he had not seized them.

“You will not be embarrassed,” Parad said.

He said that if the military pulled out, Gordon would get one hostage.

Parad did not repeat his threat to behead the ICRC workers if the military pressed their operation against the kidnappers.

He did not say whom he would release, but he said he would keep his word.

“Usapang lalaki.” A gentleman’s word.(Arlyn dela Cruz)

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