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, April 8, 2009

Abus demand $5 million for hostages' release

he Abu Sayyaf had demanded $5 million or more than P200 million for the release of three kidnapped workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), a military document shows.

The document, which details the kidnap-for-ransom activities perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf since 2003, was apparently prepared prior to the release on Thursday last week of one of the three ICRC workers Mary Jean Lacaba.

“The kidnappers are reportedly demanding $5 million (for Swiss national Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipina engineer Mary Jean Lacaba),” the document read.

Lacaba was released reportedly in exchange for a sizeable “board and lodging” fee, but authorities have denied that ransom was paid for her release.

Lacaba, Notter and Vagni were snatched last Jan. 15 near the Sulu Provincial Capitol in Patikul town after inspecting a water supply project.

Notter and Vagni are believed held in the jungles of Mt. Tukay in Indanan.

But Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan, who chairs the local crisis management committee dealing with the hostage crisis, claimed no knowledge of hostages of the Abu Sayyaf released without the payment of ransom.

“Although I have not seen payment of ransom, yun talaga ang ginagawa nila (it’s what they have been doing),” Tan said in an earlier interview.

Lt. Col. Edgard Arevalo, the military’s spokesman for the hostage crisis, said that they do not have any information regarding the alleged payment of ransom for Lacaba’s release.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno and Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro also maintained that Lacaba’s release was a result of military pressure on the kidnappers.

The document said the Abu Sayyaf has kidnapped 54 people since 2003 in Sulu, including ABS-CBN news anchor Ces Drilon and her TV crew.

The same document said P20 million changed hands for the release of Drilon and her companions.

In the same period, 17 cases of abduction involving 33 victims were carried out in Basilan by the Abu Sayyaf or by rogue members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

In Western Mindanao, particularly in the Zamboanga Peninsula, 59 people were reportedly kidnapped in 2008, and 24 have been taken this year.

Most of the victims were snatched in Zamboanga and taken to Basilan by their abductors.

Hostages free ‘anytime soon’

Tan said he is confident the two remaining hostages would be freed soon.

“While they (kidnappers) continue with their stand, they have toned down. Hopefully, we will be able to convince them to free their last two hostages unconditionally,” Tan said.

Tan did not discuss the details of his recent contacts with Abu Sayyaf leader Albader Parad.

Puno, for his part, said the bandits are on the run and appeared jarred by the crackdown on their alleged supporters, seven of whom have been charged with kidnapping and serious illegal detention.

He said kidnappers were preoccupied with two things: receiving ransom and escaping.

“Yung sa dalawa, mas mahalaga sa kanila yung pagtakas nila (Between the two, the more important is their escape),” he said.

“Wag magbigay ng ransom kasi ang ransom ang nagpapatuloy ng mga ganyan na kidnapping (Don’t pay ransom because paying ransom perpetuates kidnapping),” he said.

No order to evacuate

The military yesterday denied reports that it has ordered the evacuation of residents from some villages in Sulu, allegedly in preparation for a rescue operation.

“Although we have contingency plans for that, there is no order yet for them to evacuate,” Arevalo, the military’s spokesman on the hostage crisis, said in a phone interview.

Arevalo said they have received reports that more than 200 people have been forced to flee Indanan due to sightings of Abu Sayyaf bandits in the area.

“We have not told them to move, because we don’t want to cause the unnecessary flight and panic among the public,” he said.

Arevalo said those who spread the rumor might be planning to seize crops and livestock and other belongings of fleeing residents.

“They might be interested in the harvest of the residents. That’s why we are appealing to these people that in these trying times, in times of hardship, sana isantabi muna ang panlalamang sa kapwa (they should not takw advantage of others),” he said.

He said that while it has not ordered an evacuation, the provincial government has prepared contingency plans such as the stockpiling of relief goods.

DND’s Teodoro said the other day that crisis managers were still pushing for negotiations instead of a military solution to the crisis.

But he remained firm against a pullout of troops as demanded by the kidnappers. He said giving in to the bandits would embolden them to commit more atrocities.

Tan’s group stays

Meanwhile, Malacañang clarified that the local crisis management committee headed by Tan remains in charge of the negotiations for the release of the two remaining hostages.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said he is not aware of any new appointments and that Sulu Vice Gov. Lady Ann Sahidula remains as the only emissary to the kidnappers.

“I don’t know. I just read it in the papers myself that there is a new group of emissaries. But as far as we are concerned, the local crisis team continues under Gov. Sakur Tan,” Ermita said.

On Monday, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said new negotiators would be sent to Sulu to help secure the release of the hostages.

“Suffice it to say that that’s further proof that our local crisis committee is doing its best to secure the safe release of the hostages,” Remonde told Palace reporters. He did not name the new negotiators but said they are known to the kidnappers.

But Ermita insisted he was not aware of the reported designation of new emissaries and even warned that this could work against the interests of the government and the hostages.

“We should not muddle the situation very much. There is a saying that more (sic) cooks spoil the broth,” he said.

However, he said having new emissaries working side by side with the current emissary could also be helpful.

Ermita said that the new emissaries could provide the negotiators with additional sources of information about the actual condition of the hostages.

“What is important is that we should be able to reach out and find out the status of the hostages and see what we can do. Maybe they could get some new information,” he said.

Ermita said the reported designation of new emissaries could have been the result of the legal action taken by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group against seven relatives of Abu Sayyaf leader Albader Parad. The seven, including three policemen and two village chiefs, have been charged with kidnapping and serious illegal detention for allegedly conspiring with the kidnappers of the three ICRC workers.

“So maybe because of that they are reviewing this (appointment of emissaries). But we are not replacing the local crisis team headed by Gov. Sakur Tan,” Ermita said.

Ermita said that the charges against the seven individuals should deter anyone from colluding with terrorists and other criminal elements.

On the debate between Teodoro and Sen. Richard Gordon over how to deal with the hostage crisis, Ermita argued that the government has its reasons for wanting to limit the airing of statements or demands coming from the Abu Sayyaf.

Ermita pointed out that terrorist organizations such as the Abu Sayyaf should not be given publicity considering that this is their primary objective apart from getting ransom.

“I agree with any action that would prevent giving too much attention to the other side. One of the objectives of terrorists around the world is to call attention to their existence,” Ermita said.

“We should not give them the opportunity of getting publicity for what they are doing,” he added. – With Roel Pareño, Marvin Sy, Cecille Suerte Felipe, James Mananghaya (Philippine Star)

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