Gov’t rejects reported P50-M ransom demand

MANILA, Philippines—The government will not give in to the purported P50-million ransom demand of the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf.

“We cannot be dictated upon by the other side,” Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita Thursday said in reference to the bandit group’s purported demand in exchange for the release of Italian Eugenio Vagni, Swiss Andreas Notter and Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde described the supposed demand as “arrogance of the highest order, which all civilized people should condemn in the strongest possible terms.”

Ermita assured the public that no ransom would be paid for the release of the three aid workers.

“We always observe a policy of ‘no ransom payment’ for such situations,” he said.

“You can be very sure that many things are happening that cannot be revealed. But we’re doing something … for the safe release of the hostages,” he added.

Rebuke

Information on the purported ransom demand came from Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema and Abdul Sahim, chair and secretary general, respectively, of the Moro National Liberation Front.

Sema and Sahim had claimed that if the ransom demand could not be met, the next best option would be a “very dangerous” rescue operation by government troops.

At a press briefing, Anthony Golez, the deputy spokesperson of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, said he doubted the veracity of the ransom demand.

He noted that neither Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro nor Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the Philippine National Red Cross, had heard about it.

Golez rebuked Sema and Sahim for coming out with the information in the media.

“We would like to request the local government officials to refrain from discussing issues in the media because the safety of the victims is compromised,” he said. “That’s the most important thing, and they know that [the issue] should not be discussed in the media.”

Golez stressed that the matter should be handled by the local crisis committee headed by Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan.

“The most important thing is for local government officials to get our strong appeal for them to respect agreements at the local crisis committee,” Golez said.

No way

In a radio interview, Gordon said the Red Cross would never pay ransom to the Abu Sayyaf.

“I’ve been telling the kidnappers that they cannot get any ransom from us because we are not going to give it. I want this to end without ransom being paid because the Red Cross wants to continue working [in Sulu] and helping even the kidnappers’ relatives,” he said, adding:

“You cannot get any ransom from us … whatever happens.

“We want to work [in Sulu], helping their relatives and families. We cannot work in an environment where we can be at risk of being kidnapped again, and then they will again ask for ransom. That’s why we won’t pay any ransom.”

Gordon also said he was able to talk with the kidnappers and the Red Cross workers on Wednesday.

“They seemed OK and they were together,” he said, adding that the only demand the kidnappers had relayed to him was the immediate withdrawal of government troops from the area.

He said, however, that he would not get in the way of military operations to rescue the captives.

Military staying put

Meanwhile, the Armed Forces of the Philippines maintained that its priority remained the safe release of Lacaba, Notter and Vagni.

Brig. Gen. Gaudencio Pangilinan, who is one of three military officials authorized to speak of the crisis, said the AFP was not yet predisposed to a perilous rescue operation.

“The decision to attack will have to be weighed and deliberated upon because our main priority is to minimize the risk on the victims and their safe release,” Pangilinan told reporters at Camp Aguinaldo.

But he stressed that the military was standing pat on its earlier decision to stay put in Sulu province.

He said it could only “relax a bit” in the deployment of troops in Sulu to allow the entry of medicines and food.

Pangilinan also challenged the kidnappers to release at least one of its captives to show sincerity.

Christian V. Esguerra and Jocelyn Uy, with a report from Michael Lim Ubac. Philippine Daily Inquirer

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Published in: on March 13, 2009 at 1:15 pm  Comments Off on Gov’t rejects reported P50-M ransom demand  
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