Kidnapping a ‘cottage industry’ in Philippines

Filipino Red Cross volunteers and sympathisers hold a candlelight prayer rally near Manila in late February.

Filipino Red Cross volunteers and sympathisers hold a candlelight prayer rally near Manila in late February.

MANILA – A top aide to President Gloria Arroyo said Sunday kidnapping has become a “cottage industry” in the southern Philippines, where decades of rebellion have stunted social and economic development.

Red Cross staff from Belgium and Sweden and a peace activist from Sri Lanka are among nearly a dozen people now held hostage by Islamic militants and other groups in the Mindanao region, home to the mainly Roman Catholic nation’s large Muslim minority.

Three women teachers were snatched by gunmen in the Moro Gulf late Friday, while the daughter of a senior communist guerrilla leader was last week abducted, raped and murdered near the city of Davao.

National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales said senior leaders of the dominant Roman Catholic church in the south had sought him out to express concern at the rising number of abductions in their area.

The bishops’ concerns were echoed last week by envoys from the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) sent here to discuss proposals to improve the terms of a peace treaty signed by one Muslim rebel faction in 1996, but which has largely failed to stop worsening violence in the south.

“We really need to design a new strategy for this because it has already reached alarming proportions,” Gonzales said.

“We can expect more (abductions) if we don’t act seriously to address them.”

The Arroyo adviser said Manila may need to adopt a harder line against kidnappers, instead of treating the issue as part of the government’s efforts to bring a negotiated settlement to four decades of Muslim separatist rebellion.

“We have to be more forceful in combating kidnappings,” Gonzales said, adding abductions in Mindanao were no longer confined to guerrilla groups.

“Anyone who has firearms can go into it because they are convinced that the government is becoming soft in its approach,” he added.

“It’s true kidnapping is becoming a cottage industry in the area,” he added, echoing concerns expressed by OIC delegates.

Education Secretary Jesli Lapus meanwhile told reporters the government now has trouble filling teaching vacancies in Mindanao due to the near constant threat of abductions.

“The children and the communities in Mindanao are the poor losers in such condemnable kidnappings of teachers,” Lapus said.

“If the safety of our teachers who bravely serve in far-flung and needy Muslim communities continues to be highly at risk, no teacher may want to go to such schools anymore,” Lapus added.

“Is this what the kidnappers want? Illiteracy for their children?”

Agence France Presse

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Published in: on March 16, 2009 at 10:34 am  Comments Off on Kidnapping a ‘cottage industry’ in Philippines  
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