Gordon: One hostage could have been freed Monday

Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) Chairman Sen. Richard Gordon said Tuesday afternoon there was an opportunity to set at least one of the hostages free Monday evening had there been a total military pullout as demanded by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

In a press conference, Gordon said that one of their sources in the field had said that Sulu Congressman Yusop H. Jakiri was told about a possibility of an exchange with the rebels, and that the ASG was just waiting for the withdrawal of troops from the area.

“Ang sabi sa amin, umabot na sa isang tao na kilala namin pero hindi nagsasalita, alam namin na naandon, nakausap ni [Sulu Rep.] Jakiri kagabi, at usapan ay magpapalitan [ng hostage] pero hihintayin na umatras [ang militar]. Pero ayaw payagan ng ating gobyerno na paatrasin ang military, pero that is their prerogative,” Gordon said, indicating last-minute communications with the rebels at about 6 a.m. Tuesday morning.

The ASG could not be contacted later on from 12 noon to 1:30 p.m., just hours before their 2 p.m. deadline to behead one of the abducted International Committee of the Red Cross workers Italian Eugenio Vagni, Swiss Andreas Notter, and Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba.

The Senator stressed, however, that although there could have been an exchange with the rebels, they prefer not to dwell on the “could haves.” He refused to blame the military and local government officials for deciding not to completely pull out troops from the area.

He said that the ICRC as a neutral entity which cannot dictate the actions of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the government. “Nasa kanila na ang sususnod na hakbang,” he said.

Appearing tired and emotional before cameras minutes before the 2 p.m. deadline on Tuesday, Gordon made an appeal to the rebels to release the three hostages. “Hindi katapangan ang ginagawa niyo, kundi kawasakan ng inyong pagkatao,” he said.

Gordon said that should the rebels execute one of the hostages, this would be the first time in the ICRC’s 150-year history that one of their kidnapped workers would be killed in captivity.

He also said the spate of kidnapping incidents in Sulu and Zamboanga can be related to society’s failings.

“Ang problema ay hindi lang sa Abu Sayyaf, ang problema natin ay ang kakulangan sa pagtulong sa mga kapwa nating Muslim, pati na rin ang kapwa nating [New People’s Army] na Pilipino… na humihingi ng katarungan, ng kapayapaan. Maraming sakit ang ating lipunan at ito’y kailangang mapawi,” he said.

Gordon had been holding meetings with the military since Monday night and had met with the International Committee on the Red Cross (ICRC) to provide updates on the issue.

According to ABS-CBN correspondent Ces Oreña Drilon, who spoke with ASG sub-commander Albader Parad on Monday, the group was adamant that there would be no extension on their deadline.

In order to show the government that they are serious about their threat to behead one of the hostages at 2 p.m. Tuesday, ASG sub-commander Albader Parad even shaved his head, which in the Tausug tradition means that he is ready to die without care for the consequences of their actions.

Spare the hostages

Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan, meanwhile, said he had also appealed to the ASG in a phone call with a certain Abu Ali to reconsider their threat to kill a hostage because it is “un-Islamic.” He said, however that the group was not budging from their original demand for a complete pullout of government troops from five municipalities in Sulu.

Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan said that military and police forces have withdrawn to two villages in Jolo, giving the rebels about 140 square kilometers of free areas to move in. The rebels, however, reportedly found the move “unacceptable.”

When asked whether the government would accede to the ASG’s demands, Tan maintained that the move would be unreasonable. “We have also to consider the security of the province, there are people here who have firearms and if we do not have any law enforcers, anarchy may reign in the province,” he said.

International Committee of the Red Cross chief Jakob Kellenberger earlier called on the Abu Sayyaf to free the three ICRC workers, saying they were on Jolo island for a humanitarian mission.

“All they were doing was helping people in need in your area. There is no ideology or religious law that could justify killing them,” he added.

The ICRC appeal came shortly after Pope Benedict XVI called on the gunmen to free the captives.

The pontiff “wants to raise his voice and urge that humanitarian sensibility and reason prevail over violence and intimidation,” the Vatican said in a statement Monday.

On Tuesday, about a half hour before 2 p.m., ICRC spokesperson for the Philippines Anastasia Isyuk urged the bandit group to release the hostages. “We appeal to the abductors’ sense of humanity and not take any action that would put the hostages’ lives at risk.

Puno visits Zambo

Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno visited Zamboanga City again on Monday afternoon for a meeting with Sulu Governor Sakur Tan, who heads the crisis management team, together with top military and police officials in connection with the ICRC kidnapping crisis.

Media were barred from getting footages of Puno’s arrival at the airport including his meeting and even his departure back to Manila on board a private plane at past 5 p.m..

Tan refused to give any statement on what transpired in their meeting.

Government is reportedly trying to get confirmation from the ASG reqarding their promise to release one of the ICRC workers.

Impossible demand

On Monday, Puno said it was impossible to comply with the latest demand of kidnappers holding three Red Cross workers to empty five southern towns of security forces by Monday night.

According to ABS-CBN News anchor Ces Drilon, who spoke with ASG sub-commander Albader Parad on Monday, the rebels only wanted the military to be in Indanan, Tagbak, Patikul, and Santol and that checkpoints and main highways had to be cleared so that the rebels could move around the province. The government earlier said that this was tantamount to giving the rebels control of 90% of the island.

The al Qaeda-linked Islamic militant group Abu Sayyaf imposed the demand when it contacted government negotiators late on Sunday night.

“I don’t know how they can be serious if they are saying that we should evacuate all of these areas within 24 hours and then schedule a beheading at 2 p.m. tomorrow,” Puno told reporters in Manila.

“Frankly, we are very disheartened by these new demands, which were given late last night, and which clearly has no physical possibility of being complied with.”

The government complied earlier this month to two demands to move back the security cordon around them. But Puno said those decisions were not a sign of Manila’s weakness in dealing with the militants.

“Our highest priority is the safety of the three hostages,” Puno said as he appealed to the rebel leaders to rethink their new demand and the March 31 deadline.

By Sunday, nearly 1,500 soldiers, police officers and armed civilian volunteers had moved back by about 15 km (9 miles) from the rebels’ position in the interior of southern Jolo island.

Now the rebels want the government to move all security forces out of five towns in the west of the island where the Abu Sayyaf, Puno added.

The rebels have been holding Swiss national Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba — workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross — since Jan. 15.

Founded in the 1990s by Afghan-trained firebrand Abubakar Abdurajak Janjalani to fight for an independent Islamic state, the Abu Sayyaf is the smallest, but most radical of Muslim groups in the southern Philippines.

Abdurajak was killed in a clash with police in 1998 and the group degenerated into a terrorist organisation specialising in bombings, extortion and high profile kidnappings.


Published in: on March 31, 2009 at 3:49 pm  Comments Off on Gordon: One hostage could have been freed Monday  
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