Teodoro tells Gordon: stop meddling

MANILA, Philippines – Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. asked Senator Richard Gordon to stop interfering in the Sulu hostage crisis, saying his statements only served to “strengthen the hand” of the Abu Sayyaf, which continued to hold two International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) workers hostage.

Teodoro said it was “unfortunate and uncalled for” for Gordon to put the blame on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo should the kidnappers behead Swiss national Andreas Notter and Italian national Eugenio Vagni.

The al Qaeda-linked bandits had repeatedly threatened to behead their hostages unless the government gives in to their demand of a complete troop pullout from Jolo Island. Arroyo, the military’s commander-in-chief, has rejected the demand.

“The senator’s statements only serve to strengthen the hand of kidnappers,” Teodoro said in a text message to reporters.

“The military pullout demanded by the Abu Sayyaf is a criminal attempt to allow them to wreak havoc elsewhere. There should be a stop to these destructive attempts at interfering with the crisis management committee’s work,” he said.

Teodoro said it was wrong for Gordon to blame Arroyo, should the Abu Sayyaf make good of its threat to behead its hostages.

“It is only their [kidnappers] fault… what wrong has the government committed if they behead the hostages after more than enough concessions given to them?” asked Teodoro.

It was the first time that the defense chief expressed his exasperation over the senator’s alleged meddling with negotiations between the crisis committee, headed by Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan, and the kidnappers, led by Albader Parad.

“As a senator, he must support the government… he must bring the kidnappers’ demands to the crisis committee and let it decide what to do with [them],” he later the Philippine Daily Inquirer over the phone.

In an interview on radio station dzBB, Gordon denied he was meddling in government decisions or that he was a mouthpiece of the Abu Sayyaf.

“We must act as a team. Let’s decide together, let’s study together, let’s get all the facts together, including the views of the military and the Cabinet and let’s have a meeting,” Gordon said.

“If you don’t want me to join, I will remain in the Red Cross,” said the senator, who is the chair of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC).

Malacañang refused to comment on Gordon’s statement, but a Palace source said Teodoro finally spoke out on the issue on Sunday as the defense secretary had been holding his patience for a long time now.

“Gordon’s statements had been demoralizing the soldiers,” said the Palace source, who asked not to be quoted for not having been assigned to speak on the issue.

“[Gordon] is beginning to sound like the spokesperson of the Abu Sayyaf.” the same source told the Inquirer.

Gordon reiterated that the fate of the hostages was in the hands of the Executive since it was in charge of soldiers, Cabinet and local governments.

Asked whether he was becoming a spokesman for the Abu Sayyaf, Gordon said what he was pleading for the lives of the hostages and not a pullout of troops.

He insisted he was “neutral” on the issue and he was just talking to the Abu Sayyaf because he was asked to by the ICRC and that the Abu Sayaf was calling him.

“The executive must determine the policy,” he said.

He said Teodoro’s statements against him were “careless” and “unfortunate” and vowed continue to “do everything” to ensure the release of the two remaining hostages in Sulu.

“I have a personal and institutional responsibility to do everything I can to secure the safe return of the hostages,” said Gordon.

“The hostage-takers talk to us, not to Mr. Teodoro or the commanders there,” Gordon said.

He said he would not cut off communication with the Abu Sayyaf “just to avoid being described as a meddler. ”

“At this point, talk is a lifeline in this extremely dangerous situation. This is not a location shoot for a movie. There is no Take two if things do not turn out right,” he said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said representatives from the Swiss and Italian governments called him last week to inquire on the situation of their nationals still held captive by Abu Sayyaf bandits in Sulu.

“They called me and I assured them the government is doing all it can to assure the safety, safe return and repatriation of their nationals,” Romulo said in an interview on Sunday after he attended the birthday Mass for the President in her hometown of Lubao in Pampanga province.

He said he conveyed the same message to the ICRC.

Meanwhile, lawmakers urged Arroyo to stand her ground in the hostage crisis in Sulu – save the two European Red Cross workers but never give into the Abu Sayyaf’s demand for a pullout.

“The pressure to give in to the demands for troop pullout should not be imposed on the President. Everyone should be reminded that any bad consequence of this crisis rests solely on the ASG,” said Muntinlupa Representative Rozanno Rufino Biazon in a text message.

Biazon said that any troop repositioning should only be part of a hostage release operation, not a pre-condition for the safe release of hostages.

Nueva Ecija Representative Eduardo Nonato Joson said that while the “buck stops with the President,” she showed that her priority was to recover the hostages but without compromising national security.

“All means must be geared toward this objective,” said Joson.

Biazon said that the President’s decision not to pull out was “appropriate and necessary as it is consistent with upholding national security and defending territorial integrity.”

Joson said that after resolving the hostage crisis, the President should move to “pulverize all kidnap-for-ransom gangs of whatever persuasion and color.”

Christine Avendaño and Jocelyn Uy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
With reports from Gil Cabacungan Jr., Inquirer;
Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon Desk

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Published in: on April 5, 2009 at 6:37 pm  Comments Off on Teodoro tells Gordon: stop meddling  
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