Gordon told: Stop talking to Abus

MANILA, Philippines—He’s been holding his punches, but is now up to his ears.

Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. Sunday told Sen. Richard “Dick” Gordon to stop negotiating with the Abu Sayyaf kidnappers and bring their demands to the multi-agency committee handling the hostage crisis.

Teodoro described as “unfortunate and uncalled for” Gordon’s statement that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo should be held accountable if the kidnappers carry out their threat to behead the two foreign Red Cross workers still under their custody.

“It is only their (kidnappers’) fault,” said Teodoro “What wrong has the government committed if they behead the hostages after more than enough concessions given to them?”

Gordon, chair of the Philippine National Red Cross, said Teodoro’s statement was “careless and unfortunate.”

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

The defense secretary had been reserved in dealing with Gordon, who has been strongly critical of the military’s handling of the hostage crisis on Jolo Island that has dragged on for over two and a half months.

On Thursday, the Abu Sayyaf released Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba, 37, but continued to hold Swiss Andreas Notter, 38, and Italian Eugenio Vagni, 62.

The three workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were kidnapped on Jan. 15 after working on a project to improve water supply at the Jolo jail.

For the first time Sunday, Teodoro expressed exasperation over what he called Gordon’s meddling in the negotiations.

“As a senator, he must support the government,” Teodoro told the Philippine Daily Inquirer over the phone. “He must bring the kidnappers’ demands to the crisis committee and let it decide what to do.”

‘Destructive’ initiatives

“The senator’s statements only serve to strengthen the hand of the kidnappers,” said Teodoro 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 added.

Teodoro appealed to Gordon and the public to “draw the line” when it came to supporting the Abu Sayyaf.

But Gordon said that if he had expressed concern about government and military policy or action in Sulu, “it is because of the danger they, both the military and the Abu Sayyaf, pose to the lives of the hostages.”

“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.”’

‘Talk is a lifeline’

“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 2 if things do not turn out right,” he said.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno on Friday also urged individuals to refrain from contacting the kidnappers without coordinating with the crisis management committee headed by Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan.

“There is a difference between communicating in behalf of the military and the local government and communicating by themselves,” underscored Puno.

“[It] is important to remember by everybody [that] just because we are looking for avenues of communication, it doesn’t mean anyone can walk off the street and start to try to become the negotiator for everybody here,” he said.

Brokers liable as accessory

The negotiation for the release of Vagni and Notter must be done in coordination with the authorities to avoid legal liabilities and to ensure safety, he said.

As an example, Puno pointed to Vice Gov. Ann Sahidulla who secured the release of Lacaba.

“When the vice governor actually got information that she was supposed to meet with the people who would bring her to the kidnappers, she coordinated with our Marine contingent there,” he said.

“Anybody trying to be an independent entrepreneur and brokering this thing is going to be arrested as an accessory to the crime. So unless they coordinate with authorities, there is a problem.”

Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said Sunday Swiss and Italian officials had called him to inquire about their kidnapped nationals.

“I assured them the government is doing all it can to assure the safety, safe return and repatriation of their nationals,” he said.

He said he sent the same message to ICRC officials.

Pulverize gangs

Representatives Rufino Biazon and Eduardo Joson urged Ms Arroyo to stand her ground and not give in to the kidnappers’ demands.

“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 Biazon in a text message.

Biazon said that any troop repositioning should only be part of a hostage release operation, not a precondition.

Joson said that while the “buck stops with the President,” she had shown that her priority was to rescue and recover the hostages without compromising national security.

He said that after resolving this crisis, Ms Arroyo should “pulverize all kidnap-for-ransom gangs.”

Jocelyn Uy and Christine Avendaño,
Philippine Daily Inquirer, with reports from
Gil C. Cabacungan Jr. and Tonette Orejas

Published in: on April 6, 2009 at 12:39 am  Comments Off on Gordon told: Stop talking to Abus  
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