Teodoro enjoins Gordon to work with govt on Sulu crisis

National Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. on Monday enjoined Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) chairman Sen. Richard Gordon to work with the government’s Crisis Management Committee instead of conducting his own negotiations with the bandit group still holding two Red Cross workers.

“We welcome anybody, anybody who can help us in this incident. What we do not welcome though, is rather than help, is an attempt to compromise us,” Teodoro said.

The Defense Secretary also said that Gordon should immediately relay any information from the bandits, who have been communicating with him, to the government’s Crisis Management Committee instead of airing it on national media. Teodoro also asked Gordon to allow the Crisis Management Committee, headed by Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan, to do its job.

‘No more barbs’

Teodoro added that he wants to put an end to the word war with Gordon, saying it was “counterproductive.”

Earlier, Teodoro labeled as “unfair” Gordon’s published comments that the hostages’ blood would be on the president’s hands if the gunmen carried out a threat to behead their captives.

The two also disagreed on whether to completely pull out troops from areas in Sulu, as demanded by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), in exchange for the release of one of two remaining captives from the International Committee on the Red Cross (ICRC) Swiss Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni. Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba was freed by the bandit group last Thursday.

The government has staunchly refused to pull out troops from two Sulu municipalities Indanan and Parang, saying this would expose the 645,000 residents of the mainly Muslim island to terrorist attacks. Teodoro said however that the government will continue negotiations for the safe release of the two remaining hostages.

Gordon, meanwhile, has refused to cut off communication with the rebels despite being called a “meddler.”

“I will do everything I can to secure the safety of the hostages. Sinasagot ko lang naman, di naman ako nakikipag-away. This is not a shoot for a movie, walang take two dito. If this don’t turn out right, the door will be closed, patay ang [hostage],” he said Sunday.

Fellow senators

Gordon’s fellow senators meanwhile weighed in on the public spat.

Several of Gordon’s senatorial colleagues urged him to keep quiet and leave strategy to the crisis committee.

Senator Rodolfo Biazon, a former military chief and national defense secretary, said Gordon and Teodoro’s public spat was giving the Abu Sayyaf free propaganda.

Senator Francis Pangilinan said the hostage crisis should be handled by the defense department and the military.

“Too many drivers and we will crash,” he told reporters.

Sen. Francis Escudero, in a statement, said however that Gordon was careful in his public statements on the Sulu crisis.

“Sa aking palagay may karapatan siya, bilang pangulo ng Philippine National Red Cross, na ipaalam ang kanyang posisyon at pananaw patungkol sa kapakanan ng dalawang dayuhang bihag na miyembro ng ICRC. Mayroon siyang karapatan na manghimasok para maseguro ang kaligtasan nila at mapigilan ang posibleng adbenturistang pagkilos na maaring magdulot ng hindi kanais-nais na pagtatapos sa problemang ito,” said Escudero.

“No pullout”

Tan meanwhile warned that it is “dangerous” to conduct unofficial talks with the rebels, especially if “unofficial concessions or promises” will be made that the government is not willing to make.

Tan also echoed the military’s stance not to pull out troops from the area, saying that the ASG has not kept their end of the bargain.

“I’m not agreeing to the complete pullout of troops. [The ASG] did not comply to the commitment to release one hostage, it is only very recent, the release of one hostage. I would now like to believe that the release was because of the pressure of the implementation of the state of emergency [in Sulu],” he said.

The kidnappers had threatened to behead one of the hostages by March 31 if the military did not withdraw from Jolo. However, the authorities said the threat was not carried out and one of the hostages, Lacaba was freed two days later.

Tan added that national officials need not intervene in the hostage situation in Sulu, saying that provincial officials can resolve the matter. “I do not see any reason why legislature should interfere in the actions of the local governors. Sec. Teodoro and [Sen.] Puno do not dictate on us on what to do as far as the crisis is concerned. The other day the ASG were asking me to talk directly to Puno, Puno said ‘I’m giving it to you, that is a local matter, we will just support you.'”

‘Tightened security’

Meanwhile, the military has tightened security in Sulu in a bid to block possible escape routes for Abu Sayyaf. Troops have set up cordons around areas where the hostages are believed to be hiding in order to stop the rebels’ movements in Barangay Sulipang, Parang town; and Barangays Pasil, Tugamot, Kagay, and Bato-bato in Indanan.

On Monday, Tan said he last talked with Albader Parad and Dr. Abu the other day, asking that the bandit group “unconditionally release” the hostages. Tan also said that the crackdown against suspected ASG supporters has started, whether local officials or ordinary citizens, with a total of eight people who have been brought to Zamboanga City for questioning. Two were reportedly barangay chairmen, three policemen, two cellphone vendors and a civilian, Abduhani Sabdani.

Sabdani was however cleared of suspicion on Monday and was formally turned over to his family at the governor’s office in the presence of ranking military officials. Tan said this is to reassure Sulu residents that they have “nothing to fear” amidst to the ‘state of emergency’ as long as they do not support the bandit group.

He also said there have been no new threats from the ASG and that the government is sticking to its no-ransom policy in terms of releasing the hostages.

With a report from Ina Reformina
and Agence France Presse

Published in: on April 6, 2009 at 6:27 pm  Comments Off on Teodoro enjoins Gordon to work with govt on Sulu crisis  
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