Top security officials to ‘face the people’ in Sulu PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 23 October 2014 12:03

SULU – Top Philippine military and police officials will have their hands full when they attend a public dialogue Friday in Sulu province to answer all allegations that authorities facilitated the payments of ransom to Abu Sayyaf militants in exchange for the release of two kidnapped German tourists.

The dialogue was the offshoot of a meeting on Monday by representatives of various civil society groups and different sectors with Sulu Gov. Toto Tan, who heads the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) and its special ad hoc crisis committee handling the hostage crisis.

Among those expected to attend the dialogue are top officials from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) and they are expected to answer questions regarding the October 17 release of Stefan Viktor Okonek, 71, and Henrike Diesen, 55, in exchange for P250 million ransom.

The ransom negotiations and release of the foreigners were so secretive that the military did not even inform the PPOC and the crisis committee about it. Up to now, the AFP and PNP have not submitted a report to the PPOC.

Gov. Tan said the PPOC and the crisis committee only learned about the release of the hostages after the media broke out the news. “We were not informed about that the hostages were already rescued and it was only through media reports that we became aware that they were rescued Friday night and (already) in the custody of the Armed Forces (of the Philippines),” he said.

The military strongly insisted that no ransom was paid for the release of two German nationals and even dared anyone to come up with evidence that ransom had been paid to the Abu Sayyaf.

An Abu Sayyaf spokesman, Abu Rami, told Radio Mindanao Network in Zamboanga City, that they freed the two German yachters after getting the P250 million ransoms. The hostages were recovered by policemen, but were whisked away by soldiers and brought to a military base in Jolo town and not even the local mayor was told about the release of the Germans.

The duo was heading to Sabah in Malaysia on a private yacht from a holiday in Palawan province when militants who were returning to the southern Philippines from a failed kidnapping in Sabah spotted the Germans and seized them on April 25.

According to sources, leaders of civil society and sectoral groups in Sulu are preparing their position papers which they would submit – through Gov. Tan – to AFP Chief of Staff General Gregorio Catapang and PNP Director General Alan Purisima.

Provincial legislators and mayors are also expected to pass a separate resolution in connection with the military’s action that totally ignored civilian authorities when it hid information of the hostages’ release which was cloak in secrecy.

Sources said the position papers may also include suggestions and measures to improve the organizational structures on public order and law enforcement operations that would likely involved participation of community leaders to help authorities curb criminality in the province.

Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, a military spokesman, insisted the foreigners were freed by their kidnappers due to pressure exerted by security forces – a line which the military have used many times in previous release of foreign hostages by the Abu Sayyaf.

“Just wondering if anyone here personally saw the P250 million cold cash in the hands of Abu Sayyaf? Let’s not believe the word of Abu Rami as if he is Jesus Christ. Di na natin mababawi ang ating pinagsasabi kung mali tayo. Unless, may magsabi dito saksi sya mismo nag abot si Mr You ng pera kay Mr Abu, walang nakakasiguro,” he said in a reaction to Facebook commentaries by “netizens” on the reported payment of ransoms to the Abu Sayyaf.

Sources in Sulu said a private jet delivered 12 trolley bags containing ransoms in Jolo and that several bags full of money had been left in the plane.

Cabunoc branded the Abu Sayyaf statement as “propaganda” and even cited allegations in the past against the military that it delivered ransom to the militant group to buy the freedom of hostages in Basilan province in 2001. He said the military does not negotiate with terrorists.

“Well, I’m used to shooting terrorists. We don’t negotiate with those bastards when I was in the frontline. Soldiers like me have died fighting these bandits. Masakit din sa kalooban namin kung gawan ng kwentong ganyan. Kasuhan nyo kung sino may kasalanan. Kahit naman siguro kayo, kung nahuhusgahan sa social media ay di rin matutuwa kung pagtatawanan. Patas lang po. Tinatawanan din tayo ng mga Abu Sayyaf at ng mga kurakot at tiwali na dahilan di maubos ubos ang mga iyan,” said Cabunoc, who was previously assigned in Basilan where he fought the Abu Sayyaf.

It was unknown what role the military played in the ransom negotiations, but Maj. Gen. Domingo Tutaan, a spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said: “The AFP has no information on that (ransom payments) but suffice to say that the Armed Forces of the Philippines and other security forces do not and will not negotiate with terrorists and kidnappers.”

The release of the Germans came hours after security forces launched an operation in an effort to capture Abu Sayyaf militants holding foreign hostages in Sulu.  Officials said police and military, armed with arrest warrants, are presently intensifying law enforcement operations against the Abu Sayyaf, which recently pledged allegiance to ISIS.

The military said the Abu Sayyaf gunmen are hiding in civilian communities and have moved their hostages from different hideouts and making it extremely difficult for security forces to track them down of rescue them.

Another Abu Sayyaf faction also threatened to kill Malaysian fish breeder Chan Sai Chuin, 32, who was kidnapped along with a Filipino worker on June 16 this year from a fish farm in the town of Kunak in Tawau District. The militants are demanding 3 million ringgits (P41 million) for the safe release of the fish breeder.

It is also holding captive a Malaysian policeman Kons Zakiah Aleip, 26, who was seized on June 12 also this year following a clash in Sabah that killed another policeman. The militants are demanding 5 million ringgits (P68.3 million).

The militants are still holding hostage a 64-year old Japanese treasure hunter Katayama Mamaito, who was kidnapped from Pangutaran Island in July 2010; and two European wildlife photographers Ewold Horn, 52, from Holland; and Lorenzo Vinciguerre, 47, from Switzerland, who were taken captive in the coastal village of Parangan in Panglima Sugala town in the southern Tawi-Tawi province in 2012. And several Filipinos kidnapped in other provinces and brought to Sulu. — ME