• 3 other hostages still alive – DFA

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    THREE other hostages, who were with the beheaded Canadian John Ridsdel, are still alive despite the expiry of the ransom deadline, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) assured on Wednesday.

    “Yes, [they are still alive]. But please do not ask me why we know,” DFA Secretary Jose Rene Almendras curtly told members of the press in an ambush interview.

    The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), an Islamic extremist organization in Mindanao, beheaded Ridsdel on Monday after the deadline for the P300-million ransom passed.

    The rebels are still keeping Canadian Robert Hall, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and Filipina Marites Flor, who were abducted along with Ridsdel in Samal, Davao del Norte last year.

    Hostage-takers initially demanded for P1 billion each for the safe release of the three, but later lowered it to P300 million after moving the deadline from April 8 to April 25.

    Almendras said the Philippines has been in close coordination with Canada and Norway for the safety of the hostages. The three countries maintained that no ransom would be paid.

    “[Our coordination] is very, very much at a very senior level. At all levels, as a matter of fact. And our coordination with them is almost in a 24-hour basis. For the past five days, it’s been extremely difficult for me but it’s happening,” he said.

    The Secretary said President Benigno Aquino III instructed the DFA to continue a good relationship and interaction with the foreign governments involved.

    “DFA team has been on the situation.  [It has been] on top. I literally say this: ‘We have not been sleeping,’ ” he said. “The DFA has been very, very involved from day one. The past 10 days have been even to a greater scale.”

    Almendras claimed none of the countries have complained about the Philippines’ efforts to rescue the hostages and combat the militant group.

    “Even Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau [of Canada]had very kind words to us. And despite the tragedy, the action is a testament of the cooperation and the interaction between the Canadian government and us,” he said.

    Meanwhile, Almendras denied criticisms that Trudeau was the first to know about the death of Ridsdel and not Aquino.

    He clarified that the DFA was the one that informed the Prime Minister in accordance with the protocol to let the family of the victim know about the misfortune before making any public announcement.

    Notwithstanding the hostage-taking spree of the rebels in Mindanao, Almendras assured that the Philippines is still “a wonderful place to go” to.

    He believes that the country’s tourism industry will not be hurt tremendously.

    “Generally, [it is still safe to come here]except for some places specified by the travel advisories,” Almendras said. MICHAEL JOE T. DELIZO

    mjtd/bf

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