DAVAO CITY: The Abu Sayyaf on Saturday freed a Filipino and a South Korean they kidnapped off Tawi-Tawi province in the restive Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao after negotiations between private parties.
The hostages — Glen Alindajao and Park Chul Hong — were released by the kidnapping and terror group in the southern island of Sulu and were retrieved at 7:40 a.m. by Secretary Jesus Dureza, the presidential peace adviser. From Jolo, Sulu, Dureza arrived in Davao City with the hostages on board a private jet.
The duo was kidnapped on October 20 after rebels hijacked the cargo ship Dong Bang Giant while it was sailing near Bongao, Tawi-Tawi and the Sabah border. The ship was on its way to South Korea from Australia.
In a news conference, Dureza said the hostages were released with the help of the Moro National Liberation Front.
The Cabinet official said he informed President Rodrigo Duterte of the release through presidential assistant Christopher “Bong” Go.
Security officials declined to say whether ransom had been paid in exchange for the freedom of the sailors. The Abu Sayyaf had demanded at least P50 million for the release of the hostages.
“The government official policy is not to pay ransom. You know why? The more money you give to them, the more it strengthens them, the more they are encouraged to continue that illegal trade,” Dureza said.
Dureza told reporters the hostages planned to escape, but their attempt did not push through as there was an “enabling environment” in the community that was favorable to the abductors.
“In fact people come around and [offer]support because they also benefit from it, or maybe there is a culture already where they are able to benefit from it individually. So we have to continue the military operations and address the enabling environment [through]a massive social intervention,” he said.
Just recently, Abu Sayyaf rebels tried but failed to hijack a Filipino cargo ship sailing off Basilan near Zamboanga City. The gunmen, aboard two speedboats, attacked the vessel Ocean Kingdom, manned by over two dozen sailors, off Sibago Island.
The ship was heading to Davao City to deliver cargo when it came under fire, and managed to escape from the attack. In November, Abu Sayyaf fighters also hijacked a Vietnamese cargo ship and seized six crewmen, including the captain in a daring attack that left one sailor wounded.
The Abu Sayyaf is still holding over a dozen Malaysian and Indonesian sailors in Mindanao.
51 battalions deployed
President Rodrigo Duterte on January 6 ordered the military anew to finish off rebels and jihadist or terrorist groups tied to the Islamic State.
Thousands of army troops have been deployed to Mindanao to fight the Abu Sayyaf and other groups.
Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Año said at least four dozen army battalions have been tapped to carry out Duterte’s order.
“Not in our history there has been that massive deployment of our troops,” Año said in a television interview, adding the goal of the new government offensive was to wipe out the Abu Sayyaf and other terrorist groups.
Año said 51 battalions had been deployed to the restive region. “We are going to make sure that our campaign against the Abu Sayyaf will be quick,” he said.
Aside from the Abu Sayyaf, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Ansarul Khilafah, Khilafah Islamiyah Movement, Al-Khobar Group and the so-called rogue Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in an effort to establish a caliphate in Mindanao. These groups operate in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE