ZAMBOANGA CITY: The military has again strongly insisted that no ransom was paid for the release of two Germans kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf and dared anybody to come up with evidence that ransom had been paid to militants in Sulu province.
Abu Sayyaf spokesman Aboo Rami told Radio Mindanao Network in Zamboanga City that they freed the two German yachters – Stefan Viktor Okonek, 71, and Henrike Diesen, 55 – on October 17 after receiving the ransom. The Abu Sayyaf demanded a P250 million ransom from Germany.
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.
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 Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Maj. Gen. Domingo Tutaan 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.
Officials also said troops have recovered abandoned encampments in Sulu’s Patikul town used by the Abu Sayyaf in hiding the German hostages. It was unknown why the military failed to take immediate actions against the Abu Sayyaf shortly after the release of the Germans and this gave the militants ample time to split into several groups and escaped despite the thousands of troops that surrounded their lairs.
The military also kept the Sulu crisis committee and provincial leaders in the dark and was not even informed about the release of the hostages. The Germans were recovered by policemen near a checkpoint, but were immediately taken away by soldiers and brought to a military camp in Jolo town.
The Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) which formed a special ad-hoc crisis committee headed by Governor Toto Tan was not even informed by the military of the release of the hostages and no security officials have briefed the PPOC about it.
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 Abu Sayyaf is also holding 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.
The Abu Sayyaf group now has hundreds of members in the southern Philippines, particularly in the Muslim autonomous region. The military failed to stop the growing influence and violent campaigns of the militant group because it did not sustain the combat operations needed to wipe out the Abu Sayyaf in the restive region.
The United States military is assisting the local military in anti-terrorism operation against the Abu Sayyaf, which previously attacked and killed American soldiers in Sulu.