The government and the military will continue their quest to free three foreigners and a Filipino who were abducted by gunmen in a resort in Samal Island in Davao del Norte last September, a Palace official said on Wednesday.
Malacañang made the statement even as a video of the victims and their captors was posted online and on the video-sharing site, YouTube, demanding that the government stop operations against the perpetrators. The video post was dated October 12.
“Government’s aim is to ensure their safety and secure their release and all actions emanate from this,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a statement.
Authorities have identified the victims as Canadians John Ridsdel, 68, and Robert Hall, 50; resort manager Kjartan Sekkingstad, 56, a Norwegian; and Filipino Marites Flor, Hall’s girlfriend. They were kidnapped last September 21.
The victims were shown on the video sitting on the ground and surrounded by at least eight men who are holding high-powered guns, with one also holding a big knife.
The foreigners spoke on the video appealing to the military to stop the operations against the kidnappers.
One of the gunmen also spoke, in English, reiterating his group’s demand.
Hall, with the terrified Filipina by her side, said, “My name is Robert Hall, to my family and friends, I am okay but I am in grave danger, I encourage you to please contact the Canadian government and ask them, plead with them to cooperate with the Philippine government to stop the bombings, and the problems that are going on here, I know there are people who can find a way to do this, please, please help us.”
Sekkingstad, the resort manager, spoke briefly and appealed to the resort owner to help them.
“I am Sekkingstad, to the owner of Oceanview Marina, please, please meet their demands or else we’ll be possibly dead.”
Ridsdel, a former executive and now consultant to the mining firm TVI Resources Development Inc. in southern Philippines, in his appeal, virtually gave away their position, saying military artillery fires were near them.
A guard, armed with a huge bolo, held Ridsdel by the head as he spoke, and at one point his voice trembled and he appeared terrified just like the other hostages who were surrounded by over a dozen masked gunmen.
“My name is John Ridsdel, I can confirm that we were taken captive from the Oceanview Marina from the Samal Island in Davao, I’d like to add and give the message from all of us, we beseech, we urge, we beseech the Canadian government to please, please help us and the Philippine government, the Canadian government to help us by stopping all of the operations that have been going like artillery fire that came near us and there have been flights overhead, and bombs and military operations, please stop all of these operations so that negotiations can start about their demands.”
The Filipina did not speak, but her voice and a ringing cell phone could be heard in the background during the entire video that lasted a little over two minutes.
One gunman, who appeared to be the leader or spokesman of the gang, demanded the military to stop the attacks on Abu Sayyaf (a local Muslim terrorist group) positions and wanted cooperation from the Philippine and Canadian governments.
“I deliver a message to the Canadian government and to the Philippine government, I want your cooperation with us and to meet all the requirements. Number one, that there must be no military operations and there must be no artillery attack and all of these that are harmful against us, once you meet our requirements then we can talk about negotiations and demands,” said the masked gunman, who spoke in accented English, and behind him were black flags similar to those used by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, more known as the IS.
The kidnappers then all chanted “takbir” after reading the message.
Authorities maintained that they have not determined the group behind the kidnapping nor do they know the whereabouts of the victims.
Army 602nd Brigade spokesman Capt. Antonio Bulao was quoted as saying that their operation in Jolo last October 8 was against Abu Sayyaf leader Radullan Sahiron, who is on the US government’s terrorists list.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) is determining the authenticity of the video.
Regional PNP spokesman Antonio Rivera did not confirm if the foreigners shown in the video were the victims kidnapped from the resort in Samal.
He, however, hinted that the people sitting on the ground surrounded by 12 heavily armed men looked like the abduction victims.
Rivera said the Special Investigation Task Group (SITG) could not yet confirm the authenticity of the video.
If it was authentic, he added, at least it indicated that the victims were alive.
“SITG did not receive any reports of any demand,” Rivera told reporters during a news conference called by the police and the military on Wednesday at the Royal Mandaya Hotel.
He said there has been no communication between the abductors and the owner of the resort.
Rivera said other police units are helping investigate the Samal incident.
He would not confirm that there was a standing P3- billion ransom demand for release of the victims and $2 million for any proof of life.