Malacañang and the military said they were not aware that ransom was paid for the release of four Malaysian sailors abducted by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) even after top Malaysian authorities and the families of the kidnap victims admitted that a huge amount of cash was paid to the bandit group.
Reacting to a report by The Manila Times on Monday on the supposed payment of P130 million (RM12 million) to the rebel group, Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the government adhered to the no-ransom policy and that they had no idea about the supposed payment.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) also said it was not privy to negotiations for the release of the Malaysian sailors.
“We have no knowledge on that or the negotiations that went with it. We still maintain our unequivocal support to the no-ransom policy of the government,” said Col. Noel Detoyato, chief of the AFP Public Affairs Office.
He pointed out that the military had discouraged the payment of ransom because doing so will only embolden the militants to pull off more kidnapping operations.
“We have been publicly appealing to those concerned to desist paying ransom because it only strengthens the group if we pay,” Detoyato said.
The Manila Times reported that the ASG was paid P130 million but only P100 million reached the bandit group.
The payment of ransom was confirmed by Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who publicly admitted that RM12 million (roughly $2.9 million) was paid for the freedom of brothers Wong Teck Kang, 31, and Teck Chii, 29; their cousin Johnny, 21; and co-worker Wong Hung Sing, 34.
The four, crew of a tugboat, were abducted off Sabah on April 1 by a group of armed men on a speedboat.
“[The Philippine] government has adhered to no-ransom policy and has no knowledge of nor participation in that reported action,” the official said in a text message.
A police official in Kuala Lumpur maintained that no ransom was paid.
But Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi admitted the families of the victims raised and channelled about 12 million ringgit to a Muslim foundation in the Philippines in exchange for the freedom of the hostages, who were released to unidentified Filipino negotiators on June 8 in Sulu province and were spirited out by Malaysian police forces to Sabah.
“The families handed the sum to the Special Branch of the police and I can confirm that it was channelled to a certain organization in the Philippines for a sanctioned cause,” Hamidi said.
But Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar, also on Monday said the money did not pass through them.
The money collected by the families of the hostages, according to him, was passed to a “third party” in southern Philippines, not to Malaysian police in Sandakan, a report by the Malay Mail Online newspaper said.
WITH AL JACINTO