GOVERNMENT security forces hot on the trail of Abu Sayyaf bandits captured a third camp of the group in Sulu on Monday as military reconnaissance and tracking teams continued their relentless operations to pressure the bandits and force them to surrender.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said the camp was located in Kabuntakas, Patikul town, just a few meters away from a larger camp that was earlier ran over by soldiers from the 35th Infantry Battalion.
On Sunday, government troops seized two abandoned Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) camps.
Col. Allan Arrojado, Sulu Island commander, said the main concern of the operations is the safe rescue of hostages being held by the rebels as well as civilians.
In Palo, Leyte, President Benigno Aquino 3rd also on Monday insisted that no ransom was paid to secure the safe release of the two German hostages from the ASG.
Aquino’s statement came amid reports that a huge ransom was paid in exchange for the release of Stefan Victor Okonek and Herike Diesan, who were abducted by the bandits in Palawan while they were on their way to Sabah on April 25 this year.
“Nothing came from the Office of the President. I can assure you that. I didn’t authorize anything from the Office of the President,” Aquino told reporters in an interview.
He said the government’s main focus is to run after the militants and stop them from their criminal activities.
The bandits however, said they released the hostages after receiving ransom.
A source from the intelligence community however said the ASG did not receive in full the P250million ransom.
The source claimed that he was contacted by an asset from within the group who relayed to him the message that the bandits only got P240 million in cash.
When asked where the remaining P10 million went, the source speculated that the money could have gone to the negotiators or to other groups who initiated the talks.
The news agency Reuters, quoting German government sources, reported on Friday that Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had sent a special envoy to the Philippines to negotiate a deal with the rebels.
The envoy, Ruediger Koenig, arrived in Manila on Thursday evening, the Reuters report said.
It is believed that the bandits are still holding at least 10 foreigners in Sulu.