Yes, that’s what they have done in effect by paying 12 million Malaysian ringgit (P138 million) to the terrorist group for the release on June 8 of four of its citizens kidnapped off Sabah on April 1, and hidden in Sulu.
This isn’t rumor. Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister (and Home Minister) Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi confirmed such payment in Malaysian newspapers. So did the uncle of one of the kidnap victims, Datuk Lau Cheng Kiong, who even gave details — which I find incredible — on how the huge ransom money was paid. (I suspect the money was raised by the Malaysian government itself, and not by contributions made through the internet as Lau claimed.)
The Malaysian government, though, thinks Filipinos are fools. Its deputy prime minister claimed: “I can confirm that the RM12 million that was handed over to the Special Branch was given as a form of contribution to certain organizations in the Philippines. It was channeled not as ransom, but to a body in the Philippines, which assists in an Islamic struggle. The body has no links to terrorists or criminals.” (The Special Branch is Malaysia’s intelligence service, the equivalent of the Americans’ CIA and FBI, but combined.)
The Abu Sayaff recently beheaded two Canadians after the hostages’ government and families failed to pay the ransom demanded by the militant group. The terrorists, however, freed the four Malaysians, with the Malaysian government confirming that RM 12 million was “sent over” for their release.
Yet, the deputy prime minister claims it wasn’t ransom, and that it was given not even to the kidnappers but to “a body in the Philippines, which assists in an Islamic struggle.”
Does he think we, Filipinos, are so stupid?
The ransom payment has triggered a political firestorm in Malaysia because of the contradictory statements issued by government officials. Home Minister Hamidi disclosed that the funds were turned over to the Special Branch, which presumably turned them over to the Abu Sayyaf. Lau, who represented the families of the four hostages, even narrated that two Special Branch officers, with an approval letter from Bank Negara, withdrew the sum and carried them in 12 metal cases to the police station.
However, Malaysia’s Police Inspector-General Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar denied that the Special Branch handled any money, and that ransom was paid. He made the preposterous claim that the Abu Sayyaf was pressured to release its hostages because of the Malaysian government’s move to ban barter trade between Malaysia and Mindanao.
Malaysian quarters have also raised fears that the ransom payment would make them the favorite targets of kidnappers. Indeed, the Home Minister, less than a month ago, claimed: “If we were to pay (ransom), the fear is that it could be seen as us condoning such acts of violence. We can see a trend from this latest abduction whereby out of the 10 people onboard, the Myanmar nationals and Indonesians were released. “Only the Malaysians were taken,” he said.
Ransom money shared
The controversy has made our country look like a place where terrorist kidnappers can operate freely to get huge ransoms, helped by local officials and even officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines who collaborate with the Abu Sayyaf so they can get a share of the ransom money.
As was the scoop of The Manila Times the other day, the Abu Sayaff was reported to have received only P100 million of the ransom, with the rest going to the pockets of Malaysian and Philippine government officials. “They claimed it was a legitimate service fee,” a source in the military, grinning, told me.
This isn’t so shocking really based on past reports. The mayor of Jolo, Sulu, Hussin Amin, recently alleged that some military officers in Sulu are in cahoots with the Abu Sayyaf group and have been getting a share of the ransom paid to the terrorist group from past kidnapping cases. He cited one case, which a congressional committee had investigated, in which the Army colonel helping the kidnappers was identified.
Indeed, when I was in government in the early 2000s during the Dos Palmas kidnapping of more than a dozen tourists, military intelligence had explained that one difficulty in going after kidnappers in Basilan and Sulu was that kidnapping was treated as some kind of a cottage industry in those areas.
The hostages would be turned over by the kidnappers to the local clans, who would move them from one family to another to hide them. The armed gang that actually undertook the kidnapping would simply store away their arms and blend into the civilian population, until it was tasked to collect the ransom and release the hostages. There were even cases when one clan would “buy” the hostages from the original kidnappers and would undertake negotiations for the payment of the ransom.
These clans often have relatives in the police, or even the Army, who would tip them off of any plans by the authorities to search a community for the hostages. The clans, of course, would get a portion of the ransom, when it is paid. This is the reason why the Abu Sayyaf has been able to elude government forces no matter how many troops are mobilized against them.
Ransom payments serve to strengthen the Abu Sayyaf and make their kidnappings easier to undertake. What other armed groups could get as much as P100 million in one operation? With funds available, the Abu Sayyaf finds it easier to recruit additional fighters and to bribe a community – in advance – to hide their hostages.
Even as the ransom payment has become an issue in Malaysia, our government hasn’t even protested the Malaysians’ payment of the ransom undertaken through its intelligence service, operating in our territory. Why shouldn’t we protest, when the Abu Sayaff now has over P100 million to fund their acquisition of more powerful weapons, to recruit more terrorists and bribe local officials to provide sanctuary for their future hostages?
Now busy packing, or perhaps shredding documents that could be used in graft cases against him, President Aquino is clueless over the controversy, and hasn’t done anything to protest against payment of the ransom, or even just the public confirmation made by the Malaysian deputy prime minister of such payment. His de facto spokesman, Herminio Coloma – the official one, Edwin Lacierda, appears to have vanished a few months ago – told Manila Times reporters that they had no knowledge of the ransom payment, and appeared nonchalant about it.
Coloma’s ignorance of the ransom payment by the Malaysians, which has made our nation look like a powerless wimp in the region, is disgraceful. Because of the incompetence of this Yellow Regime, we have become the only country in Asia where a known terrorist group kidnaps foreigners and gets huge ransom money.
That is so reflective of the stupid, incompetent government that we have. Shouldn’t it undertake an intensive investigation into how the Malaysians could operate so freely in the country, violating our anti-ransom policies and consequently boosting the strength of the terrorist Abu Sayyaf with more funds?
Shouldn’t the government find out which local channels were used by the Malaysians to make the ransom payment? Malaysia is mocking our sovereignty by operating in our territory to pay ransom to terrorists plaguing our land, and Aquino doesn’t seem to mind it. Or has this government become close buddies with the Malaysians, who had promised Aquino they would handle the MILF to agree to a peace pact?
What kind of a country have we become that even our neighbors trample on our sovereignty?