Aquino’s Ransom Republic

Hostage Rodwell: Why are US troops, not Filipino soldiers, securing him? Photo from Western Mindanao Command.

The Manila Times, March 25, 2013

Unless President Aquino and even most Filipinos have become so dense to realize it, the recent release by the Abu Sayyaf bandits of Australian Warren Rodwell is a huge red neon sign for the world to read:

Visit the Philippines, Asia’s Ransom Republic, if you want to be kidnapped by bandits and then pay millions of pesos to be released.  Hassle-free arrangements will be made for payment of the ransom by our police and local governments.”

While we rejoice that a human life has been saved,  “government’s handling” of, or rather, total inutility over the kidnapping diminishes our integrity as a nation, unless Mr. Aquino himself goes on a televised press conference to deny that P7 million in ransom paid was paid for the Australian ‘s release.

But it was Basilan Vice Gov. Al Rasheed Sakalahul who told one newspaper that he witnessed the payment of P4 million to Abu Sayyaf leader Pujuri Indama. The Abu Sayyaf got only P4 million of the ransom, the paper said, as “local officials and middlemen” took their cut.

Of course the vice-governor denied he was one of those “local officials and middlemen.” He said: “Throughout the negotiations, I only served as guide.”  Yeah, right.  Sakalahul was way too jubilant over the release, and was quoted by The Manila Times: “God has rewarded us and heard our prayers.”  I can’t resist wondering how if his reward reached a million.

He couldn’t even get his story straight.  He told one newspaper that the Abu Sayyaf leader counted right before his eyes the P4 million to check the ransom amount when he received it. He told The Manila Times on the other hand, that he did not know how much the ransom was, which he referred to using kidnappers euphemism for it —   “board and lodging”.

The vice governor (where was the governor during all this?) himself is aware that he is suspect, telling The Sydney Morning Herald:  “I am clean. My conscience is clean and I swear to God that I never benefited [sic] any single centavo from the negotiation and even in the past where I also negotiated for the safe release of other kidnapped victims, I never got any money for myself.”

He was involved in other negotiations for the release of hostages in the past?  Our police would be so stupid if they don’t take on the vice-governor’s dare to be investigated.

Given the fact that ransom was incontrovertibly paid, Australian officials’ statements congratulating our authorities for Rodwell’s release, are masterpieces of sarcasm, as they know that government knows that ransom was paid.  The Australian foreign minster Bob Carr in effect deftly confirmed that ransom was paid, and even facilitated by our authorities in his interview by the Australian Broadcasting Corp:

“The Australian government never pays ransom…But I won’t comment on arrangements that may have been made by Mr. Rodwell’s family and Abu Sayyaf, the kidnappers, made through the Philippines anti-kidnapping unit and their police force (emphasis mine).

Agence France Presse and other international news agencies’ headline for the latest development in the Ransom Republic: “Ransom of $97,750 paid for freed Australian hostage.” Brace for the Philippines being compared to Somalia with their pirates getting ransom payments as  easy as the Abu Sayyaf does it here.

Our country’s shame doesn’t end there.  The photos that were splashed in our local newspapers and those in the entire world were not of our police or military securing the Australian, but of burly special-forces-looking Caucasians in camouflaged outfits and bulletproof vests.  The photo’s caption reported that they were US military personnel. (Our military’s Western Mindanao Command offices who took and released to media the photos were obviously, shamefully reduced to photographers.)  What did the US military have to do with an Australian hostage’s release? Did Australia doubt the capability of our military and police forces to secure their citizen?

The Australian foreign minister implied that ransom arrangements were made by the “Philippines anti-kidnapping unit.”  He was referring to the Philippine National Police’s “Anti-Kidnapping Group” set up last year purportedly as an elite group with a funding of P200 million to go after kidnapping syndicates.  The police’s anti-kidnapping group reduced to middle-men for ransom payment? Why hasn’t the PNP or the head of the Group commented on the foreign minister’s statement?

Directly under Aquino with his executive secretary Paquito Ochoa heading it is the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission, with an intelligence confidential funds  — i.e., no receipts required — of P566 million last year and P588 million this year. Was a peso of these funds used to track down the Abu Sayyaf kidnappers?

Most people were surprised that there was even an Australian held already for 15 months by the Abu Sayyaf, and there are two more Europeans – birdwatchers Swiss national Lorenzo Vinciguerra and Dutchman Ewold Horn – and a Jordanian TV journalist,  Baker Atyani still hostaged by the bandits.

Has this administration been doing anything to rescue these hostages, or has it been waiting for the victims’ relatives to raise the ransom money?  Aquino’s predecessors would set up crisis committees to put on the pressure on the police and military to get thje kidnappers.  Aquino appears to have simply put it out of his mind.

With the government silent for months over the Australian’s kidnapping or so inutile that it didn’t even sent elite troops to hunt down the Abu Sayyaff, these terrorist-kidnapers would have had an easy time perhaps even staying in Basilan towns, while they waited for the ransom money to be raised.

What are Aquino and his security forces exactly been doing to rescue the two Europeans and the Jordanian still held by the Abu Sayyaf? The Abu Sayyaf couldn’t number more than 100 now and their lairs in Basilan are well known.  Why hasn’t this administration launched a full-scale assault against this notorious, barbaric gang?  Did Aquino’s point-man for Muslims, Mujiv Hataman who is from Basilan, tell him don’t worry, he’ll take care of the Abu Sayyaf problem?

Do we still have a fighting military or has Aquino transformed it into a mere civic action group?