Aquino: Any ransom paid wasn’t from me
MANILA, Philippines–If ransom was paid to secure freedom for German hostages Viktor Stefan Okonek, 71, and Henrite Dielen, 55, last week, no government money was spent, President Aquino assured the public on Monday.
“Well, nothing came from the Office of the President, I can assure you that. I didn’t authorize anything from the Office of the President,” he told reporters in Leyte.
The terror group claimed it freed Okonek and Dielen after they received a P250-million ransom. But Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma insisted the Abu Sayyaf was forced to release the hostages due to “intense pressure” from government troops.
Aquino downplayed the issue of stopping ransom to free the captives, saying his focus was on the Abu Sayyaf.
“We’ve had this problem with the Abu Sayyaf for a long time. It affects our relationship with various neighboring countries. There’s been no letup [in their atrocities] and I think the state should match that by pursuing them with no letup as well,” he said.
“There’s no more safe area [for them]. We really shouldn’t stop going after them and that’s what we are doing now,” he said.
According to Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Catapang, the military is catching up with fleeing Abu Sayyaf members who still hold several hostages, with the capture of their third camp in Patikul, Sulu.
Catapang said the camp was located in Barangay (village) Buhanginan, a few meters from the larger encampment found Sunday.
Last week, the AFP seized the first camp in Barangay Kabuntakas, which could accommodate 100 people, and the second camp in Barangay Buhanginan, which had 47 bunkers. Both camps were found by the 35th Infantry Battalion.
The AFP said at least two military brigades consisting of about 3,000 soldiers, were deployed to Sulu to exert pressure on the Abu Sayyaf.
Col. Allan Arrojado, Sulu icommander, said the troops were exerting all efforts to capture the kidnappers.
Asked what was taking the troops so long to catch the terrorists, Arrojado pointed to the size of Jolo island—where the terrorists are hiding—which is as big as Metro Manila. He also said the kidnappers were mobile.
“The positive side is, we have penetrated their camps so have patience,” Arrojado said.
He said the troops were engaged in tactical and deliberate movement in analyzing traces, noting the possibility of ambush and landmines put up by the kidnappers.
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