Nur Misuari turns over 4 hostages to gov’t
ZAMBOANGA CITY—Three Indonesian fishermen and a Norwegian held hostage by Abu Sayyaf bandits in Sulu savored their first day of freedom on Sunday after Moro rebels who helped negotiate their release turned them over to the government in Indanan town on Jolo Island.
The Abu Sayyaf freed Indonesian fishermen Lorens Koten, Teo Doros Kofong and Emmanuel Arakian, and Norwegian resort manager Kjartan Sekkingstad on Saturday night, reportedly after receiving ransom.
The bandits handed over the four men to Nur Misuari, leader of a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that has signed a peace agreement with the government, at the MNLF camp in Indanan.
Misuari turned over the freed captives to Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza in Indanan on Sunday.
Escorted by a small contingent of Jolo police, Dureza, Misuari, the freed captives and local officials met in a building surrounded by hundreds of MNLF fighters before leaving for a military camp on the island.
Dureza said earlier that Misuari’s faction of the MNLF was helping to negotiate the release of the hostages.
The Indonesian fishermen, who were kidnapped in waters off Lahad Datu, Borneo, on July 19, were flown to Zamboanga City for medical checkup at Camp Teodulfo Bautista Station Hospital and debriefing. They were later flown to Zamboanga City where a retired Indonesian military general was waiting to pick them up.
It was unclear if they were the same people kidnapped by armed men off a fishing trawler in Malaysian waters in July.
In a news conference in Zamboanga City, the Indonesians thanked the MNLF for working for their release.
“I feel so relieved now that I am free, because I was always thinking that I would be beheaded,” Kofong said.
He urged the Philippine and Indonesian governments to crush the Abu Sayyaf.
Sekkingstad, who was kidnapped together with two Canadians and a Filipino woman from yachts at a marina on Samal Island, Davao del Norte province, in September last year, was also taken to Zamboanga City for medical checkup and debriefing.
Meeting with Duterte
Sekkingstad and Dureza were flown to Davao City on Sunday night for a meeting with President Duterte and a press conference.
Maj. Filemon Tan, spokesperson for the military’s Western Mindanao Command, said the release of the Indonesian fishermen and Sekkingstad was an offshoot of a relentless military operation against the Abu Sayyaf in Jolo.
But according to a police intelligence source, an Indonesian emissary paid P20 million to the Abu Sayyaf group led by Alhabsi Misaya for the release of the fishermen.
Octavio Dinampo, a university professor based in Sulu, said, however, he had heard that P30 million was paid for the freedom of the fishermen.
Muammar Askali, a spokesperson for the Abu Sayyaf, earlier said his group had received P30 million for Sekkingstad’s freedom.
It was not clear if the P30 million was in addition to the P50 million earlier paid to the Abu Sayyaf.
Speaking to reporters in Davao City on Aug. 24, President Duterte inadvertently let out the information that P50 million had been paid to the bandits for the release of Sekkingstad.
It was an apparent slip of the tongue, as Mr. Duterte was asked if he was aware that the Abu Sayyaf beheaded a Filipino hostage, 18-year-old Patrick Almodovar, in Sulu on Aug. 23.
“If that’s the one, then I will accuse the Abu Sayyaf of bad faith. They have been paid P50,000 already,” he said.
He corrected himself, saying the ransom paid was P50 million.
The Abu Sayyaf, however, did not immediately release Sekkingstad, and nothing had been heard about the Norwegian until he was freed on Saturday night.
The bandits beheaded Almodovar after his family failed to pay P1 million in ransom they had demanded.
Malacañang insisted on Sunday that the government did not pay ransom to the Abu Sayyaf.
“We maintain a no-ransom policy,” Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said on state-run radio. “If the family paid [ransom], if there is a third party who [paid ransom], we are not aware of it,” he said.
The Norwegian foreign affairs communications chief, Frode Andersen, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) by phone that “the Norwegian government does not pay ransom in this case or any other case.”
The Abu Sayyaf earlier demanded P300 million for the release of Sekkingstad. They also demanded P300 million each for Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall and Hall’s Filipino girlfriend, Marites Flor.
The bandits beheaded Ridsdel in April and Hall in June after they failed to get ransom from the Canadian government.
They freed Flor on June 24. It was unknown if ransom was paid for her release. With reports from Christine O. Avendaño and Cynthia D. Balana in Manila and from AFP
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.