The apology comes after Sulu officials complained that they were kept in the dark on the release of two German hostages held by the Abu Sayyaf Group
Catapang personally apologized to officials led by Governor Abdusakur Tan II for what the AFP chief called a "misunderstanding," said military spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc.
"We would like to apologize to the people of Sulu for any shortcomings during the law enforcement operations in pursuit of the Abu Sayyaf Group to retrieve German and other hostages in their custody," a statement from the Sulu Capitol quoted Catapang as telling the officials.
Catapang also vowed improved military coordination with the local government unit as the troops in Sulu launch a full scale combat rescue mission to save at least 10 more remaining Abu Sayyaf hostages.
It was the "fog of war," said Cabunoc, explaining the oversight. The military supposedly forgot to inform the governor about the release of the hostages, in their rush to transport one of the hostages to
due to his ailment. Zamboanga City
The Sulu governor accepted Catapang's apology and praised him for his humility, added the statement of the Sulu provincial government. The governor noted that it's the first time that an AFP chief ever apologized to the people of Sulu.
"Umaasa kami na magiging maganda na ang sitwasyon sa mga darating na panahon (We are expecting the situation to get better in the future)," the Sulu statement quoted Tan.
After 6 months in captivity, Germans Viktor Okonek and partner Henrike Dielen were released on October 17. The military first brought them to the hospital inside the military headquarters in Jolo before a naval vessel transported them to the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) in
City, where they waited for their
flight to . Manila
The Sulu governor said they only learned about the release through the media. The Special Action Committee (SAC) created to oversee law enforcement operations for the release of the German hostages was supposedly bypassed.
The Abu Sayyaf claimed that a P250-million ransom was paid to secure the release of the Germans. Denying knowledge about the ransom, the military claimed that the pressure exerted by its troops had forced the Abu Sayyaf to release the hostages.
During the meeting on Friday, both Catapang and Tan denied knowledge about the ransom payment, according to Cabunoc.
The governor's father, Vice Governor Abdusakur, government officials, civil society, and religious groups were present at the meeting. Catapang brought with him the Westmincom chief and the military commanders in Sulu including island commander Colonel Allan Arrojado.
Catapang told them he wants to change the image of Sulu and "erase the stigma of kidnapping."
The Sulu provincial government and civil society organizations met on Monday, October 20, to discuss their disappointment with the military's handling of the release of hostages. One of the attendees even called for the pullout of troops in the province.
"We were not informed that the hostages were already rescued, it was only through media reports that we became aware that they were already rescued Friday night and in the custody of the Armed Forces," read the statement of the governor.
The statement quoted an unnamed member of the academe say that "the use of Sulu citizens for their own telenovela must be put to a stop."
Arrojado and the battalion commanders met with the governor on October 22 and promised better coordination.