From the Manila Standard Today (Feb 8): Hostages’ turnover set
Misuari to present to govt 3 rescued foreign captives
The Moro National Liberation Front on Thursday said it will turn over to the government the three hostages—two Swiss and one Dutch who were rescued from nearly one year of captivity—as soon as MNLF chairman Nur Misuari arrives from the Middle East.
“They [the hostages] will be turned over to the government as soon as MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari arrives from Egypt this week,” MNLF spokesman Emmanuel Fontanilla said. “We have custody of the three foreigners. There are lots of groups, including politicians, who want to spoil what we did,” Fontanilla said.
But the MNLF fighters, who overran two camps of the terrorist Abu Sayyaf after several hours of fighting, now face “credit grabbers and politicians” who raised doubts about the rescued hostages in their custody, Fontanilla said.
He said the information about the rescue came directly from the battlefield and relayed to Misuari. Those claiming otherwise including politicians had no direct knowledge of the developments in the area and were actually out of the loop, he said.
He declined to reveal the names of the three foreigners, who were held hostage by the terrorist Abu Sayyaf in the jungles of Patikul for almost one year. Nine other hostages of various nationalities, including Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani, were still being held by the terrorists.
MNLF fighters overran two Abu Sayyaf camps in the jungles of Patikul last Saturday. At least 31 combatants were killed in the fighting as the terrorists retreated deep into the jungle with the MNLF in pursuit.
The hostages held by the Abu Sayyaf, in addition to Atyani, were: Warren Rodwell, an Australian kidnapped in Zamboanga City in December 2011; European birdwatchers Ewold Horn and Lorenzo Vinciguerra; two unidentified Malaysians; unidentified Japanese; and two unnamed Filipinos.
Fontanilla said Misuari has issued orders on MNLF officials to stop issuing statements regarding the hostages until he returned to the country from Egypt where he attended a conference.
But Fontanilla slammed various quarters from contradicting his statement about the rescue, which is “now a matter of security because we don’t want to endanger the lives of these people.”
Sulu Police Provincial Director Supt. Antonio Freyra denied Fontanilla’s claim about the rescue and said the three foreigners were still in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf but he did not elaborate.
Fontanilla also called for an investigation into reports that four soldiers, who were killed in the gun battle with government troops in Basilan, were part of the Abu Sayyaf group that fled into the island from Sulu.
“An independent body should be established to unravel the truth behind the soldiers involvement with the Abu Sayyaf,” Fontanilla said.
Khaber Sampang, Chief of the MNLF Special Branch, said the terrorists broke up into small groups and some of them fled to the jungles of Lamitan in Basilan to elude MNLF fighters.
He said MNLF forces have been deployed in the towns of Panamao, Talipao, Jolo, Basilan and Parang to hunt and intercept the terrorists, who were still holding Atyani and the other hostages.
Atyani, who works for the Dubai-based Al-Arabia TV, and two Filipino crew were abducted by the Abu Sayyaf in June 2012 when they went into the jungles of Patikul to do a story on the terrorist group last year.
The Abu Sayyaf released the two Filipinos last Saturday, but held Atyani after the P30 million ransom in exchange for his release disappeared because the courier was intercepted and robbed by hooded gunmen.
“Up to now, we still don’t know what happened to the money,” Sampang said. “We suspect that the armed men (who robbed the courier) belong to the Abu Sayyaf.”
Fighting broke out when the MNLF confronted the Abu Sayyaf and insisted that Atyani and the other hostages be released. The casualties quickly rose from 22 on Saturday to 31 by Wednesday when the MNLF resumed their assault after a lull in the fighting to bury their dead.
Reports said Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Emmanuel Bautista flew to the area on Wednesday to assess the situation and attend briefings of the military commanders on the security situation.
President Aquino has ordered the military and the police to contain the violence in Sulu and prevent a spillover to nearby provinces.
Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, chairman of the House Committee on National Defense, urged the Aquino government to stay out of the conflict and instead toss the problem to the Ulamas League of the Philippines.
Biazon, who is former Armed Forces Chief of Staff, said the Muslim leaders should be allowed to get on top of the situation before the government take necessary steps and avoid escalation of the conflict.
“The Aquino government should not meddle in the issue,” Biazon said.