From InterAksyon (Apr 12): ROBIN HOOD ALLURE | Abu Sayyaf attracts recruits, maintains mass base - AFP
Armed Abu Sayyaf militants Image from News5 broadcast.
The more ransom money delivered to the militant Islamist group Abu Sayyaf for every captive released, the more members potentially recruited and mass bases strengthened.
This was the terse assessment by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman, Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, Monday, as he elaborates on how the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which has been designated as a terrorist group by the United Nations, Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States, apparently distributes a portion of their loot in local communities, Robin Hood-style, and uses the bulk of the money to acquire sophisticated armaments.
"Just like the legendary Robin Hood of the old days, the ransom is used in part to maintain their mass base, and to cultivate goodwill in communities. And, since many of the youth in the rural areas lack education amid the difficult life, many get lured into joining them, as a way out of the harsh conditions and the poverty," Padilla explained to journalists in response to a question about whether or not the ASG membership and strength is increasing or decreasing.
The military claims the ASG strength is believed to be somewhere between 300 and 400 gunmen, operating principally in the provinces of Basilan and Sulu.
Some of the ASG recruits are suspected to be minors, although Padilla pointed out that is no evidence yet if the bandits who figured in the clash with Army troops at the weekend in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan had minors with them. The running firefights killed 18 soldiers, 18 bandits and resulted in almost 80 wounded from both sides.
The ASG is believed to have been created in 1991 by its founder Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, who was killed by government troops in 1998.
Over the years, the military claimed, the handful of Islamist radicals reached 1,000 gunmen in the 2000s, when they started high-profile kidnap-for-ransom activities victimizing foreign and local tourists. Some of their victims were decapitated in cases where ransom money was not delivered.
The government stands pat on its "no ransom policy" against the ASG and all other kidnap-for-ransom groups, amid talk of payments being made by relatives of every single victim released.
Just recently, kidnap victim Fr. Rolando Torchio, an Italian, was released by the ASG amid reports of payment of millions of pesos for his release. The military, however, said they were unaware of such ransom payment.
Padilla said the release of the priest was because of "pressure and deliberate military operations" that forced the bandits to release him. This appears to be the usual "media line" that every military spokesmen keeps in mind every time reporters seek to clarify reports of alleged ransom payments.
Meanwhile, the military is also clamping a news blackout about the three foreigners and a Filipina who were threatened in March with beheadings if the ransom money of P3 billion is not met. The ASG had originally set April 8 as the deadline, or else they would start beheading their captives.