Sunday, September 9, 2012

Lamitan battle a cover for ransom payment? by Paolo Romero,

June 11, 2001, The Philippine Star, Lamitan battle a cover for ransom payment? by Paolo Romero,

The botched military operation against Abu Sayyaf bandits in Lamitan, Basilan on June 2 was actually a cover for the payment of ransom for a construction magnate, his female companion and a young boy, a ranking military official disclosed yesterday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, warned of more ransom payments to the bandits if the government fails to rescue the remaining hostages or convince the victims’ families not to give in to the Abu Sayyaf’s demands.

"If you noticed, the five released all had relatives still left behind with the Abu Sayyaf. There’s a purpose behind it. They will be ones to raise the ransom money in exchange for the freedom of the remaining hostages," the official said.

The Abu Sayyaf on May 27 abducted 20 guests and employees of the Dos Palmas resort on an island off Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. The guests included three Americans.

The victims were identified as Janice Ong Go, Luisa Bautista III, Lalaine Chua, Kimberly Jao, Letty Jao, Luis Raul de Guzman, Angie Montealegre, Divine Montealegre, RJ Recio, Francis Ganzon, Teresa Ganzon, Reghis Romero, Ma. Riza Santos, Ma. Fe Rosadeno, Sonny Dacquer, Armando Bayona, Eldren Morales, Manuelita Mondia, Peter Largo and Isagani Fortunado.

Romero, Santos and RJ Recio were rescued on June 2 at the height of the military siege of the Jose Torres Memorial Hospital in Lamitan, which the bandits overran after landing in the neighboring town of Tuburan on May 31.

Morales, a security guard at the resort, managed to escape but sustained a hack wound on his neck inflicted by his Abu Sayyaf captors.

Luis Recio, Divine Montealegre Recio, Teresa Ganzon, Letty Jao and Janice Go were recovered by the military on June 3 while the bandits were still occupying the Lamitan hospital.

The military official said the Abu Sayyaf had actually been talking with the families of the hostages, via the victims’ cellular phones, even when the bandits and their 20 hostages were still at sea enroute to Basilan.

After traveling at sea for four days and landing in Tuburan, there was no confirmation yet, particularly from Romero’s family, as to whether they would be able to put up the money.

It was not clear, the official said, how much the bandits demanded from the construction magnate’s family. Reports said Romero paid anywhere between P10 million and P25 million to the Abu Sayyaf.

The bandits also reportedly demanded that part of the ransom should be paid in cash, which the Abu Sayyaf needed for "operating expenses" wherein local residents would be bribed to strengthen their support for the bandit group.

After landing in Tuburan, the Abu Sayyaf proceeded with the hostages in tow toward Mt. Sinangkapan where they planned to seek refuge in a camp of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

In Tuburan, the Abu Sayyaf beheaded Bayona and Dacquer, who were resort workers and apparently had no way of raising the bandits’ ransom demand.

The group apparently got word that part of the money was already deposited by Romero’s brother in a Zamboanga City bank and that the case of money was already handcarried by an Abu Sayyaf contact to Lamitan.

"The Abu Sayyaf contact reportedly posed as a patient and spoke to one of the commandants and told him the money was deposited and also turned over the cash," the official said.

"The Tausug word for ‘two’ was overheard in the conversation. Maybe, there was P2 million in cash," he said.

He said the releases were part of a "package deal" where three "sensitive hostages," except the Americans, would be released in exchange for the cash, the official added.

The subsequent release of the five hostages was to enable them to raise money for their relatives who are still in the hands of the bandits.

Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Edilberto Adan, however, made repeated denials of any ransom payments.

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