COMMENT: Notter freed, not rescued (1). By Patricio P. Diaz

This is evident from the reports about his freedom.  “Persuasive pressure”, as Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan put it (philstar.com, April 19: “Swiss hostage rescued”), could have been one major factor that had led to the “freeing” — not to the “rescuing” — in the proper meanings of the terms.

While the government and the military, through the media, project and stress the rescue operation story, the reports show contradictions and inconsistencies to weaken credibility.

                                                       I. Notter’s Story

As reported in Inquirer.net, April 22: “Swiss hostage escaped Abu by following stars”:

After seeing off Notter (who left for home to Switzerland last Tuesday, April 2l), Sen. Richard Gordon, who is also Philippine National Red Cross chair, recounted to reporters the story Notter [had told] him of how his more than three months’ captivity ended with him walking to freedom before dawn on Saturday (April 18).

Gordon said Notter used the survival skills he learned as a Red Cross worker.

The senator said the Swiss and the bandits guarding him were walking in the dark when one of his captors tripped and fell on the ground.

“I heard him fall and looked for him but could not find him,” Gordon quoted Notter as saying.  “And when I looked for the other one ahead of me, I could not find him either.

          Notter did not mention any encounter with the military or government security forces.

          The report continues: 

         Gordon said Notter “used the stars” to find his way in the dark, and that he went down on a
mountain slope until he reached a road that led back to freedom.  

*** *** ***

          “Obviously they lost me,” Gordon qu
oted Notter as saying.

During his getaway trek, Notter encountered several villages along the way, but they only looked at him as he passed by.

Notter walked for about an hour until he reached an unmanned checkpoint.  He continued walking and finally came to a second checkpoint manned by police.

          Notter introduced himself and the policemen took him on a jeepney to their station in

          Indanan town.

          This portion of the Inquirer.net report can be cross-checked with earlier reports.

                                                            On April 18

Inquirer.net, April 18: “Another ICRC hostage freed”, with military, the police, CEF and Governor Tan as the sources:

Chief Superintendent Felizardo Serapio, chief of the Western Mindanao police’s integrated police operation, said Notter was actually rescued by militiamen and members of the Indanan police force on Saturday morning.

”Notter was rescued by these groups consisting of Civilian Emergency Force (CEF) and the Indanan police.  Actually I don’t have a clear picture yet, everything is still garbled,” he said.

Serapio said what was clear was that Notter was now free.

He said Notter was rescued near a government security cordon in the municipality of Indanan early Saturday morning.

          “We got Notter near an established cordon,” he said.

Essentially, this corroborates Notter’s story as Gordon said Notter had related to him. The report continues:

Lieutenant General Nelson Allaga, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, said Notter was found in Indanan town. 

“I’m not sure what particular barangay in Indanan, but whether he was recovered, released or rescued, that I cannot say,” Allaga said.

Essentially, too, this corroborates Serapio’s story. The report continues:

A leader of the civilian volunteers said he was one of those who fetched Notter.

But unlike Serapio and Allaga, the source said Notter was released by the Abu Sayyaf in the village of Lipunos in Parang, Sulu, near midnight, Fiday (April 17).

          “Inaalalayan namin kasi nahihirapan lumakad kaya akala naming si Vagni (We helped him    

             because he had difficulty walking and that is why we thought he was Vagni),” said the  

             source, who requested anonymity for lack of authority to speak on the matter.

A reiteration of the same report, The thought he was the Italian hostage, also in Inquirer.net, April 18, this clarifies Notter’s story as told by Gordon and adds more sense to it – from a first-hand source. Notter had been walking for almost six hours – midnight to around 5:30 a.m. from Lipunos to the checkpoint. The report continues:

In a press conference on ANC, (Governor) Tan said that Notter was taken by policemen to his residence at around 7 am Saturday (April 18).

Tan said that on Friday, he informed the Ulamas (sic) or Muslim scholars who have been helping in negotiation efforts, that a tactical operation would be undertaken by security forces on Saturday.

He added that Notter was left behind by the Abu Sayyaf group in Indanan while they were being pursued by police early Saturday morning. 

          During the press conference, Tan said that he hasn’t spoken with Notter directly since he

          only allowed doctors to enter the room where the rescued kidnap victim was staying.

That Notter was taken to Tan’s residence at 7 a.m. is very material. Even if there was police operation against the Abu Sayyaf on Saturday morning, that had nothing to do with Notter’s freedom. He had been freed by then. His story could not have come from Notter since he had not yet spoken to him. Was Tan accurately cited and quoted in the report?

                                                        On April 20

Inquirer.net, April 20: 1,000 gov’t troops ring Abu stronghold”:

“Notter was on the run with his captors Saturday until suddenly he found himself doing the running all by himself, said Gordon.

“Notter was walking with his captors when one of them sit (sic) down, another would tie a shoelace and before he knew it he was all alone,” Gordon said in a phone interview.  He said this was the narration of Notter to his ICRC colleagues.

          “I think he was freed,” Gordon said, after hearing Notter’s account. 
          “But whether (Notter)  was freed or rescued is beside the point because we have one life

          again,” he said. 

This is a slight variation of Notter’s story recounted by Gordon in the April 22 report. Notter’s story related to that of the CEF source in the April 18 report tells that Notter was escorted then left by his kidnappers to walk to freedom, not rescued in a military or police operation.

In this same Inquirer.net report:

Police and armed villagers found Swiss Andreas Notter on Saturday walking with a cane near a road in the Indanan forest on Jolo Island, after he apparently escaped or was abandoned by his Abu Sayyaf captors, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said.

          The Abu Sayyaf kidnappers freed Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba on April 2.

Note well what Teodoro said: “after he apparently escaped or was abandoned”. This must be his initial information from the field as of Sunday, April 19.

[Tomorrow: Rescued] ("Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a "Lifetime Achievement Award" from the Titus Brandsma for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You may e-mail your comments to [email protected])

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