COMMENT: Notter Freed, Not Rescued (2). By Patricio P. Diaz

Inquirer.net, April 19: DILG chief: Troops rescued Swiss aid worker, datelined Zamboanga City, reports:    

In an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net), Puno explained that Notter did not immediately realize that he was rescued from the Abu Sayyaf.

“Actually, kahapon ng umaga, hindi actually release yung kay Notter [Actually what happened to Notter yesterday morning was not a release],” Puno said.

          He was not walking alone to freedom,” he said referring to news reports that Notter walked

          from capitivity.

Puno story belies Notter’s account of his escape and that of the CEF and amends the initial accounts of Chief Superintended Serapio and General Allaga. Puno explains further: 

“[The kidnappers] got out of Pansul because the Marines occupied the mosque there or the surroundings of the mosque.  One group, the bigger one, fled towards west, towards Parang.  Vagni was with them, while the second group, which served as rear guard had Notter.  The group that had Notter was composed of about seven armed kidnappers and they moved to south of Indanan,” he said.

Puno said he was presuming that the group holding Notter did not expect a thick cordon in the area of Manilop, where they were met by government militia.

“They tried to cross, akala nila makakalusot sila pero nakita sila, nagkahabulan at nabitiwan nila si Notter. [They tried to cross.  They thought they could slip through but they were seen by government troops and there was a chase and they lost Notter],” Puno said.

Puno, repeating his earlier account (Inquirer.net, April 18: “Kidnappers ‘left behindNotter – Puno”), is talking about how Puno was left behind in an encounter. This is contrary to the accounts of Notter and the CEF. 

Tan was similarly quoted by Xinhua, published in philstar.com, April 18: Swiss hostage ‘escapes’ to freedom after captors cornered, datelined Zamboanga City. In the philstar.com story, Swiss hostage rescued, also datelined Zamboanga City, April 19, Puno repeated the same tale while admitting that “the kidnappers were able to escape”.

Inquirer.net, April 18: They though he was the Italian hostage, reports:

It was only mid-morning Saturday (April 18) when the [CEF leader] realized that it was Notter, not Vagni, whom they had picked up from Lipunos.

Asked if Notter was rescued, the source said he was released from captivity.

Chief superintendent Felizardo Serapio, chief of the Western Mindanao police’s integrated police operation, gave a different version of Notter’s release.

Serapio told the Philippine Daily Inquirer from Sulu that Notter was freed due to pressures exerted by authorities on the Abu Sayyaf.

In Serapio’s version, the Swiss national was picked up by authorities near a cordon early morning Saturday.

“We got Notter near an established cordon,” he said, hinting that it was a rescue operation.

Initially, Serapio said early Saturday morning, “Actually I don’t have a clear picture yet, everything is still garbled.” By mid-morning, he “hinted … a rescue operation”.  

                                                        Notter Disoriented

In the Inquirer.com April 19 story (“DILG chief: Troops rescued Swiss aid worker”), Puno was reported to have described Notter:

          “He was very disoriented when he was brought to the house of Governor Sakur.  He was

            even so angry and asked ‘why did you take me here?’ The whole morning, he spent time

            quarreling with the people he saw there.  He only went calm when he saw the ICRC

            [International committee of the Red Cross] people,” Puno said.   

Tan did not mention this emotional state of Notter. He only said that the only persons he had allowed to see Notter were the doctors.  He said he had not spoken to Notter. The CEF did not mention this of Notter.

Inquirer.net, April 18: Another ICRC hostage freed, reports:

“I’m still a little bit confused how it happened,” a haggard looking Notter told reporters as he was formally turned over to Red Cross representatives by Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan and Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno.

Notter talked about walking with his captors prior to his freedom, but exactly how the authorities got hold of him remained unclear.

“I walked out and I’m happy to be alive and safe,” he said.

Being “a little bit confused” is certainly not being “very disoriented”. What Notter most probably said was that at the moment he could not understand how the authorities got hold of him when he could not remember any military-Abu Sayyaf encounter. 

Of course, Puno did not like Notter’s version of his freedom. Calling Notter “disoriented” was his way of discrediting that.

                                                    Media Hype

Through the media, the public is being hyped to believe the rescue operation story. But the contradictions and inconsistencies in the reports challenge their veracity.

Puno said the Abu Sayyaf group split into two. The bigger one numbering about 50 and taking along Vagni went west.  The smaller group of seven guarding Notter went south – acting as the rearguard.

It should be questioned: 

  1. Why did the main body and the rearguard move to different directions?
  1. Why was Notter entrusted to the
    rearguard? The two hostages were the main bargaining chips of the kidnappers and reins holding back military assaults..

  1. Was the “rearguard” not, in reality, escorting Notter to be released at a point from where he could walk to find the military or police checkpoint – as he actually did?

Sometime last month, there was a firefight when the Abu Sayyaf tried to break through the military cordon. Two Marines were killed. Parad was first reported as probably killed – later changed to “wounded”. The hostages reported their ordeal from that encounter.

Notter is now being reported rescued when his 7-man escort tried to break through the security cordon. No firefight was reported. Notter did not report a firefight. The security forces only chased the Abu Sayyaf. It was strange for the Abu Sayyaf not to fight back – they just hightailed.  The hole in the report is too big to be unnoticed

Reports said the kidnappers were feeling the pressure of the tightening military-police cordon. “Puno (philstar.com, April 19: “Swiss hostage rescued”) said military and police forces had moved in toward the known position of the Abu Sayyaf two nights earlier, coming within 500 meters of the gunmen.”

Yet, by the CEF leader’s account, it took Notter about six hours to reach the checkpoint in Indanan walking from the mountain in Parang where his guards abandoned him.  And from the mountain, Notter said, he walked down to a road that, after about an hour, led him to the checkpoint. 

Reports said the security cordon consisting of “more than 1,000 Marines, police and armed village guards” had constricted the kidnappers’ position to a few kilometers square and sealed their escape.  Yet, no kidnapper had been captured, On the contrary, they had moved away with Vagni.

The latest report, Inquirer.net, April 24: “Last hostage lost; P.5M in cash for info”, says the government is offering a P500,000 cash reward for information about the exact location of Vagni (reported to have been “left by his captors to another group”) and the troops are losing track of the kidnappers.

In Zamboanga, Puno said the authorities launched a pursuit operation against the Abu Sayyar on Wednesday, after learning the kidnappers had split into four groups.

“Apparently another group went south and was able to get to Langkawan area in the town of Parang, board a pumpboat and went by sea to the town of Talipao,” Puno said.

Another group went north. “They were trying to go up to Patikul and they ran into the PNP and the police auxiliaries. There was an engagement and they were chased by the police and the police auxiliaries of the mayor of Talipao and of Governor (Abdusakur) Tan,” Puno said.

“[Government troops] have imposed a blockade in the coastal area, south of Talipao, and a new cordon has been put in place surrounding the areas where the kidnappers are hiding,” Puno said.

          “To this day, no sightings yet of Eugenio Vagni,” he said. 

Have the security forces really cordoned the position of the 50 or so kidnappers? The inconsistencies and contradictions are glaring. [Tomorrow: Questions] ("Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a "Lifetime Achievement Award" for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You can reach him at patpdiazgsc@yahoo.com.)

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