COMMENT: Notter Freed, Not Rescued (3). By Patricio P. Diaz

In turn, the inevitable evokes the critical: How potent is the government’s no-ransom policy? Has it prevailed on kidnappers to release their hostages without ransom? Has it stopped kidnapping?

History has this answer: The policy – tough and non-negotiable by posture — wilts in confrontation with hard reality.

In all the Abu Sayyaf kidnappings – high and low profile – since the late 1990s, most of the hostages were ransomed. Few successful military rescue operations were bloody, like that of the school teachers and students in Basilan. Lucky escapes or, perhaps, “allowed” escapes were rare.

The foreign tourists abducted from the Malaysian resort of Sipadan in Sabah were ransomed by the Khadaffy Foundation of Libya. The government waived its “tough” no-ransom policy. Most believably, the government in not objecting to the ransom welcomed or, perhaps, encouraged it.

All the freed hostages from Dos Palmas in Puerto Princesa, Palawan paid ransom. The American couple, Martin and Gracia Burnham, insufficiently ransomed, was not released. In the rescue operation, Martin died along with the nurse Ediborah Yap and Gracia was wounded.

All journalists – foreign and Filipino – taken hostage were released with ransom in disregard of the “tough” government no-ransom policy. 

                                                            No Option

Along with the no-ransom policy, the government employs military pressure and negotiation. In the present ICRC hostage crisis, the government uses this strategy.

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

          More than 1,000 Marines, police and armed village guards will continue to surround the  

          kidnappers’s stronghold to exert pressure on them, while a group of Muslim clerics tries to

          negotiate his (Vagni’s) release, (Defense Secretary) Teodoro said.

Spokesperson Lt. Col. Edgard Arevalo said that a military rescue operation remained an option.

          “We are appealing to their (kidnappers’) sense of reason to release Vagni because they   

           no longer have financial, personnel and war materiel support systems.  They have all been

           blocked,” said Arevalo.

This is not an appeal but an ultimatum — to the kidnappers, a bluff. Will the Abu Sayyaf release Vagni without ransom? Or, will they take the military option? This question nags: Was Notter released without ransom?  

To the government, its position is clear: We negotiate according to our no-ransom policy. If the kidnappers refuse to heed our policy, we will apply force. The kidnappers have no option other than to release their hostage/s without ransom. Ergo, Lacaba and Notter were released without ransom.  Vagni will be released without ransom.

Do the kidnappers really have no option under the no-ransom cum military-option policy?

                                                          Negotiation

Only the government believes so – or, perhaps, makes-believe — oblivious of past facts. “No-ransom” and “no-option” are contrary to “negotiation” which means “give-and-take”.

A common sense question: If kidnappers have no option other than the unconditional release of their hostages, what’s the use of negotiating?

To kidnappers for ransom, “ransom” means money. In the negotiation, they may be prevailed upon to reduce the amount to “board and lodging fee”.  By whatever name, money given in exchange for freedom is ransom.

In the case of the ICRC hostages, Ulama or Muslim clerics are commissioned as negotiators.  Negotiation is common as Muslim practice in settling rido, grievance, disputes and even criminal offenses. Money is most often, ir not always, involved. In all probability, the ulama are negotiating not unmindful of this custom and practice.

Here’s a parallel incident reported in philstar.com, April 22: “Abus free farmer in Basilan”

            Ermaid Jace Chavez, a 23-year-old farmer, was abandoned by his captors in a small hut in

          barangay Magkawa in Al-barka town after police intelligence operatives raided the area,

            according the Superintendent Danilo Bacas, spokesman of the regional police of the

          Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

***   ***   ***

His family [Chavez revealed] reportedly pawned a farm to raise the P50,000 ransom for his release.

Chavez later told newsmen that his kidnappers, whom he described as a group of teenagers, initially demanded P150,000 as ransom.

His family appealed that they could not raise the amount and after negotiations, the bandits agreed to lower the ransom to P50,000.

Chavez claimed he was kept in a hut by himself guarded by the gunmen before he was released.

          “And then, (to my surprise) they told me to go home,” Chavez said, stressing that he was

            not aware that a ransom had already been paid by his family.

Negotiations had been going on before the release of Lacaba; she did not expect to be released. The Sulu vice governor who picked her up said she was surprised to receive a call to fetch Lacaba.  

Both Notter and Chavez were abandoned where they could walk to freedom be found by the police. The same had happened to many released hostages.

                                                          Reports

There are reports about ransom given for the release of Lacaba and Notter and demanded for that of Vagni.           

In philstar.com, April 20: Troops moving with urgency for last ICRC”:

Sources, however, revealed the government has paid ransom to the Abu Sayyaf to release Lacaba.

“It was (the) government that paid the ransom for Lacaba but not for Notter.  No one is released from the Abu Sayyaf without money exchanging hands,” the source privy to the negotiations said.

***   ***   ***

The source said the government paid P1 million to the Abu Sayyaf to have Lacaba released.

In Inquirer.com, April 24: “Last hostage lost; P.5M in cash for info”:

Speaking to reporters, Gordon said he had received unconfirmed reports that a P200-million ransom was paid for the release of Notter and that the Abu Sayyaf wanted the same amount for Vagni.

         Gordon said there was no evidence to support this rumor.

And so there is no evidence to support the rumor reported in philstar.com. These reports will remain rumors – temptingly believable rumors.

The government will cry, “Foul!”, and demand evidence. Denounce the skeptics and the critics? The inconsistencies and contradictions in the reports – some seem scripted – stressing the government no-ransom cum military-option policy only feed instead of dousing the rumors. Was Notter freed – either with or without ransom – or was he rescued as claimed by the government? May Social Weather Station or Pulse Asia survey what the people think for the answer! Ours is: Notter was freed, not rescued.

("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 [email protected])

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