Former Abu Sayyaf captive to officials and media: Please be sensitive

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/25 June) – A humanitarian worker who was held captive by the Abu Sayyaf for 61 days in 2008 appealed to officials and the media to please be sensitive in handling freed kidnap victims.

“There is a desperate need to understand the psycho-emotional state of Marites Flor or any traumatized person just coming out of a lengthy horrific captivity. It is most unfortunate that politicians and the media refuse to understand this,” humanitarian worker Milet Mendoza said.

Flor, who was freed Friday dawn after nine months and three days in captivity, was presented to President-elect Rodrigo Duterte onstage at the Davao City Police Office parade grounds, after the turnover of command to the new police chief.

Reporters crowd around freed kidnap victim Marites Flor (beside returning Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza) as she stepped down from the stage at the Dvao City Police Office parade grounds Friday afternoon, after she was presdented to PResident-elct Rodrigo Duterte, some 12 hours after she was freed by the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu after nine months and three days in captivity. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO Reporters crowd around freed kidnap victim Marites Flor (beside returning Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza) as she stepped down from the stage at the Davao City Police Office parade grounds Friday afternoon, after she was presented to President-elect Rodrigo Duterte some 12 hours after she was freed by the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu. Flor was held captive for nine months and three days. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

“One’s dignity and privacy are of primary importance. Exposing her to the public eye is being insensitive. Marites was compelled to do so as an unconscious expression of gratitude which one tends to naturally feel after coming out of such terrible situation. She should have been brought immediately to her family and have someone she trusts to hold her hand and give her advice on what to do and say. One should not take advantage of this vulnerability. Doing so victimizes her doubly. It is about time to stop this disaster pornography. It makes people less humane. Show mercy and compassion.,” Mendoza said.

“I have been there once so I know. This is the time to be sensitive and not doubly victimize her,” she added.

Flor was among four victims seized from a resort in the Island Garden City of Samal in Davao del Norte near midnight on September 21, 2015 and were brought to Sulu.

She was the lone Filipina among the victims that included two Canadian nationals John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, and Norwegian national Kjartan Sekkingstad.

Ridsdel was executed on April 25 for non-payment of P300 million ransom demanded and Hall, Flor’s fiancé, on June 13, for the same reason.

The Abu Sayyaf warned the Norwegian and Flor would be next.

Mendoza hopes government and civil society advocating for women, peace and security would exert serious efforts to come up with concrete programs of assistance for victims and survivors of kidnapping by the Abu Sayyaf. “The survivors and the families of the captives who have been killed are left to fend for themselves despite the continuous fear that will stay with them for a long time,” she said.

61-day ordeal

On September 15, 2008, Mendoza and four of her colleagues had just come from a meeting with leaders of displaced villagers in Tipo-tipo, Basilan when they were taken at gunpoint by seven heavily armed young men along the road from Tipo-Tipo to Lamitan town at around one o’clock in the afternoon. Three were released hours later but she and Espie Hupida, program director of the Basilan-based Nagdilaab Foundation, were taken the Abu Sayyaf.

Hurpida was freed on October 30 that year while Mendoza was released two weeks later, on November 14.

In April 2010, Mendoza wrote a series on her 61-day in captivity under the Abu Sayyaf. (Read ‘The Agonies of an Abu Sayyaf victim” and “Post-Lenten Reflections of an Abu Sayyaf victim” — links below)

Mendoza said she wrote about her captivity “in the spirit of sharing to raise understanding to the plight of the kidnap victims – past, present and future – particularly by those who are able to provide moral, spiritual, psychosocial support to the victim, and policy support to this pressing concern.”

The series, she said, highlights “the context of the kidnapping problem and the sensitivities involved in dealing with kidnap victims.”

“I wrote this only in the hope of giving inspiration to others, and making people in authority and the general public understand better the plight of kidnap victims in the hands of the much-dreaded Abu Sayyaf Group,” Mendoza wrote.

Her 61-day journey is one marked with fear, frustration, helplessness, even to the point of contemplating suicide, but these negative feelings were replaced with what she refers to as “little miracles,” including being given two pieces of candy by one of her abductors, and how Mother Mary and Mendoza’s friend and mentor, Fr. Rey Roda who was killed in Tawi-tawi in January 2008, helped her through.

Mendoza has been doing humanitarian work in Mindanao since the drought of 1998 in South-Central Mindanao, as Executive Director of Tabang Mindanaw and later when the Estrada and Arroyo wars against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) displaced hundreds of thousands of predominantly Moro communities in 2000 and 2003.

She also helped Pagtabangan BaSulTa (Help Basilan Sulu Tawi-tawi) and had been frequenting these three island provinces.

Before her work with Tabang Mindanaw, Mendoza was with the National Unification Commission, secretariat of the government peace panel in the negotiations with the National Democratic Front, and Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.

Mendoza is a recipient of the 2005 Ozanam Award conferred by the Ateneo de Manila University and is a founding member and steering committee member of the Asian Disaster Reduction and Response Network (ADRRN), a coalition of dedicated Asian humanitarians with experience and expertise and emergency humanitarian work and disaster reduction programs.

98 victims in 5 years

The Abu Sayyaf has kidnapped hundreds of persons, including foreigners, in the last two decades.

Victor M. Taylor, who has been monitoring events in Sulu in the last 50 years wrote a commentary in April, “Time to end KFR in Sulu,” where he noted that the kidnap for ransom (KFR) incidents in Sulu had gotten out of hand.

“It appears that the Government is powerless to do anything about it and can only react after the fact, after victims have been abducted and they and their families are subjected to physical and psychological torture,” he said.

Citing published reports, Taylor counted at least 98 victims kidnapped in the last five years –f rom 2011 to April 2016 : 11 in 2011, nine in 2012, 12 in 2013, 26 in 2014, 20 in 2015 and 18 in March and April 2016.

“While there have been a few instances where the authorities have succeeded in pressuring the kidnappers so that the victims have been either released or have escaped, in the vast majority of cases – over 75% it would appear – KFR victims have been released because ransom has been paid,” he wrote.

Taylor has been involved in various capacities in the BaSulTa area for close to fifty years. He started as an instructor at the Notre Dame of Jolo College in 1967 where many of his students ended up becoming commanders in the Moro National Liberation Front while others pursued careers in the Philippine military and police]

Between 2001 and 2010, Taylor had occasion to deal with the Abu Sayyaf on behalf of four kidnap victims who were eventually released. In one of those cases he held one-on-one negotiations with the ASG commander concerned. He is currently assisting an MNLF community on mainland Mindanao wishing to develop its area while at the same time providing inputs aimed at resolving the current Samal Island hostage crisis.) (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

The agonies of an Abu Sayyaf kidnap victim (1)

The agonies of an Abu Sayyaf kidnap victim (2): Coping wth captivity: one victim’s story 

Post-Lenten Reflections of an Abu Sayyaf kidnap victim (1): Moving forward 

Post-Lenten Reflections of an Abu Sayyaf kidnap victim (2); Moving forward