AFP ignores Abu Sayyaf demand despite captive’s plea for help

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — ARMED Forces chief General Alexander Yano yesterday stood firm on his decision not to pull out troops in Sulu despite the Abu Sayyaf’s threat that it will behead one of the three Red Cross hostages.

Yano said heeding the Abu Sayyaf would mean escape for the bandits.

The Abu Sayyaf threatened to behead one of the three International Committee of the Red Cross workers that they are holding if the military will not pull out by March 31.

“We are dealing with terrorists so we have to consider this, but they should not be part of our major consideration,” Yano said.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno confirmed that the government will not give in to the rebels’ demand, which he said is unreasonable.

“Wala naman silang history ng keeping their promise na they will release anybody if anybody does anything. No self-respecting government will do that: surrender their province because they are threatening to do more violence such as behead somebody,” Puno said.

“Parang baliw na siguro tayo kung gagawin natin yun. So, I wish they were talking about something reasonable and realistic. Pero yung mga demands nila, I don’t know if it’s out of desperation or what, it doesn’t make sense,” he added.

However, Puno urged the bandits not to behead their hostages.

“I hope they don’t do it because unang-una kawawa naman yung mga hostages na tumutulong lang naman dito sa bansa natin. Pangalawa, it will unleash things that nobody wants because you behead one, then the other two are almost a cinch to be beheaded. Pag naumpisahan mo yan eh mahirap pigilin yan,” he said.

Lt. Col. Edgard Arevalo, the Sulu-based spokesman on the hostage crisis, agreed that heeding the Abu Sayyaf demand will pave the way for their escape.

“Giving in is virtually going to deliver wholesale to the kidnapper’s ease of escape and allow them to regroup, refurbish war materiel and kidnap more civilians in the process,” he said.

One of the hostages, Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba urged the government to move fast in securing their release after threats to behead them.

Lacaba told ANC that they sometimes had nothing to eat as their Abu Sayyaf captors tried to escape pursuing troops.

“Please tell them (the government) that if they can help, to make it faster because time is running out on us,” Lacaba said.

Lacaba, 27, was seized along with colleagues Eugenio Vagni of Italy and Andreas Notter of Switzerland on the southern Jolo island on January 15.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, who also ruled out a troop pullout, said rescue efforts cannot be rushed, saying they do not want to put the safety of the hostages in jeopardy.

“Hindi pwedeng madaliin. Kaya humihingi kami ng pasensiya at pang-unawa. Hindi agad magagawan ng paraan, we are dealing with an organization with no known rules or regulations,” Teodoro told reporters.

He said President Macapagal-Arroyo is worried over the condition of the hostages but is also aware of the need for caution in dealing with the situation.

“The order of the President has been to exert and exhaust all measures to secure the safe release of the hostages and we report to her the progress of efforts if relevant information comes up,” he said.

Teodoro said the local crisis committee is given the “fullest leeway” to deal with the situation. He also stressed that negotiations with the kidnappers does not include the payment of ransom.