‘An eye for an eye’ for Bossi’s captors

PHILIPPINES NEWS SERVICE — Rejecting ransom demands for Italian priest Fr. Giancarlo Bossi, government security forces dealt with his kidnappers in the only way they would understand.

On Saturday, the 33rd day of Bossi’s captivity in Mindanao, government agents abducted the family of the kidnap group’s leader in a tit-for-tat gambit, a source privy to the negotiations for the priest’s release disclosed. The source requested anonymity as he was not authorized to speak on the sensitive matter.

The kidnap leader’s family included his wife and three children, all in their early teens, said the source.

The source said serious negotiations started on Saturday when the kidnappers made their demand for a ransom of P50 million.

“Wag na lang. Magtago na lang kayo (Forget it. Just go and hide) because we have your family,” the government negotiators told the kidnappers, according to the source.

The kidnap leader was taken aback by the statement and that was when he started “to soften up,” the source said.

On Thursday, the gunmen agreed to free Bossi.

The source said that as soon as the police got word that Bossi had been released, they also released the kidnap leader’s family.

“This was a purely police intelligence operation,” the source said.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno refused to give details of the negotiations but said the government applied “intense pressure” on the kidnappers.

He refused to elaborate, and merely quoted the familiar expression, “What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”

In an interview with the Inquirer, Bossi said his kidnappers wanted money before releasing him.

“They told me that they are asking ransom for P50 million,” he said. But he said he did not know if any ransom was paid.

Trade secrets

Senior Supt. Manuel Barcena, Zamboanga City police chief, said the government negotiators used “psy-war” (psychological warfare) tactics in convincing the captors to release the priest.

“We used psy-war … that’s included,” Barcena said.

As to what exactly he told the captors which convinced them, Barcena did not say. “I can’t go into details because those are trade secrets,” he said.

Western Mindanao police commander Chief Supt. Jaime Caringal also said they used an “uncommon approach” during the negotiations but also refused to reveal what it was.

When asked if “psy-war” was part of the police approach, Caringal said “yes … it’s partly psy-war.”

Credit military pressure

He also cited the “massive military operations” by the Armed Forces of the Philippines as a “pressure point.”

Barcena said the government adopted a “two-pronged” approach to resolve the kidnapping through negotiations and military operations.

“We strangled their movements so they could not move around. They were on the run a lot,” Barcena said.

Barcena reportedly tapped former Tuburan, Basilan Mayor Hajarun Jamiri, a former Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commander, as chief negotiator to reach out to Bossi’s captors.

Barcena was previously assigned in Basilan and had fought Jamiri.

A source in Camp Crame who requested not to be named for security reasons said the military at one point was itching to grab Jamiri to force Bossi’s captors to release the priest, not knowing he was being used by Barcena.

‘Board and lodging’

Barcena is one of the most trusted men of Caringal, a member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1976 and considered an “intelligence expert,” a Camp Crame source said.

Another government source said that while extreme pressure played a part in the release of Bossi, some monetary consideration also was a factor.

“P4 million was handed to the abductors as board and lodging fee, that’s the term used, but you know that it’s ransom,” the source said.

“Board and lodging” is a term used in kidnapping negotiations to refer to “expenses” supposedly incurred by kidnappers in keeping their hostage.

The source did not say how the P4 million was handed to the kidnappers—said to be members of an MILF “Lost Command”—but pointed out that those who negotiated for the “board and lodging” payment had no choice.

Time was a key element but the bigger pressure in this case was to preserve the peace process between the government and the MILF, the source said.

The source said the information authorities had gathered was Bossi was really a target of rogue MILF elements, who were to hand him over to the Abu Sayyaf Group.

The source said the reason was obvious: A group was working on the collapse of the peace process—giving credence to suspicions of an alliance between some MILF factions and the ASG.

Malacañang emissary?

“I just don’t know if the Italian government or the Philippine government gave ransom to the kidnappers,” Bossi said, when asked about the rebels’ demands for money in exchange for his freedom.

Authorities said no ransom was paid but an informant said a government emissary “close to Malacañang” was in the area before Bossi was released.

“As far as I know, he was bringing an initial amount of P3 million. Maybe that’s for the emissary or for the boys,” the source said.

Bossi apparently had a sense on Thursday afternoon that his release was at hand.

He said that about 5 p.m., he and some of his kidnappers started to walk from Barangay Payong in Karomatan, Lanao del Norte, to the national highway.

They reached the highway at around 7 p.m.

“Actually I was escorted by my kidnappers toward the main road, we walked for about two hours last night,” Bossi told reporters Friday.

Bossi said his kidnappers had identified themselves as members of the Abu Sayyaf. He identified two of them as Abu Jaram and Abu Khalid.

Bossi said he was never brought to Basilan and that during his 39 days in captivity, they stayed in Lanao del Norte.

“(After) they took me from Payao (Zamboanga Sibugay), they brought me to Lanao … We went to Karomatan by boat. Never in Basilan,” Bossi said in a mixture of Visayan and English.

Never in Basilan

Bossi said his kidnappers treated him well “but my problem was food. Sometimes, rice, salt, salted fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

Bossi said he did not harbor ill feelings toward his captors and even told them he prayed at night for them.

If there was one thing Bossi liked about being in captivity, it was that he learned to quit smoking.

“I used to smoke a lot, and then one night we were walking and we were asked to climb a mountain and when we reached the top of the mountain, my breathing was very heavy, so I told myself that if I wanted to survive, with the little food, better stop smoking,” he said.