PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — BROADCAST journalist Cecilia Drilon has been separated from her crew and brought to an Abu Sayyaf hideout somewhere in Talipao, Sulu, a high-ranking security official said yesterday.
For the first time since Drilon went missing Sunday, the ABS-CBN television network acknowledged that she had been kidnapped and said it would not pay the P10 million ransom that her abductors have demanded.
“ABS-CBN News is doing everything it can to help the families of its kidnapped journalists through this harrowing ordeal. However, ABS-CBN News will abide by its policy not to pay ransom because this would embolden kidnap-for-ransom groups to abduct other journalists, putting more lives at risk,” read the network giants the official statement.
The military has yet to launch a rescue to free Drilon and her crew, Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderama, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said, even as he admitted that Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan had already dispatched a team of emissaries to talk to the hostage takers through intermediaries.
Ermita also did not discount earlier reports from the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency that renegade members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front had assisted in the kidnapping.
“We cannot totally discount that they might be members of the group of Habier Malik. We cannot also discount that there might be some renegade MILF members. You know, these groups inter-mix because their members are related to each other,” Ermita said.
One of Drilon’s abductors, Gapur Jundain, was a former member of the MNLF who recently joined the Abu Sayyaf.
Ermita reminded the MILF of the group’s commitment to prevent “common enemies,” such as the Abu Sayyaf, from gaining safe passage through their controlled areas in Sulu.
According to the security official who asked not to be named, Drilon’s abductors have moved the hostages from Mt. Tumatangis in Indanan to Talipao.
“But from what we have gathered, she has already been separated from her crew for easier movement and to give our troops a harder time in tracking them down,” the source said.
When told of the report, Ermita said it was an “expected move.”
The security official said there was proof of life from the victims, but declined to give details.
Ermita said he “has not received anything to the contrary.”
He also confirmed that Tan had already formed a local team to communicate with the abductors, stressing the police and military were not yet poised to launch a rescue in consideration of the hostages’s safety .
“I can imagine the team [of emissaries] is only composed of two to five locals. You cannot have too many moving in and talking to the hostage takers because they might think some of them are government agents,” Ermita said.
He rued Drilon’s decision not to coordinate with local authorities when she went to Sulu in an attempt to interview Abu Sayyaf bomb expert Radulan Sahiron.
“They may have violated usual security measures, the usual practice of informing local authorities. They even tried to hide that they were in the area. I guess if anybody has plans of doing what they did, you should really think twice because your life is very precious,” Ermita said.
“We are just reminding the mass media that there are pros and cons in going to such areas. They [Drilon’s team] had been warned, but maybe they preferred to believe in the contact.”
Senior Supt. Julasirim Kasim said Drilon did not coordinate with them when the team arrived in Sulu and also declined military escorts.
The police chief of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Chief Supt. Joel Goltiao, said there was a “great possibility” that Drilon would be freed, but he said he was unsure when.
“Negotiations are being conducted. There is a great possibility that we will obtain the release of Ces Drilon,” he told a radio interview.
Drilon’s driver, identified as Julie Jura, said he was not present when the reporter was snatched.
Drilon’s contact person, Octavio Dinampo, has already been released.
Dinampo is a professor at the Mindanao State University-Sulu and has connections to both the Abu Sayyaf and Moro National Liberation Front.
Drilon’s team arrived in Sulu on June 7 and stayed at the Sulu State College Hostel, where they were picked up by Dinampo Sunday morning to meet with Sahiron.
While on board a yellow Tamaraw jeep, Drilon’s team was blocked by several members of the Abu Sayyaf led by Albader Parad, Jundain, and Gafur Gumbahali.
Sahiron, who carries a $200,000 bounty from the US government, planned and carried out the 2004 bombing in Jolo that killed 11 Filipino civilians and an American serviceman and wounded more than 200 others.
Known as Commander Putol for his amputated right arm, Sahiron is also considered one of the masterminds of the April 2000 kidnapping of 21 foreign tourists in Sipadan.
Goltiao told Cotabato City-based reporters that he was in close contact with some ABS-CBN executives who had requested him to be “extra careful” in releasing information on Drilon’s abduction.
Although he said he did not want a news blackout, Goltiao agreed that untimely leaks could jeopardize the police operations.