– ASG linked rebels kidnap journalist and her crew; release them over a week later
– Local mayor arrested for allegedly keeping some of the ransom money and failing to notify police of the kidnappers location
– Philippine militants likely to kidnap again due to the “success” of incident
On June 8, 2008, suspected Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) rebels kidnapped three members of a Philippine television crew and their guide in the remote southern island of Jolo . One crewmember was released four days later, while the remaining three abductees were freed on June 17, 2008. Among the television news team was one of the country’s best-known journalists, Ces Drilon, who was in Jolo to interview an ASG leader.
Although the television network, ABS-CBN, denies paying a ransom to the ASG rebels, several Philippine news sources reported that not only did the ABS-CBN network pay a ransom but Drilon’s family and an anonymous donor paid a total of over US$450,000 to the kidnappers.
Despite allegations by the Philippine government that the ASG has been severely hindered in recent years, the high profile nature of the recent kidnapping demonstrates the continued ability of the group to launch successful attacks. Additionally, corruption in the local government will likely lead to continued militant activity throughout the country.
Previous High Profile ASG Kidnappings
The ASG routinely uses kidnappings as a way to raise money through ransom payments. In April 2000, the rebels held a group of 21 people from a Malaysian island near Jolo for about three months . The hostages, Western tourists and resort employees, were brought to Mindanao where they were released after the rebels received a payment of more than US$10 million.
In May 2001, three United States (US) citizens and more than a dozen Filipino tourists and resort workers were taken from the western island of Palawan . During the course of negotiations for the captives release, two of the Americans were killed, one by beheading. The remaining hostages were freed over one year later.
Local Corruption Assists ASG
While the national police chief, Avelino Razon, does not believe the ransom was as high as US$450,000, he reported that at least US$112,700 was paid to the kidnappers. Police are accusing local mayor, Alvarez Isnaji, of pocketing more than half of the money.
Isnaji helped negotiate with the rebels; however, he reportedly knew the location of the kidnappers and failed to alert the authorities. Alvarez and his son were both arrested on June 19, 2008 and charged with kidnapping along with 14 ASG militants, who remain at large. Within days another Philippine militant group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) posted a message to its website, urging the Philippine government to treat the Isnajis fairly. The Philippine government has accused MILF rebels of providing aid to ASG militants in the past.
However, Alvarez Isnaji is a ranking official with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), another Islamic group based in the south. Despite a truce signed with the government in 1986, MNLF also continues to aid militant groups in the region. While it is unlikely that Isnaji helped to plan or execute the kidnapping, he is most likely guilty of assisting the rebels secure the ransom payment.
Arroyo’s Outlook Unlikely
Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has repeatedly announced her goal of ending the insurgencies that plague the country before the end of her term in 2010. This target is increasingly unlikely as corruption in the government continues to flourish, aiding militant groups even as key leaders are arrested or killed.
The ransom payment will most likely incite ASG-linked rebels to kidnap again for both monetary gain and the widespread publicity that typically accompanies such incidents.