That is the question.
ABS-CBN’s official position is that it is not paying any ransom for its news team, led by television reporter Ces Drilon, which was kidnapped in Sulu together with MSU professor and peace advocate Octavio Dinampo. The network said in a statement:
ABS-CBN News journalists Ces Drilon, Jimmy Encarnacion, and Angelo Valderama have been kidnapped for ransom.
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.
However, Chief Superintendent Joel Goltiao, police director for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), confirmed that negotiations had begun with the abductors, and that there is a “great possibility” that the journalists would be freed, but he “cannot give an exact date”. He added that although the official policy is not to pay the kidnappers, discussions on ransom can’t be helped (“hindi waiwasan”). Reports say the Abu Sayyaf kidnappers are asking for P10 million to P30 million.
To be sure, kidnap for ransom is an ancient political tool, intended to terrorize the populace as well as to raise funds. This dual objective is neatly achieved by the simple expedient of snatching people. There need not even be any overt threats to harm them, as in the case of Abu Sayyaf, which will likely claim Drilon et. al. are being treated as “guests”. But we all know how the Abu Sayyaf treats their guests.
The practice of kidnap-and-ransom is as old as the history of warfare itself. One of the scandals of the Crusade of 1248 A.D. was the difficulty of raising a ransom for King Louis IX of France. Moving to the modern era, Europe endured the kidnapping escapades of the terrorist organization the Red Brigades in Italy; in the Middle East, envoys like Terry Waite , who was held for five years, suffered the same fate. xxx kidnap does not always or necessarily mean that a ransom is possible. This tactic, this tool for financing conflicts, has now become a political tool of intimidation, as well.
Revolutionary movements which have met with limited success often degenerate into brigandage and resort to extortion, kidnapping and even illegal drugs to finance their activities. Well known examples are the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) in Colombia and the Shining Path guerillas of Peru. These groups have been known to hold on to their high-profile captives for years. Former Senator and Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt was captured by the FARC on 23 February 2002 and has not been released despite a worldwide outcry and her own failing health.
Of course, the Abu Sayyaf group, with links to Al Qaeda, did not even bother to advance itself as a revolutionary movement before turning to kidnapping and murder. They cut short the process and simply went ahead and turned to lucrative forms of criminality while giving lip-service to their so-called cause. As featured in Time:
Abu Sayyaf was founded in the 1980s, with the backing of men who were at the heart of al-Qaeda. No less a figure than Osama bin Laden’s own brother-in-law, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, personally arranged initial funding for the group through one of the Islamic charities he operated in the Philippines at the time. But after the death of Abu Sayyaf’s founder Abdurajak Janjalani in a firefight with police in August 1998, its religious and political goals were dropped in favor of kidnapping for ransom. The group was paid millions of dollars by the governments of Malaysia, Libya, Germany and France to release hostages seized from a Malaysian diving resort in April 2000. In 2001, Abu Sayyaf kidnapped three Americans and 17 Filipinos from a resort in the Philippines; two of the American hostages and one Filipino died.
According to reports, the Abu Sayyaf abducted at least 20 journalists since 2000 (mostly foreign journalists), and all of them were eventually released upon payment of ransom. Ces Drilon and company are just the latest of its kidnap victims.
Hence, the central question of whether or not ABS-CBN should, or would, pay ransom for the release of the hostages. There’s no question about its capability to do so. In fact, there has been speculation that the news blackout initiated by the station was so it could quietly negotiate with the kidnappers.
The usual arguments against whether ABS-CBN should pay ransom include its official reason that “this would embolden kidnap for ransom groups to abduct other journalists, putting more lives at risk”. Obviously, it would provide additional funding for the group’s terroristic activities. Giving in to bandit groups undermines the government’s authority and contributes to the worsening peace and order situation. This would give material relief and publicity to the terrorists at a time when, according to a New York Times news item, the Abu Sayyaf are on the run and “clinging to footholds in the jungles of a handful of southern islands”.
But as to whether the network would pay ransom, I think the historical precedents are clear. The only sure way to effect the safe release of the captives would be to pay ransom. Attempts at rescue are often unsuccessful and, even if successful, result in the deaths of some of their victims, like what happened to Martin Burnham and Ediborah Yap. The network, and its emissaries, will of course vehemently deny even considering ransom. The kidnappers know this, and captors and negotiators alike will dance around the subject, but in the end it will come down to how much will be paid to secure Ms. Drilon’s and her companions’ freedom. It won’t be called ransom, but some other face-saving euphemism, like “board and lodging fee”. Note that while the official ABS-CBN statement eschews ransom, it makes no mention of any refusal to make some other form of payment.
One last point on why I believe ransom will be paid. Local officials, including the military and police, are widely rumored to be in collusion with the Abu Sayyaf and other rebel groups. This was alluded to by Gracia Burnham in her book “ In the Presence of my Enemies”. Those who are supposed to be leading the search and rescue operations are most eager to negotiate in behalf of the victims. They seem to have reached a sinister symbiotic relationship with the bandits. In exchange for a cut of the action, they allow the Abu Sayyaf to continue their nefarious undertakings. These include the so-called “legitimate” rebel groups like the MNLF and MILF, who have been accused of aiding the ASG. The Abu Sayyaf should have been crushed long ago. Instead, it is once again in the news and on the verge of cashing in on its core competency, kidnapping.
Update: One of three TV journalists abducted by suspected Moro extremists was freed after five days in captivity in the southern Philippines late Thursday, and an official said a P2-million “board and lodging fee” was paid.
ABS-CBN cameraman Angelo Valderama was released around 7:30 p.m. to Sulu Vice Governor Lady Ann Sahidula, said Undersecretary Amilasan Amilbajar of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Mindanao.
In all likelihood, Ces Drilon and the others are still being held pending payment of a higher “board and lodging fee” and other possible conditions.
Here’s one effective way to deal with kidnap for ransom gangs, particularly in relatively remote, clannish areas like Sulu or Basilan.
Ces Drilon and companions were freed by their kidnappers late Tuesday night, nine days after they were abducted in Sulu province.Was ransom paid ? According to the Inquirer (the printed, not online, version), duffel bags containing possible ransom money were flown in by a lawyer connected to Alvarez Isnaji. Previously, duffel bags were used in the payment of ransom for kidnap victims of the Abu Sayyaf.
Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said a “small amount” could have been given to the kidnappers as a “token.” How much is a token amount ? What could be a token amount for Malacanang would be a fortune for most of us. According to the Inquirer:
“I’m just being realistic to say that, maybe, there is a small amount [given], but you might not call it ransom. We all know that …. [the kidnappers] have asked for a higher amount. That’s the very reason why they engaged in kidnapping, expecting such [a huge] amount,” he said.
Raul Pangalangan dissects the aftermath of the Drilon kidnapping and what should happen when rebels become common criminals. He also concludes that, if we face the evidence squarely, it’s obvious that ransom was paid.
We can fudge our answers, or we can face the questions squarely. Ransom was paid. The Abu Sayyaf are criminals, and they must be brought to justice. And the legitimate political movements of the Moro people, both armed and unarmed, must disown these criminal acts committed in their name but without their blessings.
For those interested in looking deeper into the history and culture of Sulu, the Yuchengco Museum invites the public to the unveiling of the exhibit “Beyond the Currents: The Culture and Power of Sulu” on June 21, Saturday, at 10:30 a.m.
Beyond the Currents, which runs until September 24, looks into the fascinating story of the forces that consolidated Sulu’s power as central to the trade movements between Europe and China. The museum is located at RCBC Plaza, Corner Ayala & Sen. Gil J. Puyat Avenues, Makati. To RSVP, call 889-1234 or e-mail [email protected]
The exhibit showcases the richness of Sulu’s–and inevitably the Philippines’–history, a timely endeavor now that Sulu is in the news.