ZAMBOANGA CITY—Malacañang and authorities in Sulu still would not confirm reports that Jordanian journalist Baker Abdulla Atyani and his Filipino companions Ramelito Vela and Rolando Letrero were abducted in Sulu.
This despite the claims made by Mindanao State University Prof. Octavio Dinampo, himself a former kidnap victim, that Atyani’s group was indeed kidnapped.
“What I know is that the group had been kidnapped. Their whereabouts or which group is responsible? That is still being verified,” Dinampo, who is based in Sulu as member of a local ceasefire group, said.
Atyani, bureau chief of the Al-Arabiya News Network in Southeast Asia, and his group were scheduled to leave for Manila on June 13, a day after their arrival on the island province of Sulu.
But Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said it was not correct to say that Atyani and his crew were kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf after they disappeared since leaving their hostel on Tuesday.
“You can’t even put the incident in that category yet. They are still considered missing and efforts are being extended to locate them,” Valte told government radio dzRB.
Valte reiterated that the Palace continued to monitor developments of the case and are in touch with Sulu government officials.
Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo also admitted receiving the same information, but stressed that verification was needed. “I spoke with Jolo Mayor Hussin Amin and Gov. Abdusakur Tan and it’s not true (that Atyani and crew were kidnapped). It’s clear the three are missing but there is no confirmation that they were kidnapped,” Robredo told the Inquirer by phone.
Dinampo, however, said authorities “are in denial.”
“They are allergic to reports of abduction. First, they don’t want to be blamed for the incident. Second, they refuse to acknowledge that there is indeed a big problem in as far as dealing with the armed groups which most of them have protectors and benefactors,” said Dinampo, who was among those kidnapped along with television news anchor Ces Drilon and her two crew members in 2008.
In the early days of his abduction, authorities did not consider Dinampo as among those kidnapped as he was the one who arranged the interview with Abu Sayyaf leader Radulan Sahiron. Dinampo said instead of bringing them to Sahiron, his local contact identified as Juamil Biyaw brought them to another group that held them captive.
“Based on what I have gathered, there were contacts and prior appointments with the armed groups in Sulu that supposedly had arranged the interview (with an unidentified Abu Sayyaf leader) for Atyani. Unfortunately, the two contacts came late to the (Sulu State College) hostel, but they (Atyani’s group) were given word of assurance from the armed group. Unknowingly they were betrayed,” Dinampo said.
A military intelligence source said a certain commander Tuan Nadzmer Alih was holding Atyani’s group. “No pronouncements were made regarding ransom demand, that may yet come soon. The group and the victims are believed to be in Patikul town,” the same source said.
Colonel Jose Johriel Cenabre, deputy commander for operations of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao and head of the Joint Task Force Sulu, admitted receiving the same information from various intelligence communities in Sulu, “but this information about this Alih is not yet fully verified, it is just one of the many information being spread around here.
“There are many information, but all of these are without confirmation,” Cenabre said.
Cenabre said Atyani’s group may have extended their coverage in Sulu. Julie S. Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao, with reports from Christine Avendaño in Manila