MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE 5) Philippine National Police ( PNP) Director General Avelino Razon has claimed television reporter Ces Drilon and two companions held hostage by alleged members of the Abu Sayyaf will be released "within 24 hours."
"Payag na silang palayain sina Ces [Drilon]," said Razon in a phone interview with reporters, noting the captors assured the chief negotiator, Indanan Mayor Alvarez Isnaji, of the hostages? safety.
Razon is in Zamboanga City to monitor the situation.
At the same time, Razon maintained that no one was giving in to the kidnappers? ransom demands.
Earlier, the kidnappers extended indefinitely a Tuesday noon deadline for the payment of a P15-million ransom for Drilon, cameraman Jimmy Encarnacion and Mindanao State University professor Octavio Dinampo.
Another cameraman, Angelo Valderama, was released on June 12 after a reported payoff of P100,000.
The ABS-CBN crew and Dinampo, their guide, were abducted June 8.
Razon said indicators like the release of Valderama and the extension of the deadline showed the safe return of Drilon and the others was possible.
"We are hopeful, optimistic," said Razon.
He added PNP personnel he had ordered placed on standby earlier in the day as part of a police "contingency plan" would also be pulled out.
"Now that things have turned out differently, hindi na rin kakailanganin ang ganung option [that option is no longer needed]," said Razon.
Razon and Western Mindanao Command chief Lieutenant General Nelson Allaga held a news conference to announce that they were expecting positive developments.
Razon said the PNP was doing its best to secure the safe release of three captives. "Their safety is our paramount concern."
Razon also showed the artist?s sketches of two suspects in the kidnapping -- Ottoh Wals alias Tuan Wals and Wallid, and Sulayman Pattah alias Maas and Abu Harris. The government has put up a P500,000 bounty for each of the suspects.
Chief Superintendent Joel Goltiao, police chief for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), admitted that the two suspects were "fresh faces, mga bagong mukha and bagong sikat [new faces, fresh faces]."
"Our intelligence community is presently conducting further research regarding the two suspects," Goltiao said.
Senior Superintendent Julasirim Kasim, Sulu police chief, said the identities of the suspects were established through information provided by the policemen who were among those who picked up assistant cameraman Angelo Valderama, one of the kidnapped ABS-CBN news crew, who was released on June 12.
Chief Superintendent Sukarno Ikbala, the PNP's community relations head, also said he also did not have enough background on the suspects "because their sketches were just provided by the Directorate for Intelligence."
Meanwhile, Indanan Mayor Alvarez Isnaji said the kidnappers had given him a "24-hour ultimatum extension."
In a press conference in Sulu aired live on radio minutes before the noon deadline for the ransom payment expired, Jun Isnaji, son of the mayor, said that the abductors had extended the deadline ?indefinitely.?
The young Isnaji said ransom was not discussed during the negotiations but that the captors asked for livelihood projects in exchange for the release of Drilon and company.
The kidnappers had threatened to behead their hostages, Isnaji admitted, but added that they would no longer carry this out.
He said they have been talking with the abductors since about 6 a.m. Tuesday.
But the Indanan mayor said he not sure whether he was still the negotiator because he was asked to stop talking to the kidnappers by Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan.
In a brief phone conversation with the mayor Tuesday afternoon, he said the kidnappers had given him a "24-hour ultimatum extension."
"It's 12 noon tomorrow [Wednesday] and we are trying to convince them to release the victims out of humanitarian reason," Isnaji said.
Tan, however, said he had ordered Isnaji to stop negotiating.
"I told him in person since yesterday [Monday] to cease and desist from negotiating ? Sa ngayon walang bagong negotiator kasi pinatigil ko ang negotiation [At this point there is no new negotiator because I ordered a stop to the negotiation]," the governor said in a phone interview.
Gafur Kanain, executive secretary of the mayor, said the kidnappers only extended the deadline to noon Wednesday.
When asked around 2 p.m. Tuesday where Isnaji was, Kanain said the mayor was planning to go to the kidnappers' lair to personally ask them to release their captives.
But Tan was firm in his decision.
?I told him myself and he knows this. This is his problem if he decides to go to higher authorities. I told him to stop negotiations so that everyone can go home, including the media here, because we are all confused,? the governor said in Filipino.
Earlier in the day, Mayor Isnaji said they sent various text messages to the kidnappers, suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf.
"Nagtetext na ako sa kanila [I have sent them text messages] hoping that pag-open nila ng [when they open their] cell phone they will want to continue their negotiations after the deadline," said Isnaji in a phone interview.
"Kahit na we beg at lumuhod ako ma-release lang sina Ces [I will beg and even kneel down so that Ces and her team will be released], I will do that," he added, noting that if worse comes to worse, they will have to adhere to the kidnappers? demand.
He said that if the three captives were really in danger they would rather give in to the captors? demands than follow the government's ?no-ransom? policy.
"If they are in real danger already, what is more important? Policy or someone's life? Our problem is we don't know where to get the money," said Isnaji.
Isnaji said the kidnappers told him during their last telephone contact early Monday: "If our deadline does not produce a result we will implement our policy regarding the hostages." He did not elaborate.
The negotiator said he also spoke with Drilon on Monday, when the broadcaster told him the gunmen were tying up the male hostages with rope.
"They are tying up Jimmy and the professor," he quoted her as saying.
Chief Superintendent Nicanor Bartolome, PNP spokesman, maintained the government?s ?no-ransom? policy.
Fatma Dinampo, the professor's daughter, said their whole family was disappointed by what happened Tuesday.
Fatma said as early as 10 a.m. Tuesday, Isnaji had informed them that there would be no release.
"Naghanda pa naman kami, excited na mother ko, kaming lahat, sa pag-uwi ni Daddy [We even prepared, my mother was excited, all of us, at the thought of Daddy?s homecoming]," Fatma said.
She said her mother, Jainatul, prepared some food to welcome the professor home, and had even invited some close friends.
"Kung ransom ang hinihingi nila, wala naman kaming maibigay, hindi namin kaya magbigay at sinabihan na kami ng civil society group na hindi pwedeng bumigay sa gusto ng mga kidnappers [If they are asking for ransom, there is nothing we can give, we cannot give, and were advised by the civil society group that we cannot give in to the kidnappers? demands]," Fatma said.
Drilon and two of her crew were abducted in Sulu last week while in pursuit of a story. One of her cameramen, Angelo Valderama was released days later after negotiators paid the P2 million "board and lodging fee" sought by the kidnappers.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has ordered police and troops to recover the hostages alive and military reinforcements arrived in the area on Sunday.
The small group of militants, founded with seed money provided by Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in the early 1990s, have been blamed for the country's worst terrorist attacks as well as for kidnappings of western tourists and Christian missionaries.