ZAMBOANGA CITY?Gunmen believed to belong to the Abu Sayyaf are holding broadcast journalist Ces Drilon of ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp., her two cameramen and a professor of Mindanao State University (MSU) after abducting them in Maimbung, Sulu, on Sunday afternoon.
Drilon, cameramen Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderama, and Prof. Octavio Dinampo were seized by armed men in Barangay Labbah, an isolated area, Maimbung Mayor Najib Maldisa said Tuesday.
The gunmen were purportedly led by Albader Parad of the Abu Sayyaf and Gafur Jumdail of the Moro National Liberation Front Misuari breakaway group.
Foreign news agencies, citing police sources, reported that the abductors were Abu Sayyaf bandits who had been involved in previous kidnappings in the province.
Quoting witnesses, Maldisa said Drilon and company, along with the driver and the dispatcher of the Toyota Tamaraw open pickup they were riding in, were held at gunpoint in Labbah while on their way to Barangay Kulasi 10-12 kilometers away.
?Before they could get to Kulasi, they had to pass two more barangays?Datu Ugis and Kapuk Punggul,? the mayor said. ?They were on the main highway in Labbah when the Tamaraw was stopped.?
Labbah is not a populated community, according to Maldisa.
?Coconut farms are all you?ll see,? he said. ?And when you enter Labbah, you?ll have to walk because the road is impassable by motor vehicle.?
Labbah is also the route used by Moro National Liberation Front forces and Abu Sayyaf bandits traveling from the towns of Talipao, Parang and Indanan.
Again quoting witnesses, Maldisa said Drilon and company were ordered to alight from the pickup and to walk into the Labbah interior.
He said the driver and the dispatcher, whose names have not been made available, were freed at around 10 a.m. on Monday.
?That?s probably the reason there was talk that even the professor was freed. But as of now, only the driver and the dispatcher have been released, and we are looking for them,? the mayor said.
Chief Supt. Joel Goltiao, police chief of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said that according to initial information, the gunmen brought their captives to the Karawan complex situated in the middle of the towns of Indanan, Maimbung, Parang, Talipao and Patikul.
Kulasi is saturated with law enforcers ?because the Maimbung police station is there and a detachment of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 4 is also there,? Maldisa said.
?Man of peace?
Goltiao told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that as far as the ARMM police were concerned, only three civilians were in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu.
He said the ARMM police ?cannot use force? while doing ?their best to secure the safe release of three ABS-CBN personnel?Ces Drilon and her crew members.?
Goltiao said Dinampo had yet to be considered as one of the victims: ?We are still determining his identity and we need to probe deeper into his background.?
Peace advocates quickly vouched for the professor?s integrity, calling him a ?man of peace.?
Lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, secretary general of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC), told the Inquirer: ?[Dinampo] is our negotiator for peace in the area, being our Bantay Ceasefire chair.?
In a statement, Arnado said Dinampo had been ?a gracious and reliable guide of many visitors to Sulu, and has consistently protected his visitors even at the risk of his own life.?
Fr. Bert Layson, an MPC convenor, condemned the abduction and appealed to the gunmen to free Dinampo and the others.
?Professor Dinampo is a man of peace. He should be freed without condition along with Drilon and her crew,? Layson said.
Jainatu Dinampo said: ?I am deeply worried about my husband?s health, and I feel bad that some officials don?t consider him a kidnap victim.?
She said her husband was suffering from arthritis and that he had not brought his medication with him.
She added: ?My husband is a good man, a good father, a good provider. If he were bad, we would not have 10 children and we would not be still living together.?
The provincial government of Sulu has formed a crisis management committee to work on the release of Drilon and company.
On the phone with the Inquirer, Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan said journalists covering hostile areas should make the necessary coordination with local authorities early on.
?Drilon arrived in Sulu on Saturday afternoon. She moved around but never coordinated with the local police or local government officials. This is one lesson that we need to consider at all times,? Tan said.
He reminded journalists to exercise utmost care during coverage and maintain coordination with local government and police ?for their own safety.?
Goltiao made a similar call to journalists.
But he said Drilon?s group was able to coordinate with the military, which provided escorts from the Task Force Comet.
He said that after her group?s coverage in Maimbung, Drilon left without the escorts.
This is not the first time journalists and other people were taken hostage by the Abu Sayyaf.
?Dapat natututo na tayo (We should have learned lessons by now),? Goltiao said.
No assurance of safety
Fatmawatti Salapuddin of the Bangsamoro Women Organization said that with his access to different armed groups, Dinampo was ?one credible person? in the area.
?But still, even if you are the Bantay Ceasefire chair, and you are involved in solving conflict or establishing zones of peace, there is no assurance that you are safe,? she said.
Salapuddin said even being a native of Sulu hardly mattered in abductions: ?There are kidnappings that are pulled off by the hostage?s own relatives. The fluidity and volatility of the situation have to be considered all the time.?
Goltiao said ABS-CBN was apparently working on its own to secure the safe release of their three personnel. ?But we are doing our own efforts and we closely coordinate with the crisis management committee,? he said.
As of 3 p.m. Tuesday, many have volunteered to negotiate for the release of Drilon and company, Goltiao said.
?Ang daming gustong sumakay,? he said, but refused to name them.
ARMM Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan also condemned the abductions and directed Muslim religious leaders in Sulu ?to use their influence in securing the safety of the victims.?
?They cannot leave?
The day after she and her crew went missing, Drilon was able to get in touch with her superiors and informed them that they had been ?detained.?
ABS-CBN news and current affairs head Maria Ressa told the Inquirer on Monday that she had been ?in touch? with Drilon since that morning.
?They were being detained; they cannot leave,? Ressa said, adding that at that point, it was only Drilon who knew what was happening, and Encarnacion and Valderama were unaware that they were being held.
Ressa was not clear on what group was holding Drilon and two men captive.
The ABS-CBN official phoned Inquirer editor in chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc to appeal for a news blackout for the safety of Drilon and her cameramen.
Ressa said there were ongoing negotiations for the captives? release.
?We have people there on the ground talking,? she told the Inquirer.
Early Tuesday, ABS-CBN issued a statement confirming that Drilon, Valderama and Encarnacion were missing in Sulu.
?All efforts are underway to find them and bring them home. Until we learn more details, ABS-CBN News requests other media to report on this matter with utmost consideration for the safety of our news team. ABS-CBN News is in touch with the families and asks that their privacy be respected,? the company said.
The Philippine National Police is verifying reports that ransom is being demanded for the freedom of Drilon and her cameramen.
?We got word there is a ransom demand, but we don?t know yet whom it came from, and what amount,? PNP Director General Avelino Razon told reporters in Camp Crame Tuesday.
?The reports are very unclear at this point ? and there are things ABS-CBN are giving us that we are not at liberty to reveal,? Razon said.
He said the PNP was treating the abduction as a ?missing persons? case rather than a full-blown kidnapping.
Razon said the PNP in Manila was in close coordination with ABS-CBN, the military and the ARMM police headed by Goltiao, and that intelligence units and the elite Police Anti-Crime and Emergency Response (PACER) team, which specializes in kidnap-for-ransom cases, were on the case as well.
Not Abu territory
According to Razon, the area where Drilon and company disappeared is not the territory of the Abu Sayyaf because the latter is ?supposed to be on the run.?
He also said Drilon and her crew did not coordinate with the military and police when they landed in Sulu.
Razon said that while the PNP was preparing for a ?worst-case scenario,? he hoped that Drilon and company were safe and just ?deeply imbedded? with the Abu Sayyaf. With reports from Alcuin Papa and Juliet Labog-Javellana in Manila; and Edwin O. Fernandez, Inquirer Mindanao