Japanese still a hostage, not Abu Sayyaf cook, academics say
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines—Kidnapped Japanese treasure hunter Toshio Ito has not joined the Abu Sayyaf group (ASG) in Sulu, contrary to recent statement from the police and the military, a terrorism-prevention expert said Tuesday.
Rommel Banlaoi, chair of the Quezon City-based Philippines Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research (PIPVTR), told the Inquirer that Ito, also known by his Muslim name Mamaito Katayama, remains a hostage.
On March 14, police authorities in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) said they had formally dropped Ito from their list of “active kidnap victims” in Mindanao because he had joined the Abu Sayyaf as a cook.
Senior Superintendent Antonio Freyra, Sulu police chief, said the police had verified information to this effect.
The 63-year-old Ito, who has been in the Philippines since 2004, was abducted from Pangutaran Island in Sulu on July 16, 2010.
“He was dropped from the active list of kidnapped victims because we don’t consider him as captive anymore,” Chief Superintendent Mario Avenido, ARMM police chief, said.
Banlaoi said that contrary to the claims, Ito never joined the Abu Sayyaf.
“I need to stress that treating him as an ASG member is not really accurate. I have received reports that he is being treated badly there, his hands were tied,” he said, adding he had a photograph of in a distress.
The Inquirer asked Banlaoi for a copy of Ito’s photograph but he said he had to ask permission from the photographer first.
Professor Octavio Dinampo, head of the Bantay Ceasefire in Sulu, supported Banlaoi’s claim, saying was being held by a group led by men he identified only as Alhabsi and Raden.
“The claim by our security forces that Katayama is now the cook of the Abu Sayyaf is an exaggeration,” Dinampo said.
Another source, who recently secured a pass to an Abu Sayyaf camp, said he had seen Ito being treated badly.
“I have seen the poor old man. His hands are tied, his health is failing, he is very old and the bandits are treating him like a dog,” the source said.
Freyra said the police were not likely to change its statement.
“(Ito) is roaming around Abu Sayyaf camp without being guarded and we have reports from the ground that he is used by the bandits as cook,” he said.
He challenged Banlaoi to prove that Ito remains a hostage.
“He can execute an affidavit stating that the Japanese treasure hunter is indeed a hostage and show to us the picture, where and when it was taken, and who took the photo,” Freyra said.
Freyra said earlier that two other foreigners kidnapped in Sulu will also soon be dropped from the same list.
He said they were verifying information that Malaysian gecko trader Mohammad Nasauddin Bin Saidin, who was kidnapped on May 8 last year, has long been released from captivity.
As to Indian national Biju Kolara Veettil, who was abducted last June 22 in Barangay (village) Tugas in Patikul, the police had information he has been executed. Veettil married a local and was visiting his in-laws when abducted by suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen.
“He was reportedly killed but this still needs validation,” Freyra said.
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