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US cable says general gained from Abu kidnap

A top marine officer profited from deals during negotiations for the release of three International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) workers kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf in 2009, then Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro was quoted as saying in a confidential US cable released by WikiLeaks.

The officer named in the cable released by the whistle-blower website was Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban, then the head of Jolo’s antiterrorism task force and currently the chief of the Western Mindanao Command.

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Teodoro, who lost in the 2010 presidential election, was supposed to have made the claim during a one-on-one breakfast meeting in 2009 with then US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney.

“He (Teodoro) voiced very negative comments regarding . . . Juancho Sabban, who most recently headed the Western Mindanao Command, saying Sabban had managed to profit personally from deals made in connection with the recent ASG kidnapping of (ICRC) workers,” Kenney said.

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The cable, marked “confidential,” was dated Aug. 28, 2009. It did not elaborate on what the supposed “deals” were.

But the allegation drew an emphatic denial from Sabban, who said in a phone interview on Tuesday that he never entered into any deals with the bandit group.

Military withdrawal

In January 2009, gunmen kidnapped Andreas Notter, the Swiss head of the ICRC office in Zamboanga City, and two aid workers, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipino Jean Lacaba.

They were inspecting a water and sanitation project for the Sulu provincial jail inmates when they were seized near the Jolo capitol by an Abu Sayyaf gang headed by Albader Parad.

The Parad group demanded that all government troops pull out of Jolo. The group denied reports they wanted a ransom of P50 million for the hostages.

Lacaba was released on April 2.  Notter reportedly escaped on April 18 while Vagni was freed on July 12 after a Sulu official paid kidnappers P50,000 for his “board and lodging.”

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2,000 cables out of Manila

The Aug. 28, 2009, memo was one of more than 2,000 cables emanating from the US Embassy in Manila out of a cache of 250,000 from American diplomatic mission worldwide that were published online by WikiLeaks.

Since WikiLeaks began releasing American diplomatic cables last year, US embassies around the world have steadfastly refused to comment on them.

Kenney’s cable about her meeting with Teodoro also said: “Sabban was overwhelmingly ambitious, Teodoro said, aiming to become AFP Chief of Staff.”

It added: “Sabban reportedly was working through [then] Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, a former Marine and one-time Armed Forces chief of staff, to undercut potential rivals Maj. Gen. Ben Dolorfino and Rear Adm. Alexander Pama.”

“Also, Sabban worried he might be upstaged by Brig. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, commanding officer of the First Marine Brigade in Basilan, soon moving to take command of Task Force Comet in Jolo,” the cable said.

Pama is now the Navy chief while Guerrero is a major general and currently Marine commandant. Dolorfino retired as lieutenant general in November 2010.

Teodoro, Puno meddling

In her cable, Kenney mentioned other issues she and Teodoro discussed, including the Visiting Forces Agreement, US interest in supporting the Philippine government’s peace efforts with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Teodoro’s prospects of becoming the administration standard-bearer in the 2010 elections.

Teodoro said the elections would complicate counterterrorism operations, making specific reference to Jolo island.

Reached by the Inquirer, Sabban said: “I never profited when it comes to the Abu Sayyaf.”

He claimed that meddling by Teodoro and then Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno undermined the military’s efforts to rescue the kidnapped ICRC workers.

“They were the ones who were bickering, indecisive and meddlesome (nakikialam). What personal deals with the Abu Sayyaf was he talking about? I never made a deal with the Abu Sayyaf. That’s only his perception,” Sabban said.

Office-bound

Sabban, who was the ground commander at the time, said a military official had told him that Teodoro and Puno wanted him to stop his troops from pursuing  Parad and his men. Parad was later killed in 2010.

“They wanted me to withdraw and give Albader Parad what he wants. He was asking for the whole of Jolo,” Sabban said.

“Why should I take orders from them? So he was actually micromanaging. He was not the chief negotiator. They were never involved in ASG operations. They just stayed in the office,” Sabban said.

He said he was assigned elsewhere when he insisted on getting orders only from his military superiors but was brought back when the negotiations with the bandits went nowhere.

“I finished the operation without their help. They were meddling that’s why it dragged on,” he said.

Sabban said he also found it incredulous that Teodoro would think that he was jockeying for the top AFP post “at that early stage.”

“Sobra naman siya (He’s too much),” Sabban said. With a report from Inquirer Research

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TAGS: abu sayyaf, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro, Gilbert Teodoro, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban, US cable, Western Mindanao Command, WikiLeaks
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