DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Monday Moro National Liberation Front chairman Nur Misuari had sought the suspension of the military offensives against the Abu Sayyaf “while he is still negotiating for the release of the remaining hostages.”
He told ANC that up to 13 hostages were still in the hands of the terrorist group after two Filipino hostages were released Sunday night.
“He [Misuari] asked me to suspend the operations on the road where the Abu Sayyaf were coming down to meet with him to hand over the hostages,” Lorenzana said.
“He said ‘If you can just tell your men not to fire on these people that are coming down,’ So I told the troops in Jolo to cooperate with Secretary [Jesus] Dureza.”
Lorenzana made his statement even as the MNLF expressed willingness to finish off the Abu Sayyaf if ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte to do so. MNLF spokesman Absalom Cerveza made the statement even if the terrorist group had released two Filipinos, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and three Indonesians.
Cerveza said Misuari was just waiting for Duterte to give the order and the MNLF would hunt down the Abu Sayyaf.
“We cannot move against the bandits unless Duterte authorizes us to hunt them down,” Cerveza said.
The military said Monday the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and Nasilan were still holding 12 foreigners and four Filipinos.
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the hostages were in good condition but needed to be rescued.
“What we are aiming to accomplish [is] to rescue them or recover them safely,” he said.
Before the handover, Lorenzana was communicating with Peace Adviser Dureza, who asked the military not fire at the people who would bring the hostages to Misuari.
“I only told the commander to use their judgment because they are on the ground. They can only, maybe, stop operations in the areas where the negotiations are taking place, not in all places,” Lorenzana said.
“We told our troops to keep the pressure on the Abu Sayyaf. I think the pressure helped in the release because we are also afraid that during the operations, these hostages might be killed, and if the hostages get killed, you do not have any more leverage to negotiate.”
Lorenzana said the government offensive against the Abu Sayyaf was ongoing when Misuari and Dureza worked for the release of hostages.
On Saturday, the Abu Sayyaf released Sekkingstad, whom they abducted from a high-end tourist resort he was managing in September 2015.
Two Canadians taken hostage at the same time, John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, were later beheaded by the group after a ransom demand of about P300 million was not met.
The Norwegian and Philippine governments have denied that ransom was paid to free Sekkingstad, though Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said he would not rule out a third party, such as Sekkingstad’s family, having paid ransom.
Lorenzana said the shift in the attitude of the bandits started when President Rodrigo Duterte started talking to Misuari.
“I think they talked several times, and after one of the conversations the President told me that Misuari is also working on the release of the hostages, but it took time,” he said.
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