In theory, a strict no ransom policy makes sense. However, it becomes untenable if the authorities lose the moral ascendancy to insist upon such a policy. That moral ascendancy is dependent upon the authorities:
1. Having a no-exceptions track record with regards to hostage-tacking;
2. Having a credible (though not necessarily perfect) record of rescuing hostages, which puts forward the strong possibility that the authorities have the skills and political will necessary to effect a rescue;
3. Having an acceptable batting average as far as the apprehension, trial, and conviction, of hostage-takers or, barring that, are credible in the cases in which hostage-takers end up liquidated by the authorities.
And all of the above requires, in turn, that the authorities have a certain amount of goodwill and legitimacy as far as the public is concerned, in case things go wrong and the hostages end up killed by the hostage-takers or the rescuers. Contrast the way Japan handled its citizens being held hostage in Iraq with the way our government handled the abduction of de la Cruz.
In the absence of these, the authorities are at a disadvantage in urging the families of hostages not to succumb to the desire to secure the liberty of their loved ones by all means necessary, including the payment of ransom.
Since the government caved in, in the case of Angelo de la Cruz in Iraq, scuttling its closeness to Washington in the process, the government abandoned item 1; it has a mixed record as far as items 2 and 3 are concerned, because its own shortcomings have been magnified by the harsh but understandable lack of enthusiasm on the part of its former close allies, to go that extra mile for a fickle Philippine government.
As its been unfolding, the story seems to be that the kidnapping of Ces Drilon and party was a case of officials running a kidnapping syndicate instead of primarily being another Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom event. The situation’s made murky by the way some of the people involved seem to change affiliations at the drop of the hat and how the credentials and even motives of those identified with the rescue are being challenged.
A lengthy text message in circulation is a case in point, and I put it forward not as an endorsement of any probative value it may have, but as an indication of what’s being talked about (and speculated upon):
I was at a luncheon mtg w Ed Espiritu. He is an unimpeachable source re Ces Drilon kidnap. He is family, brother of mom of ces. He can’t believe d gall of Loren daw. She got into d picture only after family of Ces paid 5M. That’s when first cameraman was released. They had to pay some more for d release of the Ces and Jimmy. Ces felt she had no choice but to go along w Loren’s script. Loren even directed plane to taxi more to change position so they would be facing camera when dey disembark & she told Ces that she has to emerge from plane first and dat Ces should follow only after 10 mins. And now Loren and Ed Angara want Ces to seek an audience w GMA. Ces knows she’s being used but at d time of her release she felt she had no choice. By d way d family also thinks dat d mayor being held now is guilty. He & Loren were also d ones who negotiated w kidnappers of Arlene de la Cruz w same MO.
(update, Saturday: see Of Political Poison Texts and Criminal Aliases for details on this SMS message, the aspersions of which Edgardo Espiritu publicly denies; though Patricio Mangubat thinks Legarda’s not quite off the hook)
What we do know is headlined as follows: Dinampo: Guide betrayed us, as well as TV reporterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s family paid P5M but mayor kept P3M–officials and Puno: Proof indicates Isnaji masterminded kidnapping. Note the assertions of the government, what the text message going around says, and this report in MindaNews: Dinampo: no basis to charge Mayor Isnaji for kidnapping; says Biyaw “should be debriefed, too”. Curiouser and curiouser.
This is still very far from the allegations that Legarda was in cahoots with local officials: and I don’t suppose the government would put the squeeze on those officials if it would imperil Legarda.
But it is interesting that the latest official revelations zero in on the culpability of local officials, when the government started beating the war drums for a military offensive.
My own suspicions was that the kidnapping involved officialdom in one way or another, most especially considering the Hawks in the present administration who would be pleased for tensions to escalate in the South.
The manner in which the government, normally eager to downplay bad news until it can be properly managed, jumped the gun and neutralized the media embargo on the kidnapping, made me wonder if it wasn’t a trap sprung on Drilon to put the fear of the Abu on any journalist inclined to sniff around Moro areas. When it began to leak out that some sort of official participation in the kidnapping was a possibility serious enough to consider (and serious enough to scuttle the warmongering outcome some might have desired), I got even more nervous, and seriously contemplated the possibility that a solution held in reserve might be, to simply liquidate the hostages and blame it on the hostage-takers or as part of “collateral damage,” which would spook journalists even more. But then again, being an army brat, the decent part of the armed forces wouldn’t have knowingly permitted Drilon to be killed.
But then my assumption that there’s a War Party in the government, and my further assumption that the AFP, as an institution, doesn’t think that that way, and if we assume, further, that there remains a reservoir of professionalism within the armed forces, then they were probably aware of this -see Threats from Abu Sayyaf wane: CTC report – ahead of the public. Which means even those tasked with mounting an offensive would have been hard-pressed to pursue a Ghost Army.
This may explain these two interesting responses from two services that would be at the forefront of any offensive: see Marine chief uneasy with AFP’s all-out-war vs bandits and No need to boost air power in Mindanao, says PAF.
In the first place, our officers know that if the mission is to identify, and neutralize, bandit groups, that calls for different tactics than would be required for a traditional land, sea, and air offensive over something larger like a pseudo army of rebels. The martial traditions of the region’s inhabitants would dictate even those unaffiliated with the bandits to mobilize against the government out of an instinctive religious and tribal solidarity. This would only increase the logistical and other problems of the military.
notes of marichu c. lambino also points to another kind of infighting that may be taking place, tied to a long-standing debate (and confusion) on the Ramos-era (I believe) policy that the Philippine National Police should be in charge of counter-insurgency and the skepticism of the armed forces over the practicality of such a division of labor:
What has escaped unnoticed up to now was: this was the debut, on the national stage, of the Philippine National Police as busters of the Abu Sayyaf and jungle bandits (if those were the real perpetrators). Of course, they havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t busted the kidnapping band but the leads gathered are a good start. If memory serves right, for more than a decade and up until the kidnapping of Fr. Giancarlo Bossi, it was the Marines (and other AFP units) under those brigadier generals, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve tried to catch the Abu Sayyaf, rescue hostages and engage the kidnappers and bandits, at great, great cost: in terms of fatalities, beheadings, indiscriminate bombings, wars, military operations, refugees, resources, money hundreds of millions, escaped bandits laughing, aggravation, wasted time, etc. We suffered the AFP military generals for decades.
(Saturday update: see Uniffors on why the PNP hasn’t fully taken over counter-insurgency operations)
But there are good reasons to believe that a faction within the administration thinks letting loose the dogs of war would be convenient and satisfying, politically. Which is why I don’t think it would be wrong to consider that the recent revelations concerning who actually abducted Drilon, ought to be viewed from the perspective of competing factions within the administration. One thing that never changes in government (any government) is that there will always be turf wars and factional divisions within any administration.
Consider the possibility of the following taking place behind the scenes.
One faction would love to use the incident to drum up support for military action; another, would prefer not to rock the boat at this time, as it will have repercussions not just domestically, but regionally: a Malaysian government on the verge of losing power, will not put time or energy into helping keep the MILF in check, for example, and Indonesia has its own problems and the USA is in the closing months of a lame duck administration. Just consider the financial drain combined military operations represents, and who on earth could finance it. Our government? But it’s busy fending off the effects of the oil and rice price increases.
The President, like any president, derives a great deal of her political effectiveness from playing off one faction against the other, and seeing which turf to protect and which to permit others to encroach upon. This applies to domestic politics as it does to international relations.
The President could, conceivably, be gearing up to go to Washington to try to mend fences by offering to launch an offensive in Mindanao, so long as Uncle Sam foots the bill: Republicans eager to open up a new front to keep the War on Terror on center stage might consider it. If the President could then be assured of a credit line from Washington to finance operations in Mindanao, then the Hawks could get what they want. But if not, she cannot afford to fritter away resources pursuing an offensive that would then make her already tenuous budgetary situation even worse. Australia (see Aust pledges support for offensive against Abu Sayyaf) for example, could serve as a conduit for covert American financing or even chip in, but until the President can iron things out in Washington, it would be better to de-escalate things, for now, at least.
There is also a cultural dimension here independent of ideology, which is, the culture of banditry in the hinterlands (a geographical thing, wherever there are mountain ranges to shelter bandit groups), and a more specific one among some Moro societies, that harks back to the centuries of slave-raiding expeditions by Moro pirates. As the Inquirer editorial (which basically said that Abu link may be better described as “Abu Sayyaf, Teen Edition”) pointed out today,
Flashback to last week: When the news of the Drilon kidnapping spread, it was reported that many young people in parts of Sulu were lining up to join the Abu Sayyaf. The common reason: They wanted to share in the bounty of the expected ransom.
As it stands, the questions arising from the immediate aftermath of the kidnapping -the apprehension of of the mayor-intermediary and his son and their being whisked off to Manila, as reported by Ding G. Gagelonia (his coverage of the whole thing deserves an award)- raised by observers like The Write Stuff, the suspicions expressed by Patricio Mangubat, the criticisms made by Nick in FilipinoVoices.com, and even the conspiracy theories summed up by whatsikat.com, are all coming to a confusing head. This is not being helped by media throwing caution to the winds the moment the hostage taking drama seemed about to end. As khanterbury tales puts it, it’s a media feast now, much breathless reportage but little along the lines of figuring out if government’s lying (or not, and why, in either case), though she does point to this commentary in the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project.
The Moro view is put forward by Julkipwi Wadi, of the UP Institute of Islamic Studies, and written shortly before the release of the hostages. It raises several issues (which I’ve placed in bold) to consider:
by JULKIPLI WADI, UP institute of Islamic Studies
The kidnapping of Ces Drilon and other crew of ABS-CBN including Prof. Octavio Dinampo of Mindanao State University-Sulu underscores the worsening uncertainty Muslim Mindanao particularly the Sulu Province has become these past few years. Despite government’s pontification to bring peace and development into the area while brandishing America’s aid and military assistance notwithstanding the U.S. military presence in the Sulu Archipelago, all these prove inadequate if not useless to eradicate social disenchantment and restlessness of the people as shown in the continuing presence of armed resistance including the persistence of radical group like Abu Sayyaf how unconventional they may have become.
With the kidnapping of Ces et al, it is clear what the government has simply addressed these past years were simply the surface and other peripheral issues of the Mindanao conflict Ã¢â‚¬â€œ not core, the root cause of the problem, which is primarily the desire of the people to have their freedom, peace and justice. It proves once more that economic assistance including physical development poured into the area including availability of cellular phones to anyone, while they help some people including the entrenchment of political dynasties in Moro areas, can also be utilized by radical groups like the ASG to facilitate their mobility and movement including their communication in negotiating the fate of their kidnapped victims like Ces and her companions. By employing divide-and-rule tactics among Moro movements, the government has reaped what it sowed: it is severely constrained now whom to reach out in Sulu to serve as its partner of peace and development in the face of amoeba-like mushrooming of various radical groups in the area. Hence, the kidnapping of Ces and company raises the question whether it shows the continuing tenacity and resilience of the Abu Sayyaf or whether there is a policy blunder by the government or strategic failure in terms of tactics and intelligence by the Armed Forces of the Philippines in addressing the Mindanao conflict recently. Such uncertainty should have been properly understood by Philippine media.
Ironically, Ces Drilon should have been the last person to be victimized by alleged new group of Abu Sayyaf. As a friend, she has interviewed me of this subject several times in the past making her, in my view, one of the most informed and culturally sensitive TV journalists of the ABS-CBN as far as the Mindanao conflict including the Abu Sayyaf issue is concerned. While she might have the right judgment in trying to interview some people in the Abu Sayyaf in Maimbung in Sulu, despite the presence of local guide, having such judgment and guide how proper and reliable they may have been are not enough. They can hardly be relied upon since it is uncertainty that dominates the whole political and cultural make up the Sulu Province and other areas have become today. Even a native like me who was born and raised in Indanan does not just tread to unfamiliar territory of Sulu without proper coordination. The worsening uncertainty has long shocked me. Sulu today has never been like our days in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Sadly however, the media has been short in understanding the Mindanao issue including the failure to treat objectively the unconventional politics, events and movements in southern Philippines . Their treatment of Muslim issue is generally devoid of proper context and cultural sensitivity. Regrettably, some media have fallen prey into one-sided rhetoric of the government and foreign interest. It’s sad news but true. It is time for the media to check themselves. Ã¢â‚¬â€œjulkipli wadi