MANILA: A television news team from the Philippines’s largest network was believed to have been abducted by members of the militant group Abu Sayyaf, officials said Tuesday.
Ces Drilon, a senior reporter for ABS-CBN and one of the country’s best-known journalists, was with a cameraman and driver when they were intercepted Sunday by armed men in Sulu, a province in the south where the Abu Sayyaf and Islamic extremists are known to operate, the police said.
With the crew was Octavio Dinampo, a professor at Mindanao State University who, according to the police, accompanied the news team on their way to meet with members of Abu Sayyaf.
Abu Sayyaf, whose stated goal is a separate Islamic state, is notorious for its kidnap-for-ransom activities and has victimized Filipinos and foreigners. The group has been blamed for several major terrorist attacks across the Philippines in recent years and is the target of a sustained military campaign supported by the United States.
Although U.S. and Philippine officials say that the campaign has considerably weakened the group over the past five years, analysts say Abu Sayyaf remains a high security threat.
Chief Superintendent Joel Goltiao, chief of police in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, to which Sulu belongs, said Tuesday that the police had sent “feelers” to the Abu Sayyaf in the hope of a negotiation “but the abductors have not yet said anything,” he said, according to The Associated Press.
Goltiao told reporters Tuesday that the crew was abducted on the island of Jolo by a group led by Albader Parad, a known Abu Sayyaf leader.
“This can give a bad signal because Ms. Drilon is a very popular figure in the country,” said Lorelie Fajardo, a spokesperson for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. She said the president had already ordered the police to do its best to locate the four abductees.
ABS-CBN, in a short statement made Tuesday, confirmed that its crew has been missing but stopped short of calling it a kidnapping. “All efforts are under way to find them and bring them home,” the network said.
The incident once again highlighted the security problems that Filipino journalists face. According to local and international media groups, the Philippines is among the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.
“It is great cause for concern that this volatile southern region of the Philippines remains insecure for the press, and we call on local authorities to work diligently to secure their safe and swift release,” said Bob Dietz of the Committee to Protect Journalists, which is based in New York.
This would not be the first time that journalists pursuing a story on Abu Sayyaf had been kidnapped by their subjects. In 2000, Abu Sayyaf seized a group of 16 local and foreign journalists who were covering the kidnapping of 21 people from a Malaysian resort.