Militants free Philippine TV reporter and 2 others

By Carlos H. Conde
International Herald Tribune
The New York Times
Published: June 18, 2008

MANILA: Abu Sayyaf militants have released members of a news team they abducted in the southern Philippines last week, among them one of the country’s best-known television journalists, officials said Wednesday.

The police said no ransom had been paid for the release Tuesday night of Ces Drilon, her cameraman and a guide. Drilon’s driver was released on June 12 after local officials paid the kidnappers 2 million pesos, or about $45,000, which officials refused to call a ransom.

Drilon and her crew were abducted June 8 on their way to interview members of Abu Sayyaf. In a news briefing Wednesday, Drilon said that someone had betrayed her group.

“There was betrayal involved, which was why we were kidnapped,” she said without elaborating.

ABS-CBN, the country’s largest network, where Drilon works as a senior reporter, had repeatedly said that it would not pay a ransom. The militants had demanded a payment of 15 million pesos by noon Tuesday.

Officials said the kidnappers had relented only when told that the network was adamant about its no-ransom policy and that, in lieu of a ransom, the kidnappers could get “a livelihood package.”

They did not explain what this might entail, but officials had said that the lagging economy in the Muslim areas of the south was a factor in the rise in kidnappings there. Alvarez Ishaji, the mayor of Indanan, said after the release that the package might involve promoting jobs in the region.

Avelino Razon Jr., the chief of the Philippine National Police, said Wednesday that the release mainly had been the result of negotiations between the kidnappers and officials of Sulu, an island province in the troubled south where Abu Sayyaf is active.

The police also credited a senator, Loren Legarda, a former colleague of Drilon’s at ABS-CBN, for the successful negotiations.

“We were treated well, in a perverse kind of way,” said Drilon, whose face bore marks of mosquito bites after spending nine days in the jungles of Jolo. But she said the kidnappers, at one point, had threatened to cut off her driver’s head.

Abu Sayyaf, a group mainly known for its banditry in the south, has been blamed for several of the more serious terrorist attacks in the Philippines in recent years. They have kidnapped, and sometimes decapitated, their victims, including several foreigners.

About Carlos H. Conde

Researcher at Human Rights Watch (@condeHRW @hrw_ph). Former journalist (NYT, IHT, among others).
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