ZAMBOANGA CITY—Credit for the release of the 10 Indonesian hostages held by the Abu Sayyaf should go to Nur Misuari, founding chair of the Moro National Liberation Front, according to the MNLF itself.
Habib Mudjahab Hashim, MNLF Islamic Command Council chair, said that since the hostage crisis broke out on March 26, Misuari and his commanders had worked to secure the Indonesians’ release.
The kidnap victims—Peter Tonson, Julian Philip, Alvian Elvis Peti, Mahmud, Surian Syah, Surianto, Wawan Saputria, Bayu Oktavianto, Reynaldi and Wendi Raknadian—were dropped off outside the home of Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan II in Jolo town at noon on Sunday.
The Indonesians, all crew members of a tugboat delivering coal to the Philippines from Borneo, were seized by armed men in the waters of Sulu.
Hashim said the MNLF negotiations with the Abu Sayyaf were held clandestinely, and the military and police allowed it to happen because of the big chance all 10 Indonesian hostages would come out safely.
“Maas (Misuari) led the talks with elements of the Abu Sayyaf,” he said.
Hashim said the Indonesians were released for purely humanitarian reasons, and if money was involved, no amount was specified but some Abu Sayyaf members wanted to be reimbursed for expenses. A ransom figure of P50 million was mentioned, but this was denied by the authorities.
From an undisclosed place, the 10 Indonesians were supposed to be brought to Misuari’s home in the mountains of Indanan town.
But since Misuari is facing charges for allegedly ordering the 2013 Zamboanga siege, they decided to bring the Indonesians to the governor’s house, Hashim said.
“We are grateful to the Armed Forces of the Philippines for giving way, even if they had operations against the Abu Sayyaf. We are also thankful to the governor for opening his home and feeding the Indonesians,” Hashim said.
Chief Supt. Miguel Antonio Jr., Western Mindanao police chief, said they did not know about any negotiations and learned only later about the release.
The former hostages were flown to Zamboanga where a private plane waited to take them to Indonesia, Antonio said.
“Negotiations? I think the Indonesians negotiated with them (Abu Sayyaf). We don’t talk about ransom here,” Antonio said.
Two Philippine Air Force Huey helicopters flew on Sunday afternoon from Jolo to Edwin Andrews Air Base in this city.
Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., Western Mindanao Command spokesperson, also denied any knowledge of the hostage release.
“Our attention has been focused on ongoing military operations,” he said.
Antonio said the police were readying charges against the abductors of the 10 Indonesians.
“We are going to pursue cases against the Abu Sayyaf. I don’t know if they (Indonesians) will file their own,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Monday said the government was doing all it could to obtain the immediate and safe release of all the 19 hostages still in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf, following the terror group’s recent release of 10 Indonesian hostages.
“The Philippine government is pleased at the positive developments resulting in the safe release of 10 Indonesian nationals abducted by the Abu Sayyaf on March 26, 2016,” the DFA said in a statement on Monday.
At least 19 people remain in Abu Sayyaf hands in Mindanao—four of them Indonesian, four Malaysians, a Canadian, a Norwegian, a Dutch, a Chinese and seven Filipinos.
The statement said that “while intensified operations were continuing on the ground, the DFA is maintaining close coordination with the foreign governments concerned to ensure the safe return of all the remaining hostages.”
Foreign Secretary Jose Almendras said the government was doing all it could to facilitate the release of the hostages.
“The DFA team has been on top of the situation since Day 1,” Almendras said. “I can literally say that we have not been sleeping.” With a report from Estrella Torres