EDITORIAL – A forgotten threat (Philippine Star)

Two suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf were killed in an encounter with Army forces yesterday in Patikul, Sulu, the military reported. The bandits are still holding 11 hostages, five of them foreigners, in their jungle lairs in Sulu.

The fighting erupted just days after two members of the Philippine Coast Guard who were snatched by the Abu Sayyaf in Dapitan City, Zamboanga del Norte last May managed to escape from their captors. The two reported that while in captivity, they served as cooks and even masseurs of the bandits. Perhaps the other hostages have also become part of the unpaid household staff of the Abu Sayyaf.

It takes organization and logistics to keep hostages for many months. Some of the captives have been held for about two years. How do the bandits get their supplies? They can’t subsist forever on sweet potato and crops foraged from the forest. Don’t they have relatives in the residential areas of Sulu?

The Abu Sayyaf is still holding 11 hostages, including a Cambodian, Dutch, Japanese, Malaysian and South Korean. All of these hostages have relatives waiting for their return in their respective countries. Their continued captivity reinforces perceptions that visitors face serious security risks in the Philippines. Yet there seems to be little urgency in rescuing the hostages.

It’s not enough to engage the bandits in periodic armed skirmishes. The government should also discourage the release of hostages in exchange for “board and lodging fees.” Any payment makes the crime profitable and encourages more kidnappings for ransom. There are ways of tracking down individuals, following their movements and compelling them to reveal their lairs. The local government has a network at the grassroots that can be mobilized to gather information on armed elements. The government must show more interest and energy in confronting this persistent scourge.