Gordon, Palace kiss and make up on hostages
STO. TOMAS, PANGASINAN—Malacañang Tuesday announced that Sen. Richard Gordon had agreed to bury the hatchet and work more closely with key government officials to restart efforts to secure the release of three international Red Cross workers being held by the Islamic extremist group Abu Sayyaf in Jolo Island.
Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said the agreement came during a meeting on Monday involving Gordon, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro and Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno on Monday, four days after talks with the terrorists broke down.
“I’m happy to report that they talked and agreed to work as one,” Remonde told reporters in a briefing here.
Late last week, Gordon, who chairs the Philippine National Red Cross, threw a fit and accused Marine commander Maj. Gen. Juancho Sabban of bungling the senator’s attempts to get at least one of the hostages released by “unnecessarily provoking” an armed clash last week, then by prematurely withdrawing his troops.
Sabban denied Gordon’s charges but the military has since sent him on a two-week education tour in the United States.
“They (Gordon, Teodoro and Puno) agreed to have better and greater coordination to avoid misunderstanding,” Remonde said.
The three Red Cross workers—Italian Eugenio Vagni, Swiss Andreas Notter and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba—were snatched by the armed group in Jolo on Jan. 15.
Remonde Tuesday maintained that the government was “doing everything right” in ensuring the safe release of the hostages.
“The government is doing everything by the book and in accordance with internationally accepted, proven and tested principles in dealing with similar situations,” he said.
“We are on top of the situation regardless of what has been said.”
Consistent with administration policy, the local crisis committee would be the main negotiator with the Abu Sayyaf, Remonde said.
Meanwhile, a military spokesperson, in a separate press briefing, said soldiers would continue to cordon a remote area of Jolo but would put off pursuit operations to give way to negotiations.
“We are holding our previous position because we would like to give way to negotiations to free the hostages,” Lt. Col. Edgard Arevalo told reporters.
Arevalo revealed that the military was also limiting food, water and other supplies to the rebels.
“The modern principle of war is sustainability. We’re only trying to wear them down by preventing reinforcements and re-supply. We’re keeping up the pressure without having to resort to offensive actions,” he told wire agency reporters.
The Abu Sayyaf, a small Islamist group with ties to regional terror network Jemaah Islamiah, had threatened to behead one of the hostages to ease military pressure after a firefight erupted last week, killing three soldiers and wounding 19 others. At least two Abu Sayyaf fighters were also reportedly killed.