Copycat gangs target ordinary folk

The Straits Times, 5 August 2000

Hostage Taking In Southern Philippines

Kidnapping has become a profitable business since the Abu Sayyaf struck. On Tuesday a driver and two truck helpers were taken in Sulu for ransom

ZAMBOANGA CITY—More and more criminals are copying the Abu Sayyaf group in Sulu to cash in on the rebels' recent success in collecting ransoms.

No-one is safe anymore, not even lowly workers such as drivers and truck helpers. Three such workers were seized on Tuesday morning in Patikul, Sulu, and a ransom of 1.5 million pesos (S$60,000) was demanded from their employer—half a million pesos for each—reported the Philippine daily paper, Today.

A handwritten letter from gang leaders Muin Sahiron and Adam Julhan to Hadjirul Mandangan, the owner of Mandangan Merchandising and Construction Inc, said they are holding his employees Samuel Ramillano, a driver, and Reynante de la Cruz and Nelson Habibas, truck helpers.

The same band kidnapped ABS-CBN researcher Maryann Macapagal and cameraman Percival Cuenca on July 24. They were freed later, but government officials and ABS-CBN denied paying anything for their release, the report said.

Of the 29 other hostages that are still being held by Ghalib Andang, alias Commander Robot, and his allies, the chief government negotiator Robert Aventajado said Robot had asked for something, but exactly what that something is, the chief negotiator declined to say.

The 29 hostages referred to consist of 14 from the original 22 seized from Sipadan, the evangelist Wilde Almeda and 11 followers, and three French television journalists.

In Cotabato City the mayor, Muslimin Sema, has turned over to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front the suspects in the kidnapping of a five-year-old Chinese Filipino so they can be disciplined. The report said the kidnappers belong to the rebel band.

Victim Samuel Jaogan Jr was rescued, but some say he was released for ransom on Tuesday. The mayor said: No ransom was paid, nothing.

The Cotabato City council passed a resolution supporting the stay of Marines and other military units in the city.

Ms Cecille Camello Barroga, vice-mayor and Sanggunian Panglungsod chairman, said the presence of Marines and other soldiers had helped reduce crime in the city.

Suspected MILF rebels positioned in Katuli in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, fired two 60-mm mortars at the regional Defence Community Group office and at a road on Monday, wounding two men, Today reported.