EVEN before he takes his oath as president of the Philippines on June 30, Rodrigo Duterte faces a critical test and challenge to his leadership on June 13. This is the deadline set by the Abu Sayyaf for the payment of ransom for kidnap victims they had seized eight months ago from a Samal island resort near Davao City.
Last month, Canadian John Ridsdel was beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf, after its demand for ransom was ignored. It said that if it continues to be ignored, it will execute another of its three remaining Samal kidnap victims – Canadian Robert Hall, Norwegian Kjartan Sekingstad, and Filipina Marites Flor – by 3 p.m. on Monday, June 13. That is less than two weeks from today.
Actually, the Abu Sayyaf threat is still the concern of the Aquino administration, but in the latest video released by the Abu Sayyaf, Hall appealed for Duterte’s help. “We have a hundred people heavily armed around us all the time,” he said in the video. “We have been humiliated in every way possible. One of us has already been murdered. We hope you can work on our behalf as soon as possible to get us out of here. Please, the sooner the better.”
Earlier last week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called up President-elect Duterte to congratulate him on his election victory. Duterte took the opportunity to express his apologies for the beheading of Canadian hostage Ridsdel. “We will try to see that nothing like this will happen again,” he said.
Duterte said he was getting in touch with his friend Nur Misuari, chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), raising speculation that he would seek Misuari’s help. The MNLF had facilitated the recent release of some Indonesian nationals taken hostage by the Abu Sayyaf.
The Aquino administration had dealt with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and come up with the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) but had not attended to the other armed groups in Mindanao, including the Abu Sayyaf.
After Duterte assumes full government responsibility and authority on June 30, he said he will put into action a plan to resolve the Abu Sayyaf issue in southern Mindanao. But first, we have this immediate problem of a June 13 deadline and a threat to behead a kidnap victim. He may not yet be president but we hope he will find a way, with the help of other people of goodwill, to save the Samal kidnap victims who have suffered in captivity since September 21, 2015.