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ASG hostage release: Ransom or pressure?

After almost a year of captivity, the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) released Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, who was lucky enough to keep his head, unlike some of his fellow foreign hostages.

Sekkingstad, who was abducted in Samal in September of last year, was freed last Saturday through the help of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). He immediately flew to Manila after meeting President Duterte.

The bandit group had earlier beheaded Canadians Robert Hall and John Ridsdel for their alleged failure to pay the P300 million the ASG demanded. Captive Filipina Marites Flor, allegedly Hall’s girlfriend, was released in June.

Naturally, with the ASG’s obsession with money, it would be hard to believe that Sekkingstad’s freedom came without a price.

As it turned out, earlier rumors circulated that P30 million was shelled out for his release. A day later, news came out that more than P100 million raised by his family and friends in Norway was supposedly paid to the bandit group.
Norwegian Ambassador to the Philippines Erik Forner declined to answer questions from the media on whether or not ransom was paid.

Malacañang reiterated that the government maintains a no-ransom policy. However, they are also unaware if a third party or if the victim’s family paid the ransom.

This leads us to the question: How can the ASG still seek payment and set a place for their captive’s release, if they are truly on the run since government forces are gaining ground in their all-out offensive against them?

The bandit group has reportedly been leaving the camps and villages under their control, and being forced to move to other towns due to the military onslaught.

However, three Indonesian sailors – Lorens Koten, Thedorus Kopong and Emmanuel Arakain – were also released by the ASG to the MNLF last Sunday afternoon. A Sulu-based professor allegedly said he heard P30 million was paid to the bandit group.

Come Sunday evening, the ASG freed Filipinos Daniela Taruc and Levy Gonzales in Panglima Estino, Sulu who were supposedly found by a concerned citizen and turned over to the military.

Are the ASG captors releasing their hostages in exchange for ransom here and there in an abrupt money-making binge?
Or are they really being pressured by the major offensive launched by the military and police who are out to hunt and pulverize them?

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SHORT BURSTS. For comments or reactions, email firingline@ymail.com or tweet @Side_View. Read current and past issues of this column athttp://www.tempo.com.ph/category/opinion/firing-line/ (Robert B. Roque, Jr.)