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No cause for celebration

THE ordeal of Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, who was kidnapped with two Canadians and a Filipina from a Samal island resort in Davao Gulf in September, 2015, ended Saturday night. He and three Indonesians were released by the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu, to Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) who turned them over to Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza.

Of the four Samal captives, Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall were beheaded in April and June, 2016, by the Abu Sayyaf who had demanded ransom for their release. Filipina Marites Flor of Bukidnon was released soon after Hall’s beheading, in response to efforts by then President-elect Duterte, former Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan, and Secretary Dureza. Sekkingstad, the last of the four Samal victims, was finally released this weekend along with Indonesians Lorens Koten, Teo Doros Kofung, and Emmanuel Arakian.

Both the Philippine and Norwegian governments maintain they did not pay any ransom money, but Malacañang said that if the victims’ families paid, it was not aware of it. Police intelligence sources said the Abu Sayyaf got P30 million for the Norwegian and P20 million for the three Indonesians.

The nightmare is over for Sekkingstad; he is alive, where his two Canadian companions were killed, by decapitation, no less. The Norwegian government has thanked the Philippines.

For the Philippine government, however, the release of Sekkingstad does not look like it is cause for a celebration.

Despite the appeals of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canadian hostages Ridsdel and Hall were beheaded. All through months of military operations, the Abu Sayyaf was able to move in the jungles of Jolo with their many captives.

The Abu Sayyaf remains a force that must be dealt with in the South. The Aquino government sought to deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Force (MILF) and previous administrations with Misuari’s MNLF before that. The Duterte government is now holding peace talks with the New People’s Army. But there are other armed groups – among them, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the Maute group, and of course the Abu Sayyaf – all operating with total disregard for Philippine government authority.

Let us not wait for another Samal island kidnapping with its sorry consequences of beheadings as the whole world watches. So many changes are needed in our country, but peace and order in Mindanao must be on the top of the Duterte administration’s list of these changes.