DOJ: Let PNP probe Sahidulla on 'goodwill money'

- Edu Punay -

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) said yesterday it would leave to the Philippine National Police the investigation on the role of Sulu Vice Gov. Nur-Ana “Lady Ann” Sahidulla in the negotiations for the release of Italian Red Cross worker Eugenio Vagni who was kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf in January and freed in Indanan, Sulu last Sunday.

Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera said her office would just allow the PNP to complete its investigation, triggered by Sahidulla’s admission that she gave money to the Abu Sayyaf during negotiations for the release of Vagni.

“We can always ask the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) to investigate but the PNP is already investigating. It’s better to leave it to the PNP first,” Devanadera said in a phone interview.

Devanadera said she wants the NBI to focus on its investigation on the recent spate of bombings in Mindanao.

The Justice secretary issued this statement in response to a reported request of Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro for the DOJ to look deeper into the involvement of the lady vice governor of Sulu in the negotiations for the release of Vagni.

Teodoro said Sahidulla, as a public official, should explain her action because of the existing no-ransom policy of the government.

He wants the DOJ to determine if Sahidulla could be held liable under criminal law for giving money to the bandits.

Sahidulla had earlier admitted that she gave P50,000 as a sign of “goodwill” to the group that turned Vagni over to her.

Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross, earlier denounced Sahidulla for giving money to the Abu Sayyaf, saying not even a single centavo should be given to the bandits in exchange for Vagni’s release.

But yesterday, Gordon said Sahidulla’s role in securing the safe release of the three ICRC workers must be acknowledged.

As the vice governor of Sulu and chair of the PNRC chapter in her province, Gordon said Sahidulla has the responsibility of finding a peaceful, effective and humanitarian solution to the hostage crisis.

“It is difficult to describe the perils that Sahidulla risked in assuming her role, especially considering that the Vice Governor is a woman and the places she had to go to in order to talk with the Abu Sayyaf were deep in the remote areas of Sulu,” he said.

According to Gordon, investigating Sahidulla on account of giving the Abu Sayyaf “goodwill money” may be the effect of a lack of understanding and acceptance of the unique and unfamiliar culture of the people of Sulu, but it was Sahidulla’s intimate and personal understanding of such culture that made it possible to ensure the release of the ICRC hostages.

Abu Sayyaf bandits kidnapped Vagni and two other Red Cross workers – Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba and Swiss Andreas Notter – in Indanan, Sulu last Jan. 15.

Lacaba and Notter were released on separate dates in April.

Like a mother

Sahidulla yesterday expressed disappointment over calls for her to be investigated after she admitted having given P50,000 cigarette money to the Abu Sayyaf bandits while she was negotiating for the release of Vagni.

Speaking to reporters after attending the installation of Maj. Gen. Juancho Sabban as new marine commandant in Fort Bonifacio, Sahidulla said she is dismayed that after facilitating Vagni’s release, she would be accused of abetting the bandits.

She said what she did should not be taken negatively because she even tried to convince the bandits to lay down their arms and return to the fold of the law to start a new life.

Sahidulla said the Abu Sayyaf told her that their food supply is running out, prompting her to shell out money in a bid to convince them to renounce their criminal activities.

“I was like a mother even though I do not know them. I tried to convince them to stop their activities,” she said.

Sahidulla added that she would be willing to appear before any investigating body to shed light on the issue.

“I am willing to appear to tell the truth,” she said.

No need for probe

Sahidulla got an ally at the Senate yesterday after Sen. Loren Legarda said that there is no need to investigate the local executive for giving P50,000 “cigarette money” to local bandits who released Vagni.

“There’s no need to probe Lady Ann because she was trying to help. Let’s be happy and grateful,” said Legarda, who has collaborated with local executives in Sulu in negotiations for the release of kidnap victims of the Abu Sayyaf, including ABS-CBN broadcaster Ces Drilon last year.

Sen. Rodolfo Biazon said the issue should be left to the PNP. – With Christina Mendez, James Mananghaya

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