EDITORIAL - Rich rewards
(The Philippine Star) - November 4, 2015 - 9:00am

See what ransom payments do: Abu Sayyaf bandits, in a video released yesterday, are demanding $21 million or about P1 billion each in exchange for two Canadians and a Norwegian kidnapped on Sept. 21 in a resort on Samal Island in Davao del Norte.

The foreign hostages spoke in the video but their Filipina companion did not, and it was not clear if the bandits were also demanding another $21 million for her release. There is also no word on whether the bandits are the ones holding an Italian former missionary who was seized last month from his pizza restaurant in Dipolog City. So far there has been no ransom demand, according to security officials.

The bandits, who are also holding a Dutch birdwatcher and two Malaysians, left a South Korean hostage to die of an illness. The remains of the victim were found recently.

Ransom payments have surely helped keep the Abu Sayyaf alive despite the loss of its top commanders in the past decade. One of its commanders, Ghalib “Robot” Andang, made the group notorious for kidnapping after reportedly receiving $20 million from the Libyan government in exchange for 10 mostly European tourists kidnapped from the Malaysian island resort of Sipadan in April 2000. Also kidnapped were a Filipino dive instructor, a Malaysian police officer and 19 Malaysian resort workers.

Robot was later captured and killed in a siege at the Camp Bagong Diwa detention facility in Taguig. But he left behind a legacy of profiting richly from criminal activities, with local government and military officials widely suspected to be in cahoots with bandit groups.

Government officials have insisted that the country has a no-ransom policy. In fact kidnapping for ransom has become one of the most lucrative activities in the country. Kidnapping is down in Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon but it remains a top industry in Mindanao, where ransom is euphemistically described by the government as “board and lodging fee.”

If ransom is paid, the act of paying must be used to track down the kidnappers or at least recover the money. This is not being done. In October last year, the Abu Sayyaf crowed that it earned P250 million for keeping two Germans in captivity for six months. The claim has not been adequately refuted by authorities.

With that kind of easy money, it is not surprising that we have this latest hostage crisis in our hands, involving the same group. Profiting from crime is the best guarantee of impunity.

ABU SAYYAF ANDANG CAMP BAGONG DIWA DAVAO DIPOLOG CITY FILIPINA IN OCTOBER METRO MANILA RANSOM SAMAL ISLAND SOUTH KOREAN
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