Free at last

THAT DOES IT - Korina Sanchez - The Freeman

The weekend was quite eventful. Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad was released by the criminal Abu Sayyaf Group over the weekend. He was abducted along with Canadians Robert Hall and John Ridsdell, and Maritess Flor, their Filipina companion last year at Samal Island. Hall and Ridsdell were beheaded by the ASG, after demands for their ransom were not met. Flor was released last June, in what some say was "an act of goodwill" towards President Duterte.Of course,we cannot just forget the murders of Hall and Ridsdell.

The government maintains a no-ransom policy when it comes to dealing with terrorists, but talk is rife that around one hundred million pesos changed hands for Sekkingstad's freedom. Duterte himself made the disclosure some time ago that P50 million were already paid for his freedom, but the criminals reneged. If family and friends came up with the ransom, the government is not privy to it, as per the information office. Three Indonesians and two Filipinos were also released. Again, if ransom was paid, nobody is confirming. 

Apparently MNLF leader NurMisuari facilitated the release. He is obviously enjoying the limelight. There is now a talk about canceling his current warrant of arrest for his role in the 2013 Zamboanga siege. As to whether he really did help or not may be immaterial for now, as Sekkingstad's release is all that matters. Looking frail, obviously lacking in proper nutrition and disheveled, he could not be more relieved that his year-long ordeal is finally over. He recalls how he was treated like a slave, and beaten up often for little or no reason at all.

But what Sekkingstad could not forget was the horrific experience he went through when his friends Hall and Ridsdell were being beheaded. Even as they were taken some place else, he was still within earshot of their cries and screams. I cannot even imagine what it must have felt going through that. While relishing his freedom, the harrowing experience of his captivity may haunt him for a long time.

Department of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana stated that Misuari was requesting a reduction in military operations against the Abu Sayyaf, while negotiations for the remaining hostages are ongoing. In my opinion, that should not be on the table. Sekkingstad did mention that he almost lost his life when the military conducted operations near his location. But to reduce or even suspend military operations against the ASG would allow them to consolidate or even strengthen their forces.

If ransom in the millions was actually paid, that could be used to purchase more weapons to be used against our soldiers, and for them to continue their diabolical activities.

The ASG are criminals, and should face justice. If they will not surrender, then the military knows what to do with them.

[email protected].

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