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Gordon's role in Sulu crisis 'destructive' - Defense chief

04/05/2009 | 02:24 PM

MANILA, Philippines – Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. for the first time voiced his displeasure on what he called as "destructive attempts" to interfere in the hostage crisis in southern Philippines involving two European Red Cross volunteers.

Interviewed by radio dzBB’s Nimfa Ravelo on Sunday, Teodoro particularly vented his ire on Sen. Richard Gordon, who he said seems to favor the Abu Sayyaf hostage-takers more than the government.

“Sen. Gordon’s latest statements only serve to strengthen the hand of the kidnappers," he said, referring to Gordon’s statement that the fate of the hostages, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Swiss Andreas Notter, is on the hands of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

“The fate of the hostages is not in the hands of the President but of the kidnappers," Teodoro said.

Another hostage, Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba, was freed by Abu Sayyaf Thursday night after days of negotiations.

Gordon said the life or death of Vagni and Notter of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) depended on whether or not President Arroyo, as the military’s commander-in-chief, would order government troops to pull back from the area surrounding the Abu Sayyaf’s camp in Sulu.

Gordon, chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC), also said President Arroyo "must determine the policy" on how to secure the release of the two foreign aid volunteers.

No pullout

Teodoro, along with Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno, had repeatedly insisted that a massive military pullout would only endanger the locals in Sulu and could possibly make them more vulnerable to kidnapping not only by the Abu Sayyaf but by other lawless elements operating in the troubled province.

“The military pullout demanded by the [Abu Sayyaf] is a criminal attempt to allow them to wreak havoc elsewhere," he said.

The Defense chief likewise said that by putting the blame on President Arroyo, Gordon had virtually cleared the Abu Sayyaf of any liability should anything happen to Vagni and Notter, now on their 80th day of captivity.

“Ang bintang ay nawawala sa Abu Sayyaf [The Abu Sayyaf is being cleared of any liability]. This is already unacceptable, to lay the blame on the President," Teodoro said.

“There should be a stop to these destructive attempts at interfering with the crisis management committee’s work," he added, stressing that the local crisis committee is the one in charge of talking with the Abu Sayyaf.

Teodoro said President Arroyo’s policy of limiting the hostage crisis at the level of the crisis committee has been so far correct, referring to the release of the Lacaba and of the three policemen taken as prisoners of war by the New People’s Army in Rizal last month.

“Experience has proven that we are correct and the President’s policy is correct, we will let the crisis management committee deal with the situation.


In an earlier interview also by Nimfa Ravelo, Gordon denied meddling with the government as he scoffed at insinuations that he was acting as the Abu Sayyaf’s mouthpiece. He said that it was Albader Parad, the leader of the Abu Sayyaf faction that is holding the hostages, who communicated with him.

“I’m just being called. I can’t ignore it. I’m a human being, I will never stop being a humanitarian," he said.

Gordon said he last spoke with Parad Friday night, a day after Lacaba was released. He said the rebel leader reiterated his demand for a large-scale military pull out or they would behead one of the remaining hostages.

Gordon said Parad promised to start negotiations for the release of Notter and Vagni after the pullout of Philippine Marines, police and armed civilian volunteers. He said the bandits wanted an area to move around.

The senator also said that he was merely relaying to the government what had transpired in his phone conversations with Parad, adding that he should also not be faulted for being concerned for the hostages.

“In Red Cross, I have to take the fall. Nasa konsensiya ko ‘yan [My conscience tells me to do so]," Gordon said. - GMANews.TV


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