By Daniel Llanto | FilAm Star Correspondent
The official line was that Norwegian Abu Sayyaf hostage Kjartan Sekkingstad and three Indonesians were freed due to the military offensive that President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered against the terrorist band along with the help of his peace adviser and the separatist Muslim Nationalist Liberation Front (MNLF) but talks persisted that ransom was really paid.
As Duterte received the Norwegian in Zamboanga City, he gave full praise to his Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza, and MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari, for securing the release of Sekkingstad. Duterte also gave credit to former Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan.
Set free with Sekkingstad were three abducted Indonesians, who were then turned over to a representative of the Indonesian government in Jolo on Sunday.
The release of four hostages all at once conveyed the impression that the Duterte administration had succeeded where past administrations failed insofar as dealing with the vicious Abu Sayyaf gang was concerned.
“It was a long, long negotiation, as far as I’m concerned,” Duterte said, noting that he had talked to Misuari on the phone during Cabinet meetings. The latter supposedly said he needed time, but promised that he would succeed.
The President said he had simply been “directing” the three—Misuari, Dureza and Tan—with regard to going about the job, and had invested in them “the full authority to negotiate” and ensure that nothing like it happened again.
But reports quoted an Abu Sayyaf spokesman as saying that they received a PHP 30-million ransom for the release of the hostages.
Security analysts said the Abu Sayyaf group would never release a hostage without ransom.
“There was a ransom payment negotiated by intermediaries of the family with diplomatic help. My information is 30 million pesos ($625,000) was paid,” said Rodolfo Mendoza, senior analyst of Manila-based Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.
“Hostage-taking is the Abu Sayyaf’s fund-raising activity,” said Mendoza, a former police general.
Zachary Abuza, a Southeast Asian security expert at the National War College in the US, told reporters there that there was no doubt ransom was paid.
“The (Abu Sayyaf) did not release him out of the goodness of their hearts… governments have to deny paying ransoms, as it incentivizes more hostage-taking. But often governments will use third parties.”
The payment would allow Abu Sayyaf to buy more guns through the black market, Abuza added.
Sekkingstad’s brother Odd Kåre Sekkingstad declined to comment when asked by AFP about reports of a ransom.
His sibling was abducted by the Abu Sayyaf from a tourist resort in September 2015, alongside a Filipina who has been freed, and the two Canadians who were beheaded in April and June.
According to Duterte, Misuari had negotiated with the Abu Sayyaf for the release, after armed men abducted Sekkingstad, together with Canadians Robert Hall and John Ridsdel, and Filipina Marites Flor, in August last year at the Ocean View Samal Resort in Samal, Davao del Norte. Other reports put the kidnapping at September, also last year.