It has been three months since the Abu Sayyaf band of Al Bader Parad seized three workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross last January on Jolo Island in Southern Mindanao. After releasing Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba last week, the kidnappers still hold Swiss citizen Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni in a high stakes poker game with Philippine authorities. Unable to get their usual ransom pay-off because of the firm ICRC policy against it, the Abu Sayyaf gang has raised the ante by releasing one hostage but demanding that the government evacuate most of Jolo island and move all its forces into the capital town--clearly a legal and physical impossibility. The Abu Sayyaf has repeated its threat to behead one or more of its hostages unless the government complies with this demand. Three Philippine Marines have already lost their lives during a botched negotiation. This does not bode well for the two remaining hostages because anything that happens to them can be blamed on the authorities not complying with terrorist demands. There is also a report that the Italian, Eugenio Vagni is having major health problems and is not in very good shape in the jungles.
As the crisis moves into its fourth month, we find the Philippine government, military and civilian officials in a state of disarray and outright disunity over policy and action. The role of Senator Dick Gordon, who also happens to be the Philippines National Red Cross chairman and a member of the ICRC board, will come in for much discussion if and when the crisis is resolved. Likewise those of Gov. Abdusakur Tan and Vice Gov. Lady Ann Sahidullah, who somehow strikes me as being a little too sympathetic with the Abu Sayyaf than with the hostages, and who clearly is enjoying the limelight a little too much.