One Man's Meat

Published: Saturday October 25, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Saturday October 25, 2014 MYT 11:02:07 AM

The wisdom of a no-ransom policy

When kidnappers faced military might instead of receiving pay-offs, they left Sabah alone but now the lucrative business is starting up again.

I’M surrounded by 20 young men with automatic weapons and they threatened to execute me now.”

That’s what 71-year-old German doctor Stefan Viktor Okonek, who was held in Jolo island, southern Philippines, by an Abu Sayyaf group with Henrike Dielen, a 55-year-old German, told Radio Mindanao Network (RMN) during lunchtime on Oct 17.

Okonek was supposed to be beheaded at 3pm that day if a 250- million-peso (RM18mil) ransom was not paid and Germany did not withdraw its support for American-led air attacks on the Islamic State (IS). The Abu Sayyaf group extended the beheading deadline to 5pm, however.

A few hours later, at around 8.45pm, Okonek and Dielen were freed. Abu Rami, the spokesman of the Abu Sayyaf group, told RMN: “Walang labis, walang kulang (a Filipino expression that meant ‘no more, no less’)”, indicating that the ransom was paid in full.

At 10.24pm, I tweeted: “RM18mil paid for release of 2 Germans in Jolo tonight is highest paid in the island. Hope it will not jack up RM3mil price for a M’sian.”

That night my thoughts were with the two Malaysian hostages held on the island. An Abu Sayyaf group is demanding RM3mil each for the freedom of marine police Kons Zakiah Aleip, 26, abducted in Pulau Mabul in Sabah on July 12, and Chan Sai Chuin, 32, kidnapped at a fish farm in Kunak, Sabah, on June 16. My fear was the 250-million-peso pay-off for the Germans would inspire the Abu Sayyaf to demand more for Zakiah and Chan.

I also tweeted: “With that RM18 million the Abu Sayyaf made tonight for 2 German hostages, they can buy bigger weapons & faster boats.”

To illustrate the danger of ransom payment, I tweeted what I was told by intelligence officers.

“Evolution of kidnapping business. 1st kidnap in Sabah, 2 (an emoji of a gun) used. Ran$om paid. 2nd kidnap: 4 (emoji of a gun). Ran$om. 3rd: 4 (emoji of a gun) & 2 M16. 4th: 5 M16.”

What it meant was that each time, after a ransom was paid, the kidnappers came back with bigger guns.

I have written that ransom should not be paid as it only encourages the business of kidnapping. Some readers have commented that it was easy for heartless me to make such a statement.

They wrote: “If the victim were your mother, wife, sister or daughter, you would not be writing that ransom should not be paid.” (At least, they spared my grandmother.)

My reply was: “If ransom were not paid, I don’t think this group would be inspired to kidnap my mother, wife, sister or daughter.”

I have a qualifier. Of course, if I were a hostage, I would be praying for a Twitter campaign to raise ransom money for my release, as I’m quite fond of my head.

“Do you think the Abu would have beheaded Okonek if ransom was not paid?” I asked Al Jacinto, a veteran journalist based in Zamboanga City, via Facebook.

“Yes, and they can jack up the ransom on the German woman to cover the ransom lost on the old man since he would only slow them down,” he wrote.

“They had beheaded Guillermo Sobero, a US hostage in Basilan province in the past (Palawan kidnapping in 2001) and left his body in the woods and animals devoured the corpse.”

If I were in the mood, I would give those who were critical of my no-ransom policy the example of the Sipadan and Pandanan kidnappings.

Money – millions of pesos – was paid for all except for one of the Sipadan hostages kidnapped on April 23, 2000. In less than five months, the Abu Sayyaf abducted three Malaysians from Pandanan island near Sipadan island.

This time, the policy was not to pay for ransom. The three Malaysians were rescued in Jolo island through the barrels of the guns of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Subsequently, many of the Abu Sayyaf leaders who were involved in the Sipadan kidnappings were arrested or killed.

For more than a decade, there were no kidnappings in Sabah. Then a new generation of kidnappers emerged.

The next day after the release of the two Germans, I had a discussion on Facebook with Filipino journalists whom I had known since 2000 as we covered the Sipadan kidnappings that hit world headlines when 21 people, including Malaysians, Europeans and Filipinos, were abducted from the diving haven and brought to Jolo island.

These seasoned journalists did not buy the military’s denial that ransom was not paid.

Lt-Col Harold Cabunoc, AFP public affairs office chief, described as “propaganda” the claim of a 250-million-peso ransom payment made by Abu Rami, according to a Philippine Daily Inquirer report.

“Of course, he (Rami) can always say that. As far as I know, there was no ransom paid, at least not from our side because we don’t negotiate with terrorists,” he said.

The newspaper reported Cabunoc as saying, “the massive deployment of troops and K9 units to Sulu to surround the kidnappers’ lair was what did the trick, putting pressure on the kidnappers to abandon the two hostages.”

“It was like we had eye contact with them. They (kidnappers) could see us. The area where they were was not heavily forested,” he said.

On Facebook, I could almost see the seasoned journalists rolling their eyes when we discussed the AFP’s claim. From their sources, who detailed how the money was delivered, some of the journalists believe that at least half of the 250-million-peso ransom was paid.

The seasoned journalists would not be too surprised to hear in the near future that a hostage kidnapped in the east coast of Sabah ends up in Jolo island. The ransom money makes kidnapping a lucrative business.

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Tags / Keywords: Philip Golingai

More Articles

Filter by

The wisdom of a no-ransom policy

25 October 2014

When kidnappers faced military might instead of receiving pay-offs, they left Sabah alone but now the lucrative business is starting up again.


A photo released on September 24, 2014 by US-based SITE shows the two German hostages kidnapped by the Philippine Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines. Germany said on September 24 it would not withdraw support for US action against jihadists in Iraq and Syria following a reported ultimatum from Philippine Islamist militants threatening to kill a German hostage.  AFP PHOTO / SITE


A chilling terrorist warning

18 October 2014

The beheading threat in Jolo island could be proof that the Islamic State has gained a foothold in southern Philippines.

A must-have app for protesters

11 October 2014

FireChat works even without Internet connection or cellular coverage but it has a downside.

Delicious find: An employee placing pho noodles into bowls at the Pho Thin restaurant in Hanoi. - AFP

Food worth getting lost for

4 October 2014

In between grilling Asian editors, a headless chicken hunt for Vietnam’s famous beef noodle soup ensues.

Inspiring response to the Pitas Road

27 September 2014

Netizens and organisations are supporting the project with both prayers and cash, but the official response so far has been underwhelming.

The last leg to the ‘Lost World’

20 September 2014

Villagers in Kampung Dowokon decided to take the initiative to connect to the nearest town, but there’s more to be done.

It’s out in the open now

13 September 2014

Talk of Sabah pulling out was carried out underground until the threat to arrest the so-called secessionists.

A historical black hole for Sabah

6 September 2014

There is still debate about whether North Borneo was a country, a state or a self-government in transition during the first couple of weeks of independence.

A group choir of Sabah Credit Corporation in their Sabah ethnic traditional costumes raising Jalur Gemilang during the Flag Raising Campaign inconjunction with the launching of Merdeka Day celebration in Kota Kinabalu. - NORMIMIE DIUN/The Star

Getting historical facts right

30 August 2014

I’m proud that Sabah was one of the countries to form Malaysia, as opposed to joining Malaysia.

Logo of WhatsApp, the popular messaging service seen here on a smartphone. - AFP

Over-developed sense of humour

23 August 2014

You may think what you are sharing on WhatsApp is funny, but it can get you into legal problems.


Recent Posts