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Editorial

The forgotten ‘last foreign hostage’

/ 05:16 AM June 07, 2019

They came to see the Sulu hornbill and spent days trying to spot the rarest and most endangered hornbill in the world. But the Dutch Ewold Horn, the Swiss Lorenzo Vinciguerra and their Filipino companion Ivan Sarenas were themselves spotted and shortly captured by predators in waters off the town of Panglima Sugala in Tawi-Tawi. Hours later, realizing that they would be taken to the Abu Sayyaf stronghold in Jolo, Sulu, Sarenas dove deep into the strait and was rescued by fishermen. That was Feb. 1, 2012.

Seven years later, last May 31, Horn, 59, lay lifeless on mountainous terrain in Patikul, Sulu, killed in a firefight between Philippine troops and the bandit group Abu Sayyaf. Eight soldiers were reported wounded; the wife of the long-wanted bandit leader Radulan Sahiron was also killed.

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The military’s Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) said Horn was shot dead by his captors as he tried to flee during the gun battle. No independent verification of that information has yet been made.

Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said he would seek “clarification” from his Philippine counterpart. It is not known if Foreign Secretary Teddyboy Locsin has given him the time of day. Perhaps Locsin would inform not only the Dutch official but also the Filipino public, in language that does not have to be foul, how Horn died (for example, that it was not friendly fire that did him in), and why he remained captive after all these years? There is no update from the uniformed forces, as though to say it is now a closed case.

But in a curious report on May 21, or 10 days before Horn’s killing, the Daily Express of East Malaysia quoted the Philippine National Police’s Sulu provincial commander Pablo Labra as saying that the Dutchman “had developed Stockholm Syndrome and had been spotted carrying a weapon.” The newspaper also quoted Labra thus: “We really don’t know if he has fought troops, but if he engages security troops and the lives of our troops are put in grave danger, then we have no other recourse but to fight back.”

No mention of this supposed development in Horn’s seven-year captivity was made by responsible officials in reports on his death.

The Dutchman who traveled to the Philippines to catch sight of and perhaps photograph the black-feathered, white-tailed Sulu wonder was said to have been the Abu Sayyaf’s last foreign hostage. (Vinciguerra managed to escape in December 2014. Poignantly, Horn was “too ill, too weak” to flee along with him.)

With Horn out of the picture, the Wesmincom spokesperson, Col. Gerry Besana, said: “There is really nothing stopping us now from further intensifying our offensive against [the Abu Sayyaf].” As though the military had been walking on eggshells in going after the bandit group which has made of the Philippines a barbaric kidnap-for-ransom outback, and which authorities had time and again described as a spent force.

As it happens, today is 17 years to the day when American missionary Martin Burnham and Filipino nurse Edibora Yap were killed in a rescue mission launched by Philippine and US troops in the hinterlands of the Zamboanga peninsula. Burnham’s wife Gracia was found alive. The Burnhams, a missionary couple from Kansas who had spent much of their lives in the Philippines, were seized by the Abu Sayyaf along with 18 other persons from an upscale resort in Palawan in May 2001.

Operation Daybreak marked the end of their nightmare in the hands of the bandits—a “mere” one year, one could note with irony, compared to Horn’s seven years. Yap was abducted much later in the course of the bandits’ rampage.

Between then—and even earlier, in April 2000, when the Abu Sayyaf abducted mostly Western hostages from a Malaysian resort and brought them to Jolo—and now, the leadership of the group that the US government brands as terrorist has changed. Yet its strength shows no sign of flagging—surely the result of benefiting hugely from ransom extracted from foreign governments and private groups.

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Recall how the Estrada administration’s chief negotiator was particularly plagued by suspicion of taking princely cuts from ransom payments. Or Gracia Burnham writing about her and her husband’s captivity, during which their captor, Abu Sabaya, was heard “wheeling and dealing” on the phone with a general over the amount of ransom.

But Horn? Speaking to the NL Times, ex-hostage Warren Rodwell of Australia assailed the Dutch government for not negotiating for Horn’s freedom. The Abu Sayyaf freed Rodwell in March 2013, supposedly after receiving $100,000—down from its initial demand of $2 million—in ransom.

“Ewold was simply a forgotten story,” Rodwell said.

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TAGS: Abu Sayyaf, Ewold Horn, Tawi Tawi
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