Headless | Inquirer Opinion
Editorial

Headless

/ 12:34 AM April 29, 2016

The initial burst of reaction on social media to the Abu Sayyaf’s execution of a hostage was anger at the Philippine government’s inability to put an end to the bandit group—or even to properly notify the public of the tragic event. The Aquino administration certainly was remiss in its duty to inform; many Filipinos heard the news only when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the killing of Canadian hostage John Ridsdel hours after it had taken place. But Trudeau also made a larger point: Ridsdel’s death was “an act of cold-blooded murder and responsibility rests squarely with the terrorist group who took him hostage.”

It does. While we must hold the administration to account for its role in allowing the Abu Sayyaf problem to fester anew, we hold the bandits squarely responsible for Ridsdel’s execution.

The Abu Sayyaf took Ridsdel hostage—together with another Canadian, Robert Hall; a Norwegian, Kjartan Sekkingstad; and a Filipino, Marites Flor—last September, while they were at the tourist island of Samal just off Davao City. On Monday, Ridsdel’s severed head was found inside a yellow sack that, according to witnesses, had been dumped by two men riding a motorcycle.

The three other hostages remain in captivity, as do about 20 other foreign hostages.

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Beheading was an exceptionally tragic fate for Ridsdel, who worked in the Philippines for a mining company for many years and who, by all accounts, had fallen in love with the country. The tributes that have poured in standard and social media have been very moving; many of them came from Filipinos with whom Ridsdel had worked. The statement from his bereaved family drew even more sympathy: “John was a kind and gregarious person who touched everyone he knew with his enthusiasm and generosity. He loved life and lived it to the fullest with his family and friends at the center.”

This friend of the Philippines did not deserve this cruel, indeed barbaric, death.

Unfortunately, his fellow hostages face the same fate—unless the Armed Forces can make an honest man out of President Aquino. The other day, the President released a statement which included the following promise: “Our reports tell us that the captives are under the control of Radillon Sajiron, who has consolidated his forces around himself and the captives. This presents both a problem and an opportunity. It is a problem because of the sizeable force surrounding Sajiron and the captives, but it is also an opportunity because smashing these forces is within our grasp.”

He also said: “I am ready to devote all my energies towards ensuring that, at the very least, this will be a very seriously degraded problem that I will pass on to my successor.”

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Smashing or “seriously degrading” the Abu Sayyaf, or at least the large (and loose) faction that responds to Sajiron’s leadership, would be a real victory, but the task is more complicated than the rhetoric may make it seem. A string of ransom payments has given new life to the bandit group; the new money means much more than new firearms, new boats, or new recruits—it also means more goodwill with, and more assistance to, the communities that support and sustain members of the Abu Sayyaf. This will make the porous alliances and kinships and relationships that enable the members of the Abu Sayyaf to merge into the background even more problematic.

The presence of the hostages is also a complication—a necessary one. The Abu Sayyaf has had no qualms using their hostages as human shields, and it is the responsibility of the Armed Forces to use force in a way that will minimize the number of casualties.

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Not least, the Armed Forces must resolve this crisis very soon. There is very little leeway.

As things stand, the Aquino administration is ending its last months in office in the same way it started: hapless, and at the seeming mercy of criminals and terrorists.

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TAGS: abduction, Abu Sayyaf, beheading, John Ridsdel, terrorism

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