At least 17 foreigners, mostly birdwatchers, were being held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf Group operating in Sulu, Basilan and others parts of Mindanao, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said on Thursday.
“With the release of the Jordanian TV reporter and his two Filipino friends, the number is now down to 17,” said Gazmin who added that he got the data from local officials.
He said he has no information if Baker Atyani, reporter of the Pan-Arab Al-Arabiya news channel based in Dubai, or his company paid ransom to the Abu Sayyaf.
“That I will have to find out,” Gazmin said, adding the government maintains its “no-ransom policy”.
The police claimed they found Atyani at around 7:30 p.m. Wednesday walking alone along the road in Barangay Igasan, Patikul, Sulu.
Patikul chief of police Chris Gutierrez said Atyani was immediately brought to a hospital in Jolo for medical checkup.
In June 2011, Atyani together with two Filipino friends went missing after leaving their hotel rooms in Jolo. Later they were reported to have been kidnapped by the bandits.
In February this year, Atyani’s Filipino buddies were recovered safe and unharmed after they were able to get away from their guards during skirmishes between soldiers and bandits.
With Atyani’s recovery, Gazmin said he and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas III planned to convene the Sulu’s council that would deal with kidnap-for-ransom cases involving local and foreign personalities.
He said a new strategy is necessary to eliminate or curb kidnapping in the south.
“We will just have to craft some operation that will be able to address the deficiency of the current operation against them (bandits),” Gazmin said. He did not elaborate.