MANILA (Updated) -- Malacañang said Sunday that the government will observe the no ransom policy following the alleged abduction of a foreign television reporter and his crew in Sulu last week.
Jordanian journalist Baker Abdulla Atyani of Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV and his two Filipino cameramen Rolando Letrero and Ramelito Vela were reported missing since June 12 after they failed to return to their rented rooms at the Sulu State College Hostel in capital town Jolo.
Police authorities suspected the three were kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf bandits, who reportedly demanded a P50-million ransom.
The Integrated Police Operation Western Mindanao received an unconfirmed report saying the three were held captive by Yasser Igasa, leader of the Abu Sayyaf group in Sulu province, according to a radio report.
“The government holds a no ransom policy — that has not changed,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in an interview over government-run Radyo ng Bayan.
She added it is premature to discuss ransom at the moment since there was no confirmed report yet of Atyani and his group being kidnapped.
In fact, Valte said there were witnesses who spotted the television team leaving their hostel “voluntarily” with several persons.
“As far as we have been updated, you can’t even put the incident in that category (abduction) yet. They are still considered missing and efforts are being expended to locate them,” the Palace official said.
Senior Superintendent Gene Cerbo Jr., spokesman of the Philippine National Police, also said the category of Atyani, Vela and Letrico is “still missing,” as it could not be confirmed if they were kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf.
“We have not received any word on the whereabouts of Baker Atyani as of today (Sunday),” he said.
Valte assured, however, that concerned government agencies are monitoring the situation and the Palace has been constantly getting updates from the local government in Sulu.
Atyani, an experienced reporter who interviewed notorious terrorist Osama bin Laden, reportedly went to Mindanao for a series of interviews including with the officials of Sulu.
He arrived in Zamboanga City on June 10 where he had interviews with a certain Uztad Abdul Baki Abubakar and a certain Morehi Ibrahim.
The next day, Atyani and his team flew to Sulu to interview Governor Abu Sakur Tan and Jolo Mayor Hussein Amin.
On June 12, the three reportedly went to a jungle in Jolo to conduct an interview with Abu Sayyaf leader Yasser Igasan. They have not been seen since then.
Atyani, Al-Arabiya's TV bureau chief in Southeast Asia, is apparently doing a TV documentary on the kidnappings in southern Philippines.
There have been reports that Atyani has been visiting Sulu the past 10 years apparently to get first-hand news about the Abu Sayyaf, a terror group tagged in many terrorist attacks and kidnap-for-ransom in southern Philippines for the past 15 years.
Jolo, which is about 950 kilometers south of Manila, is notorious for bomb attacks, kidnappings and beheading incidents. (Jill Beltran/PNA/Sunnex)