MANILA -- The Jordanian journalists and his crew are missing but not kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf bandits in southern Philippines, the military insists Sunday.
“Our intelligence is that they are only missing but we have information on where they are and they are very mobile at the moment,” said Naval Forces in Western Mindanao Deputy Commander Colonel Jose Johriel Cenabre.
He declined to give specific details on moves they will make to safely recover Al Arabiya journalist Baker Abdulla Atyani and his two Filipino crewmen, Ramelito Vela, 39 and Rolando Letrero, 22, who have been declared officially missing after failing to return to their room at the Sulu State College Hostel where they checked in at 11 p.m. of June 11.
Cenabre said they had information that the three were still conducting interviews with the Abu Sayyaf leaders.
Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo said Sunday, however, that the Jordanian journalist and his crew are now considered hostages of the al-Qaeda–linked Abu Sayyaf.
He said the three are now being held against their will.
Robredo was also quoted in a television interview as saying that the three men were possibly prevented from leaving after reports went around the public that they were missing.
An official said one of the Filipino cameramen reportedly called his wife to seek help from his employer, although this same official did not name who among the two made the communication.
Malacañang, meanwhile, failed to elaborate on Robredo’s disclosure at this point, which came after the Jordanian government released a statement last Friday that Atyani and his crew have been kidnapped.
“We continuously coordinate with Secretary Robredo. There are certain instances when we defer to the Cabinet secretaries to explain what has happened in a particular situation or in a particular issue,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in an interview with state-run Radyo ng Bayan.
During the interview, Valte insisted that the Palace is not in the position to detail about the factors that led to the abduction.
She also left it to the DILG to check if there is a need to conduct a search-and-rescue operation.
"We don’t quite agree that it’s abduction because the information we have is that he went there voluntarily. Now it seems that he’s not able to leave. So that is something that we want Secretary Robredo to explain on what have led to the change in circumstances,” she said.
Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan also said the incident was not really a kidnapping, as they voluntarily went to the terrorist two weeks ago.
"No kidnap. How can you say that it was kidnapping when there was no force or coercion employed?" Tan said during the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao Convention on Good Governance in Watertfront Insular Hotel Davao last week.
Reports said Atyani and his crew failed to return to their rented rooms at the Sulu State College Hostel located on Martirez Street in the capital town of Jolo last June 12.
Witnesses said the three were fetched around 5:45 a.m. of June 12 by a man driving a multicab and have not returned since then.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) said whether Atyani and his crew were kidnapped or not, there is no information as to the motive behind the incident.
PNP Director General Nicanor Bartolome said police units in Sulu are still looking for the three even as their alleged captors have not given anyone a ransom note.
“Without a ransom note, it is hard to say that they were kidnapped,” he added. “We have monitored some movements but I cannot elaborate on this.”
Authorities said Atyani may have traveled to Jolo's mountainous jungles to seek an interview with Abu Sayyaf bandits and some of their foreign hostages as part of a TV documentary on the southern Philippines.
Atyani and his crew arrived Monday in Jolo, a hotbed of bandits notorious for bomb attacks, kidnappings and beheadings about 950 kilometers (590 miles) south of Manila.
Atyani is a veteran Middle Eastern TV reporter who had interviewed Osama bin Laden months before the September 11, 2001 attacks. He is Al-Arabiya's TV bureau chief in Southeast Asia. (Virgil Lopez/Antonio L. Colina of Sun.Star Davao/PNA/Sunnex)