Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - One of Jordanian TV journalist Baker Atyani¿s Filipino companions has called his family and employer in Taguig City in Metro Manila to let them know they are OK.
¿They are not under duress," Philippine Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo told reporters yesterday.
Atyani and his Filipino crew - audio man Ramelito Vela and cameraman Rolando Letrero - may not have been taken hostage after all even though they were with the Abu Sayyaf terror group in Sulu (south Philippines), Robredo said.
Asked what he meant by that, Robredo said the Jordanian and his crew were not under threat even though they were in the custody of Abu Sayyaf faction leader Nadzmir Alih.
¿They appear to be free to go anytime," he said.
Robredo came to this city to oversee the information-gathering on Atyani, Vela and Letrero after they disappeared from their hostel on the island of Jolo on June 12.
Atyani is the Al Arabiya television network bureau chief for Southeast Asia while Letrero and Vela joined him from Manila on this assignment. They left their hostel in Jolo, Sulu, early in the morning of June 12 and have not been heard from since.
Robredo said his impression from the message of the Filipino crew man, whom he did not identify, was that they were being treated well by the Abu Sayyaf.
¿The Jordanian appears to have made a good deal with the interviewee (Alih)," he said.
Chief Superintendent Mario Avenido, chief of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao police, said they learned this was not Atyani¿s first time in Mindanao.
¿He had made 12 previous visits to Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and even speaks some of the local dialects," Avenido said.
He believed Atyani and his crew decided to stay in Sulu longer so they could come out with a very good documentary on the Abu Sayyaf.
¿He is a professional and the boss of a news agency and he wants to come out with one good report," Avenido said.
Avenido said he was hoping that Atyani and his crew would turn up soon ¿to end this problem."
He said from what the authorities had gathered, the Jordanian and the two Filipinos were not being deprived of their rights.
¿Their rights are not being violated. They are not being subjected to mental or physical deprivation. In short, their situation is normal," he said.
Avenido said the three were confined to one area because ¿they are doing a documentary."
Both Robredo and Avenido denied that Alih had demanded 50 million pesos (US$1.18 million) for the release of the three.
¿There is no truth to that," Robredo said.
Avenido said the ransom claim ¿originated in Manila¿ but would not reveal its source.
He said the police were looking for Atyani¿s contacts in Sulu, ¿because if they have been kidnapped we will know who to pin down."
The Philippine Palace, meanwhile, said yesterday it could not confirm a report that Atyani was a conduit of the al-Qaeda international terror group to the homegrown Abu Sayyaf, but the police were looking into it.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the Palace had ¿no information¿ about Atyani having scheduled a visit to the Abu Sayyaf as reported by an unnamed ranking government source to the Inquirer the other day. - With a report from Christine O. Avendano
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