Mayor got P3m of P5M
by Raymond Africa
The police yesterday confirmed that the family of ABS-CBN news anchor Ces Drilon paid P5 million ransom to a bandit group that held her, two cameramen, and a professor for 10 days in Sulu.
PNP chief Avelino Razon Jr. said Ces’ brother Frank Oreña delivered the P5 million to Indanan Mayor Alvarez Isnaji a day before Angelo Valderama, Drilon’s assistant cameraman, was released on June 12.
But only P2 million of the P5 million reached the kidnappers as the P3 million was pocketed by Isnaji, Razon said.
Isnaji, chosen by the kidnappers as negotiator, and his son Haider were arrested Thursday and charged with four counts of kidnapping for ransom.
Drilon, cameraman Jimmy Encarnacion and professor Octavio Dinampo were released before midnight Tuesday.
Razon said the information came from Senior Supt. Winnie Quidato of the PNP Intelligence Group, who introduced himself to Alvarez Isnaji as a civilian employee of the Department of the Interior and Local Government who was sent there by the government to assist in negotiations.
“Mula noon, na-observe na ni Quidato ang mga actuations ng mga Isnaji,” Razon said.
He said Quidato was at the house of the Isnajis in Sitio Danasih, Indanan, Sulu while the negotiations for the hostages’ release were unfolding.
Razon showed media two pictures taken on June 12 at the house of Mayor Isnaji while Haider was counting the ransom money.
Shown in the photograph aside from the Isnajis were Sulu Vice Gov. Lady Ann Sahidula, Quidato, and the vice governor’s bodyguard.
Razon said the P5 million was meant for Drilon but only Valderama was initially released.
“Yan pa ang inaalam natin ngayon kung meron pang ibang bayaran ng ransom na nangyari,” Razon said.
But a part of the powerpoint presentation during the press conference said: “The three hostages (Drilon, Encarnacion, and Dinampo) were released after the balance ransom money was delivered to Mayor Isnaji.”
“It was gathered that Mayor Isnaji and his son had persistently applied pressure on the family of the victims for the delivery of the remaining ransom money for the release of the other hostages still held in captivity.”
Razon had warned of charges against those violating the government’s no ransom policy.
He sang a different tune yesterday.
“Well, pag-aaralan pa natin yan. We can’t fault the Oreña family for trying to bring back their loved ones,” Razon said.
He said investigators have established that three of the kidnappers are relatives of Mayor Isnaji.
CIDG director Chief Supt. Raul Castañeda said the Isnajis were unaware that their pictures were being taken while counting the ransom.
“Na-excite na sila sa pera kaya hindi na nila napansin na nakunan sila ng picture,” Castañeda said. He did not say who took the pictures.
Castañeda said that based on intelligence gathering, the leader of the kidnap group, which the PNP maintains has links with the Abu Sayyaf group, was led by a “Laring-laring.”
It was later established that Laring-laring is Mayor Isnaji, he said.
Director Silverio Alarcio, directorate for operations chief, said the Isnajis “actively negotiated for the kidnappers’ benefit in the ransom negotiations and the subsequent payment. Both acted as emissaries (of the kidnappers) rather than for the government in the release of the hostages,” Alarcio said.
Alarcio said the Isnajis persistently applied pressure on the Oreña family to pay ransom.
Razon added: “Anxious na anxious itong si Mayor Isnaji na mabayaran na ang ransom. At isa pa, si mayor ay dumederekta na ng communication sa pamilya ni Ces na hindi naman dapat. Dapat kasi si vice governor ang kumokontak or direktang nakikipag-usap sa pamilya ni Ces, hindi si mayor.”
Castañeda presented sketches of 13 members of the kidnap group. He identified them as Sulaiman Patta alias Abu Harris/Tek who is said to be a member of the Abu Sayyaf under Radullan Sahiron, and Walid alias Tuan Wals also of the Sahiron faction.
The others were named only through their aliases such as Seding, Amrin, Adzker, Bas, Bakrin, James, Rihim, and Tawing.
The pictures were among the pieces of evidence presented by the police to the justice department.
Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said intelligence assets took pictures. He said even Sahidula has her own video showing Isnaji counting the money before it was delivered to the abductors.
“There were pictures showing his participation. He is involved, aside from negotiating. He kept part of the loot. The pictures would show that he was counting the P5 million, hinati niya yung share niya. This would show that they were already part of the kidnapping syndicate,” Gonzalez said.
Haider, he said, was the one directing the operations of the Abu Sayyaf.
“That is the report that I received from the PNP,” Gonzalez said. “Siya ang nagsasabi kung kelan darating ang pera, saan nakalagay.”
Gonzalez said that at one point, the military could have closed in on the kidnappers to rescue the hostages but the Isnajis prevailed on them because “they were still waiting for someone.”
Asked if this “someone” was Sen. Loren Legarda, who said she was tapped by ABS-CBN to help in the negotiations, Gonzalez said he was not sure as the senator’s name did not crop up during investigations.
This, however, does not let her off the hook, he said.
Quidato, in his affidavit, said Mayor Isnaji repeatedly told him he would pocket P3 million of the P5 million.
The kidnappers released Valderama instead of Drilon when the P2 million was delivered. They later asked for P15 million for Drilon, Encarnacion and Dinampo.
Isnaji has asked that a formal preliminary investigation be conducted on them. The PI, which will be conducted by Senior State Prosecutor Emilie Fe delos Santos, head of the DOJ anti-kidnapping task force, will start next week.
Gonzalez said the claims of Isnaji’s lawyer, Ernesto Francisco, that they were conducting the negotiation under the orders of Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno could be a good defense if they can prove it.
Gonzalez also said former ARMM Gov. Nur Misuari helped in identifying some of the suspects and their aliases, including Isnaji.
Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said he personally believes Sahidula was not involved in the kidnapping.
He said Sahidula told him over the phone that she even ordered the videotaping of the arrival of the ransom money “for the purpose of transparency.”
Dureza said government has not paid “a single centavo of that money and our no ransom policy still stands.”
Asked if Isnaji’s candidacy for ARMM governor could be considered as motive behind the kidnapping, Dureza said: “I would rather wait until the inquest is done and the matter is adduced and presented in court. This is something that we cannot speculate about in fairness to Mayor Isnaji.”
An election analyst said all might not have been lost for Isnaji’s candidacy.
“I think it could still work for him because, in a way, he became popular… sa national level pa nga e. He was given free publicity kasi, so to speak,” said Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms.
He said Isnaji’s candidacy is being widely supported by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front.
“Dahil suportado siya ng MILF and MNLF, baka lalong lumakas ang suporta sa kanya. Kaya nga may ibang mga nag-iisip na baka ito ay set-up lang ito para masiraan siya at hindi maka-apekto sa pagtakbo ni Ampatuan,” he said.
Government is supporting re-electionist Zaldy Ampatuan. – With Evangeline de Vera, Gerard Naval and JP Lopez