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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Kidnappers free cameraman; P2M paid for 'board, lodging'

06/12/2008 | 10:50 PM

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - A television cameraman who was abducted by suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits in Jolo, Sulu, last Sunday, was freed Thursday evening, police told GMANews.TV in a telephone interview.

Reports quoted Undersecretary Amilasan Amilbajar of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Mindanao as saying a P2-million "board and lodging fee" was paid in exchange for Valderama's freedom.

"[Angelo] Valderama is finally freed. He will undergo medical examination and debriefing by government authorities. We are still waiting for developments on the other hostages," Superintendent Julasirim Kasim, the Sulu police chief, told GMANews.TV.

Valderama was released to Indanan Mayor Isnaji Alvarez in the village of Sinumaan in Talipao, Sulu, at about 8:30 p.m., said Kasim, National Police provincial director.

As of posting time, the kidnappers were still holding ABS-CBN reporter Ces Drilon and another cameraman Jimmy Encarnacion, including their guide, Professor Octavio Dinampo, of the Mindanao State University.

Valderama was undergoing a "debriefing" as of posting time in the provincial capital of Jolo, Kasim said, adding that the cameraman was "OK naman" and had no visible bruises or torture marks.

"Valderama looks OK," Kasim said.

Alvarez said Valderama was freed as a "gift." He refused to say if a ransom was paid to secure Valderama's release.

The kidnappers earlier asked for Alvarez, a former Moro National Liberation Front leader, to negotiate for the release of the hostages.

Alvarez is running for governor in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao elections in August.

It was not immediately known whether ransom was paid in exchange for the release of Valderama, but the kidnappers have reportedly demanded as much as P50 million for the hostages.

The kidnappers originally demanded P10 million, but radio network dzRH on Thursday said the bandits asked for P50 million.

The report said the hostages should have been freed on Wednesday after unnamed negotiators agreed to pay the ransom.

The radio network, which quoted "unnamed sources privy to the negotiations," also reported that the kidnappers already lowered their demand to P25 million.

The reports could not be independently confirmed.

Alvarez said Valderama was freed as a "gift." He refused to say if a ransom was paid to secure Valderama's release.

ABS-CBN earlier issued a statement saying it would not pay ransom to avoid emboldening kidnap-for-ransom groups "to abduct other journalists, putting more lives at risk."

Proof of life

Armed Forces chief Gen. Alexander Yano earlier on Thursday said the government received "proof of life" from the abductors of Drilon, her crew and Dinampo.

Yano gave the assurance that Drilon and her companions are alive.

Armed men believed to be members of the Abu Sayyaf group took the journalists on Sunday while they were on their way to the town of Maimbung in Sulu.

Asked if there is any proof that the four are alive and well, Yano said the Armed Forces has been receiving "information from the committee on the ground."

"I'd rather not go into the details. Suffice to say there is proof of life," he added.

Yano made the statement as he revealed that government forces are prepared to use force if necessary to secure the victims.

"We have several options from the most benign option to the extreme use of our arms, but all these options we will withhold pending the other activities on the ground so we would not rather telegraph our moves," he said.

Yano said a crisis team that included representatives of the military, the police and local government officials, among others has been formed in Jolo.

He said that they received initial information showing that the Abu Sayyaf might be involved.

"It's a plain and simple terrorist act and other details later on can be discovered," he said when asked if the disappearance of the four was politically related or a simple case of plain kidnapping.

Yano reiterated that the no ransom policy remains in effect adding that the government will not negotiate with the bandits. He said there is also no timetable set. "It's not easy to set a timetable for unreasonable groups, so we'd rather work on our own,"Yano said. - GMANews.TV