(Updated) The Pikit Abduction: a view from Davao City
DAVAO CITY – (Updates as of June 1) Maa resident Roselyn Timbal, owner of the Nissan van recovered in Balonguis village in Pikit town, could not tell the staff at the front desk of the Apo View Hotel, if “Thomas,” a guest in the hotel is her client’s first or last name.
When MindaNews called Timbal at her residence shortly after lunch (Thursday), then at her cellular phone later, she claimed she was still uninformed about the exact situation of her van, its driver, and her clients.
“Are they OK sir? What are they going to do with them?” she told MindaNews in the phone interview.
Thomas is of course, the German national “Thomas Wallraf” now in the news reported to have been kidnapped and later in the day, released unharmed with his Filipino wife, driver and another female companion. Before this reporter located the van’s owners, there were a lot of speculations.
What is the nationality of those “four white-looking people” (as text messages from Pikit describe the victims based on initial sightings), “two men and two women”, whom witnesses attest were spotted being dragged by armed men in remote villages in Pikit.
One caught in the spotlight is the USAID-funded Growth Equity for Mindanao (GEM) program. An official from GEM’s information department said “Our consultants are all accounted for” in the light of queries from the media whether those kidnapped where Americans belonging to GEM.
It came so fast. Timbal said, her driver Diego Daniel Narisma Jr., closed a deal with the German yesterday (Wednesday) at around 5p.m. to go to Pikit.
The next thing she knew (the following day), she gets a call that her van was found elsewhere –with the passengers reported kidnapped.
Roselyn could not fully tell MindaNews, at first about her driver’s full name –but she said 42-year old Diego was the one who transacted with Wallraf, who has been their client since February.
She said she heard the drivers refer to Wallraf as a “nickel bobbit” buyer now referred in the news very generally as a “metal buyer”.
The kidnappers were reported to be armed men who nabbed the victims from Batulawan village, off Pikit town in N. Cotabato. They deserted the van, hogtied and gagged the victims, rode makeshift motorcabs (“skylab”), and took off to Balongis, another village in Pikit.
Were they kidnapped because they were with a foreigner? Or was it because of the “business” they were making in the area? That remains to be seen.
Unfortunately, for the kidnappers they entered an area claimed by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The MILF has a ceasefire agreement with the government so the pursuit operations actually conducted starting Thursday morning also involved MILF forces.
When I talked to the MILF’s chair for its Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities over the phone, Von Al Haq said their forces was able to “corner” the kidnappers, who were later forced to surrender with their captives.
Al Haq pledged to send in updates as they prepare to turn those rescued to the government. Truly, the captives were freed and had been photographed with the government’s security forces in Pikit’s town Hall.
The MILF and the GRP committees will release a joint statement, Al Haq said.
There were also reports pointing to the kidnappers as alleged members of an MILF lost command. But it has not been confirmed. Al Haq was also mum about it pointing to the official statement.
One report also claimed it was a case of kidnap for ransom —with the victims reported to have paid their way out. How did it happen and how does it auger well with the claim the kidnappers were cornered?
The victims were already interviewed by the national media, so at least they have said part of what they have to say and which could probably indicate they are in good condition.
The four were released (from kidnappers to the MILF) because of a very weird series of circumstances. What, how, why and exactly who did it makes for a good time and effort to wait for the facts to come.
As this was unfolding, officials of the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command and the Philippine National Police kept the media, although at times vaguely, updated about the pursuit operations, including contacts made with the MILF CCCH to coordinate the operations.
Isn’t this a welcome development in the truce — one example of how the two parties can help each other, in this case stop criminals?
For now, Wallraf and his group, and all good forces that connived against evil have reasons to thank the culture of “coordination” brought by the ceasefire agreement (even if the peace process hangs, at the moment) …it appears there was coordination even in that rice field where a witness spotted the kidnappers and their captives.