MANILA, Philippines—The Department of Justice (DoJ) Monday approved the filing of kidnapping charges against Indanan, Sulu Mayor Alvarez Isnaji and his son Haider over the hostage-taking of an ABS-CBN crew led by broadcaster Ces Drilon.
The DoJ upheld the findings of its panel of prosecutors which said that some of the actuations made by the Isnajis during the hostage drama seemed to favor the kidnappers rather than the hostages.
The prosecutors, in their resolution, also said the presence of Haider at the counting of P20 million in ransom money during the payoff was like a scene from the movies.
Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said the DoJ was rushing to file the charges with the Sulu Regional Trial Court to preempt defense moves to secure the release of the Isnajis—now held in Camp Crame—through a writ of habeas corpus.
The habeas corpus petition is expected to be heard in the next 48 hours, Gonzalez said.
“They (Isnajis) might be released, but it will not exonerate them. If released, possibly they will become scarce. You couldn’t get them anymore,” Gonzalez told reporters.
The Isnajis have denied involvement in the kidnapping, maintaining they merely acted as negotiators to secure the release of Drilon, her cameramen Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderrama, and Mindanao State University Prof. Octavio Dinampo.
The prosecution panel, led by City Prosecutor Emilie Fe Delos Santos, said the Isnajis could not be cleared of the accusations against them despite Dinampo’s statement that he did not think father and son were involved.
“Professor Dinampo’s opinion and point of view … are unsupported by competent proof,” the panel said.
Against human nature
The panel said the contention of the Isnajis that they were simply negotiators was “too impossible to believe and ran counter with human nature and the course of things.”
Citing Haider’s statement that the kidnappers had counted the ransom money—delivered in batches of P5 million and P15 million—in his presence, the panel said this was “incredulous, one we can only perhaps see in the movies.”
The panel said it was “too obvious that respondents each took an active role as alleged ‘negotiators,’ with respondent Haider ‘Jun’ Isnaji appearing to have first hand knowledge of the activities of the kidnappers.”
“As a matter of common observation and knowledge, we find it unusual that respondent Haider appears to know even the minutest detail of what the kidnappers wanted. Although continually professing his innocence, the behavior he exhibited seem to favor the kidnappers than the hostages,” it said.
With regard to the elder Isnaji, the panel said his actuations also appeared to favor the kidnappers.
It also said the mayor knew about the delivery of the ransom money on two occasions, while other concerned agencies did not. It said the mayor “conveniently” declared he was informed about it by “sources” that he could not name.
The panel said the elder Isnaji’s “most disturbing” act was his questioning the attempt of police Provincial Director Julasirim Kasim to intercept the P15-million ransom batch brought by lawyer Nasser Ynawat.
“If indeed, it was Mayor Isnaji’s sincere desire to stick to the ‘no ransom policy’ of the government, his act of demanding for the immediate release of the P15M from … Kasim gave us the impression that he was more interested in the money than anything,” the panel said.
The Isnajis said they were shocked that the police had implicated them in the crime. They also pointed to what they said was the lack of an incriminating statement from Drilon against them.
The elder Isnaji also said he was initially reluctant to become a negotiator but agreed to it after talking with a crying Drilon over the phone.
Haider, for his part, said he was surprised to find out from the kidnappers that he had been designated to deliver to them the ransom money brought in by a courier.
He said he was reluctant to do it but agreed after it was pointed out that helping ensure the release of the hostages would advance his and his father’s bid for government seats in the forthcoming Muslim regional elections.
At Camp Aguinaldo, the military expressed confidence that the arrest of two teenaged boys linked to the June 8 hostage-taking would lead to the other kidnappers and the mastermind.
Abu group got P18M
Nadzmir Amirul, alias Abu Kudama, 18, and his 14-year-old companion were arrested at a military checkpoint on July 18 in Patikul town, according to the military.
Interviewed in Jolo, Amirul said that the Abu Sayyaf group of “Commander Amlon” got about P18 million in ransom.
He said the money was put in two bags and divided among the members of the group.
Asked about the alleged participation of Mayor Isnaji, Amirul said: “This is my first time to hear that name. I do not know him.”
Amirul said he was only an errand boy.
He said that when the kidnappers arrived in their place at Barangay Timpook in Patikul, he and another companion were hired to watch over the victims.
P50,000 for errand boy
Besides serving as guard, Amirul cooked and fetched water for the kidnappers and the victims, according to the military.
Amirul said he got P50,000 as payment for his services.
Asked why the wallet of cameraman Encarnacion was recovered from him during his arrest, Amirul said it was given to him.
Amirul said that during the hostage drama, Encarnacion asked him to look for his wallet, which had been taken by others, so he could retrieve his identification cards.
He said Encarnacion allowed him to keep the wallet after the cameraman got his ID.
Amirul said he and some of his companions were considered part of the “outer” group of the Abu Sayyaf, and not that of the “inner” group led by Radulan Sahiron.
Col. Eugene Clemen, commander of the 3rd Marine Brigade, described Amirul as “very cooperative and is telling the truth.”
“I am convinced by what he says. Honestly, I myself believe that what he is saying is true,” Clemen said.
Two Abu Kudamas?
But Rear Admiral Emilio Marayag Jr., commander of the Naval Forces South, said the Abu Kudama he knew had long been arrested.
“Abu Kudama is in Manila to face charges in court. Apart from this, I have nothing more. Military Intelligence Group 9 arrested him last year,” Marayag said.
“As far as I know, there is (only) one Abu Kudama, unless there’s another one,” Marayag said.
Maj. Gen. Ben Dolorfino, Marine commandant, said he was positive about Kudama’s identity because he was one of those caught in a video secretly taken by the ABS-CBN team.
“His arrest will provide a lot of information that would lead to the solution of the case and give justice to the victims,” Dolorfino said. With a report from Nikko Dizon