Brutally Frank: Ces Drilon kidnapping: a stage play?*


By MARY ANN MANJA BAYANG

I was in Davao City at the height of the negotiations for the release of kidnapped broadcaster Ces Drilon. I was in front of the television with locals from Mindanao as a teary-eyed Drilon was released by her “abductors” hours after a local plane landed in Southern Mindanao.

Allegedly on board was an unidentified lawyer carrying two duffel bags full of P15 million in cold cash.

“So, this is all for show,” I told a local who appeared to be trite on the whole incident of the “kidnapping” but who pitied Ces and her family so much for being victims of what she claims to be a stage play.

The reaction among my companions was common – this is all a stage play where the heroes are the actual villains. There was a common sentiment of hopelessness as the “audience” watch a play that keeps repeating the story.

I inquired further on the issues of kidnappings in Mindanao from the locals who were all so willing to answer my queries and satisfy my curiosity. From my discussions with them, I learned a lot of things that can only be gained from people on the ground and which never reach the press for public information.

According to these locals, there are two different groups of Abu Sayaff, one based in Basilan and the other in Sulu. The one in Sulu is allegedly a “loose group” while the one in Basilan is reportedly controlled by a consortium of the government military, police and local officials.

It was explained to me that the “kidnap-for-ransom” activities of these groups are their way of remorse against a government that seems to have neglected them or that continues to violate their basic rights.

Unacceptable as it may be to the other people, their way of demonstrating their issues against the government is to them, the only way to get the government’s attention to them and to their historically government-neglected communities.

Why do they say that the military, police and local officials are in connivance with the kidnappers? It is public knowledge.

People from Basilan and Sulu, like in many other small communities in the country, are always almost related to each other and are knowledgeable of what each of them are doing in their lives. Each one knows everyone and even knows where to locate anyone. It is common knowledge that anyone who enters these territories should have the permission from the local officials, police and military.

These are communities who are supposed to have, at the entrance to the village, a sign that reads “Enter at your own risk!” Indeed, risk will be certain when entry is done without the permission of “un”concerned people.

The locals said they strongly suspect that Ces did not seek this required permission therefore the directors of the stage play wanted to teach her a lesson and to make her know who calls the shots in the territory.

They say that the person who acted as a “guide” for Ces and her group was indeed publicly known as a military agent. This is one manifestation that the military is an inseparable element in the stage play.

The locals also posed a question on the credibility and interest of the local officials who were acting as “negotiators” in the play. They posed questions such as: why do the local officials have to be the ones to receive the ransom money? Why can they negotiate for a release after payment of ransom when they cannot negotiate for a mere safe release when they are supposed to have the authority over their territories?

In the case of the Gracia Burnham abduction, the victims were loaded in a chopper blindfolded and brought to Zamboanga. Only the military and the wealthy public officials have the capacity to own a chopper. Besides, aviation procedures make air travel really easy to track and regulate.

How about the ransom? These are people who come from extremely impoverished communities. The actual abductors are pushed to the wall by their economic needs and their desperate claims for genuine change and economic development.

The military, police and local officials allegedly make this as their milking cow to serve their own personal interests. This is where the money used to buy votes for the political elections allegedly comes from. So one may expect higher incidents of kidnapping, robbery and theft around the time when an election is approaching, locals observe.

How can the ordinary people’s call for genuine change and development harmonize with the interests of the politicians, police and military?

It is an “all-in-one” stage play. The “kidnapping” alerts the immediate attention of Malacañang and the public. It is a clamor for the palace to look into the issues and for the public to give the necessary pressure for its lady occupant to “do something.”

People in these areas are so desperate for social change and are so frustrated with Malacañang for not addressing their issues. They are sad that the media do not portray their real situations. This makes media persons the preferred victims in kidnapping.

The innocent victims in the play are usually exposed to the desperate lives of the “kidnappers”. They are made to personally know the issues and see the actual situations of these people and are expected to be ambassadors of true information in the hope that in the end, genuine social change will happen in their communities.

The ransom share is a mere incidental bonus to their primary call and a means of supporting what they believe is the “proper way” to call the attention of the government. For the other actors behind the scene, these incidents are sources of easy money to fuel selfish interests and perpetuate themselves in power.

I have no right to immediately judge the “kidnappers” as to whether their way of putting forward their issues to the proper authorities is proper or not. I may have no personal knowledge of the involvement of the local officials, the military and the police in all these “kidnappings” which the locals see as “stage plays” where, among the actors, the victim is the only person not given the script.

One thing for certain, there are genuine issues in these areas that need immediate and sincere attention. The “kidnappings” will never be solved by even a thousand military operations. It can only be resolved through a genuine social program that will address the real issues of a people who have been historically neglected abd have been suffering from institutionalized oppression and exploitation. #

(Footnotes)

* The contents of this article are information I gathered from discussions with locals in Mindanao and are not asserted in any way as portraying the truth of the situation.(NorDis)

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