Let Red Crescent or Red Cross See Hostages, Erap Asks Sayyaf
European Union official arrives today President Estrada called on the Abu Sayyaf hostage-takers yesterday to allow the Malaysianbased Red Crescent, the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC), or any volunteer medical groups to enter the areas of conflict in Mindanao and deliver water, food, and medical assistance to the hostages.
In a press conference in Malacanang, the President said "the Red Crescent and other volunteer groups should be allowed to provide aid and comfort to the hostages, many of whom are foreigners."
He explained that this call is being made for purely humanitarian reasons.
"The latest conflict in Mindanao has already claimed so many lives among the combatants, civilians, and even hostages. The lives of the remaining hostages should be spared as the government pursues all measures toward the speedy resolution of this conflict," Mr. Estrada said.
The Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf is still holding 21 hostages, mostly foreigners, on the island of Jolo in Sulu province, and another eight Filipino hostages on nearby Basilan island. The foreigners were seized on the island resort of Sipadan in Sabah, Malaysia last April 24 and were transferred to Jolo by boat.
The hostage crisis and the resumption of hostilities with the bigger rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), has tied down much of the fighting force of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the Southern Philippines.
In issuing the appeal, President Estrada quoted an unnamed expert on Islamic Studies, who has written that when the Prophet Muhammad prepared his men for war, he advised them "never to kill women, infants, debilitated old persons, monks" and to "fight those who reject faith; but never transgress limits or to take your enemy by surprise or perfidy or inflict severities or mutilation or kill infants."
"It is my understanding of this Islamic tenet to be followed by Muslim fighters, that only combatants must be targeted and that prisoners of war or captives are neither to be injured nor tortured, much less killed," the President said.
Mr. Estrada also reiterated that it is not the government's policy to pay ransom in cases of kidnaping. He added, however, that since many of the hostages are foreigners, the Philippine government shares the concerns aired by the ambassadors or representatives of various European countries on the safety of the hostages.
He added that the Estrada administration is prepared to extend community development projects in the areas of conflict in Mindanao.
Present at the President's press conference in Malacanang were Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora, Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado, Foreign Affairs Secretary Domingo Siazon Jr., and Press Secretary Ricardo Puno Jr., also presidential spokesman.
After the President's statement, Mercado said the government troops are under strict orders not to retaliate or copy the Muslim fighters' acts of beheading their slain enemy, mutilating, and desecrating their bodies.
At least two slain Army troopers, Mercado said, suffered this fate in the hands of the Muslim rebels, but the Armed Forces will continue to "make the effort to humanize this conflict."
Zamora said that Malacanang still continues to trust its chief negotiator in the hostage crisis, Gov. Nur Misuari of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), and that the government does not wish to undercut Misuari's efforts.
Later in the evening, however, a wire report from Zamboanga City quoted Misuari as saying that he has been replaced as chief negotiator by Ghazali Ibrahim, a respected Muslim religious leader in western Mindanao.
Mr. Estrada and his Cabinet members affirmed that "the military has taken the right approach in resolving the (hostage) crisis", with the President adding that the military offensive against the Muslim rebels even enjoys the support of local officials in the region. …