Samal kidnap victims' video uploaded on YouTube

(UPDATED) -- The three foreign nationals and the Filipina abducted by 11 armed men inside the Holiday Ocean View Resort on the Island Garden City of Samal (Igacos), surfaced on Wednesday in a three-minute video that was uploaded on Youtube, pleading the military troops to stop military assault against the kidnappers.

The kidnap victims also appealed to the government to start negotiations with Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) for their immediate and safe release.

The Special Investigation Task Group (SITG) "Ocean View" said the video was immediately subjected for review by the Davao Police Regional Office's (PRO) Intelligence Division and technical team.

PRO spokesperson Supt. Antonio Rivera said there is still a need to verify the video before they can proceed to their next steps.

"We cannot confirm it yet, yong validity ng video, but it is still being reviewed by our teams," Rivera told reporters, during the AFP-PNP press conference held Wednesday morning at The Royal Mandaya Hotel.

In the video, the four kidnap victims identified as Canadians John Ridsel and Robert Hall, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, and Hall's girlfriend, Maritess Flor, appeared sitting on a grassy clearing of a forest while in front of a dozen armed men whose faces were covered with masks with a background of two black flags clearly associated with the Abu Sayyaf Group.

Hall, who was the first to speak in the video which was uploaded by a certain Darthodieus, revealed that they remain in grave danger if the military operations in Sulu continue.

"To my family and friends, I'm okay but I'm in grave danger. I encouraged you to contact the Canadian government to cooperate with the Philippine government to stop the bombing and problems going on here (Sulu)," Hall was quoted saying in the video.

Kjartan, the owner of the Ocean View Resort, in his statement, asked the government to meet the demands of their abductors or their lives will be put at stake.

Ridsel, for his part, urged both the Canadian and Philippine governments to help them by stopping the military operations in Sulu.

"Please stop all of these operation so that the negotiations can start," Ridsel said.

At the end part of the video, one of the ASG members said they want full cooperation from the government before a negotiation would take place.

"Meet all the requirements. No military operation and artillery attacks against us. Once you meet our requirements, then we can talk negotiations and demands," the ASG member said.

Rivera said they still need to verify if the people in the video are the same people who were abducted from Igacos last month.

"But first impression nako murag sila (My first impression on the video is that the faces are similar with the kidnap victims)," Rivera said.

"Let's give some time for the SITG Ocean View team to check the video first. The video was not dated so there is a need to verify it first."

Lt. Col. Norman Zuniega, assistant chief of staff for the Civil Military Operations (G7), said the decision to halt the military operations in Sulu will now be under the jurisdiction of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) as it falls under their area of responsibility (AOR).

"In terms sa operation, wala kaming control over their operations since its their (Westmincom) call now," said Zuniega who was also one of the panelists.

Positive proof

The circulation of the video in the social media sites did not only called the attention of the government but also showed positive proof that the victims are still alive.

"It's good since the video shows that the kidnap victims are all alive. Buhay talaga sila kasi nakasagot sila," Zuniega said.

Rivera said he also see the video as an assurance to them that they can still rescue them.

But he clarified that the SITG Ocean View has not yet receive any demand for ransom for the release of the victim.

"Wala pa talagang natatanggap na tawag na humingi na ng ransom," Rivera said.

Ongoing operation

Zuniega also bared that the final decision to heed to the call of the abductors to stop all military operations in the area will rely solely to the government and higher officers in the military.

"Still the decision is left on the hands of the commanders. Tinitingnan pa ang implications of the situation kasi ang safety ng mga victims ang ini-isip talaga natin when it comes to situations like this," he added.

But on rescue operations like this, conducting operations against the armed groups will put pressure on them, Zuniega said.

Rivera also said that until the authenticity of the video is verified, the safety of the kidnap victims will be prioritized. (Sun.Star Davao)

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