ZAMBOANGA CITY–Calling the strategy inhuman, the Philippine superior of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions said Saturday he hoped it was not true that the authorities obtained Fr. Giancarlo Bossi’s release by holding hostage the family of the alleged leader of the band that kidnapped the Italian missionary.
“I also really feel guilty about this,” Fr.Gianni Sandalo told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a telephone interview from Manila where accompanied Bossi for a meeting with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo a day after the 57-year-old priest was released on an isolated road in Lanao del Norte Thursday night. “I hope it’s not true, such practice for us is inhuman,” Sandalo added.
Sandalo said he hid Saturday’s issue of the Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net), which bannered the story on the abduction by government forces of the kidnap leader’s family, immediately after he read it lest the report further upset Bossi.
“The report about the 14 soldiers killed was too much for him to take. He’ll feel more guilt once he’ll learn about this,” Sandalo said.
A source told the Inquirer newspaper on Friday that the authorities decided to hold hostage the wife and children of the kidnap leader, subsequently identified as Abu Sayyaf member Akiddin Akiddin Abdusalam,, to pressure the kidnappers to release Bossi.
The sources said the kidnap-for-kidnap strategy was hatched among generals at the sidelines of the anti-terror summit held in Cagayan de Oro earlier this month.
Chief Supt. Jaime Caringal, Western Mindanao police chief, admitted during a press conference in Zamboanga following Bossi’s release that the authorities employed an unusual strategy to get the priest back but did not specify what the strategy was.
Bossi was freed five days after the wife and children of the kidnap leader were taken into custody.
Ricardo Cabaron, Western Mindanao state prosecutor, said that if the kidnapping of Abdusalam’s family really took place, then whoever did it could also be liable under the law.
“If indeed our government agents took hostage the family of a suspected kidnapper, they are not different from Bossi’s captors,” Cabaron said. He said it was illegal.
“If there’s truth to that report, definitely they committed illegal acts. We cried against Bossi’s kidnapping because it’s a crime. If authorities played the same situation as that of Bossi’s kidnappers, then there is no difference between these two [groups] after all,” Cabaron said.
Muslim religious leaders here also frowned at the alleged strategy used in securing Bossi’s release.
“That kind of practice will never solve anything. It will only create more animosity,” said Ustadz Habib Zain Jali, chair of the Bangsamoro Peoples’ Congress.
Jali is also spiritual leader of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
Ustadz Shariff Mohsin Julabbi, a Muslim religious leader here, also denounced the kidnapping of Abdusalam’s family.
“Such practice is really a very bad example and it will not solve the problem, instead it will just worsen the hostile situation,” said Julabbi, who earlier admitted to being a relative of Abdusalam. He warned that it “will only result to retaliation.”
“I pity the innocent woman and children. If indeed a member of a family committed crimes, do the other members have to suffer the same?” Julabbi said.
Col. Jovencio Magalso, commander of the Task Force Bossi, said he was not aware of the kidnap-for-kidnap strategy.
Magalso admitted that during the early days of the kidnapping, they invited several people for questioning. “But none of them were women or children.”
One of the sources of the Inquirer story admitted that the kidnapping of Abdusalam’s wife was “basically improper.”
“But it’s also the common technique applied by some people in Lanao when kidnappers refused to release their captives,” he said.
Basilan Representative Wahab Akbar said he applied the same strategy in the past but if he would deal with a kidnapping case again, he would prefer not to use it anymore.
“Different situations require different approaches, but I will no longer apply that kind of approach,” he said.