A man who represents relatives of three Indonesian sailors who were freed from Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) custody over the weekend claims their company sent money to the southern Philippine militant group before their release.
“There is no free lunch. [The company] did not pay ransom but gave ‘thank you’ money to cover the meals and all costs when they were held hostage,” Amrullah, who represents families of crew members of the tugboat Charles 001 who were kidnapped at sea in June, told BenarNews in an interview.
“How much it was, only the company knows. Even if I knew, I would not tell because there are still two of our colleagues who are detained by Abu Sayyaf,” said Amrullah, chairman of the Indonesian Seafarers Union in Samarinda, East Kalimantan province.
A spokesman for the company, P.T. Rusianto Brothers, declined to respond to the allegation.
“Regarding ransom, I don’t want to comment,” Taufikrahman told BenarNews on Tuesday.
A government official said Indonesia did not pay for the sailors’ release.
The three sailors who were released on Saturday have been identified as Ferry Arifin, 26, Muhammad Mahbrur Dahri, 27, and Edi Suryono, 27. Fellow shipmates Muhammad Nasir and Robin Pieter and six Malaysians are still in ASG custody.
Following the abduction of seven crew members off the tugboat Charles 001 on June 20, reports surfaced that ASG had demanded a ransom of 200 million Philippine pesos (U.S. $4.1 million) for their release.
Two of the crew members, Muhamad Sofyan and Ismail were rescued after they reportedly escaped from their captors.
Government: No ransom paid
The Indonesian government has consistently maintained that it has never paid any ransom money to secure the release of citizens being held captive by the militant group based in the southern Philippines.
“Maybe, it is costly, but the government will never compromise to terrorists by paying ransom,” Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, the foreign ministry’s director of protection and legal assistance for Indonesians overseas, told journalists.
Despite the government’s claim, Philippine-based news website Rappler.com reported last month that ASG had collected at least 354.1 Philippine million pesos (U.S. $7.3 million) in 2016 from ransoms paid for hostages. Of that amount, at least 324.1 million pesos ($6.7 million) was raised through ransoms paid for Southeast Asian sailors.
Ransoms have been paid for 17 Indonesians who have been released by Abu Sayyaf this year, Rappler reported.
Joint sea, air patrols discussed
The release of the three hostages occurred as the Philippine Department of National Defense (DND) announced that it was working with Indonesian and Malaysian defense officials to explore joint air patrols for safeguarding the seaways that separate the three neighbors.
These discussions took place during a meeting in Hawaii over the weekend between defense officials from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United States, Philippine media reported.
In a statement DND noted that the three nations were finalizing plans for similar maritime patrols in what they consider areas of common concern in the Sulu and Celebes seas.
“The phenomenon of returning fighters from the conflict in the Middle East could eventually create security challenges for the three countries, something which the ministers recognized, and hence, their decision to further get their act together,” DND said in a press release.
Amrullah said he was able to maintain contact with the hostages while they were being held because he was in communication with Abu Qhasadah, also known as Pak Jul, the leader of the ASG faction holding them.
Amrullah said he had talked with the hostages several times to say hello, and ask about their health.
“I did not interfere in the release efforts by the government. I just merely asked about how they were, and gave them encouragement to survive,” he said.