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December 12, 2009

December 12, 2009 - The Daily Star - Filipino Abductors Free 10 More Hostages, Hold 47

Oliver Teves

Associated Press

MANILA: Government-armed former militiamen freed 10 more hostages seized in the remote southern Philippines, and their leader demanded Friday that murder charges against them be dropped before they release 47 others.

The abductions Thursday by 15 gunmen raised new questions over the Philippines’ long-standing policy of arming civilian volunteers to protect against insurgencies. Just a day earlier, 100 other militiamen in the south were named suspects in the killing of 57 people in the country’s worst political massacre, prompting Manila to order a review of its security policy.

Hours after the kidnappings, a government negotiator persuaded the gunmen to free 17 schoolchildren and an elderly woman among more than 70 people they initially seized. As negotiations resumed Friday, the gunmen released 10 more – eight women and two men – negotiator Josefina Bajade said.

“There will be another round of negotiations for the remaining hostages,” she told The Associated Press. “We cannot get them all in one go.” Police said they were trying to arrest two brothers among the gunmen on murder charges. One of the brothers, Joebert Perez, the gang leader who was negotiating with Bajade, met with reporters outside three huts where the hostages were being held.

Perez said the charges against him were fabricated and blamed a rival clan, the Tubays, for the killing of six of his siblings since last year. He demanded that police disarm the enemy clan before the remaining hostages are released.

The abductors refused to free the others despite promises that they would be allowed to keep their weapons and be protected at the local Roman Catholic bishop’s residence, Vice Governor Santiago Cane said.

The gunmen insisted the arrest warrants against them be quashed, Cane said.

Nestor Fajura, provincial police operations officer, said the negotiations with the gunmen included the disarming of both clans. “The Perezes will not disarm if the Tubays have the firearms. So both will be disarmed,” he said.

The hostage-takers in San Martin hamlet are former militiamen who had been dismissed and turned to banditry and extortion, targeting mining and logging companies in the area, said police Chief Superintendent Jaime Milla.

For decades, Manila has armed civilian volunteers – often poorly trained and ill-disciplined – as a backup security force in areas with communist or Muslim insurgencies.

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