"I PAID NO RANSOM" INSISTS BUSINESSMAN REGHIS ROMERO II
Manila, Dec. 7, 2001 - (STAR) Businessman Reghis Romero II maintained yesterday that no money changed hands when he escaped together with a female companion and a young boy from the clutches of Abu Sayyaf terrorists in Basilan last June.
Sen. Sergio Osmeña III had claimed he facilitated the delivery of P17 million as ransom for Romero, who was kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf gunmen from the upscale Dos Palmas island resort in Palawan on May 27, along with three Americans and 16 other Filipinos.
But Romero asserted there was no collusion between the military and the Abu Sayyaf when he and his companions dashed to freedom as the kidnappers escaped from a military cordon on June 2.
"I stand by what I stated under oath during the hearings called by the House of Representatives to investigate the alleged collusion between the military and the Abu Sayyaf," Romero said in a statement.
Meanwhile, President Arroyo fumed over the refusal of Osmeña to identify Malacañang officials who allegedly borrowed his private plane to deliver the ransom to the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan.
Osmeña instead dared the President to reveal the names of her aides involved in the transaction.
"Why should I? As far as I know, nobody from Malacañang arranged for that. Iíve been asking Gen. Alberto Braganza. Iíve been asking everybody. Nobody (knows anything about it)," a visibly irate Mrs. Arroyo said. Braganza is one of her aides-de-camp.
"I want him (Osmeña) to tell me, if he knows," the President insisted.
For his part, Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes accused Osmeña of trying to drive a wedge in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) by claiming some senior military officials received part of the ransom money paid by Romero.
Reyes said he has ordered AFP chief Gen. Diomedio Villanueva to conduct a separate probe on Osmeñaís allegations, saying the scandal was a "matter of highest concern and interest."
"I also lament the fact that he is saying that the lower ranking officers and soldiers should not trust their (senior) officers," Reyes said.
The secretary noted that Osmeñaís accusation was "unbecoming" of a senator.
He said he could not understand why Osmeña would "boldly and publicly" air the allegations when he himself admitted he could not prove them. Reyes reiterated that Osmeñaís story was false and without basis.
"If he canít prove them, he should not have made those accusations in the first place. So I reiterate my challenge to Senator Osmeña to substantiate his claim," Reyes stressed.
He gave Osmeña six months to prove his accusations.
Reyes pointed out, however, that he was having reservations in ordering Villanueva, who was among those implicated by Osmeña in the ransom mess, to conduct the probe.
"You know, the problem is some people are asking why am I now investigating this. I said I am not investigating this myself because they will accuse me of whitewashing the investigation, so now Iím having it investigated," Reyes clarified.
"Iíd rather err on the side or ordering the investigation and, of course, standing behind that investigation," he said.
Osmeña has said he could not identify the soldiers who received part of the ransom.
Except for American missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham who are still being held by the Abu Sayyaf in the jungles of Basilan, the hostages were released in batches amid rumors of ransom payments.
Osmena claimed that P10 million went to the kidnappers, P5 million to the military officials and P2 for local government officials.
Osmeña said he could not identify any of the purported recipients.
He charged that the incident made the military an accessory to murder, kidnapping and beheadings perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf.
Among those beheaded was American Guillermo Sobero of Corona, California. His Filipino girlfriend was with the latest group of hostages to be freed.
Osmeña said he knew the Palace official who sought his help in facilitating the delivery of the ransom to Basilan, but declined to identify him saying it would not help any.
On observations that he made the accusations quite late, Osmeña said he decided to give the military enough time to fulfill its promise to crush the Abu Sayyaf in six months.
"I came out only after six months and the Abu Sayyaf was still not crushed," Osmeña said.
He also said several people have expressed their willingness to support him in his exposé.
Meanwhile, the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said the President has become a willing hostage to top military officers who had known about the P17-million ransom.
Bayan leader Teodoro Casino urged Mrs. Arroyo to fire Reyes, Villanueva and other ranking military officials who allegedly maintained links with the Abu Sayyaf.
"Everybody knows the governmentís no-ransom policy is a sham. Everybody knows top AFP officials and government authorities have a share in the Abu Sayyafís money-making criminal operations," Casino said. ó Marichu Villanueva, Paolo Romero, Aurea Calica, Romel Bagares
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
2001 by PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS
All rights reserved
PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS ONLINE