MANILA, December 9, 2003 (STAR) BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven - The capture of the dreaded Abu Sayyaf’s most vicious kidnap king (beside Commander Robot, that thankfully dead murderer-torturer Abu Sabaya was just a big-mouthed rapist) was a big intelligence coup. Gotcha, you scruffy rascal Galib Andang!

It was Robot, a former houseboy of ex-Governor Sakur Tan of Sulu, who gave us our first international black-eye when he and his Moro cohorts abducted 21 holidaymakers, half of them Western tourists, from the Malaysian "dive resort" of Sipadan in Sabah, more than three years ago. In a daring raid on April 23, 2000, Ghalib Andang (alias Robot), Mujib Susukan, Radulan Sahiron, Naadzmi Sapdula and other Abu’s grabbed French, Finnish, Belgian (and later German), Malaysian tourists, as well as two Filipinos.

For months, the hostages were dragged from one hideout to another, while French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, the European Union’s boca grande Javier Solana, and the lady Finnish President Tarja Holonen frequently scolded and embarrassed President Joseph "Erap" Estrada, warning him and our frustrated soldiers and policemen not to attack the Abu Sayyaf lest their precious hostages got harmed or killed.

Salamabit, Erap caved in to those foreign demands, and our boys out there were compelled to look like sissies, ordered by the Palace not to annoy the Abu’s or mount a search-and-rescue assault. In the meantime, Erap’s (we didn’t say bagman) Secretary Robert Aventajado, aided by Zamboanga’s Lepeng Wee and Jolo Governor Tan, kept on "negotiating" the hostages’ release, while furiously denying that any ransom was being paid. In the end, it turned out that at least P190 million had been paid in ransom for the European and Malaysian hostages – although the European newspapers claimed that US$10 million, or more than P500 million at the time, had been forked over. (Der Spiegel of Germany and Figaro of France hinted some of it found its way into Palace pockets. Why Robot didn’t "retire" to some safe bolthole in the Western hemisphere, or South America, with all that loot is mystifying – but our troops finally cornered him in Sulu, and shot him in both legs. Now we must make sure that asshole Robot doesn’t bleed to death – or deliberately fall prey to fatal gangrene or "infection". He must be kept in good health long enough to "tell" on the government officials who dealt with him (and fattened their bankrolls along with him) and the armed forces officers with whom he cooperated.

That guy Ghalib Andang, too, may be able to confirm his ASG’s early links with al-Qaeda through one of their instructors, Ramzi Yousef (who tried to blow up the World Trade Center in New York, unsuccessfully that time) and was caught in Pakistan after he skipped Manila following a failed plan to kill the Pope when the Holy Father came here on a visit. Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law Khalifa also spent years in Mindanao, helping organize a network.

I don’t know whether Robot will be able to say much about the Jemaah Islamiyah, the Bali and Metro Manila bombers, since that faction of the al-Qaeda might have abandoned the Abu’s as too rogue a group, and are currently tied up with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Anyway, the MNLF, MILF and Abu Sayyaf spring from the same roots, and have always interacted with each other.

As a serial kidnapper and murderer, Ghalib Andang deserves the death penalty – but let’s not rush him to the lethal chamber yet. He has to be squeezed for more information. What am I saying? It’s a stupid notion. Nobody ever gets rushed to the death chamber in this country. It always takes too many years to kill a killer or execute a kidnapper and other heinous criminal. Our system, alas, protects the guilty with more fervor than the innocent – who are dead and buried long before their tormentors and murderers are punished, if ever.

Have you noticed the flood of texts, e-mails, letters, and testimonials hailing the President’s lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty and signalling a resumption of executions? The ratio is running, I believe, 50 to one. Our people are afraid for their own lives, and those of their families, and want the criminals executed pronto, before they escape to take more lives. Or kidnap, rob, and rape anymore. Could anything be clearer?

* * *

Maria A. Ressa, Cable News Networks’ lead investigator in Asia, has just published a fascinating, candid, and hard-hitting book entitled Seeds of Terror, subtitled, An Eyewitness Account of Al-Qaeda’s Newest Center of Operations in Southeast Asia. (Free Press, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, 2003).

In the volume, CNN’s Ressa recounts how Ramzi Yousef visited the Philippines twice on training and organizing missions.

On page 25 is an interesting passage. Ressa recalls that after conducting some training exercises in Lahore, Pakistan (there was a bomb-plot to assassinate then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto which didn’t materialize), Yousef left for the Philippines, while his sidekick Murad went on to Dubai.

Ressa wrote: "Yousef’s return to the Philippines was through the back door – Basilan, the stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf. Yousef’s plan was to train members of the Abu Sayyaf in the use of explosives, but at some point he became frustrated. According to a later interrogation report, "he saw the problem that the Abu Sayyaf Group’s members only knew their ‘assault rifles’ and nothing more. He called them illiterates. He did not think the members of the Abu Sayyaf would be able to understand the complexity of his chemical mixtures. He would have to set certain bombs himself."

Yep, but those ASGs were murderous illiterates, beheading captives, cutting off the breasts of women hostages after raping them, gouging the eyes of priests out, demanding immense ransom payments, humiliatingly taunting the government. The worst of all is that they committed these atrocities in the Name of Allah, as "bearers of the sword" of Islam – as their founder Abdurajak Janjalani claimed.

"Yousef had been training members of the Abu Sayyaf from the birth of the group," Ressa pointed out. "In 1991, when Yousef came to Basilan with Abdurajak Janjalani to form the fledging group, Janjalani spoke eloquently at the mosques, enticing younger Filipinos to find Islam’s true meaning. His quiet demeanor won him converts, whom he asked to help him establish an Islamic state in Mindanao ‘where Muslims can follow Islam in its purest and strictest form as the only path to Allah’."

"You could hear bin Laden’s views powering his message," the author underscored. "At one point, Janjalani encouraged his men to kill their enemies, saying the Koran supports this through the calling of jihad."

Ressa labels her following Chapter 6, "Gangsters in the Philippines."

Among her revelations were what befell the unfortunate but constantly faithful missionaries, Garcia and Martin Burnham. God bless saintly folk like Gracia Burnham. Maria describes how she appeared on June 10, 2002, at the departure lounge of the Manila International airport, after more than a year of cruel captivity and unspeakable torture and privations, which culminated in her husband, Martin, being slain during the final rescue attempt. (The two had been celebrating their eighteenth wedding anniversary, a one-day vacation surprise from Garcia, when they were kidnapped by Abu Sabaya and his ASG goons from the Dos Palmas Resort in Palawan.)

Gracia spoke, "and a parade of emotions gushed out in one sentence: "Martin loved this country with all his heart." Her voice broke, and I thought she was going to cry, but she pulled herself together and went on, stumbling slightly. "We want to thank each and every one of you for every time you remembered us in prayer. We needed every single prayer you prayed for us during our ordeal in the jungle."

There’s much more, but I won’t and can’t pre-empt this eye-opening opus, surely bound for the bestseller lists.

Ressa traces how every major al-Qaeda attack since 1993 has had a connection to the Philippines – including, it must be noted, the 9/11 attacks in the United States, in which hijacked giant passenger jets were converted into flying suicide-bombers’ missiles.

Maria, of course, is a Fil-American, who graduated from Princeton University and attended graduate school in the University of the Philippines on a Fulbright fellowship. She was appointed CNN Bureau Chief in Manila in 1988, and then CNN’s Jakarta Bureau Chief in 1995.

* * *

THE ROVING EYE . . . A Kapampangan friend, who’s very knowledgeable in political affairs and diligently takes the public pulse in his native province, reported to me yesterday that even in her home "base" of Pampanga, GMA seems to be losing ground to FPJ. Or, for that matter, even to Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson, who’s popular for his blood-and-guts, get-tough record. In sum, our people live in fear of escalating crime and criminal violence – and are alarmed at the disarray in our police. However, if FPJ and Lacson don’t get together to form a common front, and Raul Roco continues to pull votes away from both opposition hopefuls, it will be GMA who’ll squeak through to re-election in the end. That’s the word on the street. Ping and Panday had better "reconcile" fast. But their trapo supporters (look at all those Old Faces surrounding them) are resolutely blocking this move – jealous of their own anticipated perks and privileges being diminished or snatched away. They’re not only counting their chickens before the eggs are hatched; they’re trying to shoo away rivals with other hatching chickens in tow. The way things are going, the fragmented opposition may end up with plenty of scrambled eggs instead.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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