Thursday, July 22, 2004

US Envoy to the Philippines Recalled for Consultations

The Chinese news agency Xinhua says the US ambassador to the Philippines, Francis Ricciardone has been recalled Washington for consultations after the Philippines capitulated to terrorist demands.

July 22 (Xinhuanet) -- United States Ambassador to the Philippines Francis Ricciardone is due to fly back to Washington Thursday for what he described as "consultations" with the US government after Philippines withdrew its contingent from Iraq to save the life of hostage Angelo dela Cruz, reported local media. During a meeting with some local media reporters, Ricciardone said that he is not being recalled, and that he will stay for two-weeks in Washington, during which time he will also take care of some personal affairs. But the ambassador did not exclude "consequences" on relations between the United States and the Philippines because of the pullout, although he did not specify, according to local media reports.

This comes as kidnappers calling themselves the "Holders of the Black Banners" took six other nationals of Third World countries hostage. Newday reports:

"We announce we have captured two Kenyans, three Indians and one Egyptian," said one of the masked men in a video aired on the Arabic TV channel Al-Arabiya. "We tell the company to withdraw and close its offices in Iraq."

The new hostage-taking, by a militant group calling itself the "Holders of the Black Banners," suggested that anti-U.S. guerrillas feel they've found a successful tactic to weaken the U.S. military presence here: seizing the civilian workers who deliver many essential supplies and services to U.S. forces.

It came a day after guerrillas freed Filipino truck driver Angelo dela Cruz, having gotten the Philippine government to pull its small military contingent out of Iraq one month ahead of schedule.

In the meantime, Philippine authorities denied they paid ransom to terrorists in Iraq. AFP reports:

President Gloria Arroyo's government denies reports the Philippines has paid millions of dollars in ransom to buy the freedom of a Filipino truck driver released by kidnappers in Iraq. "We know that some newspapers have engaged in speculation" that Manila paid up to $US6 million ($A8.3 million) to buy the liberty of Angelo de la Cruz, presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye told a news conference.

"That is not true," he added.

Diplomatic sources earlier told AFP a ransom was offered on behalf of the Philippine government to convince the kidnappers to free the hostage. The sources said the kidnappers, who called themselves the Khalid Ibn al-Walid brigade, rejected the unspecified cash offer. In the end Arroyo gave in to the kidnappers' demand and recalled the Philippines' 51-member military contingent in Iraq a month ahead of schedule.

The diplomatic sources in effect confirmed that the Philippine Government had offered money to the Khalid Ibn al-Walid brigade. This is the very same Khalid Ibn al-Walid brigade that has recently offered a bounty of US$285,000 for the head of Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. According to Reuters:

A group led by suspected al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi offered a reward of $282,000 on Sunday for the killing of Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, according to a statement posted on an Islamist Web site. "We in Khalid bin al-Walid Brigade announce to the Iraqi people a reward of 200,000 Jordanian dinars ($282,000) to whoever gets us Allawi's head," said a group statement posted on the site.

Belmont Club reader JM from the Philippines asks "Why are we so surprised at the RP gov'ts attempt to pay ransom? Aren't we just trying to use the "tried and tested formula" used by Congressman Jules Ledesma to help free his 2 children when they were kidnapped 2 years ago?" He was referring to the formula made famous by a prominent Philippine politician.

Ledesma's children, Carlos Thomas Pek, 10; and Christina Julieta Victoria, 6, were abducted ... they were released days after the abduction near the Makati Medical Center as a result of what Rep. Ledesma said was a "tried and tested formula." His "formula" was generally taken to mean that he paid ransom money.

Except in this case the Philippines was trying to pay ransom to a terrorist organization that had put a bounty on the head of the host government. There will be consequences and they have only just begun.