ZAMBOANGA CITY – Octavio Dinampo, a Muslim professor who was among the kidnapped victims freed along with a television crew, told PeaceWorks that the kidnapping incident will not stop him from doing peace advocacy in southern Philippines, particularly in the battle-scarred province of Sulu.
“I was frequently asked, ‘Are you still going back there?’ and I said ‘Why should I not?’ Because if I’m going to get out of the province, these people—lawless elements— will be victorious. I would not allow evil to triumph over good. I cannot allow these people, who pretend to be religious but doing irreligious activities, to win” he said in an interview over the weekend.
Dinampo, who is currently in Davao City undergoing medical check-up, was kidnapped on June 8, along with ABS-CBN broadcast reporter Cecilia Victoria “Ces” Oreña-Drilon, cameraman Jimmy Encarnacion, and driver Angelo Valderama.
They were abducted by their supposed interviewee— the al Qaeda-linked Abu-Sayyaf Group– in Sulu. After spending 10 days in captivity in the jungles of Sulu, the group was eventually freed on June 17, after paying a P5-million ransom.
“As a peace advocate, I try to convince these Abu Sayff people to talk peace instead of war. That is an effort, which I thought is a modest contribution in the overall initiative to convert Sulu from a war zone into prosperous, developed, peaceful province,” said Dinampo, who is the current chairman of the non-government organization Mindanao People’s Caucus.
“As a stakeholder in that province, we are already tired of war. [To communicate with the Abu-Sayyaf], personally, I look at it as an intend to bring peace and development in the province because we realize that it is our community, which is being destroyed, it is our people who are dying and suffering, it is all of us there living in an civilize community,” he added.
Dinampo, who is a product of an inter-marriage between Christian and Muslim, said that the 10-day ordeal was a “terrible experience.”
“I communicated with God and asked him, ‘God, is this my end? But if it is not going to be my end, I promise you I will double my effort in making good deeds.”
Dinampo, who was the last person to interview the late Abu-Sayyaf leader Khadafy Janjalani shortly before his death in September 2006, had asked Drilon to contact him for a possible exclusive interview with the remaining Abu-Sayyaf leaders, particularly Radullan Sahiron.
Dinampo detailed the whole kidnapping scenario, which started when Dilon and her crew arrived in Jolo. He said they were betrayed by their supposed guide so that they eventually fell in the hands of their abductors.
He said the whole story started when he first met Sahiron on February, this year.
“I remember specifically, I brought three topics before Radullan. The first one, [is the Abu-Sayyaf commander] Gafur [who] is asking protection money from teachers. At least, P20,000 per teacher in going to their territory. The teachers are protesting, because they ask how can we give P20,000 when our salary is only P17,000? Minus deductions, we only receive about P6,000 to P7,000 a month. How can we produce that money,” he inquired.
“Because I thought the Abu-Sayyaf group acknowledge the Amir (Sahiron), I told him that this act of terrorism or extortion will not be very good for the entire group. You should control them. You should forbid Gafur from asking extortion money from the teachers,” Dinampo said.
But he responded by saying: “Well you know, God’s assistance to the mujahedin can be found at tip of the sword or the tip of the gun,” he quoted Sahiron as saying.
He said his other point was to open a possible dialogue between the military and the Abu-Sayyaf, despite the government’s ongoing no-talk policy against any terrorist group.
“As a peace advocate I talk to military officials, asking them why the government is not talking to these people. And then they said, ‘They are terrorists.’ Yes, I grant that, but I remember also before that the government talked to the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front), they called them Maoist terrorists. Imagine, if the government maintains a no talk policy [with the MNLF then], we could not have had the 1996 peace agreement,” he said.
Sahiron was reported to have sent a surrender feeler to Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez earlier, but in exchange, he gave four demands, namely, payment for their firearms, livelihood assistance, some form of amnesty and legal immunity.
The last topic, Dinampo said, was to set a possible interview with him by national media, as was being requested by Drilon.
He said Sahiron was not inclined for an interview, but after three months, the Abu-Sayyaf leader eventually gave in.
“After February, it took us several months, he (Sahiron) texted me back saying ‘It’s okay to have that exclusive interview.’ And this explains why I advised Ces and her crew to come on a Saturday (June 7) because on Sunday (June 8) we were supposed to see Radullan Sahiron,” he said.
“I remember I told her, I am not close to Radullan but, nonetheless, I’m going to find a person, who is close to Radullan, and that explains why I found Juamil “Mameng” Biyaw, who I know is a relative of Radullan. I trusted him much, and who I know because he keeps on bragging that almost half of Radullan’s forces are his relatives,” he revealed.
“So I even bragged before Ces, I told her with this man Ces, we are 75% safe,” he said.
Biyaw, who is now under the custody of Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, is the one who arranged the date and time to meet Sahiron in his lair.
He recounted that on June 8, they walked 45 minutes from their first stop. “We were met by eight [armed] young people and I keep on asking “Malayo pa ba? (Is it still far?).”
Dinampo said Biyaw even “informed me that the intention is no longer good, that “pinaglalaruan tayo ng bata.”
He said during the trek, the group decided to shelter in an abandoned house as heavy rains started to pour, and that is the time when Biyaw informed him that Sahiron wants to talk but not with the group.
“According to Maas (Sahiron), I was to go ahead. He would talk [to me] first and later on we will follow, and I asked him, Why only you? Why not the four of us? And he said, ‘It’s what the maas wants,’ and I said if it that’s what he wants, then go but do not take it so long, so as not to keep us waiting,” he said.
“And that was the last time I saw him. And that was the point when Ces said that ‘I was betrayed.’ ‘We were betrayed’ by our supposed guard and kasama (companion),” Dinampo said.
He said when Biyaw left them, they were told to walk again, and eventually one of their captors instructed them to hand-over their belongings including their cellular phones. “That’s already the cue that we are being kidnapped.”
“We walked from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., we climbed several mountains. In all my life I never climbed so many mountains, except during that captivity.”
He said during their trekking, he was thinking of the possibility of escaping.
“I was thinking that we could have some moment of escaping. I told Ces and my companions always go for the sunset, because it is the west part of the province and that’s Jolo. Remember that,” he said.
“And if ever we have the chance for an encounter, I told them drop, crawl, and run, and run, and run and go for the sunset,” he added.
According to him during their 10-day captivity, he was “mocked” several times by their captors.
Apparently, their captors did not have any idea that he is a Muslim.
“There was also a time when I was praying, and they mocked me by saying: ‘How could a Christian pray in Islam. This guy is praying in Muslim because they want us to spare his life,'” he quoted them.
“To my mind, I’m praying not because I was afraid of them but because I’m a Muslim.”
He said sometimes, their captors, numbering to 20, became violent.
This was also confirmed by Drilon, saying: “We were hogtied, at some point—me, Jimmy, and Angel. There was also a threat to behead us. And there was a time when I was talking to Sen. [Loren] Legarda [through a phone], and they slapped me.”
Although in captivity, Dinampo said he managed to give advice to their captors about the teaching of Islam.
“If you’re real jihadees or mujaheedin (freedom fighter), you should not do that, because your action should correspond to your deeds,” he told them, adding that “my impression is what they are doing exactly the opposite of what they are espousing. It is hypocrisy— one of the surest ways for anybody to go to hell.”
According to him, the abduction magnified to him his dismay for the armed groups, particularly in Sulu.
“Lesson that I learned, whether, it is MNLF, ASG or what group, it is clear to me now that these people do not represent the Bangsamoro (Muslim native in Mindanao), but they only represent themselves, and so my next phase of peace advocacies, is to go direct to the people and not to deal with armed groups, because they are not fighting for us, they are only fighting for themselves,” he said.
“And that’s speaks now to the MNLF. Nobody is talking about roads, bridges, hospital, but everybody [within the MNLF] is talking for their own position and their own personal interest. I didn’t hear anymore the MNLF, whether reformist, or any faction, talking for the welfare of the people.”
“Again, here comes the ASG, who are saying the same things, the same old songs the MNLF were saying in the past. And I already see very clearly that this group is not working for the greater interest of the majority but only thinking of their self- interest.”
According to him “only through dialogue, not the use of guns or violence” can achieve whatever struggle the Bangsamoro are fighting for.
“This experience only reinforces my desire to promote peace and dialogue in Mindanao,” Dinampo said.