1993-04-27 00:00:00

"We´re back to square one," Claretian Father Alberto Rossa told UCA News April 22 after the announced release of kidnapped Spanish Claretian Father Bernardo Blanco failed to materialize.

"These people (the kidnappers) are not following their leaders," said Father Rossa, spokesman for the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (the Claretians). He said the congregation received a letter from Father Blanco April 18, but would not reveal the contents of the letter.

Father Rossa added that Father Blanco was able to indicate he was forced to write the letter, but he "let us know that he is in very high spirits."

Father Blanco was kidnapped March 18 in Lumbang Lantawan near Isabela, Basilan, 900 kilometers south of Manila, by a breakaway or "lost command," group of the secessionist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

An expected release hit a snag April 21 after the kidnappers were joined by another MNLF faction identified as the Abu Sayyaf group. Together they issued a demand for a ransom of 6 million pesos (US$240,000).

"We have closed our doors to that demand," Father Rossa said. Bishop Romulo de la Cruz of Isabela likewise insisted that no ransom will be paid.

Four-year-old Louis Anthony Biel, kidnapped Feb. 21, is believed to be with Father Blanco. The boy´s family has been asked for 4 million pesos in ransom.

The process to free Father Blanco freedom began April 17 when Nur Misuari, MNLF chairman who lives in exile in Saudi Arabia, directed his commanders in Basilan to secure the immediate release of the Spanish priest.

Misuari´s order, issued out of Jakarta where he was meeting with representatives of the Philippine government´s National Unification Commission, was revealed by Basilan Governor Abdulgani Salapuddin.

On April 19, newspapers announced that Father Blanco "had been released by Muslim gunmen" and was "in the hands of civilian intermediaries." He was expected to be released that evening to Interior and Local Government Secretary Rafael Alunan and Bishop de la Cruz.

"An unseen hand is believed (to be) manipulating the efforts to release the hostages," a dejected Alunan told reporters April 21 in Manila.

Speculation followed that Father Rossa would be freed by April 24, the start of the meeting of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) in Karachi, Pakistan. The OIC supports Misuari´s MNLF.

Observers here have noted that the refusal to release Father Blanco might be a reflection of Misuari´s "tenuous control" over his followers.

General Lisandro Abadia, Armed Forces chief of staff, told reporters the military would wait until April 24 before starting to close in on the kidnappers, "tightening the noose" as he put it.

"Let the military make the decision. They are really doing their best," Father Rossa commented on Abadia´s decision. "People (now) are a little bit more upset, more worried," the Claretian spokesman told UCA News.

Father Blanco´s abduction was initially believed to be politically motivated, as the kidnappers demanded an immediate stop to military operations in Basilan triggered by an alleged incident Feb. 9 in which 21 marines were reported killed in an MNLF ambush.

Jilan´s lost command group was said to have been joined by the Abu Sayyaf group after the latter gave guns and ammunition to the lost command.

The Abu Sayyaf group is reportedly led by Ustad Abdujarak Abubakar Janjalani and has some 100 members. The military has tied it to a series of bombings in Mindanao in recent months.


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