Philippine soldiers inside a military camp in Jolo, Sulu province, on the southern island of Mindanao, as they prepare for an operation against the Abu Sayyaf group. Photo: AFP/Mark Navales
Philippine soldiers inside a military camp in Jolo, Sulu province, on the southern island of Mindanao, as they prepare for an operation against the Abu Sayyaf group. Photo: AFP/Mark Navales

MANILA, Philippines — The Abu Sayyaf Group’s (ASG) German captive Juergen Kantmer this week is seeking the help of both the Philippine and Germany governments for his safe release from the hands of the Abu Sayyaf Group, Southeast Asia’s most feared terror group.

A Facebook video circulating in the Philippines this week showed Kantmer pleading for help and reported that his abductors were seeking a ransom money to the tune of US$5 million dollars for his safe release. Kantmer was abducted in November 5 while cruising on board a private yacht in the Philippine-Malaysia border along with his German partner, Sabine Merz. Unfortunately, Merz was shot several times when she reportedly fought back her ASG abductors. Police found Merz’ body lying dead in the yacht.

This is not the first times ASG abducted German nationals in the Southern Philippines. The recent German abduction this year were two German nationals Dr. Steven Okonek and Herike Dielen who were abducted in April this year but were released 6 months later after a huge ransom was reportedly delivered to the hands of the ASG.

Reuters quoted the ASG that they received the ransom. The ASG earlier demanded US$5.6 million ransom and the stoppage of US-led air strikes in Syria otherwise as a pre condition to release Okonek and Dielen.

Reuters quoted ASG leader Abu Rami saying, “the ransom just came, nothing more, nothing less.

Meanwhile, two Canadians Robert Hall and John Ridsdel were beheaded when their families refused to deliver the US$12.8 million ransom money on time.

How will the Germany government address this crisis? It may consider three negotiation options to address this crisis:

  1. Coordinate with Philippine security officials who have the authority to use their military assets to run after the ASG. Security forces in the Philippines often do not enjoy the community support in the hinterlands of Basilan and Sulu compared with the ASG’s support it can generate from the communities, which presents a challenge. The ASG reportedly has been bribing communities to mislead security forces. No less than the Philippine military announced they are having difficulty getting intelligence information in the mountains of these two provinces, a known cradle of the ASG. The difficulty to get intelligence information in the mountains is one main factor the ASG has been elusive from security forces.
  2. Adopt President Rodrigo Duterte’s approach using a revolutionary leader to negotiate for the release of their German national. Previously, Duterte tapped the services of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader Nur Misuari to put pressure on the ASG to release the ASG captive Kjartan Sekkingstand, a Norweigian national. The German government may seek the help of Duterte and request him to tap Misuari to negotiate for the release. Misuari the founding chair of the MNLF is facing rebellion charges and the Philippine courts granted for the temporary suspension of his arrest after President Duterte’s office requested for the termporary suspension of his arrest for six months. But the challenge here is Misuari’s freedom will only be until April 2017. If his suspension of arrest will not be extended, then he can be arrested anytime after April 2017 to face the rebellion charges in court.
  3. Seek the assistance of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The MILF, the largest Islamic revolutionary organization, is in the process of finalizing a peace pact with the Philippine government. The organization has been helping the government running after suspected drug traders in the Southern Philippines. On the other hand, the German government also has been instrumental in providing technical and development assistance to areas controlled by MILF in the Southern Philippines and the German program has a visible presence in Cotabato and Maguindanao provinces where relatives of MILF members have become recipients of Germany’s government programs assistance. But the challenge here is up to what extent can the MILF accord to the German government? Will the assistance involve military, intelligence gathering or will it be limited to negotiation?

ASG’s extortion and kidnapping-for-ransom activities have been disturbing obstacles to the Duterte administration to achieve lasting peace in the region. While President Duterte has opened communication lines to revolutionary organizations such as the MNLF, MILF and New People’s Army (NPA) to start the peace process, the ASG was excluded in any peace talk with the government because the Philippine government observes a non-negotiation policy with terrorists.

Because of this policy, Duterte sent 10,000 soldiers this July to run after the ASG. Despite the military offensives against this group of 400 armed bandits, the latter remain to be elusive and still has the capability to engaged in terror activities. While Duterte is perceived to be a strong leader in the eyes of many Filipinos and ASEAN community, the growing terror aggression of the ASG is a remaining challenge to the Duterte leadership.

So how will the Germany and the Philippine governments handle the US$5 million ransom money demand from the ASG? The two countries have to strategize well.

Noel Tarrazona

Noel Tarrazona is a freelance international journalist and a graduate school lecturer.