ZAMBOANGA CITY-The release of the two German hostages, Stefan Viktor Okonek and Henrike Dielen, has brought into focus the fate of other Abu Sayyaf kidnap victims, some of whom have been held since 2010.
Lieutenant-General Rustico Guerrero, head of the military's Western Mindanao Command, admitted that authorities had yet to recover 11 captives, including two Europeans, a Malaysian and a Chinese. Seven of the hostages are Filipinos, he said.
Okonek and Dielen were released Friday night after payment of a 250 million peso ransom, according to Abu Sayyaf spokesperson Abu Rami.
But the Armed Forces of the Philippines on Saturday said it doubted that ransom was paid.
"Due to the intensified law enforcement operations, the two German kidnap victims, Dr. Stefan Viktor Okonek and Henrike Dielen, were released in Patikul, Sulu, around 8.50pm (on Friday)," said Lieutenant-Colonel Harold Cabunoc, the Armed Forces' Public Affairs Office chief.
Cabunoc described as "propaganda" the claim of Rami, spokesperson for Radulan Sahiron, leader of the Abu Sayyaf faction that kidnapped Okonek and Dielen in the south in April.
"Of course, (Rami) can always say that. As far as I know, there was no ransom paid, at least not from our side, because we don't negotiate with terrorists," Cabunoc said.
Cabunoc did not say who received Okonek and Dielen from the kidnappers. He said the two were taken to the military camp on Jolo Island at 9:20 p.m. for medical checkup.
From the military camp, Okonek and Dielen were transported to Zamboanga City, where they received further medical attention, Cabunoc said.
He said Okonek and Dielen arrived at Villamor Air Base in Manila at 6:45 a.m. on Saturday. They were turned over to officials from the German Embassy, he said.
According to Cabunoc, the massive deployment of troops and tracker dog teams to Sulu province to ring the Abu Sayyaf's lair pressured the kidnappers into abandoning their two hostages.
According to Guerrero, what the military and police are doing about the other hostages might not be as publicized as the more dramatic rescues, but these are also meant to secure the freedom of two bird-watchers, the Dutch Ewold Horn and Lorenzo Vinciguerra, a Swiss national.
Guerrero said efforts were also being made to secure the freedom of Malaysian Marine police officer Kons Zakiah Aleip, who was abducted last July; Chan Sai Chuin, 32, a Chinese kidnapped in Kunak, Sabah, on June 26; and the seven Filipinos.
He said the captives were being held by various Abu Sayyaf factions.
Armed Forces figures 'wrong'
But the Sulu-based Bangsamoro Against Kidnapping and Other Crimes (Bassakao) said the military's figure on the number of hostages being held by the Abu Sayyaf was wrong.
Dr. Raden Ikbala, Bassakao's main convener, said his group had documented at least 15 kidnappings.
He said Bassakao had tried to ascertain the condition of some of the hostages but military movements in the hinterlands were preventing it from doing so.
The Philippine National Police Anti-Kidnapping Group said its list of victims also included Japanese treasure hunter Toshio Ito, who was abducted on July 16, 2010.