KOTA KINABALU, Malaysia - Philippine authorities are shocked over reports of a demand for RM36.4 million (S$14.1 million) for the release of a Chinese tourist abducted from a Semporna diving resort.
Armed Forces of Philippines Sulu province commander Brig Gen Martin Pinto said they were unaware of such a ransom demand.
"What? Is that correct," was Pinto's immediate response when informed about the ransom demand disclosed by Home Minister Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
Dr Ahmad Zahid said a team had been dispatched to negotiate reducing the ransom with a "so called middle person".
Pinto told The Star Philippine security forces had received word that Gao Huayun, 29, and Filipina resort worker Marcy Dayawan, 40, had been brought to Jolo island in the Sulu province.
"This is raw information which we are now verifying," he said.
Eastern Sabah Security director general Datuk Mohammad Mantek and state Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib declined to comment on the ransom, but other officials here believed the RM36.4 million figure was just an"opening" gambit.
They said kidnappers would usually quote a "high" opening figure before agreeing to a lower amount.
They cited the case of of the two seaweed farm workers snatched from Pulau Sabangkat, also near Semporna, in Febuary 2010, whose abductors had demanded 60mil Pesos (RM4.37 million).
However, the two workers were released after RM1.5 million was believed to have been paid in ransom.
Meanwhile, Philippines-based NGO Alliance of Human Rights Advocates has voiced alarm over a spate of kidnappings in the Sulu province since Feb 17.
Its Mindanao coordinator Warina Sushil Jukuy said that about 50 people had been abducted over the three-month period.