KOTA KINABALU - Abu Sayyaf gunmen holding five Malaysians and others appear desperate to cash in on their hostages held in and near their stronghold of Jolo island in southern Philippines.
The gunmen no longer rely on intermediaries and instead are dealing directly with the families of the captives for the ransom.
Jolo-based anti-kidnapping activist Prof Octavio Dinampo said the gunmen were finding it more difficult to hold on to their captives amid an intensifying Filipino military offensive against them.
He said the military was stepping up operations against the gunmen with skirmishes occurring about 1km from Jolo town.
The gunmen could be finding it too slow to go through intermediaries and that was why they were contacting the families of the captives directly, he said.
The five Malaysians - Abd Rahim Summas, 62, Tayudin Anjut, 45, Fandy Bakran, 26, Mohd Zumadil Rahim, 23, all from Tawau, and Mohd Ridzuan Ismail, 32, from Pahang - are reportedly being held in the hinterlands of Talipao in Jolo.
The five tug boat crewmen were abducted on July 18 in waters off Dent Haven near Lahad Datu in what is believed to be the first ever such incident in broad daylight.
Mohd Ridzuan's wife Hariyanti Hamsih, 31, had been quoted as saying that she had been getting calls from the gunmen who allowed her to speak to her husband.
Hariyanti said in the conversation, Mohd Ridzuan pleaded for them to raise the ransom as all of the hostages were suffering.
The kidnappers are said to have demanded about 100 million pesos (S$2.9 million) for the release of the hostages.
Hariyanti said the families managed to raise RM30,000 (S$9,670) from public donations and relatives were looking at other ways to get more money.