Duterte May Negotiate With Abu Sayyaf

(File image courtesy LD Ports & Logistics)

Published Jun 27, 2016 9:31 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Friday, Indonesia suspended vessel traffic to all Philippine ports, according to Transport Director Tonny Budiono; he told Antara News that port officials have been ordered to refuse to allow departure to any vessel bound for the Philippines, with no exceptions, following a spate of tug hijackings by the militant group Abu Sayyaf in the Sulu archipelago. 

The Philippines imports the majority of its coal from Indonesia, and the suspension of shipments could endanger the continuity of electrical generation, said Energy Secretary Zenaida Monsada in an interview Sunday – but she said that it was not clear which vessels or how many were actually affected by the ban. "We are confirming if Indonesia really banned all coal exports or only on small vessels in the route," she told the Philippine Star. Only tugs have been targeted in recent Abu Sayyaf attacks.

On Monday, Indonesian legislators urged the government to declare Philippine waters a hijacking-prone area and to implement precautions – including mandatory vessel reporting and, potentially, protective measures from the Indonesian Navy, said House of Representatives deputy chairman TB Hassanudin. 

The latest kidnapping incident occurred last week, when the tug Charles OO1 was hijacked by armed pirates and seven of her crew taken hostage. Six other crewmembers were set free.

Other recent maritime kidnappings by Abu Sayyaf have been successfully resolved and the prisoners released; it is widely believed that ransom payments are required to secure freedom for any of the group's many hostages, but authorities would not confirm whether any amounts had been paid. 

Philippines president-elect Rodrigo Duterte – a tough-talking former mayor known as “the punisher,” who has articulated a plan to encourage extrajudicial killings of suspected drug dealers – said on Saturday that "the Abu Sayyaf is not my enemy." He suggested that he would be open to dialogue with the organization. 

"I know it is connected with the issue of Mindanao," he told supporters, referring to a long-standing separatist movement in the province. "That is why I want to ask them: are they willing to talk or do we just fight it out?" 

Outgoing president Benigno Aquino sounded a much different note in a statement on Monday. 

"So, to the ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group), and whoever may aid or abet them, you have chosen only the language of force, and we will speak to you only in that language," Aquino wrote. "Casualties are to be expected. But what has to be of utmost importance is neutralising the criminal activities of the ASG."