Photos sent to the Mindanao Examiner by a supporter of detained Sulu Mayor Alvarez Isnaji show followers of the embattled politician call citizens to join them in a rally in Indanan town on Monday, June 23, 2008. Police says hundreds of Isnaji supporters join two rallies in Sulu province and demanded the government to free the mayor who was implicated in the Abu Sayyaf kidnapping of a Philippine television news crew in the province.
SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 23, 2008) – Hundreds of supporters of a detained town mayor implicated in the kidnapping of a Philippine television news crew in Sulu province held a rally Monday and condemned the arrest of the politician.
Police implicated Indanan town Mayor Alvarez Isnaji in the June 8 Abu Sayyaf kidnapping of ABS-CBN reporter Ces Drilon and her cameramen Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderama, and their guide Octavio Dinampo, a professor of the Mindanao State University.
The four were seized in Maimbung town on their way to interview an Abu Sayyaf leader Radulan Sahiron, whose group was believed behind the kidnapping.
The Abu Sayyaf freed the four hostages separately after allegedly collecting as much as P20 million ransoms. And police Isnaji allegedly pocketed P3 million from the P5 million paid by Drilon's family to the kidnappers.
Isnaji, handpicked by the Abu Sayyaf to negotiate for the release of the hostages, denied the accusations. He and his son Haider, who also helped in the negotiations, were detained June 18 after they accompanied the victims to Zamboanga City after their release.
“Instead of praising Mayor Isnaji for saving the lives of the hostages, the government instead accused him and detained him. Tausugs must rise up against this kafir system of government,” said Gafur Kanain, Isnaji’s aide, during a rally in Indanan town in the morning.
Isnaji’s supporters took turns in condemning the arrest of the mayor and assailed the government for accusing him of involvement in the kidnappings. Streamers were also hanged in downtown Indanan, many as show of support to the embattled mayor, who is also the president of the provincial League of Municipalities.
“We vehemently condemned the baseless charges and accusations against our elder brother Mayor Alvarez Isnaji and his son, Jun Isnaji. Is this the kind of gratitude and respond we get from the government?” one streamer read.
Another streamer assailed Drilon for failing to defend Isnaji and his son against all accusations. “Ces, wala ka bang konsensya? We saved you, we clothed you, and we sent you home. Is this your way of saying thank you? You are not a principled woman.”
A second rally was also held in Jolo, Sulu’s capital town, in the afternoon, police said.
“We are monitoring the situation in Sulu,” Senior Superintendent Julasirim Kasim, the provincial police chief, told the Mindanao Examiner.
Isnaji, a senior leader of the former rebel separatist group Moro National Liberation Front, is one of seven candidates running for governor in the Muslim autonomous region in August. The MNLF also demanded the release of Isnaji.
Before he became mayor, Isnaji was the Speaker of the Regional Legislative Assembly in the Muslim autonomous region and became also the acting regional governor in 2001.
He admitted paying several hundreds of thousands of pesos for the freedom of Drilon's group on top of a package of livelihood aids and infrastructure projects allegedly promised by Senator Loren Legarda, who helped in the negotiations to free the hostages.
Legarda denied making any promises to the kidnappers. Police also implicated Abu Sayyaf leaders Albader Parad, Gafur Jumdail, Umbra Jumdail, Tuan Walis and Sulayman Patta as among about 30 gunmen involved in the kidnappings.
Washington listed the Abu Sayyaf as a foreign terrorist organization and has offered rewards of up to $5 million for the capture of its known leaders. It also deployed a few hundred Marines and Special Forces soldiers in Sulu to help the Filipino military defeat the Abu Sayyaf. (Mindanao Examiner)