Sunday, January 25, 2009

Appeals for release of kidnapped ICRC team, teachers in the Philippines mounting

MANILA, Philippines - House Speaker Prospero Nograles appealed to the country's top Islamic leaders to help in securing the safe and unconditional release of the three public school teachers and three International Red Cross Volunteers who have been abducted by armed men in separate incidents in Mindanao as he pointed out that these acts of terrorism are pushing back gains to bring peace and progress in Southern Philippines.

“ These people who are behind these dastardly acts of terrorism are throwing away all our efforts to finally usher in an era of peace and progress in Mindanao. I'm appealing to our Islamic leaders to step up and help in securing the safe and unconditional release of the teachers and the IRC volunteers who are believed to have been kidnapped by Islamic armed groups,” Nograles said in a statement.

Nograles said that while the unrelenting cases of armed attacks and kidnapping by Islamic extremists are isolated in few areas in Mindanao, these incidents are big turn-off to investors even with the bright prospects of investments on mineral, agriculture and oil exploration in the region.

“There are bright prospects for investments in Mindanao and these are major ones which will employ thousands of Mindanaoans. However, the continuing peace and order problem in some areas are serious concerns and everyone should help to stop these acts of terrorism,” he said.

Nograles said that under the P1.415 General Approapropriations Act, many infrastructure development projects are centered on the development of Mindanao including the establishment of a Mindanao Railway System which will criss-cross Mindanao mainland.

“We are rushing this Mindanao Railway System but the peace and order situation in some areas is a continuing concern,” he said.The three teachers – Janette de los Reyes, Rafael Mayonado and Freires Quizon – were snatched by armed men off Sacol Island last Friday and are said to have been brought to Basilan.

A ransom of P6-Million is allegedly being demanded by the kidnappers for their safe release.Several weeks ago, gunmen believed to be members of the Abu Sayyaf also kidnapped three volunteers of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) team that included a Swiss and an Italian national in Jolo, Sulu.

Swiss national Andreas Notter, Eugenio Vagni of Italy and Filipina Jean Lacaba were on a relief and medical mission when they were kidnapped in Patikul town. A P5 Million ransom is allegedly being demanded by the kidnappers for their safe release.

“If we are really sincere in turning Mindanao into a place of peace and prosperity, we should pitch in and Mindanaoans, Muslims and Christians alike, should resist these acts of terrorism by helping our law enforcement authorities get to them. Let's stop blaming the government and make our contribution for the sake of Mindanao's future. Let's not allow these thugs to turn Mindanao into Somalia and Afghanistan,” Nograles said.

The Department of Education also appealed for the release of the teachers.

"Our teachers come from poor families and wish nothing more than support their parents, brothers, and sisters. These teachers give their time to nurture the children of Zamboanga City to be better citizens and contribute to the economic growth of Mindanao. The parents cannot raise the amount demanded and the government follows a no ransom policy. We pray that the teachers be released," said Zamboanga City Division Superintendent Dolores Alcantara.

Education Secretary Jesli Lapus earlier instructed Undersecretary for Regional Operations Ramon Bacani and the local education office to coordinate with the authorities. He also tasked them to assist the families of the victims. "We are deeply concerned with the safety of our teachers," expressed Lapus. "They preferred to be teachers here than abroad. Why do they have to go through this ordeal? In taking them, the children under their care are deprived of the education they so rightfully deserve."

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