Jewish World Review April 2, 2002 / 20 Nisan, 5762
Thomas H. Lipscomb
The funds were raised privately in the United States to pay off the ransom of American missionaries Martin and Grace Burnham and others held only a few miles away from the bank that holds the key to their release.
This kickback game involving the largest ransom ever paid in the Philippines is all too common in the history of the nation.
The pattern was evident last June when, under the direct orders of Philippine Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Diomedio Villaneuva, surrounded Abu Sayaaf terrorist forces on Basilan Island were allowed to pass through Philippine army lines after paying off army and government representatives.
At that time the Abu Sayaaf released those hostages whose ransom had been paid, but were allowed to escape with the Burnhams and others for whom they had not yet been paid ransom.
Arroyo has condoned Villaneuva's conduct in the past, fearing a coup that might replace her with a military government.
But this time it appears representatives of her own office are lined up for their share of the ransom as well. American knowledge and disapproval of the actions of the Arroyo government was indicated by President Bush's refusal to stop in the Philippines during his trip to the Far East earlier this month. As the only other publicly announced U.S. military campaign location against an al-Qaida force in the field outside of Afghanistan, Bush's avoidance of a stopover in the Philippines was clearly intentional.
U.S. Special Forces troops on Basilan Island, operating under a six-month Terms of Reference agreement with the Philippine government, have been effectively kept out of action by the Philippine Armed Forces. They have been restricted to army bases on Basilan Island and other stations until the kickback negotiations for the ransom are completed.
Capt. John Singley of the Pacific Area Command confirmed that since the arrival of U.S. forces, no American troops have been allowed to go on field operations of any kind with the Philippine army. In spite of this, in an interview Adm. Dennis Blair called the American involvement an "authentic military operation."
While the Philippine army has reported to the press several phantom "victories" against the Abu Sayaaf, claiming only last week to have killed eight of them, no independent observer has yet seen a single body of the supposed terrorist casualties. Basilan, the center of these operations, is barely 7 miles long and 9 miles wide.
With over 5,000 Philippine army forces on the island supposedly chasing less than 100 Abu Sayaaf, military experts wonder at the coordinated effort it must take to stay out of one another's way.
The American-Philippine agreement stationed over 600 American military advisers and provided for millions of dollars in aid to the Philippine armed forces that was intended to assist in helping the Philippine government destroy the al Qaida-associated Abu Sayaaf terrorists who hold the Burnhams and others for ransom.
Now almost one-third of the way through the agreement's six-month term, some of the only evidence of action by American troops has been photos in the Philippine press of Special Forces troops patting dogs and playing field sports with soldiers of the Philippine army and a photo of a U.S. Special Forces trooper walking with a Philippine Army soldier inside one of the compounds on Basilan in which they have been confined.
The most frequently discussed scenario for the ransom scam underway is another
phantom battle on Basilan between the Abu Sayaaf and Villaneuva's Philippine
army in which more Abu Sayaaf are "killed" and the Burnhams and other hostages
are "freed"--and the ransom money disappears from the bank in which it is
Thomas H. Lipscomb is the director of the Center for the Digital Future in New York. An an editor and publisher for many years, most recently as head of Times Books, he is also the founder of two public companies in digital technology. To comment, click here.