MANILA, Philippines - Manila said it welcomes all support – both local and foreign – to the ongoing efforts to secure the safe release of the two foreign volunteers of the International Committee on the Red Cross (ICRC) held hostage by Abu Sayyaf terrorists.
Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said the government stands pat on its decision that such assistance will take the cue from the local Crisis Management Committee headed by Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan.
In his regular Friday media briefing in Malacanang, Remonde said they remain optimistic that with the help of the "Muslim Bishop-Ulamas (religious leaders) Conference "we can see the successful end of this crisis."
He said the "entry of no less than Muslim religious leaders in these negotiations is definitely welcome. We are optimistic that they will be a big help, Muslim spiritual leaders that they are."
"Our policy is that the local crisis management committee is the one designated to work things on the ground with the Abu Sayyaf group and the police and Armed Forces will just take the cue from the local crisis management committee," Remonde said.
"Everybody is welcome to help us as long as they will work hand-in-hand with the local crisis management committee," he added.
The United States, through Deputy Envoy and Political Affairs Counselor Thomas Gibbons, has reportedly expressed its willingness to help free the two hostages.
Asked if the Palace would support the pronouncement of Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno that the police may yield to the Abu Sayyaf demand to pull out from some areas of Sulu, Remonde said, "We have designated him as the national government's representative on the ground. He has the right to make such a decision."
On the move by the international community to pay ransom for the release of the two foreign hostages for humanitarian reasons, Remonde said, "we will stand pat on our no ransom policy. Otherwise, we will be like Somalia, where hostage-taking has become a lucrative business."
One of the hostages is reportedly critically ill and needs to undergo surgery.
On whether or not Sulu Vice Gov. Nur Ana Sahidulla has been taken out of the local crisis management committee, Remonde said: "No she still plays a very active part in the negotiation process."