MANILA -- The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) did not confirm nor deny if ransom was paid in exchange for the freedom of Filipino-Algerian sisters Nadjoua and Linda Bansil, who were abducted by the Abu Sayyaf 8 months ago.
The Bansil sisters were abducted by Abu Sayyaf bandits on June 21 last year in Sulu, where they were filming a documentary about coffee farmers.
The two were recovered by government troops in Sitio Kantatang, Barangay Buhanginan, Patikul, Sulu on Thursday afternoon following a joint operation by elements of the Marine Battalion Landing Team-6, Marine Battalion Landing Team-2, 2nd Marine Brigade, and Sulu Police Provincial Office with efforts from Sulu Vice Governor Sakur Tan.
In a press briefing in Zamboanga City Friday morning, Western Mindanao Command Chief Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero did not answer the question on whether the Bansil sisters' abductors were paid for their release.
"If you will go in previous reports nung July last year, may demand na P50 million. That's based on reports we earlier received. But for this specific instance, recovery yung nangyari," he said.
"Kung ano man yung iniisip niyo about ransom, we cannot answer that. But suffice it to say that they were recovered in a safe and secure manner. So we just want to give them time to recover from the trauma," he added.
Task Force Sulu Commander Col. Jojo Cenabre also earlier said there was no exchange of fire between the Abu Sayyaf and government troops during the operation.
He said pressure from the police and military could have been the reason why the abductors left the Bansil sisters in Patikul.
According to Guerrero, both Nadjoua and Linda Bansil have already been given proper medical attention.
The sisters were present during the Friday briefing but their faces were covered.
Guerrero appealed to the media not to interview the two as of this moment due to exhaustion.
"Generally ang statement ng doctor is they are just very exhausted so hinihingi rin namin pagpasensya ninyo dahil hindi sila nasa right condition to be interviewed," he said.
The victims' brother, Mohammed Bansil, was also present during the press briefing and spoke on behalf of Nadjoua and Linda, who he said lost about 40 percent of their body weight.
"Yung plano namin actually ay umuwi muna. Kasi yun, pagod kami. Alam na ng mama ko... Sinabi ko na lang na nasa kamay ko na. Her reply: Okay," Mohammed said.
He also declined to answer questions regarding the ordeal of his sisters, saying that what is more important now is that they are both safe.
"We'll get to that later. Mahirap magtanong. Kahit ako hindi ko pa alam kung paano magtatanong sa kanila eh," he said.
The Bansil sisters' abductors are now being hunted down. But the military said it needs help from the public to stop the spate of kidnappings.
Just last week, a couple was abducted by alleged members of the Abu Sayyaf also in Jolo, Sulu.
The victims were identified as Engineer Bonifacio Salinas, an employee of the Jolo Water District, and his wife, Claire Salinas.
"We cannot say that they (kidnap groups) are growing. Kasi merong mga nababawasan, merong naneu-neutralize, at meron ding nare-recruit from among the unemployed, siguro yung nandun sa locals. Kasi it's earning money kung may ransom na nababayaran. It attracts yung mga bata na gustong sumali sa mga adventure na ganito," Guerrero said.
"We'd like to ask the community for information so we can ferret out these kidnappers. We want to put a stop to this... Kailangan namin ng community support," he added.