Philippines: ICRC wants safe and unconditional return of abducted staff
The ICRC continues to hope for the safe and swift return of its three abducted staff in the southern Philippines. Since 16 January, Mary Jean Lacaba, Eugenio Vagni and Andreas Notter have been able to contact the ICRC several times by phone. The ICRC’s head of delegation in Manila, Jean-Daniel Tauxe, explains how the organization is responding to the crisis and the various challenges involved.
We ta lked to all three of them during the weekend. We were first contacted by them on Friday. This was followed by other calls from the three over the past few days.
Mary Jean, Eugenio and Andreas all say they are in good health. From what we understand, they are being held together. It’s always good to hear their voices and, of course, we remain concerned for their safety and hope they will be back with their loved ones soon.
There are reports circulating in the media that the kidnappers have opened talks for negotiating a release and have demanded five million dollars in ransom money. Can you confirm this?
Let me first respond by underlining that we would like the safe and unconditional return of our colleagues as quickly as possible.
Regarding the rumours in the media, they are just that: rumours. As far as I am aware, they are false rumours. We have not had any direct contact with the people who are holding Mary Jean, Eugenio and Andreas.
That said, the ICRC cannot just disregard rumours like this. We are doing our best to check on their possible accuracy through a range of contacts.
This is obviously a high-profile case and there is a lot of media attention surrounding it. Sometimes, it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. What we know for sure is that the three are alive, and we want their safe return. I am not in a position to comment further as I do not want to jeopardize our colleagues’ safety, nor do I want to speculate on rumours. That simply wouldn’t be helpful.
In addition, in these times of instantaneous worldwide communication, we are very concerned about the effect that rumours, conveyed by media, may have on the families of our kidnapped colleagues. Because of the time difference, and the difficulty for the families living in other parts of the world to un derstand aspects of the incident relating specifically to the Philippines, our colleagues at Geneva headquarters are doing their best to protect the families from the incredible stress that rumours can unleash. Here in the Philippines we are trying to do the same thing for the family of our Filipina colleague.
Do you expect this incident to have an impact on the ICRC’s operations in the southern Philippines?
The ICRC fully expects to continue its assistance and protection activities in the conflict-affected areas. We’ve been working in the country since 1982. We carry out a range of activities, including visits to detainees to ensure they are treated well and have access to water and sanitation facilities.
We also continue to respond to the needs of people who remain displaced in significant numbers in central Mindanao. This work is done in cooperation with the Philippine National Red Cross Society, whose dedicated volunteers distribute items such as rice, soap and cooking oil, and follow up on the population's needs. We also provide support for medical facilities that are working to treat those who have been injured or made sick as a direct or indirect result of the fighting.
In addition, the ICRC works to ensure that the displaced have access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities. This is an extremely important part of what we do because it has a direct impact on people’s health and well-being. When people have clean water to drink and proper toilets, it greatly decreases the chances of disease spreading.
Mary Jean and Eugenio are both water and habitat specialists for the ICRC and were working on a water and sanitation project at the Jolo provincial jail when they were snatched along with Andreas.
Their expertise and experience enable the ICRC to provide the right kind of help to peopl e in need, whether in evacuation areas or in detention centres. We sincerely hope that Mary Jean, Eugenio and Andreas will be returned to us soon so that they can continue helping the conflict-affected population in the southern Philippines. For the time being, because of their abduction, we are unable to carry out our water and sanitation project at the Jolo provincial jail, but the rest of our activities continue.