The Philippine military continue to pursue the AbuSayyaf who hold one remaining European hostage in Sulu province.

Usually hostages get quickly ransomed for fear of being killed, but in this case things are slightly different.

For one thing, those kidnapped were from the International Red Cross, and were there to help the local Muslims: a fact that upset many locals.

A second complication is that the kidnapping was done by outsiders.

According to GMA, this Abu Sayyaf group includes some Jamal Ishmael types from Indonesia who fled that government’s crackdown.

A third complication is that the Abus are linked to AlQaeda, and the bad news is that some of these guys are known bomb-makers.

They have requested a huge ransom (they are asking for five million dollars). But if they get that money, locals worry that the small local bombs being set off in the local Philippines (which are often associated with extortion rather than terrorism) will morph into larger, more sophisticated bombs that can kill scores of civilians at markets, fiestas, and malls.

The Philippine Army has been aggressively pursing this group.

Although few details are being revealed, it is known that the Americans, who are forbidden by law to join in the fight, are nevertheless helping the Philippine military with sophisticated surveillance and intelligence data.

This pursuit goes beyond the usual politics. It is also suspected that some major terrorist leaders behind a 2001 kidnapping/killing of three Americans are with the group, and the US has offered a huge reward for their capture.

One should mention that there has been a spate of kidnappings of locals in recent weeks, of whom some have been released after ransom paid, and others, including some farmers, who have been rescued by the Philippine military after one farmer was found beheaded.

No law is going to stop worried families from trying to pay moderate ransom, but allowing huge ransoms from European governments is different.

So far, two of the Red Cross captives have been released or allowed to escape: one local lady, and then a few days ago, a Swiss gentleman who was left behind when the government troops moved near.

It is still unsure if this was an accident, if ransom had been paid through a third party, or if he escaped.

The released hostage related that the remaining Italian hostage, Eugenio Vagni, was sick and had trouble walking.

The latest news this morning from ABS-CBN  is that the government believes that he, too, has been left behind by his captors. To confuse the pursuit, the gang has divided into several groups, but it is believed that the general area where Vagni is being held is now known.

Will this result in a dead hostage? Will the Philippine military save the day?

Or is the whole thing a sham, because a huge ransom was paid to them through a third party?

And how much help in getting the bad guys came from the MILF, who would benefit from the money but also is in danger of losing it’s backers when innocent humanitarian workers are kidnapped by a bunch of outsiders.

Clan politics mixes in with all of this, and if the Europeans pull back on their aid projects, it means less money for development work that helps locals (and less money to be skimmed off the top by clan leaders).

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines

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