We have offered everything, but it is up to the Philippines."
Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The year 2016 was tainted by five hostage-taking incidents, occurring between March and July, with a total of 24 Indonesians being kidnapped for ransom by the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group hiding in the Philippine forests.

The first incident occurred on March 26, when 10 Indonesian ship crew members were abducted in waters near the Philippines.

They were released in May as a result of effective cooperation between the Philippine and Indonesian governments, according to President Joko Widodo (Jokowi).

Flanked by Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Commander of the Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI) General Gatot Nurmantyo, the head of state revealed that both formal and informal approaches had been deployed to secure the release of the abducted Indonesians.

The latest incident occurred on July 9, when three Indonesians were abducted from a Malaysian-flagged trawler, LLD113/5/F, in the Felda Sahabat waters, Tungku, Lahad Datu, Sabah State, Malaysia.

Most of the captives from all incidents were gradually released unharmed in September and October, except for two persons identified as Mohammad Nazer, 62, and Robin Peter, 32, taken hostage with five other crew members of the tugboat Charles on June 22, off the waters of Sulu.

These last two hostages were released on December 12, according to a statement from Foreign Minister Retno, delivered through the Director of the Protection of Indonesian Citizens and Legal Entities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, ending the hostage crisis that had attracted the attention of the Indonesian government and the public.

Retno, in her statement from New Delhi, India, confirmed that the liberation was the result of total diplomacy involving various elements of the government over the past six months.

"These two are the last remaining hostages from the group of seven crewmen of T/B Charles 00, who were abducted last June 22 off Simisa Island in Sulu," the statement read.

The freed hostages were flown to nearby Zamboanga City and will be handed over to the Indonesian ambassador to the Philippines, Johny Lumintang, by the West Mindanao military.

According to reports, the militants handed the two over to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Later, the MNLF, a former Muslim separatist rebel group on the strife-torn island of Jolo, delivered the hostages to a local official.

"Indonesian (hostages) Mohammad Nazer and Robin Peter were released by their (Abu Sayyaf) captors to MNLF Commander Tahir Sali... after being pressured by non-stop operations (by the military joint task force) in Sulu and with pressure from the MNLF," the military statement noted.

The Abu Sayyaf group are still holding some 18 foreigners and five locals captive. Most of them were abducted from vessels off the coast of the southern Philippines.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the military to crush the Abu Sayyaf militants.

The militant group is fairly small, with only 400 members, but it is known for kidnapping people and demanding millions of dollars in ransom. Witnesses have seen them beheading their hostages when they fail to receive a ransom on time. However, in this case, the terms of release for the last two Indonesians had not been disclosed.

With hostage-taking incidents occurring repeatedly along the maritime borders shared by Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia, the Indonesian government has called for trilateral joint patrols to prevent and pre-empt such misadventures.

The three countries have also held several trilateral meetings to discuss the situation.

Earlier, Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu had affirmed that the three countries should conduct a military exercise soon, prior to carrying out trilateral joint patrols along their maritime borders.

Foreign Minister Retno said a cooperation agreement on joint border patrols had been signed by Indonesia and the Philippines in 1975.

Under the agreement, three types of cooperation were to be upheld by the two countries: coordinated cooperation, joint patrols, and coordinated patrols.

Retno underlined the need to enforce the defense cooperation agreement to prevent similar incidents in the future.

"This kind of activity cannot be tolerated at all," Marsudi stressed. "Serious efforts, I repeat, serious efforts must be made immediately, both by the Philippine and Malaysian governments," she stated.

The Indonesian government has offered to conduct joint patrols and to escort cargo vessels sailing to and from the Philippines, the base of the Abu Sayyaf separatist group.

"That is what we wish to do. We can put four to five soldiers on one ship," TNI Commander Gen. Gatot acknowledged on July 11 after attending a coordination meeting at the crisis center on securing the hostages release.

"We have offered everything, but it is up to the Philippines," the four-star general added.

In fact, the Indonesian government has banned Indonesian-flagged vessels from sailing to the Philippines since last month.

The transportation ministry issued a sailing notice, No. 130/VI/DN-16, dated June 24, 2016, to harbormasters, ordering them not to issue permits to Indonesian-flagged vessels intending to sail to the Philippines.

Reporter: Fardah
Editor: Priyambodo RH
Copyright © ANTARA 2016