(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): The abduction of three Malaysians on Pulau Pandanan 24 hours after the Sabah State Security Council had decided on several security measures to protect Sabah’s coastal areas, including posting security staff on all inhabited islands, would be stuff for high comedy if not for the gravity of the second abduction in five months and the peril to the safety and lives of the victims the Abu Sayyaf kidnappers.
The question crying out for answer is why the Sabah State Security Council took more than 20 weeks to take the final decision to tighten security measures after the first abduction of 21 people on Pulau Sipadan by the Abu Sayyaf rebels on April 23, 2000 - when these security measures should have been put in place at the latest within a month of the Pulau Sipadan incident!
Is this because of complacency of the Malaysian and Sabah state authorities - who were lulled by promises by Abu Sayyaf rebels that after the payment of US$3 million ransom for the nine Malaysian hostages abducted on Pulau Sipadan ($US 1 million per head reportedly paid for each Western hostage), they would be no more abduction in Malaysian waters?
Philippine Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora who had said that "paying ransom ultimately comes back to bite you...the more you pay ransom the more you pay kidnapping" has been proven right, as the payment of ransom for the Pulau Sipadan abduction has not prevented the Pulau Pandanan abduction last Sunday or future abductions on Sabah resort islands.
The Malaysian and Sabah state governments should give a satisfactory explanation as to why they had been so irresponsible in taking their "sweet time" to tighten up security measures after the Pulau Sipadan abduction, especially as the possibility of the authorities concerned being lulled into complacency as a result of the payment of ransom money for Pulau Sipadan abduction has been given credence by the front-page headline report of Utusan Malaysia today "Perbalahan punca penculikan - Beberapa puak kumpulan Abu Sayyaf tidak puas hati agihan wang tebusan", which reported:
"Pemimpin tertinggi Abu Sayyaf, Komander Radullan Shahiron dikatakan bergabung dengan Komander Abu Sabaya manakala Komander Mujib pula bersatu dengan Komander Robot.
"Penculikan terbaru di Pulau Pandanan itu dipercayai dilakukan oleh Komander Eping Ahga, sepupu kepada Komander Mujib...
"Sebelum ini, Komander Radullan telah memberikan jaminan bahawa 'anak-anak buahnya' tidak akan mengulangi perbuatan tersebut.
"Jaminan itu dibuat kepada wakil perunding Malaysia sewaktu rundingan bagi membebaskan baki 21 tebusan Pulau Sipadan, lewat Ogos lalu.
"Bagaimanapun janji itu telah dinodai oleh sekumpulan lapan anggota kumpulan tersebut daripada puak yang dikatakan menyebelahi Komander Robot atau Ghalib Andang, iaitu seorang lagi pemimpin pengaruh Abu Sayyaf.
"Tanpa 'restu' daripada Radullan, mereka mencerobohi perairan Malaysia dan melarikan tiga tebusan yang sedang menikmati keheningan malam di Pulau Pandanan, sekali gus membuktikan perairan negara mudah dibolosi.
"Satu sumber memberitahu Utusan hari ini bahawa pertelagahan antara puak Komander Radullan dengan puak Komander Robot dipercayai tercetus ekoran rasa tidak puas hati dengan agihan hasil wang tebusan.
"Malah pertentangan antara kedua-dua puak itu mencapai kemuncak apabila tercetus pertempuran pada Sabtu lalu, mengakibatkan lima orang tercedera dan seorang terbunuh.
"Dipercayai banyak lagi yang tercedera tetapi tidak dilaporkan."
The measures include co-operation from island resort operators such as switching off the resort lights in the event of raids or intrusions to attract the attention of boats patrolling Malaysian waters.
However, although the Pulau Pandanan resort operator switched off power supply on Sunday night as agreed upon with police as a means of alerting them to attackers when they heard the sound of motor boats landing, there was no response whatsoever from the police General Operations Force post on Pulau Mataking, about five kilometres from Pulau Pandanan.
Furthermore, the resort cook Ruslin Amat, 24, and two of his colleagues used flash lights to signal the police post and received a response - but no help came despite their efforts. Finally, Ruslin and two others had to take a boat to Mataking to report the matter, to find that police patrol boats were trapped in mud due to the low tide.
It is all the more shocking for Sabahans and Malaysians to learn that on the night of the Pulau Pandanan abduction, ten marine police boats were patrolling islands off Semporna at the time - raising the question of the effectiveness of such police patrollings. There are 12 island resorts off Semporna - Sipadan (six), Mabul (three), Pandanan, Kepalai and the man-made coral reefs at a river mouth off Tawau.
Yesterday, Malaysian officials have been quoted in the mass media as demanding that the Philippines government get tough with its citizens following the second incident of hostage-taking in Sabah while Filipino officials, such as Philippine President Joseph Estrada’s spokesman, Ricardo Puno had countered demanding that Malaysia should tighten security, involving "the entire Malaysian military and not just their navy but also their army" at the isolated island resorts in Sabah to prevent future kidnappings by Filipino Muslim guerrillas.
A war of words between Malaysia and the Philippines should be stopped as it serves nobody any good and can only damage the ASEAN spirit when the priority agenda is the release of the three hostages and how to ensure that there could be no recurrence of abductions in Malaysian waters by Filipino Muslim guerrillas - which must be a joint responsibility of the two governments.
For this purpose, DAP calls for the establishment of a joint Malaysia-Philippines
Task Force as well as a Malaysian Cabinet Committee on Security on Sabah
island resorts to work out a blueprint to end kidnappings in Malaysian
waters by Filipino Muslim guerrillas.