Journalist Maria Ressa negotiated with Abu Sayyaf to save her employees. Here's what she learned.
On Monday, Canadian Robert Hall was executed by Abu Sayyaf militants in the Philippines.
The militants had been holding Hall hostage since September, 2015. They were demanding a staggering $16.6 million in ransom for his release. Hall's family was able to come up with 1.4 million dollars — but it was not enough.
The Canadian government decided not to pay the ransom needed to secure Hall's release. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated the government's position in a statement this week, saying: "Canada cannot and will not pay ransoms to terrorists. We will not turn the maple leaf worn with pride, worn by over 3 million Canadians abroad, into targets."
Hall's family says even in their darkest hour, they support the Canadian government's decision not to pay the Abu Sayyaf militants.
They've turned it into a cottage industry, and the end goal, most of the time, has been to get the money.- Filipino journalist Maria Ressa
Hall's death comes just eight weeks after another Canadian hostage, John Ridsdel, was killed by the same group. When Ridsdel was killed, Philippine president-elect Rodrigo Duterte apologized to Trudeau — and vowed to "make sure nothing of the sort will happen again."
Kidnappings by Abu Sayyaf are all too common in the Philippines, as Filipino journalist Maria Ressa knows. The former CNN bureau chief in Manila and the CEO and executive editor of the news site Rappler.com, Ressa has reported on dozens of Abu Sayyaf kidnappings.
"In general, the Abu Sayyaf kidnaps for ransom," she says. "They've turned it into a cottage industry, and the end goal, most of the time, has been to get the money."
I received a phone call very early in the morning. She told me that she had been kidnapped, and they wanted money.- Filipino journalist Maria Ressa
Ressa has personal experience dealing with Abu Sayyaf. In 2008, she led the negotiations to free three of her own staff members who were held hostage by the group.
"I received a phone call very early in the morning and the person who was calling me was my journalist," Ressa says. "I could hear them behind her, speaking in a dialect. She told me that she had been kidnapped, and they wanted money."
It took Ressa and her team ten days of negotiation before they were able to raise and transfer the $500,000 U.S. that Abu Sayyaf demanded in order to secure the journalists' release.
It isn't just a security problem.- Filipino journalist Maria Ressa
Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte has vowed to fight the terrorist group by any means necessary. But Ressa says the problem will cannot be solved by military might alone.
"It isn't just a security problem; it isn't a law and order problem," she says. "You have local government officials who are involved in this. The community benefits when money comes in; it's spread throughout the entire community. So I think that the main problem that needs to be addressed is much more complex."