Philippine TV journalist and crew abducted

New York, June 9, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned a militant group’s abduction of three journalists from Philippine network ABS-CBN in the southern Philippine province of Sulu on Sunday.

ABS-CBN news head Maria Ressa provided CPJ with an official statement today confirming that journalist Ces Drilon, cameraman Jimmy Encarnacion, and assistant cameraman Angelo Valderama disappeared while in Sulu.

Armed men seized the three journalists from a car in Maimbung town on Jolo island on Sunday morning, according to The Associated Press. The news team had arrived Saturday to cover an event at the invitation of Professor Octavio Dinampo of Mindanao State University, news reports said. One local press report said Dinampo was also missing. The Mindanao People’s Caucus released a statement condemning the abduction of Dinampo, the chair of their organization, who they described as a peace advocate, according to the Web site of regional weekly newspaper The Mindanao Examiner.

Regional Police Chief Joel Goltiao said Albader Parad, a local leader of the Islamic group Abu Sayyaf, was behind the abductions, according to AP. Goltiao said he was not aware of a ransom demand, AP reported.

“We are deeply concerned for the safety of these three journalists,” Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, said. “It is great cause for concern that this volatile southern region of the Philippines remains insecure for the press, and we call on local authorities to work diligently to secure their safe and swift release.”

The Abu Sayyaf group–whose activities in the Philippines reportedly have been linked to al-Qaeda–has claimed responsibility for several bombings and kidnappings for ransom.

Militants associated with different Abu Sayyaf factions have repeatedly endangered the media on Jolo. In 2000, they kidnapped 16 foreign and local journalists, including ABS-CBN cameraman Val Cuenca and researcher/writer Maan Macapagal. The journalists had been covering the group’s abduction of 21 hostages, including several foreign tourists, from a resort in eastern Malaysia.

Two Abu Sayyaf members also eluded police after an arrest warrant was filed against them for the slaying of MindaNews photographer Gene Boyd Lumawag in Jolo city in November 2004. The suspects, Anni Sailani and his brother Itting, were shot and killed in a battle with Philippine soldiers in June 2007, according to Agence France-Presse.

Abu Sayyaf is one of several groups of an independence movement seeking a separate state for the Muslim Moro minority in the south of the predominantly Catholic country. The U.S. government says Abu Sayyaf has weakened since it deployed counterterrorist forces to help local military eradicate the organization in 2002, according to The New York Times.