A Philippine mayor and his son who negotiated with Al Qaeda-linked rebels for the release of an abducted TV news anchor and three other people have been arrested as suspects in the kidnappings, officials said Thursday.
Indanan township mayor Alvarez Isnaji and his son Jun will be charged with kidnapping along with 14 Abu Sayyaf militants in the June 8 abduction, said national police chief Avelino Razon.
He said police have reason to suspect the mayor masterminded the kidnapping, based on statements by at least four witnesses.
The mayor of the township in the south — where Muslim militants including the Abu Sayyaf are active — was in constant communication with the abductors, knew their location and failed to help authorities quickly secure their release, said Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno.
"It is now clear where his sympathies lie," Puno said of the mayor on ABS-CBN television.
The son's alleged role was not immediately clear. Razon said there are inconsistencies in both men's statements to police.
The mayor has denied he and his son had a hand in the kidnapping.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered the military and police to hunt down the kidnappers, who released well-known ABS-CBN anchor Ces Drilon, her cameraman and a university professor Tuesday night. A fourth hostage, cameraman Angelo Valderama, was freed June 12.
Police said they were abducted by militants from the Abu Sayyaf, which is notorious for bombings, kidnappings and beheadings and is listed by the U.S. as a terrorist organization.
"We have to wipe out the Abu Sayyaf once and for all," Arroyo said Wednesday.
The hostages were freed after days of talks between the Abu Sayyaf and the mayor and his son, both chosen by the militants as negotiators.
The father and son were in custody at national police headquarters in Manila after being asked to come there Wednesday, Razon said.
Recounting their jungle ordeal, the journalists told reporters that their abductors, some as young as 12, bound and threatened to behead them.
The abductees thanked those who helped get them freed, including Isnaji and his son.
"It is a great thing to surpass an ordeal where for 10 days you didn't know if you would live," Drilon said as she wiped tears from her face, speckled with mosquito bites.
"There were many times I thought it was the end for me," said cameraman Jimmy Encarnacion.
Drilon said her guide — university professor and peace advocate Octavio Dinampo — was tricked by the militants, whom they were to interview in a bid to find out who leads the group.
Media and officials have speculated that up to $337,000 was paid for the release, but government officials and ABS-CBN have denied any ransom was paid.