A FILIPINO policeman has been arrested over the kidnapping-for-ransom of Australian Warren Rodwell.
Jun Malban went on the run after he was charged with kidnapping Rodwell from his home in a southern Philippine coastal town in December 2011. He was detained in Malaysia early this month and deported back to the Philippines on Friday last week, national police anti-kidnapping unit head Senior Superintendent Roberto Fajardo told reporters.
The abductors posed as policemen when they seized Mr Rodwell and demanded US$2 million ($2.5 million) for his release. Mr Rodwell was released 15 months later in return for a ransom that a local politician says was worth about US$100,000, although such a payment has never been officially acknowledged by the Philippine or Australian governments. Spt Fajardo said Malban was believed to have been working with Rodwell’s kidnappers and brokered a ransom.
“Rodwell identified Malban as the negotiator of the Abu Sayyaf during his captivity,” he said.
Malban, who had worked for a southern Philippine police unit that provides bodyguards to civilians under threat, is a cousin of Abu Sayyaf leader Khair Mundos, he said. Mundos, who had a US$500,000 United States government reward on his head, was arrested in a rundown Muslim quarter near Manila airport in June last year. The US government described him as a “key leader and financier” of the Abu Sayyaf.
Mr Rodwell — a former ADF soldier and self-professed “world nomad” — looked online and abroad for love, a search that led him in to petite Filipina Miraflor Gutang, 25 years his junior. After a whirlwind romance, Mr Rodwell packed up his things and travelled to Mindanao in June 2011, one of the most dangerous places in the world for westerners. Only six months into the marriage, Mr Rodwell was relaxing at his new home near the seaside town of Ipil when he was ambushed by armed terrorists dressed as police officers and taken hostage.
“We had to walk two or three kilometres through rice fields. They were behind me trying to hit me with the butt of the rifle and kick me to move me. The guy said ‘run and we will kill you’. I was in front and by the time we eventually got to a river and into a boat, I realised I was being kidnapped.” The gunmen wore military uniforms and their M16 rifles were plastered with police insignia.
The former Australian soldier knew to stay calm and do as he was told when they forced him into a stolen community boat. Filipino police identified the al-Qaeda linked group Abu Sayyaf as being involved in Rodwell’s kidnapping. During his ordeal, Mr Rodwell’s captors moved him from island to island to elude pursuit. He was not shackled or caged but was always closely watched by the gunmen. For 15 months, Rodwell fought to stay sane amid the constant threat of being shot or beheaded. He was moved between 30 different locations within the Basilan Islands as his captors tried to evade the military and other militant groups.
Nine days before Christmas 2012, a tired and gaunt Mr Rodwell appeared in a grainy You Tube video clip, telling the world that after a year in captivity he held no hopes of rescue. “I personally hold no hope at all for being released,’’ he said. “I do not trust Abu Sayyaf. I do not trust the Australian Government. I just don’t trust anyone.” When a ransom of $94,600 was paid on February 3, 2013, the captors kept their hostage.
“The delay was that between the different levels (of the group) some people were trying to do a side deal on their own,” Mr Rodwell said. “Apparently it was at the insistence of the vice governor that they must release me otherwise he wouldn’t help them in the future with any cases.” As the tide went out on March 22 and darkness fell, Mr Rodwell was put on a boat. After about two hours at sea, he was transferred to a smaller fishing boat and taken to shore. “The fisherman paddled it to shore and told me to get out. I was told to start walking and say ‘please help me, please help me’.” He was spotted by Pagadian wharf workers in the early hours of the next morning and taken to the local police station. It was now March 23.
He was then transported to the US military base at Zamboanga for treatment before being flown Manila to recuperate. During this time he decided against a reunion with his Filipino wife, although he said he did not believe his estranged wife was involved in his abduction. “These Filipinos just love to talk. It’s quite possible that with Miraflor, being a bit loose-lipped, that might have helped with the information being disseminated about me being a foreigner and where I was living. It’s just a lack of prudence but these things happen.”
Interviewed ahead of the release of his memoir in 2014, Mr Rodwell said: “My story will certainly make it clear that I was foolish.” “As I found out afterwards there were warnings on Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade sites about the greater area but at the time I read it and put in the local context I thought it said avoid travelling in there if you’re not already there kind of thing. “I’d had experience living in areas where there tends to just be local people. I usually just do my own thing and try to blend in with the environment. I wasn’t trying to discover myself or that sort of thing. But I became complacent, which I think we all do no matter how worldly we are. Sometimes it’s hard to really determine what the dangers are.”
472 Days Captive of Abu Sayyaf — The Survival of Australian Warren Rodwell — written with independent researcher Dr Bob East — is based upon recorded interviews with the AFP upon release and details how Mr Rodwell was moved between about 30 different locations within the Basilan Islands as his captors tried to evade the military and other militant groups. “Bob did a PhD on Abu Sayyaf. He has pinpointed locations I was in and added historical stuff,” Mr Rodwell said. “The book is incisive. I’m satisfied that what’s being presented is accurate enough.” The story is part warning to other intrepid travellers, part tale of resilience. “When all is said and done, what really sustains you has to be your attitude and mental health,” he said.
Founded in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network, the Abu Sayyaf has gained international notoriety for kidnapping sprees that target locals and foreigners in the Muslim-majority southern Philippines.
The Philippines’ lowly paid police force has an enduring reputation for corruption and it is not unusual for officers to be accused of involvement in kidnappings or other crimes related to earning more money.