August 31, 2001, Inquirer, Solons grill Reghis; ransom denied, by Volt Contreras and Christine Avendaño,
Posted: 0:34 AM (Manila Time)
CONSTRUCTION magnate Reghis Romero II came armed with a video tape to the House defense committee hearing, to deny allegations that the Abu Sayyaf had merely allowed him to escape because ransom had been paid. He left the hearing frustrated, vowing never to heed the summons of the committee again.
Romero maintained that he and two other hostages took advantage of the "tactical retreat" that the Abu Sayyaf Group was forced to make on June 2, when the military caught up with it in a hospital in Lamitan, Basilan, to make a run for freedom. "The strategic mistake of the Abu Sayyaf in attacking Lamitan provided us the luck and opportunity to escape," he said.
After six hours of questioning, however, he emerged disappointed with the way the congressmen continued to entertain doubts about his escape story.
"It’s so frustrating, of course," Romero told reporters. "What we’re fighting here is the Abu Sayyaf, not the hostages. But it seems we (the victims) are the ones being investigated," he said.
Two Senate committees also held a parallel hearing on allegations by Lamitan, Basilan parish priest Fr. Cirilo Nacorda that members of the military were in collusion with the Abu Sayyaf. There, Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes sought to turn the tables on Nacorda, saying the priest should also be investigated.
He made the statement shortly after Brig. Gen. Romeo Dominguez, in an emotional speech before the defense and justice committees, emphatically denied that he and fellow military officials allowed the escape of the Abu Sayyaf bandits in exchange for money.
"God knows I will never accept blood money," Dominguez, former 1st Division commander, said in a breaking voice. "Not all the money the ASG possesses can match the honor, fame, goodwill, career opportunities . . . if we destroy the Abu Sayyaf."
To reporters after the hearing, Reyes said that he called on the Senate to investigate Nacorda because it was the "inherent right" of any person to face his accusers.
He stressed that the concerned military officials do not know what they are being accused of exactly.
Accompanied by counsel Marlon Cruz, Romero told reporters as he left the building that he would not return to the hearing if summoned again.
Committee chair Rep. Prospero Pichay began the proceedings by saying the panel had obtained testimonies from two witnesses--one of them recalling events "inside the hospital"--claiming that a 3-million peso ransom was paid for Romero’s freedom.
One witness, Pichay said, even claimed that during the military siege on the Lamitan hospital, an ASG member yelled out Romero’s name and that of his female companion Rizza Santos Rodriguez and said in Filipino: "You can get out. Say you were able to escape. Bring that child."
The child referred to was 8-year-old RJ Recio, who was separated from his parents and other Dos Palmas hostages during the hospital siege.