By Hader Glang
ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines (AA) - Outgoing Philippine President Benigno Aquino III revealed Wednesday that he had apologized to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after militants in the archipelago’s troubled south beheaded a second Canadian hostage.
Aquino expressed his gratitude to the governments of Canada and Norway -- one of whose nationals remains in Abu Sayyaf captivity -- for their handling of the crisis since the three men were abducted alongside a Filipina in September.
"I apologized to Canada’s prime minister because not only one, but two of their nationals have died," he said in the local Tagalog dialect during a televised press conference while visiting the island province of Sulu.
"I also thanked him for backing the no ransom policy," Aquino underlined, warning that ransom payments would contribute to the Abu Sayyaf’s recruitment activities.
“If there would be no ransom [payments], people would be discouraged from joining their group. What would be left is the core group, which is small," he said.
The Abu Sayyaf executed Robert Hall after their deadline for a 600 million peso ($13 million) ransom passed Monday, and the Philippines later confirmed that a head found in Sulu’s capital, Jolo, belonged to him.
In April, the group had beheaded Robert Ridsdel, and is believed to still be holding the Canadians’ companions, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and Filipina Marites Flor.
Aquino said Wednesday that when he spoke with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg the previous evening, she asked for updates and inquired about the possibility of a "successful resolution to the conflict".
He quoted her as expressing understanding for the complexity of the problem for the Philippines, and assuring that Norway’s government would not pay a ransom.
"These two leaders I have spoken to are very understanding. Instead of expressing anger, grief, blame, they showed their cooperation and willingness to help in resolving this problem," Aquino said.
Aquino flew from Manila to Sulu earlier in the day to assess military operations in the region during an unscheduled visit that was not announced to media for security reasons.
Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf group -- armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles -- has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortions in a self-determined fight for an independent province in the Philippines.
It is notorious for beheading victims after ransoms have failed to be paid for their release.