MANILA, April 6, 2011 (AFP) – Philippine authorities negotiating with tribal gunmen holding a dozen hostages said Tuesday the suspects’ poor education was hampering delicate talks about resolving the four-day-old crisis.
Five gunmen from the forest-dwelling Manobo tribe seized 15 teachers and children on the southern island of Mindanao on Saturday in a bid to get the government to free a jailed relative.
The grade-school dropouts have since freed three hostages but the government now needs a negotiator who can explain the law to them, said police Senior Superintendent Nestor Fajura, spokesman for the negotiating team.
In an interview on ABS-CBN television, he said “none of them even finished grade four at primary level”, meaning they left school before the age of 10.
“We have been searching and trying to choose (a mediator) who they trust, who they respect and who can tell them in terms that they can easily grasp and understand the ramifications” of their illegal demands, Fajura said.
The government has rejected the gunmen’s demand, saying only the courts can decide the fate of their relative. He is in jail and awaiting trial for murder and kidnapping.
The negotiators sent one of the gunmen’s fathers to their jungle hideout on Monday and he persuaded them to free a 12-year-old boy, military spokesman Major Julio Osias said. Two adult male hostages were also freed on Sunday.
Fajura said authorities remain particularly concerned about another hostage, a 10-year-old girl who has been running a fever.
Resource-rich but impoverished Mindanao makes up roughly the southern third of the Philippines. Communist and Muslim insurgencies have claimed thousands of lives on the island over recent decades. Balita Media Inc.â€™s website is Balita.com.