Mystery Surrounds the Alleged “Kidnapping and Rescue” of an American in the Southern Philippines, Part 1

In early March, I received a videotape of American Milton Taylor who was allegedly kidnapped on January 12, 2011 in Cagayan de Oro City in the southern Philippines.

On the videotape, he is holding a slip of paper in his right hand and reads this message:

“Today is January 29. To my family, friends and relatives, I’m still alive. Besides that, please give to this group what they are asking … that you approve. Because if you refuse, they will kill me. Please, as soon as possible.”

I brought it to sources within the Philippine military and police and received these details. He had been staying at Lamar Inn in Cagayan de Oro City, and they said they were unsure it was a kidnapping. According to an official report: “he was billeted at the said hotel at room #604 sometime from December 2010 and failed to return since January 11, 2011.”

They said it may have been one of three things:
1. He left town to avoid paying a hotel bill of about P30,000.
2. He was hiding from his “former companions in treasure hunting.”
3. He may have been kidnapped.

US military sources said they knew of no American kidnapped in the south. Philippine military intelligence sources said they believed it was a “kidnap me” situation.

It seemed the authorities were not taking the video seriously. I checked and no other news groups were aware of it.

Yesterday, local journalists in Lanao del Sur reported that Milton Taylor had been released. I spoke with the man who led the “rescue efforts” by telephone – P/SR Supt Rodolfo Llorca, the Provincial Director of Lanao del Sur. When I asked him about Taylor, he said he’s not aware of the full background because he just took office about a month ago. He said: “wala akong masyadong alam dyan sa mga US embassy na yan.” (“I don’t know much about what the US embassy is doing.” He added he came in to work, and in that time, he’s freed seven people.

Llorca said he began rescue operations for Taylor “a week ago Monday” (April 4). He said: “mabuti nakuha na namin siya kasi kung hindi, papatayin na siya.” (“It’s good we got him now because they were about to kill him.”)

Military sources said he “was allegedly released at the boundary of Piagapo and Marawi City.” I was told the FBI was headed to Marawi last night to investigate the group which allegedly kidnapped – and released – the American.

Other sources say ransom was paid – what officials euphemistically call “board and lodging.”

Llorca was adamant. Milton Taylor was kidnapped on January 12 and rescued on April 13.

Here’s what makes it all even more interesting. Sources say the kidnappers are linked to a man charged – along with other “renegade” members of the MILF – with “murder, frustrated murder, serious illegal detention, arson and robbery” in 2008 after the failed peace process. (The MILF has repeatedly denied any links to terrorism or crime).

Was Milton Taylor kidnapped? If so, who did it? Was ransom paid? Is it yet another nexus of terrorism, crime and politics?

It’s an interesting mystery that once unravelled can give a more accurate picture of the situation in the southern Philippines today.

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14 Responses to Mystery Surrounds the Alleged “Kidnapping and Rescue” of an American in the Southern Philippines, Part 1

  1. merlmd says:

    Reminds of what I read recently re: A Murder Foretold, Unravelling the ultimate political conspiracy.
    by David Grann April 4, 2011

  2. Anna says:

    Thank you for writing about this kidnapping. Early this morning, I read the news of his release and was hoping for somebody to make an investigative report on the rampant, on the rise kidnapping trade of the presumed locals. Neighboring cities/regions like CDO and Iligan had been terrorized, all victims were brought somewhere in LDS area. MSU students/professor, a kid and a business from Iligan and more from Cagayan de Oro. Makes me wonder, what the LDS government is proactively doing. I'm afraid it won't be long before LDS will be branded as the new kidnapping capital in Mindanao.

  3. quicksilver says:

    Did we just walk into an episode of CSI?NCIS? Sherlock Holmes? Whatever show we're in, I must say you're playing the lead role of kick-ass-female -journalist-unraveling-mystery quite well. 🙂 Seriously, the fact that I only learned about this through your blog tells me there are really a lot of things happening in the south that we don't know about. Our understanding of that particular reality is distorted by the version that gets handed down to us through mainstream news reports or government press releases. Whatever problems that area of the Philippines has, we can't solve them if we don't get an honest picture and understanding first.

    • Maria Ressa says:

      The more I dig, the more I learn. It's a fascinating story that brings up many questions and possible implications. This is where I wish I wasn't in Singapore and I could go to Lanao del Sur. But it looks like he was held for most of that time in Lanao del Norte.

      • quicksilver says:

        Question: Does the Philippine Government negotiate with terrorists? Do we have an official stand on that? Was the "retrieval" of Milton Taylor a "rescue mission"? (I mean, did our police go in there to get him guns a blazin'?) If we paid a ransom (i.e., giving in to a terrorist's demands), that implies we negotiate?Or it could it really be that Mr. Taylor had himself kidnapped? (so he could keep the ransom for himself?) Or was he kidnapped at all? I am befuddled.

        • Maria Ressa says:

          Authorities are still trying to figure it out. I'm interested to hear what the FBI will say. That's part of the reason that police initially refused to characterize the case as a "kidnapping" but Taylor himself obviously did – in addition to the police. What made it interesting for me is the video!

          • kwerty says:

            He look healthy and well rested on the video. 🙂 What a very friendly kidnappers, or friendnappers. I'm from CDO, i don't think he was kidnap. It's more likely that he orchestrate it.

          • Maria Ressa says:

            I have an update for you in a short while. Established some facts …

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