President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday evening met the freed Norwegian hostage Kjartan Sekkingstad for the first time in front of the media after he was released by the Abu Sayyaf on Saturday afternoon along with three Indonesian seamen.
The President thanked government envoy Jesus Dureza, Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chairman Nur Misuari, the Norwegian government, and every person who was ultimately instrumental to the release of the hostages.
According to Duterte, the successful negotiation that led to the captive's release is “the best thing that happened to us” in the middle of the government's war on drugs and terrorism.
“The best thing that happened to us is really the release of Kjartan because we were able to complete our promise to Norway, which is giving us good offices for a space to talk vis-a-vis with the Communist Party of the Philippines. It has provided good offices to several countries for so many conflicts. I salute the country for being peaceful,” he said.
The President playfully added, “I was joking with the ambassador a while ago: You are the descendants of the Vikings, who are fierce fighters. If there is a group there still remaining, could you just bring them here and we'll let them loose somewhere in Basilan?”
Sekkingstad's release is a step towards combating terrorism in the country and establishing law and order, Duterte believes.
He assured the freed hostage that the government will continue to work towards achieving “raw justice.”
“There are simply too many gangsters and terrorists. Simply too many battles. I assure you, when the time comes, I will inform you that we have been able to catch up with them. Nothing else. I will say this now: Your travails in life are over. Until such time that we get... You want raw justice, then we will give it. If that is what you want,” the President said.
Before ending his speech, Duterte declared terrorism and civilization as the “next great battle.”
Meanwhile, Sekkingstad also expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the President and everyone who made his release from captivity possible.
“I like to express a heartfelt thank you to President Duterte, Secretary Duterte, the chairman Nur Misuari and his finest men who released me yesterday afternoon, got me out of captivity,” Sekkingstad said.
“Also, the Norwegian embassy, the Norwegian team, my Filipino family, and my family in Norway, and everybody who has helped make this release possible. I am very happy to be alive and free. It's a beautiful feeling. Thank you all.”
Earlier, speaking to reporters in Indanan, Sulu, Sekkingstad said, "I am so very happy and lucky to be alive."
Sekkingstad was abducted from a high-end tourist resort he managed in September 2015 by notorious kidnappers-for-ransom the Abu Sayyaf.
Two Canadians taken hostage at the same time, John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, were later beheaded by the group after a ransom demand of about P300 million ($6.5 million) was not met.
The Norwegian and Philippine governments have denied that a ransom was paid to free Sekkingstad, though Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said he would not rule out a third party, such as Sekkingstad's family, paying a ransom.
A spokesman for the Abu Sayyaf was quoted in a newspaper on Sunday as saying the group received P30 million (about $625,000) for the Norwegian. — Bianca Rose Dabu/BM, GMA News