My wife is Filipina. Indeed, her home town is in Mindanao, on the main road to Davao from the north. We plan to move to our home in the Philippines this summer. This has caused Canadian friends to express concern, given the recent beheading of Canadian hostage John Ridsdel by Abu Sayyef.
I wish I could reassure them by saying Ridsdel was taking unnecessary risks. We all like to believe that those who suffer great misfortune somehow brought it upon themselves. This calms our outraged yearning for justice, and reassures us that the same thing will not happen to us. We won't make the same mistake; we're smarter than that. But Ridsdel, an old Filipino hand, apparently did nothing foolish or reckless. He was kidnapped near Davao. Davao is in Mindanao, and parts of Mindanao are unsafe, but Davao is in the less remote and non-Muslim eastern part of the island, not the dangerous West, and is itself by reputation extremely safe. I have never been to Davao, and would worry about taking the road in, but my wife and I were actually talking of moving there not long ago. Partly because it is supposed to be the safest city in the Philippines, or even in East Asia.
In the end, any Third World country is dangerous. If government and police were reliable and effective, it would not be Third World. It is especially dangerous for anyone who looks European or North American. The typical Third World criminal, when he or she sees European or North American, sees money. If wishes were horses, I would not be moving to the Philippines. But, unfortunately, money is an object.
The only useful thought I think I can add in the present case is that it would be wrong to blame Muslims as a group or Islam for this. This sounds like a cop out, but I think it is not. This is not about Islam; that is a cover, a self-justification. The Philippines are a relatively poor country. Young people have trouble finding jobs. People actually starve to death. If you are poor and Muslim, the temptation is to join Abu Sayyef. If you are poor and non-Muslim, and female, prostitution is an option. If you are male, it isn't. Much like your Muslim neighbours, you similarly join the New People's Army, a Maoist organization active on the eastern side of Mindanao, and in most other remote regions. Given the vast ideological disparity, and the fact that you find something similar in just about any Third World country, the real issue is unlikely to be ideological. The point is money. It is a rough living, but it is a living.
For this reason, you cannot usefully negotiate. You cannot usefully acceed to any non-monetary “demands.” As the Philippine government well knows from experience, if you make a peace deal with one group, a new one will simply emerge to take their place. At the same time, it would have been a bad idea to pay the demanded ransom for Ridsdel; the Philippines government is right to counsel against this. It might have saved Ridsdel, but it would have guaranteed a rash of further kidnappings, of equally innocent foreigners. The surest way to prevent this sort of thing is to convince the miscreants that there is no money in it.
Of course, there is some slight chance I might find myself in the same situation as Ridsdel. If I did, I would probably, just like him, plea to be ransomed. Let the next guy leave his head in a ditch. There are no easy answers here.