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(UPDATE 2 - 6:56 p.m.) MANILA, Philippines - The Sulu-based government panel headed by Governor Abdusakur Tan looking into the case of Jordanian journalist Baker Abdulla Atyani and his two Filipino crewmen will no longer be called a crisis management committee but just a monitoring committee.
This, after the panel determined that the three were neither missing nor being held hostage by Abu Sayyaf bandits.
Tan told reporters on Wednesday that contrary to earlier reports, there was no indication that the three had been kidnapped. He also said that no ransom was being demanded for their freedom.
Meanwhile, a News5 source, who requested anonimity, said the three were spotted moving freely in Sulu and that Atyani was even seen mingling with the bandits looking relaxed and unrestrained.
Earlier, Deparment of National Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin also said that based on his conversation with Western Mindanao Command commander Maj. Gen. Noel Coballes, it seemed that Al-Arabiya network's Southeast Asia bureau chief Atyani, Ramilito Vela, and Rolando Letrero were not being held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf group as earlier reported.
"Sabi n'ya (Coballes) may mga sightings, may report na dumadating sa headquarters ng Westmincom na gumagalaw, gumagala 'yong Jordanian with his crew from one camp to the other, sa Abu Sayyaf camp, kampo ng MNLF. So with that, you can easily deduce na hindi s'ya bihag," Gazmin
[He said there were sightings, there were reports reaching the Westmincom headquarters that the Jordanian and his crew were moving from the camp of the Abu Sayyaf to that of the MNLF. So with, you can easily deduce that he is not a hostage.]
Earlier in the day, Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo said that he had decided to no longer talk about the case of Atyani and his companions.
Robredo was the one who earlier said that the three were being held "against their will" after venturing into Abu Sayyaf territory in Sulu last June 12. But Tan stressed on Wednesday that information about Atyani should come from Sulu officials who are more knowledgeable about the matter.
Robredo said the three were being held hostage by the rebels, despite denials by police and military officials. Tan also denied that the three were being held hostage.
Asked for comment at the sidelines of the launching of the Local Government Watch, Robredo said: "Shut up ako diyan."
Pressed on as to why he would not speak on the matter, he said: "In the interest of their safety, it's best that we leave the issue alone at this time."
He would only say that Atyani came to the Philippines on a tourist visa and did not have a work permit.
Robredo said he would be leaving the matter to the local crisis management committee created for the purpose.
Authorities were still holding off rescue operations for Atyani and the two Filipinos.
The Jordanian journalist was accused of misleading authorities about his work and schedule. He had also been tagged as a "fund conduit" of the Al-Qaeda-financed Abu Sayyaf.
Atyani was among those who was able to interview Al-Qaeda's Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.