Matthew Fisher: John Ridsdel was an adventurer, but he was no cowboy

MANILA — John Ridsdel was an amiable, engaging man. I shall miss our long conversations about Canada, his keen interest in journalism, his pride in the accomplishments of his daughters, his love of sailing and why he was drawn to some of the most dangerous places in the world.

John was an adventurer who long ago gave up the comforts of life as a journalist in Saskatchewan and Alberta to work overseas for Petro-Canada. He had been an expatriate for more than 25 years when I came to know him in 2013 through his work as a mining executive for TVI Resources Inc. A Calgary-based company, it runs gold, silver, copper and zinc mines in an area of Mindanao where extremists have been seeking to create an Islamic state for decades.

We were not particularly close, but we got along well from the start. Our conversations tended to last for hours because John was a genial raconteur. We had both worked in dangerous places such as Pakistan and Myanmar so we always had lots to talk about.

While obviously well acquainted with the hazards of working on the margins from his years in the Middle East and South Asia, John was no cowboy. He had an analytical mind and thought things out thoroughly. He did not regard the Philippines as an especially dangerous place, as long as prudent security measures were taken when travelling in the violent south.

When John travelled into the mountains, he usually had an armed escort. That is what he promised me if I took a trip with him to one of the dodgier places in Mindanao.

But, for once, I heeded the advice of a Canadian diplomat, who was apoplectic that I would consider driving for hours in an area where the roads were dubious, communications were bad and violence and kidnappings were commonplace.

Ironically, John was not abducted from a dangerous place, but from his sailboat in a resort that had never seen such an attack before.

He, another Canadian, Robert Hall, as well as a Norwegian man and a Filipino woman, were abducted only a few kilometres from Davao City, which is regarded as one of the safest places in the Philippines.

I can only imagine what he and his companions endured. I am guessing that if their experiences were anything like those of others abducted by Abu Sayyaf and managed to get free, they were probably moved constantly. At some point, they would have had to endure a 600-kilometre sea voyage to Jolo Island, where John was executed on Monday.

The hostages would have had little food or water and faced constant threats from their captors, who seem to revel in videos that show them holding machetes to necks. As John mentioned in one video, they were also in danger when the Abu Sayyaf camps came under artillery attack by Philippine forces.

Did the Philippine and Canadian governments do enough to liberate my friend?

I know the Philippine government publicly asked Canada last week to not pay a ransom to free John or the others.

I also know from a well-informed Filipino source that Canada, although it does not officially negotiate with terrorists or pay ransoms, was involved in some kind of negotiations with Abu Sayyaf before Philippine security forces launched a combat operation to try to rescue them.

It is also possible that Canada had commandos in the area. My experience tells me this is probable but I have no way of knowing.

What I know for certain is that my friend did not deserve such a ghastly fate. Nobody does. I am wondering what the Canadian and Philippine governments intend to to avenge John’s death and halt what is the most vicious Islamic terrorist group in the Far East before they kill some of the 17 other foreign hostages they are still holding.

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