OPINION: Who Hijacked the Brahma 12

When Indonesian waters cannot be violated by foreign ships, there was some bad news from abroad. Two boats bearing the Indonesian flag, the Brahma 12 tugboat and Anand 12 barge carrying thousands of tons of coal, were raided and hijacked by an armed group. Brahma 12 was subsequently released, but Anand 12 is still held hostage.

The incident occurred in the waters around Tawi-Tawi, in the southern Philippines, when the two boats were on a journey from Puting River in South Kalimantan to Batangas, the Philippines, on March 15, 2016. The pirates held 10 crew members hostage. They demanded a ransom of 50 million Philippine pesos (US$1.08 million or Rp 14.3 billion) to release the Indonesian hostages.

These modern pirates claimed to be members of a Philippine armed resistance group, Abu Sayyaf, known to be composed of hard-line militias based in the southern islands in the Philippines, such as Jolo, Basilan and Mindanao. The Philippine government immediately declared that the hijackers were part of the Abu Sayyaf group. It is aconclusion that is premature.


Was the hijacking really an act of the Abu Sayyaf group? As a matter of fact, in many cases, the Philippine government has blamed the Abu Sayyaf group for all violent incidents in the country, including hijackings. This is a conclusion and simplification seemingly made to alleviate the Philippine government's burden, as everyone knows that Abu Sayyaf group is a militant group and the subject of a worldwide hunt.

I believe that the group that hijacked and kidnapped the 10 Indonesian sailors was not part of Abu Sayyaf. The reason is that Abu Sayyaf is known to have requested millions of US dollars in ransom for their hijackings and kidnappings. In the current incident with the 10 Indonesians, the ransom demanded was merely Rp 14.3 billion. This figure is much too low for an organization as big as Abu Sayyaf.

The second reason behind my belief is that only three of the hijackers are non-Muslims. The rest of the group members are Muslims. The history of Abu Sayyaf's activities is a history of holding non-Muslims hostage, with emphasis put on missionaries, Europeans and Americans. It is still fresh in our minds when Abu Sayyaf kidnapped a French pastor in 2015. With such track record, it is admittedly difficult to accept the claim that the kidnappers of the 10 Indonesians are Abu Sayyaf. This group will never hold Muslims hostages, let alone non-European and non-American Muslims.

It is easier for me to believe that the kidnappers of the 10 Indonesians are mere bandits based on familial groups. It could be that the group once belonged to Abu Sayyaf, or is still under Abu Sayyaf's patronage. However, their actions may not be under Abu Sayyaf's command. That the kidnappers claim that their actions are Abu Sayyaf's-I believe this is simply a matter of masquerading, so that their demands are taken seriously by the parties with relevant ties to the kidnapped group. This is understandable due to Abu Sayyaf's notorious name and reputation.

We need to understand the anatomy of armed groups currently engaged in violent acts in the Philippines. There are so many family-based bandit groups conducting violent acts through hijacking, pirating or marauding. All of them are triggered by a single factor: Money. These family-based armed groups were once affiliated with major groups, including Abu Sayyaf, MNLF and other groups.

After parting ways with the major groups, they forge their own paths, often using violence but with a pragmatic motivation, which is money. Such a pattern is called "diskarte" in the Tagalog language, which means walking alone. This "diskarte" becomes a guide and code of ethics among themselves.

From a statistical perspective, the Philippines is currently the country with the largest number of kidnappings and hijacking. Let's take a look, for example, at the prison in Muntinlupa city, where 70 percent of 1,100 cases with death sentences are related to kidnapping and hijacking cases. This figure was recorded before the Philippines abolished the death sentence in 2007. Perpetrators came from many backgrounds of violent groups. Some were even police officers, soldiers, and government officials. With this statistical figure, we should not haphazardly make any simplification that the kidnappers of the 10 Indonesians belonged to Abu Sayyaf.

Familial bandit groups

Regardless of the rational statistical figure, information that I personally gathered from resources related to the kidnappers within the Philippine jungle has convinced me that the kidnappers of the 10 Indonesian sailors were not from Abu Sayyaf, but rather from a familial group with mere financial motives. Some members of the group had been affiliated with Abu Sayyaf. The group's negotiator is indeed still active in Abu Sayyaf but the act of kidnapping itself was not done under the command of Abu Sayyaf.

It also needs to be expressed here that the decision-making mechanism in all matters in Abu Sayyaf is always done in a collective-collegial manner. All organizational leaders must make all decisions together. There is no single commander. On the contrary, in familial bandit groups; all decisions are made by the highest level of command within a family.

With this leadership format and decision-making mechanism, it is clear that it would be easier to resolve the hijacking and kidnapping of the 10 Indonesians if it was done by a familial bandit group, rather than by Abu Sayyaf. We will not need to convince many people within the organizational leadership. We only need to negotiate with the highest person within the group's chain of command.

Another thing: All Abu Sayyaf activities have been motivated by a hardened ideological factor; whereas in familial bandit groups, the motif is always mere financial profit. Therefore, there is only a singular variable in resolving the problem, namely to fulfill their demand. In this context, the chance of a successful negotiation over a military operation to resolve the kidnapping of the 10 Indonesians is higher compared to if the hijacking and kidnapping were done by Abu Sayyaf. The important thing is that we need to find a suitable person to do that, someone who understands the geography of Philippine jungle and the anatomy of Philippine familial bandit groups.


Former Indonesian Ambassador to Russia; Lecturer at Faculty of Law, Hasanuddin Unversity

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