Muslim Rebel Leader Has Unlikey Path
JOLO, Philippines (AP) _ His AK-47 rifle swings awkwardly against his diminutive body as he walks, and Philippine government officials once poked fun at his limited education and country ways.
But for now, at least, Muslim rebel commander Galib ``Robot″ Andang appears to have out-bargained the government by winning $1 million for each of five foreign hostages released Sunday.
So far, his Abu Sayyaf rebels have received an estimated $11 million for the kidnapping of 21 people on April 23 from a Malaysian diving resort _ with several hostages still unreleased.
Andang has been called the Bill Gates of the underworld by a Philippine lawmaker, loves the limelight and often poses for photos with a wide boyish grin, his arm wrapped around an unwilling female hostage.
When journalists visited his camp on remote Jolo island, he laughed as his men stole their cameras and wallets. He warned one cameraman that ``if you come back here again, you’ll never leave.″
Although not a senior Abu Sayyaf commander, Andang has managed to retain control over the captives since their abduction, earning the ire of four other rebel commanders on Jolo who feel they’ve been cut out of most of the ransom.
The other Abu Sayyaf leaders made lofty political demands, such as formation of an independent Islamic state, early in the hostage negotiations. But Andang soon controlled the talks with a single-minded pursuit of cash, negotiators say.
He also sought orange, coffee and mango plantations from the government for his relatives, including his four wives _ at least three of whom were obtained by kidnapping.
Andang’s power has grown as the massive ransom payments on impoverished Jolo have attracted new recruits to the Abu Sayyaf, with its membership rising from about 500 before the abduction to about 5,000 now, according to military officials.
Little is known about Andang’s past. He is believed to be in his late 40s and to have attended only primary school.
He told negotiators his grandmother and other relatives were killed in fighting decades ago between Muslim rebels and government troops. In the early 1980s he joined the Moro National Liberation Front, another rebel group which later signed a peace treaty with the government.
Andang then hoped to return to a normal life. He applied for a government amnesty, but the application was not accepted and he was forced to remain in the jungle, MNLF chief Nur Misuari says.
The origin of Andang’s nickname, ``Robot,″ has been clouded by lore.
Andang claims it is a shortened version of ``Robocop,″ inspired by his supposed fierce fighting ability. But provincial Governor Abdusakur Tan says it originated when Andang worked for several years as a servant for Tan’s family and would dance robot-like in an imitation of Michael Jackson at the request of Tan’s son.
``My mother gave him that nickname,″ Tan said Sunday. ``He’s come a long way since then.″
Also Sunday, the Philippine government declined an offer from a well-known movie actress to exchange a ``week of pleasure″ with her for the release of the hostages. In a radio interview Saturday, actress Marinella Moran said she would also marry Andang.
``I am willing to give myself to Commander Robot so there will finally be peace,″ she told radio station DZBB.
Chief government negotiator Robert Aventajado said he appreciated Moran’s offer, but would pass.
``It doesn’t look good in the eyes of men, in the eyes of God,″ he said. ``As a self-respecting government, we should not allow this, especially now that we’re seeing a solution.″
Moran initially made the offer in exchange for the release of just the 12 Filipino Christian evangelists but later expanded it to include the foreigners as well.
Employees at DZBB were skeptical of Moran, and noted she was about to release a new, soft-porn movie.
``She could just be trying to catch media attention,″ said editor Nimsa Razelo.