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June 18, 2001, Inquirer News Service, Who's Stef Saño?, by Carlito Pablo, Juliet Javellana and Volt Contreras,

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June 18, 2001, Inquirer News Service, Who's Stef Saño?,  by Carlito Pablo, Juliet Javellana and Volt Contreras,
Posted: 11:02 PM (Manila Time) |

page 1 of 3

STEF SAÑO, the alleged "courier" of the Uy family.

IS THE administration using the people of former Estrada official Robert Aventajado to negotiate with the Abu Sayyaf for the release of the Dos Palmas hostages? And is ransom once again being paid to the bandits?

These questions cropped up after Stef Saño, an associate of Aventajado, appeared in the INQUIRER'S banner photo on Sunday with two of the recently freed Dos Palmas hostages, 50-year-old Francis Ganzon and teener Kimberly Jao Uy.

Saño, who was at the extreme right of the photo, was not named in the caption.

Yesterday, Stef was mentioned in the INQUIRER’S banner story as the alleged "courier," of the Uy family along with someone named Jorge, of the P5 million paid for the release of Uy. Stef and Jorge were described in the report of the PDI Mindanao Bureau as having come from Camp Crame, the national headquarters of the Philippine National Police.

In a phone interview, National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said Saño was in the waiting area of the Villamor Air Base when the plane carrying Ganzon and Uy arrived at 5:25 p.m. last Saturday.

With Ganzon and Uy was Ustadz Muhaymin Sahi Latip, a Muslim who tried to negotiate for the release of the hostages but was in turn taken captive himself.

"He had been there for about 30 minutes before the plane landed,” Golez said of Saño.

Golez, however, said he was not sure whether Saño was there for either the Ganzon or Uy family.

Saño was seen in a "huddle" with Teresa Ganzon, wife of the hostage, at the time the plane landed at the air base.

Last year, about $21 million changed hands during the Sipadan hostage crisis in which Aventajado, then flagship projects adviser to then President Joseph Estrada, served as the chief government negotiator with the Abu Sayyaf.

Before Uy and Ganzon’s release, there had been reports that ransom money was paid in exchange for the freedom of the hostages who were able to "escape." Among them were construction magnate Reghis Romero II, his female companion and 9-year-old RJ Recio.

Saño yesterday denied that he was involved in the release of the hostages or the payment of ransom.

"Why am I being dragged into this," Saño said when reached by the INQUIRER for comment.

He said he was being linked to the rumors of ransom payments because of his previous connection with Aventajado.

Saño admitted he worked for Aventajado’s party-list group Bagong Bayani but this was after the Sipadan hostage crisis.

Bagong Bayani, which represents overseas contract workers, received enough votes in the May 14 elections, giving Aventajado a seat in the House of Representatives. As of press time, Aventajado could not be reached for comment.

Bantay OCW anchor

Saño, the anchor of "Bantay OCW," which airs from 12 noon to 2 p.m. over RMN Manila every day, said he had nothing to do with the Sipadan negotiations either.

"Yes, I worked as consultant but I was never on his (Aventajado) payroll. I have no involvement in the Sipadan (case) or this one. Totally zero. I was never involved," Saño said.

"Some people are merely making one-plus-one speculations here," Saño said.

During the Estrada administration, Saño was a member of the board of directors of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority. 

Miriam and Bongbong staff

Saño reportedly played a significant role in the near victory of Miriam Defensor Santiago in the 1992 presidential elections.

In the 1995 elections, Saño worked for Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. who ran for senator but lost.

Saño had also worked sometime in the 1980s at the Bureau of Customs where he was associated with Jorge Baviera. Saño and Baviera were known as activists during the Marcos regime.

It was not clear whether Jorge Baviera is the same Jorge who allegedly acted as "courier." 

Not government negotiator

Golez stressed that Saño was not acting as a government-sanctioned negotiator.

"I should know," Golez said when pressed to elaborate.

Golez said that while he was familiar with the name of Saño as the latter was involved in several "projects," the national security adviser was not aware that Saño was an associate of Aventajado.

Asked if P5 million was indeed paid for Uy's release, Golez said: "I don't know about that."

Saño said he was at Villamor only to meet Rey Bayoging, station manager of RMN Zamboanga (dxRZ), upon instructions of RMN assistant vice president Bobby Ante.

Saño explained that Bayoging had informed RMN Manila that he was on the plane carrying the freed hostages to Manila for their meeting with the President and that he wanted someone to guide him in Manila.

"I was looking for him but I could not find him. It turned out that he was left behind inside the plane after the hostages had deplaned," Saño said.

The plane was dispatched by the President to fetch the freed hostages.

Saño and Ante both said in separate interviews that they did not know why Bayoging was on the plane.

"That is what I do not know," Saño said. But he noted that Bayoging was the one who interviewed Ganzon.

"I have no (information) why he (Bayoging) was there. I was surprised myself," Ante said.

Presidential spokesperson Rigoberto Tiglao noted that Bayoging and former broadcaster Dodi Lacuna were on the plane.

Malacañang had disapproved of RMN’s exclusive interviews with Abu Sayyaf spokesperson Abu Sabaya.

But Ante defended Bayoging, saying he was just doing his job as a media man.

Tiglao did not offer an explanation for the presence of Saño at the Villamor Air Base.

Tiglao said Malacañang had no information about private individuals who were involved in the release of Uy, Ganzon and Latip.

"We cannot verify (this). The intelligence services are of course trying to verify . . . We have to emphasize we do not cooperate nor condone efforts of private individuals to mediate," Tiglao said.

He stressed that the government was not sanctioning negotiations for the release of the hostages in exchange for ransom.

In a briefing, the spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines said the military was not aware of any ransom payments paid for either Ganzon or Uy.

"We don’t know anything about the conditions for their release," said Brig. Gen. Edilberto Adan.

Adan, however, said they believed that Ganzon was released so that he could air a message from Sabaya. ;

Adan noted that Ganzon had spoken over RMN to announce that the bandits were willing to release the remaining hostages if the government allowed two Malaysian negotiators to talk to them.

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