OAKLAND — As military mortars pounded the camps of Muslim rebels in the Philippines, the mother of an American hostage waited to hear the fate of her son and hoped the news would be positive.
Carol Schilling, whose son Jeffrey was reportedly killed during an escape attempt Friday, held out hope this weekend that because none of the 19 captives had been found, her son might still be alive.
Jeffrey Schilling was taken hostage by Muslim rebel group Abu Sayyaf at the end of August, reportedly after an argument with rebels.
They had threatened to behead Schilling if Philippine troops launched an attack.
But officials said they had no evidence supporting unconfirmed reports that some of the hostages had been killed.
“As far as our assessment is concerned, they are all believed to be alive,” Philippine Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado said.
Carol Schilling had no word of her son Saturday.
“No news is good news, as far as I am concerned,” she told journalists from her Oakland apartment.
Held hostage were two French journalists, three Malaysians, a Filipino captured in April and 12 Filipino Christian evangelists. The military also was trying to verify reports that the two journalists had escaped and that the evangelists were executed by a rebel firing squad after the military attack began, said Philippine presidential press secretary Ricardo Puno.
France, Germany and Malaysia expressed concern about the decision to attack the rebel camps, saying it could endanger the lives of the hostages, but Carol Schilling was hopeful.
“If my son is found and rescued and he calls me, I will be so thrilled that they took this action,” she said.
Rebel leader Ghalib “Robot” Andang called a government emissary after the attack to ask for a cease-fire, but he did not offer to release the hostages, chief government negotiator Robert Aventajado said. He added that the chances of the request being accepted by the government were “almost nil.”
Officials said clashes were continuing Sunday and that the military had overrun two rebel camps, including the area where two French journalists had been held, but found no hostages.
Negotiations for the hostages’ freedom broke off after the division of ransom money among the rebels caused tension in the group’s factions. Negotiators say that more than $15 million in ransom has been paid, $10 million of that from Libya. Those large sums attracted many recruits to Abu Sayyaf, which grew from fewer than 200 members in March to more than 3,000.
As the strife continues in the southern Philippines, Carol Schilling waits.
“Friends and family and total strangers have joined me in praying every minute of every day for my son’s well-being and safe release,” she said. “I firmly believe that he is still alive, and I just know in my heart that he will return home to me.”
The military pounded the camps of Muslim rebels with mortars Sunday and thousands of troops continued their assault to free 19 foreign and Filipino hostages, but found no sign of the captives, officials said.
Presidential press secretary Ricardo Puno said on the second day of the offensive that troops had not seen the hostages, who include an American. “The rebels are clearly moving them from place to place,” he said.