CAMP BAUTISTA, Philippines -- It was one of the largest payouts ever in the State Department's Rewards for Justice program: $10 million to a handful of brave Filipinos who had the fortitude to stand up to terror. On Thursday, four of them courageously appeared at the nearby district governor's office with U.S. Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney and Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, chief of staff of the Philippine Armed Forces, to collect their share of the reward. The brief public ceremony may well mark the beginning of the end for the notorious Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), a radical Islamic terror organization affiliated with Al Qaeda and responsible for kidnapping and killing scores of Americans and Filipinos.
Information provided by the reward recipients -- whose identities were kept secret to prevent reprisals -- resulted in successful military operations by the Philippine military, in which two notorious ASG kingpins -- Khadaffy Janjalani and Abu Solaiman -- were killed. Two years ago, when our FOX News "War Stories" team was last in the Philippines, it was unthinkable that private citizens on this Muslim majority island would aid the Manila government in tracking down radical Islamic terrorists. But that was then and this is now -- and a lot has changed in those 24 months.
The Rewards for Justice cash handed to four brave Filipinos is only part of the story. In fact, the rewards program dates back to the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was president. But critics of paying rewards for information leading to the death or capture of terrorists have claimed that with Islamic extremism, tribal and religious loyalties trump the desire for financial gain. That may be true in some places, but it's not the case now in the Philippines.
What changed here aren't the motives or methods of the terrorists. The ASG and Jemaah Islamiyah -- an organization that originated in nearby Indonesia -- are both still committed to the tenets of radical Islam, to jihad and autonomous states governed by Sharia law. Their adherents take the lives of "infidels" with the same brutal violence as the followers of Osama bin Laden. Just three weeks ago, seven construction workers were kidnapped and beheaded. A good number of the terrorists here trained in Afghanistan back in the 1990s.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.