Lives of Service: the Red Cross Hostages

Mary Jean Lacaba, 44

“Naa na ko Sulu mam.” This was the last text message 44-year-old Mary Jean Lacaba sent to a close relative before news broke that she and two other companions were taken captive by the Abu Sayyaf group.

Fondly called “Nene” by her family, Mary Jean Lacaba grew up in Davao where she graduated from the University of Mindanao with degrees in Civil Engineering and Education. In 2003, she earned a Masters degree in Environmental Engineering from the same university.

Before she became a Field Officer for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Nene taught at the Tungkalan Elementary School in the late 80s and then transferred to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in Davao City as Clerk III.

She was later on promoted as Program Officer II. While in DAR, Nene was active in the planning, validation, and implementation and construction of infrastructure projects. These projects involve communal irrigation facilities, farm to market roads, rural water systems, and post-harvest facilities in provinces in regions XI and XII.

She was directly involved in projects such as the Tulay ng Pangulo Para sa Magsasaka, Super Region Projects in Mindanao, and Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Carding System, an identification system.

The DAR employees said Lacaba has been on leave from their office since June 16 last year. Datu Yusoph B. Mama, DAR Region 11 director, earlier told ABS-CBN that she was set to resume her duties in DAR on February 20, 2009.

Before she went on leave, she served as Agrarian Reform Program Officer. This February, she was supposed to mark her 18th year in the DAR.

“Nene” is married and has a 14-year old son. Her family has refused to talk to media. In a blogpost concerning her abduction, a niece explained that this is due to fear of divulging information that might affect the negotiations being done by the ICRC, which may endanger her life further.

In her blogpost, the niece described Mary Jean as “selfless, generous, warm-hearted, kind, motherly, vibrant and with the kind of laughter that is infectious and warms the soul.”

Mary Jean and her boss, Eugenio, were working on a water and sanitation project at the Jolo provincial jail when they were snatched along with Andreas.

Andreas Notter, 37, Swiss

Andreas Notter loves history, culture, and travel. He made commercial studies in Switzerland and was a history professor. His fascination with people and how they lived brought him to various countries. He stopped traveling when he arrived in India. From there, he worked with an aid organization directly involved in water and sanitation projects.

Notter’s first mission was with the Central African Republic near the border of Sudan where he visited detained persons. Afterwards, he worked with the ICRC and was based in the Philippines as the head of the office in Zamboanga City. He is involved in managing water sanitation projects, visiting detainees, rural livelihood projects, and in the dissemination of humanitarian rules and values.

He likes to climb mountains in Switzerland and play rugby. He was allowed to talk to his girlfriend last March 22 by the Abu Sayyaf group.

Eugenio Vagni, 62, Italian

Eugenio Vagni specializes in water supply and systems. After studying in Canada, he went to various countries, initially working in private companies and then moved on to several aid organizations. He has been with the Red Cross for the last eight years as a Davao-based Sanitation and Engineer.

He has “brought” water to populations in the region of Kandahar in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Myanmar, Ethiopia, and the Philippines.

Eugenio Vagni is a father of two children.

About the ICRC

The International Committee of the Red Cross has been in the Philippines since 1982. It carries out a range of activities, including visits to detainees to ensure they are treated well and have access to water and sanitation facilities.

When war broke out between government troops and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the ICRC responded by providing aid, in the form of food and non-food items to affected towns of North Cotabato including the municipalities of Libungan and Pigkawayan. They also provided support for medical facilities that are working to treat those who have been injured or made sick as a direct or indirect result of the fighting.

Among the key projects of the ICRC are facilities to help the displaced have access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities.

In a January 19, 2009 interview concerning the hostage taking, Jean-Daniel Tauxe, ICRC’s head of delegation in Manila, noted that this is an extremely important part of what the ICRC does because it has a direct impact on people’s health and well-being. “When people have clean water to drink and proper toilets, it greatly decreases the chances of disease spreading,” he said.

Mary Jean and Eugenio are both water and habitat specialists for the ICRC and were working on a water and sanitation project at the Jolo provincial jail where they were snatched along with Andreas. “Their expertise and experience enable the ICRC to provide the right kind of help to people in need, whether in evacuation areas or in detention centers,” according to Tauxe.

Since the abduction of the three ICRC workers, Tauxe said the international aid group has been unable to carry out its water and sanitation project at the Jolo provincial jail. He maintained, however, that the rest of their activities in the country continue despite this.


ICRC Manila

Published in: on March 31, 2009 at 5:03 pm  Comments Off on Lives of Service: the Red Cross Hostages  
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