Filipina Red Cross worker freed

ZAMBOANGA CITY – The Filipina Red Cross worker who has been kidnapped, along with two of her colleagues, has been freed, authorities have said.

Chief Superintendent Felizardo Serapio Jr., head of the Western Mindanao police’s directorate for integrated police operations, said Engineer Mary Jean Lacaba of the International Committee of the Red Cross was in their custody.

“Magulo pa sa ngayon, she’s already with us,” Serapio told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone.

But Serapio said they were still trying to determine the exact time of her release and where she was set free.

Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross, announced Lacaba’s release on television but did not elaborate.

Lacaba was released by the Abu Sayyaf around 7:15 p.m. but no information was immediately available on her two companions, Swiss Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni, according to a source who was not authorized to speak to media.

Lacaba was freed in Barangay Paligi, a village bordering Indanan and Parang towns, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer informant, who has direct knowledge of the release.

The informant said Lacaba was handed over to Sulu Vice Governor Nuranna Sahidulla, who went near Paligui after having been told by Congressman Yusop Jikiri to go there.

“(She was released) somewhere near the Barangay of Paligui, it’s a fishing village just adjacent to Barangay Kuppong, and Vice Governor Nuranna Sahidulla was already notified by Sulu Congressman Yusop Jikiri to secure her from the area,” the source said.

Sahidulla, he said, was escorted by Brigadier General Eugene Clemen, commander of the 3rd Marine Brigade.

The informant said the Abu Sayyaf group that handed her over was led by Abdul Gafur who could not be contacted despite repeated attempts.

“The governor (Sakur Tan) has no knowledge about all these things here, in fact he was surprised about the report,” the source added.

“She’s fine and she is undergoing medical treatment,” Serapio said without elaborating.

Serapio said that Lacaba would immediately be brought to this city “first thing early in the morning tomorrow (Friday).”

But a source from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said they wanted to get hold of her as soon as they could.

“And we are not going to allow any agencies from the Philippine government to conduct the debriefing, it’s a policy of the ICRC that the debriefing will be done by the ICRC,” the source said.

The ICRC informant said Lacaba was expected to be flown out of the country soon.

Cedric Piralla, ICRC head of delegation in Davao City, where Lacaba came from, said they could only confirm her release if they saw her.

“I am sorry but I cannot confirm or deny if Mary Jean is free, we need to see her in person,” Piralla said.

As of posting time, Lacaba is undergoing check up and debriefing at the marine camp, said assistant secretary for public affairs Brian Yamsuan of the Department of Interior and Local Government in a phone interview with INQUIRER.net.

Yamsuan said they have yet to contact the kidnappers again on whether Vagni and Notter would be released soon.

Clemen, officer-in- charge of the Joint Task Force Comet, in a separate interview with INQUIRER.net said that Lacaba was now at the hospital of the 3rd Marine Brigade in Sulu.

Fadzlur Raman, spokesman of the Task Force ICRC crisis committee, said that Lacaba was in good and healthy condition.

It has been 78 days since the three Red Cross workers have been held captive by the Abu Sayyaf in the province of Sulu.

Task Force ICRC, headed by Sulu Governor Tan, was the multi-agency team that has been negotiating for the release of the hostages who were seized January 15.

Julie Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao
With reports from Abigail Kwok
and Katherine Evangelista,
Erika Tapalla, INQUIRER.net;
Michael Ubac, Inquirer

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Published in: on April 2, 2009 at 9:12 pm  Comments Off on Filipina Red Cross worker freed  
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