Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Kidnappers free nursing student in Basilan island

The parents of freed nursing student Joed Anthony Pilangga during a news conference with other families of kidnapped victims on Friday, Nov. 7, 2008 in Zamboanga City. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 24, 2008) – Kidnappers freed late Wednesday a Filipino nursing student after more than two months in captivity in the southern Philippine island of Basilan, officials said.

Officials said Joed Pilangga, 17, was released in the town of Al-Barka at around 9 p.m. “He is okay and with me right now. We will hand over Joed Pilangga to the police and military authorities tomorrow,” the island’s deputy governor Al Rasheed Sakalahul told the radio network RMN-Radyo Agong in Zamboanga City.

Sakalahul did not say how much ransom was paid for Pilangga’s freedom, but the kidnappers had previously demanded P20 million ransoms in exchange for his safe release.

The politician said the hostage was released to his emissaries after a series of negotiations.

Pilangga was kidnapped Oct. 17 in Zamboanga City and brought to Basilan island.

Authorities have tagged the Abu Sayyaf as behind the kidnapping. The group is still holding a nine-year old girl, who was kidnapped Nov. 26 in Basilan’s Lamitan City and demanded P4 million for her freedom.

Pilangga said his captors had repeatedly threatened to kill him if they did not get the ransom. “I was really scared. They threatened to kill me if they did not get what they wanted,” he said.

He said the kidnappers fed him fish, vegetables and noodles during his 68-day ordeal in the hinterlands of Basilan. “I am so excited to see my family. I want to see them and be with them,” he said.

Pilangga briefly spoke with his mother Lucy after the radio network contacted his family in Zamboanga City. “Mum, I am okay. Wait for me tomorrow and I am coming home,” he said.

Early this month, gunmen also kidnapped seven construction workers in Basilan, but freed all of them a week later after Lamitan City Mayor Roderick Furigay negotiated for their release.

Gunmen seized the seven workers after stopping a lorry near Tuburan town on December 1. Authorities initially blamed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels in the kidnappings, but apparently it was carried out by a small criminal gang wanted to get ransom, other sources said.

Two more people were people were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen on December 2 near Maluso town also in Basilan island, but they had been freed three days later, said Sakalahul.

Military offensive since early this month have targeted the Abu Sayyaf, but the larger rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, had been dragged into the skirmishes after it accused government troops of attacking its positions on the island.

In retaliation, the rebels launched a series of attacks against government forces, sparking sporadic, but fierce fighting killing five marines and wounding two dozen soldiers in Al-Barka town.

The military accused the MILF of coddling Abu Sayyaf terrorists and vowed to step up the operation against the militants.

More than a dozen people had been kidnapped by suspected Abu Sayyaf militants headed by Puruji Indama and Nur Hassan Jamiri in recent months and most of them had been freed in exchange for huge ransoms.

Locals blamed the police and military authorities in Basilan, one of six provinces under the Muslim autonomous region, for their failure to secure the safety of the civilians. (Mindanao Examiner)

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