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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Ces Drilon and companions freed

ABS-CBN senior correspondent Ces Drilon on Wednesday thanked all those who helped secure her release and two others late Tuesday night in Sulu.

"I want to thank everybody. Words are not enough to thank those who prayed for the professor, Jimmy, Angel, and myself," Drilon told reporters in Sulu before boarding a military chopper bound for Zamboanga City.

Asked how she felt, Drilon said: "Siyempre, masayang masaya (Of course, very happy)."

Senator Loren Legarda helped negotiate the release of Drilon, cameraman Jimmy Encarnacion and their guide Prof. Octavio Dinampo of the Mindanao State University late Tuesday night. Assistant camerman Angel Valderama was freed June 12.

They were all kidnapped by armed men, believed by authorities to be members of the Abu Sayyaf terror group, last June 8.

Drilon, wearing a white T-shirt and white jogging pants, looked tired and may have lost weight from their nine-day ordeal in the hinterlands of Sulu. She also had mosquito bites on her face.

"Giant ang lamok doon," she said.

Drilon and her companions were immediately brought from Sulu to Zamboanga City by military helicopter.

Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Avelino Razon told dzMM Wednesday that Drilon and her companions underwent medical exam in Zamboanga City.

Doctors said Drilon was suffering from low blood pressure, presumably due to lack of sleep, and had many mosquito bites.

Razon said the Abu Sayyaf Group which the ABS-CBN crew tried to interview was the same group that kidnapped them.

He said Drilon was not hurt by her captors, contrary to earlier reports. He also said no ransom was paid.

Razon said the kidnappers threatened to behead their captives but this was not carried out.

He said the release of the ABS-CBN news team and their guide was due to the work of the negotiators and the "pressure of possible police-miltiary operations."

Loren helps

Legarda, a former ABS-CBN broadcaster, worked behind the scenes to help free the ABS-CBN crew and Dinampo, a Mindanao peace advocate.

"I just talked with Ces now. Ces is free, she is resting, and she will soon be in the hands of her family," Legarda told radio station DZMM early Wednesday morning.

Legarda said Drilon and her companions had to walk five hours before they were picked up by authorities and brought to the house of Indanan Mayor Alvarez Isnaji.

She said the military operations conducted by the Philippine military helped put pressure on the kidnappers to release their captives.

On Sunday, the military shelled rebel positions on Jolo but denied that the operation had anything to do with the kidnapping.

In a statement dated June 17, 11 pm, the families of the three ABS-CBN TV crew thanked Legarda, local officials of Sulu, and police and military officials for helping free the ABS-CBN team.

"There are people who gave us timely and valuable advice as we grappled with ways to secure the release of Ces, Jimmy, and Angelo. They wish to remain anonymous, but they know how eternally grateful we are to all of them," the families said, in a joint statement released by ABS-CBN corporate communications.

"Above all, the release of Ces, Jimmy, and Angelo could not have been possible without the help of Senator Loren Legarda and the cooperation of the people of Sulu and their local government namely Indanan Mayor Alvarez Isnaji and Vice Governor Lady Ann Sahidullah. We thank them and share their hope for enduring peace in Mindanao," it said.

"For their invaluable assistance, we thank Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno; National Police chief Avelino Razon Jr.; officials of the Police Anti-Crime and Emergency Response (PACER) led by Senior Supt. Leonardo Espina and Senior Supt. Edgardo Iglesia and the PNP Intelligence Group led by Chief Supt. Rolando Anonuevo and Supt. Winnie Quidato; the Marines based in Sulu led Maj. Gen. Juancho Sabban," it said.

Legarda said Drilon kept promising to give P15 million or P20 million to the kidnappers, but when they "realized they wouldn't get anything and when they felt the [military] pressure," they decided to release their captives.

Legarda said Drilon thought she would die in captivity and asked to help get her released. "You are my lifeline," she quoted Drilon as having told her.

Legarda said she coordinated her effort in securing Drilon's release with ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs executives Maria Ressa and Charie Villa.

She said she did not promise the young kidnappers anything, but she told them she knew their parents.

DZMM Correspondent Noel Alamar reported that the turn over was done around 11 pm in Barangay Kagay, Talipao.

They were held for nine days by an armed group believed to be Abu Sayyaf bandits in the hinterlands of Sulu island.

"Nandoon po sila sa sa bahay ni [Indanan] Mayor [Alvarez] Isnaji," Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Avelino Razon Jr. said in an earlier interview over DZMM.

"Sila ay dadalhin dito sa Zamboanga [City] kung saan po ay mag-uundergo sila ng medical check up at pagkatapos po niyan ay isang debriefing para malaman po natin sa kanila directly kung anong nangyari," he added.

There were reports that the armed group kept the captives in the bandits’ lairs in Maimbung and Indanan towns.

The kidnappers initially released ABS-CBN assistant cameraman Angelo Valderama on June 12. He was released by to Jun Isnaji, son of Mayor Isnaji.

Mayor Isnaji, a Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader whom the kidnappers agreed to be an emissary, said the kidnappers contacted him through their mobile phones. The negotiating team was led by Sulu Governor Sakur Tan and Vice-Governor Hadja Nur Ana Sahidullah.

When asked if they are going to pursue the kidnap group, Razon said they will have to get more information from the former captives to get a better idea on the identities of the suspects.

"Atin pong titignan po matapos nating madebrief sina Ces Drilon, Jimmy Encarnacion at Prof. Dimampo para lalong pagtibayin ang ebidensya na hawak sa grupong ito," he said.

He added that the PNP will maintain it heightened alert on the area until such time the alert is no longer needed.

"Magpapatuloy po muna… at iyan ay ating a-assessin po kung kelangang manatiling ganun," he said.

Razon said the three will be brought to the Jolo provincial hospital for a medical check-up before flying to Zamboanga City for a debriefing. -- with reports from Noel Alamar, DZMM; Jay Ruiz, TV Patrol; Reuters

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