MANILA (Apr 3) — After 77 days in captivity, Mary Jean Lacaba, was set free by her abductors Thursday night. She looked exhausted, frail and has apparently lost weight. Not a trace of a smile could be seen in her face and she appeared as if she was perplexed and fearful of what the ensuing moments may bring.
No one knew she was being released. Earlier it was reported that she was rescued by the military but only to be corrected by Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro that the Abu Sayyaf released her, which was confirmed by Lt. Gen. nelson Allaga, commander of the Western Mindanao Command.
She was led to a wheelchair and brought to the trauma center of the Armed Froces of the Philippines’ 3rd Marine Brigade in Sulu for debriefing and medical check-up.
Lacaba, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Swiss Andreas Notter, who all work for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were abducted by the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf since January 15 in Patikul town in Sulu. Vagni and Notter still remain in the custody of the bandits led by Albader Parad.
After holding them for more than two months, the Abu Sayyaf threatened this week to behead a hostage unless troops vithdrew by the March 31 deadline date set. Negotiations between the government and Abu Sayyaf have since been stalled but Jolo Vice Governor Lady Anne Sahidulla said she secured Lacaba’s release in talks with the militants after the deadline date passed and a state of emergency was declared by Jolo Governor Sakur Tan.
“She’s alive and well,” said Sen. Richard Gordon, head of the Philippine Red Cross. “I’m really very elated.”
“I hope we can get the other two,” Gordon added.
Jolo Vice Gov. Lady Anne Sahidulla said she saw both men when they escorted Lacaba.
Gordon was deeply touched by Lacaba’s release. “I had a good little cry afterwards,” said Gordon, who was involved in the negotiations.
Gordon refused to say what led to Lacaba’s release, saying, “At least we have one. Maybe the other two will be freed later, hopefully.”
He again urged the Abu Sayyaf captors not to harm the remaining hostages. “I’m appealing to them not to harm them and I also appeal to the military also to take it slowly and let’s not act if it’s dangerous.”
Meanwhile, Alain Aeschlimann, the ICRC’s head of operations for East Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific, appealed also to the abductors not to harm Vigali and Notter.
“Once again, we ask that they remain unharmed. While we welcome this first positive move, especially after a very tense and difficult week, we reiterate our appeal to the kidnappers to let Eugenio Vagni and Andreas Notter go without delay and unconditionally,” Aeschlimann said.
He also said the ICRC appreciated recent official and behind-the-scenes endeavors to resolve the ordeal and was grateful to various high-ranking government offices for their efforts. He hoped the two will be home soon with their families.