Vagni finally released from Abu Sayyaf captivity in Sulu
Chief Inspector Amil Baanan, the police officer-in-charge in Sulu province, said Vagni was released 12:45 a.m. Sunday somewhere in the vicinity of Lagasan Asibin in Maimbung town. The 62-year-old International Committee on the Red Cross (ICRC) staff arrived in Jolo town at 1:10 a.m.
Vagni embraced military officers at a Jolo military camp, muttering "Thank you" repeatedly, said Marine Col. Eugenio Clemen.
Vagni was the last of three abducted ICRC workers who regained their freedom after being abducted last Jan. 15 in Patikul town. The others - Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba and Swiss Andreas Notter - were released on April 2 and April 18, respectively.
Government and military officials maintained that no ransom was paid for the release of Lacaba and Notter.
"The first thing I want to do is see my family... see my wife, my daughter and my son," Vagni told Mindanao-based reporters in an interview shortly after his release.
Vagni said he was treated well by his Abu Sayyaf captors, who called him "Apo," a local term of respect for the elderly. He lost about 44 pounds (20 kilograms) and was fed mostly rice and fish. The militants helped treat his cholera and carried his backpack when he got tired, but that did not ease his constant fear of being beheaded.
In Manila, military information chief Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr. said Vagni lost weight but is in “relatively good condition."
“Pumayat siya pero madaling mag-recover, yan ang mahalaga [Vagni lost weight but what is important is that he can easily recover from that]," Brawner said in an interview on dzBB radio.
Gwendolyn Pang, secretary general of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC), said Vagni was immediately brought to the headquarters of the 3rd Marine Brigade in Sulu for a series of medical checkups after his release.
"Eugenio is OK... in relatively good health. We thank those who have continued praying for [his] safe release," Pang said, adding that their priority now is to reunite Vagni with his family soon.
Vagni was later flown to Zamboanga City and then to Manila for a press briefing, according to a report in dzBB radio. It was not however clear whether he would be taken to Malacañang to meet President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo within the day.
A GMA Flash report said Vagni would be brought to the Italian Embassy in Makati City.
The military denied that Vagni's release was a case of "prisoner swap," saying "skillful negotiations" and "pressure" from government security forces did the trick.
"Skillful negotiations and incessant pressure by relentless operations by members of the security forces won the release of Vagni," said Philippine Navy spokesman Lt. Col. Edgard Arevalo.
On Tuesday, government security forces arrested six suspected Abu Sayyaf personalities in Indanan town, including two of Parad's wives, Rowena “Honey" Aksan and Nursima “Simang" Annudden.
They were arrested hours after an explosion caused by an improvised explosive device rocked Jolo town, killing 2 people.
In Vatican City, Pope Benedict XVI felt relieved that the abduction was over and took Vagni's release as a "sign of hope and of faith," Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi was quoted as saying by the Italian news agency ANSA.
Vagni's colleagues, meanwhile, celebrated his much awaited release and expressed gratitude to those who worked hard to solve the hostage crisis.
“The ICRC is relieved and happy that Mr. Vagni will soon be back with his family and friends, who have been living a painful nightmare for almost six months and cannot wait to see him return home," said Jean-Daniel Tauxe, the head of the ICRC’s delegation in the Philippines, in a statement.
He particularly thanked Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan, Vice Governor Nur-Ana Sahidulla, and Task Force Comet Commander, Major General Juancho Sabban.
“The tremendous efforts of national and local authorities, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police have contributed greatly to the resolution of this long crisis," he said.
On the other hand, the ICRC said it remains concerned about other hostages still being held captive in the southern Philippines.
The ICRC has been working in the Philippines since 1982. It provides protection and assistance for those most in need, particularly internally displaced people (IDPs) in Mindanao. - GMANews.TV with AP