Philip­pine hostages re­call es­cape from cap­tiv­ity

The China Post - - LIFE -

Two Philip­pine coast guard men on Fri­day trem­bled and cried as they re­called their har­row­ing four­month cap­tiv­ity un­der Is­lamic ex­trem­ists who be­headed one of their fel­low hostages.

Sport­ing long beards, Gringo Vil­laruz and Rod Al­lain Pa­gal­ing said luck and quick wit aided their es­cape from Abu Sayyaf mil­i­tants on the re­mote south­ern is­land of Jolo.

“Each day I felt like I was go­ing to die,” Pa­gal­ing told re­porters shortly af­ter ar­riv­ing in Manila, as his three-year-old daugh­ter, Al­laina, clung tightly to his shoul­ders.

“It was very dif­fi­cult. We had noth­ing else to turn to ex­cept prayer.”

The men, who were ab­ducted in May along with another hostage, were blind­folded, stripped of their shirts and made to beg for their lives on their knees as their masked cap­tors held ma­chetes to their necks.

A video of the des­per­ate plea was posted on the video-shar­ing web­site YouTube as the ban­dits de­manded an undis­closed ran­som.

The de­cap­i­tated re­mains of the other hostage, Rodolfo Boli­gao, were found on a dark, de­serted Jolo high­way last week.

The be­head­ing prompted elite mil­i­tary forces to launch a risky op­er­a­tion to free 11 hostages held by the al-Qaida-linked mil­i­tants — in­clud­ing the two coast­guard of­fi­cials, as well as two Malaysians, a Dutch na­tional and a South Korean.

Af­ter the mil­i­tary en­gaged the mil­i­tants in a fire­fight late Wed­nes­day, Vil­laruz and Pa­gal­ing were able to slip away.

“The fight­ing was so in­tense. There was no time to think hard,” said Vil­laruz.

“We just made a run for it while there was chaos all around.”

Found an hour apart, they did not know of each other’s es­cape un­til they saw one another Thurs­day at a lo­cal mil­i­tary hos­pi­tal.

The Abu Sayyaf mil­i­tants are be­lieved to be hold­ing nine re­main­ing hostages. Author­i­ties are con­tin­u­ing to pur­sue the group, said Cap­tain An­to­nio Bu­lao, a mil­i­tary spokesman in Jolo.

Fif­teen Abu Sayyaf mil­i­tants died in the fight­ing on Wed­nes­day.

Im­pov­er­ished Jolo is a known strong­hold of the Abu Sayyaf, a loose band of sev­eral hun­dred armed men set up in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida net­work.

The group en­gages in kid­nap­pings to fi­nance its oper­a­tions, of­ten tar­get­ing for­eign­ers and some­times be­head­ing cap­tives if ran­soms are not paid.

It has also been blamed for the worst bomb at­tacks in the coun­try, in­clud­ing the fire­bomb­ing of a ferry off Manila Bay in 2004 that killed more than 100 peo­ple.

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