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Kidnapped TV documentary crew recovered in Sulu

The trio were on assignment together in Sulu to work on a documentary on the Islamist group, Abu Sayyaf

Gulf News

Manila: Islamist Abu Sayyaf militants have freed two Filipino television crew members seized along with a Jordanian journalist nearly eight months ago in the southern Philippines, police said on Sunday.

Ramil Vela and Buboy Letrero were found by police on Saturday at the same hotel in Sulu where the pair had met with Baker Atyani of the Dubai-based Al Arabiya News Channel in June 12, 2012, for an assignment.

“Last night they were recovered from the hotel they were staying,” said chief superintendent Noel delos Reyes of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao on Sunday in an interview on radio station dzBB.

The trio had been reported to have stayed at the Sulu State College Hostel.

Reports said Vela had worked for the GMA Network which also owns dzBB.

Delos Reyes added that after their debriefing by authorities, Vela and Letrero will be flown back to Manila.

Vela and Letrero went on assignment in Sulu in June together with Atyani to do a documentary on the Abu Sayyaf. Several days after they left, police declared the three missing after they failed to report to authorities.

Sulu, which is located some 1,500 kilometres south of the Philippine capital, Manila, is an area where the Abu Sayyaf operates with impunity despite the overwhelming presence of the military. The group had carried out dozens of abductions in the southern Philippines island over the past decade and a half. Most of the kidnappings were carried out in exchange for ransom and there were instances in which hostages were executed if the families of victims failed to come up with money to redeem them.

It remains unclear if Atyani is still being held by the Abu Sayyaf or if ransom was paid.

Earlier, Catholic Bishops Jose Colin Bagaforo of Cotabato and Martin Jumoad of Basilan accused certain politicians as being behind the abduction of several foreigners in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

The two bishops said certain influential politicians are behind the spate of abductions in Western Mindanao as well as the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

“Money is needed for the coming elections. There are many accusations that kidnapping is part of politics,” Bagaforo said in an interview aired by Manila archdiocese-run Radyo Veritas last year.

Before the reported abduction of Atyani, Vela and Letrero, several foreigners had been kidnapped in Mindanao including former Australian serviceman Richard Warren Rodwell, 53, who was taken on December 4, 2011, from his house in Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay, birdwatchers Lorenzo Vinciguerra, 47 from Switzerland, and Dutchman Ewold Horn, 52, who were abducted on February 1 in Tawi-Tawi and Japanese national Toshio Ito, 63, who was taken in Pangutaran, Sulu on July 16, 2010.