Freed hostages say Abu bandits treated them ‘like sons’

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FREE AT LAST Cameraman Ramelito Vela grimaces in pain as he is wheeled in Camp Crame in Quezon City for a debriefing. He and audio technician Rolando Letrero were freed by Abu Sayyaf bandits on Saturday after eight months in captivity in Sulu province. MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

One of two Filipino TV journalists freed from eight months of captivity by the Abu Sayyaf said Monday the bandit group treated them “like sons” and that not once were they harmed.

“Whatever they ate, we also ate. If we wanted to eat fruits we were allowed to get them as long as we asked their permission,” Ramelito Vela told reporters on Monday.

Vela and his companion, Rolando Letrero, were brought to Camp Crame to undergo tactical debriefing. They were released on Saturday night on Jolo island.

The two were crewmen of Jordanian Baker Atyani, Al-Arabiya TV’s bureau chief for Southeast Asia, who remains in captivity.

In a brief news conference, Vela recalled how angry Atyani was that the Abu Sayyaf—whom they were supposed to interview—held them captive instead.

“If it were possible for a Muslim to kill a Muslim, Baker would have been willing to kill,” Vela said, contradicting the authorities who had said before that the Jordanian went willingly with the Abu Sayyaf.

“On the very first day, we were told that we were captives,” Vela said.

The two TV crewmen had not seen Atyani again since they were separated from the Jordanian five days after they were abducted.

Vela also said there were times when the Abu Sayyaf would make them wear military fatigue uniform when there was an armed encounter nearby so they could not be distinguished from the bandits.

Vela and Letrero, who had grown thin and had an overgrown beard and hair, said they were treated relatively well by their captors, whom they estimated to be in the hundreds.

Senior Supt. Renato Gumban, head of the Philippine National Police Anti-Kidnapping Group, told reporters that Atyani was monitored to have talked to his family in Dubai last December. He said Atyani had not been heard from since, although last January his captors reportedly contacted his family.

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, PNP Director General Alan Purisima and Gumban appeared at the news conference with Vela and Letrero.

Vela, who had grown a moustache and a long beard, was wheeled into the conference room in a wheelchair. He said he could not walk since the leg cramps he developed after they were abducted had worsened due to their frequent movements while in captivity.

He said he and Letrero did not know of any ransom paid, adding they were surprised they were released.

Roxas said Vela and Letrero’s release was “hulog ng langit (heaven-sent),” claiming they did not know of ransom negotiations and that there was no ongoing military rescue operation.

“It seemed it was out of the goodness (kagandahang loob) of the kidnappers that Ramil and Buboy (Letrero) were allowed to go down. We don’t know if any payment was made, we don’t know why the two were released,” Roxas said.

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Tags: abu sayyaf , bandits , Hostage taking , Hostages , Philippines , Ramelito Vela , Rolando Letrero

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