MANILA - Who is Andy de Rossi? And why was he instrumental in securing the release last Sunday of fellow Italian Eugenio Vagni, the last of the Abu Sayyaf's Red Cross hostages?
On ANC'S Big Picture aired July 13, de Rossi said he first came to the Philippines in the 1970s.
He was formerly a civil engineer working with a consulting firm that worked under the National Power Corporation.
Through his work, de Rossi said he was able to develop a close relationship with Muslim communities.
"I've started to donate schools, programs, water, and I enjoy doing that," de Rossi said.
While the Muslim insurgency was raging in the South in the 1980s, de Rossi continued to establish ties in Sulu.
"Living with them, eating with them, sharing with them since 1982. I was really walking around Sulu. Of course, it was more dangerous then," de Rossi recalled.
Not a negotiator
De Rossi refused to take credit for Vagni's release on his own.
"Well, I don't even like to be called a negotiator. There's nothing to negotiate, but just to spread the word. I'd rather talk with the people who are there than to be in public. And knowing a lot of Maranaos where I spent a long time of my life, I knew where the personality is, and I talked to their families and friends. It takes time and convincing to gain their trust," he said.
In Vagni's case, de Rossi was never in touch with any of the aid worker's captors.
Instead, he talked to one of the wives of Abu Sayyaf leader Al Bader Parad, who had been arrested in one of the checkpoints in Mindanao, shortly after a bombing in Jolo last week.
"Her name was Honey. She's the one I think who has 4 or 5 daughters from Al Bader," de Rossi told The Big Picture.
He added that the wife recognized him because he had provided cows in Tugas and Patikul and put up a mosque in another area.
No prisoner swap
He also denied any prisoner swap.
"Definitely there was no swap. I'm a witness and there was no swap for Vagni."
In exchange for Vagni's release, de Rossi pledged carabaos, water for ricefields, tractors, schools and houses.
The businessman said he now works with a foundation in the United States which will help him fulfill his commitments.
De Rossi also revealed that Al Bader's wives may also be able to convince the bandit leader to surrender.
"There was some feedback that I received. As a matter of fact, they don't want to be called anymore 'Abu Sayyaf' and that's a good sign," de Rossi said.
De Rossi also lauded local officials in Mindanao and the military for the changes he's seen in the region throughout the years.
"It's the military, their presence there. They're doing an excellent job. The local officials like (Sulu Governor) Abdusakur Tan, Vice-Governor Lady Anne (Sahidulla), the mayors. I saw a real drastic change for the last 10 years and this has to be given credit for the U.S. aid."