ZAMBOANGA CITY -- A teacher kidnapped in the seas off Zamboanga City is finally free after nearly 3 months in captivity.
Cathy Mae Casipong was turned over by her captors to her family who met them at the Ipil terminal in Zamboanga Sibugay on Tuesday night.
Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco-Salazar said no ransom was paid for the teacher's freedom.
However, Task Force Zamboanga commanding officer Col. Andrelino Colina said they can not confirm if the family of the victim paid any "board and lodging fee" to the kidnappers. The victim's relatives earlier chose to deal with the kidnappers by themselves.
Colina said Casipong was supposed to be freed earlier but it did not push through after kidnap-for-ransom leader Jun Akilan was captured in Zamboanga Sibugay.
Casipong was on her way to Sibogtok Elementary School on the island of Limaong, east of Zamboanga City, along with two other co-teachers, when she was forcibly taken by a group of armed men on December 18, 2013.
Casipong told authorities that she was kept by her captors in a house where a couple stayed. Around 20 people were seen in the place.
Colina said they are still trying to identify the group that took Casipong.
He said the group is not the same as other hard-core kidnap-for-ransom groups.
"Parang may awa pa itong grupo," Colina said.
He added that the teacher's mother was the first to negotiate with the captors. "They zeroed in on her emotions as the mother, they appealed to them to release the teacher as they had no means of paying ransom."
Casipong thanked the people for helping her and her family. She also apologized to her students for not being able to keep her promise to have a Christmas party.
The freed teacher said she always thought of her students during her captivity.
"Kahit wala silang lapis o papel, alam ko, kahit hindi sila kumakain minsan, para lang makapag-aral."
Joel Marcos, district supervisor of Vitali District, said due to Casipong's abduction, classes in Sibogtok were severely affected. Many students and teachers no longer want to return to the island.
"A number of students have transferred to Dr. Diaz Elementary School, others are now in Matiti Elementary School, while the rest are in other nearby schools in Vitali," he said.
Marcos said about 43 students who can not afford to pay travel fare to go to other schools remain in Sibogtok despite the threats.
A mobile teacher visits the school with a personal bodyguard in tow to teach the 43 students, Marcos said.
Sibogtok Elementary School head teacher Jocelyn Malik said no one can blame teachers if they no longer want to return to the island.
"Sino man ang gusto pang magturo doon, kahit siguro kayo ayaw nyong pumunta doon," Malik said.
Senior Supt. Angelito Casimiro, acting city director of the Zamboanga City Police Office, said they have arranged security for teachers assigned to far-flung and sensitive areas.
Police or soldiers will accompany teachers in going to the school and coming back to mainland Zamboanga.