MANILA - A negotiator said on Monday it was the family of freed Australian Warren Rodwell who made the decision to pay the P4 million ransom.
Basilan Vice Gov. Al Rasheed Sakkalahul said he was aware of the government's "no ransom" policy, but explained that he had no choice but to yield to the family's decision to pay the US$97,750 (P4 million) for the release of the 54-year-old former soldier.
"Doon sa pag-release ng pera, alam ko naman na talagang no ransom policy. Ngunit 'di rin natin mapigil ang pamilya na maghanap ng paraan na makalikom ng ganoong halaga upang makapiling nila ang pamilya," Sakkalahul told ANC.
Rodwell was abducted in Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay last December 5, 2011. He was released in Pagadian on Saturday, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of where he was abducted.
Sakkalahul said Rodwell's wife, Miraflor Gutang-Rodwell, had direct contact with the Abu Sayyaf group, led by Furji Indaman.
He said his help was only sought by Miraflor after it was reported that the Australian was spotted in Basilan. The vice-governor said he was accompanied by Miraflor's cousin, a certain Roger, in bringing the ransom money to the captors.
He also revealed that the bandits had demanded initially P7 million, later yielding to P4 million.
"I cannot prevent the family [from paying ransom]. In fact the cousin [of Miraflor], a certain Roger, siya mismo ang kasama ko nagdala ng P4 million at ibigay doon. Binilang nila, vinerify nila kung genuine," he said.
Not a first-timer
Sakkalahul said it was not the first time that he acted as a negotiator. He, however, immediately clarified that it was the first time he dealt with Rodwell's captors.
He also noted that some kidnap victims were released even without ransom.
"Marami na ring akong natulungan, na-rescue na biktima - mga local kidnap victims. Pero 'di naman po ganitong kalaki ang halaga (ang ransom)," he said.
Rodwell remains confined at the Camp Navarro General Hospital and is set to be flown to Manila as soon as condition permits, Sakkalahul said.
Rodwell's elder sister and brother also thanked Philippine and Australian authorities for securing his release, although no mention was made of the ransom.
"We would like to acknowledge in particular the Philippine National Police for all their efforts, on Warren's behalf," Rodwell's sister, Denise Cappello, told reporters in Manila.
"We wish the Philippine police every success in tracking down the group that took Warren from his home. We hope they will be brought to justice so others won't have to experience what Warren has just been through."
Cappello also acknowledged the vice governor.
Cappello and Rodwell's older brother, Wayne, read statements at a hotel without taking questions from journalists, and did not speak about the ransom issue.
Wayne Rodwell said the family's most immediate concern was for their brother's health.
"He is delighted to be free. He has however lost a lot of weight and is exhausted. He will need medical support as well as time and space to recover," he said.
In the ANC interview, Sakkalahul said Rodwell's siblings are planning to bring the former soldier back to Australia following his 15-month ordeal at the hands of his Abu Sayyaf captors.
The Abu Sayyaf is one of many armed Islamist groups operating in the southern Philippines, which has been home to a deadly Muslim separatist insurgency that has cost tens of thousands of lives since the 1970s.
It is believed to have only a few hundred members but has been blamed for the worst terror attacks in recent Philippine history. It also has a history of kidnapping foreigners, Christians and local business people for ransom.
They are believed to be holding at least three other foreigners.
According to Sakkalahul, the government has sent troops to Pagadian to hunt down Rodwell's captors. – with Agence France-Presse