MANILA, Philippines - After 7 months and 20 days as kidnap victims, the long turmoil of cameraman Ramilito Vela and audio man Rolando Letrero comes to an end -- but the explanation for their release is still unknown.
In a press conference on Monday, February 4, the freed men faced media upon their arrival in Manila from Sulu to briefly recount their release. According to Vela, he and Letrero, who were hired by Jordanian journalist Baker Abdulla Atyani to do a documentary on Muslims in Mindanao. On the night of their release Saturday, February 2, they were given horses by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which the victims rode down the mountains.
The ride brought them to the capital, Jolo. Vela and Letrero then checked into a hotel, and called authorities.
"We don't know if there was money given or a negotiation, we don't know anything, we were just surprised. We were shocked that all of a sudden we were in the province of Sulu. I was shocked," Vela said in Filipino.
Interior Secretary Manuel "Mar" Roxas said the details surrounding the release remain unclear, but said the two will undergo a debriefing. Their accounts will help law enforcers get a better picture of how they were first taken captive, the kidnapping ordeal, and their release.
"We don't know if ransom was paid, we don't know the reason why they were let go… so it's very important for us to have a thorough debriefing in order for us to get operational details on what happened," Roxas said.
In June 2012, Vela, Letrero and Atyani were kidnapped by the ASG. The crew had met up with the extremist group for an interview, but were no longer allowed to leave.
Atyani is still with the ASG.
Anti-Kidnapping Group chief Senior Supt Renato Gumban confirmed Atyani is still alive, and regularly calls his family in Dubai through a cellphone. Their last conversation, though, was in December 2012.
Gumban said the ASG has refused to change their ransom demand of US $3-M or about P122-M. He said they are constantly communicating with Al-Arabiya network, Atyani's employer.
(Read: Gov't wants Atyani deported)
ASG members are also reportedly in touch with Atyani's family, their last communication having taken place in January.
Aside from accounts of Vela and Letriro, Roxas said PNP intelligence are working to help the police find Atyani.
Vela also shared that Atyani was deeply angry at his captors over the kidnapping.
"If Muslims were allowed to kill other Muslims, Baker would've already tried to kill the ASG," he said.
Vela and Letrero briefly recounted their days with the ASG.
Sitting in a wheelchair, Vela, who is suffering from severe cramps, told media they were guarded by about 400 ASG members who treated them well.
"They treated us like children. They were good, they didn't hurt us. Whatever they ate, we ate. Whatever fruits we wanted to eat, we were permitted to take as long as we asked for their permission," said Vela.
Vela and Letrero said they traveled around the area on foot and sometimes were asked to wear military fatigue. - Rappler.com