Wed, Jul 21, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Iraqi captors free truck driver from Philippines

RELEASED Gloria Arroyo said after the hostage was released that she'd agreed to kidnappers' demands for the sake of 8 million Filipinos who work abroad

REUTERS , BUENAVISTA, PHILIPPINES

Rico Romero, a relative of Filipino hostage Angelo de la Cruz, places a road sign yesterday outside his house in Mexico, Pampanga province, northern Philippines.

PHOTO: AP

Relatives of a Filipino hostage freed in Iraq greeted news of his release yesterday with cheers and tears as the Philippine president defended her decision to yield to the demands of his kidnappers.

Villagers in Buenavista, 90km north of Manila, were preparing a hero's homecoming for Angelo de la Cruz, a 46-year-old truck driver and father of eight whose kidnappers had threatened to behead him.

They released him unharmed into the care of the United Arab Emirates embassy in Baghdad a day after President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo bowed to their demands and withdrew a 51-member force of troops and police from Iraq.

The decision has strained ties with the US and Australia, key allies of the Philippines, but Arroyo said it had been in the national interest when she broke her silence on the kidnapping to confirm de la Cruz was free.

Arroyo spoke to de la Cruz by telephone from Baghdad and said he was in high spirits and good health. His wife, Arsenia, was in the Jordanian capital, Amman, where she had been anxiously awaiting news of his release.

Television footage showed de la Cruz, looking fit but tired and drawn, sitting quietly in a reception room at the UAE embassy between UAE and Philippine diplomats.

At one point he dabbed his eyes with a white handkerchief.

Officials said de la Cruz would fly to Abu Dhabi for medical checks before returning home.

In Buenavista, a dirt-road village of low houses with grass or tin roofs, de la Cruz's family shouted "long live [Arroyo]" in a reference to Arroyo as they watched her speak on television.

"Thank you for saving Angelo to beloved Gloria and God Almighty ... Thank you, Philippines," said his sister Nelia.

De la Cruz was abducted two weeks ago near Fallujah.

His plight transformed him overnight into an unlikely hero, a symbol of some 8 million expatriate workers whose remittances are the lifeblood of families back home and vital to the indebted country's economy.

Arroyo made clear that more had been at stake for the Philippines than the life of one man.

"A father of eight, Angelo has become a Filipino everyman, a symbol of the hardworking Filipino seeking hope and opportunity," she said.

"With over 1 million [overseas Filipino workers] in the Middle East and over 8 million Filipinos the world over, my government has a deep national interest in their wellbeing wherever they live."

Also see story:

Arroyo risks paying high diplomatic price for hostage's life

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