Eugenio Vagni, 62, staff member of the International Committee of the Red Cross was kidnapped on January 15, 2009 with Swiss national Andres Notter and Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba while they working on a humanitarian mission in Patikul, Sulu.
His fellow ICRC staff members – Ms. Lacaba and Mr. Notter – regained their freedom on April 2 and 18, respectively.
Vagni regained his freedom in the early hours of July 12. He is tired after 179 days in captivity, but given the circumstances is doing remarkably well, said Jean-Daniel Tauxe, the head of the ICRC’s delegation in the Philippines.
"The ICRC is relieved and happy that Mr. Vagni will soon be back with his family and friends, who have been living a painful nightmare for almost six months and cannot wait to see him return home," Tauxe said.
"We would like to express our profound gratitude to all those who have worked so hard in recent months to secure the release of Mary Jean, Andreas and Eugenio," he added.
The Philippine-based ICRC head thanked Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan, Vice Governor Nur-Ana Sahidulla, Joint Task Force Comet Commander, Major General Juancho Sabban, the national and local authorities, especially the military and the police for the tremendous efforts that contributed greatly to the resolution of the long hostage crisis.
According to Mr. Tauxe, the ICRC remains concerned about other hostages still being held captive in the southern Philippines.
He said the ICRC has been working in the Philippines since 1982. It provides protection and assistance for those most in need, particularly internally displaced people (IDPs) in Mindanao. In addition, it visits detainees to assess their conditions of detention.
As of early Sunday, Vagni was already in the custody of Major General Sabban and Vice Governor Sahidula.
A press release from the Armed Forces’ Western Mindanao Command (WesMinCom) headquarters disclosed that Vagni was recovered safely by Sahidulla and Sabban at about 12:30 a.m. Sunday in Barangay Pula Abu, Parang town.
Army Lieutenant Esteffani Cacho, WesMinCom spokesperson, said that Vagni appeared in good health condition but underwent a medical check up at the trauma hospital in Camp Bautista in Jolo town.
Vagni's release came after General Victor Ibrado's first visit as Armed Forces of the Philippines chief-of-staff to Sulu and Basilan, the two island provinces that have been beset by a rise in kidnapping and bombing incidents in the past few months.
Vagni was flown to Zamboanga City yesterday morning where he was met at the Edwin Andrews Air Base (EAAB) by outgoing WesMinCom chief Lt. Gen. Nelson Allaga, who will replace by Lt. Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino, the Philippine Marines commandant.
In an ambush interview at EAAB, Vagni who is thinner and clad with vest, jogging pants and black t-shirt told Zamboanga Southwall: “I feel very good. I Feel great.”
When asked how he feels now, he replied: “I feel free. Yes, a wonderful feeling.”
Earlier in Jolo, Vagni revealed to reporters that he lost 20 kilos and was also stricken with cholera. He thought he would die already but fortunately, medicines were brought for him.
The Italian also remarked that it was a miracle he was able to recover from cholera. He shared that he is very fit because he engages in various sports including taekwando.
He said that he wants to take a break from work so he can build up his muscle tone because of all the weight he lost. He added that his diet in captivity mostly consisted of rice and fish.
He was able to eat a hearty breakfast with eggs on Sunday, noting that it was one of the things he missed the most.
Meanwhile, the military said that the arrested two wives of Abu Sayyaf leader Albader Parad could be the key to the release of Vagni.
Parad’s two wives were arrested right after Tuesday's bombing in Jolo, where five people were killed and dozens more injured.
Sources from Jolo said that Parad’s two wives were exchanged for Vagni's freedom aside from a pledge for the implementation of development projects.
It was not known whether a ransom had been paid for the release of Vagni. Earlier reports said that Parad’s group had demanded $15 million ransom.
The ICRC had earlier issued an appeal for Vagni's release. It had also said it was not involved in negotiations or offering ransom for Vagni's freedom.