ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines—How much did the freedom of Australian national Richard Warren Rodwell cost?
For BasilanVice Governor Al Rasheed Sakalahul, it was only P4 Million, not P7 Million as reported.
Sakalahul said he knew the exact amount because Abu Sayyaf leader Pujuri Indama counted the money in front of him and Roger Gutang, brother of Rodwell’s wife Miraflor.
“Throughout the negotiations, I only served as guide. I am willing to be subjected to a lie detector test,” the vice governor said following reports that Rodwell’s release was delayed because “local officials and middlemen” had took part of the ransom before it reached the Abu Sayyaf Group.
“If this is what the reports are saying, I challenge the Australian Embassy, Flor, Roger and Rodwell to an open media briefing so the truth would come out,” he said.
Sakalahul said Roger served as the bagman who handed the money to Indama.
Rodwell was released by his captors in Pagadian City early Saturday.
Rodwell, who arrived here at around 6 a.m. Saturday, looked thin and tired as he emerged from the US Green Bell helicopter that fetched him from Pagadian City.
“It was an embassy to embassy agreement and we cannot not do anything about,” Colonel Rodrigo Gregorio, spokesman of Western Mindanao Command, said, referring to the arrangements for Rodwell’s airlift from Pagadian made by the Australian and US embassies.
Gregorio said Rodwell was fetched by military and police in the vicinity of the Pagadian City port at around 1:30 a.m. Saturday. He was kidnapped by armed men believed to be Abu Sayyaf bandits from his house in Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay, on Dec. 4, 2011.
“His release was made possible through the collective efforts of Rodwell’s family, the Australian Embassy, the local government units, military, police and other government agencies,” Gregorio said.
Rodwell, who arrived here at around 6 a.m. Saturday, looked thin and tired as he emerged from a US Green Bell helicopter that fetched him from Pagadian City. Reporters were not allowed to approached Rodwell and he was whisked by US soldiers to a Philippine military hospital for a checkup.
Wearing a Philippine Army coat, rolled up brown pants and green slippers, Rodwell limped his way down the helicopter assisted by two American soldiers, members of the Joint Special Operation Task Force.
American soldiers cordoned off the helipad, preventing journalists from getting near Rodwell.
Chief Inspector Ariel Huesca, spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Regional Police Office, said the Abu Sayayf released Rodwell at the Pagadian Fisheries Building at 1:10 a.m.
Rodwell, walking alone in the port area, was seen by a civilian named Nathaniel Tampos, Huesca said.
Sakalahul said Rodwell’s wife, Miraflor, “worked hard” for the release of her husband.
“It was the wife Flor who worked hard. She called me asking help to determine if indeed her husband was till alive,” Sakalahul said.
He said initially that he did not know if any ransom was paid for Rodwell’s release.
“My role was to determine if Rodwell was alive through a proof of life,” Sakalahul said.
And the proof of life was to ask Rodwell about something only he and his parents know – “Where did Rodwell live when he was 12 years old?”
Sakalahul said he received that proof of life through a phone call, with Rodwell himself answering “Gill Goulburn and West Tamworth.”
The vice governor said he “realized that Rodwell was not kept in Basilan all throughout his captivity” when he was told that the abductors planned to release him in Zamboanga del Sur.
On Friday night, Sakalahul said, Indama called him to say that they had left Rodwell near the Pagadian City Fisheries Building.
“I called up the military and police to notify them about Rodwell being in Pagadian City port, and the rest is history,” Sakalahul said.