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Philippines: Mary Jean Lacaba relieved to be back with family after 78 days of captivity

03-04-2009 Interview

Mary Jean Lacaba was released on 2 April. She is one of three ICRC staff abducted in the southern Philippines on 15 January. Her abductors are still holding Eugenio Vagni and Andreas Notter hostage. The ICRC's head of operations for East Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific, Alain Aeschlimann, comments on the current situation.

 Were you able to speak to Mary Jean? How is she feeling?  

Our team on the ground has met Mary Jean, and it’s a huge relief for everybody to have her back. She’s in good health, but tired. And she was very sad to leave Eugenio and Andreas behind. One of the first things she said was " I’m worried about them! " Being the lively person she is, she’s been able to cheer them up throughout their ordeal. But we know that they were relieved to see her freed, and they will try their best to remain strong for one another.

Mary Jean is now safely back with her family. We would like to ask everybody, and particularly the media, to respect her privacy and that of her family. They need time to be together, to talk and to rest now that this ordeal is over for them.

However, the nightmare is not over for Eugenio Vagni, Andreas Notter, their families and all of us at the ICRC. Once again, we ask that Eugenio and Andreas remain unharmed. While we welcome this first positive move, especially after a very tense and difficult week, we reiterate our appeal to the kidnappers to release them immediately and unconditionally.

 How was she released?  

We can’t go into details as to how her release came about. But we can say that we are grateful to various high-ranking government officials at national and local level for their efforts, and in particular to the Vice Governor of Sulu, Nur-Ana Sahidulla. I would also like to thank our colleagues at the Philippine National Red Cross Society, in particular its Chairman Richard Gordon, for their unwavering support during this difficult time. We are relieved that our colleagues were not harmed at the expiration of the ultimatum and thankful that the abductors decided to release Mary Jean. However, we remain concerned for Eugenio and Andreas and hope that they will soon be home safe and sound, and that we will at last be able to hold them in our arms.

 What can you tell us about Mary Jean's health?  

All things considered, Mary Jean is in good health. She’s lost some weight and is obviously tired, but she’s doing okay. What she needs now is rest and quality time with her family. We will not be commenting further, as that would be an invasion of her privacy.

 What did she tell you about her time in captivity?  

Obviously, all of them had to cope with the huge stress of being in captivity and of being aware of the latest threats and demands. Mary Jean also recalls being scared by the violence of the clashes and shooting. They had to move a lot, often in the rain and under difficult conditions. According to Mary Jean, they had the food and medicines they needed, and even some comfort items we were able to send them.

We greatly admire the incredible courage and resilience that Mary Jean, Eugenio and Andreas demonstrated throughout this time. The hardship they had to endure is incredible and Eugenio and Andreas continue to suffer.

 How does she manage that kind of stress?  

Mary Jean has demonstrated a tremendous capacity to handle stress. She is calm and composed. Now she is happy to be with her family, and they need to spend time together and to rest.

We’re not going to go into the details of her situation. What is important is that she is doing okay, and once again, we would ask everybody to respect Mary Jean’s privacy and that of her family.