Philippines: ICRC maintains hope for safe and swift return of abducted staff
Thursday marks five weeks since ICRC staff members Mary Jean Lacaba, Eugenio Vagni and Andreas Notter were abducted in the southern Philippines. The ICRC's head of operations for East Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific, Alain Aeschlimann, discusses the latest developments.
Have you heard from your colleagues recently and how are they doing?
The three made contact with the ICRC and their loved ones this week. Andreas was also interviewed by local radio and TV stations. They say they are doing okay, despite the difficult conditions in which they are living. We were very relieved to hear that they remain unharmed and are still together. Over the past five weeks, we've spoken to them many times and we are always grateful to hear their voices.
What is being done to facilitate their release?
We're doing everything we can to find a positive outcome to this situation as quickly as possible. We continue to call for the swift and safe release of Eugenio, Mary Jean and Andreas and we remain hopeful that they will soon be home with their families.
It is paramount that they should remain out of harm's way and that any efforts to free them should in no way endanger their safety. There are many people who are working very hard to resolve this situation and we appreciate these efforts. Our colleagues are ever present in our thoughts and our hearts go out to their families, who are waiting for the day when this will all be over and they can hold their loved ones in their arms.
You were recently in the Philippines. How is the ICRC's team on the ground holding up and have the organization's activities been affected by this ordeal?
My colleagues in the Philippines are obv iously deeply affected by this situation. They hope, as we all do at the ICRC, that Mary Jean, Andreas and Eugenio are safe and that they know how much they are missed.
I was very impressed by how the ICRC team on the ground is handling this. Despite the stress of knowing that their colleagues are being held hostage, they are continuing their important work on behalf of those in need.
The ICRC remains steadfast in its commitment to assisting and protecting the victims of the armed conflict, particularly in Central Mindanao, where many families are still living in displacement centres. We continue to distribute food and essential household items such as soap and cooking oil to those who were forced to flee their homes. Our health, water and sanitation activities are ongoing in Mindanao, as well as in Luzon and Visayas. In addition, our work in prisons and detention centres continues, with the exception of one water and sanitation project that Mary Jean, Eugenio and Andreas had been working on in Jolo.
We work hand-in-hand with the Philippine National Red Cross Society, whose dedicated volunteers provide essential support on a range of activities, from distributing assistance to the displaced to registering people who have been forced to flee. The support of the Philippine National Red Cross is invaluable and we appreciate their genuine and heartfelt concern for our colleagues.