Bossi: Abductors introduced themselves as ‘Abu Sayyaf’

bossi.jpg(Updated 12:00 p.m.) “Abu Sayyaf kami (We are the Abu Sayyaf).”

This was how Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi on Friday morning quoted the armed men who abducted him from Zamboanga Sibugay last June 10.

Bossi was released Thursday night in Karumatan, Lanao del Norte on the eve of his 40th day in captivity, visibly thinner.

The 57-year-old Milan-born priest said he was most likely kept in one area – probably in Lanao – considerably far from Tipo-Tipo, Basilan where 14 Marines who had been searching for him were killed in an encounter with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels.

Police officials claimed Friday morning that no ransom nor favors were given for Bossi’s release, which came four days before President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo delivers her state of the nation address (SONA).

Chief Superintendent Jaime Caringal, chief of the Zamboanga Peninsula regional police, said Bossi was “recovered” near the boundary of Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte at about 9 p.m.

Bossi has undergone medical examinations and is now resting at Camp Cawa-Cawa in Zamboanga. GMA News footage showed a haggard and a much thinner Bossi feasting on noodles and bread Friday morning.

Caringal said their information for now indicates that the abductors are from a “renegade” MILF faction. Former mayor Hajarun Jamiri of Tuburan, Basilan reportedly helped in the negotiations.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said Bossi will be “returned” Friday to Italian Ambassador Rubens Anna Fedele in Manila and will “possibly” meet with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as well.

Initial reports said the President is set to meet with Bossi before 1 p.m. at Malacañang’s music room.

Interviewed on dzBB radio, Bossi recounted that he was told by his abductors that he would be freed, but did not believe it until he saw the road that he was to walk where authorities would fetch him.

He said a car picked him up, he got in, and was soon headed for Zamboanga City.

“From the beginning when they kidnapped me they declared themselves ‘Abu Sayyaf kami,’ so I think they were really Abu Sayyaf,” Bossi told dzBB radio.

Asked if the abductors made demands related to money, he said that, “yes they made demands about money but I don’t know anything about that.”

He was quoted as saying in a separate interview that 11 kidnappers held him at the beginning but eventually only five remained.

Handled ‘well’

Bossi said he was treated fairly well, but lost 10 to 15 pounds during his more than four weeks in captivity. He said he suffered diarrhea for a few days, but he survived.

“[I was treated well] except for the food that was the same every day, so I had no choice,” he said.

When asked if he ever felt he was in danger during his captivity, he said, “No, never. I never felt in danger all my life.”

Bossi was abducted by around armed men in Payao, Zamboanga Sibugay last June 10 while he was on his way to celebrate Mass in Bulawan village.

The priest said his abductors would move him from place to place in Lanao and that at times he would walk barefoot.

His abductors talked about a P50-million ransom, but Bossi denied knowing if money changed hands for his freedom.

Bossi said that if his abductors held him in the Zamboanga Peninsula, then he would have known about it since he was supposedly familiar with the place.

Italy rejoices

In Rome, Italian Premier Romani Prodi was elated upon learning of Bossi’s release.

He jubilantly told reporters in Rome that he was ”truly emotional, happy.”

Bossi’s mother, Amalia, turned 87 on Thursday, and her family was all gathered together for the party.

“Truly it’s the best present for my mother’s birthday,” Bossi’s brother Marcello Bossi told Sky TG24.

Back to his flock

Meanwhile, Bossi admitted that he did not expect that he would be released because the two Italian priests kidnapped before him, Giuseppe Pierantoni and Luciano Benedetti, were held for more than two months.

“So I was hoping after two months … but it is good that last night, and I am very, very happy,” he said.

Bossi said that if his superiors allow it, he plans to return to his parish in Payao in Zamboanga Sibugay, from where he was abducted last June 10.

“My hope is to go back but I don’t think my superiors or the bishops will allow me. Payao is a special place for me, I was the founder there. My house is still there with the people of Payao … So I hope to go back,” he said.

He thanked former mayor Jamiri and the latter’s driver for helping facilitate his release, saying that, “I hope God will bless them.”

For his part, Zamboanga-based Claretian priest Angel Calvo said Bossi will likely remain in the Philippines, saying it is a policy among missionaries to go back to the area of their mission.

“It is a policy among us missionaries, on principle we come back to the area of our mission, not necessarily in the same place. It’s not the first time a missionary has been kidnapped. We come back and serve the people in our community. There are many places to continue serving the people in the Philippines,” he said.

Calvo said he received word about the release from Bossi’s superiors at the Papal Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME).- with a report from AP, GMANews.TV

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