11/03/2008, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Woman volunteer released in Basilan, fate of another still uncertain

by Santosh Digal
Fr Angel Calvo is relieved that Esperancita Hupida was released but is still concerned about the fate of Merlie Mendoza who is still in the kidnappers’ hands. MILF sources suggest that a ransom was paid, blame the abduction on Abu Sayyaf-affiliated armed gangs. Basilan bishop says no to arming priests and nuns.
Zamboanga City (AsiaNews) – Friends, family and colleagues are relieved that Esperancita “Espie” Hupida has been released. Those of Merlie “Milet” Mendoza, another volunteer abducted on 15 September and still in the hands of her kidnappers, remain apprehensive. Fr Angel Calvo, president of the Nagdilaab Foundation, was caught between happiness for the woman released at 2 am last Thursday near Tipo-Tipo in Basilan, southern Philippines, and concern for the other.

“We are happy for the positive outcome to Esperancita Hupida’s abduction,” he told AsiaNews, “but we are still uncertain about the fate of Merlie Mendoza, who is still in the hands of her abductors.”

The clergyman is keeping a low profile but confirms that talks are under way to free the second woman. “There have been contacts but we are not certain as to any developments,” he said.

He has confirmed though that Esperancita Hupida (pictured) is in good health. She is the program coordinator for the Nagdilaab Foundation, an NGO involved in humanitarian work with communities in war zones.

The 42-year old woman, who “was well treated by her captors, has nevertheless “suffered too much during weeks of captivity.”

“Their [the women’s] abduction has strengthened our resolves to continue our work on behalf of the poor and the marginalised of the area,” the priest said.

His NGO has not however confirmed whether a ransom was paid. Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) sources said that about two million pesos (US$ 42,000) were paid out to free Esperancita Hupida.

Hadji Hassan Lamla, a MILF field commander in Basilan, suspects that the kidnappers are members of an Abu Sayyaf faction.

Initially they had demanded the payment of seven million pesos (US$ 148,000).

In Basilan the bishop said firmly no to suggestions that priests and nuns carry guns. Some men and women religious had asked for them because of the escalating violence in the area.

In the latest case a Claretian priest, Fr Felimon Libot, was ambushed on 18 October.

“The religious in Isabella Prelature, in Basilan, are not allowed to carry weapons,” said Mgr Martin Jumoad. He further urged them “not to take the law in their own hands.”

“Peace and order” are the job of the police and security forces in the province, he said insistently.

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