2002-04-08 00:00:00

Kidnapped Sacred Heart Father Giuseppe Pierantoni was recovered before dawn April 8 after he escaped from his abductors in the southern Philippines.

The Italian priest who was presented to the media just before noon at the Malacanang presidential palace in downtown Manila said he "got free from the gang who kidnapped" him.

"I believe after (almost) six months of staying in the forest, (it was) time to escape," Father Pierantoni said. He was kidnapped Oct. 17 from his residence in Dimataling, Zamboanga del Sur, 825 kilometers southeast of Manila. The province is part of Pagadian diocese.

"I am very very thankful, very grateful to God, the Filipino government and all the families who really showed solidarity to me," Father Pierantoni said. He especially thanked "Bishop Zacharias Jimenez of Pagadian and his flock for what they did for me."

Father Pierantoni said it was "a miracle of prayer" that he got free, "without any harm and particular suffering."

"I´m quite healthy," added the priest, admitting though that he was "still a bit confused and also tired" because he had walked for 12 hours the day before.

Government troops found Father Pierantoni at 2:00 a.m. in a coconut plantation in Tungawan, Zamboanga Sibugay, just west of Dimataling, Brigadier General Angel Atutubo told UCA News.

Atutubo, the chief of "Task Force Giuseppe," comprising police and military men, said Father Pierantoni "lost weight but was in good physical condition when our men found him."

He said three arrested kidnappers provided information that led the task force to the area where the priest was recovered.

The kidnappers, captured on April 6, belonged to the Pentagon group under a certain Commander Ramsey that was holding Father Pierantoni when he escaped, added the army´s First Infantry Division vice commander.

Atutubo said the priest´s captors may have been forced to abandon him after the task force intensified operations against the kidnap group.

At a press conference in Camp Crame, near Manila, Police Chief General Leandro Mendoza said the government did not pay any ransom to free the priest. "You know the policy of the government. We never negotiated and never paid ransom for his release," Mendoza said.

He added that Father Pierantoni has been turned over to the Italian Embassy and is to undergo "debriefing" sessions in the coming days.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo first announced the priest´s recovery in her early morning radio program over three national stations. "Thanks to the Divine Mercy," she said.

Father Pierantoni flew to Manila with Mendoza and the local government secretary. President Arroyo presented the priest to the media.

Meanwhile, Bishop Jimenez told UCA News that the president´s secretary for special concerns Norberto Gonzalez called Archbishop Fernando Capalla of Davao April 7 saying "the priest´s release was imminent."

But the next morning Gonzalez denied the report to confreres of Father Pierantoni, the bishop said. "This has been a real game. So many times they have told us one story only to find out later that it wasn´t true," he added.

Several false reports on Father Pierantoni´s release circulated during his captivity.

Bishop Jimenez, who had been working for the priest´s release, had told UCA News that Father Pierantoni was passed from one kidnap group to another after his abduction.

Father Aloisio Back, superior of Sacred Heart priests in the Philippines, told UCA News that as of 11:30 a.m. April 8 he had not been informed by any official about his priest´s recovery.


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