After more than two months in captivity, a 24-year-old volunteer Christian nurse was freed Tuesday evening (March 1, 2011) by suspected Muslim abductors in the jungles of Southern Philippines.
Zamboanga police chief Edwin de Ocampo said Maricris Cuartocruz was releaseD in the village of Alicia, Sibugay Province after her conversion to Islam and after her family paid “goodwill money” to the kidnappers.
The victim’s mother Elena refused to disclosed the amount she turned over to her abductors.
The victim’s family is into rice trading. The abductors earlier demanded P10 million for her freedom but they later reduced the amount to P7 million.
Cuartocruz was abducted by 10 armed men in the village of Manicahan last December 14. One of the gunmen shot dead her 72-year-old grandfather who tried to fight back the kidnappers, while her mother was badly hurt by one of the suspects.
After her conversion to Islam, she was renamed Hannan while in captivity. Maricris said she converted to Islam after her abductors convince her to embrace the Islamic faith.
Moreover, the victim’s mother said she was not against her daughter’s change of religion, saying her daughter is free to choose her religion.
Sporting an Islamic-design scarf, grey sweatshirt and tight pants, the volunteer nurse of a local hospital here, and her mother appeared at a military debriefing Tuesday in Zamboanga City.
Cuartocruz, who was noted to gain weight, said she was made to sleep in a small cottage located in a muddy area for 11 days, and later on a hut within the forest. She said she was fed with boiled crabs and prawns.
She said her kidnappers told her that she was brought to Basilan, a neighboring province.
General Elpidio de Asis, head of the Zamboanga Peninsula Police Office, said they have identified the area where Cuartocruz was kept, as well as the identity of the suspects.
Police authorities said the kidnappers belong to a “lost command” group who are also suspects in the kidnapping of three teachers in Zamboanga Sibugay in March of 2009.
De Asis said they will file an amended complaint against the kidnappers of Cuartocruz.
Recalled in 2002, American Christian missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnhan of New Tribes Mission were kidnapped in this region. Gracia was also told to convert to Islam during her abduction but refused their offer. After more than a year of her ordeal, Gracia was rescued by both US and Philippine troops and was brought back to the US where she is now an active resource speaker in different churches throughout the US.
Noel Tarrazona is a freelance news writer in the Southern Philippines. He could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org