Abu Sayyaf militants release kidnapped journalist in Philippines

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered the military and police to hunt down al-Qaida-linked militants who freed a popular TV news anchor, her cameraman and a university professor they had snatched in the volatile southern Philippines, an official said Wednesday.

Arroyo announced her directive during a regional meeting of leaders of administration parties in southern Davao city.

"I have ordered the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) to launch a massive manhunt for the kidnappers of Ces Drilon," she said, referring to the ABS-CBN anchor.

"We have to wipe out the Abu Sayyaf once and for all," she said. The al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf is notorious for bombings, kidnappings and beheadings.

Meeting separately with armed forces chief of staff Lt. Gen. Alexander Yano and southern Philippine military commanders, Arroyo ordered security forces to launch "intensive punitive actions against the kidnappers" of the ABS-CBN news team, Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said.

Recounting their 10-day jungle ordeal, the journalists said their Abu Sayyaf abductors - some as young as 12 - tied them up and made several threats to behead them.

But after days of negotiations with local officials, the militants released Drilon and the two other captives on Jolo island before midnight Tuesday. National police chief Avelino Razon said he was unaware if a ransom was paid.

The journalists arrived in Manila from southern Zamboanga city, where a military helicopter ferried them from Jolo to be examined by doctors and debriefed by police. They had rice porridge for breakfast and were reunited with their families at a Zamboanga beach resort, Razon said.

In an earlier statement Dureza said the rejoicing over the release of the captives "must not overshadow our unrelenting efforts to bring the perpetrators to the bar of justice and face the full force of the law."

Razon said information Drilon and the other freed hostages provided will be used in operations against their kidnappers.

He told ABS-CBN the police "will not allow that the perpetrators will go unpunished."

At a news conference in Manila, the freed journalists thanked everyone who helped secure their release. They said they were cooperating with authorities for the capture of their abductors.

"I am very, very happy," said Drilon, wiping away tears from her face pocked by mosquito bites. "It is a great thing to surpass an ordeal where for 10 days you didn't know if you would live."

She said her guide _ university professor and peace advocate Octavio Dinampo _ was betrayed and tricked by militants they were to interview to find out who have emerged as new leaders of the Abu Sayyaf. But she said she trusts Dinampo, who was also held.

The gunmen included boys as young as 12, Drilon added.

Cameraman Jimmy Encarnacion said the abductors tied them up and made several threats to behead him.

"There were many times I thought it was the end for me," he added.

Drilon earlier said she was also tied up and slapped her during their harrowing captivity.

The kidnappers handed the hostages to Alvarez Isnaji, mayor of Jolo's Indanan township and one of the negotiators. They had to walk several hours to the mayor's home, ABS-CBN reported.

There were speculations that as much as 15 million pesos (US$337,000) in ransom was paid for their release but Razon said he was unaware of any such payment. He said negotiations and the threat of a possible military and police assaults "pressured" the abductors.

Sen. Loren Legarda, a former ABS-CBN anchor who helped secure the hostages' release, also denied any ransom payment. ABS-CBN earlier said it rejected ransom demands.

Drilon said Isnaji told them after their release that the kidnappers were promised livelihood projects.

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