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Philippines Welcomes Hostage Release - 2004-07-20


The Philippines has welcomed the release of a Filipino worker held hostage in Iraq. He was freed after Manila pulled its troops out of Iraq.

The Philippines' long wait for Angelo de la Cruz's freedom ended when he was handed over to the United Arab Emirates embassy in Baghdad. The truck driver was released a day after the Philippines met the demands of his kidnappers and recalled its tiny peacekeeping contingent from Iraq a month earlier than planned.

President Gloria Arroyo addressed the nation shortly after Mr. de la Cruz's release. "I just spoke to him," she said. "His health is good, his spirits high and he sends best wishes to every Filipino for their thoughts and prayers."

The Iraqi Islamic Army held Mr. de la Cruz for nearly two weeks.

In the northern Philippine town of Mexico, Mr. de la Cruz's relatives and neighbors cheered when they heard the news. Ms. Yuri, a relative, tells Philippine television she and her relatives will not sleep until Mr. de la Cruz finally arrives in his hometown.

President Arroyo's decision to withdraw the peacekeepers drew the ire of the United States and other coalition members, but it has been widely supported at home.

Millions of Filipinos work overseas to escape poverty at home. They send back billions of dollars in remittances each year. "With over one-million ?in the Middle East, and over eight-million Filipinos the world over, my government has a deep national interest in their well-being," she says. "I made a decision to bring our troops home a few days early."

Maita Santiago, leader of the Philippine migrant worker group, Migrante, says that while her group welcomes Mr. de la Cruz's release, the safety of four-thousand Filipino workers still in Iraq remains a concern. She says as long as the government supports Washington's policies in Iraq, the lives of Filipinos in that country will remain in danger.

The Philippines sent a 51-member peacekeeping delegation to Iraq shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein last year - as part of Manila's commitment to Washington's war against terrorism. The contingent was scheduled to leave Iraq on August 20, but started pulling out last week, after Mr. de la Cruz's abduction. All the troops left Iraq by Monday.

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