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Philippine Hostage Returns Home from Iraq - 2004-07-22

Freed Philippine hostage Angelo de la Cruz returned Thursday afternoon to a hero's welcome in Manila. But the Philippine government acknowledges the price of freedom was high as relations between the Philippines and the United States are tested.

Eighteen days after Islamic militants kidnapped him in Iraq, Angelo de la Cruz came home a free man.

With his family by his side, Mr. de la Cruz thanked his supporters during a brief press conference at the airport. From there, he went to a meeting with President Gloria Arroyo where he reportedly thanked her for saving his life.

Mr. de la Cruz's kidnapping quickly turned him into an icon for the eight million Filipinos working overseas and sending money to their families at home. Many of those workers voted for President Arroyo in May's national elections.

Last week, despite U.S. concerns, President Arroyo agreed to meet his kidnappers' demands and withdraw Philippine troops from Iraq a month ahead of schedule.

The concession elicited protests from Washington but President Arroyo said Wednesday that in this case, the move was justified.

"I made a decision to bring our troops home a few days early," says President Arroyo. "I do not regret the decision."

The United States says the Philippine's decision to negotiate with terrorists could encourage more terrorism and kidnappings in Iraq.

Now, both the United States and the Philippines are assessing their alliance. In Manila, De la Salle University Professor Renato Cruz de Castro says the relationship has been shaken. "Well, it's in crisis right now," he says. "There's been words from the U.S. Embassy that the relationship will be reviewed, we simply don't know what to expect."

On Thursday, the U.S. ambassador to Manila Francis Ricciardone flew to Washington for consultations about U.S.-Philippine relations. But U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Ruth Urry says the United States is unlikely to make any lasting changes to its partnership with Manila.

"We are disappointed by the Philippines decision to pull its troops out of Iraq but we are committed to working on shared priorities," she says.

The U.S. military provides training and equipment to the Philippines, which is fighting local Muslim insurgents and communist rebels.