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Philippine Hostage Release Report Proves Wrong - 2004-07-11

Militants in Iraq have denied reports they released a Philippine national, Angelo de la Cruz, and say they will kill the hostage late Sunday unless the Philippines agrees to withdraw its troops from Iraq. A statement from Iraqi militants, issued via the Arab news network Al Jazeera, dashed hopes in the Philippines that hostage Angelo de la Cruz had been released.

Labor Secretary Patricia Santo Tomas mistakenly told Mr. de la Cruz's family he had been freed late Saturday.

On Sunday, the national media trumpeted his liberation but quickly retracted the reports.

Iraqi militants says they still have Mr. de la Cruz captive and are demanding all Filipino soldiers leave Iraq no later than July 20.

Saturday, Philippine Foreign Affairs spokesman Gilberto Asuque ruled out an early withdrawal of troops, but said future deployments are in question.

"Our humanitarian contingent is already scheduled to return on 20 August 2004," he said. "Our future actions shall be decided by the United Nations Security Council decision."

The small Philippine force has 51 members, mostly soldiers and policemen conducting non-combat, humanitarian missions.

Fresh on the heels of a bitterly contested national election, the hostage drama has briefly unified the Philippine's public. Thousands of prayer vigils have been held throughout the mostly Catholic nation since news of Mr. de la Cruz's kidnapping was released Thursday.

But many of the more than seven-million Filipinos working overseas say they are tired of the government's lack of protection. Activists say President Gloria Arroyo's support for the United States caused the kidnapping and they want the Philippine troops pulled out immediately.

Vicky Casia-Cabantac led a protest in Hong Kong on Sunday and wants the Philippine government to do more for all the Philippine workers around the world.

"We are upset with the Philippine government, especially Arroyo, because she does not really take a stand to protect her constituents over and above her allegiance and friendship with the United States government," said Ms. Casia-Cabantac.

There are at least 4,000 Philippine workers in Iraq. In the wake of the kidnapping, Manila has barred any more workers heading to the region, has asked current nationals to stay in secure locations, and has promised to repatriate anyone who wants to come back to the Philippines.