Angelo, Arsenia cry in emotional reunion

Last embrace

In front of him, his abductors sharpened a sword and examined his neck, apparently looking for the right place to cut.

Later, when the militants realized that the Philippines was serious about pulling out its troops, they cheered and told De la Cruz: "Allah wants you to live."

Then they embraced him.

On Monday, upon hearing news reports that the last Filipino troops were crossing the border from Iraq into Kuwait, they told De la Cruz he would be freed the following day.

He was even given fare money and told he would be dropped off somewhere in Baghdad.

"We'll still see you on TV but you'll never see us again," the insurgents told De la Cruz, according to the official.

On arrival in Abu Dhabi Wednesday, De la Cruz denied that the kidnappers had ever held a sword in front of him and examined his neck, apparently looking for a vein.

"I can say that it was hard but I have nothing against them (kidnappers) as their treatment was very well," De la Cruz told Agence France-Presse in another interview at the Philippine Embassy in Baghdad.

Unknown destination

Dressed in a red shirt and jeans, the truck driver looked tired but at ease in the embassy surrounded by Philippine officials, a team of negotiators who secured his release and some of his colleagues who were in Iraq at the time of his abduction.

De la Cruz said he was kidnapped on the road between Baghdad and the city of Hilla to the south.

"They made me stop the truck and then put me in a car and took me to an unknown place somewhere," De la Cruz said through a translator.

"At that time I must admit I thought I may not return to my normal life, but then I received excellent treatment from them and they said that I was a good person which is why I think I was released."

De la Cruz vowed he would not return to Iraq any time soon, AFP said.

The release of De la Cruz was also a result of intervention by Sunni tribal leaders who said they appealed to his captors through loudspeakers in mosques in the flashpoint city of Falluja, west of Baghdad.

Loudspeakers in mosques

"We asked the government of the Philippines to give us a role in negotiating his release," Sheikh Jamal al-Dulaimi, the general secretary of the Iraqi Tribal Leaders Council, told AFP.

"We started by appealing to the kidnappers through mosque loudspeakers in Falluja requesting to hold off the beheading, as we were told the Philippine government was ready to withdraw its forces."

The sheikh said the abductors became convinced about Manila's seriousness and brought the hostage out of the chamber where he was to be beheaded.

"Soon after that, he was released and dropped at the United Arab Emirates Embassy to ensure his safety," he said. With reports from Martin Marfil, Tonette Orejas, PDI Central Luzon Desk; and Inquirer wires


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