JEDDAH, 11 July 2004 — To Filipino workers who are still tempted to seek work in Iraq: Don’t.
This message came from Angelo dela Cruz, the driver from the northern Philippines who had been taken hostage by Iraqi militants while on his way to restive Fallujah from Saudi Arabia.
Dela Cruz reportedly worked as a truck driver for a Saudi company.
“To my colleagues in the Saudi company, and all Filipinos who are coming to Iraq. I advise you not to come to Iraq, because there are a lot of problems, and the Iraqi police won’t be able to protect you, like what happened to me,” he was quoted in a video aired by Al-Jazeera network yesterday.
Dela Cruz was alone on the video, wearing a bright orange jumpsuit like that worn by American hostage Nicholas Berg and South Korean hostage Kim Sun-il when they were beheaded by militants. Their killings were videotaped.
Behind dela Cruz was a black banner that that identified the group that captured him as “The Islamic Army of Iraq — Khalid bin Al-Waleed Brigade.”
Dela Cruz, a father of eight from the town of Mexico in Pampanga province, also pleaded for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, his province-mate: “Please, (President) Arroyo, withdraw your forces from Iraq.”
His voice was inaudible, but an announcer read an Arabic translation of his words.
The Al-Jazeera announcer said the video was intended as the hostage’s last appeal to his family, government and friends.
Please Release Him
Amid prayers for the dela Cruz’s safe release, Muslim groups and leaders in the Philippines came forward and joined appeals to the Iraqi militants to spare the victim.
“In behalf of the Muslims in this country, we are appealing to the kidnappers to please free this man,” said Mahid Mutilan, vice governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao in the southern Philippines and an Islamic religious leader.
Mutilan told the kidnappers in Arabic that dela Cruz “is a mere truck driver struggling in Iraq ... to feed his poor family here.”
“By this, maybe God will help them to realize their own struggle and free their own people if they will be kind to this poor man,” he added.
The separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) also urged the militants “to spare his (dela Cruz’s) life and instead resolve the issue through peaceful negotiations.”
MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu made the appeal in an interview over ABS-CBN television yesterday.
Kabalu said they made the appeal “in the name of humanity.”
The MILF, which had been fighting for an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines, had helped in the past in freeing victims of kidnappings by bandit groups such as the Abu Sayyaf. It has also agreed to help government forces in a crackdown against the Pentagon kidnap for ransom gang in Mindanao.
Take Actor Instead
Meanwhile, popular movie actor Robin Padilla offered to take the place of dela Cruz in Iraq.
Appearing grim-faced, the ex-convict who joined the Balik Islam (Return to Islam) Movement while serving a sentence for illegal possession of firearms, said he Filipinos are not the enemies of the Iraqi people.
“We are traveling on the same road. Muslims and Christians should live under the light of peace,” Padilla appealed.
He said Islamic leaders have tried to build understanding between Muslims and Christians, and following decades of conflict in the Philippines, the majority Christians now are “listening to the message of Islam.”
“If you proceed with beheading Angelo dela Cruz, all our efforts will be wasted,” Padilla said.
In Riyadh, Filipino community leaders sent an open letter to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo asking for the withdrawal of Filipino troops in Iraq so as not to place the lives of Filipinos in the region at risk.
“We believe the lives of the OFWs are at extreme risk,” community leaders said after a meeting at the Almutlaq Novotel in Riyadh on Thursday.
They not only called for the unconditional pull out of Philippine troops in Iraq and for the government to exercise caution when issuing any statement that openly supported the US occupation of Iraq.
Many OFWs in the Kingdom have long been worried by President Arroyo’s open endorsement of the United States invasion of Iraq, which has caused animosity by other Arabs sympathetic of the Iraqi people to be suspicious of Filipinos.
The meeting in Riyadh was called by the OFW Congress to discuss various pressing community concerns, including the plight of stranded workers.
Alex Veloso-Bello, president of the umbrella group, said they have formed a secretariat to form a group to unite all OFWs in the Saudi capital.
Dr. Mohd. Ali Carlito L. Astillero, laboratory services director at the Al Mishari Hospital, suggested Club Filipino as the tentative name of the group meeting every Friday.
The committee, chaired by Kaakbay president Bong Amora, is composed of Astillero, Bello, Joey Badong, Rasheed Fabricante, Manny Lector, Francis Oca, and Richard Bautista.
In Manila, various migrant non-government organizations (NGOs) initiated separate prayer vigils for dela Cruz. A similar vigil was also held in Japan under the leadership of Filipino-Japanese Yuko Takei.
“We, the migrant Filipinos in Japan will not let any drop of blood of our compatriots go to waste especially in the US war against people of the whole world of which Filipinos are never been part of,” Takei said.
AMEND Convenor Florence May Cortina said that “this should bring the Arroyo administration to its right senses and decide in favor of our workers there. Ever since our government has thrown its support (behind the US) in this unilateral war of the US in Iraq, it already cost the lives and safety of our troops and migrant workers in that war torn country.” (Input from Mama Gubal, Julie Javellana-Santos, Rudy Estimo & AP)
Migrante International likened dela Cruz’ situation to that of Flor Contemplacion, a domestic helper wrongly hanged for murder in Singapore in 1995.
The militant non-government organization (NGO) said “President Gloria’s track record of subservience to US’ dictates means that in all likelihood, she is prepared sacrifice Angelo’s life for President Bush’s good graces.”
They plan a vigil that will last until tomorrow morning which they said “is an opportunity for the broad ranks of Philippine society to show that they too — want to save Angelo’s life. That they too, demand that President Gloria pull-out Filipino troops immediately.”