Two Filipino sisters kidnapped by Muslim extremists eight months ago escaped their captors in the jungles of the southern Philippines and told authorities they were kept in isolation in a hut on a meagre diet.
Nadjoua and Linda Bansil were abducted by the brutal militant group Abu Sayyaf when they travelled to the restive Jolo island, the militant stronghold, for a video documentary about the lives and poor coffee farmers in the predominantly Muslim region.
Philippine marines found them before nightfall on Thursday in Buhanginan village in mountainous Patikul town, clad in black Muslim dresses that exposed only their eyes. They lost weight and one of the women was fondly cradling a cat, marine Captain Ryan Lacuesta said.
“They said that their captors often kept them in isolation in the mountain and the cat gave them company and pleasure,” Lacuesta said.
He quoted one of women as saying they had shared their food with the cat and joking that the pet they named Juanita was fatter than them. It wasn’t clear how they acquired the cat.
He said that the women lost a lot of weight but were otherwise fine.
They were taken to a military trauma centre in Jolo for medical check-up, given their first meal then flown to southern Zamboanga city, where they were briefly presented to journalists. Regional military commander Lieutenant General Rustico Guerrerro did not allow the women to be interviewed, saying they were exhausted.
A brother of the women, Mohammed, told reporters he’ll accompany his sisters back home to their mother in Manila. He said he refrained from asking them details about their captivity until they recovered.
The Abu Sayyaf had demanded 50 million pesos ransom (HK$8.65 million) in exchange for the sisters’ freedom, but Lacuesta said it was not clear if money had changed hands. Constant military assaults and search operations put pressure the kidnappers to let go of their captives, he said.
The women said that their captors moved them often from one jungle encampment to another to avoid being tracked by government forces. They were fed rice, dried fish and root crops and often were detained in a hut. When a marine patrol approached on Thursday, their young guards ran away and the women dashed to freedom, Lacuesta said.
The sisters were born in Algeria to an Algerian mother and a Filipino father but grew up in the Philippines, where they have produced independent films in recent years.
Abu Sayyaf militants still hold about a dozen hostages in the jungles of Sulu, including two European bird watchers who were kidnapped two years ago, Sulu military commander Colonel Jose Cenabre said.