A US citizen was released by Abu Sayyaf captors in Maluso town in Basilan on Sunday, nearly three months after she, her son and nephew were snatched on an island off Zamboanga City, the US embassy confirmed yesterday.
“Gerfa Lunsmann, who was kidnapped during a visit to Mindanao in July and held in captivity for over two months, has been released,” the embassy said in a statement.
Zamboanga City mayor, Celso Lobregat, who is also head of the local Crisis Management Committee, said Lunsmann, 42, was turned over to US officials hours after she was released at around 10:45pm.
“She was released last night [Sunday] in Maluso and flown here to Zamboanga … before she was handed over to US [officials] for transport to Manila,” Lobregat said.
Lunsmann, her 14-year-old son Kevic Eric, and nephew Romnic Jackaria, 19, were abducted on Sacol Island on July 12 and taken to Basilan. Her son and nephew are still in the hands of the kidnappers.
Claretian Father Angel Calvo, who negotiated the release of kidnapped workers from the US-based Christian Children’s Fund in Basilan in 2008, said a ransom was probably paid.
“I’m almost sure some money, whatever you call it, has been paid for the release of the hostage,” he said.
Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang, spokesman of the military’s Western Mindanao Command, denied the government had paid a ransom.
“The position of the Philippine government and the US is not to pay ransoms.”
Mayor Lobregat said the kidnappers had been communicating with Lunsmann’s family.
“I agree in principle that paying ransom endangers the local community, but we cannot blame a family for trying to recover a relative alive because there has also been a history of victims being killed,” Father Calvo said.