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Rodwell: A difficult and exhausting ordeal

The brother and sister of released Australian hostage Warren Rodwell have spoken of their desire for justice after members of the al-Qa'ida-linked group Abu Sayyaf kept him captive for 15 months in the Philippines.

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MANILA: The Filipino wife of Warren Rodwell says her family was forced to sell its house and other property to raise the $93,600 to pay the ransom for the Australian adventurer, as his sister called for his terrorist kidnappers to be tracked down.

Miraflor Gutang, 29, denied speculation in Manila that either the Philippine or Australian governments provided the ransom to the kidnappers from the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group.

The government has a no-ransom policy. We don't know where that supposed report of negotiations and payment of ransom came from. 

Philippine police spokesman

''We alone raised the money,'' she said.

Warren Rodwell being escorted by US military personnel

Warren Rodwell is escorted by US military personnel after his release on Saturday. Photo: AFP

Ms Gutang said as well as selling a house her family sold a water filling station, vehicle and ''asked for help from her relatives abroad to raise funds''. Ms Gutang was quoted by The Star newspaper as saying Mr Rodwell's Australian family did not contribute to the ransom.

Mr Rodwell's sister, Denise Capello, speaking to reporters in Manila, urged the Philippine security forces to go after the kidnappers.

‘‘We wish the Philippine police every success in tracking down the group that took Warren from his home,’’ she said. ‘‘We hope they will be brought to justice so others don’t have to experience what Warren has been through.’’

Mr Rodwell’s brother. Wayne Rodwell. said his family’s immediate concern was for Warren’s health and recuperation.‘‘He is delighted to be free. He has, however, lost a lot of weight and is exhausted,’’ he said.

Mr Rodwell, 53, was expected to fly from the southern Philippines to Manila later on Monday to be reunited with his brother and sister. who arrived in the city from Perth on Sunday night. Wayne Rodwell spoke to Warren at length by telephone hours after he was released.

‘‘I am sure you will understand that this has been a very difficult and exhausting ordeal for Warren,’’ Mr Rodwell said.‘‘It has also been a difficult time for his family.’’

He asked the media to respect the privacy of Warren’s family and declined to say who raised the ransom money. Mr Rodwell and Mrs Cappello declined to answer further questions.

Mr Rodwell was left in a small boat off the port city of Pagadian in the early hours of Saturday and told by his kidnappers to row to a fisheries building on shore.

Wharf supervisor Nathaniel Tampos saw the mud-covered former Australian officer struggle ashore before dawn and asked him if he was a tourist.

''No, I'm not a tourist. I am a kidnap victim. Please help me,'' said the emaciated Mr Rodwell, who had spent almost 15 months in captivity since being kidnapped by five gunmen on December 5, 2011.

Mr Tampos said Mr Rodwell told how his captors had repeatedly moved him between small islands to avoid security forces. He said he was not shackled or caged but was always closely watched.

He said several opportunities to escape were not successful. They would open fire and force him to stop, he said.

The Philippine government and security agencies have attempted to play down reports of a ransom being paid to the kidnappers, who are still holding at least six other people.

The official report of the Philippine police anti-kidnapping unit makes no mention of any ransom. The unit closely monitored negotiations to free Mr Rodwell. 

Police spokesperson Generoso Cerbo said: ''The government has a no-ransom policy. We don't know where that supposed report of negotiations and payment of ransom came from.''

The Philippine armed forces spokesman Arnulfo Burgos also denied any knowledge of a ransom.

But in an interview with the Philippine Inquirer, Ms Gutang confirmed that her family gave the equivalent of about $93,600 in Philippine pesos to Abu Sayyaf commander Puruji Indama.

Indama is known for beheading kidnap victims whose families do not pay a ransom.

Denying reports in Manila that some of the money was siphoned off by middle-men, Ms Gutang said she personally handed the money to her cousin. Roger Gutang.

Al Rasheed Sakalahul, a respected local politician who played a key role in the negotiations to free Mr Rodwell, has also denied that middle-men had pocketed some of the money.

Ms Gutang told The Star the kidnappers wanted her to deliver the money but she refused. The money, wrapped in a black plastic bag, was delivered by Mr Sakalahul and Roger Gutang.

Ms Gutang said she had not yet seen her husband, who is being cared for in a clinic at a US military base.

"I want to see him to talk to him. But no visitor is allowed as per advice from the Austalian embassy as he is given time to rest," she said. "He cannot talk yet because he has oxygen in his mouth due to complications. I understand that but I want to see him."

Ms Gutang said the kidnappers had demanded more money during negotiations than she raised but she told them she could not raise any more.

The kidnappers eventually agreed after what Mr Sakalahul said were tough negotiations.

The kidnappers had been threatening to behead Mr Rodwell on Sunday to mark the beginning of Holy Week, an important time for Catholics in the Philippines.

Officials who have been looking after Mr Rodwell were not pushing him for detailed debriefings on the Abu Sayyaf until he had recovered from his ordeal, sources say.