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Bishop, Eight Others Rescued By Military

February 25, 1985

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (AP) _ Army troops shot their way into a Moslem rebel hideout Monday and rescued a Roman Catholic bishop and eight of his companions held captive for three days in a rugged forest.

Looking haggard but unharmed, the Most Rev. Federico Escaler, 63, said his ″faith in God″ kept him going following the abduction last Friday.

Maj. Gen. Delfin Castro said some of the 14 kidnappers were believed wounded in the shootout on Mindanao island, about 500 miles south of Manila. The military said the attack lasted about 15 minutes and was carried out by some 50 soldiers.

″We feared we would be hit,″ Escaler told reporters. ″As our kidnappers fled, my driver, Meliton, and some of the women shouted, ‘The bishop is here, the bishop is here’. The military shouted to us to crawl on the ground and go over the other side of the hut. We crawled for about 50 meters, until we reached the soldiers.″

Although weak and tired, Escaler and his companions - one nun, four women, two students and his driver - appeared unharmed.

″I know that we will be saved and that it would only be a matter of time,″ Escaler said as he and his party arrived in Zamboanga aboard three military helicopters at Edwin Andrews air force base six hours after the rescue.

Scores of people, including priests and nuns, embraced the bishop and kissed his hand. The bishop showed gashes and leech-bites on his arms which he said he sustained while hiking through the hilly terrain.

The bishop said he received the gashes from brushing his arms against sharp stones and blades of grass during day and night marches through forests as the kidnappers tried to elude pursuing soldiers.

Escaler, a critic of President Ferdinand E. Marcos’ government, was en route to Zamboanga City from his prelature in Ipil, 70 miles to the north, when the rebels shot out the tires of his minibus and forced the party at gunpoint into the hills.

The military said the gang were members of a breakaway group of the Moro National Liberation Front, which has been fighting for Moslem self-rule in the southern Philippines for more than a decade.

Escaler said the kidnappers included four boys between the ages of 12 and 14.

The bishop said their captors told him the kidnapping was ″accidental″ and had instead intended to abduct government officials. They told him they did not know in advance that their target was a churchman’s party.

He said the gang had planned to release them on a ramsom of 300,000 pesos, the equivalent of $16,666. Escaler said he refused ″because the church has no money, that the money we have, we give to the poor.″

Authorities received no ransom demand from the kidnappers. Manila newspapers said Monday that a trader had offered $11,000 for the release of the nine, but church authorities said they opposed paying any ransom.

After the ambush, Escaler said the group hiked through forests and hills, stopping only for brief rest periods and sleeping under trees.

On Monday, after marching for five hours, the group rested in an area with six wooden huts, he said.It was then, Escaler said, that a voice was heard through the trees, telling the rebels they were surrounded and should surrender. Then came gunfire, he said.

Moslem rebels also have been holding an American and a West German since November on the island of Jolo, 150 miles south of Friday’s kidnapping.

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