“God heard my prayers!” says Philippine Army Master Sergeant Elpidio Tavelisma, husband of rescued hostage Evangeline Tavelisma — who says he “bombarded heaven” with prayers on behalf of his wife.
The midwife — held two months by Abu Sayyaf terrorists demanding a $350,000 ransom – was unexpectedly released by fleeing insurgents when trapped by police troopers and local militia Thursday.
Her husband said it was God’s intervention that his wife was freed while other hostages were herded into the jungle by their captors, who finance their insurgency with kidnappings and robbery.
“The power of prayer did it all!” Sergeant Tavelisma told Manila Bulletin reporter Ben Cal. The former driver of the late President Corazon C. Aquino, said he “bombarded heaven with prayers” when Evangeline was snatched by terrorists in the Barangay Tagbak area at the town of Indanan on August 3. She was held in captivity for 64 days while the terrorists demanded a 15 million Philippine peso ransom.
“I turned to God as I always do and God did not fail me!” Tavelisma told Cal. “Where would I get the money? We are poor!”
Tavelisma, a veteran of the armed the Muslim rebellion in the 1970s and 1980s, said prayer saved his life many times in combat. He is a recipient of the Gold Cross Medal for gallantry in action – the third highest award for a Philippine soldier.
He admitted that during the two months that his 57-year-old wife was in captivity, he was devastated and feared for her safety.
He said he wrote a letter to President Benigno S. Aquino III “to seek help for the release of my wife, and I also went to see Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, my former boss. Both promised to help me and I thank them that my wife has been rescued alive.”
Early Thursday, police learned the location of the Abu Sayyaf hideout. “Police forces in full battle gear quickly moved in,” reported the Bulletin. “Knowing they were being tracked down, the kidnappers fled, but were blocked by civilian militiamen led by Indanan Mayor Saripuddin Jikiri.
Fleeing into the rain forest, the kidnappers left Evangeline behind.
“However, four other hostages are still being held in Sulu by the Abu Sayyaf bandits who are now the object of a massive manhunt operation by government forces,” reported Cal.
Abu Sayyaf has held a number of missionaries and medical workers, including nurse Preciosa Feliciano, who was rescued earlier by Philippine forces.