Eugenio Vagni, Italian aid worker and colleague from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), was seized by armed gunmen of Abu Sayyaf, on the island of Jolo, in Mindanao province of the Philippines on 15 January. He has now been more than 150 days in captivity. Eugenio was taken hostage along with two other colleagues, Swiss national Andreas Notter and Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba, who have since been released.
Specific information on Eugenio’s whereabouts is not available. Partly due to the necessity to keep such information under wraps, as intense negotiations go on in the background; and partly due to the lack of communication lines or reliable contacts with the abducters. There was a telephone contact permitted between Eugenio and his wife on June 2nd which at least provides some understanding and reassurance about his condition.
This has been an excruciating time for Eugenio’s family and colleagues. His health is known to be poor and released colleague Andreas Notter spoke of Eugenio’s hernia pain and his need for urgent medical attention. Adreas also gave an insight into the gruelling conditions experienced by the hostages as they were marched through dense jungle day in day out, weakening all the time, often fleeing thier bivouac with only a minutes notice.
Now, amid renewed fighting between the Filipino army and Islamic separatists of the Abu Sayyaf, the Red Cross remains none the wiser over Eugenio’s whereabouts. "As we do not know where Eugenio is, it goes without saying that every time we hear about fighting on the island we are very concerned for his safety and that of the people who are working to bring about his peaceful release. Clearly our concern also extends to civilians in the area who may be affected by the fighting," according to Alain Aeschlimann, head of operations for the region.
Aeschilman said the ICRC remains in close contact with everyone involved in efforts to resolve this crisis, in particular the local and national authorities. "We hope that a meaningful dialogue will take place that will result in a positive outcome. Eugenio’s safety is our primary concern."
"Saturday 13 June will mark the 150th day of his abduction, yet another day of pain and anguish for his family. Eugenio’s baby daughter is growing fast, and she has not seen her father since January. We hope that he will hold her in his arms very soon," he said.
Aeschlimann said the crisis is affecting ICRC staff in the Philippines but they realize they have to carry on with our work. “His colleagues and friends in the Philippines feel his absence keenly every day. Nevertheless, they carry on with their work. The office is not the same without Eugenio. The Christmas decorations he put up last December are still there, waiting for him to take them down.”