Angelo de la Cruz, a 46-year-old truck driver and father of eight who had been threatened with beheading, said his abductors had not hurt him during two weeks of captivity that ended a day after a 51-member force of Filipino troops and police quit Iraq.

   

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said she had no regrets for having pulled out the force one month before schedule in order to save the life of a compatriot in peril.

   

"A father of eight, Angelo has become a Filipino Everyman, a symbol of the hardworking Filipino seeking hope and opportunity," she said in a live broadcast on Tuesday announcing his release.

 

National interest

   

"With over one million OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) in the Middle East and over eight million Filipinos the world over, my government has a deep national interest in their well-being wherever they live and work."

 

De la Cruz was seized two weeks
ago near Falluja town

Arroyo's decision has strained ties with the United States and Australia, both key allies of the Philippines, which have condemned the move as capitulation to "terrorism".

   

But the US embassy in Manila issued a statement welcoming De la Cruz's release without reference to the terms.

   

De la Cruz looked tired and drawn, but fit in television pictures from Baghdad where he was released into the care of the United Arab Emirates embassy then moved to the Philippines mission pending an expected return home via Abu Dhabi.

 

Phone call

   

He told his wife Arsenia - who had spent an anxious week in the Jordanian capital Amman - that his captors had not mistreated him. "With God's help, no," he said when she asked him in a televised telephone call whether they had hurt him.

 

"A father of eight, Angelo has become a Filipino Everyman..."

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo,
president, The Philippines

In Buenavista, a dirt-road village of low houses with grass or tin roofs about 90km north of Manila, members of de la Cruz's extended family shouted "Long Live GMA" in a reference to Arroyo as they watched her speak on television.

   

"Thank you for saving Angelo to beloved Gloria and God Almighty ... Thank you, Philippines," said his sister Nelia.

   

Another relative, a great aunt, jumped for joy then buried her head in her hands to hide tears while other family members feted De la Cruz's freedom on beer, noodles and chicken.

   

De la Cruz was seized two weeks ago near the town of Falluja, west of Baghdad, while trucking fuel from Saudi Arabia.