He said the three "looked fine" and had been picked up from a village in the southern island of Jolo, but would not say if ransom money changed hands.

 

Goltiao said Drilon and the others were being taken to Isnaji Alvarez, the mayor of Jolo's Indanan town, who had been negotiating for their release.

 

Their kidnappers, members of the Abu Sayyaf group, were understood to have demanded about $1.12 million in ransom for Drilon and her two colleagues, setting a Tuesday deadline and threatening to behead them if this was not met.

 

The Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for the country's worst attacks as well as for kidnappings of Western tourists and Christian missionaries.

 

Beheading threat

 

The Tuesday ultimatum was given after military reinforcements despatched to Jolo at the weekend shelled a forested area, targeting the Abu Sayyaf fighters.

 

Loren Legarda, a senator and a friend of Drilon, told ABS-CBN in an interview that she secretly negotiated for the release of the hostages.

 

Forces despatched to the island of Jolo shelled
Abu Sayyaf positions recently [GALLO/GETTY]

"I appealed, I cajoled, I threatened by telephone," she said.

 

Legarda said the kidnappers were "pressured" by her unspecified local contacts into freeing the three.

 

"These people do not have an ideology. This is pure banditry," she said.

 

Drilon, her cameramen Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderama, and Octavio Dinampo, the academic, were heading to a secret meeting with a senior leader of Abu Sayyaf when they were seized on June 8.

 

Valderama was freed on June 12 after 100,000 pesos (about $2,250) was paid.

 

A spokesman for Gloria Arroyo, the Philippine president, praised the Jolo officials who worked for the television crew's release for their "steadfast and excellent handling" of the kidnapping, but made no reference to the ransom demand.

 

In a separate incident, armed men raided a rural village in the southern island of Mindanao on Tuesday, taking more than two dozen villagers with them, but the hostages were later freed.

Source: Agencies