FEBRUARY 19, 2007 (STAR) (AFP) Twenty-four Filipino seamen recently released after being held captive at gunpoint for 24 days in Nigeria flew home Saturday to an emotional reunion with loved ones.

Looking haggard after their ordeal but smiling and waving, the men were met by government officials and a throng of journalists after disembarking from a commercial flight.

"We are very happy. Thank you very much President (Gloria) Arroyo," they said in unison to an explosion of camera flashes.

They were quickly taken to the presidential Malacanang palace in the capital and tearfully reunited with family and friends.

PGMA welcomes 24 freed seamen and their families in Malacanang From the Office  of  the  Press  Secretary

(Malacañang) Twenty-four Filipino seamen, who were freed recently after almost a month of captivity by their Nigerian captors in the oil-rich Niger Delta in Nigeria, thanked President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo last night for her immediate action to secure their release.

The seamen, who arrived at 6:40 p.m. at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) from Nigeria via Hong Kong, proceeded to Malacañang to personally extend their gratitude to the President.

The President, together with Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, hosted a sumptuous dinner for the 24 seamen along with their family members, relatives and friends at the Palace Heroes' Hall.

During the emotional family reunions, the President went from table to table and had brief talk with the newly-arrived seamen and their family members.

"Maraming salamat po, Madame President, sa inyong mabilis na pagtugon sa aming panawagan na kami ay mapalaya agad," said the seafarers as they echoed their gratefulness to the President.

"Welcome back to the Philippines. Praise God! Salamat sa inyong pag-sakripisyo. Have a nice reunion sa inyong mga pamilya," the President told them.

The Chief Executive had earlier thanked Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo for "taking a direct hand" in the release of the Filipino seamen.

She also lauded all diplomats who were involved in the immediate release of the 24 seamen, particularly Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Esteban Conejos Jr. and special envoy to the Middle East Roy Cimatu.

"Salamat sa mga nagtrabaho nating diplomat para masiguro ang inyong kaligtasan, katulad ni Usec Conejos at Ambassador Cimatu. Araw-araw ay sinasabi ko na siguraduhin ang inyong kaligtasan at 24 oras silang nagtrabaho. Praise God that everything had ended well," she said.

The released Filipino crew members of Baco Liner 2 who called on the President at Malacañang were Ruben Roble, master; Elmer Nacionales, chief officer; Carlos Abellana, 2nd officer; Mauro Agacid, 3rd officer; Roberto Arcangerl, chief engineer; Cirilo Nebit, 2nd engineer; Herculano Cagas, 3rd engineer; Edilberto Gaspi, electro tech officer; Sukarno Landasan, Rogelio Garcia, Jonel Bernales, Manolo Isidro, Marlon Mendez, Ronaldo Corpuz, Joven Hidalgo, Jose Talde, Samson Mayo, Henry Sebastian, Jonie Saguid, Edgardo Ellera, Evelio Nacionales, Marcelino Caladman, Nelson Aquino, and Herman Valez.

They were abducted by Nigerian gunmen on Jan. 20 and freed unharmed last Feb. 13 without any ransom paid.

Meanwhile, Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesperson Ignacio R. Bunye said President Arroyo is hopeful that the two remaining Filipino hostages in Nigeria would also be released soon by their captors.

"The government maintains a close watch over the welfare and well-being of our workers all over the world, and President Arroyo always takes a personal hand in critical events such as the last one," Bunye said.

"Active diplomacy at a high level and the active presence of our diplomats on the ground will continue to be our strategy to keep our beleaguered workers from harm’s way and to bring them home," he added.

Sonny Osmeña says Team Unity will not win in Cebu The Freeman 02/19/2007

Opposition senatorial bet John "Sonny" Osmeña yesterday said that the administration's Team Unity will not get the majority of votes in Cebu, considering that the United Opposition will field a complete provincial and congressional slates here.

The former senator from Cebu insisted that President Gloria Arroyo did not actually win in Cebu during the 2004 elections but the election results were allegedly manipulated, as told to him by former senators Vicente "Tito" Sotto III and Tessie Aquino-Oreta.

Osmeña, however, doubted if Sotto and Oreta will confirm this now if asked, especially now that the two are now part of the administration's senatorial ticket, but he warned that this scenario of manipulation might be repeated in the coming May 14 elections.

Osmeña however promised to reveal, in a press conference in Cebu on February 25, more damaging "secrets" of the administration, including the reasons behind the shift of some opposition members to the administration.

The Team Unity senatorial ticket was proclaimed during a grand rally in Cebu City the other day, with Arroyo herself at the helm to ask the Cebuanos to support her candidates and to push her administration's agenda.

Her senatorial bets were reelectionists Ralph Recto, Joker Arroyo and Edgardo Angara, former senators Tessie Aquino-Oreta and Vicente "Tito" Sotto III, congressmen Miguel Zubiri of Bukidnon and Prospero Pichay of Surigao del Sur, Governors Vic Magsaysay of Zambales and Chavit Singson of Ilocos Sur, Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram, former presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor, and movie actor Cesar Montano. - Mitchelle L. Palaubsanon

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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