Kidnappings in the Philippines: “Run and we will kill you – Warren Rodwell`s Story


June 17 , 2013

Source: KRmagazine

At 6pm on December 5, 2011, 55-year-old Warren Rodwell, who was building a house on the Zamboanga Peninsula in the Philippines, had downed tools for the day when four gunmen ambushed him

Warren Rodwell on his kidnapping in Philippines

“RUN and we will kill you.”

When Australian adventurer Warren Rodwell heard those words, he knew he was not simply under arrest.

Warren-Rodwell

It was 6pm on December 5, 2011. The 55-year-old, who was building a house on the Zamboanga Peninsula in the Philippines, had downed tools for the day when four gunmen ambushed him

“I’d been on the phone and was just on the outside of the house in an enclosed area. Two guys came around one way pointing rifles at me and shot me in the hand. The other two came around from behind and handcuffed me,” he said.

“When he shot me I swore at him, then he said ‘police’ and pulled out a pair of handcuffs. It all happened too quickly.

“We had to walk two or three kilometres through rice fields. They were behind me trying to hit me with the butt of the rifle and kick me to move me. The guy said ‘run and we will kill you’.

“I was in front and by the time we eventually got to a river and into a boat, I realised I was being kidnapped.”

The gunmen wore military uniforms and their M16 rifles were plastered with police insignia.

The former Australian soldier knew to stay calm and do as he was told when they forced him into a stolen community boat. A similar vessel would carry him to freedom 15 months later.

THE PHILLIPINES

Sydney-born Rodwell lived a nomadic lifestyle. He had trotted the globe twice and seen about 50 countries when he decided to settle in one of the most dangerous parts of the world and marry Miraflor Gutang, 26 years his junior.

“I was looking at early retirement in the Philippines because it was halfway between China, where I’d been teaching for about 10 years, and Australia,” he said.

“I didn’t have a great deal of money but I’d saved some and this was one place that I could buy a bit of cheap land, put a house on it and it’d serve the purpose for my Filipino wife.”

His plan was for the couple to eventually split their time between the three countries, but by late November 2011 it began to unravel.

He separated from Ms Gutang and she moved back in with her parents. He continued working on their house, in what he said was considered a ‘safe area’.

Two weeks later, he was kidnapped.

bullet wounds

STAYING ALIVE

Within hours Rodwell realised the rebels who kidnapped him were untrained. After an hour on the boat one of the motors caught on fire and exploded.

“They were kicking the boards that were on fire on to me. Then they were throwing the diesel overboard. As soon as the first guy went overboard so did I. I was in the sea handcuffed. I thought I would drown,” he said.

He was pulled back on to the boat, which his captors then paddled for five hours to an island. It was then apparent they were lost.

“They moored the boat in behind a great big naval ship. The next day the army was there with their military helicopters so we had to hide from them for fear of being shot. Then they took me on an eight-hour boat trip that night. I had to change boats, then the smaller boat hit a rock and it looked like we were going to drown in this raging sea. It was like a movie.”

Filipino police have identified the al-Qaida linked group Abu Sayyaf as being involved in Rodwell’s kidnapping.

For the first three months in the jungle, he thought they were going to kill him.

“I very much so (thought I would die) from having my head cut off. I was going to go crazy thinking about it. I thought the best thing is, just accept it,” he said.

“A couple of times people would cock their weapon and threaten to shoot me and I’d just say ‘Go ahead you f…g idiot … I’m worth 10 million Philippine pesos ($AUD250,000) and you’re worth none so go ahead and shoot’.”

But Rodwell was not the only one who was nervous.

“We got caught at times on the mountains and below us would be civilians coming for water and above us would be the military patrols,” he said.

“The fear was that if the military found our camp, they’d just start shooting. They wouldn’t be looking for me. They’d just shoot anyone they could see.

“Sometimes there were civilians around because they’d come in to do illegal logging or we’d be near a mosque or school. Whenever our presence was found we’d move on. They couldn’t trust anyone because if there was another rebel group they’d try to steal me.”

As his life descended into disaster, Rodwell fought to control his mind by thinking about history, dates and numbers.

“That was the hardest thing of all,” he said. “I had no books or notepads but sometimes the newspaper would be brought in and I’d have my photo taken with it for proof of the date and I’d keep it. I didn’t have any reading glasses but I’d still read the whole newspaper.”

Despite his military experience as a field engineer in the 70s and his acquired survival skills, he never tried to escape.

“I had opportunities but you wouldn’t even call it an escape because there was nowhere I could go,” he said.

“Even if I did get away, the area is all controlled by Abu Sayyaf. That would be like jumping out of the frying pan. It wouldn’t be a smart move at all.”

CAPTIVITY

For the next 15 months Rodwell fought to stay sane amid the constant threat of being shot or beheaded.

He was moved between 30 different locations within the Basilan Islands as his captors tried to evade the military and other militant groups.

Most of the time he was cold and starving. At about 7pm each day, he would climb into his hammock with a roaring stomach.

But he ate as often as his captors. On a good day he was fed boiled rice but at times he went up to six weeks without proper food.

“A treat might have been a can of sardines shared with three or four others,” he said.

“Sometimes it might be one small piece of dried fish. If they added anything to the rice it was one thing only. Sometimes they’d add a shrimp or small prawn but it was pretty meagre.

“At times what I would do to flavour the boiled rice is I would use the conjunctivitis from my eyes because I don’t get much nourishment or taste out of boiled rice. When it goes two or three days of boiled rice only, that’s a lack of oxygen getting to my brain and I start getting headaches and disoriented.

“Some of the messengers that would come in were sympathetic towards me and they would smuggle in bananas and things like that.”

His captors also caught wild birds and cooked tree roots.

There was no sanitary and Rodwell went months without washing.

“I had a wash every three or four months with a bit of water out of a bottle,” he said.

“I did acquire a razor and I’d shave all of the hair off my body for cleanliness. That was a way to keep my body clean. It’s an old military trick. Then I wouldn’t get lice or anything.

“Going to the toilet was a problem with the broken hand. The guy would pour water down my back like you would with a baby.”

He spent about 10 weeks in the mountains and the rest of the time in mangrove swamps.

“At the beginning all I had was a pair of shorts but I acquired and stole some clothes. I’d use whatever I could. One sleeping bag was broken so I tore that and wrapped that around me,” he said.

“When I got transferred in boats they’d sometimes put a blanket around me so I’d steal that. I did end up eventually having a balaclava and then a Filipino army shirt.

“The big problem for most of the time was mosquitos. In the jungle swamps we’d be attacked quite ferociously.”

Warren-Rodwell-2

CAPTORS

Rodwell’s captors, who spoke no English, were child-like.

“The reason I was treated badly was because they don’t know how to look after themselves,” he said.

“Most of my captors were pretty good-hearted souls but being Muslims they’re not restricted by the 10 commandments. They just see it as anyone who’s foreign as having a market.

“This whole thing is a cottage industry. They’re all second and third generation. I only met one or two people who were jungle fighters. The rest were civilians, around 19-20 years old.”

During his time in captivity, Rodwell was guarded by about 100 different rebels.

Within weeks of his capture, his kidnappers began to soften and signs of Stockholm syndrome set in.

“I bonded enough with my guards that on December 31 they took the handcuffs off and gave me something to shave with,” he said.

“It was a bit scary. The only mirror I had was the handcuffs to look at and I could see all this grey hair appearing on my face.

“I had so many changes of guard that I’d recognise the behaviours in them. The married guy would be in tears because he’d miss his family. A couple of them went crazy.

“With others we’d listen to the noises in our stomach from hunger.”

RELEASE

When a ransom of $94,600 was paid on February 3 this year the captors kept their hostage.

“The delay was that between the different levels (of the group) some people were trying to do a side deal on their own,” he said.

“Apparently it was at the insistence of the vice governor that they must release me otherwise he wouldn’t help them in the future with any cases.”

Rodwell had been told on a number of occasions throughout the 15-month ordeal that he would soon be released.

“I believed no one. I didn’t build up hope. I became emotionless,” he said.

“I started suffering PTSD during the captivity and I started healing myself by analysing the situations a lot.”

Throughout, his militant captors released a series of “proof of life’’ videos as part of their ransom demands.

When the “proof of life” questions increased in frequency, he knew something was afoot.

“They were sending questions through every month instead of every two or three months. I also knew something was happening because I’d been moved very close to a fishing village,” he said.

“It was just a gut feeling and it was that weekend that I actually got released.”

As the tide went out on March 22 and darkness fell, Rodwell was put on a boat. After about two hours at sea, he was transferred to a smaller fishing boat and taken to shore.

“The fisherman paddled it to shore and told me to get out. I was told to start walking and say ‘please help me, please help me’.”

He was spotted by Pagadian wharf workers in the early hours of the next morning and taken to the local police station. It was now March 23 – his dead mother’s birthday.

He was then transported to the US military base at Zamboanga for treatment before being flown Manila to recuperate.

During this time he decided against a reunion with his Filipino wife.

“I wasn’t ready to talk to anyone because I know that when she does talk to me, sometimes it ends up being a heated debate trying to understand and communicate,” he said.

“When I’m dealing with the police and we’re doing interviews about the ordeal, I haven’t really got time for someone (breaking down on me). That’d be like being attacked by a wild animal in the dark.

“I also delayed speaking to my children and siblings for a few days because I wasn’t ready.”

Rodwell said he did not believe his estranged wife was involved in his abduction.

“These Filipinos just love to talk. It’s quite possible that with Miraflor, being a bit loose-lipped, that might have helped with the information being disseminated about me being a foreigner and where I was living. It’s just a lack of prudence but these things happen.”

RECOVERY

It has been 18 months since Rodwell was shot and his hand still hasn’t been operated on.

“I’m waiting to go on a waiting list,” he said. “I’ve already been rejected from one waiting list at the Royal Brisbane Hospital because it’s too long and I’m waiting to hear back from QEII hospital.”

He has been diagnosed with PTSD, has damaged nerve tracts in his lower legs and feet and chipped teeth from trying to open coconuts.

But amazingly, he says he is recovering well.

“I’m seeing a private psychologist. Everything is good. I don’t have nightmares. I’ve pulled up pretty well,” he said.

“At the moment I’m still alive and all things considered I’m quite functional.

“I don’t need to see the psychologist for another three months.”

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Dad makes film in bid to find abducted daughter


March 18, 2013

Source: ninemsn

A filmmaker desperate to reunite with his abducted daughter has made a movie he hopes will inspire her to find him a decade after she was taken away.

Brozzi Lunetta has been searching for his 11-year-old daughter Reya since she was abducted by her mother Camilla Ellefsen, 40, as a baby during a bitter custody dispute in 2002, the Herald Sun reports.

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After more than 10 years searching and failed attempts by Australian authorities to track the pair down, Mr Lunetta has made the feature film “Reya” so that “my daughter can find me”.

“It’s my way to use a fictional tale to get the story out there again, to remind people that my daughter is still missing,” Mr Lunetta told News Limited.

“Perhaps if we could get Camilla’s face out there it would lead to new information.”

The film is about an investigator who comes to believe a 20-year-old murder victim is his daughter who disappeared 20 years earlier.

Reya Lunetta pictured before she went missing in 2002. She is now 11 years old. (image supplied)

Reya Lunetta pictured before she went missing in 2002. She is now 11 years old. (image supplied)

Many actors including Yohanna Idha, who won best actress at the Stockholm International Film Festival in 2011, worked on the project for free.

Reya was abducted while in the US and taken to Norway and India before entering Australia through Perth on a Norwegian passport in February 2004.

camilla-ellefsen-1

Mr Lunetta, an American filmmaker who has since re-married, believes his daughter Reya is currently living with her fugitive mother in south-east Queensland.

Both mother and child currently remain listed as missing by the Family Childrens Court of Australia after numerous reported sightings since 2004.

Australian Federal Police came under criticism in 2010 after a bungled raid on a northern NSW home where Ms Ellefsen was believed to be hiding out allowed her to slip through the net.

Police now say the girl has been removed from Australia and taken back to Norway – a claim Mr Lunetta disputes.

Camilla Ellefsen is believed to be in hiding in with her daughter Reya in Australia. (image supplied)

Camilla Ellefsen is believed to be in hiding in with her daughter Reya in Australia. (image supplied)

“There were tonnes of proof that she entered Australia from India into Perth but there’s no proof whatsoever that she left,” he said.

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Torn apart: silent victims of parental child abduction


July 12, 2012

Source: Radioaustralia.net

Each year thousands of children around the world are victims of parental child abduction. They’re innocent victims caught up in a very adult world where disputes between parents have gone from bad to worse.

There is an international legal treaty in place to try to deter the practice, but many nations in the Asia Pacific are not signatories and now the Australian Government is being asked to try to change that. Catherine Graue reports.

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Four Sisters Abducted By Their Australian Mother From Italy Back in Court


July 10, 2012

Source: fathersforequality

four-sunshine-coast-sisters

THE four girls at the centre of an international custody dispute will be released from foster care to live with their mother pending a High Court hearing in August.

In emotional scenes in the Family Court this afternoon, Justice Peter Murphy ruled the girls be placed in their mother’s care after considering submissions, including that at least one of the sisters had made comments about self harming while in state care.

He said although he was reluctant to make the order, “on balance” returning the sisters to their mother was the better option, citing concerns for their welfare.

He added that it was not the purpose of the hearing to determine whether the mother had a role in the girls’ disappearance in May, when they breached a court order ordering that they return to Italy.

The Department of Communities had opposed the mother’s application, arguing that remaining in foster care was “the lesser of two evils” in the circumstances. The girls’s father had also argued against the release arguing the mother would further “alienate” his daughters from him.

The conditions of the release from foster care are being determined now.

The girls’ mother applied to have the children, aged 9 to 14, released from foster care pending High Court proceedings in August.

Earlier, a teenager at the centre of an international custody dispute has penned an emotional plea, begging to be allowed to live with her mother in Australia. The letter was read out in the Family Court in Brisbane on Friday, where the mother is attempting to regain custody of her four daughters, who are in foster care. It was written by the eldest girl.

“If you ask me there is nothing in the whole world I want more than just to be home with my mum and back at school with my friends again,” the teenager wrote, adding that she wished for “a miracle from God” that it could happen.

The girls have been trying to avoid a Family Court order to return to Italy with their father.

They are not attending school while they await the High Court challenge in August.

The mother’s barrister Dr Jacoba Brash said evidence provided by the girls’ own Department of Communities case workers say the sisters are feeling “nauseous, anxious and dizzy”.

She urged the judge to consider “the reality of the children’s situation” and return them to their mother.

But the Department of Communities said there was a risk the children could go back into hiding if they were placed in the care of their mother.

Earlier this year they hid for more than a week before police found them on the Sunshine Coast.

Barrister James Linklater-Steele said the mother was also poisoning the children’s relationship with their father.

The relationship between he and the girls had improved since they were placed in foster care, he said.

He argued that to return them to the “uncontrolled environment” of their mother’s care would “severely risk the advances that have been made to date”.

Earlier, the Family Court justice dismissed an application to have the girls’ great-aunt appointed legal guardian, noting the sisters had “a voice” in the submissions before him.

However, he ruled the great-aunt, as a potential carer – should the application to have them released prove successful – had the right to be legally represented as an individual at the hearing.

This morning the girls’ mother applied to have the children, aged 9 to 14, released from foster care pending High Court proceedings in August.

The hearing continues.

Miranda Forster, Andrew Macdonald

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MORE SUPPORT FOR PARENTS LEFT BEHIND BY INTERNATIONAL CHILD ABDUCTION


Source: Japan Children`s rights network

Australian parents dealing with the abduction of their child from Australia can access free legal assistance via a new national service which opened today.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said that the service will provide practical support to parents in distressing circumstances.

“We want to make it as straightforward as possible for parents to get the assistance they need when dealing with the abduction of their children from Australia,” Ms Roxon said.

“The Hague Convention on international child abduction, to which Australia is a signatory, provides a strong mechanism for lawfully seeking the return of abducted children to Australia.

“However, accessing information about the Convention and knowing how to apply to meet its requirements can be daunting for many parents during one of the most stressful and difficult times of their lives.”

The new legal assistance service will complement the counselling and mediation service already provided by International Social Services (ISS) Australia and funded by the Attorney-General’s Department.

The Government’s new funding agreement with ISS will provide a national service to help parents prepare and lodge applications from Australia for the return of, or access to, children under the Convention, and will also address key recommendations from the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee report into international child abduction to and from Australia, tabled on 31 October 2011.

“This service will now provide a one stop shop offering legal and counselling assistance for Australian families affected by the abduction of their child from Australia,” Ms Roxon said.

“With the assistance of International Social Services, Australian parents will be able to apply directly to the Attorney-General’s Department, as the Australian Central Authority – and the national contact – for the Hague Convention.”

ISS can be contacted Toll free on 1300 657 843 or through their websitewww.iss.org.au .

Further information about the Hague Convention is available on the Attorney-General’s Department website www.ag.gov.au/childabduction .

The Australian Central Authority can be contacted on 1800 100 480 or via email CentralAuthority@ag.gov.au .

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Child Abduction: Abduction law to punish fly-away dads and mothers


Stephanie Peatling, September 10, 2011

TOUGH laws to stop parents abducting and taking their children overseas are being considered by the federal government.

The Family Law Council has told the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, new criminal charges need to be created to punish parents.

”The [existing] legislation does not cover the situation where a parent takes a child overseas with the other parent’s consent or in accordance with a court order, but subsequently retains the child overseas beyond the agreed or authorised period,” said the council chairwoman, Associate Professor Helen Rhoades.

It also ”does not cover the situation where children are taken overseas without the other parent’s consent and no parenting orders have been sought from, or granted by, the courts. The question that arises is whether a parent’s behaviour in either or both of these circumstances should be criminalised.”

About 125 children are taken out of Australia each year, says the Attorney-General’s Department. In 2007, 147 were abducted overseas and in 2008 it was 138.The number fell to 95 in 2009 but rose to 125 last year. Under the Family Law Act, international parental child abduction carries a maximum three-year jail sentence.

The Family Law Council has also identified a loophole in the law because it does not cover situations in which children are taken overseas without the other parent’s consent but there is no involvement by the courts. This happens when the parents are still in a relationship. A parliamentary committee is examining whether tougher sanctions need to be introduced. It will report to the government next month, which is expected to respond later this year.

As many as 12,000 children are on an Australian Federal Police watch list as being potentially in danger of being taken out of the country. But the AFP believes the true figure is much lower because the names are not automatically removed once a child turns 18.

Angela Lynch, a committee member of Women’s Legal Services Australia, said special consideration needed to be made for parents trying to escape abusive relationships and parents who had moved away from their extended families.

”In our experience, many women flee home to family support when a separation occurs,” she said, adding: ”It is not in the public interest that such situations are criminally prosecuted. There are links with the need for domestic family laws to be accessible to enable women to have a choice to apply to a domestic court for international child relocation rather than fleeing home.”

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Child abduction laws set for overhaul


Source: Sky news Australia

A Senate inquiry has been told laws surrounding international parental child abductions must be changed.

Lauchlan Leishman and Ken Thompson fronted a Senate committee in Canberra on Friday, arguing that the system surrounding international child abductions needs a desperate overhaul.

Mr Leishman, whose son was taken out of the country in 2008 and has not been returned, labelled it a ‘long, painful and exhaustive process’ that had come at great financial cost.

‘Some people say it’s a civil matter between the parents, (but) the reality is that the child has been abducted,’ he told the inquiry.

‘And if I stole someone else’s child I would be hounded by the criminal justice system.

‘In our view, it’s no different.’

In Australia, international child abductions are mostly considered civil matters, with returns negotiated depending on where the child is taken and if the parents are currently before the Family Court.

In the strongest case scenario, if the child is taken to a country that is signatory to the Hague Convention and the parents are before the Family Court, technically child abductions are a criminal act.

But Mr Thompson, whose son was also taken in 2008 and returned this year, said the Australian Federal Police (AFP) often had its hands tied, and prevented from acting without the consent of the signatory country.

It will only request Interpol alerts if an arrest warrant has been issued for the abducting parent, and that can only be done when the ‘left behind parent’ requests one through the Family Court.

Even then, abducting parents had no problem getting around.

Mr Thompson’s story made headlines after he cycled 6500km around Europe in a bid to find his son, leading to a tip-off that the youngster was in the Netherlands.

The former NSW deputy fire chief said the system was full of holes and provided inadequate protection for what was ‘one of the most extreme acts of abuse a parent can inflict upon their own child’.

He noted that if a child is abducted to a country that hasn’t signed up to the Hague Convention, or if his or her whereabouts were unknown, left behind parents were basically on their own.

Spending up to $100,000 was not unusual, and parents sometimes had to fight for financial assistance or even to halt child support payments.

Mr Thompson also urged for abductions to be made a crime across the board, if only to empower the police to act, rather than as punishment.

‘I’m not advocating for a moment that international parental child abduction should be a crime for the purpose of prosecuting and imprisoning a parent – that’s last resort,’ Mr Thompson said.

The Family Law Council believes parental abductions shouldn’t be made a general criminal offence, arguing international courts might be less likely to order parents back to Australia.

It did however recommend that wrongful retentions – where a child is lawfully taken overseas but not returned – have the same criminality as wrongful removals.

The Senate inquiry is due to report by October 31.

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