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Hostage Released After 8 Months

A Filipino hostage in Iraq has been released after almost eight months in captivity, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (search) announced Wednesday.

Robert Tarongoy (search), an accountant for a Saudi company that caters for the Iraqi army, was kidnapped on Nov. 1 along with U.S. citizen Roy Hallums (search) from their Baghdad office after a gunbattle that killed an Iraqi guard and an attacker. A Nepalese and three Iraqis were abducted and later freed.

"Finally, Robert Tarongoy is going home after a long time," Arroyo told reporters. "He is now in the hands of our Iraq crisis team. They're arranging how Robert Tarongoy can go home."

Arroyo made the announcement after praying in a Roman Catholic church in the central Philippine city of Cebu.

"Thank you, thank you God!" Arroyo exclaimed. "Long live overseas Filipino workers!"

In a phone interview with GMA television, an emotional Tarongoy thanked Arroyo — "She did not neglect me," he said — and the diplomats who helped secure his freedom.

Asked how his captors treated him, Tarongoy's voice cracked. "You know how long I was kept there. It was difficult."

No ransom was paid, said Foreign Undersecretary Rafael Seguis, who led a government negotiating team.

Several Middle Eastern countries including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan, along with Muslim clerics, helped get Tarongoy released, Seguis told GMA.

Tarongoy could be home as early as Thursday, Seguis said.

Tarongoy's family jumped for joy at their home in the southern city of Davao.

"It's a very wonderful gift for both of us. I'm very happy," his wife, Ivy, said by phone. She said her husband's release coincided with their third wedding anniversary.

The release was a relief to Arroyo, who has been grappling with accusations that her family pocketed illegal gambling payoffs and that she rigged last year's elections. The charges have set off a political storm and the most serious challenge in her current presidential term.

Filipino truck driver Angelo de la Cruz was freed last July 22 after Iraqi insurgents held him hostage for about two weeks.

He was released after the Philippine government granted the militants' demand for the early withdrawal of its small peacekeeping contingent from Iraq — a decision strongly criticized by Washington and other allies, but applauded at home.

After de la Cruz's abduction, the Philippine government banned the additional deployment of Filipino workers to Iraq and asked neighboring countries not to let Filipinos use their territory to enter the violence-stricken nation.

About 6,000 Filipinos now work in U.S. military camps across Iraq, mostly as cooks and maintenance personnel.

They're part of a 7 million-strong Filipino work force scattered around the world to escape widespread poverty and unemployment at home. The money they send home — estimated to reach $9 billion this year — is crucial to the Philippines' fragile economy.

They have also become an important part of the electorate since gaining the right to vote, starting in last year's closely fought presidential elections.

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