WARREN RODWELL STORY by Danny Jovica (Expats Association)
Reclining on the couch, relaxing after a long day and my mobile phone unexpectedly rang. I checked the time, and saw it was 10pm and noted the incoming call was from an unknown number. I wondered who could be calling me this hour. I answered and to my astonishment I found myself talking to none other than Warren Rodwell (long time kidnap victim of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group in the Philippines). I had previously contacted Mister Rodwell inviting him to join Expats Association in an honorary administrative capacity. This particular evening, he confirmed that he had received my latest message advising that Expat Association had just been granted charity status in Australia, and that I wanted to talk to him by phone.
As founder of Expats Association, I found myself no longer able to be tired, Warren Rodwell had my captivated attention as the next four hours unfolded with the telling of his detailed kidnapping and his experiences he had as a hostage. The instant impression I got was Warren is an intelligent, articulate and worldly man. On the 5th of December 2011, Warren’s sister received a call – not from Warren, but from the Australian Embassy in Manila, calling to inform her that her brother had been kidnapped and taken hostage by the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group. They were making demands of USD$2 Million for his release or he would be beheaded! Our discussion turned to the lead up toward these events and it became apparent that the cause of Warren’s problems started with his then wife. Unfortunately a familiar story that I personally have heard time and time before. The all-too-familiar story of the foreigner falling for a Filipino woman and slowly but surely, events unfold like a mirror image of other similar stories told from Australian Expats. Warren Rodwell makes it clear, “My wife did not set out to cheat me.” However his much younger wife seemingly began to try to manipulate her husband with daily monetary requests for her and her family; the “urgent needs” blown well out of proportion. After a short time, for someone of Warren’s age and experience, he realized he was being had. Upon my prompting, Warren recited with bitterness all the details that led up to his capture. How after his wife didn’t get her way, she started having hysterical outbursts. How she was then guided and persuaded by friends and family to make baseless police blotters about him. He described the contempt by which he was subsequently treated by Philippine officials due to him being an “arrogant” foreigner. He tells of the threats he received to report him to Philippine Immigration and the Australian Embassy to have him deported – after having bought land and built a new home upon it.
Warren for all his worldly experience as an Expat, was consumed with minimizing his potential financial loss, and rather “naively” continued his crash course in what was ultimately a clash with this peculiar culture. He stood his ground, he felt he had done nothing wrong, and as a mature educated and seasoned international adventurer, he knew his rights and stood firm when falsely accused. He separated with his wife who then returned home to her family. The family of Warren’s Filipino wife lived some eight kilometers away (in Naga village, Zamboanga Sibugay Province – western Mindanao) from where he built their matrimonial home at Pangi, a barangay/suburb of the provincial capital of Ipil. Interestingly enough, the new house was situated within easy access (mere minutes) of the provincial police headquarters, a state-owned airstrip, and a longstanding permanent combative base for the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The new subdivision was next to a large public high school and most of Mister Rodwell’s neighbors were government employees (teachers, nurses, police and soldiers). The area that Warren was in was locally regarded as being a safe Christian area. However his wife’s Christian dominated and controlled village was split into two parts. The “no go zone” being a Muslim stronghold – a base for militant Islamic groups, including the extremist Abu Sayyaf terrorists. Warren Rodwell previously felt secure and was assured by his wife, local residents and officials that they were residing far enough away from any danger. Warren tried to create a quiet, simple and modest lifestyle. He does not drink alcohol and did not go out at night.
Before long however, hints of danger became apparent in the form of threats. Warren, who had already invested heavily in the area with the building of his home, chose instead to fortify his house instead of leaving the area altogether immediately. He didn’t want to abandon the property until it was at least at lock up stage, and well secured in his absence. Heeding advice from provincial police headquarters during a high risk terrorist alert for the entire province, Warren Rodwell left the region for one week. He had already commenced constructing tall concrete block walls with barbed wire to prevent entry. In Warren’s eyes a man’s home is his castle, and he had seen many similar homes so fortified in this manner. On safe return to the house, Warren Rodwell fiercely determined to complete this building (investment) project within a realistic and manageable timeframe, constantly supervised, trained and physically labored with his personally selected local hired workers. In hindsight, it could be argued that choosing to live in his own home blinded him to the equal determination shared by the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group. It was a race against time. Two more weeks and all work would have been completed. Warren underestimated the overlapping links his wife, peasant workers and others shared to the group. A matter of discretion and trust. Following a long day of adding finishing touches to the house, at dusk Warren heard a loud bang as his fortified gate was forced open and he was faced with heavily armed men identifying themselves as police. Within seconds Warren Rodwell was stuck in between them and the walls that fortified his home. With nowhere to go, a nervous gunman fired a shot from his military rifle – the bullet driving straight through Warren’s hand. They then handcuffed him and dragged away through the swamp lands in the dark, bleeding, confused and in pain.
Thus began of the story of personal resilience and the stubborn survival of Warren Rodwell. For the next 472 days of captivity (the longest any Australian has endured outside wartime) he was confined in small spaces he could barely move in and hidden from sight. When I asked why they needed to confine him, Warren replied, “Who were they hiding me from?” The answer of course became apparent… He was being kept out of sight from EVERYONE! Warren relayed more of the story of his miraculous survival, asserting that luck had nothing to do with it. At times it became so emotional I could hear in his voice how he held back anguish with the memories still hauntingly fresh in his mind. Warren Rodwell stated succinctly he seeks no sympathy.
The keys to Warren’s survival became clear. His strategy was to befriend his captors, with his typically Australian sense of humor. Given time, his exceptional leadership skills saw him take control of his captors, mentoring them in some ways and even abusing them emotionally in others that left them in fear of him and in tears at times.
It was a fascinating and enthralling account that leaves me in anticipation of reading the soon-to-be-released book detailing his story. His biography “472 Days Captive of The Abu Sayyaf – The Survival of Australian Warren Rodwell” written by independent researcher Dr. Bob East is due to be released late 2014 by Cambridge Scholars Publishing, United Kingdom.