Italian priest lived like a monkey, survived on 'strange things'

Rescued Italian priest Giuseppe Pierantoni said Monday he and his captors "lived like monkeys" and ate iguanas and jellyfish during his six-month ordeal in the southern Philippine jungles.

In an emotional reunion with his colleagues from the Sacred Heart of Jesus order in Manila, a tearful Pierantoni said was "already in paradise" 12 hours after police and military commandos rescued him from the "Pentagon" Muslim gang.

"Sometimes we lived like monkeys in trees," the 45-year-old Bologna native told AFP, explaining the rebels' attempts to evade capture.

"My enemy in the morning is my business partner at night," looking out for hostile fire, he said.

The missionary said his ordeal was a "very peculiar experience" that exposed him to the plight of impoverished minority Muslims in the south, where his former captors claim to be fighting for independence.

"We lived an extremely simple life. Sometimes, I ate mostly rice, with something we got from nature like fish and vegetables from the forest," Pierantoni said.

"I ate also very strange things, including jellyfish and iguanas and potatoes which are poisonous and have to be prepared very carefully to be edible."

The priest said Pentagon leaders had assured him he would not be harmed and that they kidnapped him on October 17 to raise ransom money to buy arms and defend themselves from the army.

"It was an experience of dialogue, because they were Muslims with very simple ideas of their religion. It was interesting to listen to their experience of suffering and hopes of liberating Mindanao," he said.

Pierantoni said he planned to return to Italy and visit his elderly parents, who became desperately worried after erroneous military reports last year that he had been killed.

However, he planned to return to his Dimataling parish in Zamboanga del Sur province soon.

"My parents are victims of the kidnapping too, can you imagine what it means for them to believe that their son is dead for six months?" the missionary said.

"I want to go back to the south surely, I don't think they will kidnap me again, do you?"

Pentagon members abandoned Pierantoni before dawn Monday after troops raided a rebel safe house in the town of Tungawan on information gleaned from three rebels captured over the weekend.

President Gloria Arroyo ordered troops to crush all kidnap gangs in the south, including another Muslim group, the Abu Sayyaf, holding hostage a US couple and a Filipina nurse on Basilan island.