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American Disappears in the Philippines
Peace Corps volunteer may have been kidnapped
Alex Argote (alexphil)     Print Article 
Published 2007-04-15 04:17 (KST)   
Taking a walk in the hills of one of the most dangerous countries in the world has led to the disappearance of Julia Campbell, a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer. She was last seen on April 8.

Reports said that Campbell, 40, planned to hike alone in the hills last Sunday just a mile from the town of Banaue, Ifugao province, in the mountainous northern Philippines. But when she failed to show up for appointments in the following days, Campbell's co-workers started to worry.

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According to U.S. Embassy spokesman Matthew Lussenhop, local officials, Peace Corps security personnel and embassy staff are already in the area where the missing woman was last seen, about 160 miles north of Manila. They are busy talking with people who may have seen her. At least four teams from the Philippine National Police have been deployed in Ifugao province and were already combing the countryside.

Police operatives also checked various traveler inns and hotels in Banaue, crosschecking the registries in the hopes of getting a lead on Campbell's whereabouts.

The U.S. Embassy main office in Manila is offering an undisclosed monetary reward for anyone who can provide information on the exact status and location of the Peace Corps volunteer.

The almost picturesque province of Ifugao is famed for its mountainside rice terraces constructed by ancient northern Philippine tribesmen thousands of years ago. There are also acres of pine forests making the area a tourist haven and vacation spot for wealthy Manila residents during the sizzling summer months of April and May.

Armed Marxist guerillas of the New People's Army (NPA) are known to operate in the vicinity according to military officials. Armed Forces of the Philippines soldiers and NPA rebels often clash in these areas as the government wages one of the oldest anti-insurgency campaigns in the modern world.

It must be noted that in early 1990, an NPA unit kidnapped a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, Timothy Swanson. He was held by the Filipino Marxists rebels for about two months in the jungles of central Negros island before he was released unharmed after successful negotiations between NPA field commanders and a local Roman Catholic bishop.

According to information provided on the U.S. Embassy's Web site, Campbell is a "Caucasian American with blonde hair, eyeglasses, 1.7 meters tall (5 feet, 7 inches), weighing 58 kilograms" (128 pounds). A former journalist, Campbell is said to have contributed articles to CNN about the recent disaster in Albay province in southern Luzon, when molten lava from Mayon volcano inundated several hamlets in Albay during the height of tropical typhoon Reming.

Campbell confided in her blog that she escaped the rat race in fast-paced and stressful New York city to become an aid worker in a remote land where she dared live among a people whose cultures and traditions are completely unknown to her. She briefly taught in a university in Legazpi, the leading city of Albay province.

A predominantly Roman Catholic nation, Filipinos are composed of a hodgepodge of different Malay tribes who migrated from Indonesia and Malaysia many centuries ago. Among Asians, Filipinos are the least nationalistic and tend to identify with foreigners especially Caucasian Americans, whom they favor most. A bitter animosity exists between rival tribes and clans. Tribalism compounded by graft in the government contributes to a very unstable political system and depressed economic condition that has forced millions of the best and brightest Filipino youth and professionals to live and work in other countries.
The lede in this article has been amended. -- Ed.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Alex Argote

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