MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE 6:45PM) His life bought back, in a manner of speaking, by his countrymen’s love and a king’s merciful heart–the Saudi monarch put up over two-thirds of the blood money that sprang him from death row–OFW Rodelio Celestino “Dondon” Lanuza set foot Thursday on Philippine soil once more after 13 years in jail.
Lanuza, sentenced to death in 2011 for the June 2000 slaying of Mohamad Al-Qahtani, an Arab national whom he stabbed to death in self-defense, arrived at the NAIA from Etihad Airways flight EY424.
He uttered these first words as a horde of newsmen gathered around him: “Maraming salamat sa mamamayang Pilipino at sa ating pamahalaan sa suportang binigay ninyo sa akin [Thank you to the Filipino people and the government for all the support you gave me].”
“God knows wala akong kasalanan, at salamat nakauwi ako nang buhay [God knows I committed no crime and I’m thankful I came home alive],” he added.
He expressed his gratitude to the government of Saudi Arabia, especially to King Abdullah, for shouldering 2.3 million Saudi Riyals of the blood money that earned him back his freedom—and life.
After making his initial remarks, he asked permission to take a brief rest inside the VIP lounge as he complained of dizziness. Also on hand to meet Lanuza at the VIP Lounge was his father Ed and mother Letty, and Omar Pangarungan from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
After 30 minutes, he was escorted by representatives of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Vice President to a van where other relatives were waiting to welcome him.
Lanuza earned his pardon after the heirs of his victim accepted blood money in the amount of SAR 3 million (almost P35 million). His supporters and the Philippine government raised the equivalent of SAR 700,000, and the balance of SR 2.3 million was paid by Saudi’s King Abdullah, whom Vice President Jejomar Binay earlier praised for his generosity and compassion.
Lanuza flew to Saudi Arabia at age 22 to work as a draftsman for an American firm. He was jailed when he was 25, and he is now 35.
He converted to Islam while in prison.
Lanuza said he wanted to spend a quiet moment with his family and meet his friends and relatives in the coming days.