MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine officials say suspected Abu Sayyaf militants have freed three abducted government aid workers in the south after the government withheld anti-poverty funds, prompting a poor town to pressure the gunmen to release the captives.

Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman says the three workers and a companion were kidnapped last Thursday in remote Talipao town in Sulu province where they were checking on poor families to be given cash dole-outs and working on another anti-poverty project.

Soliman said Wednesday that following the kidnappings, she ordered the delivery of payments to thousands of poor families to be suspended this week in Sulu because of the risk to aid workers. The move prompted Talipao officials to pressure the militants, who freed their hostages this week without any ransom payment.