Kidnapping and survival

BEING kidnapped is probably the most terrifying experience. I was a kidnap victim myself 22 years ago during my UP Law days. 

“Sige, tumakbo ka na nang mabilis at huwag kang lilingon at baka barilin pa kita (Run fast and don’t look back or I’ll shoot you).” These words were not from a movie script; they were uttered by my abductors in the evening of Aug. 23, 1997, a Saturday.

To me, these were words of freedom – freedom from the anxiety that any second I could be dumped dead in a secluded area somewhere in Barangay Ugong, Valenzuela.

We just came from our moot court class in the University of the Philippines – College of Law.  I hitched with a friend as I planned to go to the wake of Lola Rosa Henson, the first Filipina comfort woman to come out in the open.

While our car was on a halt somewhere in Quezon City, armed men swarmed us. I was pulled out from our car and dragged to their car.

What made me feel helpless was the fact that my eyeglasses misted. Running for safety would have been difficult; I couldn’t really see anything.

In the car, one  held me down, his hand pinning my head onto his lap.

I felt we were taking a circuitous route. I thought of jumping out but I realized that even before I could get up and open the door, the man restraining me could shoot me. They also removed my eyeglasses.

Throughout the trip, I asked myself what I might have done for them to abduct me. Is this related to my work as a journalist while finishing my law studies?

Then they started asking me questions like what is the name of my Chinese-looking companion, “Isang Intsik na may atraso sa amin (a Chinese who owes us).”

They continued to bombard me with threats. “Huwag kang magulo kung ayaw mong ma-salvage. Hindi ka namin gagalawin dahil ‘di ikaw ang pakay namin. Baka gusto mong patayin ka na rin namin (Don’t fret if you don’t want us to kill you. We won’t hurt you because we are not really after you).”

All throughout that trip, I felt some metal near my head, and I am sure it was a gun.  

One of the survival tips I read was not to struggle while being confined and transported. Calm yourself mentally and concentrate on surviving. The best defense is passive cooperation. One may be terrified but try to regain composure as soon as possible and to organize your thoughts. Being able to behave rationally increases one’s chances for survival.

I just prayed hard. I prayed in the manner that I never prayed before. I lost count of how many Our Fathers and Hail Marys I prayed. The words even got mixed.

The place we were travelling to was getting darker and I imagined we were entering what could be a “salvage area.” I prayed harder. Maybe God was listening because I heard the driver said, “Sige, ibaba na ‘yan (Go on, get down).”

Then the moment of freedom. “Baba ka at huwag kang lilingon.”

I indeed jumped off but still anxious that it was still a bluff, that they would nevertheless shoot me. The area was a farmland with some factories, a place suitable for “salvaging.”

There, I learned that the place was indeed an area where dead bodies were dumped. In fact, a few days earlier the body of an executive was found there.

Our names landed in the news for the next few days. I became the subject of media myself.

For safety reasons, I declined from surfacing. It seemed that I myself became adrift from the world where I work with.

Freedom almost always brings a sense of elation and relief. However, adjusting back to the real world can be just as difficult as abruptly leaving.  

The trauma kept me afloat. I heard people talking but I could not understand them. I saw figures and colors but it was as if I was not able to recognize them.

My head felt too heavy that I had a hard time moving it. I could not talk properly as if my voice was somewhere else.

I ordered all our doors locked. And I even transferred to my cousins’ house just to assure me that no one would be able to follow me there.

A week passed and I went back to UP Law. I tried to think that everything would be normal.

A few days later, the same men that kidnapped me were killed in a shootout. They were identified as former cops or military men. That prompted me to keep my silence.

From 1993 to 2003, the total incidents of “reported” kidnap cases were estimated at 1,292, with victims totaling 2,330. That is approximately one kidnap victim every two days. Ransom paid totaled a staggering P1.602 billion. Eventually, the Philippines became known as the “Kidnap Capital of Asia”.

Kidnapping has been called a “growth industry”, the new cottage industry and a booming business. Several cause-oriented groups point to the involvement of police enforcers as the reason why kidnapping has been very difficult to suppress.

That night of Aug. 23, 1997 could have changed my perception of life. At least I am still alive.

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“Kule” is the moniker of the Philippine Collegian, the official student publication of UP Diliman.

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Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786)./PN

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