Finally, they are freed - unharmed, but maybe, scarred for life.
Ces looked dead tired when she appeared before the media in Zamboanga City. With all those mosquito bites on her face and bruises practically on her whole body, I could not imagine what kind of hell she went through in the hands of their young kidnappers.
“At one time when I was talking to Loren, they slapped me,” Ces told journalists who waited for her first press conference after their release.
A young bandit slapping the always aggressive Ces Drilon. That would have been unthinkable.
We all know Ces as a feisty woman who yelled at police generals during the Peninsula Manila siege. But it’s a lot different when you’re dealing with young bandits, holding bolos which can be used on you anytime.
But then, the journalist in her, Ces put this incident in perspective. What these kids are doing may be legally and morally wrong. But we should also ask, why are they doing this? They are holding guns and bolos when they should be studying and enjoying their teeanage years.
Ces said, “I’ve been in and out of Mindanao, in all my years as a journalist, ang gusto ko lang maintindihan yung sitwasyon dito, gumawa ng storya tungkol dito.”
Maybe there are not enough schools in Sulu. Or maybe there are some schools and universities, but there aren’t enough job opportunities. I know of a promising graduate of the Sulu State College who was a student leader in his college days but ended up working as a hostel employee doing utility work.
What happened to the ABS-CBN news team has jolted practically everyone – mediamen, the police and the military, local and national government officials. But lessons were definitely learned from this experience, especially for us in the media industry.
Sometimes I’d like to think there could be stories worth my life. But then being in the TV news industry, I’m closely working with two more people, my cameraman and assistant cameraman. They also have families, and maybe, the stories that I think are worth my life may not be so for them. This is the reason why Ces felt responsible if her crew, Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderama, were beheaded by their abductors. God forbid, if something like that happens to my team and I survived the ordeal, I wouldn’t know how to face their families.
Now Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan is questioning journalists going to his province to cover and interview “criminals.” I hope the governor will be enlightened that journalists covering his province are not there to shame him and other local officials by showing on television how impoverished Sulu is. We may have pictured Sulu as a breeding ground for terrorists and inept public officials. But what can we do if that is the real picture of the province?
The GMA 7 crew who covered this hostage crisis in Sulu were issued bullet-proof vests and helmets. I think they were first ones in the local media to use those kinds of vests. Honestly, I commend their bosses for taking care of their men covering in dangerous situations. Maybe what happened to Ces’ team should be a wake-up call for other media companies. GMA 7 has learned their lesson well after their reporter Jun Veneracion and his team were caught in a crossfire at the height of efforts in finding kidnapped priest Giancarlo Bossi in Basilan.
For some people, Ces may have committed a mistake in pursuing the story she was working on before they were kidnapped. She may have stepped on a landmine but I believe she weighed all the consequences of pursuing the story. Maybe, she just got unlucky.
There are what we call calculated risks. Journalists know this which is basically based on instincts and past experiences. I am not a veteran journalist but I do calculate the risks involved in a coverage. Fear, I guess, is the best weapon for a reporter.
I remember when I was doing the graveyard shift, I had a brief talk with our former reporter Aladin Bacolodan at the lobby of ABS-CBN while I was waiting for my crew. Being a newbie then, he asked if I am enjoying my job so far. I told him that every night, I always get paranoid that competition will outscoop me and surprise me with a lot of exclusives in their morning news. But he said something like, “ok nga yang kinakabahan, at least mas lalo kang nagsisipag.”
In dangerous coverages, fear can actually save journalists. If the risks involved are too high, then why pursue the story if you’ll only end up dead and not being able to air the story? What’s the point of rushing to an encounter site when you can’t live to tell the whole drama of it?
The situation has indeed gone worse in Sulu. Even a peace advocate was kidnapped in his home province, Mindanao State University Professor Octavio Dinampo who, despite being a Muslim,was not spared by the kidnappers.
In a way, it was double whammy for Prof. Octa. He was kidnapped and yet he was suspected of having been behind the abduction.
Dinampo admitted that it is not easy to please everyone in Sulu. “For us tausugs, it is very difficult, because the government suspects us to be a sympathizer of the abu sayyaf and here we are being suspected as government spies,” he says.
Despite his old age, he was still subjected to torture, not the physical kind that Ces and her crew got.
“I was not tied I’m going to admit that, I was not tied, that special treatment maybe because I was praying with them because I am performing my obligation to God. They did not harm me, but treated me by pointing a gun at me, mocked, how can a Christian pray,” said the professor.
I have interviewed Prof. Octa a few times before. Being a former Moro National Liberation Front member, he is a good resource person on everything about Sulu, past and present. Despite his abduction, Prof. Octa says he will be going back to Sulu after a brief vacation in Davao City, despite the bitter experience in his very own province.
So now, what do we expect? Well, until the next coverage in Mindanao.
But before embarking on my next coverage out-of-town coverage, I have promised myself to text my mother first. A lot of us journalists who covered Ces’ press conference in Zamboanga City were struck when she said “I feel really bad for putting my mom through this ordeal. Sinikreto ko sa mommy ko yung coverage.”
Maybe it’s true, no story is worth my life.