DAVAO CITY, Philippines – After 9 months of being held captive by terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, Marites Flor finally walked free early Friday morning, June 24.
Her release was an “act of goodwill” by the Abu Sayyaf, incoming peace process adviser Jesus Dureza told media later that day.
“According to [Sulu] Governor Sakur Tan, it was an act of gesture of goodwill. Because they knew that President-elect [Rodrigo] Duterte wanted badly the release of the hostages,” said Dureza.
Dureza flew to Jolo, Sulu that morning to pick up Flor. Before that, he was in Zamboanga City still awaiting word if the Norwegian hostage Kjartan Sekkingstad would also be released that day.
“We were waiting until noon time for the possible release of the Norwegian so I did not immediately take off for Jolo only to be informed there was no more time left for today so we picked up Marites,” he said.
Talk of the possible release of hostages was initiated when Dureza flew to Oslo, Norway to broker peace talks with Filipino communist leaders.
It was there where he met with the Norwegian foreign minister who asked if Duterte could help negotiate the release of their countryman and Flor.
The minister and Duterte talked on the phone.
Dureza then got in touch with his local contacts, including Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan who contacted the Abu Sayyaf.
Sekkingstad’s release is still being negotiated.
After picking up Flor, Dureza accompanied her to Davao City where she was presented to Duterte on the sidelines of the turn-over of command ceremony of the Davao City Police at their headquarters.
Asked why she was presented to Duterte and not to President Benigno Aquino III, Dureza said, “Don't ask me that. Ask that of President Aquino’s officials.”
Treated like dogs
Flor still appeared shell-shocked when she faced the media Friday afternoon. But the relief in her face and voice was unmistakable.
“Sa ngayon, okay ako kasi nakalaya akong buhay. Gusto ko lang magpasalamat doon sa tumulong, kay Sir Jess Dureza, kay Governor Sakur Tan, at bagong elected president natin si Rodrigo Duterte,” she said.
(As of now, I’m okay because I am free and alive. I just want to thank all those who helped: Sir Jess Dureza, Governor Sakur Tan, and the newly-elected President Rodrigo Duterte.)
She said the Abu Sayyaf still plan to kill Sekkingstad if they do not receive the ransom money.
Flor said the leader of the Abu Sayyaf group had woken her up early that morning.
“Sabi niya, Ihahatid kita. ‘Yun lang." (He said, ‘I am bringing you somewhere.’ That’s it.)
They walked in the dark for a long time. Flor had no idea where they were.
Tears fell and her face crumpled when she recalled the day her captors beheaded her fiancé, Canadian Robert Hall.
“Sobrang sakit. Kasi nakikita mo bago pugutan siya ng ulo. Sobrang sakit. Pinapanood nila. Masaya sila na gagawin nila ‘yun. Linagyan lang nila posas tapos dinala sa harapan,” she said.
(It was so painful. Because I saw him right before he was beheaded. It was so painful. They were watching and they were happy about what they were about to do. They tied his feet and brought him out front.)
She did not witness the beheading herself.
She described hellish treatment at the hands of the Abu Sayyaf.
“Yung treatment nila parang aso kami, parang bata, pag nagkamali binubugbog. Sa ground lang kami pinapakain,” she said.
(They treated us like dogs, like kids – if we did something wrong, we were beaten up. They made us eat from the ground.)
While she was slapped twice in the face, her fellow hostages were beaten up. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.