Days of torture: Cebu development workers share abduction ordeal

Inday Espina-Varona

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Days of torture: Cebu development workers share abduction ordeal

ORDEAL. Herminia Gumanao comforts her daughter, development workers Dyan Gumanao and Armand Dayoha after a press conference at the University of the Philippines-Cebu on January 21, 2023. The two shared their ordeal since being abducted on the Cebu pier on January 10, 2023 to their release on the night of January 15.

Jacqueline Hernandez/Rappler

Dyan Gumanao and Armand Dayoha were handcuffed and blindfolded for days. They were told they were taken because they are activists.

CEBU, Philippines – The men who abducted development workers and labor rights advocates Dyan Gumanao and Armand Dayoha on January 10 in a crowded pier in Cebu City held them for days in handcuffs, blindfolds, and sometimes gags and ear muffs, while threatening to turn them over to other units of a “task force” for possible execution.

Gumanao and Dayoha took turns detailing their ordeal in a press conference on Saturday, January 21, at the University of the Philippines-Cebu.

“We were abducted. We did not elope. We did not go away to settle some issues,” Gumanao said in a mix of English and Cebuano.

Their captors, who were placed in a quandary by a multi-sectoral campaign that quickly broke out with reports of their abduction, wanted them to accept and share the counter-claim that anonymous netizens posted as calls for their release snowballed.

The narration of the two activists strengthened reports from academe sources about “friends of friends” in the national government who helped negotiate their release.

Dayoha and Gumanao were on their way to Cebu City after visiting the latter’s family in Mindanao during the Christmas break. The couple had informed them of their plan to marry in May 2023.

When their vessel docked, the couple decided to wait for the crowd to dissipate before disembarking.

They were on the ramp, nearing ground level, when a voice behind them called their names.

“Police kami (We’re police),” Dayoha recalled one of four men saying.

UNBOWED. Labor advocate and artist Armand Dayoha hugs his mother, Sarah, after a press conference at University of the Philippines-Cebu on January 21, 2023, where he called for a halt to the targeting of development workers and activists. Jacqueline Hernandez/Rappler
Calls for aid

Their abductors pushed them towards a silver vehicle waiting on the dockside – a place normally off limits to non-authorized transport. 

“We started to call for help, again and again,” said Dayoha.

Passengers and other people in the area raised an outcry.

Tabang (help), I repeatedly cried while looking towards the security forces around us,” said Dayoha.

“We could see them. They saw us. They heard people calling for help. We knew they were trained to respond to commotion. But nobody came to help,” the labor advocate and artist added.

Gumanao also screamed for aid. “I said, ‘Aktibista kami’ (We are activists).”

In full view of more than a dozen persons, including those wearing uniforms of pier security, their abductors held their legs and threw them into the sports utility vehicle.

They were handcuffed, blindfolded, and gagged.

They were brought to an undisclosed place where their abductors again introduced themselves again as police.

Days of torture: Cebu development workers share abduction ordeal
‘Just an invitation’

In their first hours of captivity, the couple said, they just prayed that the scene at the pier would prod people to raise an alarm, alerting their families and friends.

In an earlier interview with Rappler, Gumanao’s father, Danny, said he was certain that the couple had docked in Cebu because Dyan texted regularly about their movements – from the time they left their cousins in Davao, to traveling and boarding a vessel in Cagayan de Oro.

After Gumanao’s repeated questions, one of the abductors said they were taken “because of what you said earlier. You are activists.”

“They asked us about our ties to so-called terrorist groups and what we had done for them,” said Gumanao.

She kept on demanding to see the warrants.

There was apparently none. A day after, one of the abductors started explaining that they “had no other way” to get the couple to “cooperate.”

“They said, ‘This is not an abduction, this is just an invitation’,” Gumanao recalled.

INVITED ONLY? Dyan Gumanao narrates the trauma she underwent with Armand Dayoha during almost a week of involuntary detention, at a press conference at the University of the Philippines-Cebu on January 21, 2023. Jacqueline Hernandez/

Dayoha said that they spent most of the days handcuffed and blindfolded, even when they had to use the bathroom.

“It was psychological and emotional torture,” he said.

While Gumanao was angry at the “invitation” claim, she began to feel their abductors’ nervousness.

“They kept urging me to respond to my father’s text messages,” she recalled. “But we were under duress and I did not want to play their game.”

Threat of execution

Dayoha said that one day, they were taken for a ride. They knew the vehicle had boarded a vessel.

“We could smell the engine fumes, we could feel the rocking. And we heard a voice ask them for their ORCR (vehicle certificates of registration),” he recounted. “We knew they had taken us out of Cebu.”

The abductors were worried.

“Too many people know,” Dayoha recalled one of the abductors saying.

But that did not keep the men from pressing both to confess to terrorist connections and actions, to giving up friends as terrorists.

“They said they were from the task force and could pass us to other units, and we could find ourselves six feet below the ground,” said Gumanao.

Change the narrative

Even as they returned to Cebu, and were taken for another long drive until they reached a dark rural area on the night of January 15, the abductors kept on pressing them to change the narrative.

They told the couple to go to the police station and clear the blotter filed by Dayoha’s mother, who had listed their case as an abduction. 

“They said to go to the next police station from where the blotter was filed. They asked us to say that we had just gone away for a break,” Gumanao said.

After several hours, their abductors said they no longer had to go to the police.

Instead, they were asked to check into a nearby resort, take a selfie to show they were unharmed, sleep over, and then leave the next morning.

“Walking to the resort, we were torn between hope for freedom and fear that they would suddenly reappear to kill us,” said Gumanao.

“Our knees were trembling, we could hardly walk,” said Dayoha.

The couple checked in, ordered food as they had been deprived of meals for an entire day, but searched for their gadgets and immediately notified their families, asking to be rescued.

“We did not dare leave the place,” said Gumanao.

They spent the night sleeping in shifts, still worried about men barging into their rooms.

The following day, early on January 16, as parents and friends and fellow advocates arrived to fetch them, Gumanao said she wanted to scream, partly in anger but largely in gratitude.

“Of course, we could not immediately go public; we were still recovering. We were still shaken,” said Dayoha.

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In a fit of anger, the artist challenged police officials who questioned why they had not immediately showed up for the probe.

“Our parents have been following this up. Even government agencies have been following this up. You all know that,” Dayoha said in Bisaya, without giving details of those who had worked for their release.

“Those should be important parts of the probe. That was part of the help we got. People and agencies whose reports clearly showed something illegal had happened,” he said.

People should not allow a change of narrative, Dayoha stressed.

He was responding to statements attributed to Cebu City Police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Maria Theresa Macatangay.

Macatangay had challenged the two activists to “cooperate,” at one point chiding them for their silence and saying in Bisaya, “They are the ones who started all these.”

“Here are the clear facts. We were abducted, and we were abducted because we are activists,” said Dayoha. “Because we are development workers, teachers, unionists. This is what we should ask. Just because we are activists, are we legitimate targets?”

Addressing the Cebu City and provincial governments, Dayoha said: “This happened during the Sinulog. In public. In daylight. So we should be asking, if something like this can happen, is Cebu still safe?”

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