When Atty. Augusto "Jake" Almeda-Lopez pleaded to congressmen early last week—“Can you give me another two minutes? You know we are fighting for our lives,” you know he wasn't just any barong-wearing rep from the offices in Mother Ignacia. Atty. Jake, as our story yesterday began to prove, has been instrumental in the shaping of ABS-CBN, the company whose franchise he was fighting for June 17 last week, since the 60s. Through the years, he's held many posts in the network, and was considered, by the late Geny Lopez no less, the soul of the company. His life also happens to be so intertwined with Geny, whose escape from incarceration under Martial Law, Atty. Jake helped orchestrate. That story is told here in great detail, as well as the events that led to it, topmost being the closure of ABS-CBN in 1972 just after Martial Law was declared.
Just like Geny, the 1,200 ABS-CBN staff and 800 talents were all distraught over the loss of the network. Jun Jison recalled: "It was as if you had lost everything. It was like dying."
Some of the older ABS-CBN veterans were overcome at the sight of the Broadcast Center in the hands of the military. One executive said: “One friend and colleague of mine went home that night and cried and cried.”
The then young sales executive and future network CEO, Freddie Garcia, recalled: "We felt like we had lost a part of our family. The ABS-CBN people were very close. And we were always there [at the Now Restaurant] every morning trying to find out what was new, hoping that the network would be reopened any day. So it went on for months. But the network was never reopened. It was as if we had been orphaned."
Nida Blanca said: "ABS-CBN was like our home. Then they closed all the channels and there was only Channel 9 on the air. Ang bigat. And so a few months after martial law [was declared], when I came back inside ABS for the first time and saw what they had done to it, how dirty the place was, how our old dressing room looked, I cried. Ang sakit talaga.”
For the next few weeks, the vigil at the Now Restaurant went on, as part-get-together, part-wake. The membership of this group shifted a lot, but at one point or another it included most of the big names in Philippine television: talents like Nida Blanca, Dolphy and Ariel Ureta; production heads like Ben Aniceto, George Gaddi and Jimmy Navarro; directors like Maria Montelibano and Mitos Villareal.
Others couldn't even bear to be present. Newsman Boo Chanco recalled: "My sister woke me up that Saturday morning and said there was nothing on radio and TV and that it was martial law. I was in shock. I had no inkling. I was depressed for four months; nobody could talk to me. I was only 22. You feel on top of everything and then the following day there was nothing! You had a glorious career in front of you and all of a sudden you were starting from minus one. I didn't go to the Now Restaurant, I didn't want to go anywhere near the area because it was very traumatic.”
Vilma Santos recalled: "After a few days, our group from ‘D’Sensations’ met. We were most worried about our staff members who lost their jobs. They depended on a weekly income to survive. We talked mostly about that: Saan tayo kukuha ng income? Gaano kaya katagal ito? We didn't know."
Lito Balquiedra said: "Everybody was depressed. We were seeing tyranny in action. To think that in 1969 everybody at ABS-CBN was working his ass off like crazy campaigning for Marcos because Fernando Lopez was the vice president. Wala rin. And then there we were—the target.”
Orly Punzalan said: "It was so sad for us to see all we had worked for now in the hands of someone else. Those were the days. We felt that as far as broadcast is concerned, this place was a paradise."
Those first few days of waiting at the Now Restaurant also became a time for ABS-CBN employees to undergo impromptu haircuts and car makeovers. Rumors spread that the military imposed a ban on car tints and long hair, and that the Metrocom would arrest all who did not comply. Banning car tints made some kind of operational sense, since clear windows made the job of running Philippine Constabulary checkpoints much easier. But banning long hair was a symbolic act for the military—a stamping out of youthful rebelliousness at a follicular level. Army barbers stood by at military camps to shear anyone unlucky enough to get caught. Edmundo "Butch" Nolasco Jr., then 22, and the EP of Wansapanataym and The Wow Generation, had worn his hair down to his shoulders. Ading Fernando told him: "Butch, magpagupit ka na." A friend quickly cropped his hair to a length more acceptable to the military.
The network's engineers had also gotten used to carrying guns since 1969 because of some muggings outside the Broadcast Center. With the gun ban in effect, they left their handguns at home, buried deep in closets; some surrendered them to the military a few weeks later when a PC drive against loose firearms began.
The news reporters wondered how thoroughly the military would search their desks and lockers in the Broadcast Center. They worried what the military would make of all the "subversive" materials in their lockers, such as Quotations from Chairman Mao and materials on CPP-NPA. Boo Chanco was particularly worried because his locker held one of the most infamous items of contraband in pre-martial law Manila: a copy of the infamous Dovey Beams tape, which recorded President Marcos singing "Pamulinawen" to his mistress and having sex with her. It would be the simplest of things for the military to rig subversion charges against the reporters with "evidence" like this. After all, scores of their brethren were already incarcerated in Camp Crame for doing nothing more objectionable than telling the truth.
But the worried reporters gave the military too much credit for accused thoroughness. No one from ABS-CBN was ever arrested on the basis of what was found in his locker. It seems that the soldiers were more interested in money and guns, and these promptly disappeared once found.
But ABS-CBN veterans did feel some heat from the regime in the area of finding new employment. Freddie Garcia said: "We could not get a job in Philippine broadcasting, as long as we were from ABS-CBN. To get a job, first we had to clear ourselves with Tatad. We had to secure a security clearance from him before we could work anywhere. Or else nobody would touch us." It was a measure that helped ensure that anyone who worked in broadcasting would be inclined to render at least lip service to the ideas of the New Society.
As the network employees settled in for a long, uncertain wait outside the Broadcast Center, Cady Carandang raised a problem with Jake: without some maintenance and regular use, the Bohol Avenue complex's P56 million worth of broadcast equipment would soon malfunction. Even if Geny and Jake did manage to secure permission to broadcast again in a few months, it would become academic; the network would be physically unable to resume operations.
Jake managed to convince the military to allow a few technicians inside the station just for equipment maintenance and testing. He assigned the task to Mako Elizan and a few of his assistants. Mako said: "For me, this was the saddest job I ever had—warming up the equipment for a network with no broadcasts."
But it was the kind of work that inspired some hope. Geny was also acting out of hope when he paid his ABS-CBN staff's salaries for five more weeks after the imposition of martial law, even though ABS-CBN had no revenue. He dug into the company's dwindling cash reserves, as well as into the Lopez family's own money. An eternal optimist, he continued to hope. He had spent 16 years of his life building his network; something in him found it hard to accept that it had to die. But by the end of October, Geny had to face reality. The network ended 1972 with a loss of P11.78 million. He was forced to terminate the services of all 1,200 broadcast employees and shut down his company. He agreed to give each employee separation pay amounting to a month's salary for every year of service. The entire package totaled P9.8 million, a considerable sum for a network with P69 million in debt and no income. Times were so hard Geny could not pay everybody. In 1984, there were still 280 employees who had not been paid – a total of P 1.109 million in benefits was due them. Administration chief Ben Pambuan gave the rank file first priority in the payments; the senior executives, he reasoned, would be able to hold out a little longer.
A number of executives, including Jake Lopez, Tits Tañada and George Gaddi, didn't take the loss of ABS-CBN sitting down. They started trying to organize opposition to the regime. The three felt compelled to protest what had been done to their country, their network and their friend. On December 10, 1973, all three were arrested for subversion. Jake was singled out for interrogation by Maj. Rolando Abadilla, the Marcos henchman with a reputation for torture and summary executions. He had personally shut down ABS-CBN in September 1972. Jake refused to tell Abadilla anything, and the major eventually lost his temper. Abadilla was blunt: "You want to be tough, okay. Go ahead. But you know, you had better talk, because I'll stake my life, my career and profession that you will talk. So before you get hurt, you'd better talk." Only the intervention of more senior military officers had gotten Jake out of Abadilla's hands and into safer quarters. Jake, George and Tits were held in a military prison for a year.
Geny Lopez was accused of participating in eight attempts to kill the president of the Philippines. Marcos charged that Geny had prepared a force of 300 men to take over Malacañang and hired foreign mercenaries for an assassination attempt.
On November 18, 1974 (after 2 years of imprisonment) Geny and Serge began their hunger strike. His statement said in part: “I am going on hunger strike to focus attention on the plight and suffering of thousands of detainees like me, who have languished in jail for months and years without even being informed of the charges against them. This is the only way to obtain justice for all of us. I am innocent, but under the circumstances, I cannot expect a fair trial either in military or in civilian courts. I will fast until I am released. If my pleas for justice are not heeded, I am ready to die.”
Caught off-guard by the hunger strike, the dictator was badly flustered. This was the first such strike he had ever had to deal with.
On November 26, 1974, Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile called Chita Lopez and Marilita Osmeña and summoned them to Malacañang to meet the president.
In a meeting afterward, Enrile promised Chita and Marilita that the demands of Geny and Serge would be met.
On the evening of December 11, 1974 Marcos appeared on television to announce that 622 political detainees were to be released as an act of clemency.
As for Geny and Serge, Marcos insisted again that the two were guilty of “participating in a series of eight attempts to kill the president of the Philippines.” Marcos also refused to acknowledge that any agreement had been made for the release of the hunger strikers. According to him, Geny and Serge “broke their fast when confronted with the evidence against them.”
Now there could be no release. Geny said: "I felt so betrayed. But then, Marcos was the king. His word was law. And whatever he wanted, nobody could contradict. There was no court for any redress, so that was the end of it.”
Serge said: "The double-cross had started happening by then. After the hunger strike, Marcos called for a reinvestigation of our case, which they dragged out so that it took years. The hearings were held only once a month, so, of course, it took so long.” Marcos needed the propaganda value of having some legal proceeding against the two men, so that he could say that their detention was neither arbitrary nor illegal. If the legal proceeding took a very long time, then so much the better for the regime.
Geny and Serge had one major consolation. On December 12, 1974, the day after Marcos's speech, Jake Almeda Lopez, Tits Tañada and George Gaddi were released from Camp Crame. On that same day, 619 others were released from various military camps. A week later, another 454 detainees were released, so that there were 1,076 in all.
In the larger scheme of things, of course, the release of political prisoners from Marcos's jails still had a long way to go; at the beginning of 1975, there were still 4,553 left. But Serge said: "That was euphoric for me, finding out that they had released 1,076 political prisoners. First, it was a propaganda victory for us, and second, we showed that we could make them back down. We were still in jail, of course, but at least we had shown people that we can earn a few victories. And then we could build on that."
Geny and Serge were held in Veterans Memorial under heavy guard until May 6, 1975, and then they were moved back to their quarters in Fort Bonifacio. Marcos arranged for them to be tried in a military, not a civilian, court, contrary to his own announcement on television.
By 1976, it became clear that if Lopez or ABS-CBN would ever be free again, they would have to take their fate into their own hands; the dictator would never let them go.
Shortly after Don Eugenio's death in 1975, Geny Lopez and Serge Osmeña began planning to escape. Before then, Geny had thought of making an escape attempt from time to time, but he soon dismissed it. He was worried that even if he did succeed, Marcos would retaliate against his family. Geny realized that he was willing to trade his freedom for the safety of his family. He said: "If in the process, I as an individual suffered, I was perfectly willing to accept this."
But after three years in prison, Geny decided he was not going to let Marcos have the power of life and death over him. Fortunately, in 1976, the regime began to allow the two prisoners to have occasional overnight passes to Geny's home in Forbes Park or to Don Eugenio's old home in Paranaque, albeit under heavy guard. Geny and Serge saw their chance. Breaking out from Fort Bonifacio would be very difficult. Their best chance was to do it from somewhere outside the camp, when they had an overnight pass. At night, the guards would leave them alone until morning.
Serge said: "If we could stay overnight and then break out, that was the lead time we were looking for." If the escape was not discovered until morning, by then both men would be far away. They set the attempt for September 15, 1976, Geny’s 25th wedding anniversary, since he anticipated that he and Serge would be allowed to spend that night in Don Eugenio's home in Parañaque.
Geny said: "Jake and Chita had a hole dug from beneath my father's closet to the outside. Underneath the house, there was about a meter of open space; the house was built a little off the ground. This man of Jake's also drilled a hole in the cement floor of the room where Serge was staying. It was covered by a carpet. So [Serge and I] could meet under the house, and this man of Jake's dug a hole from there to the adjacent lot."
At that lot, a car would be waiting to take them to the nearby airport. Geny’s brother-in-law Steve Psinakis found a pilot, a Greek-American named Tom Pappas, who had a Learjet 23 available for charter flights and was willing to do the job. The price was nearly half a million dollars. Presy and Steve sold some jewelry and other assets to finance the flight.
By late August 1976, the preparations were set. Serge recalled: “Everything was going smoothly. The tunnel was done, the Learjet was contracted, all we were doing was waiting for September 15."
And then it all went awry. Serge said: "Around August 22, this soldier came into our quarters. Geny and I were talking in his room. The soldier said: ‘Sir canceled po lahat ang home visits ninyo (All of your home visits have been canceled)." The home visits had been arbitrarily stopped by Gen. Fabian Ver. They were never resumed. Geny and Serge would never be able to escape that way.
So, on September 15, 1976, instead of an escape, there was a small, glum party in Campos Hall in Fort Bonifacio to mark Geny and Chita's 25th wedding anniversary. Jake recalled: "We were all drinking. We were about 15 to 20 people in all." Geny and Serge were depressed about still being in prison on a day they had hoped to be free. The party ended at around 8 P.M. Jake got up to go. He held out his hand to Geny and said: "Happy 25th anniversary."
With that, Geny broke down and began to weep. He hugged Jake and told him: "Huwag mo akong pabayaan, Jake. I can't take it. You've got to get me out of here."
Jake was on the verge of breaking down himself, but he managed to say: "I swear to you, Geny, I'll get you out of here."
The new plan
Jake took his vow to Geny seriously. Jake said: "Geny's hunger strike was the reason I was released in December 1974. So I felt I was just paying him back for the favor."
Chita Lopez recalled: "That was really eating Jake up—the fact that Geny was still in prison. His first priority was to get him out. He felt that he could not stand idly by and just do nothing about Geny or about the martial-law regime. He felt that, if his children asked him in later years what he did against Marcos, he would be ashamed if he had to answer: “Nothing."
But the escape plans had to be put on hold for a while. Then, on April 1977, Easter Sunday Geny and Serge were allowed to have a small party in Campos Hall. This feast of Christ's Resurrection turned out to be the resurrection of the escape plans. By 3 P.M., Geny, Serge and Jake agreed to mount another attempt. Since the home visits had been stopped permanently, Geny and Serge had to find a way to break out of Fort Bonifacio. That meant escaping from a prison cell made of reinforced concrete and windows with bars. Even if they got outside, they would have to cross a brightly lit prison compound complete with guard towers, searchlights and barbed wire, and then hike for miles through a large Army camp.
Geny, Jake and Serge pinpointed the three key problems: first, how to get out of their cells and the prison camp; second, how to get from the perimeter of Fort Bonifacio to an airfield, and, third, how to get from the Philippines to the United States. Geny and Serge had to deal with Problem 1; Jake would take care of Problem 2; and Steve Psinakis would handle Problem 3.
The initial core group numbered six: Geny, Serge, Chita, Jake, Steve and Presy. At Geny's urging, two more were added: his sons Gabby, then 25, and Raffy, 20. Gabby had just begun his business career, working as a finance officer in the investment firm Bancom. Raffy was still in college. Jake at first argued against including the two young men.
He said: "My thinking was that a detainee has little to lose and much to gain. But Geny's sons were young, out in the open, and with promising futures. They had their whole lives in front of them. Geny's point was that before even asking me for help, he was bound to ask his sons also. Moreover, he felt that with them in the group, the chances of success were much higher. When we raised the question of the escape to them, they agreed happily and eagerly."
At that point, Gabby and Raffy were typical of their 1970s generation—long-haired young men with a lighthearted, fun-loving attitude toward life. Nothing in their lives had prepared them for the task of the escape. In many ways, Gabby and Raffy were a lot like Serge before his arrest. And like Serge, the two Young Lopezes would mature in the process of their involvement, becoming more serious, deliberate and methodical.
Gabby joined in the escape plans without any second thoughts. He said: "I don't think I ever gave any thought to failing or getting caught or getting shot. It was just something we were going to do. I didn't think that we had, say, a 50% chance of succeeding. It's useless to think that way. We were just going to do it. Maybe I was too young to really consider the danger—to be really afraid. I think when you’re young, you have the tendency to discount all of these dangers and you think you can do everything.”
Jake recalled: “From there we started planning it. The security of Bonifacio was not weak, but the military became very complacent. After all, Geny and Serge had been in detention for five years. So the military was not expecting anything; their security had become very routine.” That was the edge the group would exploit.
Steve got a pilot to fly Geny and Serge out: Reuven Jerzy, an Israeli fighter pilot who had met Serge years earlier. Reuven, 33, and a veteran of 1967 Six-Day War, was used to danger. He was now an American citizen flying charters in Los Angeles. He agreed to fly a group of five--Geny, Serge, Jake, Raffy and Gabby – from an airstrip in Lingayen to Kai Tak Airport in Hong Kong. Steve bought the plane he would use, a Cessna 320 Skyknight, a six-seater, twin engine. Once the group got to Kai Tak Airport, Steve would meet them in the-transit lounge with tickets for JAL Flight 062 from Hong Kong to Los Angeles via Tokyo. Steve also devised a simple ruse that would allow Geny and Serge to get on the JAL flight even though they did not have valid passports. Once in the US, Geny and Serge would apply for and expect to get political asylum, and there they would wait in exile until the Marcos dictatorship fell.
How would Geny and Serge get to Lingayen and the Cessna? Over the next few months, Jake, Gabby and Raffy Lopez tackled this problem. They reconnoitered the area around the Fort, taking pictures and making a map so that Geny and Serge could pick the best exit route.
On the night of the escape, Raffy and Gabby would drive a rented car with a large trunk to the outskirts of the Fort; two young men out late at night would have an easier time explaining themselves to suspicious lawmen or Army troops. Gabby and Raffy would drive inside the Fort and leave a large can with a walkie-talkie at a prearranged spot inside the barbed wire fence. Then they would wait just outside the Fort. Once Geny and Serge got out of the prison camp and hiked to the can, they would use the walkie-talkie to alert the two. Gabby and Raffy would drive in, stuff the two men in the trunk, and drive out. They would go meet Jake, who would alert Reuven Jerzy, who would be waiting at the Philippine Village Hotel, right next to the Manila international airport. Then Geny, Serge, Jake, Gabby and Raffy would leave Manila and arrive in Lingayen about two hours later. Reuven would pick them up there at around 7 A.M—if all went well.
That left only Problem 1: how to break out of the cells and the camp. Geny and Serge took several months to figure it out. During visiting days, Chita, Raffy and Gabby smuggled in cutting tools such as a chisel, wire cutters and a knife, plus camouflage suits for Geny and Serge. Serge initially intended to cut a way out through the ceiling of their cells and then out to the other side, but he found that impossible. Here, they were stalled in the planning for months. Then in late August 1977 came the breakthrough.
One night at around 7 P.M., Serge was outside his cell; the guard had not yet come to lock him and Geny in their cells for the night. There was nowhere for him to go anyway; their cells were surrounded by eight-foot-high barbed wire.
On the other side of the fence were other cells, and Serge struck up a conversation with a prisoner next door. The two men could hear but not see each other. The prisoner on the other side was George Cabardo, the one man to have ever escaped from the Fort, back in 1974. Cabardo was secretary-general of the Communist Party of the Philippines for Eastern Visayas. He was persuaded to surrender in 1975 in exchange for his wife's freedom.
Serge had no idea how George had done it, and now found his chance to ask.
"Don't you know?" George laughed. "The iron bars in the window of my bathroom were not secure. The iron frame of the bars is fixed to a wooden frame by nails. The nails are not embedded in cement, just wood. So I just worked the nails loose. Binunot ko lang. And then when I got out, I replaced the bars and the nails, so they could not tell how I did it.”
Serge knew that all the cells in their prison block were similarly constructed, so this tactic might just work for him and Geny. He went to Geny's bathroom, chose a nail, and went to work with a knife. The four-inch nail had been pounded flush against the iron frame, so he had a difficult time, banging and bruising his knuckles. After four hours, Serge held the nail aloft, and he and Geny laughed out loud. They loosened the nails holding the bars in place one by one and then replaced them in the iron frame so that the guards would not notice anything amiss.
On September 27, 1977, Reuven Jerzy arrived in Manila with his Cessna 320 and booked himself at the Philippine Village Hotel. Steve Psinakis waited at the Hong Kong Hyatt Regency. Everything was set.
On September 30, 1977, the prison break began.
Geny said: "That night at 9, Serge and I donned our camouflage suits, went into my bathroom and took off the iron grills welded to a steel frame. After the iron bars were removed, the six glass louvers were next. Then we cut out the wire screen behind the louvers. I went out first, Serge followed. Serge then pulled the steel frame back in place, using a rope he had looped over the shower head, using the shower head as a pulley. We started replacing the louvers, but stopped at five out of six because wedging the last one back into place was making a lot of noise. We also reattached the screen with masking tape."
Only 20 minutes had elapsed. Geny said: "We just looked at each other for a while, and we felt: ‘Yeah, this is it, we were on our way.’ Of course, we also had to contain ourselves, because we still had a long way to go."
They crawled slowly, through ditches, past guard towers and fences, some 20 meters. Then they ran into an unexpected problem: a sentry sat at a spot where they did not expect him to be, only 15 feet from the route they had to take to get to the perimeter fence. If they went ahead, they would be easily visible in the moonlight.
Geny and Serge decided to wait for the guard to leave or be relieved. But by 1 A.M., the guard was still there, wide awake. They decided they just had to take their chances or abort the escape, but they had gone too far to go back now.
Geny said: 'Well, Serge, I think we have to go.' So I went ahead and started crawling in the ditch, moving a few inches every five seconds. I tried to breathe very very slowly."
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To calm down, Geny started to recite in his mind words he used in meditation: "While I was crawling past the guard, I was repeating the words, ‘My Lord and my God.' I say that many times during the day, especially when I was in prison. It helps to clear your mind. It's a source of strength, which reaffirms the power of our Lord. It reminds you that if He is your Lord, He will not let you down."
As he moved along the ditch, the water soaking his clothes, Geny felt a sudden sting of cold on his chest. He realized that the water in the ditch had chilled a small brass container he wore on a chain around his neck. The container held three communion wafers given to him by his wife. Geny said: "Chita gave that to me. Serge and I were not allowed to attend Mass regularly; they would not let us attend the services. But my wife brought us the Holy Sacrament every week. And that's how we were able to keep receiving Holy Communion during our prison life."
As he felt the brass container on his chest, Geny said to himself. "Perhaps the Lord is reminding me of his presence:' That renewed his confidence and controlling crawling with fresh strength.
Behind him, Serge waited anxiously. He could see Geny clearly in the bright moonlight. If the sentry spotted Geny, Serge was ready to hit him with the wire cutters and make a run for it. But the sentry remained oblivious to the movement only a few feet to his right. Serge waited to begin his crawl until he was sure that Geny was no longer visible to the sentry, and that took 30 minutes.
Serge was not a devout man but he, too, began to pray now: "Mary, Mother of God, protect me." He recalled: "Then I could see and hear Her in my mind, saying: Just a little bit more. Just a little bit more. Just trust me: "With that, Serge began to grow calmer.
By 2 am., the two men had reached the barbed-wire fence. They put the cutters smuggled in by Gabby to work. In an instant, they were outside prison, although still inside Fort Bonifacio. They began hiking toward the can and walkie-talkie left by Gabby and Raffy.
Gabby and Raffy Lopez were waiting just outside Fort Bonifacio. They expected the two escapees to call them by 10 or 11 P.M.; by 1 A.M., two young Lopezes had grown frantic. Gabby said: "We were getting desperate. Both of us felt afraid something might have gone wrong. We didn't know if they had been caught, if they had gotten lost in the fields, or whatever. We didn't know.”
Raffy said: "By 1 A.M., Gabby and I were going crazy from waiting. We should have heard from my dad by then. I told Gabby: `I think now is the time to pray.' I kept saying into the walkie-talkie: Batukada, this is Prelude, come in.’ I said that over and over. But there was no response."
Nearly two hours later, Raffy gave up on the walkie-talkie. He said to Gabby, "The hell with it. Let's go straight to the wall and wait." Gabby turned the key in the Toyota's ignition and headed for the Fort. Two minutes later, they were there, at the low wall where their dad and Serge were supposed to go. Gabby switched off the engine and turned off the lights. Raffy got off, crossed over to the other side and began looking for his father. He lit a cigarette lighter and waved it in the air, hoping his father would see it.
Geny and Serge spotted a figure in the dark ahead of them. Geny said: "We saw somebody use a lighter, and we thought: Uh-oh, this is it. Who could it be?' It had to be a sentry or a soldier at that time in the morning." Geny and Serge ducked and began to edge away from the man they thought was a sentry. But then Raffy called out to them: "Dad, let's get the hell out of here."
Geny said: "I heard him and I said, 'That's Raffy.' So he led the way. We ran toward the car, where Gabby was waiting. Serge and I got into the trunk of the car, and he and Raffy were in front."
In the trunk, the two men started to laugh and congratulate one another – so jubilantly that Gabby stopped the car and shouted, "Hey, shut up!" They still had to get past the sentry at the Fort Bonifacio gate. The sentry, seeing nothing amiss, let Gabby and Raffy through. The car proceeded on to a dark deserted driveway on McKinley Road, where Serge and Geny got out. Geny embraced his sons and then the two fugitives transferred to the back seat. The red Toyota headed for Jake and the Urdaneta Apartments in Ayala Avenue, only a couple of minutes away.
On the 11th floor of the apartments, Jake had been sitting in front of a window with a clear view of the parking lot since 10 P.M. He did not budge from that spot for five-and-a-half hours. He had eaten dinner at that spot and seen countless red cars without stopping. Jake said: "I was waiting, waiting, waiting....Then at around 3:40 A.M., I had to go to the bathroom I was gone only a minute at most. When I came back, that red car was in the parking lot. I couldn't believe it.”
Jake was so flustered at the sight that he had a hard time finding the switch to turn off the lights in the apartment. Once he got downstairs, he momentarily thought that he had lost the keys to the second car, a white Ford. Jake said: "I had to tell myself: ‘Keep cool, keep cool!"
Geny and Gabby got off the Toyota and joined Jake in the Ford. The old friends were elated to see each other, but they had no time to waste.
Jake led the way to the Chronicle Building about 10 minutes away. Jake called Geny's former secretary, Mitos Santisteban, who would alert Reuven Jerzy. By 4 A.M. the five men left the Chronicle Building for Lingayen.
At 6:30 A.M., the group arrived at the airstrip at Lingayen. They settled down to wait. By 7:30 A.M., there was still no sign of the blue and white Cessna. The minutes ticked by. Jake began to wonder if Reuven had not gotten the word, or if he had been arrested by the military.
Then at 7:45 A.M., the five men heard the faint sound of an aircraft engine approaching. A light plane came into view. It was flying so high that it seemed as if it did not intend to land. And then it suddenly made a banking turn and dove. When it made the turn, Serge and Gabby could see it clearly: the blue and white Cessna Skyknight 320. No sight was ever more welcome to the men. Gabby began to shout: "That's it! That's it!"
Reuven circled the field and landed. Geny said: "The plane was taxiing to where we were .We didn't wait, we all just ran to meet the plane, and [Reuven] didn't even have to cut the engine. We got onboard very quickly. And as the plane lifted off, all of us just shouted in relief and from happiness:'
Serge said: "For me, that was the highest point, when we took off. Gabby was clapping. All of us were going:`YEEEEYYY! That was great.”
Gabby said: "We were screaming. I think I got hoarse from all the screaming. It was a feeling of euphoria at being able to get out.”
As the Cessna Skynight headed north for Hong Kong, Steve Psinakis was waiting for it anxiously at Kai Tak Airport. At exactly 10:40 A.M., Steve saw a blue and white Cessna land and taxi toward the terminal. "Beautiful:' he muttered under his breath. He watched the plane come to a stop and the six men get off.
Reuven acted as go-between, bringing the tickets and boarding passes from Steve to Geny, Serge, Jake, Gabby and Raffy. The five men rode up an escalator to the boarding gate. At the top of the escalator, Steve watched them coolly. He felt overjoyed to see them, but his expression betrayed nothing.
He said: "I didn't even greet them. I thought they would just walk by me and head for the gate. But Geny didn't hold back his emotions. He started laughing and kidding me. The two boys, Gabby and Raffy, hugged me. I had to tell them to keep quiet and keep going. We walked toward Gate 24, where we waited for half an hour until they called our flight. We just walked in the gate, gave our passes and sat down in the first-class section of the plane. Once we were in and the plane's doors were closed, that was the first time I felt safe. That was when I embraced Geny."
JAL Flight 062 for Los Angeles took off as scheduled, at 2:50 PM. As the plane headed northwest for its Tokyo stopover, the six men got up and went upstairs to the lounge of the 747 to celebrate. In Tokyo, there was an unexpected security check, but Steve Psinakis was able to bluff his way past it.
Geny said later: "A million things could have gone wrong the night we escaped, and yet that evening everything just fell into place. Everything worked perfectly, perfectly."
At 3:00 P.M. the following day, the JAL 747 landed in Los Angeles. Geny and Serge got off the plane, finally free again, after five long years. Geny, Serge, Jake and Raffy applied and were granted asylum.
In a press conference on October 3, 1977, Geny and Serge vowed to continue their struggle to restore democracy and human rights in the Philippines. Geny said: "While I am breathing the heady air of freedom, I am not really free as long as my people continue in bondage. For freedom is indivisible." In the months and years to come, Geny, Serge, Jake and Steve became very active in the anti-Marcos opposition in the US. To try to mitigate the embarrassment of the escape, the Marcos government decided not to contest the attempt by families of Geny and Jake to join them in the United States. The government decided to spread a rumor that Geny and Serge had been allowed to escape by the military. Geny was amused by this, but the important thing was that this allowed his family to join him.
On November 24, Thanksgiving Day 1977, Chita Lopez, Aida Lopez and their children arrived in Los Angeles. Geny and Jake were there to meet them. Geny said: "That was again an act of providence that our families were able to join us. And that was so significant—that our families were reunited on Thanksgiving Day. We all had our Thanksgiving dinner that evening. It was so significant that it would happen on that particular day. We had nothing but thanksgiving in our hearts.”
Excerpted from the book Kapitan published in 2006 and authored by Raul Rodrigo