MANILA – Veteran broadcast journalist Ces Drilon looked back at her experience under the mercy of Abu Sayyaf members, who kidnapped her in Sulu while she was pursuing a story more than a decade ago.
Drilon was with her cameraman Jimmy Encarnacion and his assistant Angelo Valderama during the nine-day ordeal that happened in 2008.
In an interview with Toni Gonzaga on the latter's vlog, Drilon shared that she only cried once in those nine days, saying she knew she had to stay strong for her crew.
“There was fear but I was responsible for my cameraman and assistant cameraman. I had to get myself together. I had to be strong for them. I was responsible for them. Kung weak ako, mapanghihinaan na rin sila ng loob,” she said.
“I cried once, only once. Nanggaling ako sa ‘banyo’ to answer the call of nature. So binigyan ako ng bolo panghukay ng butas at galon ng tubig at sabon. ‘Punta ka doon, malayo.’ Sabi ko, ‘Ano bang pinasukan ko? My God.’ The gravity of the situation. Bumalik ako umiiyak,” she added.
While they were in dire situation, Drilon said she never lost hope that they would be able to come out alive.
“My strategy was I can get out of this. The only time na I really gave thought na I could die here was yun nga, I wanted a dignified death, but I never entertained the idea na walang hope.”
Although this was her mindset, Drilon confessed to being really scared when they got her phone from her.
“Pumupuslit kasi ako ng text messages. Di ba yung cellphone noon, hindi nabubura yung texts. May mga clues ako na we are in this place, there are 15 caretakers. [I was texting] my family and I think it was Charie [Villa]. Nagpapadala ako ng message tapos talagang kukunin na. Talagang doon ako sobrang natakot. Nanginginig yung kamay ko sa nerbyos na baka makita na nagse-send ako ng texts.”
In the same interview, Drilon also reiterated that she was not raped during the ordeal.
“No [I was not raped], but you know what? I was really upset at that morbid fascination because if I was, are you gonna look at me differently? People would whisper, ‘She was raped.’ The possibility of me being raped was there, yes. Parang fascinated na fascinated ang mga tao. Kung na-rape ako, iba na ang tingin niyo sa akin ngayon? Kasalanan ko ba kung nangyari yun sa akin?”
“I was not, thankfully. That was the second time that I felt that thing in [my stomach na may mabigat na] bumagsak, doon sa inquest in Camp Crame. For the very first time, ni-reveal ni Professor Dinampo na may mga pag-uusap na na parang may isang miyembro doon na may mag-a-attempt,” she recalled.
Turning emotional, Drilon remembered being so angry when their abductors reduced Encarnacion to beg them for his life.
“Galit na galit ako kasi tinali na siya [sa leeg]. But to put him in that situation, this man who is so honorable na he’s begging. Talagang lumuluhod sa kanila na, ‘May mga anak ako.’ Kung ano yung ginawa nila ‘di ba na nagmamakaawa siyang ganun. E napaka-honorable, napakabait. To reduce him to beg, I was so angry.”
When asked what her prayers were at that time, she said: “Strength to accept death, to be given dignity in case. Parang you are just prepared but of course I was always hopeful that we will come out alive.”
Drilon said she felt so bad for putting her family, especially her mom, through that ordeal.
“No words to describe yung feeling when to finally hug my kids again and especially my mom. I remember hugging her so tightly but very conscious na mabaho ako. Naligo ako doon once lang. So ang una una kong gustong gawin was to take a bath.”
Reflecting on her experience, Drilon said her abduction made her realize so many things, but primarily how life is indeed short.
“I felt very guilty because sobra akong dedicated sa trabaho na manonood na lang kami ng sine ng mga anak ko, kapag may tawag na may nangyayaring insidente sa kung saang lupalop, kakanselahin ko yung lakad namin. I felt na really value family and to stop and smell the flowers. You don’t have to chase all these stories. Humility, because I was suspended. Gratitude because so many people that I didn’t know prayed for my safety. I really believe yung power ng prayers saved me.”
“It was an important lesson, one you learn from your mistakes of course, but be more measured, be a little more cautious. Kasi I am such a risk-taker. I have learned to apply that in my life,” she added.
To end the interview, Drilon revealed how she would give a headline to her own life journey.
“Ces Drilon, Unsinkable,” she said.