5 cops, 5 civilians rescued from the war zone after 22 days.
Saipoding blinked rapidly once or twice. He fidgeted for a moment, unsure of what he had just heard.
Since he was turned away by soldiers at the checkpoint, Saipoding decided to stay at the capitol complex. Day in and day out, he would sit in a corner, just waiting for news. He’d beg for any updates about his wife, Geraldine, who was still trapped in their house in Brgy. Moncado Kadingilan.
Sometimes, he would walk aimlessly around: maybe, just maybe, talking to strangers might prove useful in his attempt to cross the war zone. But no one was allowed in. With bullets reaching even the safest of safe zones in Marawi, it was impossible for any civilian to be let inside the war zone.
At the capitol, he stayed. At least there, he could wait for news.
So, Saipoding waited – 16, 17, 18 days. It felt like he was in limbo.
It had more than week since he last heard from his wife. He didn’t know if she was dead from the gunshot wound or if she was still alive, waiting for him too.
"Walang nagsasabi po sa akin na buhay siya. Lahat ng ano sa akin, wala na 'yung misis mo, baka patay na. Ako naman, malakas ang loob ko. Nararamdaman ko buhay ko siya."
Nineteen, 20, 21 days. Still no word
Saipoding would often think about the first time he met Geraldine, 24 years ago, on the busy streets of Manila. He was a security guard for a pawnshop at Paco district. She sold clothes in a tiny stall a few blocks away. He thought that Geraldine was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
He would ask her to meet him at Delpan in the afternoon so they could get to know each other. Day in and day out, Saipoding would ask Geraldine to be his.
It took three years before she gave that elusive "yes."
"Nahirapan ako sa kanya manligaw. Siyempre kinikilatis niya ako. Baka mamaya makuha ko na raw siya sa mga sinasabi ko na forever-forever ta’s iiwan ko lang siya. Sabi ko sa kanya, hindi kita iiwan kahit anong mangyari."
Saipoding thought of that moment over and over again as he waited by the capitol building. He waited for three years for Geraldine before. Certainly, he thought, he could wait for her again.
News of the policemen’s escape gave him another shot of much-needed hope. If they made it out alive after 22 days, then Geraldine could, too.
Then, finally that night, there was a dispatch: Geraldine was alive.
It was a statement Saipoding had desperately been hoping to hear for so many days.
Scout Rangers found Geraldine, half-conscious and bleeding on the floor of their house. There were several gunshot wounds in her leg, and shrapnel hit her body and head several times.
But Geraldine was alive.
Saipoding rubbed his reddish, sleep-deprived eyes with his palms, as he stood by the glass doors of the small clinic inside the capitol complex. Rescuers were set to bring Geraldine in at any moment.
Ten, 20, 30 minutes passed.
An ambulance arrived. Saipoding held his breath. Finally, he would see Geraldine again.
The ambulance door opened but Geraldine wasn’t there.
Saipoding let out a piercing cry. This was impossible, he thought. The military told him Geraldine had been found. He bawled, wiping away tears from his eyes as frustration creeped in. Where was his wife? What will he tell their seven children?
Ten, 20, 30 minutes still.
Another ambulance arrived. At this point, a crowd had already gathered around Saipoding, curious to see how the story that had unfolded inside the capitol would turn out.
The ambulance doors opened and there she was. It was Geraldine.
Her lips were blue, she could barely move and was a shade or two away from death. But Geraldine was alive.
Her pulse was weak and thready, but Geraldine was alive.
Saipoding put his hand over his wide-open mouth even if no sound was coming out. He rushed to his wife, touching her arm and feeling the coldness on her skin, desperate to still feel life in her body.