‘Near-death experience’: How ex-Sen. Leila de Lima survived a hostage-taking

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 09 2022 09:43 PM | Updated as of Oct 24 2022 08:19 PM

MANILA — After more than five years in detention, it never occurred to detained former Senator Leila de Lima she’ll experience a far worse ordeal — a “near-death experience” at the hands of a fellow detainee.

De Lima was taken hostage on Sunday morning, October 9, inside her detention cell at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center, right in the heart of the police’s national headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City.

In her sworn statement, De Lima said she was praying the rosary at 6:40 am when a man entered her room and pressed an ice pick or screwdriver against her chest. 

“Ma’am, patay na 2 kasamahan ko kaya kailangan mo sumama sa akin kasi papatayin din ako,” the man supposedly said while catching his breath, his eyes staring fiercely.

(Ma’am, my 2 companions are both dead so come with me because they will also kill me.)

The man would later be identified as Feliciano Sulayao, Jr., alleged to be a member of the Dawlah Islamiyah (DI) group associated with the Maute Group that was behind the Marawi Siege in 2017. 

He was arrested on illegal possession of firearms and explosives charges in Quezon City and has a pending arrest warrant for kidnapping issued by a Zamboanga del Norte court, according to the police.

He and 2 other inmates — Idang Susukan and Arnel Cabintoy — had stabbed a police officer in an attempt to escape from the high security detention facility.

Responding policemen killed Susukan, who allegedly had ties to the Abu Sayyaf and was facing kidnapping, murder and frustrated murder charges, and Cabintoy, who was arrested for kidnapping with Sulayao.

Sulayao managed to run towards De Lima’s detention cell although the PNP has yet to explain how.

De Lima said Sulayao tied her hands behind her back and dragged her towards the gate of her compound. 

But upon seeing the maximum security gate closed and a guard pointing his gun at him, Sulayao took De Lima back to her room, where he pushed her to the ground, tied her feet and blindfolded her using towels.

While being hostaged, De Lima said Sulayao told her she was his means to get out. 

He supposedly demanded a Hummer and a C-130 to bring him to Sulu. 

He also asked for a cellphone and demanded media coverage.

De Lima said she tried to convince Sulayao for them go outside because she was, by then, having difficulty breathing and her chest was hurting from the pointed object pressed against her chest.

But he would not budge, saying there were many snipers outside.

According to De Lima, Sulayao complained about the food they were being fed and how they were treated.

“Marami kaming reklamo sa ginagawa sa amin dito, para kaming hayop itrato at ang mga pagkain ay may baboy,” De Lima recalled Sulayao saying. Sulayao was Muslim and pork is forbidden in Islam.

(We have many gripes here with what they’re doing to us. They’re treating us like animals and we’re fed pork.)

De Lima said a police director tried to assure Sulayao that his 2 companions were still alive and were talking to the media but Sulayao wanted proof of life. 

At 7 a.m., Sulayao warned he and De Lima will both be dead by 7:30 a.m. 

“Papatayin lang din naman ako, so, idadamay na kita,” he said.

(They will surely kill me, so will you.)

“Sigaw siya ng sigaw na kailangan niya ng media at nung wala pa, sinabi niya, ‘ito na po Ma’am, oras na, mamamatay na tayo’ and then he started praying in Islam,” De Lima recounted in her affidavit.

(He kept on shouting that he needed media coverage and when there was none, he said, ‘This is it, it’s our time, we will both die,’ and then he started praying in Islam.)

“And then I started praying also quietly. Closed my eyes, and uttered mentally, ‘Dear Lord, Bahala na po kayo (It’s all up to you)’,” she said.

The last thing De Lima remembered, Sulayao asked for water. 

Then she heard 3-4 successive shots. 

She then felt she was being brought out of the room, still blindfolded and hogtied.

She later found out her hostage-taker is dead.

In a statement, De Lima reflected on her ordeal

“After being told by the hostage-taker that since his two other companions were already dead, he’s certain he would also be killed and he might just as well also kill me, I consider what happened to me as a near-death experience,” she said.

“If not for the timely intervention of the PNP security force, I don't think I would have come out alive since the hostage-taker was already determined to die and take me with him,” she added.

She thanked her supporters for the prayers but also asked them to pray for Police Corporal Roger Agustin, who was stabbed by the 3 inmates.

“While I have survived with only a knife mark and some considerable distress, he is still fighting for his life. Let us all pray for his quick recovery,” she said.

“I am now safe and sound except for the lingering pain on my chest where the hostage-taker constantly pressed the point of his knife while holding me hostage,” she added.

Despite her ordeal, the former lawmaker is scheduled to attend a hearing in a Muntinlupa court on Monday afternoon in one of two pending drug cases she is facing.

As news of her hostage ordeal spread on Sunday, her supporters and allies pressed for her release, calling her a victim of trumped up charges and former President Rodrigo Duterte’s personal vendetta for De Lima’s decision to initiate a probe on his bloody drug war.

De Lima has spent more than 5 years in detention and recently celebrated her birthday behind bars.

As witnesses retracted their allegations against her, she lost her reelection bid to the Senate. 

But she has vowed to keep fighting the charges against her.

With her recent hostage ordeal, she faces yet a new challenge — dealing with the trauma.

“While I am still trying to recover psychologically and emotionally from this harrowing experience, I am sure of one thing that I learned from it. Being so near death has only made me value life even more,” she said.


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