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De Lima recounts 'near-death' hostage-taking incident

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Former Sen. Leila de Lima recounted how she was briefly held hostage on Sunday, describing the incident as a “near death experience" which made her value life even more.


The Philippine National Police (PNP) earlier confirmed that three persons under police custody attempted to escape the custodial center while breakfast was being served Sunday morning. One of them, identified as Feliciano Sulayao Jr., took the former senator hostage.


Based on the initial report, Sulayao and his companions Arnel Cabintoy, and Idang Susukan stabbed PCpl. Roger Agustin while they were trying to escape. Another officer fired towards them, hitting Cabintoy and Susukan. At the time, Sulayao was already fleeing towards the direction of De Lima's cell.


In a sworn statement, the 63-year-old former senator shared how the event transpired at around 6:40 a.m., while she was quietly praying the rosary in her detention cell. She said the hostage-taker — later identified as Sulayao — entered and took her hostage while pressing a sharp object against her chest.


"Sinabihan ako na 'ma'am, patay na ang dalawang kasamahan ko kaya kailangan mo sumama sa akin kasi papatayin din ako," De Lima recounted, adding that the inmate eventually tied her hands behind her back and dragged her out of her compound.


[Translation: I was told, 'ma'am, both of my companions are already dead, so you need to come with me because I will get killed, too.]


When the hostage-taker saw that the main outer gate was closed, De Lima said she was dragged back to her cell where she was shoved, blindfolded, and her feet bound with towels.


The hostage-taker also commanded De Lima to ask the police for a Hummer, and a C-130 to take them to Sulu. He also asked for a cellphone and said he wanted to be covered by the media.


He also voiced complaints, de Lima said, including how they were supposedly being treated like animals and fed like pigs.


De Lima said after a while, he could hear voices approaching the compound, including a police director — later identified as PCol. Mark Pespes — who tried to negotiate with Sulayao. The officer tried to assure the latter that his companions were still alive and were talking to the media, but Sulayao wanted proof of life.


At around 7:00 a.m., Sulayao warned that if his demands were not met, he and De Lima will both be dead in 30 minutes.


"Sigaw siya ng sigaw na kailangan niya ng media at nung wala pa, sinabi niya, ito na po ma'am, oras na mamatay na tayo and then he started praying in Islam," the former senator shared, adding that she also started praying, uttering mentally: "Dear Lord, bahala na po kayo (I leave it up to you)."


[Translation: He was shouting and kept demanding that he wanted the media, and when nothing was happening, he said, 'Ma'am, it's time, we will die,' and then he started praying in Islam.]


Sulayao then asked for some water, but a few seconds ensued, then De Lima heard around three to four successive gunshots. She said that she could feel that she was being brought out of her cell while still blindfolded.


Later, she found out that her hostage-taker was dead.


PNP Chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr. said Sulayao, Cabintoy, and Susukan were members of the Abu Sayyaf Group.


'A near-death experience'

"I consider what happened to me as a near-death experience,” De Lima said in her other statement. “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.”


De Lima expressed gratitude to those who extended their concerns and assured them that she is now safe. She also asked for prayers for the quick recovery of the injured policeman.


“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. Please also pray for the injured police officer who, like me, was the other but more unfortunate victim of this incident. While I have survived with only a knife mark and some considerable distress, he is still fighting for his life,” she said.


Following the hostage-taking incident, Interior Secretary Benjamin “Benhur” Abalos Jr. said the PNP will review protocols concerning detainees in the custodial center.


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