It was more than 30 minutes of waiting in the car before we were finally allowed into the building.
This was when we visited Senator Leila de Lima several years back to celebrate the Holy Mass with her on the occasion of her birthday.
I was with Father Robert Reyes who was going to preside at the Holy Mass. At the first counter, we were asked to present our identification cards, then this was checked against a list the guards were holding. I presumed that this was the guest list. The three guards in the counter were busy conversing, so even if one was holding my driver’s license it took some time before she nodded her head to confirm that my name was in the list.
A few days before going, I confirmed with the chief of staff of Senator Leila that I was going to visit along with Father Robert. The simple task of checking, which should have taken a few seconds took several minutes.
When I saw the nod, I thought, this was it, we would be allowed to enter. But after entering the door, there was another door with another set of guards. They asked that we leave phones, cameras, and any recording device with them. Thoroughly inspecting our bags, the food and small gifts, which again took some minutes, we were asked if we had other recording devices in our body and were ordered to surrender them as these were not allowed in. Finally phones, cameras, even USBs were left with the guards.
Then, the final check in the next counter/door was a body search behind a makeshift divider. All these security measures took about 25 minutes.
Finally someone led us through short connected corridors, much like a maze, until we were ushered into a small room, where there were guests who arrived before us.
In short, the checking and counter-checking done by the officers was tight and thorough. My impression was that before you could get into the quarters where Senator Leila was, you had to go through several doors, and short corridors, all of which had CCTV cameras positioned such that every angle was covered. Even as Mass was being said and simple snacks were served, I was always mindful of the guards and cameras.
In the few visits to the senator, I experienced the same tight security measures being taken.
Is it therefore not surprising that those of us who have visited the senator speculate on how the hostage-taking could have happened. Although it is true that we came from the outside and the hostage takers came from inside, the fact is that there were CCTV cameras and guards stationed all over.
Reading the statement released by the office of Senator de Lima, we shivered as we thought “what if?” The “what if” is followed by other questions that seek answers now, a week after the hostage-taking happened.
Is the sunning, which according to the news was done by prisoners in a common area, a practice in maximum security detention facilities to allow male and female detainees to mix?
That blood splattered on the senator’s legs tells us how close the hostage taker was to Senator Leila when he was shot. How could he get close to the senator, without the guards, who see even the smallest USB in bags, not be aware of the unnatural movements of people?
That he held her close with a knife pressing on her chest, both his hands were full after he grabbed her, how could he have blindfolded her? Were her legs and hands bound as one of the news reported? If these were so, would the hostage taker have the time to tie her legs and hands if he grabbed her?
Another news report said that she was not the target but that the hostage-taker rushed to her in desperation when his two other companions were shot. She was the one grabbed because she was simply there. If this is true, why would the hostage-taker bother to tell her he was going to kill her? If the senator was really blindfolded, with both legs and hands bound as the news reported, this means that before the hostage-takers were shot, they were already able to get to the senator. How did they know where to find her? They must have had some help in locating her, unless they were free to roam around in the whole facility which is doubtful because it is a maximum security facility.
Meanwhile, did the guards not see all these happening?
The three who attempted to escape — Idang Susukan, Arnel Cabintoy and Feliciano Sulayao — all Abu Sayyaf members, were all shot and killed in the process, eliminating also the hope of digging deeper into the probability of a planned assassination plot against the senator or identifying the brains of the assassination attempt.
Just like the Ninoy Aquino assassination, the “alleged” assassins were immediately silenced, sealing their lips forever.
All these questions and thoughts lead to more questions.
With the witnesses against Senator Leila de Lima recanting their testimonies and there is hope that soon she will be released for lack of evidence, will the senator be really safe in the quarters where she is now?
Then there is this nagging question, what if the hostage-taking was not an accident but a deliberate attempt to silence the senator? Will she not be silenced before she is finally released?
In her statement, Senator Leila thanked the Philippine National Police for their timely intervention that saved her. We are grateful for this. These men must be aware that there are forces inside the detention facilities who are not of the same mind as they.
We wonder if they have been warned that if they allow these forces to be successful, they too will be implicated whether they are innocent of not.
If something happened to Senator Leila de Lima, God forbid, the present dispensation cannot wash their hands and say, they have nothing to do with it. They will be held accountable and responsible. Before that happens, will someone please answer the questions. The answers may prevent a repeat of what happened.
Edita Burgos is a doctor of education and a member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites.