ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 17 September) – Ela Ramos waited outside the gates of the Philippine National Police’s Camp Batalla Monday night to fetch her niece, Pilar, one of at least 26 hostages who had been reported freed.
But while she was glad Pilar is now safe, Ela cannot celebrate. Sixteen other siblings, nephews and nieces, in-laws, an aunt and uncle remained in captivity, as of 9 p.m., and one nephew had been killed.
Ela said19 of her relatives in Lustre, Sta. Catalina, where among the first hostages taken by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) forces loyal to founding chair Nur Misuari, on September 9, Day One of the standoff.
The Ramos clan lives in a three-house compound in Lustre, Sta. Catalina.
Of the 19 relatives, nephew Daniel Samson managed to escape but suffered injuries; another nephew, Rubin Limon, was killed; and Pilar was among 24 hostages freed Monday night, leaving 16 relatives in the hands of the captors, including three-year old Anthoneth Ramos.
Ela took out a piece of paper on which was written the names of 18 hostaged relatives (Daniel Samson’s name was no longer on the list as he had escaped): Lolita Dimapilis, Arar and Crystel Andico and their child Antholit; Edwin and Maribel Ramos and their children PIlar, Edmar and Anthoneth, 3; Monica Limen and her children Nerica and Rubin; Lorna Samson and her children Lordan, Dama Mae and Jay-R; and aunt Caridad Delgado and her husband Miguel.
Ela tried to fight off tears as she introduced some of her missing siblings to MindaNews through photographs on her digital camera, taken during the birthday celebration of their late mother, on Sunday, September 8.
“Ang saya-saya pa namin” (we were very happy), said Ela, who moved out of the family compound on March 8, for another area also within the city.
The morning after their party at the clan compound, Ela woke up to a nightmare: at 5:30 in the morning, she received a text message that there was “gyera” at Petit Barracks. “I was afraid because that’s too close to where they live.”
A frantic Ela called her elder sister Lolita Dimapilis to ask how they were and appealed to them to leave the area.
She said her sister responded they were “okay” but could not leave because the MNLF had set up a checkpoint.
Their option was to hide.
The last time they communicated was around 11 a.m. on September 9. Her next text messages were no longer answered.
It would take another day for the confirmation to come: her 19 relatives were among hundreds held hostage by the MNLF. But she did not wait for the confirmation. When her sister stopped communicating with her on Monday noon, she knew they had been taken.
On Sunday, Ela dared call Pilar’s number. It was answered by a young MNLF guerrilla, as she reckoned from his voice.
She said she told the rebel to convey a message to the other rebels to think of their mothers, sisters and daughters and to please set the hostages free.
Ela hopes all her relatives would be set free. But there will be no more celebrations in the clan compound.
Ela said the houses there were among those burned. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)