In the morning of April 2, the day she was abducted, Gestine saw two men in soldier’s uniform on a motorcycle parked in front of her school staring at her.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – On April 2, between 8:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., Gestine Mae Canaman was only two feet away from her apartment in Marikina when a man grabbed her, covered her mouth and forced her inside a gray SUV.
The faces of the two men were completely covered with ski masks. The 19-year-old college student managed to send a garbled text message to her schoolmate. “Bede, ung sundako,” she texted. She meant “Bebe, ung sundalo.” (Bebe, the soldiers.)
Gestine’s friend called her up. One of the men took her cellphone and rejected the call. They blindfolded her. Her hands and feet were tied. They travelled for one and a half hour. The men just kept silent.
Gestine prepared herself for the worst. She thought that this time, she might be killed. She is the eldest daughter of Tranquilino, a full-time organizer of drivers group Piston, and Ma. Arlyn, a volunteer for a non-government organization for indigenous peoples rights.
The men took her to a place where she could not hear anything. The men did not talk to her.
For three days, she refused to eat. “I was afraid. I thought the food was poisoned,” she told Bulatlat.com in an interview.
She never heard any word from the two men but she talked to them. “I told them if they were doing this for money, there are other ways to earn. I said they might have daughters too and when their daughters would be lost, they would worry too.”
On April 5, her captors released her to a place she did not know. She later learned that she was dropped off at Pasay City. She only had P15 in her pocket. The men took her wallet. They did not return her cellphone.
She went from one store to another, asking people to lend her a cellphone so she could text her younger sister. A woman agreed to text her sister. “Si Ate ito, call back,” her message read. She waited and waited but no reply came. Sensing that the woman was irritated by her presence, she left.
She rode the MRT to Cubao. From there, she walked to the Jam bus station in Kamias. Her uncle is working there as a driver. When she reached the terminal, her uncle was not there. She asked her uncle’s co-worker if she could borrow his cellphone to send a message, the man agreed. This time, her sister called up immediately. In a few minutes, she was fetched from the station.
Asked why she thought the men were soldiers, Gestine said that before the incident, in the morning of April 2, she saw two uniformed men on board a motorcycle in front of the school. “For the past five months I had stayed there, it was the first time I saw soldiers in the area. They were looking at me,�� she said.
Upon seeing the soldiers, she gripped the arm of her friend who was standing beside her. “My friend knew my story,” she said.
This was not the first time Gestine was taken by men she did not know.
On November 19, 2012, Gestine was on her way home in Los Baños, Laguna when an old white car stopped in front of her. She did not mind it and just continued walking. Suddenly, three men alighted from the car. One pointed a gun to her side. Another took her bag. The other blindfolded her. She was forced inside a vehicle.
“I was so shocked I did not move, did not say anything,” Gestine recalled.
She was taken to a place she did not know. She was hearing the voices of three men.
“They asked the whereabouts of Mama and Papa,” she said. “They told me they warned my parents but they are being stubborn.”
“I was so afraid. I told them if they plan to rape me, they better kill me first,” Gestine said.
Tranquilino Canaman, organizer of Piston-Southern Tagalog and father of Gestine, condemns the military for harassing her daughter in a picket rally, April 10. (Photo by Pom Cahilog-Villanueva / bulatlat.com)
After more than six hours, the men forced her again inside the car and drove off. They stopped in an isolated place. The men released Gestine.
“I ran when they released me. It was raining so hard,” Gestine said.
She would later learn that she was released at the intersection of San Pablo and Sta. Cruz. She managed to get home.
After that, Gestine stopped schooling. “I was traumatized.”
A few months after the incident, she transferred to a school in Marikina, thinking it was safe there.
She broke down in tears as she said: “I only wanted to live a normal life. I no longer have any freedom. I could not do the simplest things alone.”
Asked about the so-called “warning,” Gestine’s mother, Ma. Arlyne, told Bulatlat.com that on June 25, 2012, at around 6 p.m., while she was in a public market in Los Baños, a man approached her.
“He was giving me a piece of paper. I thought it was a solicitation letter. I ignored him. But he was insistent. He showed me the paper, my name was written on it and so, I got it,” she said.
Arlyne read the first paragraph of the letter. “Ang nag-abot ng sulat na ito ay isa sa mga tauhan ko. Alam ko na ang organisasyon ninyo ay tumulutulong sa NPA,” (The person who handed you this letter is under my command. I know that your organization is helping the NPA.) Arlyne quoted the letter.
The NPA refers to the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has repeatedly branded mass organizations critical of the Philippine government as fronts of the CPP and supporters of the NPA.
She stopped reading to look at the man who handed her the letter. He was gone.
Arlyne said she could identify the man if she would see him again. The man is 5’6 to 5’7 tall, with fair complexion, well-built and sports a beard.
From then on, Arlyne was regularly fetched by Gestine from her office in Los Baños. “They might have seen her accompanying me,” Arlyne said.
“Mga hayop sila,” (They are beasts) Arlyne said. “Why pick on our daughter? She is doing nothing wrong.”
Arlyne said they are certain these “cowardly acts” are being done by soldiers. “Nobody else would do this to us,” she said.
“I know nothing,” Gestine said. “I am not even keen on following the footsteps of my parents. I only want to study and live a normal life.”
Gestine said she has to be strong for her family. “I think about my parents, my family. All of us are affected,” she said.