What’s at Stake?

Now and then, I watch and hear news about a hold up, snatching, theft, robbery. Whatever you call it, it means the same thing: stolen possessions that now, as unnecessary as it is, require victims getting hurt.

I was a victim.

I was on my way home from working on the mid-shift and had to render overtime because there were a lot waitlists for the LAX flight (I worked at the Ticketing department of Philippine Airlines) on top of the reissuance and rebooking transactions. And I was manning the Express Counter. Tired from work, I went home at 1am, still wearing my uniform. I’ve constantly had to reconcile which is a less risky means of transportation – a bus or a cab. But my mom had heard all sorts of scary stories of cab drivers stealing from their passengers and, worse, raping them. I had, also, called our house during my last break to tell my brother not to pick me up, anymore, because he had classes early the next day and my mom reminded me to just take a bus.

I did. After the bus ride, I needed to cross the highway through an overpass  and a jeepney or pedicab to my house. As I took off the bus, I continued listening to music plugged into one ear, put a big carrying bag on top of my bag and put them both in front of me. As usual, I looked from left to right to see if anybody looked suspicious. I saw one girl walking past me so I felt safe and walked a little behind her, still holding my bags close to my chest. As I saw the girl disappear when she took the stairs down on the other side of the highway, I looked behind me, checking. And froze. There were two guys standing a few meters away. The other guy started running towards the stairs on the other end. The guy left, with blood-shot eyes (obviously high on drugs), raised his right hand and waved it as if to gesture that I come closer. The light from the posts below shone brightly on the pavement below us and on to his face. He looked so young and frail. And I started talking, slowly, “Wag… (Don’t)”. He came closer. With a weaker voice now, “Hindi puwede… (You can’t)”. I felt we were moving in slow motion when he started pushing me down to the floor and I still kept saying “Wag..” many times. He was pushing my face down, rubbing it against the cemented floor. He didn’t say a word. He was very quiet. I felt him trying to pull my bag down but it was proving to be difficult because of the big carrying bag covering it. And I was pushing him away.

Then, I felt weak. He punched me in the gut. For a moment, I lay still and he swiftly pulled my bag away and started running. Silence. Then, I caught sight of his head as he ran started running down the stairs. I felt a sudden rush of energy. I stood up. And ran after him. I didn’t even stumble on the stairs like he did. I saw him running towards the dark residential area. I panicked for a moment but I kept running. A truck passed by and its passengers pointed at me but there were no other vehicles. I ran and ran till a jeepney passed by. I frantically waved my hands and the driver stopped. I started talking but he cut me off, “Dun siya pumunta! Dali! (He went that way! Hurry!)”—that was a moment to be thankful for – and I climbed on to the passenger seat and sat beside his little boy.

The driver put the gear on reverse and we moved backward. He stopped before what looked like a dark entrance but was actually a street. I held my breath and we went inside. We moved a little slowly and illuminated the dark. We heard voices not far from us then footsteps. There were men running. We turned left into another dark street (why are there are no lamp posts?!) and I was shocked to see a group of men huddled around a guy while there was one man holding up a hollow block and was about to hit the guy. No, it wasn’t the guy who punched me. It’s the guy who ran away before that. I now know that he’s what they call the “runner”. These men have caught him and were starting to beat him up as he was already bloodied. I jumped out of the jeep and stopped the man from, yes, killing the guy. “Wag! (No!)”. I ran towards the guy and looked at his hand. No bag. “Nasa’n ang bag ko? (Where’s my bag?)”. He looked down. “Sabihin mo! (Tell her!)”, the men yelled. “Nandun! Doon! (It’s there! There!)”, he pointed at a shanty. We all went to the place and saw a bald, dark man of about 40 and he said, “Wala akong alam dyan ha! (I don’t have anything to do with that!”). “Binigay ko sa ‘yo…(I handed it to you…)”, the younger man said. “Ano ka?! Hindi ah! (You’re crazy! You didn’t!)”. While the men urged both men to speak up and bring the bag out, I started looking for a phone. I knocked on one door near the shanty. “Ano ba ‘yan?! (What the hell is it?!)”, came an angry voice. “Makikitawag lang po. Nanakawan po ako… (I’d like to borrow your phone. I was held up…) and the woman who came out suddenly changed her tone and expression and showed me to her phone. I dialed the number quickly and I don’t remember who picked up. I just told them where I was and they told me to go to the nearby police station right away and be careful. The men (pedicab and jeepney drivers), led by the barangay tanod, still held on to the guy and they followed me while I walked towards the police station four blocks away from where we were. As we walked, more people joined us. I was starting to get weak. “Sinuntok po ako eh (I was punched)”, I said out loud. “Sinuntok mo pa?! Siraulo ka ah! (You punched her, too?!  You crazy son of a bitch!)” and he hit his head with his palm. “Hindi po, hindi sya. May kasama nya (No, not him, he had company.) ”.

At the Police Station

We reached the police station, just in time to hear one woman crying, reporting how the cab driver stole her money and dropped her off in a dark area and where she begged for people to take her to the police station. I guess it didn’t matter what I took, anyway.

My family arrived a few minutes later and they checked how I was the second they saw me. I had a few bruises in my arms and face and my black stockings were torn. But my tummy was starting to hurt really bad from the punch. Or maybe it was only then when I felt it. I started to cry. My mom asked where the guy was and went to him as he was still giving his information to a policeman. “Ano’ng ginawa mo sa anak ko?! (What have you done to my daughter?!)” – words that still linger on my mind for I’ve never heard my mom talk like that. My elder sister hugged me while I cried, “Bakit mo ginawa ‘yun sa kapatid ko ha?!  (Why did you do that to my sister?!)”. My mom told my brother to stay in the car she said my dad’s definitely not going to like what was happening.

My sister, then, started calling my phone. It was still ringing. I told them there was an accomplice so the Chief decided we return to the shanty.

The Accomplice

The 40-year old man was still there and the other men who helped me catch the “runner” were still standing by the area. Two policemen and their chief went inside the shanty and asked my sister to call my phone. I heard a faint sound. We walked inside and saw piles of stuff from wood to books to clothes. One policeman dug his way into the pile, following the sound. The sound can be determined now. It was P. Diddy’s “Last Night”. A few minutes later, the policeman brought out a baseball cap that contained something inside as it was folded. He opened it and saw something covered by a handkerchief. Everybody knew it was my phone now. He unwrapped my phone and said, “Hindi siguro alam kung pano patayin kaya nung nag-ring, binalot na lang at tinago (Probably didn’t know how to turn it off so when it rang, he just wrapped and hid it)”. They arrested the man.

We went back to the police station and they interrogated the man. He denied everything, said he didn’t know where my bag was and said it was planted, that someone put my phone inside his house. The two were put behind bars now and they asked us what we planned to do.

To Fight or Retreat

My mom was exhausted. I know she was worrying about how she would break the news to my dad. “Ipapa-blotter na lang namin sila at yung nakatakas (We’ll just put them and the boy who escaped on police blotter)”. The Chief said we needed to come back in the morning to look for my bag at 6am. It was already 3am. My mom agreed and we went home. I slept a little and woke up to my mom’s tapping on my shoulder, “We have to go back”. I slowly sat up and my whole body ached. She told me we were pressing charges against the suspects.

As expected, we found my bag at the shanty. It was hanging from a tree and had been slashed across the handle. All the contents were still intact, including my money, cards, and IDs. The barangay tanod went with us and whispered, “It’s impossible that they don’t know that kid who escaped. I’ve seen him around. He once beat up a passerby with an ice pick just for kicks.”

The Chief discreetly told my mom his “boys” got really tired from the search and that they were hungry. My mom understood and we went to the nearest fast food chain and fed all three of them. Before we left, my mom also gave them some money as a way of thanking them. I didn’t agree with it because what they did was just a part of their job. We went home exhausted. My mom called my dad and told him what happened. I heard her try to calm him down and ended the phone conversation with surrender, “Alright…” I fell asleep.

At 10am, my mom woke me up again and told me we’re heading back to the station. Before we left our house, we got a call. It was a woman begging us to let her father go. What do you know? The police gave her our number. We went back to the station and asked about it but there was a new team working now – on the day shift. “Your case is strong, missus, you should press charges”. My mom nodded her head. A girl came in, carrying an infant. It was the 40-year old man’s daughter who had called us earlier. When my mom kept ignoring her, she turned to me and asked me to forgive his dad and that they don’t have money and food. I told her we need to capture the guy who escaped but it was difficult not to give in.

The Saga Continues

We signed some documents then were escorted via a police service vehicle to a public hospital for my medical check up. I saw the two suspects at the hospital. The younger man’s wounds have dried up but he was bruised all over.  The older one wasn’t wearing any footwear. I had bruises and was bored and sore. I watched my mom look at every patient that came in, then at the two men. They were two seats away from me and we literally waited the whole day –three patients from the E.R. have already died and it was almost midnight when I had my turn.

Not the actual policemen

The suspects were transported to the city jail and my mother and I spent three hours with the investigator at the CIDG. I told him every bit of information and he took my bag, my phone… everything except my IDs. Evidence. It was turning into a really big headache. The investigator had asked for the Chief’s affidavit so we just waited for it so we can move forward. A little after lunch, I received a call. It was the Chief. He didn’t want me to give the phone to my mom. I asked what it was about and he said he needed me to pay Php2,000 so he can begin writing his affidavit. I was sitting by the stairway and my mom noticed that I looked serious and annoyed. “Who is it?”, she mouthed. I mouthed my reply, “the police”. “Give it to me”, she mouthed back. I told the Chief to hang on as he kept insisting that I stayed on the line. Though my mom looked angry,  her voice didn’t show it, “Oh, I am so sorry, really…but I just lent my sister a big amount of money… Yes, it was an emergency. I’m sorry, I don’t have that amount right now…”, and her voice trailed off as she went into the kitchen. When my mother came  out from the kitchen, she said we needed to go back to CIDG to meet the policemen.

The Chief and one policemen were waiting at the lobby. I asked for the affidavit. He hesitated and said, “I am gonna get in trouble for this, miss, we didn’t have a search warrant but we searched his house for your bag and phone.” I got really upset, “Sir, my phone was already ringing and he was pointed as the accomplice. And what do you mean? You are not going to write your affidavit because of that?!”. My mom stepped in, “Sir, ano po ba ang pwede nating gawin…? (What do you think we can do now?)” and motioned that I let her do the talking. I sat down, watching them talk, furious. When they finished talking, my mom told me to be careful, “Those are still policemen. We don’t know what they’re capable of doing. And don’t forget, your father’s not here right now.”

That night, my mom spoke with my dad on the phone. My dad, coming from a family of policemen himself (although he is not close to his father’s side) said it was very dangerous to upset these guys. Although, they’re not big time policemen, they have guns and authority and control over people that wouldn’t think twice to hurt or kill for the sake of money or their safety. He spoke to me, then, and asked how I was doing and told me to be more patient but keep fighting. “I know you’re not giving up but your mother is afraid. I know you understand that so be careful what you say and do.If I were there, I could’ve dealt with it myself and you don’t need to file a case”. “Daddy!”, I said alarmed. “I’m not kidding. That boy is lucky. You think the world would notice if scumbags like him disappear? No, the world will be a safer place to live in. See? He’s been doing it. Those policemen are protecting him, they probably get a kickback from what he steals. I know you’re not going to sit around and let this pass, but please, please, please… when things like this happen, hold on to your life and not your things — you can always replace those. What if he had a knife that night? He could’ve done worse and he can! Okay, I know you’re tough. Now I know you’re tougher than your mom, but that was highly unnecessary. Do you understand?”.

The next day, we filed the case at the Public Attorney’s Office. I didn’t need a private lawyer because it was a case filed by the people of the Republic of the Philippines vs. the suspects. But my mom wanted to make sure so she sought help from her eldest brother who is a lawyer.

Nine months. I had to file leaves or go on undertime depending on the schedule of the Makati City Hall Court. The case progressed exasperatingly slow, it was reset several times. A guy that looked like the one who escaped was seen around our area and one brother usually went home late. Within those nine months, I suffered from a traumatic period of being afraid for my life. Iwasn’t even thinking it was the guy who escaped but every time I walked in a public place, I constantly turn my head back, eyed passersby suspiciously, held on to my pepper spray, ready to press it when someone comes too close. It wasn’t just me who suffered. The whole family moved out of our house and had a cousin live in it while we transferred to a condominium. On top of the lookalike seen hanging around, the 40-year old suspect’s mother kept sitting right outside our gate, waiting for me so she can personally ask me to discontinue the case. My mother never allowed that I met this old woman though she pitied her as I did.My brothers and sisters felt the pressure and paranoia, too. My mom was ever more careful of all of us. There was even a time when my sister and I fought about this and I said, “I didn’t want to be held up! I didn’t ask them to hurt me! And I didn’t ask that we move out of the house. Nobody wanted any of this!”

In court, the two suspects denied that they knew each other and the guy who escaped even after the judge told them they will be freed if they just point at the location of the third suspect (He asked me if I wanted to pursue the case against the two and I said I really preferred to put the third one behind bars and let the two go). Then, one day, after the court hearing was postponed again, my mom said with defeat, “It’s been nine months. Let’s have the case dismissed. I’m really tired.” I was physically tired but my spirit wasn’t. But I had to choose and decide. I agreed.

Coming from Experience

I am careful of the places I go to. I always make sure someone knows where I am. I read out the cab’s plate number out loud to someone on the phone (usually the two people I love dearly) and I secure my belongings. I heard of the young lady’s story from Los Banos who got raped and murdered when she wouldn’t give her bag to the tricycle driver, the alumni who died from a stab in the neck when he wouldn’t give his mobile phone to a thief on a bus (he died holding on to  his phone), and a lot of other stories.

Just like what my father said and what my two closest and best friends keep reiterating; my life, my safety, my security — that’s what’s most important. And just like the stress, the paranoia, the physical, psychological, and emotional torture/pain, and trauma I got from that bag, along with all its contents, those were all unnecessary but I needed to learn from it. I hope you learn from my story, too.

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