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How Cebu engineer escaped Abu captors

/ 08:55 AM June 21, 2011

“I HAD to make a decision … you’re talking about life and death. If I wouldn’t  take chances, I’ll still die.”

This was how engineer Virgilio Fernandez described his window of opportunity for escape from a house occupied by his captors, the Abu Sayyaf  in Basilan province last Sunday.

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The bandit group demanded at least P9 million in ransom but Fernandez didn’t mention any  payments in his interviews.

In both radio and phone interviews yesterday, Fernandez recounted that it was 1 a.m. when he saw that the rear door near the kitchen wasn’t locked and his captors were  sound asleep.

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He said he was brought into the house by five men during a downpour after his June 3 kidnapping.

Fernandez said three persons stayed in the house while two others were supposed to secure the outside premises.

“When I saw the kitchen door, I pretended to have a sick stomach. I slept near the door,” he said.

Fernandez said he waited until the five men guarding him slept. Then he  made his move.

The engineer, a resident of barangay Guadalupe, Cebu City, said the kidnappers were armed with Armalite rifles and .45-caliber pistols.

Three men slept on the second floor of the house while the other two slept in a room next  to the kitchen.

Fernandez said he checked if the kitchen door was locked. Fortunately, it wasn’t.

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“I was thinking that I could escape. I took a chance,” he told Cebu Daily News in a separate interview.

Fernandez said he walked out and climbed  mountain trails  from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m.

“I sustained wounds on my feet because I crossed eight mountains barefoot. I slipped and slid on the muddy  terrain but I didn’t  pass by  houses because I knew  the Abu Sayyaf they have contacts,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez said he stopped at a well where women fetched water and he asked directions to Basak, a barangay in Sumisip town.

He then met a man carrying a bolo who had a brother who worked as a military asset.

He said he went to barangay Magcawa, Al Barka town, where he met members of the Civilian Auxiliary Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu).

“Man should have self-determination to live. I thank those people who prayed for me,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez was kidnapped by the Abu Sayaff while he was overseeing a project in Lamitan City, Basilan province, last June 3.

He said he had to walk five to seven kilometers every night while being accompanied by his captors.

He said the Abu Sayyaf had to move around  so law enforcement agencies wouldn’t be able to track them down.

Fernandez said he ate instant noodles and rice two  to three times a day during  his abduction. “They didn’t harm me,” he said.

Fernandez said he and his captors transferred from one house to another. He said different men took turns watching him.

“They were well organized. By morning we’d walk five to six kilometers then we would transfer to another house,” he said.

Fernandez said he had a change of clothing in every house they stayed, including boots, since it was the rainy season.

While he wasn’t harmed, Fernandez said his captors threatened to kill him if his family couldn’t  produce P9.8 million in  ransom.

There was no mention of any ransom paid for his release.

Fernandez thanked Cebu officials particularly Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia who talked with the Basilan governor in providing accommodations to his wife in the province. /Ador Vincent Mayol and Carmel Loise Matus

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