Log 1, Live from Agusan
PROSPERIDAD, AGUSAN DEL SUR–Days, weeks, or months?
Riding here from the airport in Butuan, our satellite team put forward their bets on how long the hostage crisis we were sent to cover would last.
No one was sure when we would return to Manila. With the rural setting, the wait can possibly get dreary.
And it can go on. Our audio man tells of waiting over a month in Basilan in 2007 for the release of Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi. If that was just for one man, he said, what about for 15 hostages?
Jeff Canoy, our reporter, said it might only last 3 days, the length of their stay in this area for another hostage-taking two years back. The culprits and the reasons then and now are, after all, relatives.
I secretly wagered a week, pretty much the length our out-of-town coverages took of late. We arrived here Monday, and maybe we could be home Friday.
Our vehicles had to trek a rough road and a bouldery trench that seemed like a dried-up creek to reach the uphill barangay of La Purisima, where the hostages were held.
We shortly hesitated crossing our Hi-Ace, Starex, and Kia closed truck over a dilapidated bridge lined with separate or detached planks. It apparently held in place, since we found workers hauling lumber to a 10-wheeler after we passed over.
For more than 30 minutes after, our drivers struggled to bring those vans up the final steep and stony slope before the barangay proper.
Jeff and his cameramen had a story for TV Patrol that they resorted to walking up. It was almost 4:30 p.m. We were left to give the vehicles a deadweight or a shove up.
The gazes we gathered from the communities we passed through told us they rarely saw outside vehicles except for military trucks.
Locals usually rode wood-retrofitted motorcycles called skylab or habal-habal to traverse the bumpy road. Not even they were fall-proof.
Jeff and the media stayed at a covered court, where the group calling the shots–the Crisis Media Committee–gave out the latest declassified information.
The rocky road still went up from there, but it was already blocked by a line of wood and a posted guard. Three kilometers on was the hostage-takers’ lair.
Only the committee, the police, and the military could go up. And this time, most of the press opted against going with them for direct shots and soundbites.
A strenuous climb, an indefinite wait, an isolated setup.
But it seemed diverting compared to the eternal noon-to-night wait at Manila’s Quirino Grandstand for the climax of a more infamous hostage-taking.
Lack of control and lack of restraint were blamed for its bloody outcome. The wake prompted government and the media to rethink how they dealt with tensive situations. It’s the renewed sense of ethics from the crisis that held back reporters here.
Since the world’s eyes were fixed real-time on the hijacked bus at the Grandstand, any movement was magnified in magnitude.
At the mountains where few saw the hostage-taking up close, the available details were scant. And what much we heard or found out, we could not bare all.
The crisis could have gone on longer with such an apparent impasse. But it gave opportunity for negotiators to continue working. The guideline: less public talk, less likely mistake.
Two captives were released before we came. The night we arrived, a child was let go. After 5 days–between Jeff’s 3 days and my 1 week–the other 12 finally saw freedom.
Our broadcast setups had moved thrice by the time we heard that the hostages would be brought down.
We had since settled for setting up at more convenient locations nearer to other media and the main sources of information–a barangay hall and the mayor’s house.
Transformed in treatment, another hostage crisis ended in peace, no matter if in mere days. Some thanks, authorities said, to the media that toed the line this time. In this case, tactical gate-keeping worked with the terrain and the time.
The apparent closure still fails to answer some questions, especially since it resembles its 2009 predecessor. What happened to the culprits? And could it happen again?
From Manila, a friend’s text message commented on this end: “Ang ewan naman. Nakawala lahat–hostages at hostage-takers!” (It’s mind-boggling. Everyone got loose!)
Maybe the invitations we got to return here for another hostage-taking were half-meant.