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Nerves O’ Steel Sally

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DAVAO CITY — My students and I were on the sixth floor of Finster building, facing Claveria St., when the incident happened. I was in the midst of a long commentary on a student’s proposal when, from the street below, I heard the sound: paka paka paka paka paka paka.

Now there’s this thing called a normalcy bias. Faced with something out of the ordinary, even dangerous, our brains shrug it off in favor of a positive and mundane explanation.

“It must be firecrackers,” I thought, and I continued with my lecture. Then I saw my student, mouth agape, eyes wide, pointing wordlessly out the window.

Being high up, we had a good view of Claveria. Normally, heavy traffic had suddenly gone, and the streets were clear. Crowds formed outside the dilapidated Imperial Hotel.

“That was shooting,” the student said. “I saw a man running.”

I peered out the window. Roxas St., fronting Ateneo, seemed normal, as did Aldevinco across.

“Meh, we’re six floors up,” I said. “The bullets won’t reach us.” And I continued with the lecture.

* * *

If I, in my estimation, showed some aplomb, I can hardly imagine the nerves of steel that Sally Chua must have had. It’s easy to be brave when you’re that high up a building, and when you know there are steel gates on the ground floor, and exits down the opposite road. But Sally Chua? The lady was in the thick of things, and she did some really ballsy stuff.

When we first heard the shots, we thought it was a bank robbery. We learned a little later, on the radio, that it was a hostage-ransom exchange gone awry.

The victim was the aforementioned Sally Chua, 51 years old, a trader from Metro Manila. The ransom was P15 million, and if you think that’s a figure on the high side, apparently the original demand was for P100 million (or was it P150 million?) Though the snatch happened in Quezon City, the kidnappers had arranged for the pickup in Davao. I boggled at the audacity of the crime.

As it turned out, it was Sally Chua who arranged the roundabout route. “I knew I would be rescued in Davao because of Duterte,” she said in an interview.

From news reports later in the week, I pieced together the account. Sally Chua was kidnapped from her office in July 5, a Friday. They tied up her guards and secretaries, and drove her off. Despite slow-paced heavy traffic in EDSA, no police mounted any rescue attempts. Their route took them to Bicol, and then to Leyte, then to Cagayan de Oro and Butuan. They reached Davao on July 11.

That’s as far as the news went. What follows are rumors, speculations, and hearsay accounts. You know, the juicy stuff.

Mayor Duterte and the local police had been alerted that the ransom would take place in Davao that day, but they didn’t know which bank. They, therefore, fielded plainclothes operatives in all major branches.

Sally Chua led her captors to Allied Bank. Police became suspicious when the white Mitsubishi Montero they were in was placed in “combat parking”, that is, double-parked on a busy street, ready to bolt in either direction for a quick getaway.

A lone kidnapper accompanied Sally Chua to the branch. He was armed with a grenade, ready to set it off if Sally Chua tried anything funny. As she approached the teller, Sally Chua made a scene. That was the cue for the plainclothes operatives in the bank to tackle her abductor.

Outside, the shooting started. Two of the kidnappers were shot dead on the spot, another died on the way to the hospital.

After the smoke had cleared, Mayor Duterte strode into the bank and whisked out Sally Chua.

From the kidnappers, the police recovered seven exotic high-powered automatic weapons and several hundred rounds of ammunition. Also with the kidnappers were Sally Chua’s return ticket to Manila, a box of pomelos, and a box of mangosteens. What cheek! I thought, when I heard that detail. They had time to shop for pasalubong? It was almost funny.

It turned out I was wrong. Apparently, the fruits were for Sally to bring with her back to Manila.

Just think about it. Sally Chua, kidnapped in Manila, negotiating her own ransom from an astronomical P100 million to a still high P15 million, on a five-day scenic road trip, via SUV convoy, with her kidnappers down the length of the archipelago. Not only did she manage to stay alive, she got them to buy her return plane ticket AND souvenirs for family back home.

Even before the bank, bystanders had already noted the van. The kidnappers bought the fruits from the vendors along Roxas. Normally, patrons close the purchase fairly quickly, but the white Montero was parked for an inordinately long time, blinkers on. Sally Chua was sending a signal.

Sally Chua is no stranger to Davao City. The family business, heavy equipment, has clients in Mindanao. Perhaps she was already acquainted with Mayor Duterte, hence, the confidence with which she maneuvered her captors into the City.

The thought crossed my mind that Davao might have been part of her protocol for a kidnap scenario, but it seems like such a long shot that it’s just as plausible as it was a spontaneous inspiration on her part.

Regardless, Sally Chua, it seems, is no stranger to kidnap situations: another story I’ve heard is that a close relative was earlier abducted and then killed.

It’s been over a week since Sally Chua was rescued here in Davao. News of the shootout has dissipated, and now what grabs the headlines are the Commission of Human Rights’ complaints against Mayor Duterte and Davao City Police Chief dela Rosa. So it goes.

The remaining 10 kidnappers, two of them women, remain at large. Very likely, they are cursing the name Sally Chua, even as they plan out their next moves. I highly doubt they’ll be forgetting her name anytime soon.

_________________________________________

Author’s email: [email protected]

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