Someone very dear to one of my children was kidnapped last week. He was on his way to visit her, but decided to stop by the busy Citimall on Commonwealth Avenue to buy something.  Not finding what he was looking for, he did not stay more than 10 minutes.  In full view of early evening commuters and jeepney drivers, 4 young men pushed him into his own car and poked their guns at him.

There was a scuffle inside the car, and it took a while before the kidnappers could take their random victim.  No one came to rescue Mark, a UP student.  No one reported seeing anything unusual to the police that night.  Truly, there is reason to worry when scenes of abduction like this are normalized in the public perception.

It was about 7:30 in the evening.  The well-lit shopping center, a favorite hang-out of students, lies just outside University Avenue, and is still part of the Diliman campus.  The place serves as a major transportation terminal.  There were many witnesses, but they were probably too scared to do anything.

Fear is the criminal’s greatest weapon.  It is what paralyzes the public. It is also what deters the families of victims from seeking police assistance.  It is what kidnap gangs exploit in order to isolate their victim’s family from their friends and from the rest of the community.

Thus isolated, intimidated, and disoriented, the parents and relatives of most kidnap victims find themselves being led helplessly from one stage to the next of the kidnap process.   Gripped by only one thought in mind – to secure the release of their loved one at the soonest possible time – the family behaves precisely according to the agenda defined by the kidnappers.  The police is shut out, rendered irrelevant in a transaction that is kept totally private.

Distrust in the police is often so complete that the families of kidnap victims cannot decide who is more dangerous and predatory: the kidnappers or the police.  Their instinct is to limit their victimization to only one.   They would rather deal with the kidnappers holding the victim than with the police offering to rescue him.

At the beginning, Mark’s family did not want to tell anyone for fear that their phones were tapped or their house was being watched.  But their distress was so great they had to share it.  Close relatives and friends persuaded them to listen to the police at least  for advice on what to do, even if they might not exactly want them to look for their missing son.

Rare is the family that has had any experience in dealing with kidnappers.  The typical family would not know what to say to criminals who call in the night to announce they are holding your child, will release him unharmed if the ransom is paid, but will kill him if necessary.  How would you negotiate?  Would you immediately make a counter-offer based on your actual capacity to pay?

Whether we like it or not, only the police have had any practice in understanding the minds of criminals.  They have a working profile of every syndicate that is known to be operating in their area.  They can tell the family if they are up against professionals or amateurs.

They can give advise on what to expect and how to behave at every phase of the kidnap process so that the life of the victim is not endangered, and the family is spared the agony of not knowing what is happening during the period of interminable waiting.  Expert advice given at the right time may also prevent the family from volunteering a ruinous ransom.

There is ,too, that possibility that, even after the ransom is paid,  the victim may not be released or, worse,  may be killed.  If the police had not been previously informed about the case, they would be placed at a tremendous disadvantage.

Of course, there is a price to pay whenever the police are brought in.

As enforcers of the law, their duty is to go after criminals.  Even if they are sworn to always ensure the safety of the hostage victim, there will be police officers who will take risks that endanger the life of the hostage.  The memory of the Charlene Mae Siy tragedy in 1993 is still fresh in the minds of many.

Once a kidnap case is reported to them, the police will insist that they be allowed to monitor the negotiations and the scene of the actual pay-off.  How they can do this without being spotted by the kidnappers, or without scaring them away, is something that will trouble the relatives of the victim.  No guarantees are offered.

But having seen for myself what a family goes through in kidnap cases, I would not hesitate to say that, on balance, it is still better to seek police advice and assistance than to deal with the kidnappers alone.  It is the uncertainty, while waiting, that is most unbearable.  It took 4 hours before Mark’s captors would come to pick up the money. The family needed to be assured that this was still within normal.

When at last the pay-off was made, the police, who had been on alert, could still not go after the kidnappers until he was safe.  Cars were sent out to look for him.  Again, during this agonizing watch, after the pay-off, it was necessary to have someone tell the family what to expect.

Mark finally showed up at his parents’ house a little after 4 in the morning in a taxi, less than an hour after the money was taken and 33 hours after his abduction.  His freedom was secured for P52,000 – quite a discount from the original P5 million that the kidnappers had demanded.  But the pain and the trauma that he, his family and friends went through can never be quantified.

The kidnappers are still loose, possibly waiting for their next victim. The authorities will catch up with them and others like them in time — but only with the support of a vigilant and cooperative public.


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