For Sally Chua, being rescued from a gang of kidnappers who held her captive for seven days is the best birthday gift she has received.
Wearing a veil and sunglasses to mask her identity, Chua faced the media in Camp Crame on Friday, a day after her rescue by a team from the Philippine National Police (PNP) Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG) in Davao City.
Friday was also her birthday, although she declined to reveal her age to reporters. A source at the AKG later said Chua was 51.
Two of the kidnappers were killed by police in a shootout in front of a bank in Davao City, while about 10 of their companions escaped.
“This is the most memorable birthday in my life,” Chua said at the press conference.
She said that the only thing that kept her going during her ordeal were her prayers.
A group of men pretending to inquire about heavy equipment they can rent went to Chua’s office on EDSA in Quezon City on July 5. Aside from renting out heavy equipment, Chua’s family also runs a company that distributes fresh fruits and vegetables to supermarkets in Metro Manila.
Once inside the office, the group grabbed her and dragged her into a waiting vehicle.
Chua was blindfolded for about 10 hours. When his abductors removed the blindfold, she saw four other people with her in the vehicle.
There were two other cars in the group’s convoy, she said.
Chua said the kidnappers searched all over Central Luzon for a bank that was open last weekend. When they couldn’t find one, they travelled down to Bicol, took the ferry to Eastern Visayas and another one to Mindanao.
“The banks were closed and the group were afraid to stay in one place too long because they could be traced,” Chua said.
While on the road, the supposed team leader of the kidnappers communicated with her family in Manila and his boss by cell phone.
The group first demanded P100 million for her release, lowered it to P50 million before finally settling for P15 million, Chua said.
On their way down south, the convoy passed a number of checkpoints, but the authorities manning them made only a cursory inspection of the vehicles and their occupants.
“We were able to board the Ro-Ro (Roll-on Roll-off ferry) without producing registration papers,” Chua said.
On reaching Mindanao on Wednesday, the group drove from Surigao to Butuan City, and stopped at a bank to ask if Chua could withdraw P15 million in cash.
“The bank officials said they couldn’t handle such a large transaction but that they will coordinate with their branch in Davao City so we can withdraw the money between 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. the following day,” she said.
On Friday noon, the group located the bank branch in Davao, and the team leader accompanied Chua inside the bank.
What they didn’t know was that Chua’s family had tipped off the AKG about the dropoff in Davao, giving it enough time to close in on the suspects.
Police killed two of the kidnappers who were waiting outside the bank. The others who were inside took off, leaving Chua.
Another suspect, identified as Ramil Makamay from Bukidnon, was arrested by the police.