(Note: This is a blow-by-blow account of what happened on October 20, 2011, Thursday. During this time, I was the parish priest of Parokya San Miguel in Zamboanga Sibuhay. I was already on my third day in Tabuk, the other side of Olutanga Island doing my 4-day round of “visitario” masses in our seven chapels.)
7 AM – received text from a parishioner from the opposite side of the island: “dre lalong lumalapit sa dagat ang mga putok ng baril. Ayon sa info, the MILF already asked for help sa mga kasama sa Labatan.” (Last Saturday, October 15, 2011 – A clash broke out between the combined police and military forces and around 50 fully armed MILF rebels around 2:45 p.m. at Sitio Talaib, Labatan Village, Payao, Zamboanga Sibugay province. This place is very near Olutanga Island, we could hear the exchange of gunshots and blasting. Since Labatan is just at the opposite side of the island, we decided to push through with our masses.)
9:30 AM – had my wedding mass in St. Francis Xavier Chapel – Tumalog.
11:30 AM – Lunch.
1:30 AM – Prepared for my mass at Mabuhay Agro-National High School. Suddenly, the barangay captain came and informed us that the mayor ordered that I, together with my escorts as well as the teachers, be pulled out immediately because many troops of MILF arrived in the next barrio (parang Cubao-Ortigas lang ang distance). Naghahanda na rin ang mga ito for reinforcement sa MILF troops who were fighting in Sitio Talaib.
We were cautioned not to pass by the next barrio since passing there was already “very risky and dangerous. Baka ma-hostage pa kayo kasama ang mga teachers.”
We did not waste any time. When all the teachers were ready, we also trooped to Turco, where a boat took us to Poblacion Mabuhay. Like the scene of a movie, we became so uneasy when at mid-sea, the boat suddenly stopped. Despite the rising tension, I could not take my eyes off this child who innocently smiled at me.
4:03 PM – Thank God, a boat filled with CAFGUS assisted us (sigh of relief!). We reached the Poblacion safe and sound. I could not forget this day. Thank you, St. Michael the Archangel! Thank you Lord for keeping me safe!