Sunday, June 22, 2008

How Lulu Orena Survived Her Daughter's Abduction

“I was always against her going to Mindanao because I knew it was very dangerous,” Lulu Orena tells me with a smile a few hours before Ces was to check out of The Medical City. “But Ces has always had a mind of her own. Minsan she will tell me that she’s going there for an assignment, when she does, I always remind her – ‘Ces, paano na ang mga anak mo pag may nangyari sa iyo?’”

Dressed in a white cotton tunic over slacks, Lulu was still visibly tired but terribly relieved that the worst was now over for her eldest daughter, Ces. She recalls how on she became hysterical upon finding out on the morning of June 9 that Ces had been kidnapped. “Chary Villa called me to confirm that she was missing and that she had been kidnapped. When I heard the news I knew that my worst nightmare had just begun.” On the ride from her home in Fort Bonifacio, all the way to the ABS_CBN studios in Quezon City, she says she was a wreck. “I was shaking all over and having palpitations like crazy. Nanginig talaga ako,” she recalls.

On day one of her abduction, she had the chance to speak briefly to Ces, whose first words to her were, “Mommy, mommy, please don’t cry,” Lulu shares. The nine days that followed were the most difficult days of her life. “One more day was just a day too long,” she says looking back. “I was so hungry for news the whole time that I kept the television on at our house 24/7. One television was tuned in to ABS-CBN and another one to GMA-7. The radio was constantly tuned in to DZMM. “I really wanted to go to Sulu. I didn’t care. I just wanted to be near my daughter. To be in the same place with her. When I saw on television, the things she had left behind in her room, it really broke my heart and I wanted to board the next plane to Sulu but my children would not let me.”

Lulu is grateful for the blessing of her children. Daughter Grace kept her company all throughout, while only son Frank and youngest daughter Joyce were busy with the negotiations. The rest of the Orena brood had been tucked away in a safehouse with Ces’ three sons, while Lulu and Joyce, opted to remain at home. “I would just be crying at makakagulo lang ako sa negotiations.” Each day that came and went was sheer torture she says. When nightfall would come, she would break down in tears, thinking of how Ces was faring in the jungle. “Pag uulan, lalo na akong nalulungkot and I would really storm heaven with my prayers. I would ask God, all the saints, Mama Mary, Ces father (who passed away in a helicopter crash in 1993) to please keep her safe from harm.”

Sleep would come fitfully and only when her body could no longer take the tiredness. “They gave me sedative but it did not work,” she smiles. A mother’s anguish and worry, far surpasses the effects of any drug. Lulu clarifies that there is no truth to the news that she had a stroke or a nervous breakdown. “I was close to it, I guess. I became very depressed and lost all desire to eat and exercise – things that were part of my daily routine. All my thoughts were focused on Ces.” Respite would only come briefly when her grandchildren would return home from school and wrap her in their hugs, saying that it was going to be okay and that their aunt would be home soon. “I don’t know what I would have done if my children and grandchildren were not around. Siguro patay na ako ngayon,” She shivers at the recollection.

At the time of our interview on Friday afternoon, Lulu was still feeling the effects of the stress from the last nine days. “Medyo nanlalambot pa rin ako but I cannot stop thanking God for carrying us through,” she shares, her tired eyes, beaming with joy. She is also very grateful to everyone who prayed for her daughter’s safety. She made special mention of her late husband’s classmates, members of PMA Class ’61 and their wives who threw their full support behind her. “I am just so grateful and having gone through an ordeal such as this, I realize that the most important thing in life is really just family. Money will come and go. You can always earn it. Material things will lose their value. To have a strong faith in God and having your family intact, safe and sound, that is what’s most important.”

When the chopper carrying Ces finally landed on the helipad of The Medical City that rainy Wenesday afternoon, Lulu says that it was a miracle made real. She shares that the very first thing a tearful Ces whispered in her ears when they hugged was, “Mommy, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” Forgetting all the anguish she had just been through, just like any mother faced with a repentant child, she told her eldest daughter, “Don’t say sorry. It’s all right. You’re home now and that’s all that matters.”

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