Assignment: Tripoli

“Have you been on an Ilyushin before?” the voice from the other end asked me. It was Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Willy Gaa of the Office of Asia-Pacific Affairs who called me that early August evening in 2000.

“No Sir, I have never been on one,” I said while wondering, at the same time, why the Assistant Secretary was asking if I have ever been on board a Russian jetliner.

“Okay. I already have cleared this with the Secretary,” Assistant Secretary Gaa told me. He was referring to Foreign Affairs Secretary Domingo L. Siazon, Jr. who I was then serving as special assistant in charge of national security matters.

 “Tomorrow, an Ilyushin will land at Villamor Air Base. You are to board that plane and proceed to Zamboanga,” Assistant Secretary Gaa told me.

 “Tomorrow, an Ilyushin will land at Villamor Air Base. You are to board that plane and proceed to Zamboanga,” Assistant Secretary Gaa told me.

“Zamboanga? What am I going to do there, Sir?”

“This is still confidential but Malacañang just called and told me the Abu Sayyaf hostages will most likely be released tomorrow and will then be brought to Zamboanga. I already gave your name and they are expecting you. We want you to be there.”

Finally, I told myself, the hostage crisis will soon be over. The European and South African hostages that the notorious Abu Sayyaf snatched weeks earlier in Sipadan, a dive resort in Malaysia, would now be released.

“What is my mission, Sir?”

“Just observe and report to us,” Assistant Secretary Gaa said. “And oh, by the way, I suggest you bring some clothes with you.”

“You expect me to spend a few days in Zamboanga, Sir?”

“No, not Zamboanga. You will be going on that Ilyushin to Tripoli.”

And so off I went to Zamboanga the next morning but as it turned out, the hostages were not released. It would take a few days before the first batch would be released and I in turn would find my way to Tripoli.

I was the only Philippine Government representative on board the Ilyushin, which was configured to be Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi’s version of Air Force One.

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I was the only Philippine Government representative on board the Ilyushin, which was configured to be Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi’s version of Air Force One.

My task was to escort and debrief the Abu Sayyaf hostages on board and upon arrival in Tripoli, observe their turnover to their respective governments, and then send reports to Secretary Siazon and Assistant Secretary Gaa in Manila.

That adventure was surely one of my most memorable in the Foreign Service. And I have Ambassador Willy Gaa to thank for giving the junior officer that I was then that rare learning opportunity. The experience would serve me well in my assignment in Baghdad, 17 years later.

One thought on “Assignment: Tripoli

  1. Hi Sir,

    We are a Filipino born-again church here in Libya. I wonder if you can help us elevate our concern to the DFA in Manila regarding the implementation of Alert level 3 in Libya. As it is, there’s so many of us who are basically imprisoned here in Libya because if we go home for Christmas to be with our families – we will not be allowed to return to our jobs.
    Is this a crime nowadays if you only want to spend Christmas with our loved ones and attend graduation ceremonies of your children sometime in April-May 2019, serve God, and be a good provider?

    Like

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