I have run all sorts of worse case scenarios in my mind before I left for Baghdad but nothing really prepared me for this. These are scenes that one would typically see in the movies but when confronted with these situations in real life, it is completely different. I have never felt so vulnerable, so helpless. I have never been so afraid. And I have never prayed so hard in my life.
Kuwait was the most traumatic period in my diplomatic career. What I went through was nothing compared to what others had to go through.
I looked at them and saw that unspoken expression of sympathy and solidarity written in their faces. And they went even further. Talking through one of our Iraqi local hires, they told me: “We will fight and defeat Daesh wherever they are, whether here in Iraq or in the Philippines.”
Atrakchi in Baghdad's upscale Jadriya District near the Philippine Embassy is not just an ordinary coffeeshop. It is also a museum that allows visitors to experience Iraqi history and culture.
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 Manila.
Lito already had an assignment order even before I volunteered to go to Iraq but as head of post I still had the final say. I really wanted to make sure I get the right people to serve with me in Baghdad—one of the most challenging posts in the foreign service because of, among others, the average of five terrorist bombings that take place there everyday.
One afternoon in April, our Kuwaiti friends allowed us to experience local hospitality when they invited us for afternoon tea in the desert outside Kuwait City.