Fly Dubai FZ211 bound for Baghdad was half empty compared to the flight to Jeddah that was scheduled to leave the same time from Terminal 4 of Dubai International. As the Boeing 737 taxied, the onboard entertainment system began showing "American Sniper." Quite timely, I told myself. Is it an indication of things to come? In my bag was the book "Green Zone" that Chuchay and Butch Fernandez gave as a going away present.
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.
"Sometimes it does not feel like 30 years ago. Sometimes, I can still see every detail,” Captain Pulsifer told me after I messaged him to remind him how fortunate he was for cheating death in the hands of the NPA not just once but twice.
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.