once, someone wrote on the back of a letter “you are infinite.” i smiled at the cliche term so often used in …spaces. (ha) but today i feel it. being infinite. excited. movement. flight. paz.
thanks for the reminder.
my vision impact statement
There is a silence that sits in and through my heart.
It is all together heavy, consistent, angry and existential – something I have learned to carry and mend whenever time and fear permits.
It is this silence, that holds the death of a child that would never live.
At 11, she would never again know the freedom of an unchartered world.
She would forget the safety of innocence, the escape of freedom, the beauty of the unknown.
Instead of a carefree journey to independence, she would be forced to put away the dreams of fairytales in forests and trade them for constant nightmares of the men in camouflage. She trades rainbows and butterflies for guns and bolo knives, her value for the literal cost of her own life.
Now, she will obsessively lock house doors and windows well into her adulthood,
Trade memories of laughter with her father for the memory of his trembling voice pleading for her life – the steadiness in his voice when he asked her to kill herself if they killed him first.
She will hold dearly to her mother who she once watched stumble away into darkness – her heroes separated by force, violated by someone else’s dream, lost in blind determination.
This silence is with me every waking moment. It mourns with me the life I could have had as I walk forward forever captive to fear. We stay silently alone, picking up the pieces of my life that one incident has continually shattered, thrown, and left all over the world to heal. We hold these pieces today, closely, to assemble some type, any type, of new understanding, forgiveness, and peace.
Violent crimes are only the beginning of a lifetime of healing. What seemed to be a mere 5 days of terrorism, greed, and oppression has become my lifetime’s work to undo. It is something I will live with forever. I will forever have to make steps to understand this trauma and the man who caused it.
I have feared and dreamed, prayed, even written about this day for 15 years. Almost exactly 15 years ago to this date, you had me write about the kidnapping. I wonder if you picked up on the subtext of my hope for freedom and the secret messages I wrote to my father in my story. I was 11 then and afraid for my family, but today I am not, so I will tell you exactly how I feel and make sure my message is clear.
First, from victim to oppressor. daughter to father. It was an ironic picture. Our fear and your excitement. These details, the faces of your men as they threatened the children’s lives, the feeling of shame as I was forced to pee on myself because you would not let us stop walking after 6 hours, my feet that were so cut up and bleeding that I could not even walk the day after our capture, I still remember vividly. We were sleeping in the rainforest for your Christmas present, dreaming of why ours was stolen. You had no right to hurt innocent people. You had no right to force me to grow up.
I had to be strong. For myself, my mother, and especially my father. I hugged him tightly as we slept and would often, frantically awake without him there. The fear of losing him at every moment, the game you played with him, the strength and hope I had to muster to help him stay afloat – all too much for any young girl to have to endure.
When I came home nothing was the same, I could not only not trust men but especially sadly, Filipino men. I would never be safe again. I remember a few months after the incident, I went on a class camping trip and we needed to take a solo night hike. Within 5 minutes into it, I stood frozen, alone in the dark, paralyzed with fear yelling for someone to save me. Every dark corner now reciprocated fear; every day had new possibilities to be weary of. Ironically, to fight for your freedom you took mine.
From activist to activist. You waged war because you thought you knew what peace was. I get it. As a fighter for justice, I understand the weight of oppression and the pain that is causes. I understand the sadness of starving families, the lack of the privilege to education. I get it. What I do not get, and forever will not understand are the means of terror you used to get theses desires for your people.
We sat endlessly, listening to you talk about your people, your cause, the reasons we were held captive. While your passion spoke volumes, your actions resonated more loudly. You not only separated my family and I from the land that you so loved. But more importantly, you, as a leader, taught the ASG that violence was the only way to achieve success. I am sorry, but your ends do not justify your means.
From activist to activist I understand the fire that burns for inequality. But from leader to leader, I advocate for the understanding of the responsibility you have to fight for justice in a way that does not hurt more people. As a leader you imbed ideas of more pain, more violence, more oppression to heal the pain, violence, and oppression you experienced. Instead of ending it and seeking justice, you are the catalyst of a group that will continue to terrorize, harm, and ruin people’s lives forever.
You started a revolution that will eventually end itself. It starts today, by forever silencing your ideas. As the founder you have created something that FOREVER will steal more young girls futures, that will FOREVER continue to bring disunity to the Philippines, and that FOREVER will leave a legacy of blood, sweat, and tears. That is not activism, that is terrorism.
Finally, from one survivor to one who is forgiven. It took many years, but by the grace of God, I have forgiven you. But forgiveness doesn’t erase the cycle of healing I will forever have to tirelessly work through. As I contemplated on how long you should suffer for the crime you have committed I came to one final conclusion. If I have to live with this the rest for the rest of my life, you should too.
Justice and government used to never coexist peacefully in my vocabulary. They were separate; one had to broken to achieve the other. But these past few days, I saw the glimpse of the America I hope for.
When I heard about our trip to watch the sentencing of the man who organized our family’s kidnapping 15 years ago, all I thought was, “FREE!” haha .. when I was in high school, we were subpoenaed to Washington DC to testify to a grand jury and everything was paid for. As an unemployed adventure and travel junkie, my mind was focused on the free flight and the chance to go to the east coast during the winter. I easily threw myself in preparing for the weather and shopping for just the right boots, gloves, hats, etc . paying no mind to friends questions… “you getting ready for the actual sentencing?” my response: “ummm…I bought these hellla cute boots tho!!”
The running theme of our trip was FREEdom… haha Jill and her friends like to put FR in front of everything they get that’s free .. FREE RIBS ? FRIBS ! FREE PIZZA ? FRIZZA ! FREE TEA … uhhh….FREA? haha so in DC we def had our share of …
It was amazing and definite fit with this season’s theme of compensation. But, more seriously, we had an overflow of a transformative freedom.
The day before the case we met with the team who have been working on our case since day one .. the prosecutors, the FBI agents, the victim advocates, even the attorney general came to stop by and talk to us about how monumental this case was. We spoke about what was at stake, what our presence meant to the sentencing, about what the defense was going to say. As I am a person known for running and numbing myself to trauma, I was head first in my childhood nightmare. To make matters more interesting, we met with the other families who were kidnapped. Separated by confusion, pain, and weariness – we hadn’t seen each other since the kidnapping.
They were going to show videos from the kidnapping. I had never seen these clips and instantly, I was transported into a memory that I have tried endlessly to simplify in my head & to people, for my own healing.
There is a clip of me, wearing oversized clothes and playing with one of the kids. I am not smiling; I am doing the motions pretending that life is regular. Pretending that this is normal. Pretending that I am not afraid. I remember constantly telling myself not to cry. They threatened our tears with bolo knives – maybe that’s why I don’t really cry about it anymore. I remember telling myself to make the other kids comfortable. I remember telling myself to try to be okay so they would not know my fear. So they would not suspect the child within caving inside me.
Another clip, of the soldiers playing with their guns. One by one, I looked at each face, and recognized each one. These men, quite literally, have been the men of my nightmares. Ever since I was a child I have had constant nightmares of being attacked and kidnapped. I never recognized the men in my dreams until I saw that video. There were tears, fists, crying in my mother’s arms. This did happen. It was ..is ..will forever be .. something serious. I have run away and coped to find success, all these years easing the pain by speaking about it frequently. By achieving all that I could. By running to a God who thankfully, has healed me so much more than I could imagine.
As we sat there debriefing a moment I thought would never come, it came to me.
At first, rain drops. Slow staccato making my eyelids surprisingly blink. The attorney general? They’re going to show these videos? Its rare they catch these guys. I will see him tomorrow. Who are these other victims sitting across from me. Then a steady rain. Still light but consistent. He will be in shackles. There will be water and tissue for us. The defense is going to say it wasn’t terrorism. You will have to speak to help him get the right sentencing. Then the down pour. I will be 3 feet away from him. I am a victim of a violent crime. This is not over. He might receive a life sentence, in a super max prison, in which he will spend 23 hours in isolation. Then the dam broke. It’s washing over me in waves. Choking me. Making me float. Surrounding me. Confusing me.
Some of the people kidnapped with us still live in Mindanao.
His son is still part of the Abu Sayaff.
“there is no closure for these types of things.” –an fbi agent
its endless, it will be endless.
At the end of the day I had exhausted all peaces of my heart, soul, and mind. I had walked completely in and through a memory that has spawned a 15 year long case. I ended the day with writing my victim impact statement. Another complicated situation. Within an allotted 10 minutes, I had to say everything I’ve stored in prayer and mind to the man who orchestrated the death of my innocence. I had to make sure the judge knew the consequences. I wanted Haipe to know I was an educated grown woman who had forgiven him but hated him. I had to make sure I could read it without trembling and suddenly lunging towards him. I had to make sure my words were clear, precise, and moving. It came to me slowly, piece by piece, taken from years of processing. Then it was done. Possibly the most important thing I would ever write in my life.