I was supposed to attend the back-to-back Cooperative Managers Association in Mindanao (CMAM)-Caraga Chapter and the MASS-SPECC Cooperative Development Center Regional Steering Committee (RSC) Meeting at Butuan City scheduled July 10, 2014. However, due to an urgent notice for a luncheon meeting with the Vice-President of the Land Bank of the Philippines at Surigao City on the same date, I just instructed my six (6) SOEMCO Branch Managers to attend the CMAM meeting and I will try my best to attend the subsequent RSC Meeting.
At 2:30 PM, more or less, when we were already cruising the national highway en route to Butuan City, I told the driver to stop at the roadside as I have something to think deeply. Afterwards, I instructed him to turn back to SOEMCO Surigao Branch. The driver asked for what reason, Sir? My reply: “I felt that something is going to happen.” While we were already at the city proper, I was asking to myself: Hey what are you doing? What would you say to the RSC members if the meeting might be cancelled because of the absence of the Presiding Officer? Candidly, it was the first ever trip in my life that I made a turn around but truly, I couldn’t find any answer to my self-queries.
Thirty minutes, more or less later, I received a text from one of my staff in SOEMCO Alegria Branch that the Police Station situated a hundred meters from the Branch Office in Alegria, Surigao del Norte was attacked by the New People’s Army (NPA). I calculated the travel time and … Oh my God! our vehicle could have been within a striking distance with the attacked police station had I decided to proceed to Butuan City.
I frantically dialed my mobile phone and conducted a roll call making sure that all Branch Staff are accounted for. All female staff were in the office, 2 male staff managed to sneak to the office after the lull of the firefight while the other male staff were trapped safely at Barangay Magpayang, Mainit located several hundred meters away from the NPA Blockade at Barangay Pungtod in the same town of Alegria.
All branch staff being accounted for, I reclined to my seat with a sigh of relief. But Alas! How about my Branch Managers? I called their respective mobile phones but all were shut off. I immediately contacted the Butuan meeting coordinator and got an answer that the SOEMCO participants had left for Surigao City an hour earlier. I made a quick mental calculation and exclaimed: “Oh My God! They must have been within the conflict zone when the firefight had erupted!” My fingertips were almost torn apart in pounding my iphone’s keypad hoping just to hear even a single ring from the other end, but to no avail.
Just as I was on the verge of being hysterical, the Socorro Branch Manager’s phone rang and I heard a shivering voice telling intermittently about their ordeal. . .that the SOEMCO service vehicle heading to Surigao City was stopped at Barangay Cuyago, Jabonga, Agusan del Norte. . . that at gunpoint, they were ordered to alight and stay at the middle of the road only a few steps away from the NPA combatants. . . that the driver was told to park the vehicle across the road and deflate the tires afterward. . . that they were at the midst with the exchange of gunfire between the advancing soldiers of the Philippine Army and the rebels… that they overheard a young man sporting a military uniform speaking on the phone that the initial barricade was already broken by the Army who were quickly advancing towards their location. . . that the NPAs retreated to the hills but detonated the land mines situated just a few meters where the human shields were dropping.
Candidly, I felt that the world was turned upside down while listening to such narration. Moreover, I felt guilty that my managers were helplessly subjected to such life and death situation on their own as I should have been in their side during those critical times.
Nevertheless, true to my mandate to serve as a rock to lean on in crisis situations, I managed to calm them down as they traveled safely to Alegria Branch where they stayed overnight for good. Afterwards, I texted them to come to Surigao City in the early morning for a breakfast meeting with me as their Chief Executive Officer together with the SOEMCO Chairperson and the Admin and Finance Manager as well.
But, what am I contemplating to do in the breakfast meeting tomorrow? Give my managers a fatherly hug and lend them my ears to somehow ease their pain and agony for being held hostage in the line of duty. Also, together we shall thank God for sending my guardian angel who, by virtue of a premonition, had stopped me from travelling towards the conflict area and for sending the Holy Spirit to guard my Branch Managers to safety.
Premonition, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “a feeling or belief that something is going to happen when there is no definite reason to believe it will.” Others may dismiss it as nothing but mere unfounded fear like the case of a mother who just ignored the premonition of his son expressed to her the night before the crash of the MH17 plane in Ukraine. But premonition is mighty… it happened to me and I choose to succumb to its power.