What it was like to be held at gunpoint

It was one of those desolate nights — my friends and I were on our way home from a night out at a bar in Makati, worn-out and almost sober, in a cab that we hailed out of the impatience to wait for our Uber driver. Time check: 4 a.m. I knew this very well because I was clutching my phone, waiting for messages from a boy I just started seeing. Time, in this essence, felt slow. I didn’t think it could get any slower.

I was at the back passenger seat, recalling the events of the night with my best friend, trying to immortalize the rush of a budding romance. I was distracted, so I didn’t think any differently when the cab driver politely asked if he could take a shortcut. The roads then got narrower as we drove into the less explored parts of Makati, the parts that weren’t as shiny. It was all well until the hasty stop — and suddenly, a gun was pointed at our faces. The cab driver demanded that we stay inside the cab and give our valuables, or he’d kill us all.

My sense of humor at the time was split across an absurd, six-second time frame, so I honestly thought it was a joke. I wanted to laugh because this couldn’t have been happening. Not to me. Not to us. It took me a few precious seconds to realize it was real — that it was happening because I just saw my best friend jump out of the cab. This confused the driver, and it gave my other friends the opportunity to leave as well.

You know what they say about fight or flight? I was full-on frozen.

A part of me was compliant and the other half was calculating. Time moved differently, and I felt every passing thought excruciatingly. Propelled by adrenaline, I can’t remember much about how I managed to jump out while the cab was moving, or how I still had my phone as the driver took my bag. I don’t know how I ran and I most certainly don’t recall how many closed gates I passed until I saw an open one to break down at. I never felt terror like this — I was shaking, crying, and screaming on the ground waiting for help.

The commotion woke up the street. Strangers were coming over to comfort me as I heard my surroundings come alive. It was a blur of bodies until I recognized my friends’ faces. We held each other. We were very much alive.

We were then assisted to a series of interrogations — first at the barangay, and then at the nearby police station. It was torturous —  the slow and inefficient justice system made our case feel helpless. All in all, it was six hours of inessential back-and-forth. When they finally let us go, they even advised us to just “take a cab outside,” like the prior hours spent were already a forgotten memory.

 

I was angry at the system that allowed this to happen, and I was angry that the suspects exclusively targeted women.

 

We went home still feeling like we were in a trance. The days that followed were dreamlike — I remember narrating the story as though it happened to someone else. I was well aware that our justice system is flawed, but experiencing its ramifications was something else. We did all the necessary steps, but it was not enough, as we never heard from our case again. It was easily buried like countless others, and the police were unfazed by it all. This was sadly the norm, and in a country dominated by transgressions, my story was just a nuance to add to much bigger issues.

I’ll just go ahead and say this — the incident didn’t change me or make me want to live a better life. But it did make me realize how much I want to live, and how senseless it would be to die of a crime that was outside of one’s control.

As time passed, I mostly realized how angry I was — I was angry at the fact that what happened was a modus that had been going on around Makati, and that the police knew but weren’t doing anything about it. I was angry at the system that allowed this to happen, and I was angry that the suspects exclusively targeted women. I was angry that the police were inefficient and prejudiced with our situation, and I was revolted to find out a text a day later from a young police officer asking me how I am, only to realize he was hitting on me. I was disgusted, weary, and outraged. And writing this, I realize that I still am.

Up to this day, I still don’t ride cabs. I still feel a jolt of terror when I am in an alley. I still feel a pang of jealousy when I see men walk home. If I try hard enough, I can convince myself that someone is watching me. I don’t think I’ll ever feel that safe again. It opened me to my own vulnerability and it robbed me of an easy interaction with the city I call my home. It did push me to use this anger as a platform — to acknowledge that there is still so much to be done, and as women, there is still so much to fight for.

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