ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines—Ivan Sarenas held his breath as long as he could as he swam underwater in Tawi-Tawi Wednesday night to escape gunmen who had earlier abducted him and fellow birdwatchers Ewold Horn of the Netherlands and Lorenzo Vinciguerra of Switzerland.
“I saw an opportunity in the darkness of the night to escape by jumping off the boat. I held my breath as long as I could and swam away,” Sarenas told the Inquirer by phone.
He said his experience in skindiving helped him in his escape. Skindiving is a form of swimming under water without the use of a diving helmet or special diving suit and divers using this technique learn to hold their breath longer than other individuals.
Sarenas said his being familiar with the waters of Tawi-Tawi also contributed to his successful escape. He was a regular visitor to the island province and, weeks before accompanying Horn and Vinciguerra there, Sarenas said he also went there along with several other foreigners for some bird-watching.
Sarenas said he was plucked out of sea by several fishermen near Languyan Island, 57 kilometers from Panglima Sugala, where the abduction took place.
He was then taken to the Languyan police station, where he was later fetched by Senior Superintendent Rodelio Jocson, Tawi-Tawi police director.
Sarenas said he was not completely happy about his escape because he was worried about Horn, 52, and Vinciguerra, 47.
Horn and Vinciguerra are museum staffers in their respective countries and are involved in animal conservation, he said.
Sarenas said what lured the two foreigners to Tawi-Tawi, as with others who came before them, were the Tawi-Tawi hornbill and rare birds.
“They went to Tawi-Tawi sometime in 1994 but they were refused access to the area to see the hornbills, so when they got permission, they immediately came over,” he said.
The two foreigners were also documenting several other species found only in Tawi-Tawi, such as cock owls and brown doves.
They spent 14 days to document the species.
“I guess our movement had already been monitored, nabantayan na siguro kami,” Sarenas said.