The Untold Story: The 1981 
Murga Kidnapping
BY MAJO MURGA MORTENSEN

EDITOR'SNOTE: Twenty years ago on Feb. 8, 1981, Majo, then 10 years old, and his uncle, Ramon ("Nonoy") Murga, 26, were kidnapped by Muslim bandits posing as MNLF rebels while picnicking with family friends at the Murga beach house in Pitogo, a quiet barrio some 7 kilometers from the city proper of Zamboanga. In his own words and writing, Majo, told us a chilling account of what really happened that day (click here to view our May 1987 issue) when he was 16. Now, we are reprinting his story in memory of his uncle, Ramon ("Nonoy") Murga. 



AUTHOR'S NOTE: Before I write this article I'd like to say three things. There was a book entitled "Nonoy & The Rebels" which  was written by Willie Marquez. Well, Marquez has said a lot of lies in his book and has not fully got the true facts from me. Rather he made them up himself. Secondly, I'm sorry to the editor and readers [of L.A. Zamboanga Times] for not writing so soon. Lastly, but not least, I'd like to say that the time my uncle died was May 9, 1981 and would like to write this article for him.  "Para con tigo este Nonoy!" 

  It was a fine Sunday morning, February 8, 1981. Nonoy went in the front gate with his Toyota Tamaraw. At that moment it was about to be my turn to have piano lessons. Nonoy came up to me and asked me if I could go with him and his friends to the family beach house in Pitogo. 
     Without much delay, I jumped into the Tamaraw without even telling my parents. At the beach, we went swimming for about 3 hours until it was time to have lunch. Everybody rushed out of the water towards the house. 
     Nonoy and I were preparing to cook at the back of the house. And as we started to make fire, Nonoy's friends went into the house. We did not realize that there were 5 men moving towards our direction inside the compound. 
     As I looked up, I saw 5 men armed with .45 caliber pistols. Then one of them said, "kidnappers!" with a Muslim accent and pointed his gun to Nonoy's head. One of them grabbed me and another grabbed Nonoy. As we were running towards a waiting pumpboat in the beach, Nonoy's friends and my uncles Pietro and Toto, saw us with the men running hurriedly. Upon boarding the boat, the two of them ran out of the house to see where we were heading.
Photo by KENNY L. SHINN / LAZT

This is the back of the Murga beach house in Pitogo. The arrow  shows where Majo
and Nonoy were taken at gunpoint by five armed
kidnappers.

     After two hours, we landed on the far side of Basilan province. There we were introduced to other rebels of the MNLF (although I knew they were not rebels, but pirates of the military using the MNLF as an excuse). In their camp there about 50 to 60 followers, men, women and children. We were then led to a nipa hut. There the commander introduced himself as Commander Jamiri, and then introduced the rest as commanders, Mako, Hajarun, Ingot and others.
     That same night the rebels made up their ransom demand by typing a letter asking for P2 million. Three weeks have passed since our abduction and our group have been bombarded by military artillery aud bombed by (Tora-Tora) airplanes. We camped out in the mangrove area to avoid being hit. 
     After four days, Nonoy plans to escape. The next morning Nonoy asked the commander if we could take a bath in the shore. After our guard left us to take a bath himself, Nonoy pretended to be following small fishes when we were really moving away from the guard who was out of sight. After a few meters, Nonoy started to run while dragging me along. Nonoy instructed me to wave at any boat in sight. 
     Nonoy saw a boat in a few distance. He waved at the people on the boat. Nonoy did not have his glasses at that time and we were recaptured.
     The rebels were surprised by our attempt to escape and pointed their guns at us. From that day on, they chained Nonoy most of the time.
     For 91 days we have undergone that kind of an ordeal. Always being watched by our guard. For me although I was too young to realize the danger, I had a little fun.

Photo courtesy of Pete and Babuchi Mortensen

Majo (left) and Nonoy inside a nipa hut during their 91-day ordeal. This was the original
photo sent by the kidnappers to the Murgas
demanding a P2-million ransom.

    Three weeks before our release, my mother Babuchi came with Sultan Jacob Lim. Nonoy and I did not know that my mom was coming. We were really surprised to see her. Nonoy warned her not to stay long because she does not know what kidnappers do to women, especially in this part of the country.
     On the fateful day of our release, Nonoy and I with some rebels, riding a worn out vinta, were rowing towards the rescue team. They came on a speed boat. On board were my grandfather, Peter Murga, Sultan Lim, his secretary, the boat's driver and the negotiator named "Fox".
     As the vinta hit the speed boat, my grandfather threw the money, contained in a tupperware, into the water as Nonoy and I transferred from the vinta to the speed boat. I was at the top front of the boat past the windshield. 
    My uncle, Nonoy, was standing in the middle of the boat looking for a place where to seat. Then all of a sudden I fell flat on the boat. The rebels fired in our direction as the boat sped away. Fixing myself from the fall, I stood up and took over the wheel of the speed boat. I asked myself, "where's the driver?" I looked around and saw him on my right side he was hit and was unconscious. 
     I glanced over the boat's windshield and saw that the boat was going back towards the firing rebels. I turned the wheel thinking it was a video game.
     Now safely away from the kidnapper's line of fire and under supervision of my grandfather, I drove the boat to Lamitan, a nearby municipality. I looked around to see where everybody was. "Where is Nonoy?," I asked myself. I cried out loud when I saw him (Nonoy) down on the floor of the boat with a pool of blood in his back. Sultan Lim was unconscious, his secretary was alright but stunned. My grandfather was looking at me at that time with a wounded hand and the negotiator was unhurt.
     At that point in time, Nonoy was shouting in pain as my grandfather kept on saying, "hang on, Nonoy."
    Upon reaching the port, everybody disembarked. My uncle was brought out in a stretcher and my grandfather beside me. As we were about to leave for the hospital, the negotiator grabbed me, but I managed to slip away from his grip and I ran towards my grandfather. A woman who witnessed what had just happened told me to stay close to my grandfather.
     Nonoy was dead upon arrival at the hospital. Before he died, he said, "Lord, I shall be with You today."
    Two hours later, a military helicopter took us to Zamboanga City---the seriously wounded first and the unhurt last.
   My mother, Pilar Murga-Mortensen, was happy that Nonoy and I were coming home that afternoon. My grandfather broke the news to her about the unfortunate incident.
    I only have one thing to say about that incident. 
    "I'm sorry Nonoy for breaking my promise." 
    Nonoy and I made a promise while in captivity that when he dies, I too will die with him. I'm so sorry, Nonoy. Please forgive me." When I do die, I hope it's at 11:00 a.m., May 9 on a Saturday. (END)

An e-mail from Majo 
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Below is an e-mail we received from Majo dated March 13, 2001. We wish him and his new family the best and good luck.)

Profile: Jose "Majo" Mortensen
Age: 30
DOB: April 18, 1970
Status: Married to Becky Baum from Altoona, Pennsylvania
Job Title:  Systems Administrator

     Life has been good so far. These last few years God has blessed me greatly. I can't thank Him enough for what He has done in my life. Since the kidnapping I have had dreams and nightmares about the experience. I miss Nonoy very much but I know that he is always beside me. 
     The experience has made me realize that life is too short to waste time with. Love the ones you love and love the ones you hate, for life is too short to love and hate. Live day to day and don't worry about the future. Tomorrow will come eventually and you will have no control over it. 
     You can always wonder, but you don't have to worry.  God has us exactly where we are supposed to be. Sometimes it takes a painful experience to make us change our ways. And most importantly, love your enemies as much as you love yourself (this has kept me sane). And the greatest thing that I learned is that God never leaves you alone, He will always keep looking out for you and working for you.
     My family is well.  Babuchi (mom) is working hard as always and still has her good cooking skills.  Pete (dad) is still as "Cano" as ever, always looking good. I don't think he will ever get old. Brothers and sisters are off to colleges and getting engaged. But my little brother Ramon is still at home and going to middle school.
     Myself, I have been busy tinkering around with computers and networks. I play the classical guitar and am heavily involved in my church activities. I'm part of a band called Presence Of One. It is kinda of a mix of 60's style folk music with a Spanish and Filipino flare.  The members are Cindy, Kay, Daniel, and me. We hope to get our cd out into the market by Easter or the end of April. We also hope to perform in coffee houses and churches and the radio.
     I got married in 1997 and I have recently bought a house in VA.  Becky has helped me break my bad habits of procrastination and laziness. Her love for me is unquestionable and I love her very much. Although she is Caucasian, she understands our culture very much.  She even eats durian, bagoong and dinuguan!  She has lived in a Filipino community in Hawaii for 15 years. Thank goodness that she understands why I point with my lips when asked where something is. 
      Well I think that is all for now.  Until then God bless you and yours.

Numa Pelya,
Majo
 

PS:   I will start thinking of an article title and write something. Thanks for listening and encouraging me.


NOTE: Below is a copy of Majo's article which he wrote in long hand and dated April 7, 1987. He was 16 years old at the time. Again, I would like to thank Majo and his parents for sharing with us this painful, but valuable experience. And to Nonoy, may you rest in everlasting peace!

LA Zamboanga Times Archive

Photo courtesy of Pete and Babuchi Mortensen

This is a picture of Pete and Babuchi Mortensen and their children taken in 1987. Majo is seated at far right. The Mortensens live in Virginia.


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