By: Jennifer P. Rendon
PANTING , sweating, and on the verge of losing consciousness, 15-year old Jun (real name withheld) arrived at their home in Arevalo district, Iloilo City around 12:10 a.m. of March 1, 2019 after several hours of disappearance.
He also brought with him a piece of news that sent his anxious family members on their toes: he was abducted by armed men and there were other children who were also held against their will.
Accompanied by his mother and aunt, he hurriedly reported the incident to Arevalo Police Station to inform authorities about what happened to him and the other kids.
We believed him because we saw how scared he looked, said Myrna (not her name), Juns mother.
But after several hours, Jun admitted that his disappearance was part of the now infamous Momo Challenge.
Online reports indicated that Momo Challenge is a hoax Internet challenge, which was spread by users on Facebook and media outlets. It was reported that children and adolescents were being enticed by a user named Momo to perform a series of dangerous tasks including violent attacks and suicide.
Jun told his family that he was on his way to school on Feb. 28, when a van stopped near him. A woman allegedly alighted and asked where they could possibly have breakfast.
A man then followed and poked a knife at Jun and allegedly forced the teenager into the van where he saw 12 other children.
The van later brought them to a town in Iloilo province.
Members of Arevalo Police Station were sent to Cabatuan, a town 24 kilometers from Iloilo City, as their first stop in the search for the alleged kidnapped kids.
Based on Juns narration, they were brought to a three-storey house which is still under construction. He allegedly saw around 30 children and what appeared to be organs placed inside a plastic bag.
Together with two other boys who were allegedly from La Paz district, Iloilo City, they managed to escape by climbing down the window of one of the comfort rooms.
They escaped on foot until they arrived at the transport terminal in Iloilo City where they allegedly went on their separate ways.
Shortly after the incident was reported, members of Arevalo Police Station conducted a follow-up operation.
Police Captain Sullen Domingo, Cabatuan police chief, said they went to a barangay near the Iloilo International Airport shortly after city police officers arrived around 2 a.m.
The police, Jun, and his family members trudged rice paddies in search for a house with a mango tree in front. They later arrived at the village, which is part of the nearby Sta. Barbara town.
At 4:30 a.m., we were already exhausted and had to take rest in the middle of the rice field. But we still did not locate the house, Domingo said.
By 5 a.m., Jun led the police to a house in Barangay Consolacion, San Miguel town. He claimed that armed men guarded the house.
When police checked, individuals inside the still unfinished house were taken aback by the teenagers allegations.
Police Major Jojo Tabaloc, San Miguel police chief, said he also doubted the allegations but he had to perform his job as a police officer.
But from the first instance, we did not see any traces of truth, he said.
UNCOVERING THE LIES
Even Juns mother and aunt had some doubts on the alleged abduction.
But we were thinking, what if its true? We wanted to save the other children, Myrna said in vernacular.
His aunt claimed that she first wanted Jun to rest and process what happened to him.
But we also felt that we were racing against time, she said.
Police Corporal Michelle Habagat of the Arevalo Police Station – Women and Childrens Protection Section said that even though Juns story was borderline fictitious, we just cant dismiss it because lives could be at stake.
Habagat and officers from Arevalo Police Station headed by Police Captain Benjie Ballejera accompanied Jun and his family to locate the supposed house where the rest of the children were kept.
But at around 7 a.m. while scouting the San Miguel town area, Habagat decided to privately talk to Jun inside the police car.
After some quizzing, the teenager admitted that the kidnapping was a hoax and that he was only forced to join the Momo Challenge.
Jun, a Grade 9 student of a school in Arevalo district, said he only learned of Momo Challenge just recently following reports in social media.
On Wednesday, he searched for the Momo Challenge application.
I saw that also with other children my age, he said.
Jun has no mobile phone and reportedly played the game at a computer shop.
The Momo master allegedly ordered him to fulfill a challenge the following day. He was allegedly told to go to a far place and then run back home.
The order was relayed through chat messaging and in English language. He was also instructed to delete the conversation history.
On several instances, Jun had to stop and take a rest before continuing the challenge.
Once he arrived home, he was ordered to fake losing consciousness.
Kon indi ko kuno pagpatihon, patyon kami or mag-suicide (If I would not follow, we would be killed or have to commit suicide), he said.
Because of what happened, Jun and his family have appealed for understanding, as they asked for forgiveness for the trouble the incident has caused.