CAMP CRAME, Quezon City — Former senator and justice secretary Leila de Lima was briefly held hostage early morning of Sunday by a co-detainee at the Philippine National Police custodial center in Camp Crame, but was saved by cops after three detained Abu Sayyaf rebels, one of them the hostage taker, were shot dead.

“I thought I would die,” de Lima was quoted as saying after the hostage drama which triggered the sacking of Lt. Col. Patrick Ramillano, the officer in charge of the PNP Detention Center where Senators Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. were once detained.

De Lima, who has been detained in the facility since 2017 for drug charges, said the “near-death experience” made her value life even more.

“Sinabihan ako na ‘ma’am, patay na ang dalawang kasamahan ko kaya kailangan mo sumama sa akin kasi papatayin din ako,'” De Lima recounted, adding that the inmate eventually tied her hands behind her back and dragged her out of her compound.

Investigation showed that the rebels tried to escape from the detention center which is located inside the PNP headquarters in Camp Crame.

The PNP  denied the detainees targeted De Lima, saying it was “incidental” because they could not escape through the main gate.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. and Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr., PNP said de Lima was unhurt and taken to a hospital for a checkup after the incident and was declared fit. Abalos visited the former senator after the incident.

Abalos said President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and de Lima talked over the phone where the Chief Executive expressed concern over the incident and discussed her transfer to a “safe” detention facility, but the former senator initially declined the transfer, saying she was safe in her present location.

It was gathered that de Lima was suffering from some pain as a result of the pressing of a weapon by her hostage taker on her body.

The incident triggered calls for the detention of de Lima in her house or a safer place, but the former senator reportedly refused the transfer. Others sought the immediate dismissal of the cases filed against her during the Duterte administration.

PNP investigators said one of the three inmates stabbed a police officer who was delivering breakfast after dawn in an open area where inmates can exercise outdoors.

A police officer in a sentry tower fired warning shots, and then shot and killed two of the prisoners, including Abu Sayyaf commander Idang Susukan, when they refused to yield, police said.

The third inmate ran to de Lima’s cell and briefly held her hostage, but he was also gunned down by police commandos, Azurin said.

Susukan, who had been blamed for dozens of killings and beheadings of hostages, including foreign tourists, and other terrorist attacks was arrested two years ago in southern Davao city.

The other two inmates, Arnel Cabintoy and Feliciano Sulayao Jr., were suspected members of the Dawlah Islamiyah, a Muslim militant group that has been linked to bombings and other deadly attacks in the country’s south. They were arrested in 2019 in  Quezon city and were facing non-bailable charges like Susukan, police officials said.