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From Where We Sit

Alone on a Friday the 13th

Michael C. Gallego Michael C. Gallego

I lived alone in the UK a little over a decade ago. One Friday the 13th, I craved and cooked nilagang baka in my Ascot flat. While excitedly eating my steaming hot dinner, I choked on a litid past 8:00 in the evening.

All blue and gasping for breath, I jumped, self-Heimlich-ed, dangled from the door frame, and drank soda to loosen out the block. All to no avail. I ran to the minor surgery hospital opposite my place but was referred to the nearest accident and emergency hospital some 21 miles (around 34 kilometers) away.

I quickly picked up Ria, a colleague, who was living below my flat and she drove me to the hospital. As we were passing through the very dark Windsor Great Forest, I was vomiting in a paper bowl.

If I did not make it out of the flat that night, nobody would have noticed. Then the thought, “how will my loved ones in Manila know if I’m ok?” I had a classmate before who told me of an arrangement he had with his parents that if they did not hear from him within any 24-hour period, they would immediately go to the police station, post a blotter and initiate a search effort.

From then on, safety precautions have been constantly bugging me – which is expectedly heightened when you are in a far off place. Especially during these times when people are very mobile, I wonder, what precautions can we set up to alert those who can respond and help us in times of danger or threat? The following readings gave me ideas, which I hope would also be useful to you as well:

1. In his book “Power Play,” fiction writer Joseph Finder wrote something about an electronic duress code. In a conversation within the story, one of the characters remembered setting up this code in the event one is threatened at gunpoint to access his accounts:

“It’s just a variant authentication code. If you enter a nine before and after the PIN, it trips a silent alarm. Tells the bank officer that the transaction is fraudulent, probably coerced.” Then what happens? “Well, first thing they freeze the account. Then a whole emergency sequence gets triggered – calls are made to a list of people – telling them something is wrong: Someone’s probably forcing a company officer to access the accounts.”

2. ICE – In case of emergency

UK emergency services personnel encouraged mobile phone owners to program emergency contact details into their phones. Often at the scene of incidents, emergency services personnel want to inform relatives or associates as soon as possible and often will retrieve a person’s mobile phone to do this. However, knowing who to call can be a dilemma for the early responders to an emergency situation, including the possibility of them causing unnecessary distress if the wrong person is contacted.

The idea was thought up by a paramedic. Their recommendation is to enter ICE (In case of emergency) before the person’s name. For more than one contact use ICE1, ICE2, ICE3, etc., or ICE1–wife, ICE2–brother, ICE3–boss, etc.

3. In The Day of the Jackal, a book that was turned into a movie starring Bruce Willis, Frederick Forsyth wrote about an “insurance” in case somebody disappears unexpectedly:

“You do not need to worry. I do not intend to harm you. Besides, I imagine a man of your intelligence has taken certain precautions against being killed by one of his customers. A telephone call expected within an hour perhaps? A friend who will arrive to find the body if the call did not come through? A letter deposited with a lawyer, to be opened in the event of your death? For me, killing you would create more problems than it would solve.”

“M. Goossens was startled. He had indeed a letter permanently deposited with a lawyer, to be opened in the event of his death. It instructed the police to search under a certain stone in the back garden. Beneath the stone was a box containing a list of those expected to call at the house each day. It was replaced each day. For this day, the note described only the customer expected to call, a tall Englishman of well-to-do appearance who called himself Duggan. It was just a form of insurance.”

Would it be great if we have something like these triggered at certain “choking” points in our lives: a duress text from any of our family members if he or she is unsafe, or an identity challenge if a robber forces our helpers to make demand calls, or check–up calls if we’re vacationing (especially during this Lenten break). What safety precautions have we established in case our dreaded imagining comes true?

When we reached the hospital that Friday the 13th, calming medicines and soda were offered and a laryngoscopy taken. And still no luck. But when that needle was about to be inserted, the blockage slipped down on its own. I am afraid of hospitals, blood and needles, and the thought of being hospitalized was all the cure I needed, I reckoned. Or perhaps because it was already past midnight – past Friday the 13th!

Mhycke Gallego is a partner for Advisory and Head of Knowledge Management of P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading audit, tax, advisory and outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 21 partners and over 900 staff members. For your comments, please email or For more information about P&A Grant Thornton, visit our website


As published in The Manila Times, dated 28 March 2018