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Chapter 5

Things are happening in Manila

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Recap of chapter 4

The woman they now presume to be the mother screams with shock and delight when she learns that the child she thought was dead is actually alive. She wants her baby back, but her delight is short-lived: the police are keen to prosecute her and take her in for an interview. The woman tells them she is 31 years old and a citizen of the Philippines, and that she went into labour one month prior to her due date when she was outside taking a walk. Weakened by her condition, she made her way back to the apartment, where she entered the bathroom and delivered the child. She told the officers that the child had made no sound and had been entirely motionless.

She explains to police that in her state of shock, she found two plastic carrier bags beneath the bathroom sink and placed the child inside them before making her way to the churchyard. She wanted to place the baby there in order that it might be found and given a proper burial. The police charge the woman according to paragraph 242 of the Norwegian Criminal Code, “leaving an individual in a condition of helplessness”, and for having abandoned an individual for whom one has a duty of care. The charge carries a sentence of 3 to 8 years in prison.

The woman is on the verge of a breakdown. She had been convinced that the baby was dead, she claims once again. She is taken to the hospital in order to be allowed to recover, but is not permitted to see her son. One senior consultant states that it is not impossible that the mother could have believed her baby to have been dead following the child’s delivery. After three days, the mother is permitted to spend some time with her son at Ullevål Hospital. Their reunion is an overwhelming affair. However, the charges against the mother still apply. The police interview the woman several times, in addition to taking her with them to reconstruct events. As she stands in the churchyard, she shares something that she had not previously stated in interviews: “I began to feel worried an hour or so after I returned to the apartment. I came back to the churchyard to see if the bag was where I had left it. By the time I got here, my baby was gone.”

Go to front page

This was a significant new twist. The boy’s mother had returned to the churchyard to look for the bag with the newborn baby inside that she had left by a shrub approximately an hour earlier.

It was this terrible additional burden that she’d carried with her in the days since the event. The very fact that she had been convinced that the baby was dead was sufficiently agonising in itself, but then he had disappeared, been removed, taken from her once and for all. She’d had no idea where he had gone. Then again, her son would probably receive a proper burial, just as she’d hoped he might. In spite of this, the loss ate away at her, painful and difficult to bear.

But why had she returned to the churchyard an hour after leaving the baby there? Perhaps she’d felt a hint of regret? A sense of panic? Or had she experienced a moment of clarity after what she herself and others had described as an episode of postpartum psychosis?

Was my baby really dead?

And from a different angle, that of the police:

Is she guilty after all?

The woman is still formally charged with having left her newborn child in a condition of helplessness, but denies any guilt, and gradually thinks that they might be starting to believe her when she says:

“I was convinced the baby was stillborn!”

After being discharged from hospital, the woman is moved to Katarinahjemmet, a convent at St. Olav’s church, while her baby boy remains on the children’s ward at the hospital.

Her son – still separated from his mother – has now been transferred to one of the neonatal unit cots after spending time in an incubator and several days in intensive care. The infant spends much of his time sleeping, but is growing increasingly stronger.

Langslet holder barnet Langslet holder barnet
Still at the hospital: Doctor Asbjørn Langslet with the baby

In the media, and internally within the police force, further light is shed on the legal implications of the case. Assistant professor Svein Slettan of the Department of Public and International Law at the University of Oslo alerts national newspaper Dagbladet to a loophole that exists in the 90-year-old Norwegian law, a loophole intended to apply to women who commit criminal acts in a powerful state of postpartum depression, for example.

“A woman who leaves her newborn child can escape punishment,” Slettan says.

The same is true of a woman who leaves her newborn baby on the street in the hope that someone might find the infant and take care of it.

The impaired state of mind that a mother may experience during the 24-hour period following a child’s birth has motivated legislators to include a paragraph intended to protect those women affected.

It is also considered unfortunate that any prosecution might leave a mother unable to care for her newborn infant.

“It is first and foremost out of consideration for the child that the law exists in this form, and that even a mother’s attempt to take the life of her newborn infant can go unpunished,” Slettan explains.

He clarifies that there are two necessary conditions for this element of the law to take effect:

The crime must have been carried out within the 24 hours immediately following the child’s birth, and the child must not have died or suffered any significant injuries as a result of the mother’s offence.

These conditions concern only the mother; if the father has participated in the criminal act, he will be judged in accordance with paragraph 233 of the Criminal Code, the legal expert advises.

The investigators stationed at police headquarters in Grønland favour the following decision:

Investigators believe it to be credible that the mother believed her baby to be stillborn.

For the mother, the baby had appeared lifeless. Dead. She can’t have made this up, and the investigators conclude that it is likely to represent the reality of the situation.

There is, however, one exception among the group. When things fall silent, Laila Back, one of the police officers who had been part of the initial team to discover the mother living on Ullevålsalléen, expresses her anxiety.

“I feel a little apprehensive, in truth,” she says.

Grønland Politistasjon Oslo
Photograph: Anette Karlsen / NTB Scanpix

She harbours more doubts than her fellow officers, and fears that the mother will simply fly the child out of Norway only to dump him elsewhere on her return to the Philippines, or after she makes it home. That is, of course, if the child really was unwanted.

As she points out to her colleagues, she simply can’t get her head around how it could be possible to act the way the mother did immediately after the child’s birth, even though she is well aware that postpartum psychosis and postpartum depression “can take many strange forms”, and in spite of the fact that she heard the senior consultant express the fact that newborns can appear lifeless at birth. Even so, she cannot shake the sense of unease she feels at the thought that has arisen in her mind. On the other hand, she must place her faith in the skilled evaluations of the police and child protection authorities. It is within neither her own nor the police force’s field of expertise to assess the mental health of new mothers, or anyone else for that matter. Experts must come to a decision about “whether or not a mental health issue exists”.

Neither is there any indication that she had caused the baby any harm. Had the police documented anything of the like, the situation as a whole would naturally be very different.

The public prosecutor working on the case can find no reason to pursue the matter.

18 OCTOBER

On Friday 18 October, Oslo Police announce their final decision on the case: they ask the public prosecutor to drop all charges and to dismiss the case against “the woman (31)”, given that “no criminal liability can be proven”.

She is granted permission to return to the Philippines with her child. The Oslo child protection authorities nullify the decision taken to temporarily remove the child from the mother’s care.

The following day, Dagbladet writes:

“From endless desperation to elation in the space of just 11 days – on Monday, the woman will take off from Fornebu airport and return to the Philippines with her healthy baby boy.”

“This case reminds us that human emotions have an important place within our legal system,” the woman’s lawyer Benedict de Vibe states.

But before she leaves the country, there is something important that the woman must do on Saturday 19 October at St. Olav’s cathedral. Once described as “the most beautiful church building in Oslo”, and part of the Catholic diocese of Oslo, the cathedral has welcomed newborns, mourned the deceased, and embraced sinners and lovers since 1856.

Claes Tande, the priest, speaks to those present in English as he looks at the child to be baptised – lying in his mother’s lap dressed in a white, crocheted baptismal robe with blue ribbons – and at the godparents, Benedict de Vibe and two nuns.

“We are gathered here to celebrate the greatest of miracles: a baby has been born. This is an event that causes us to stop, an occasion that brings us face-to-face with a true mystery. Parents experience this most overwhelmingly: they participate in creating a miracle that is beyond their control, a miracle that they are barely able to express in words. God creates new life.”

“So… what’s the baby going to be called?” the priest asks.

“Victor Olav,” the mother replies.

Victor from the word “Victory” , as a nod to the way the boy had achieved victory over death, the mother had decided, and Olav after St. Olav, since she was eager to give him a Norwegian name after everything that had happened.

The priest anoints the child on the chest with the oil of catechumens. After the declaration of faith and the renunciation of sins, a Filipino priest connected to St. Olav’s church pours water over the child’s head three times as he recites the Trinitarian formula in Tagalog, the language of the Philippines:

“Victor Olav, I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

After this, the priest lights the baptism candle and says: “May he keep the flame of faith alive in his heart. When the Lord comes, may he go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.”

“Amen.”

The priest places a little salt on the baby’s tongue.

“Take this salt in sign of wisdom. May it be for you likewise a token that foreshadows everlasting life. Peace be with you.”

The priest blesses the mother, who holds the baby in her arms, and the father, at home in the Philippines.

“Almighty God, bless this mother, who expresses her thanks to you for her child…”

Amen, the assembled guests chant.

Dåpen
Dåpen
Dåpen

The baby is cuddled and admired by the small baptismal gathering. Among them are Benedict de Vibe and his family, as well as a few of the police officers who investigated the case. The mother feeds Victor Olav from a bottle, then kisses his forehead and wraps him up warmly before they make their way back out into the autumn air once again, the baby dressed in a white woollen suit that covers his hands as well as his head. Wrapped around the newly-baptised baby is a hospital blanket and a quilt with a Minnie and Mickey mouse print.

He won’t be cold, not now.

21 October

On the morning of Monday 21 October, just a few hours before mother and son are due to leave the country, there is one last thing she must do. She has asked the hospital to send a message to the man who had found her baby in the churchyard.

Tor Schou Nilsen replies that he’d very much like to come and see them, of course.

She is apprehensive, and more than a little nervous. Tor is equally anxious.

The mother is sitting with her son in her arms when he enters the hospital baby care room.

The woman bursts into tears and throws her arms around him.

“I can’t thank you enough. You saved my little boy’s life, and it’s so good to have the chance to meet you and speak with you before I leave the country. I tried to contact you a few days ago. I wanted you to be the baby’s godfather.”

As the tears stream down her cheeks, she says:

“His name is Victor Olav.”

The mother’s left hand clutches tightly onto Tor’s coat sleeve as she embraces him. He glances down at the baby in the cot, just a metre away from them.

“I’m just as moved as you are. I’ve thought about you both a great deal,” Tor replies.

Du reddet min sønns liv - Faksimile Aftenposten
"You saved my son's life!
14 days ago, Tor Schou Nilsen found a newborn baby in a plastic carrier bag in a churchyard in Oslo. Yesterday he saw the child once again, this time in his mother’s arms. “Thank you for saving my baby’s life,” she stated with delight.

Aftenposten, 22 October 1991

He tells her that it’s good to meet her, to see that things are well with them both, in spite of everything that’s happened.

The child looks bigger now, he thinks, no longer the tiny creature he had found in a plastic bag just 13 days ago.

“He’s a strapping young lad! And what a lot of hair he has!” Tor exclaims.

The baby has deep-brown eyes and hair as black as coal, and is wearing a white sleepsuit with ‘Ullevål Hospital’ written on the front.

“Olav, there’s no one in the Philippines with the name Olav,” the woman laughs.

But that’s the name she wants him to have, she tells Tor, in memory of everything that’s happened, and as thanks for all of the wonderful help she’s received.

She continues to alternate between laughter and tears. She supports the little boy’s head with one hand, proudly showing him off, but makes no secret of the fact that the experience has been distressing. She tells him that she can’t remember much about the pain of the birth. Everything happened so quickly, she says.

She takes Tor’s hand one last time. They say farewell and exchange addresses.

“You will always be very special to me. Thanks to you, Victor Olav is alive and well. I’ll never forget you,” she says.

“And I’m so grateful to my lawyer, Benedict de Vibe, and the police, and Ullevål Hospital, and everyone else who has shown me kindness.”

Speaking to a few selected media agencies at the hospital, she states that her husband and family will be waiting for her at the airport in Manila, and that they already have two daughters and a son, aged eight, five and three. Their father had wanted another boy, so this is a joyous event, she says. They’ll all head back to the family farm, which is a five-hour bus journey from Manila.

“It’s too cold for him here, but now we’ll go back to the warm Philippines,” she says, smiling, a nurse and her lawyer by her side in the baby care room.

Dåpen
Dåpen
Dåpen

“Here’s my plastic bag baby,” runs the headline in VG just a few hours later.

Journalists from Dagbladet ask if she’ll ever return to Norway.

“No, never. But perhaps Victor Olav might choose to, when he hears the dramatic story of his arrival,” the mother says.

“More than anything, I hope that Victor Olav will become a priest when he’s older. Or perhaps he’ll lead the country, like President Cory Aquino,” she adds, laughing.

The following day, Dagbladet’s headline reads:

“Mother heading home with heartbreaker”

The mother gives the baby a big bottle of milk just before the long journey home. According to the doctors, the baby is in good shape and shouldn’t have any problems on the flight to Manila.

“Goodbye,” the nurses say, waving alongside senior consultant Langslet.

“Goodbye, Victor Olav.”

“Goodbye,” the mother replies, weeping as she bids them farewell.

She walks through the doors of Ullevål Hospital with the baby in her arms, then onwards into a waiting car that will take them to the hospital.

The mother admits that she’s a little afraid and apprehensive. She fears that she’ll be pulled to one side in Germany on her stopover, that something might be incomplete or wrong with the little boy’s paperwork.

Fly på flyplass Fly på flyplass
Photograph: Scanpix
Flybillett Flybillett

That afternoon at 16:30, mother and son lift off, leaving Norwegian soil behind on board flight SK639. They fly out from Fornebu and head for Frankfurt, from where they will travel onwards to the Philippines at 21:45 in a large Lufthansa aircraft. On the evening of the 22 October 1991, they will hopefully make their way towards Manila, east of the Manila Bay in the tropics, and onwards to the island of Luzon.

But that isn’t where the story ends, is it?

Perhaps it is just the beginning?

The year is 2014. 23 years have passed. Where did they go, each of those individuals who saved the little boy’s life? And what about the key players, mother and son? Where did they end up? Where did life take them? Are they even still alive? And is there anything about this story that we overlooked? Plus, was there anything to be said for one police officer’s fears that the mother might “dump him elsewhere on her way to the Philippines”?

We start our search in the Catholic community in Oslo at St Olav’s Cathedral, where the boy was baptised and the mother was given assistance. Perhaps they know what happened next? Cathedral secretary Elisabeth Helland responds to our queries.

“Oh yes! That caused quite the commotion. Claes Tande was our parish priest at the time, he told us all about it. It was a compelling tale,” she says.

“And I happened to know the man who found him. But I’m not sure whether he…”

“You don’t know if he’s still alive?”

“I’m not certain. But his wife is, I do know that.”

We ask the cathedral secretary if she is able to find any trace of the boy and his parents in the record books and the baptism register.

“What date are we talking about?” she asks.

“He was baptised on Saturday 19 October 1991.”

After a few hours of searching, she comes back to us.

“I’ve found something here. I’m trying to decipher the handwriting… Victor Olav, yes. Wasn’t that what the boy was called? I’m not sure if I can give you the mother or father’s name. We’ll need to go a little higher up in the church hierarchy to find out either way. Father Claes Tande can probably help you more with this. He was present at the boy’s baptism.”

We drive down to meet with Tande in the Catholic church in Sandefjord where he serves as parish priest.

“How could I forget him? The baby found inside a plastic carrier bag. He must be, what, 23, 24 now? I’ve often wondered how things turned out for him.”

Father Tande tells us about how he had listened to the mystery unravel on the radio after someone had found a baby abandoned in a churchyard. Nevertheless, he first entered the picture “at the happy end of events”, as he put it. He remembers the mother coming in to talk to him about the baptism; a captivating, kind woman, and so delighted that the child she’d thought to be dead was actually alive.

There was no question in her mind that the child would be named Victor, the priest recalls. It was those who worked on the maternity ward at the hospital who had suggested it.

“And well, yes, I mean, he must have been something of a ‘victor’. He had beaten death. And to think of that cold time of year, and the fact that he had been lying in the churchyard for some time before he was found.”

Claes Tande

The mother was looking for another name, Tande recalls.

“She knew the cathedral was St. Olav’s, and asked a little about that. Saint Olav. In the end, she chose Victor Olav.”

He remembers the wonderful atmosphere of the baptism well, and can picture himself holding the infant.

“I had been assigned the task of looking after Filipino members of the church. That’s how I met the women. But I didn’t baptise the child alone. As luck would have it, we had a Filipino priest visiting us for three months. His name was Ceferino Anez. When we welcomed Filipino members in for the baptism, we felt that the most important words, at the very least, could be expressed in their mother tongue.”

Father Tande recalls the fact that he and St. Olav’s Cathedral provided the woman with help and care during those dramatic few days. He also remembers that they assisted with organising her journey home in contact with the Philippine Embassy, which was based in Stockholm at that time.

“The boy was required to have particular papers to be allowed to pass through the airport, given that he wasn’t born in the Philippines,” he says.

The hospital birth certificate was very straightforward, he recalls. No trace of prior history. It stated only that which needed to be stated.

“I was in discussion with an individual who went on to become one of the leaders of the Catholic church in the Philippines, Archbishop Soc Villegas. He wasn’t very high up back then, but he was a respected young priest, and an errand boy and personal secretary to Cardinal Jaime Sin. I was working in the Vatican when I first became acquainted with him. The fact that we knew people high up in the church was very helpful for the woman. There are no red carpets rolled out in the Philippines, but he would greet mother and child favourably and would help to straighten things out.”

We tell Tande that we’ll soon be travelling to Manila, located all the way on the other side of the world, in an attempt to track down both mother and child.

“Finding people over there isn’t easy, you know! And it’s not exactly likely he’ll be on Facebook. Ha. But you’re right, there’s no guarantee he won’t still go by the name Victor Olav. Either way, you can’t be certain that his mother has told him everything. But if you’re trying to find him, then I wish you luck with your search. There are 13 million people living in Manila.”

Presten

THE PRIEST WHO BAPTISED THE BOY

“He must be something of a Victor, after all. The boy had triumphed”

23 winters later. We call Berit Pihl Johansen ten days before we’re due to depart for the Philippines. She was the parish clerk who had stepped in and held the baby in the car on the way to her doctor on that Tuesday in 1991. She picks up the telephone, and before we have the chance to introduce ourselves, she says:

“It’s not convenient at the moment. I’m in Tenerife. I need to hang up now.”

“Hey, wait, Johansen. This is about something that happened in 1991. You helped to save a life. A newborn baby in a churchyard.”

The woman lowers her voice.

“That’s right,” she says.

“What do you remember about it?”

“It was a dreadful experience. But I’ll need to ask you to call back in an hour. I’m busy at the moment.”

In the meantime, we visit Arne Larsen at home in Nordstrand, Oslo. He had also played his part in the drama that unfolded in the churchyard.

“I remember a person running towards me. ‘There’s a plastic bag down there, with a baby bird or a kitten inside. It’s moving,” he shouted. He was confused, and I can understand why. Maybe he doubted what he’d seen with his own eyes. I mean, a newborn baby isn’t exactly the kind of thing you expect to find in a churchyard.”

Arne Larsen sits there and recalls the awful moments when, torn from his working day, he joined “someone from the church, a woman”, and ran down to find the baby in the plastic carrier bag just by a headstone.

“It was a shock. A huge shock. It left us all in quite some state. A long time had passed, you see.”

“Before you got over it?”

“Exactly! It was a terrible thing, and it’s stayed with me. The worst experience of my life,” Arne Larsen states.

“But the woman from the church was very good. She kept things calm. More so, maybe, than all of us others put together. We were in panic mode. It was tough, that’s for sure.”

Arne Larsen tells us that the memories come back to him now and then; when something like that happens, “when I read that a child is found in a skip in southern Europe and the like”, then it all comes flooding back to him, he says.

We manage to get hold of Berit Pihl Johansen in Tenerife again.

“I remember the man who came running in as I was sitting and working in the church office. He shouted that he’d found a baby down in the churchyard. He seemed confused. It all sounded too hard to believe, but we went down and that’s when we found him. He was alive. We made sure to keep him in the plastic, anything that might keep him warm in any way, and we were careful to keep his airways clear.”

A few days later, we head over to Vestre Aker church with her. She shows us how she held the baby, lifted him up and climbed into the car of a passing maintenance worker.

Berit Pihl Johansen

“We drove as fast as we could, just down here. I was holding the baby, still inside the plastic bag. I didn’t dare take him out, it was all smeared with blood, but I kept thinking to myself, ‘make sure he’s getting enough air.’”

She was a mother herself, she had something of a way with newborns, but this…

“No, it was an awful experience.”

She returned to work shortly afterwards. She recalls the journalists that flocked to the church. Her doctor suggested it would be to her benefit to lie low after such a stressful experience.

She was reminded of it all a few days later: a baptism was held in the church and a mother carried a child in a gown. A little boy. At that moment, Berit couldn’t help her reaction, thinking to herself ‘it’s good to see a baby properly dressed, rather than lying inside a plastic bag’. She thought about the whole experience a lot over the few years that followed.

“Of course, I’m glad that I was here,” Berit Pihl Johansen says, gazing across the churchyard.

“I was able to help out in my own way.”

To livreddere

TWO LIFESAVERS

“It was a shock. A huge shock. It left us all shaken”

An online search gives only a few hits for “Victor Olav and Philippines”. And there it is. We find a Victor Olav in Manila on Facebook. Can it really be him? Surely there can’t be any other Victor Olavs in Manila?

We try writing to him once or twice, but receive no responses. Doesn’t he want to be found? Isn’t he doing well?

In our attempts to reach him, we consider the fact that he may not know about events surrounding his birth, even though his mother stated in an interview at the time that she would tell him when the time came. Given that we can’t know for certain, we make sure to tailor our wording accordingly – we tell him that he’s part of a “dramatic and fantastic story, something touching and special that happened back in 1991”, words that touch upon the story without giving away too much detail.

We try following him on Twitter, where he has an account, as well as on LinkedIn, where we find some clues that he’s had an education in the field of business. Perhaps things have gone well for him after all? But why doesn’t he reply? Have the family left the traumatic experience in Norway behind them? Could things really have gone well for him, after such dramatic beginnings?

We make exhaustive attempts to find out the mother’s name, keen to track her down in the Philippines, not least to ask whether she told her son about events or not, and hopefully before we meet him.

St. Olav’s Cathedral won’t allow us to have a detailed look at their baptism records. No mother or father’s name, and no address. Father Pål Bratbak responds to us:

“It’s quite a story […] My question is whether the mother wants to be found. What is the relationship between mother and child these days? If the boy wanted to find his mother, it would be a different matter. How we might go forth and help him in such a case, I’m not sure, but we’d like to try. But this must have been a traumatic experience for all involved, including the mother. I don’t know if she’s ready for questions about this, or perhaps even ready to see her son. These are my concerns.”

Benedict de Vibe, the woman’s lawyer, does not recall the mother’s name, and cannot find any case files in his archive.

We send an application to Oslo Police to be permitted to view the investigation materials and case files, as well as any articles that might be held by the police. There had been a plastic bag and a receipt, for instance, both of which had led to the mother’s discovery.

Later we define our request to Oslo Police more precisely, stating that “… it is crucial for us to know what he does and does not know prior to any interaction with him. This is the key reason that we are looking to find out the mother’s name, and we would like to speak to her BEFORE we potentially meet her son.”

After two applications, long and difficult dialogues, various requests and a trip to the Public Record Office, we experience something resembling a breakthrough with the Oslo Police. After ten days, they find the case file stashed away deep within the archives at Bryn. Initially we get the all clear to view these files and interview scripts in detail. However, a police prosecutor places fresh obstacles in our path.

“Look, there’s a lot of material here, and not all of it will necessarily tolerate being exposed to the harsh light of day. This was a case with difficult issues at its heart, which is reason enough to deny your application to see these files. However, this case ended well, with mother and son reunited. In theory, we’ll do our best to help you out, but we can only provide limited access unless you have the mother’s consent,” prosecutor Pål Kraby states.

We are almost due to leave for Manila, home to no less than 13 million people, and the most densely populated city in the world. We have no agreements in place with mother or son. Do we even have any guarantees that the mother is still alive? Where is she, the second protagonist in this tale? Is she still out there somewhere? If so, how did she work through her traumatic experiences? And what relationship does she have with her son these days?

Things drag on, and the day before leaving, there are still no concrete plans in place. However, as we sit on the train to the airport after further conversations with the police force, they agree to “open up SOMETHING”.

We are told that this is only permitted on the condition that the mother’s lawyer at the time, Benedict de Vibe, is involved. He is given the opportunity to look at the files, and is granted access to share a limited section of the investigatory materials with us.

“Do you have anything to write with?” de Vibe asks, launching into conversation without any unnecessary small talk. “Here! Let me give you the mother’s name and date of birth before you reach the Philippines, at the very least.”

Manila Manila

33 degrees of tropical heat hit us. He is living here somewhere, among the many beautiful Catholic churches, markets under open skies and enormous shopping malls of Western design. The streets of Metro Manila are home to chronic traffic jams, and somewhere in the midst of all of the commotion and exhaust fumes, he walks. Somewhere here, among 12 877 253 other people.

We look up the Philippine Daily Inquirer, one of the country’s largest newspapers. The editor listens to our story with astonishment, noting down everything that we tell her. She’ll do what she can, she tells us, including lending us one of her researchers from the paper. “Call back in two hours,” she says.

“I’m afraid I have to disappoint you. The researcher can’t find any trace of mother or son. A full name and date of birth isn’t enough to go on, unfortunately. There are 101 million people living in the Philippines. We don’t have the kind of system you find in the US or your country, where you only need to type in a person’s name and they pop up on registers and telephone lists.”

“No…”

“But the National Statistics Office should have birth certificates and information about him and his mother, in theory at least. Whether journalists will be permitted entry is another question altogether.”

“Telephone companies!” the Philippine embassy in Oslo suggest. After half a day, we have nothing to show for our visit. Just the odd person with the same surname. A strikingly small number. All too few. We try one of them. No luck.

We had written to his siblings, all six of them, as Facebook had listed them, as well as a number of his friends.

All we needed was a telephone number or an address, but our enquiries to Victor Olav’s friends and family members appear to have lingered behind spam filters on Facebook; we receive no replies whatsoever. We try the mother’s former employer, or a company she worked for 16 years ago, at any rate. Nothing.

But our internet search suggests that the boy might have started working for a specific multinational firm. Might we find him there at work on this Friday afternoon? It’s not an ideal approach, and possibly a little too direct. We don’t want to offend him, nor to surprise him unnecessarily. All the same, it seems like our last resort.

We drive through Manila’s landscape of skyscrapers and business districts in Makati. We stop at the enormous Solaris Building on Dela Rose Street in Lagaspi Village, where Victor Olav’s supposed workplace is located.

We pass the barriers and various security checks and make it into the lift up to the different floors. We head for the company offices, passing the 10th and 15th floors on our way to the 21st.

“Who is it that you want to talk to?” the guard asks.

“Victor Olav.”

“And he works here?”

“According to the information we have, yes.”

“Let me see… here he is, yes. Relatively new? I’ll need to ask you to join me in this room to watch a security video. In case of an emergency. Afterwards you’ll need to fill out this form, OK?”

How will he react to visitors from Norway knocking at his door? What if he simply dismisses us, unwilling to have any contact? It wouldn’t exactly be unreasonable, would it? And what if… what if he’s not the right man after all?

Eight minutes pass. The entire situation feels unbearably tense. The guard returns.

“Bad news, I’m afraid. Victor Olav is off duty. We don’t know when he will be back in, either, there are a large number of us working here, and no one else in his department is responding. He’s offline. Sorry. Plus, it’s the weekend now.”

“And what about his private number…?”

“We can’t give that out.”

“Even though we’ve come all the way from Norway?”

“I’m sorry.”

The guard can see that we’re carrying an envelope. Inside it is a picture taken by Dagbladet of the boy and his mother at the hospital on the day they left Norway to return to the Philippines.

“I can pass on the package with a message, if you like?”

“Well, this would take quite a bit of explaining,” we reply.

The hotel concierge has his own theory.

“This is like looking for a needle in a haystack. It’s a cultural thing, too. Filipinos have been colonised for 333 years by the Spanish. That kind of thing stays with you; we tend to want to hide away. We’re a little bit sensitive. People have a mind-your-own-business mentality.”

A few local journalists agree to assist us in our continued search in such a case that we – as appears to be the case – are forced to return home empty-handed.

One of them has the following to say on the case:

“Wow, that was a lot to take in, but an incredible story of survival, nonetheless. Very inspiring.”

A security guard at the hotel thinks we ought to make one last attempt at finding the boy and his mother. He tells us that he has an idea.

“You mean… a private detective?”

“Yes, or a ‘people finder’, as I call them. They track people down. It’s an industry in its own right here. A lot of people go missing in the Philippines.”

He tells us he’ll find us some reliable candidates.

“But from there to actually finding someone… tracking these people down will be a challenge. I won’t say it’s a lost cause… but it’s pretty close.”

“Why do you say that?” we ask, cautiously.

“Well… it’s a jungle out there.”

The chances of us returning home with nothing having misread the terrain in this giant melting pot of a city are high. The evening prior to our flight home, we have only 12 hours remaining on the clock.

But it’s later that Saturday evening that everything changes. In the same way that everything was turned on its head in a few split seconds in Oslo on that October day in 1991, he reveals himself at just past eight o’clock, emerging from nowhere out of the Manila jungle. Without warning, a message pings in our inbox. A message from Victor Olav. He starts a chat with us on Facebook. It’s almost too much to absorb.

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The scene based in the churchyard and depicting the police reconstruction is based on the following research:
Police documents and reports from 16 October 1991. Interviews with the lawyer Benedict de Vibe and police officers Lennart Kyrdalen and Knut Rykhus. A police interview with the mother on 16 October 1991.

The scene depicting the investigation at police headquarters in Oslo is based on:
Interviews with Laila Bach, Lennart Kyrdalen and Knut Rykhus, former or present employees in Oslo police district.

The scene depicting judicial reviews is based on:
Interviews with lawyer Benedict de Vibe and police chief investigator Lennart Kyrdalen.
Articles in Dagbladet, VG, Aftenposten and NTB.

The scene depicting the baptism is based on:
Interviews with priest Claes Tande and Sister Anne Bente Hadland, present or former employees of St. Olav’s Catholic Church, and lawyer Benedict de Vibe.
Studies of lawyer Benedict de Vibe’s private photographs of the baptism ceremony.
Further background on the Catholic baptismal ritual and the sacrament of baptism available from //www.katolsk.no/praksis/kirkearet/dapand //www.katolsk.no/tro/tema/sakramenter/artikler/daap. Further information on St. Olav’s Cathedral available from Wikipedia.

The two scenes based at Ullevål Hospital depicting the mother’s meeting with Tor Schou Nilsen are based on:
Interviews with Tor Schou Nilsen. Interviews with Drude Merete Fugelseth, Ingrid Helen Ravn, Hilde Follestad, Tove Eikrem, all current or previous employees of the neonatal intensive care unit of Ullevål Hospital.
News articles in Aftenposten, Dagbladet and VG.

The scene depicting the journey from the hospital to Fornebu Airport, Oslo, and the rendering of the mother’s thoughts upon departure are based on:
Interviews with priest Claes Tande and Sister Anne Bente Hadland.
Further background on Manila available from Wikipedia. Further background on San Pablo City, Laguna available from Wikipedia.

N.B! Dagbladet acknowledges the fact that specific aspects of this case can be difficult for those involved to recall in precise detail after 25 years. As such, we have made every effort to speak with as many individuals as possible and to gather information from official sources (police interviews, medical journals, etc) and newspaper articles, in order that the various chains of events depicted are as authentic and accurate as possible.

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