Stranded in Istanbul

MANILA, Philippines – Brian del Rosario was on his way to Istanbul's Ataturk Airport to catch a flight to Singapore, when he noticed cars turning back to the city.

"I knew something was up so I checked Twitter and learned that the airport was taken over by the military," Del Rosario, a Filipino researcher at a multinational company, said in a Facebook post Saturday, July 16.

Del Rosario has been in Istanbul for a week for a work-related trip, and was supposed to fly back to Singapore early morning Saturday, but like thousands of other travelers flying out of the city, his travel plans have been scuttled by an unfolding coup attempt against the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (READ: At least 60 dead, 336 people arrested across Turkey)

Tensions are high in the city since late Friday, July 15, when the coup attempt started. While most of the events are focused in Ankara, the chaos has spread to the country's largest metropolis, which straddles both the European and Asian sides of the country.

"My flight back to Singapore was supposed to be at 1:50 am but it got cancelled after the recent events at the airport," he said.

On the way back to his hotel, located in the upmarket Besiktas district on the European side of the city, he only saw "a lot of traffic and people getting anxious."

Driving as fast as possible back to the hotel, his taxi driver "turned off his radio partly, I think, to not get scared."

Del Rosario tried getting money via the ATM, but long lines greeted him as people tried to get money in case the situation worsened. "I tried getting money pero wala nang cash (there was no cash)," he said.

Once they reached the hotel, he saw tourists rushing to go back inside, while some mothers and children were crying. The street outside, meanwhile, was cordoned off with police tape.


Back in the relative safety of his hotel room, he tried to rest, but the noise from outside kept him awake. The area was right smack in the middle of the city.

"From my hotel, I can't sleep properly [because] once in a while you'll hear the sound of choppers," he said.

Just a few kilometers to the west lay Taksim Square, where soldiers openly shot at protesters angrily denouncing the coup bid. The area is also a short distance from the Bosphorus Strait, where bridges were being blocked by dozens of soldiers backing the coup. (READ: Anger, protests and bloodshed in coup-hit Istanbul)

He tried monitoring the news on TV, but switched to Twitter. Contrary to earlier reports, social media is accessible from within Turkey, he said.

"Both tourists and locals are scared," Del Rosario said, "[because it's] uncertain what will happen in the next days."

In Manila, Philippine Foreign Affairs spokesperson Charles Jose said Philippine embassy officials in Ankara will try to get to Filipinos currently stranded in the country's airports "as soon as practicable."

"Our embassy in Ankara will try to reach the Filipino passengers stranded in Turkey airports as soon as practicable," Jose said in a text message to Rappler.

"In the meantime that airports are non-operational, the passengers will be under the responsibility of the airlines who will ensure their safety and comfort," he added.

In the meantime, Del Rosario awaited an update from his airline on when his flight would push through. As of early morning Saturday, Turkish media reported that flights in and out of Ataturk Airport will resume 6 am local time.

Despite the ordeal, he still considered himself lucky.

"I consider myself lucky to not be stranded at the airport with this mess," he wrote on Facebook. "If my fieldwork did not get delayed by almost an hour, I might have been stuck there." –