Walkie Miraña of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines, one of the delegates of the mission, said they were living out a scene from a movie. “There were military checkpoints, and they asked people for cedula and ID, and warned us if we go there we are left to fend for ourselves. It’s just like straight from Orapronobis.”
By CHERYLL D. FIEL
DAVAO CITY, Philippines — The terror met by participants of a National Humanitarian and Fact-Finding Mission (NHFFM) in Pablo-stricken Baganga town in Davao Oriental was they were harassed many times by state agents. They said it was a glimpse of how residents are suffering.
They arrived early in Davao City Monday, weary and sleepless from their extended trip after being stranded from Baganga for almost two days, but went straight to a press conference to tell the story of the residents that must be told.
“I’ve been to many highly militarized lumad communities but nothing was like what I had seen in Baganga. People kept shut but their eyes spoke a lot about dread,” said Sr. Niña Achacoso, Missionary Sisters of Mary, one of the 10 nuns who went with the mission.
She also felt the discomforting silence of the residents towards them.
“Wala gyuy miduol sa amoa, mangutana, manginano. Dili maningog hantud kami dili moduol (No one dared to come near us, ask us what we are doing. They won’t answer unless we would go to them),” she narrated her experience in Sitio (sub-village) Cabuyao where they sought refuge when the drivers of the Saddam trucks that transported them left the vehicles after allegedly being intimidated by the military.
Later that night, one delegate broke down in tears, saying she heard residents said soldiers told them none of the missioners would come down to Baganga proper alive.
Sr. Achacoso said they hardly slept that night. Especially when on their way to Cabuyao, they pass through Sitio Tigbawan where soldiers, some in plain clothes, are staying in the houses.
It was in that same sitio where the drivers of the Saddam trucks left them, leaving them with no choice but to walk their way through the next community. Even the habal-habal (motorcycle) drivers refused to transport them out of fear for the military.
From April 18 to 20, the NHFFM brought together a total of 76 participants from 17 organizations, including media outfits, from all over the country to Baganga — literally the eye of the storm of typhoon Pablo (International name: Bopha) which made a first landfall on the area in December last year. However, only 69 participants entered Sitio Limot, leaving seven others in Baganga Poblacion for other tasks.
Francis Morales, Executive Director of Balsa Mindanao and one of the co-conveners, said the mission sought to provide relief to the victims in areas which have been least served by government relief. But he did not think that such trip would also bring them eye-to-eye with the terror gripping the communities.
“Nakakaawa yung mga tao, dahil takot na takot sila. They’d rather not say anything. Nakakaawa, kasi, kami makakauwi, pero sila andun lang sila. Andun ang military (It’s pitiful that they are scared. It’s pitiful that we can come home, but they are there along with the military),” Walkie Miraña of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines and one of the delegates of the mission said almost breaking into tears.
She said they were living out a scene from a movie. “Yung may mga nagchi-checkpoints na mga military, tapos ang mga tao hinihingian ng cedula, ID, sasabihan na pag pinalampas kayo dyan, bahala na kayo, parang nasa pelikulang Orapronobis (There were military checkpoints, and they asked people for cedula and ID, and warned us if we go there we are left to fend for ourselves. It’s just like straight from Orapronobis).”
Orapronobis is a movie about the terror of military groups in Mindanao which was directed by National Artist Lino Brocka and written by Pete Lacaba in 1989.
The mission, which targeted one of the farthest communities in Baganga, that is Sitio Limot of Binondo village, was delayed due to several checkpoints and road blocks set up on their way.
The three buses which carried the missioners were blocked three times by the military and the police, in Aliwagwag village to Aragon in Cateel, and all the way to Baganga.
Mission delegates negotiated with military and police that went for one to three hours, with military and police taking pictures of the delegates, requiring them to enlist their names in logbooks and showing their identification cards.
The reason they gave them were varied as they were, as missioners say, ridiculous.
One reason was that these military men received an order coming from the province to stop them because they were planning to hold a rally. Another was that they had to wait for their military officials for instructions. Then, there was a Comelec (Commission on Elections) checkpoint, which delegates found suspicious because other vehicles passing through the road were not subjected to the scrutiny they experienced.
Not only were there checkpoints. There were logs strewn on the road, if not sand and gravel, or backhoes digging holes obstructing passage of their buses.
The delegates, including the nuns and the women, had to remove these roadblocks with their bare hands just to make their vehicles through.
The unforgettable Sitio Limot
What they came for in Sitio Limot was worth all the troubles. The village was once located in the middle of a forest but this time there was a wide swath of land with stumps and occasional newly re-grown trees, the place apparently still reeling from the devastation of typhoon Pablo.
What missioners find appalling was that despite the abundance of aid pouring in from local and international donors, the residents are almost hungry, homeless and scared.
Ian Mostrales, a nurse who joined the medical team found out that the most common ailment among the residents was gastritis, a condition caused by hunger and stress.
He said they also found incidents of cough and colds because of lack of adequate shelter as houses were destroyed, and skin diseases because water sources had been destroyed as well.
But most of the residents complained that relief goods to their community came in trickles.
“We learned that at one time, they were asking for 75 sacks of rice for the whole community, but ended up being given only 35, with them taking charge of the transportation of the goods which is at 1,000 pesos, per one way of motorcycle ride,” Mostrales said.
Missioners also revealed that some residents who joined the protest actions against government neglect of Pablo victims’ conditions were intentionally not handed out relief goods.
The distribution of relief goods, they learned, was commandeered by the Incident Command Post (ICP) in Baganga, headed by then Eastern Mindanao Command’s General Jorge Segovia himself. The ICP serves as the calamity coordination and operational hub.
“They are clearly discriminating against residents who are critical of the way they militarized the delivery of humanitarian services,” said Hanimay Suazo, secretary general of human rights alliance Karapatan-Southern Mindanao.
“Apparently, they could not have done that without the approval of the local government led by Governor Corazon Malanyaon,” Suazo added.
The mission further disclosed that the Philippine Army’s 67th Infantry Battalion was deployed in Sitio Limot. The residents told them that soldiers from the battalion stayed there weeks after an encounter with the New People’s Army in a place called Blackstone, about 15-20-minute walk from the populated place. The soldiers occupied the community chapel, the day care, the houses and went house to house, profiling the residents.
Residents also said the soldiers came to them prior to the mission, instructing them what to tell the missioners.
Even the children who joined the psychosocial activities were afraid to tell their names.
“Nangutana pa sila kung military ba daw mi. Indikasyon ni nga naa gyud ang pagpanghadlok sa military (The kids asked if we are soldiers. This indicates there were threats coming from the military),” Rius Valle of the Children’s Rehabilitation Center said.
Blood in the hands of the 67th IB
The mission also uncovered the battalion’s involvement in the killing of Cristina Jose, the village councilor who led her fellow residents to join two protest actions against government neglect of Pablo victims and corruption of relief funds.
Jose was among the first to raise a howl over how local government officials relegated their duties to help victims to the 67th IB.
At that time, she asked the military where they kept the budget for purchase of chainsaws which the village needed badly to clear fallen trees in their area.
Jose also complained about how the military repacked the relief goods intended for the victims, and stashed half of the relief, from 10 kilos to five kilos of rice.
On the day she was killed on March 4, Jose was supposed to go to Davao City to report the incident of blacklisting by the battalion on Pablo victims who attended the February 25-28 barricade at the Department of Social Welfare and Development regional office in Davao City.
During the press conference, Norma Dollaga of the Promotion for Christian People’s Response led a brief moment of tribute to Cristina Jose. With clenched fist they saluted Jose who did not lead the easy way to serve the people.
“Nakita namin ang daan na dinaanan ni Cristina sa aming pagpunta doon, at kami ay kumikilala sa ganitong paglilingkod ng bayan (We saw the path that Cristina tread, and we salute her for her service to the people),” Dollaga said.
Dollaga said what they saw in Baganga belies President Benigno Aquino III’s “Tuwid na Daan (Straight Path).”
“Ang sasabihin namin kay Noynoy, thou shalt not lie. Sa aming nasaksihan, walang daan matuwid. Dinagdagan pa nila ang kahirapan ng mga tao. Hindi normal ang isa o dalawa sa mga sundalo ang naglalakad sa mga kalsada ng pamayanan. Huwag sanayin. Ito ay condemnable (We will tell Noynoy, thou shalt not lie. What we saw was no straight path. They only added the burden to the people. It is not right that soldiers walked in the path of the villages. This should not be tolerated. This should be condemned),” Dollaga said.
Are the military afraid to be exposed?
Sr. Noemi Degala, co-convener of the NHFFM, said what the law agents did to them on the road was condemnable. It was what she said, a clear act of harassment.
The nun said the delays deprived the people who were waiting for the services they were meant to give in the areas of the mission, and put the lives of the missioners in grave danger.
But more than anything, it was what they saw in the communities that are ultimately condemnable — the sight of military men staying in communities, sowing fear to the residents who were already in dire situations having been hit by the recent typhoon.
Sr. Degala said they are determined to make the military and police answer for the harassment.
She said having the incident recorded in a blotter at the Baganga Police was just the first step they are taking. “We will make sure that they will be held accountable for their actions,” she said.
Sr. Achacoso herself finds it vexing what the state security agents did to the mission.
“Does this tell us that they were out to prevent the mission from eventually uncovering their notorious misdeeds against the people of Baganga, in collusion with the officials of the province? Because looking back at everything they did to us, it really now seems to me that that was indeed their motivation,” she said. (Cheryll D. Fiel, davaotoday.com)