DAVAO CITY – Nightmares of sounds and images of gunfire and explosion wake farmer Pedro Cadungog every night, as he has also avoided tending to his farm following his ordeal of allegedly forced as guides by Army soldiers in a military operation.
“Makamata lang ko’g kalit, kalit lang mubangon unya moaksyon og dagan (I wake-up at night, stand-up and have the urge to run),” Cadungog, 50, said, and blamed it on “physical and mental anguish” he suffered in the hands of alleged Army soldiers for two nights.
“Maayo nalang gani magunitan ko sa akong asawa sa akong bukton (It’s good that my wife is able to hold me).”
While answering questions from Davao Today, Pedro would turn restless in between reenacting a blow-by-blow account of the incident. His son Randel, 20, sits down almost motionless, often silent, and answers occasionally.
Hanimay Suazo of the human rights group Karapatan showed Davao Today Pedro’s medical certificate that noted “post traumatic stress disorder” on Cadungog and his son.
Suazo said it was the first time they saw Pedro “talking normally and with confidence.”
“It’s one way how human rights victims cope with trauma,” she said.
Pedro was “advised for treatment and psychotherapy (regular check-up and medicine)” by his doctor.
Pedro recounted that day, on June 7, that while they were heading for their farm at 6:00 am, in a hilly portion of Purok 3, Barangay Panangan, Maco, Compostela Valley, they were accosted by 25 “fully-armed men dressed in fatigue uniform”.
Cadungog said the soldiers belonged to the Army’s 71st Infantry Battalion from their identifying insignias, and was headed by a certain “Joel Ondoy”whom soldiers refer to as “General”. He said the soldiers immediately took his son’s cellphone and accused them of being “a spy of NPA (New People’s Army) rebels.”
“They made us guide them to where the NPA rebels are posting. They did not allow us to refuse,” said Pedro in vernacular. “I asked them if we will be put to danger, they said they are not sure and that would depend on whether the NPAs hit us.”
Randel, Pedro’s 20 year-old son. said it was him whom the soldiers asked whether they know if there are NPAs in the area and if he know where they are encamping.
“I told them the truth that I know where in the hope that my father and I will not be harmed,” said Randel.
Randel said he knows where the rebels’ lair is because it is near their farm, at a hilly part of the purok two hours away from their home.
“They are an hour away from where we were arrested,” he said noting that soldiers “can clearly see the rebels going about their way from where we are.”
“I told them that there is a need for us to accompany them as they already knew where the exact location of the rebels are. They have been scoping them (NPAs) when they arrested us,” he said.
Pedro said they were forced to “walk ahead.”
“I was forced to stop because my son suddenly stopped because he became nervous we were nearing,” said Pedro.
“I know we are very near. My knees weakened and I sensed we are going to die,” added Randel.
Pedro said that a soldier forced him to resume walking but he argued that he wanted to assist his son and told the soldier to walk on.
“He must have taken two steps when a bomb exploded,” said Pedro.
Pedro said the soldiers dropped to the ground and told them to drop as well “so you will not get hit.”
“The soldier in front of me did not get hit and I dared not look. They exchanged gunfire for more than 15 minutes. A soldier told us to get up when the shooting stopped but when we advanced again, two more bombs exploded,” he said.
He said the only reason they were not hit was because they dropped to a ditch.
After the gunshots, Pedro said they were taken where they were first “accosted” by the soldiers.
Randel said he heard soldiers call for helicopters to drop bombs on the rebel position and to fetch the wounded.
“Five soldiers who were wounded were taken by the helicopter but a dead soldier was left behind,” he said.
Randel said he thought they will be allowed to go home since the fighting had stopped but one of soldiers who acted as their leader told him that they cannot go home because he “would face the brigade officers for his sins.”
Pedro said he and his son were separated when nigh fell “to prevent us from fleeing.”
“They gave me food and coffee and reminded me how good soldiers are, never mind I was eating beside the corpse of their comrade,” he said. “I even have no appetite. The explosion and the gunshots still rang in my ear.”
Pedro said soldiers told them to cut banana leaves to sleep on while soldiers set up their own hammock. A soldier gave him a ‘trapal’, to cover his head and which he shared with two other soldiers. Still they were drenched wet from the two-hour rain.
“My body was aching all-over. When I was coughing loudly, they told me to cover my mouth, when I felt urinating, they told me to kneel one night and urinate on the ground near where I was lying, when I asked to defecate, they told me not to and taught me to massage my belly with saliva,” he said.
Pedro said he was only able to sleep at about 1:00 am but woke up around 5 am.
“More soldiers came and one of them tried to wrestle my hand while calling me (an NPA) commander. He said “Aha its you killed our comrade”.
Pedro said his wife came for them and shouted their names but “we weren’t allowed to call back.”
“They returned Randel’s cellphone and told him to call my wife,” said Pedro.
Pedro said they “were taken by Ondoy aboard a helicopter with the dead soldier.”
“When we got down the helicopter, a clean-looking soldier held my hand and told me to say that I was the one who killed their men,” he said.
Pedro said he denied the accusation saying they were with soldiers when the incident happened.
“But the soldier did not respond, instead we were blindfolded,” he said.
Pedro said he did not bother to look at marks and identification labels on their location but Randel said they were taken to “a (Army) brigade in Barangay Mapaan”, in Maco, Compostela Valley”.
“We were taken to a room with many men. They asked us where we hid our guns and that we were NPAs,” he said.
Pedro said some of the men “wore civilian clothing, have no name patches and were not talking with each other.”
“I couldn’t recognize them anymore if we meet again, I was very scared,” said Pedro.
He said he was taken to “four other rooms with different men asking the same questions.”
“We arrived at the brigade 10:00 am. They let us go at about 9:00 pm of June 8,” he said.
Pedro said they were made to sign papers they did not even read the content of but he said “what is important is that we go home.”
Pedro said the soldiers fed them “merienda food” and were telling them “see, there is nothing you can say anything bad to soldiers, we have not even pinched you”.
He said the same thing was spoken to them “by a police officer in the Maco Police Station where they were endorsed and again made to sign other documents.”
In the police station, Pedro and Randel were “physically checked” and their blood pressure was taken.
“They made us take off my shirts to show that we were not harmed, ” he said.
Pedro said they were dropped off in the motorcycle station in Mawab where a motorcycle was waiting to bring them back to their home.
“It was 11:00 pm. I told the driver to drop us at a store an hour away from our house because if rain comes, he can no longer go down because of flood.” he said.
Pedro and Randel got back to their farm last June 10 but they said they “had to go home early because we fear the same thing would happen.”
“We never got back to our farm again,” Pedro said, adding that the incident has troubled them since.
Suazo of Karapatan said they are going to file cases against the alleged soldiers. “They are civilians, at all times they should be spared from being accused as NPA members and supporters,” she said.
She said the soldiers committed “arbitrary arrest and arbitrary detention.”
“They were clearly used as human shields and as they were taken to 1001st Army Brigade in Barangay Maapang against their will, they were also forced to sign documents saying that they are NPAs which surrendered,” Suazo said.
She said the experience of the Cadungogs can be a “classic” description of “how the Aquino (President Benigno Simeon III) administration’s anti-insurgency operational plan Bayanihan works.”
“On one hand, the soldiers gave them food, and in this case alone they did not physically harm them and even have them examined. But, the fact is that they were forced to become human shields and guides in a combat operation putting at risk their very lives,” she said.
Davao Today has attempted to get the side of the Army units concerned but has yet to receive a response in time for the posting of this story. (davaotoday.com)