Fernando Alia Fernando Alia at the Davao Medical Center, the last of the Alia boys. (davaotoday.com photo by Cheryll D. Fiel)

Last week, Fernando Alia was near his home when somebody plunged an ice pick twice in his back. Although he survived, he doesnt feel a bit lucky. Three other brothers had been stabbed to death in and around the Bankerohan public market, where butchers not only kill livestock. Their mother, Clarita Alia, is at her wits end dealing with these tragedies. Worse, they blame her for their misfortunes. Davao Todays Cheryll D. Fiel reports.

Alia Family The Alia family: Clarita, holding Christopher, with (from left) Wowie, Vanessa, and Bobby. The three boys had all been stabbed to death by the so-called Davao Death Squad. (Photo courtesy of Alia family)

DAVAO CITY — Sitting on a hospital bed inside the Davao Medical Centers surgical ward, cramped among the sick, the dying, and those who might get a second shot at life, Fernando Alia does not feel a bit lucky at all to have evaded death a few days ago.

Fernando is 15 years old. And, young as he is, he wished he were dead.

Last week, on a busy street a few meters away from their hovel in Bankerohan market, a teenager about his age stabbed Fernando with an ice pick twice in the back, one in the elbow. Fernando was rushed to the hospital, where he received scant medical attention. The ice pick remained embedded in Fernandos body; doctors at the government hospital only removed it the next day.

Gibaligya man tingali ko (I think I was sold),” Fernando said at his hospital bed on Monday, referring to a practice in the citys underworld community where somebody can just pay anybody to kill another person, often for just a couple of hundreds.

Sold? By whom? For how much? The Bankerohan public market, based on this boy’s story, is a trading place for everything, including human life. There, butchers (or matanzeros) or thugs can be hired to kill people, often with their own knives, known as kolonyal. A suspected drug user can be killed for 15,000 pesos ($300) while a gang member can be liquidated for a measly 500 pesos ($10).

It used to be that the killers, mainly the Davao Death Squad, would use .45 caliber pistols, usually shooting the victims in the head. Now, the methods seem to have changed. These days, it is quite common to hear news in Davao City of young men being stabbed, often to death, in and around Bankerohan or in the slum areas that dot the city.

A Criminal Culture

Claria Alia Clarita Alia, shown here pushing a cart, supports her family by selling vegetables in Bankerohan.(davaotoday.com photo by Cheryll D. Fiel)

It is a criminal culture nurtured by an increasing acceptance of extrajudicial means of dealing with crime, as exemplified by the rise of the Davao Death Squad. Mayor Rodrigo Duterte openly endorses these summary executions, warning criminals or suspected criminals even those still considered children, like Fernando that they, too, would be killed if they do not mend their ways.

Fernando insists that, while he has many friends in Bankerohan, he and they are not gang members. He moves around Bankerohan — where thugs and gangs aboud, where petty crimes are common, where the so-called dregs of society congregate — because that is where he lives.

That is where three of his older brothers Fernando is the youngest of seven children also lived and, later, butchered.

His mother, 51-year-old Clarita, supports Fernando and a daughter, Vanessa, 17, by selling vegetables in the market. (One of the children had left Davao years ago after he, too, received a death threat.)

Fernando was just nine when the eldest in the family, Wowie, was killed. Christopher was only 16 when he, too, was killed that same year. The next year, Bobby met the same fate.

Clarita blames the Davao Death Squad for her sons’ deaths. She had been active in the campaigns of a nongovernment group called the Coalition Against Summary Execution (CASE), which has since stopped operating for lack of funds.

Since her sons deaths, Clarita says there is not a day that she would not warn Fernando, her youngest, to take extra care whenever he ventures out. If only to encourage him to stay put at their cramped, small and dirty shack beside a dump in Bankerohan, Clarita bought an old television set and a video player. But to no avail.

How can a boy so young and adventurous remain still? But, more important than that question: Is there a safe place in Bankerohan for a boy like Fernando?

Clarita said her son’s killers are just around. The assassins had warned her, she said, that they would not stop until theyve finished off all of her children, whom many believe were engaged in criminal activities. According to Clarita, neighbors and even barangay (village) officials had told her and her children the same thing.

Blank and Frantic

Claria Alia Clarita Alia inside her hovel in Bankerohan. (davaotoday.com photo by Carlos H. Conde)

Monday was Fernando’s fourth day at the hospital. Clarita had a blank look on her face all throughout the interview with davaotoday.com. She had been frantic, going around the city asking for help to buy food and medicine for her son.

She was also clueless about the processes in the hospital. She had been handed prescriptions but she did not have the money. She used her very old and battered Ericsson cellphone to call up friends, NGO workers and journalists, asking for help. That day, an NGO gave her 500 pesos.

Fernando, on the other hand, was restless, impatient to get out of the hospital.

There was nothing to do in the ward but sit on the bed or lie down or stare at the ceiling fan, which failed to dispel the acrid smell and the humid air. Thirty other patients, mostly poor people, were there, equally helpless.

“In the evenings, there are plenty of mosquitoes here” Vanessa, Fernandos sister, muttered.

There were many nurses in neat, white uniforms around. But Fernandos stab wounds were dressed only on the fourth day, after this writer asked the staff about his condition and asked why his wounds remained uncleaned.

Liezel Mirano, a staff at the surgical ward, said the interns were the ones that did that sort of thing. The medical clerks, too. That Monday morning, they were nowhere to be found.

Two medical students interning at the hospital soon arrived and cleaned Fernandos wounds. Vanessa said, in a voice loud enough to be heard by the students, that the ice pick on here brothers back remained stuck until the next day. The students kept silent.

Later in the day, a doctor at the hospital, when asked about Fernandos condition, could not even recall the details of the boys condition. It took a while for him to remember Fernando. He guessed wrong the first time and then, later, he said: “Ah, the one with the ice pick still stuck on him? He apologized because, according to him, he had many clients.

One of Fernandos wounds, he explained, could have affected the boys spinal chord. We have already referred his case to the neurosurgery and physical therapy sections,” the doctor said and left.

Fernando said his left leg felt a little numb. His mother told him to be still if he does not want his left leg paralyzed. Perhaps he would be well the next day, Clarita said. Perhaps.


Claria Alia Clarita Alia at a press conference against summary executions in Davao City. (davaotoday.com photo by Carlos H. Conde)

Fernando had been restless and had been throwing tantrums. He also started blaming his mother for his continued stay at the hospital. He thinks her mother should have ignored the prescriptions handed them by the doctor. It would just be added expense and would just bloat their bill, which they were still trying to figure out how to pay. They could hardly buy food to bring to the hospital, he said.

Apart from blaming his mother for the hospital confinement, Fernando also blamed her for what has happened to their family. Clarita, who was sitting nearby, couldnt bear it and broke down.

“Is it my fault that we live in Bankerohan? she asked Fernando, tears streaming down here cheeks, her eyes bloodshot red. Where else do you think can we survive?” she asked him indignantly.

Later, far from her mothers ears, Vanessa told me why theyre in Bankerohan regardless of all that has happened to the family. Mama insisted we remained in Bankerohan, she said. She said it would just be a waste if we will leave our vegetable stall just like that. Besides, she knows no other way to earn a living for us, except to push vegetable carts.

The Coming Days

Claria Alia How can Clarita Alia convince her children that it is not her fault they’re poor and destitute? (davaotoday.com photo by Carlos H. Conde)

Clarita says she dreads the coming days because of the things she would have to deal with.

First, the hospital bill. The Lingap Center, whose office is one of those that people line up to at the City Hall, had already refused help. The woman at the center, Clarita said, told her that victims of stabbing are not qualified for their assistance program.

Second, she is convinced that Fernando should not remain in Bankerohan. But where will he go?

Third, and this is what really worries Clarita, how can she stop her son from thinking that life is no longer worth living? How can she dispel the notion in his mind that death will soon come back for him again?

And how can she convince her son that it was not her fault that theyre stuck in a hell hole called Bankerohan? (Cheryll D. Fiel/davaotoday.com)

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