Davao Today

DAVAO CITY–Evangeline Pitao, wife of Leoncio Pitao popularly known as Kumander Parago, remembers the morning of Wednesday when Rebelyn, leaving home for work, had called to her, Ma, moadto nako! (Ma, Im going!)

When she turned, all she could see of her 20 year old daughter was her back. Her hair falling below her shoulders, Rebelyn was wearing a white shirt and a pair of brown slacks that day. I was staring at her back and somehow, I had the urge to look at her face. But the next time I looked, she was gone.

At 6:30 pm that day, unidentified men abducted Rebelyn while she was on a tricycle on her way home from St Peters College in Toril, where she has been working as a substitute teacher.

Rebelyn Pitao. ( photo by Barry Ohaylan)

Barely 24 hours after, her body was found floating in an irrigation canal near a ricefield in a village of Carmen, a Davao del Norte town about 50 kilometers from the part of Davao city where she was abducted. Police said she was already dead 20 hours when her body was found.

As cries for justice and a stop to extrajudicial killings carried off Rebelyns body to her final resting place, it struck Evangeline that she could no longer see her daughters face.

She still recalls telling her four children with her to watch out and take care of themselves as the war between the government and the Communist New Peoples Army intensifies. Pag-amping mo pag ayo ha, kay basin manghilabot na sila, she recalled telling Rio, 22; Rebelyn, 20; Renante, 18; and Redford, 16 before the gruesome incident happened.

She was worried that top military men in the region who failed to capture her husband, the elusive Kumander Parago of the NPAs Pulang Bagani Command 1, might get back at her children.

Dili, Ma oy, Rebelyn had replied. Di man ta apil, ana. Sila ra man na ang nag away. Civilians man ta. (We are not part of that war. Its only between them and the government. We are civilians).

But she was wrong. The moment that Evangeline knew about her daughters abduction, she turned hysterical. Dili jud siya buhion, sa kasuko nila sa amahan (I had the feeling that they will not spare her life because they were so angry at her father), she said.

Rebelyns death represented an ugly episode in the long running governments war against the 40 year old Communist NPA. It also raised an outcry against targeting civilians, including family members of combatants, in the raging conflict. Its brutal and reprehensible, a violation of the international humanitarian law, said Bishop Delfin Callao, convenor of the Exodus for Justice and Peace. Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said its an unwritten law in the conduct of war to spare family members as targets.

As commander of the Pulang Bagani command of the NPA, Parago has been behind the most successful NPA raids carried out against military installations in the region. Among these raids was the Davao Penal Colony (Dapecol) prison at the break of the New Year in 2008, where over a hundred armalite rifles were scuttled without a single shot fired.

We were just too trusting, says Rebelyns mother Evangeline Pitao. ( photo by Barry Ohaylan)

But Paragos family, who lived in Bago Galera in Talomo, had been trying to live a peaceful life, a world apart from what he has been fighting for. Up until then, Evangeline recalls, the family was merely trying to eke a living, trying to survive everyday just like everybody else.

We were too busy trying to cope with our day to day needs, weve never really given it much of a thought that a thing like this would happen, she said, after the gruesome death of her daughter.

Since she was a child, Rebelyn had always wanted to be a teacher. She and her siblings went through public school, a two-kilometer walk away from home during their elementary years. She was so happy when she received her first salary as a substitute teacher at St. Peters. That was the first time she had thousand peso bills, entirely her own, Evangeline recalls. She set aside P500 for her fare and told me, Ma, this is what I earned.

She said Rebelyn wanted to help her younger brother Redford, 16, finish high school; while Rio, her elder sister, agreed to help Renante, whos taking up nursing.

Among the five children, she was very kind; never getting angry when her younger brothers refused to do the house chores, she said. She was the one who posted the schedules of household chores on the board.

Thats why she couldnt understand what kind of people could jab icepicks into five parts of her body; strangle her and throw her body into the mud.

Until Paragos capture in 1999, his five children never knew the nature of their fathers work. They used to think he worked as a security guard in a far away place, Evangeline said. Then, Rebelyn would say, Why cant Papa request for a transfer here, Ma? So that we can be together? and Id tell her, No, thats not possible.

But after Paragos capture and then, his escape and eventual return to the revolution, Evangeline said the military were always after us, she said, We were put under surveillance.

She pinned down the Military Intelligence Group (MIG) of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) and the Military Intelligence Battalion of the 10th Infantry Division as perpetrators of the killing, something that top military officials deny.

Parago, in an interview with reporters, also named Ben Tipait, Aldan Sulao, Helvin Bitang and Pedring Pedregosa of the Military Intelligence Group to be behind the killing and vowed to mete out revolutionary justice against the culprits. Police investigators leading the Task Force Rebelyn had sought out the NPA commanders for the evidence linking the four MIG men to the killing but Parago said, You have your own government, you should know how to do your own investigation.

Pitaos eldest son, Ryan, 24, had tried to live a normal life driving a motorcycle but men identified with the MIG constantly hounded and almost killed him, forcing him to join his father, where he felt safer. He never wanted to be an NPA but the MIG were the one who pushed him, Evangeline said.

Rebelyns elder sister Rio, 22, also remembered being hounded by strange men while she was still in college at John Paul. In school, my teacher would tell me, Rio, a man is looking for you. He said hes your uncle and he kept asking about your schedule and where you live. I tell my teacher, I dont have an uncle like that.

Later, working as an intern; and then as a nurse, her schedules was so erratic, the strange men had trouble following her. I would receive calls at the nurse station at the hospital, saying somebody was looking for me while I was not there, she said. At home, people kept asking the neighbors if all of us were already at home.

Nikumpiyansa lang mi (We were just too trusting), Evangeline said. Now, shes joining the calls to spare the families of combatants in the governments bloody war against the Communist guerillas and to stop the extrajudicial killings of activists in the country. (Germelina Lacorte/

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