Ten-year old Levi Mabanan, the youngest political detainee in the country, was finally released May 15 from the military camp in Catbalogan, Samar, where he was forced to spend four years of his young life.
Levi Mabanan was only six years old when placed behind bars in 2000. He spent the last four years at Camp Vicente Lukban of the 8th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army (PA) in Maulong village in the town of Catbalogan, Samar province.
Although the military says he was not a political prisoner, human rights groups had to fight for his release.
It was because of the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) that Levi was finally set free. His name was among the list of 32 political prisoners that the NDFP demanded to be released. His custody was then transferred from the camp’s military chaplain to his eldest brother, Ortiz, on May 15.
Home at last
On May 22, two human rights workers from the Katungod-Sinirangan Bisayas, the local chapter of Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) in Samar, visited Levi in his new home. The name of place is being withheld upon request by the family for fear of being placed under surveillance by the military.
“I like it here,” Levi said in the vernacular. He told the human rights workers that he was happy with his release to the custody of Ortiz, his favorite brother. He has two younger brothers whom he is fond of, too, he said.
Not an NPA
Contrary to his military captors’ claim that he was “captured in an encounter with New People’s Army (NPA) rebels,” Levi was with his grandfather when “captured.”
He narrated that on Dec. 6, 2000, he was with Pedro Gabane, his grandfather-custodian, in Cambais village, Motiong town, Samar when several members of the New People’s Army (NPA) passed by their house.
A few minutes later, about 30 soldiers from the 34th IBPA and the Military Intelligence Command (MICO) arrived and immediately fired at their house.
Levi was sure that the shots came from the military unit as he recognized one of the soldiers who arrested him. His captor stayed with him at the army barracks during his detention.
He recalled that the NPA guerrillas engaged the military in a firefight but withdrew immediately. Levi said he overheard his grandfather telling the soldiers that he was not an NPA guerrilla but Levi later found that his grandfather was shot by the soldiers inside their house.
Levi said a soldier dragged him away with the military unit after the gunfight ended.
“I was crying. Then, I was slapped hard by one of the soldiers. It was painful and hard, I even lost my balance,” he told the human rights workers.
He further recalled that while passing by a river, one of the soldiers grabbed him and threatened to drop him in the water. He cried profusely until they reached the army camp where he spent the next four years.
Two social workers from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) visited him the next day, Dec. 7. Levi said he begged to be released but his pleas went unheard. Before they left, one of them handed him a Php20 bill, supposedly to appease him, he said.
Levi also said that his custodian, military chaplain Col. Daniel Tansip, made him do cleaning chores inside the camp. He was also barred from going out of the camp.
“I don’t want to stay inside the military camp anymore. They (military) were just fooling me,” he said.
Back to school
He told the human rights workers that he would be happy to continue his education at a nearby elementary school.
Before the human rights workers left, they handed him some school supplies.
“Salamat” (Thank you), he told them shyly.
“Can I give some of the notebooks to my younger brother? He also goes to school?” he asked.
Levi is one of 11 political prisoners released by the Macapagal-Arroyo government as part of its commitment to release 32. The move is a confidence-building measure for the ongoing formal peace negotiations with the NDFP.
First to be released last April was Zenaida Llesis, a woman political prisoner from Mindanao who gave birth inside the detention center. Her one-year old baby girl Gabriela was detained with her for more than a year.