Refugees of an All-out War

Domus Dei (House of God), jointly set up by the Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties (MCCCL)-Bulacan, Alyansa ng Mamamayan para sa Makataong Karapatan (ALMMA or People’s Alliance for Human Rights), the Religious Inter-faith Dialogue and local government officials in Bulacan – led by the local parish of St. James – has become a refuge for Bulacan’s internal refugees, they who have been fleeing from the ravages of the government’s all-out war there.


Plaridel, Bulacan- Fragile three-month old Baby Domingo is the youngest among the internal refugees who had sought sanctuary at the Domus Dei (House of God) for human rights victims in this town.

He was brought to the safe house by his kin early morning of August 9 after his father was shot by suspected soldiers under the 56th Infantry Battalion holding detachment at Barangay (village) Panasahan, a fishing community in Malolos.

Patricio Pagtalunan, the father, sustained bullet wounds on the lower right shoulder and has been recuperating at the Bulacan Provincial Hospital.

The family, with 23 members all in all, is among the seven families housed at the Domus Dei after having been driven away by the heightened militarization in the province.

The Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties (MCCCL)-Bulacan, Alyansa ng Mamamayan para sa Makataong Karapatan (ALMMA or People’s Alliance for Human Rights), the Religious Inter-faith Dialogue and local government officials in Bulacan collaborated to set up Domus Dei, led by the local parish of St. James.

June 26 abduction

A young refugee suffers the brunt of having to stay within the confines of Domus Dei, a former convent, but being inside for him is no sure safeguard from the military’s excesses.

Fourteen-year old Wilfredo Ramos had been a witness to the abduction of two University of the Philippines (UP) students, along with a local farmer, on June 26 in Barangay San Miguel in Hagonoy. He had testified in court when the parents of Sherlyn Cadapan, 29 and Karen Empeño, 23, filed a habeas corpus petition before the Supreme Court ordering the military to surface the two and Manuel Merino, 56, all volunteers for the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Bulacan (Peasant Alliance in Bulacan).

He would be able to identify the head of the team that allegedly took the three, he told Bulatlat in an interview. “Malaki ang katawan, bilugan ang mukha, maitim, nakaitim na salamin at edad-kuwarenta” (Burly, with a round face, dark-skinned, wearing dark glasses. He is in his 40s), he said.

The team was composed of 15 armed men, all clad in camouflage uniform. Wilfredo’s and his father’s hands were tied when being taken out of their house. The team also took Merino. The two women were taken out from an aunt’s house nearby.

Naririnig namin si Ate Sherlyn nagsisigaw, humihingi ng saklolo” (We heard Ate Sherlyn crying for help), he said. Sherlyn, whose cries failed to draw response from neighbors, was two months pregnant but this did not stop the men from punching her stomach, said Wilfredo.

Merino’s group had been doing research in the area, based on the accounts Wilfredo provided to the court. They were detailing the plight of the fisherfolks by gathering data in their interviews, he said.

Barely three days after Domus Dei’s doors opened for internal refugees in Bulacan, Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights)-Central Luzon took custody of Wilfredo and kept him out of harm’s way inside the sanctuary.

Family helper

Back in Baranggay Salambao, also a coastal village, Domingo was a salt-maker helping the family out to survive

Asked why he was not taught to be a fisherman instead, he said the family has no boat to use. Thus, when he was 10 years old, his father taught him to make salt. He grew up not having an education, he said. “Tatlong malaking bangka ang nakakaya naming punuin ng 50 kaban ng asin (sa isang araw)” (We can fill three large boats [in a day] with 50 cavans of salt) he added, estimating that the trade brings in at least P6,000 ($116.78 based on $1:P51.38 exchange rate) for the family.

For the next salt-making season, he might not be able participate if the militarization persists. “Ligtas na nandito ako… Pag bumalik pa ako sa amin, tiyak wala nang lusot” (It’s safe for me to be here… If I go back that would surely be the end of me), he said.

Such is also the case of the Pagtalunans from Barangay Panasahan, also a coastal village, who all sought refuge at the sanctuary for fear of being harassed by the military.

Lydia, young Domingo’s grandmother, ordered her children to secure community tax certificates, for fear of being accused by the military of being members of the communist New Peoples Army (NPA). “Y’ong mga pamilya dun, ibibili na lang ng kakainin, ikukuha pa ng sedula sa takot sa mga sundalo” (The families there spend on community tax certificates the money they should be spending for food, for fear of the soldiers), she said.

But this was proven futile. One of her sons, Patricio, was shot three times on the night of Aug. 8 by armed men she suspects as soldiers stationed in the area. The son was a member of the militant fisherfolk organization, Pambansang Lakas ng mga Mamamalakaya sa Pilipinas (Pamalakaya or National Federation of Small Fisherfolk Organizations in the Philippines).

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