Justice for the Children of War

Right after Grecil was shot, the Galacios had to leave their homes. First because of the grief at having familiar places remind them of Grecil. Then they had to go to the Davao City to process papers for their formal complaints versus the military. And then they had to leave their home again because the military started harassing Gregorio, Grecil’s father, forcing him to sign self-incriminating documents of surrender, making him admit to being a member of the NPA.

As a result of their dislocation, the Galacios often found themselves going hungry because Gregorio found it difficult to find a stable job. Not only did he have meager skills, knowing only how to farm. He also had to constantly hide from the soldiers, often leaving his family behind with relatives.

Grecil’s younger siblings also had to stop schooling twice in the last two years because of the lack of finances. One of the teachers, who was able to teach the two older Galacio children for about two months this school year, said second grader Gary showed confidence in himself. However, he and his first grader sister both had learning skills lower than those of their classmates. Upon hearing Grecil’s story, the teacher surmised that the children’s poor performance in school were because of their dislocation and their general lack of peace of mind. The teacher said she was never formally informed of the Galacio children’s situation, nor did she know of any effort from the Education Department to provide counseling for the children.

No efforts were likewise made by the CHR to provide additional support to help the family cope with their tragedy, especially the children. “It’s not in our mandate,” Sipaco reasoned.

Regional chief investigator lawyer Emiliano Cajez, Jr. said that the regional offices only lump the children’s cases with those of the adults because only the national office has a children’s desk. Investigators in charge of cases of child-victims do not undergo any training to handle children’s cases.

Joy Alconaba, treatment and rehabilitation coordinator of CRC-Southern Mindanao, laments that there seems to be no government agency that conducts psycho-social therapy for children during emergencies such as forced evacuation, harassment and the like. She said government-initiated sessions had to pass through long bureaucratic procedures before children’s urgent needs can be addressed.

Idoy, for example, has not undergone any psycho-social treatment at all.

Alconaba added that many of the social workers handling children’s cases mostly don’t know what they’re doing. “When we attend trainings on conducting psycho-social therapy methods for children, our classmates from government offices are mostly officials.” Alconaba said direct service workers are forced to learn on the spot based on their assumptions about children.

She cited the case of the Ata-Manobo tribe from Sitio Bermuda, Barangay Mangayon in Compostela town, who in 2008 evacuated after they were threatened by soldiers as they passed through their community on the way to fight it out with NPAs nearby. At the Compostela gym where they were temporarily housed, the CRC witnessed government social workers throwing candies for the children to fight over. Alconaba expressed frustration for this insensitive method. “You’re a young child in an evacuation center, forced to leave the security of your own homes because your lives were threatened, how would fighting over candies be therapeutic?” she asked.

In another case, government social workers taught children to sing the theme song of the popular noontime show Wowowee. After the children relatively mastered the song and action, the social workers asked, “Are you feeling better?”

Alconaba cited that these methods could not possibly help the children make sense of their fear, uncertainty and anger.

Pacing, Grecil’s mother, recalled that her two youngest children experienced sleepless nights and nightmares after their sister was shot.

Still, Alconaba says the Galacio children have gone a long way from their state right after Grecil died. Back then, she said they seemed to fear strangers in general. Now, it is only the sight of men in uniform that can make them anxious, that can make the cocky Gary suddenly become quiet and serious.

In a Davao Today interview, the Galacio siblings were a picture of normal children. Grecil’s brother Gary bosses over his younger sisters as they fight over cola and candies. CRC says their last psycho-social processing sessions reveal that their fear and anger are in control; they now seem to be able to function normally and have no handicap when it comes to socialization.

Alconaba admits the children’s psycho-social sessions with the Galacio children were far from perfect. For instance, the intervals between therapy sessions should’ve been shorter but they could not do this because they were constantly changing residences because of fear of retaliation from the military. The CRC sometimes had to spend months at a time trying to find out where they had gone. They also had to strike a balance because they feared that the family would become dependent on the sessions and not strive to process their feelings on their own.

Pacing still expressed worry that she never saw in her son any sign of deep-seated grief for the loss of his older sister. “He didn’t cry even during Grecil’s wake,” Pacing said. She said she wants to see him cry and express his grief. At the same time, she also feared that when he finally breaks down, she will not find the words to give him comfort.

Roger Galacio, Gary’s uncle, meanwhile said he was worried how the trauma of Grecil’s death would affect Gary in the future. (Bulatlat.com)

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