A minor’s refusal to join the CAFGU resulted in him being beaten up and threatened by soldiers. And he is not alone in his ordeal.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Leon, 17, (not his real name) should be living a normal life, spending time with his mother, an overseas Filipino worker who has just returned to the country, or with his friends. Sadly, Leon’s life took a downward spin ever since soldiers entered their community.
Since February this year, the military has set up a detachment in barangay (village) Quipo in San Juan, Batangas, purportedly to protect the villagers from possible violence during the May 2010 elections. But they never left. In fact, more soldiers were deployed in the village.
The military, according to Juna Arante of Karapatan – Batangas, is said to be very friendly toward Leon, who they frequently invite to join their drinking sprees. On June 18, soldiers went to Leon’s house in sitio (sub-village) Calabasahan to formally recruit him to the Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU).
“His parents were worried. They heard that CAFGUs are almost always placed at the frontline during military operations. So it is natural that they did not allow him to join,” Arante told Bulatlat, “Plus, of course, he is still a minor.”
Leon’s refusal, however, was not taken lightly by the military. When Leon joined his childhood friends in an out-of-town-trip organized by the Philippine Air Force, in Laiya, San Juan, Batangas on August 28, Leon accidentally opened the door of a restroom for women at around 9:00 p.m. He was then dragged by three drunken soldiers to the men’s room where he was beaten up.
Arante said the military was merely finding a reason to get back at Leon for refusing their invitation to join the CAFGU. Sergeants Casapao, Casanova and Areta boxed him at the stomach and chest. They also slapped his ears.
The beating only stopped when someone knocked on the door. Leon was threatened by the three Philippine Air Force soldiers not to tell anyone what happened that night or they would kill him and throw him into the sea.
He returned home the following day and never said a word to anyone about what happened. His parents, however, became worried because they often catch him staring blankly. He also complained of body pains and difficulties in hearing.
It took him four days to pull up the courage to tell his uncle what happened. It was his uncle who informed his parents. “If only I was allowed to become a CAFGU, I do not think that this would happen to me,” Arante quoted Leon saying.
Leon was not singled out by the military. In fact, most of the minors living in Barangay Quito and its neighboring villages are being recruited by the military to become members of CAFGU. According to Arnold Evangelista of Batangas Integrated Human Rights Advocates, the military offers promises of a big salary, scholarship and groceries to those who would agree to join the CAFGU.
However, Evangelista said soldiers are quick to accuse families who refuse the offer of being supporters of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. This has brought fear among most the residents.
“At dawn, they could sense soldiers walking around their village, doing ‘house-to-house’ visits,” Evangelista said.
Residents no longer want to leave their homes, “which in itself is already a human rights violation because the people could not go about their normal lives,” Evangelista said. He added that anyone who leaves the village are subjected to interrogation by soldiers. Soldiers even inspect grocery bags of residents going to the market.
“Militarization equates to martial law,” Evangelista said.
On Sept. 27, Leon was brought to a mental institution. His family said he was already exhibiting “violent tendencies.” As of press time, the family has not yet spoken with Leon since he was admitted at the hospital. They are only being given updates on his speedy recovery from the trauma that he had.
His mother, an OFW from Bahrain, has chosen to stay in the country for the time being to attend to the needs of her family, especially because of what his son is going through. They are, however, no longer living in Barangay Quipo to keep the military from further harassing them.