By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
SAGAY CITY, Negros Occidental – Lelia Devera, a resident of E.B. Magalona, brought her five-year-old granddaughter Princess to Bacolod City where they would be relatively safe from the atrocities allegedly being inflicted by the Revolutionary Proletarian Army – Alex Boncayao Brigade to their family and to the rest of their community. But every time as she sees a university security guard, armed with the usual shotgun, Princess cries.
“They might fire at us again,” Princess told Sr. Emma Cupin MSM, who asked her why she was crying.
Cupin said children suffer the worst blows of the human rights violations, most especially those who witnessed the burning of their homes and the strafing, and were displaced from their homes.
“They are afraid. They are very very afraid,” Cupin said during a forum at the University of the Philippines – Diliman. The team discussed the results of the fact finding, solidarity and medical mission to four areas in Negros Occidental during the said forum.
The mission was led by Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas. Religious, human rights and peasant groups are among the organizations that joined the mission from May 9 to 13. They interviewed affected families and also looked into how the children are coping.
From the eyes of a child
Jolivie, 17, youngest daughter of the Devera, told Bulatlat.com that she has already stopped going to school since her father Jully was abducted allegedly by members of RPA-ABB on July 29, 2011. The armed men kicked open the door of their home when her mother Lilia did not open it when they asked for water. They hogtied her father and took him. Their family held on to the promise of the members of RPA-ABB that Jully would be sent back home the following morning but they never saw him again since then.
“I am always thinking of him. I could not understand the lessons in school because I am always thinking of my father and where he is right now,” Jolivie said, adding that it was her choice to stop going to school.
She said that it hurts to know that her father was abducted when he has not done anything wrong. “It is natural to be hurting because my father is innocent,” she said.
As if the pain of not knowing where her father is is not enough, Jolivie saw members of RPA-ABB burning down their home. She was taking an afternoon nap on Feb. 19, 2012 when, once again, members of RPA-ABB kicked open their house. Jolivie, who recognized the man as Hernani Cunanan, said he shouted at her, telling her to leave the house. When she went out, Jolivie saw two more armed men, whom she identified as Hernan Cunanan and Lauro Delgado.
“They brought gasoline which they placed in a 1.5 ml bottle. They poured it on our house, on our room and on our closet. Then then they lit the fire with a lighter,” Jolivie said.
Members of the RPA-ABB tied her hands. “Let us rape her and then throw her body at the flames afterwards,” she quoted the armed men as saying. Jolivie begged the armed men not to touch her, saying that she has not done anything wrong to them. Luckily, the members of the RPA-ABB left her. As soon as they were out of sight, Jolivie asked for the help from her brothers-in-law and the village chief.
“I do not know what to feel. I want to die. They say that these are merely trials. If true, then this is probably the worst because they burned our house and I lost my father,” Jolivie said.
Peasant families in other areas of Negros Occidental suffered the same fate. The parents interviewed during the fact finding mission expressed their doubts if they would be able to send their children to school next semester. Like Jolivie, other families too lost their belongings when members of the RPA-ABB burned down their homes or demolished it. They are displaced from their homes and it is pushing them to even more impoverish edconditions.
Already impoverished conditions
Ronelyn, 14, a resident of Sitio Calintaan, Barangay Lopez Jaena in Sagay City, Negros Occidental also witnessed how members of the RPA-ABB burned their home. She is still having nightmares of the unfortunate incident that took away their belongings. “They poured lots of gasoline on our house before setting it on fire,” she said, “They burned everything, including our plates.”
“I was sad and afraid. I cried. There was chaos,” Ronelyn said.
She does not know why the armed men burned their house. But she is certain that they are members of the RPA-ABB. “They were wearing black jackets,” she added.
But even before these human rights violations, Ronelyn and other children of farmworkers of the haciendas in Negros Occidental are already suffering from poverty. She said they hardly have food on their table every meal. Her parents are hired as farmworkers in Hacienda Roma. Their meager income is not enough to make sure that they could eat at least three or two times a day. “cassava, vegetables and rice,” Ronelyn said when asked what they usually eat.
Ariel and Gino
Ariel, 10, and his friend Gino, 9, are children from Hacienda Baldevia, a 24-hectare disputed land in Sagay City, Negros Occidental. While both of them did not witness how the armed men who introduced themselves as RPA-ABB towed their homes with a tractor, the two boys are having a hard time adjusting to the displacement that it caused.
“Our homes were demolished,” Gino said when asked why they moved out, “By the blue guards and armed goons of the land owner.”
Gino and his family now to live near the boundary of the land. Ariel is also very sad that their family has been displaced and is living with a distant relative in Salvacion, a neighboring village. Like them, their relatives are also farmers who have meager income as well but has a big heart to extend help to those in need.
“I want to go back to where our house used to sit. It is where I grew up,” Ariel said.
Both Gino and Ariel expressed their fears of the armed men roaming around their community. But they also said that they are angry for the injustices that were committed against them and their families. “Sometimes, I want to shoot them so that we could get even,” Ariel said.
According to Roan Tuayon of the Children’s Rehabilitation Center – Negros, the children who have witnessed or are suffering the consequences of the atrocities committed by the members of the RPA-ABB are showing signs that they are traumatized.
“In our experience, whenever we are giving psychosocial therapies to children victims, those children who could hardly express themselves are either angry or afraid,” Tuayon said.
She added that the children are now being exposed to “unnatural events” such as the demolition of their homes and, consequently, their displacement. “The children should be protected from these man-made calamities. They should be protected.”
Tuayon said it would take a long process before the children would be able to cope with what is happening. “You do not need to tell the children that there is something wrong. They are intuitive enough to sense it,” she said, adding that the children ages 10 or so would find it more difficult to move on because they are already aware of what is happening and are already capable of interpreting, though to a limited extent, on how the events are unfolding.
“We are challenging the Aquino administration to put a stop to the militarization of rural areas. It is not fitting that many families are being torn apart. These people are only asking for a small piece of land,” Tuayon said.
The fact finding, solidarity and medical mission led by Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas from May 9 to 13, 2012 are requesting for more psychosocial activities to help the children understand, cope and recover from the unfortunate events that they had to face early in life.
“One of the mothers told me that we are helpless because we are up against armed and powerful persons,” Sr. Cupin said, “But I told them that they should not worry. If only they are not armed, they have nothing against us.”