“Cali was only a boy; I don’t understand why they had to shoot and kill him. He was only there to help the residents keep their houses.” – Jojie Martinez, 10 years old
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — A 14-year old was killed during a violent demolition operation in Brgy. San Roque in Tarlac City, this according to a report from Anakpawis Partylist – Gitnang Luson, its Tarlac provincial chapter and Karapatan – Tarlac.
The groups said John Cali Lagrimas was killed when 200 demolition team members, 20 Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) elements and a hundred members of the Philippine National Police from Camp Macabulos in Tarclac City and Camp Olivas in Pampanga attacked the community in Block 7, Brgy. San Roque. They were led by a certain Col. Arnel Ramos of the Tarlac PNP city police.
According to reports, the demolition operation began at 8 a.m., but owing to heavy rains was temporary halted. The residents then commenced defending their houses by putting up barricades, but members of the PNP began shooting at the crowd, killing Lagrimas and wounding many others.
As of this writing, it is still unclear how many were wounded, but it has been confirmed that one of the shooting victims is in critical condition.
The minor was said to be a a member of the Samahan ng Kabataang Demokratiko sa Hacienda Luisita (Sakdal) and a resident of Brgy. San Francisco in Tarlac. Lagrimas’s widowed mother is a member of Anakpawis Partylist – Tarlac and one of the farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita.. Sakdal is a local youth organization in the area.
According to separate reports from party-list group Akap-Bata, Cali was directly shot by a still unidentified gunman while he was standing near the barricades the urban poor set up. Residents, Akap-Bata said, asserted that the gunshots came from the demolition team.
Akap Bata Party-List said Cali is another child-victim of the Aquino administration’s human rights violations. It said the minor’s brutal killing was made even more lamentable because it happened a day after the start of the National Children’s Month 2012.
On October 1, the group launched their “Red Alert vs Child Poverty” campaign, which aims to highlight issues involving Filipino children’s needs for education, nutrition and shelter and the Aquino administration’s failure to provide these.
The group’s spokesman Lean Peace Flores said Aquino should immediately issue a moratorium against demolitions all over the country.
“Heads must roll over this case. Members of the demolition crew, the PNP and SWAT who were involved in the demolition operations and Cali’s killing should be held legally accountable,” he said.
Anakpawis CL regional coordinator Joseph Canlas said there is a pending motion for nullification of the demolition order against Block 7 at the Tarlac City Regional Trial Court and a hearing was set on October 12. He said the police and demolition team who were involved in the violent demolition operation did not present any court order to the residents.
“The demolition was a obviously illegal, and a clear violation of the residents’ basic rights and due process,” Canlas said.
Anakpawis Partylist – Tarlac said the residents have been occupying the lot for 51 years and pay rent to its original owner. In the last few years, however, a certain Dennis Junio laid claim to the lot, but failed to present proof of his ownership. The residents — some 68 families — have refused to vacate the lot saying that Junio has no right to have them evicted.
“This is what the Aquino government’s policy and program on housing amounts to: the illegal and violent demolition of urban and rural poor communities. The government has no genuine mass housing and livelihood program for the urban poor, but it promotes the privatization and commercialization of land areas including those owned by the government,” Canlas said.
“What happened in Brgy. San Roque was an attempted massacre. The PNP -Tarlac clearly violated laws governing the demolition of urban poor communities, including the PNP’s own rules of engagement. We hold the PNP and the Aquino government responsible for this violence and Cali’s death.”
Fellow Sakdal member and youth activist based in Central Luzon Arjay Concepcion, 20, said Cali was a “fledgling activist.”
“For the the last two months he had been living in the picketline at Hacienda Luisita. He had long stopped attending school because his mother could not afford to send him. Even if he didn’t get a formal education, he was very smart — he listened avidly to explanations about why the country is poor and why children like him were being denied their rights to education, health care, shelter, safety and security,” Arjay said.
According to Arjay, Cali had changed much in the last two months.
“He became more disciplined because he was learning so much in the picketline. He had humility to admit when he was wrong, but he was also prepared to defend what he thought was right: he was being an activist. We directly blame the government for what happened to Cali, and for what happened and continues to happen to so many other children in Tarlac, particularly in Hacienda Luisita. Pres. Aquino comes from this city, from Central Luzon, but so many human rights violations are being done against the poor; not even the children are spared,” he said.
Another boy who knew Cali, 10-year old Jojie Martinez, agreed with Arjay. Jojie is also a member of Sakdal, and both his parents are farmworkers of HLI. Like Cali, he has also stopped schooling because of poverty. Like Cali, he also blames the government.
“I think when Pres. Noynoy says that the Philippines is already developing, he means Manila is developing. Tarlac is very poor, so many of us are poor. In Hacienda Luisita, so many children do not attend school. Children like me whose parents are farmworkers stay often in the picketline because at least there we learn about the country and not just our basis lessons,” he said.
Jojie tries to help his family make ends meet by collecting and selling trash and recyclable materials like old newspapers, tin cans and empty bottles. He earns P50 ($1.19) on a good day, and he either gives the entire amount to his mother or he buys two kilos of rice with it.
Arjay said that both Cali and Jojie were witnesses to the September 15 attack made by guards of the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) against the striking farmworkers.
“The RCBC guards wanted to put up a fence around the land which the HLI farmworkers have rightly and legally claimed to be theirs. When everyone at the picketline — including children like Jojie and Cali who were there at the time– resisted, the guards fired their shotguns four times in front of us. We though they were going to shoot us, but we stood firm,” Arjay said.
Regarding the demolition operations, both boys had this to say: “The PNP and the Aquino government do not respect or value the rights and lives of Filipino children.”
“Cali was only a boy; I don’t understand why they had to shoot and kill him. He was only there to help the residents keep their houses,” Jojie said.
Arjay is even more emphatic.
“This is the kind of thing Filipino children should expect from the government. It cares nothing for the lives and welfare of our parents, it cares nothing for the lives of children. If this government is truly humane, it would do its best to ensure that all Filipino children particularly the children of the poor and marginalized sectors would have all they need to survive, everything from food,education, shelter and protection. Children like Cali get killed all the time because of government neglect and violations against basic human rights. The Aquino government is directly to be blamed for the poverty and death of so many children because it does nothing to help them,” he said.