At least 35 residents of a relocation site in Rodriguez, Rizal were killed this year alone in a suspected drug-related killing spree. Among them were three urban poor activists from Corazon de Jesus in San Juan.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Maritess Bacolod, a feisty, outspoken urban poor community leader from San Juan, could not find the words to describe the pain of losing her one and only son over what appears to be a senseless crime.
Nathaniel, only 19, a student and member of Anakbayan, was among the three people killed when armed men strafed their home in Southville village at noon on July 10.
Southville 8B is a government relocation site in San Isidro village, Rodriguez (Montalban), Rizal where informal settlers from Corazon de Jesus, San Juan were relocated.
Also killed were Bacolod’s sister, 50-year-old Susan Mamaril, a member of Gabriela, and another kin, Junmer Paraon, 22, also a Kadamay member. Their two other relatives Roberto Moral, 23, and Pascualito Perlito, 21, were wounded.
“How could you say that this place is safe? They demolished homes located in so-called danger zones and relocated people to death zones,” said Carlito Badion, secretary general of Kadamay, referring to the recent nationally-televised speech of President Aquino on how the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) benefited the poor. “Now they are in a killing zone.”
Badion added, “How was DAP used for the benefit of the poor? It is clear that their lives did not improve, and were even placed at risk because of the lack of livelihood. And now, there is a killing spree in the relocation site.”
A Kadamay statement said that 32 Southville residents were killed from January to March alone. The urban group said they are still confirming reports of five other victims killed in four other separate shooting incidents on July 10.
The killings are allegedly part of a campaign to eradicate drug pushers in the community. But, Badion said, they received reports that the killings were part of clearing operations by drug syndicates “to substitute their men on the ground.”
Bacolod said she heard various allegations against her son, that he was involved in drugs or it was a gang-related violence.
“But those are all lies. He was a principled young man,” said Bacolod, who is also the spokesperson of Kadamay National Capital Region,
Not drugs but mistaken identity
Badion, in an interview with Bulatlat.com, said their initial findings on the killing of their members reveal that it could be a case of mistaken identity. A trend in the killings shows that the victims were all suspected or even merely rumoured to be involved in drugs.
But Gina Bola, spokesperson of Montalban Relocatees Alliance, said that even if one is culpable, no one deserves to be arbitrarily killed.
On July 8, Mamaril’s son Michael was summoned by unidentified men from their house and was brought to the village hall. They drove a heavily-tinted van, Bacolod said.
“My sister was suspicious when she learned that the men who took her son were using a heavily-tinted van. So she took a tricycle to the village hall only to find his son being interrogated for a supposed ‘case’ that the men would not explain to them,” Bacolod told Bulatlat.com.
Mamaril demanded that the men free her son. But they told her to pay “bail” so they would release Michael.
“Why would I pay bail? There is no case against him,” Bacolod quoted Mamaril as saying.
One of the men took photos of Mamaril and Michael and warned Mamaril for answering back.
Two days later, Mamaril’s house was peppered with bullets. At the time, Junmer and Nathaniel, a fourth year high school student, were studying. The others were watching a noontime talk show on television.
Bacolod recounted that her sister, on the way to the hospital, was still praying, “Lord, please extend my life. My grandson needs me.” But Mamaril was declared dead on arrival at the hospital because she lost too much blood on the way. She sustained two gunshot wounds.
Nathaniel also sustained two gunshot wounds, on the right knee and on the chest. Bacolod said those who arrived first on the crime scene later told her that they saw Nathaniel still breathing but eventually died as it took two hours before village officials allowed a rescue team to go near the house.
Paraon sustained six gunshot wounds. His most fatal shot, Bacolod said, was a bullet that pierced his head.
Bacolod said their family would not have suffered such injustice if only they were not forced to move to a relocation area where there is no livelihood and basic social services.
A meaningful life
Bacolod said she would always keep in her heart the short but meaningful life that her son Nathaniel lived.
“When I learned that he became an activist, I was very surprised because he was a shy boy. The next thing I knew, he was part of a video documentary uploaded on the internet,” she said, referring to a documentary produced by the progressive media group Tudla Productions about the struggle of Corazon de Jesus residents for their homes.
Bacolod said her son did not become an activist just to be like her “but because it was the right decision. He saw that there was a need to fight.”
Her sister Mamaril, on the other hand, was very active in the fight of relocatees for basic social services in the relocation area. Bacolod said that when her sister transferred to Southville, there was no electricity and water.
Bacolod said the aspiration and advocacy of her loved ones would serve as her source of strength to move on and demand justice for their deaths.