“He was really hoping he would be released. His dream came true indeed. His handcuffs had been removed only that he’s inside a coffin now.” — Choan, daughter of Bernabe Ocasla
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — Choan Ocasla grew up with her father’s Waray-Waray songs.
Choan’s father Bernabe loved playing the guitar or chatting with them at home. Most of the time, Bernabe was working on the farm, the main source of food for a family of ten. He also did carpentry and fishing to augment their income.
Their simple life had turned into a nightmare since state agents arrested Bernabe on October 31, 2007 from their home in Catbalogan City, Samar. Her father was one of the accused in the murder of at least 13 individuals sometime in 1985 in Hilongos, Leyte.
Choan said the accusation was impossible. She said that in 1985, the year of the alleged crime, their mother gave birth to her sister and her father did not for a moment leave the house. Hilongos town is 251 kilometers away from their home.
Bernabe spent nine years in jail on trumped-up charges. He did not survive his third cardiac arrest and died at the Jose Reyes Memorial Hospital on Nov. 28. He was 66.
“He was really hoping he would be released,” Choan told the media in a press conference this morning, Dec. 2. “His dream came true indeed. His handcuffs had been removed only that he’s inside a coffin now.”
Wiping her tears, Choan said no family deserves to suffer what they had been through.
With their breadwinner in jail, Choan had to stop schooling to help the family. Desperate to find work, she pretended she was already 18 although she was only 16 years old at that time. She landed a job as a saleslady in a local store.
Choan recalled they could barely buy the cheapest rice. Her father’s farm was taken over by relatives who did not bother to share the produce with them.
When supertyphoon Yolanda struck, Choan lost her job. The store where she was working closed down. For months, there was no electricity. Prices of basic commodities skyrocketed. The situation compelled her to go with her brother to try her luck in Manila. She was hired as a cashier in a local supermarket.
On her days off, Choan would visit her father at the Manila City Jail. It was here that Choan witnessed her father’s health deteriorate.
Back at the Hilongos City Jail where Bernabe was first detained, Choan said her father could do some gardening or play basketball. Bernabe had been transferred to the Manila City Jail in 2014 and for someone who had been used to farming, being idle was torture.
The food, she said, was nothing but decent. The rice was always burnt. If fish would be served to inmates, it was the size of her finger, Choan said.
In the past few months, however, Choan said her father would always tell her he would soon be freed. He even prepared all his jail requirements.
At the hospital, Choan said one of the jail guards wanted to handcuff her father to his bed. At that time, Bernabe was already in a state of coma. She protested.
For three days, Choan and her brother took turns in looking after their father.
Choan told her Papa to remain strong so he could see all his grandchildren. Only one of them is in Manila and the rest live in the province. Her mother who has hypertension was able to visit Bernabe only once. Her second visit was shortly before Bernabe died.
Choan, now 25, sang Waray-Waray songs to him. “It seemed he was hearing me. Tears were falling from his eyes,” she said.
She is her father’s daughter and she wants justice.
Choan will join the families of other political prisoners in fasting and hunger strike starting tomorrow until Dec. 10, the International Human Rights Day.