Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. VI, No. 29      Aug. 27 - Sept. 2, 2006      Quezon City, Philippines








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Refugees of the All-out War

Domus Dei (House of God), jointly set up by the Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties (MCCCL)-Bulacan, Alyansa ng Mamamayan para sa Makataong Karapatan (ALMMA or People’s Alliance for Human Rights), the Religious Inter-faith Dialogue and local government officials in Bulacan – led by the local parish of St. James – has become a refuge for Bulacan’s internal refugees, they who have been fleeing from the ravages of the government’s all-out war there.


SAFE IN THE HAVEN: Refugees at the Domus Dei


Plaridel, Bulacan- Fragile three-month old Baby Domingo is the youngest among the internal refugees who had sought sanctuary at the Domus Dei (House of God) for human rights victims in this town.

He was brought to the safe house by his kin early morning of August 9 after his father was shot by suspected soldiers under the 56th Infantry Battalion holding detachment at Barangay (village) Panasahan, a fishing community in Malolos.

Patricio Pagtalunan, the father, sustained bullet wounds on the lower right shoulder and has been recuperating at the Bulacan Provincial Hospital.

The family, with 23 members all in all, is among the seven families housed at the Domus Dei after having been driven away by the heightened militarization in the province.

The Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties (MCCCL)-Bulacan, Alyansa ng Mamamayan para sa Makataong Karapatan (ALMMA or People’s Alliance for Human Rights), the Religious Inter-faith Dialogue and local government officials in Bulacan collaborated to set up Domus Dei, led by the local parish of St. James.

June 26 abduction

A young refugee suffers the brunt of having to stay within the confines of Domus Dei, a former convent, but being inside for him is no sure safeguard from the military’s excesses.

Fourteen-year old Wilfredo Ramos had been a witness to the abduction of two University of the Philippines (UP) students, along with a local farmer, on June 26 in Barangay San Miguel in Hagonoy. He had testified in court when the parents of Sherlyn Cadapan, 29 and Karen Empeño, 23, filed a habeas corpus petition before the Supreme Court ordering the military to surface the two and Manuel Merino, 56, all volunteers for the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Bulacan (Peasant Alliance in Bulacan).

He would be able to identify the head of the team that allegedly took the three, he told Bulatlat in an interview. “Malaki ang katawan, bilugan ang mukha, maitim, nakaitim na salamin at edad-kuwarenta” (Burly, with a round face, dark-skinned, wearing dark glasses. He is in his 40s), he said.

The team was composed of 15 armed men, all clad in camouflage uniform. Wilfredo’s and his father’s hands were tied when being taken out of their house.  The team also took Merino. The two women were taken out from an aunt’s house nearby.

Naririnig namin si Ate Sherlyn nagsisigaw, humihingi ng saklolo” (We heard Ate Sherlyn crying for help), he said. Sherlyn, whose cries failed to draw response from neighbors, was two months pregnant but this did not stop the men from punching her stomach, said Wilfredo.

Merino’s group had been doing research in the area, based on the accounts Wilfredo provided to the court. They were detailing the plight of the fisherfolks by gathering data in their interviews, he said.

Barely three days after Domus Dei’s doors opened for internal refugees in Bulacan, Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights)-Central Luzon took custody of Wilfredo and kept him out of harm’s way inside the sanctuary.           

Family helper

Back in Baranggay Salambao, also a coastal village, Domingo was a salt-maker helping the family out to survive

Asked why he was not taught to be a fisherman instead, he said the family has no boat to use. Thus, when he was 10 years old, his father taught him to make salt. He grew up not having an education, he said. “Tatlong malaking bangka ang nakakaya naming punuin ng 50 kaban ng asin (sa isang araw)” (We can fill three large boats [in a day] with 50 cavans of salt) he added, estimating that the trade brings in at least P6,000 ($116.78 based on  $1:P51.38 exchange rate) for the family.

For the next salt-making season, he might not be able participate if the militarization persists. “Ligtas na nandito ako... Pag bumalik pa ako sa amin, tiyak wala nang lusot” (It’s safe for me to be here… If I go back that would surely be the end of me), he said.

Such is also the case of the Pagtalunans from Barangay Panasahan, also a coastal village, who all sought refuge at the sanctuary for fear of being harassed by the military.

Lydia, young Domingo’s grandmother, ordered her children to secure community tax certificates, for fear of being accused by the military of being members of the communist New Peoples Army (NPA). “Y’ong mga pamilya dun, ibibili na lang ng kakainin, ikukuha pa ng sedula sa takot sa mga sundalo” (The families there spend on community tax certificates the money they should be spending for food, for fear of the soldiers), she said.

But this was proven futile. One of her sons, Patricio, was shot three times on the night of Aug. 8 by armed men she suspects as soldiers stationed in the area. The son was a member of the militant fisherfolk organization, Pambansang Lakas ng mga Mamamalakaya sa Pilipinas (Pamalakaya or National Federation of Small Fisherfolk Organizations in the Philippines).

“Ang alam ko magtatayo ng kooperatiba y’ong grupo nila sa lugar namin” (What I know is that their group was planning to set up a cooperative in our place), she said. The group was however, suspected of recruiting for the NPA or doing a communist-led activity, she said.

Villagers are being scolded and beaten and their belongings confiscated by soldiers. “Titipunin nila lahat ng kalalakihan saka sasamsamin yung mga napangisda nilang bangus o tilapya o kaya pera” (They would gather all the men and confiscate the bangus or tilapia they caught or the money they have), she told Bulatlat.

Mahirap umalis dahil walang kabuhayan, pero paano kami babalik kung nandiyan pa ang militar?” (Leaving the place has made life difficult for us because we have no source of income, but how can we go back with the military still there?) she said.

Asked if indeed there were NPA members roaming the fishing community, she said, “Kung nandun man sila, bakit mas nakakatulog kami sa gabi, kumakain ng tatlong-beses sa isang araw, tahimik kami” (If they’re there, we would probably be able to sleep more soundly at night, eat three times a day, and the place would be quiet.)

Now at the sanctuary, “Dito may katahimikan, kapag kami lumabas, hindi namin alam kung anong mangyayari sa amin” (There’s peace here. If we get out of here we don’t know what would happen to us.)

Safe from the military

For three weeks now, the sanctuary had offered trainings in cellphone repair among the refugees. This would develop in the refugees additional skills that they can use when they get out of the sanctuary, organizers said.

The seven families inside the Domus Dei, composed of 68 individuals, were one in doubting the government’s sincerity in protecting civilians from the “indiscriminate” war it is waging against the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing the NPA.

The government puts the blame on witnesses for its failure to solve the political killings. But the witnesses fear for their lives as they suspect that soldiers are involved.  

Three local leaders of organizations tagged as communist fronts” believe the newly-formed Melo Commission, would only absolve the Macapagal-Arroyo government, the AFP and the PNP..

Celestina Nantes, Kadamay chair in San Jose del Monte, griped about how her family has been torn apart by the heightened militarization. The urban poor community her group organizes includes the relocation areas of Sapang Palay, Towerville, Liberty and Pabahay 2000 demanding for lower monthly amortization rates, basic utilities and social services and employment. Dwellers mainly work in construction jobs outside the relocation sites.  They only go back to the relocation site to sleep that is why the site is called “Bedroom City.”

Weeks after she had gone into hiding, local members started to ask about her whereabouts. She advised her children to reveal her situation hoping that if anything happens to her, the residents would know that government security forces would most probably be involved.  

Biglaan ang paglikas namin dito, hindi gaanong naihanda yung erya para sa panghihimasok ng mga militar” (We suddenly had to leave, the residents were not adequately prepared for the military’s intrusion), she said.

Ricardo Diaz, chair of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Bulacan (Alliance of Peasants in Bulacan), said his group’s campaign for higher palay (unmilled rice) prices, against the land use conversion scheme, and factory pollutants earned the ire of the military.

He brought his family along when he left his residence for fear that the military might harm them when they found out that he has gone into hiding.

Boy Asis, chair of Kadamay in Guiguinto, Bulacan, has spent a week in the sanctuary together with his family. He was advised by his neighbors to leave the community when the military started to arrive at their place.  Kadamay is protesting the implementation of the government-led Manila-Clark Rapid Railway System, now known as the North Rail Project, aims to rehabilitate the old national railways.  The Phase 1 of the project would result to the displacement of rail residents in Meycauayan and Malolos.

Mas gugustuhin namin tumira dito kaysa magbalik-loob sa pamahalaan na amoy-pulbura” (We prefer to live here rather than be forced to pledge allegiance to this violent government), he said.

The three lead the finance committee formed inside the sanctuary, whose task is to seek for material and financial support. At least P1,000 was being spent each day to maintain the sanctuary, Nantes said. The amount also covers the costs being incurred for the four cases of rights violations now pending in court, she added.

Mahina ang loob ng iba sa mga nandito, dahil sa takot na rin. Nililinaw namin na sa mas mabuting nandito sila, ang diperensya pag nasa labas, may nagkakanlong para sa seguridad” (Some people here are afraid. We explain that it is better for them to be here because there is protection.), she said. At least twelve persons guard the perimeter of the sanctuary.  

Although many among them desire to go back to their communities, they still choose to stay in the sanctuary for as long as the military reigns in the province. Bulatlat



© 2006 Bulatlat  Alipato Media Center

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