Refugees of the All-out
Domus Dei (House of
God), jointly set up by the
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.
BY JHONG DELA CRUZ
SAFE IN THE HAVEN:
Refugees at the Domus Dei
PHOTO BY JHONG DELA CRUZ
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.
the father, sustained bullet wounds on the lower right shoulder and has
been recuperating at the Bulacan
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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..
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
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.
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.
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.
PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION ■
© 2006 Bulatlat
Alipato Media Center
Permission is granted to reprint or redistribute this article, provided
its author/s and Bulatlat are properly credited and notified.