Friday, October 9, 2009

Caught In The Crossfire: One Of The Untold Stories On Bicol Insurgency

"My name is Adelfa, a widow with a teenage son, unemployed, and I want to humbly share you a harrowing experience I had few days ago - a very painful and unforgettable one.

September 24, 2009 was just like any ordinary day in my life. I woke up early, went to our town center and bought food provisions for my family. The day passed by casually, nothing special. After dinner, we shared some stories, corny jokes, had hearty laughs, and then came bedtime. Another common day passing by in the life of an ordinary Filipino family in the countryside.

Then at around 10pm, we were already in deep slumber when I was awakened by faint voices outside our “nipa” hut. “Tao po, pwede po makisirong saindo ngon-yan na banggi?” (Hello, can we take shelter for the night?”), the man outside said. As I rose from my sleeping mat, I tried to identify the people outside our door. It was raining hard. Early morning of that day, I heard over the radio the coming of typhoon “Ondoy”. This must be it. Ondoy has come. And, I have unknown visitors whom Ondoy made uncomfortable. I need to help them.

As I opened the door, I was surprised to see armed men who were all wet and feeling cold due to long exposure in the rain probably. They were soaking wet. “Siisay po sinda?" (Who are they?), I asked. “Kami po ang saindong mga tugang sa kilusan." (We are your brothers in the movement.), he replied. I became nervous! Though it is not the first time that I see armed men in our barangay (village), I still feel scared because I truly do not know who they are. In my mind I know that I am not scared by their weapons because I am used to seeing them since my childhood days when NPA rebels used to pass by in our small community. They were too numerous in the past as compared today. What I am scared is the kind of group and interest they represent. They could be anybody they claim. “We’re in serious trouble!”, I said to myself.

After mustering enough courage, I was able to utter some words, “Igwa pong high blood ang nanay ko sagkod takot po iyang nakakahiling ning tao na igwang badil lalo na po dai nya bistado." (My mother has a high blood pressure and she fears anyone carrying guns especially people she does not personally know.). One of the men, in an attempt to give me some sort of assurance, replied, “Togotan po nindo kaming makisirong ngonyan lang na banggi, mahali man po tulos kami sa aga para dai kami mahiling nya.“ (Please allow us to stay, we will leave early tomorrow so that she won’t see us.) What can I do? Can I force them do leave us alone? Of course not!

Resigned to my fate, I simply told them they can spend the night in the vacant but sheltered space outside our main room. It has no floor and it is only partly covered by a wall made of bamboo. “Mabalos po saimo!” (Thanks to you), he replied. I saw the smile on his face as he speak. He was pleased by my simple act of kindness. Helping someone in need is natural to us anyway. I just hoped and prayed that they would leave early as they promised and before other members of my family see them. I cannot contain my apprehensions. As the rest of them slowly take shelter, I was able to count twelve of them. I was shocked. What have I done? I did not expect that they are such a big group. I thought I was helping only two to four persons. Fear slowly engulf my pregnant body.

After helping them settle down, I went back to my sleeping mat. I found myself awake and looking at the dimmed light of our kerosene lamp. My parents were soundly asleep. My son was snoring, unaware of the potential danger due to the presence of unidentified heavily-armed men just outside our main room. Deep inside my womb, I can feel that my baby is kicking. Perhaps, he is assuring me that everything is ok. I comforted myself. I rubbed my tummy gently as if telling my son to stay calm for the night. I slowly lay down my trembling body with thousand thoughts scrambling in my mind. I can sense they are not government agents. If they are not then what if the police or military suddenly come? Gunbattle will surely ensue and we will be right in the middle of it! What will happen to us? Get killed? What about my old parents, son and unborn baby? And what if they found out that I have a brother who is an Army Scout Ranger? They might harm us right away. Oh God! Without doubt, I have truly put my whole family in danger!

At about 4:30am of the following day (September 25), I was awakened. It was still dark but I can hear muffled voices chatting outside. Our visitors were already awake. I tried to comprehend their conversation. They were talking about their next trip to the nearby barangay (village). One of them, possibly awakened by the noises, jokingly said, “Padi, maribokon man kamo pero dai man lang kamo magpakape!” (You are too noisy but you did not even mind to prepare our coffee). Then I heard about two persons seemed to head towards our makeshift kitchen. I decided to come outside and help them out. I want them to finish their coffee as soon as possible so that they can leave before my sickly mother is awakened. It was already 6:00am. My father was also awake by this time. At 70-years old, he is already weak. He quietly sat by our stairs. Looking at his eyes, I know he was very surprised to see quite a number of unidentified armed men in our small house.

Our visitors were having their coffee when a commotion took place. I heard one of them shouted, “Kalaban, kalaban!” (“Enemy, enemy!”). Then, I heard someone shouting, “Fire!” Staccato of gunfire were everywhere. Hearing this, I hurriedly climbed our stairs. I pulled my father towards our room. We have nowhere to hide. We got no cover because our house is made only of bamboo! “We’re dead!”, I muttered to myself. Bullets were piercing through our bamboo walls. Suddenly, I felt a gnawing pain in my leg. I was hit. Blood was flowing through my abdomen too! A little while later, I heard my father groaning in pain. He was hit too. My son and my mom were crying. No, they were wailing to high heavens! I was helpless. I cannot stand up to help them. As more bullets tore through our roof and walls, I desperately prayed the fighting to stop. “God, please don’t let anyone from my family die…please!”, I mumbled to myself.

Outside, I can hear the combatants shouting “Assault!”. Deafening gunfire continued. I can sense that they were pursuing someone. I can sense that the shooting was already a distance from the house. Moments later, someone shouted, “Search!”. Someone was climbing through our stairs. He was rushing. This is it! Our time has come! He suddenly came inside and pointed his rifle at us. “Mga NPA kayo, walang kikilos!” (You are NPA rebels, don’t move!), he shouted. I was so frustrated. How come that I am now accused as a rebel? I love my younger brother who is a Scout Ranger. He had consistently supported our family to survive our financial difficulties. Then, I saw something in his uniform - that familiar black panther patch. The soldier was wearing the same uniform as my brother! What a coincidence! Getting back to my senses, I confidently claimed, “Ang isang kapatid ko ay Scout Ranger din katulad ninyo!" (One of my brothers is a Scout Ranger like you!). I can see the astonished face of the soldier. “What?!”, came his reply. “Naka-assign siya sa Bulacan.“ (He is now assigned in Bulacan.), I narrated. “Sergeant, look at this. She claims to be the sister of our comrade.”, the soldier told his companion. I saw them all surprised. They were whispering some words that I cannot clearly understand. “Medic!”, one of them shouted. “Treat the wounded.”, came the order from a ranking soldier.

As they treated me and my father, I was so sad that this thing happened to us. I was still trembling. I was blaming myself. But this must be our fate. It must be God’s will. “Don’t worry, a helicopter is coming to take you to the nearest hospital if needed.”, the leader of the soldiers firmly assured me. It was still raining.

An hour later, one of my brothers who live nearby came rushing to our aid. He convinced the Scout Ranger officer to release us immediately so that we can be brought to the community hospital. “Okay. I will let them go. The first aid treatment has stopped the bleeding.”, he said. I was happy that we were allowed to leave. I was worried for my father. He was crying in pain. As we were carried by our neighbors along the muddy path towards the nearest road, I cannot help but cry. I cried because we have just became victims of this war between the rebels and soldiers. My family is composed of farmers who are law-abiding citizens of this country. We are one poor family who can even barely make three-square meals a day! Why is this happening? Why us? I cannot find any answer to my own questions.

About two hours later, we were already in the hospital and attended by a local doctor. I feel a little relieved that we all made it to this medical facility. They gave us some medicines and cleaned our wounds.

Due to the lack of equipment, we were transferred to a larger hospital which has complete medical facilities. Without haste, the doctors operated on me to save the wounded fetus inside my womb. He was alive when he came out. I was happy after seeing him. “His wound is fatal but we are trying to save him as much as we can.”, the doctor frankly said. I pitied my son. He is an innocent victim of this war. A war being fought by his uncle. It is a war that has caught us in the line of fire. The Scout Rangers, I am sure, do not intend to hurt civilians like me. They would certainly avoid shooting immediate family members of their fellow Scout Rangers.

On the other hand, the NPA rebels may not intend to shoot us too. Owing to debt of gratitude and honor, they would be ashamed to harm us after we allowed them to take shelter in our home. What can they gain from a poor family like us after all? With these circumstances, I do not want to blame anyone but myself. I just wish that this war will come to an end otherwise more people will be victimized by the harsh reality brought by this conflict. I really want the government and the rebels to find the solution to this problem.

Later, the doctor came back and brought the saddest news. My son has expired. He was only 8-months old. I felt so sorry for him. He is the last remembrance that I have from his father who was recently violently murdered by a neighbor. “God, why I am given all these trials?”, I exclaimed. “Lord, help me rise up and withstand all these odds. I am used to all hardships. I can make it. I know You will never abandon me and my family.“, I prayed.

More sad news. I later heard about the death of nine of the twelve visitors that I welcomed inside our house. I can still vividly remember their faces. How many children have they left behind? How many mothers like me were now in agony due to this incident?

The military authorities came to visit me. They offered to pay for all the expenses we incurred in the hospital. I was also told by the doctor that some human rights groups wanted to see me including GABRIELA and KARAPATAN. I consulted my family and some friends about our situation. Trusting their collective advice, I decided to go with the military authorities who respectfully offered the medical facilities inside the camp.

We are now recuperating from our wounds but we cannot possibly forget the harrowing experiences that we had. I am too worried to go back to our house. I fear for our lives. Somebody might wrongfully accuse us of offending any group or movement. What will happen to us now? Can we still go back to our nipa hut, till our small farm, and live peaceably?

I have no other wishes but to survive this ordeal and send my only surviving son to school. I want him to become a responsible citizen of this country. I wish that he will become a peace-loving Filipino too."

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(Written by MAJOR HAROLD M CABUNOC, PIO 9ID, right after his conversation with Mrs. Adelfa Lovindino-Maxian during his visit at the hospital. Mrs. Lovindino-Maxian and her family was caught in the crossfire in a gun battle between troops of 3rd Scout Ranger Battalion and the CPP-NPA rebels.)

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