The stories do not end with the deaths and disappearances. Beyond the names and faces of the victims are the equally tragic stories of their families who are left to face not only the loss or absence of their loved ones but also a life permanently scarred and a shattered family longing to be whole again.
BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
PART 2: Children Victims of the All-Out War
It was almost 11 a.m. and Alrico Barbas Jr. was ready for school. While waiting for their school vehicle, he ran and jumped around while some of his friends fiddled with his school project – a makeshift zoo made of cardboard and paper animals.
By the looks of it, Alrico Jr, who is fondly called Pandoy, is one happy child living under normal circumstances. Sadly, he is not.
Pandoy and his friends live in one of the orphanages in Manila. When asked why he is staying in this place, Pandoy replied that it is because his mother has to stay in another place while his siblings had to live in other orphanages. Asked where his father is, the young boy became silent and his face contorted with pain before he can answer in almost a whisper, “Wala, pinatay.” (He is gone, he was killed.)
A traumatic experience
At a tender age of nine, Pandoy, who hails from Barangay Magsaysay, Sta. Rita, Eastern Samar, encountered violence and a very traumatic experience other young boys his age may not have seen even in the most violent anime cartoons on television.
On July 2, 2005, Pandoy’s father was preparing him and five of his brothers for a family outing the next day. They were to follow his mother, Jennifer, and two sisters to join the celebration of a town fiesta in Tolosa, province of Leyte. Pandoy’s family planned to swim at a beach in the early morning of July 3.
However, at around 3 am, while Pandoy and his father, Alrico, and five other siblings were sleeping, unidentified armed men barged into their home and shot to death his father. Pandoy’s eldest brother, Jeric, who was only 10 years old, woke up and was shot on the chest and died instantly.
It was only Pandoy who witnessed the murder of his loved ones and survived as his younger siblings were asleep then.
Much as he would not want to talk about the incident, Pandoy recalled that he just ran away when he saw that his father and brother were killed. But the assailants pursued him, he said, as they also wanted to kill him. He said the soldiers fired at him, hitting him on the right shoulder. He said he just kept on running and hiding until he was out of danger.
The young boy pulled at his shirt collar to show the wound on his right shoulder. “Magaling na,” (It is healed.) he said, with a little smile on his face.
Witnesses and victims
For this year alone, the Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC), a non-government organization that helps children victims of human rights violations, documented at least 65 children who have lost a parent/s and/or a loved one because of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s all-out war.
Many of these children, the CRC said, are in a state of shock and have recurring nightmares not only because of the loss of a parent/s or other loved ones but also because they have witnessed the violence themselves.
In Barangay Sta.Ctuz, Rosario, Agusan de Sur, southern Philippines, the three children of 27-year old Florencio Cervantes were sleeping beside him when armed men barged into their house. The children witnessed how the assailants peppered their father with bullets. An autopsy report said Cervantes, a village councilor, sustained 47 gunshot wounds.
On Jan. 30 in Barangay Tala, Orani, Bataan, the seven-year old granddaughter of Maritez dela Cruz, 43, witnessed how her grandmother was fatally shot on the chest by suspected soldiers belonging to the 24th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IB PA).
The youngest child of Nilo Villalon, 43, also saw him being shot to death by armed men wearing ski-masks inside their home in Barangay Sapang, San Miguel, Bulacan.
In Kalinga, northern Philippines, the nine-year old daughter of Dr. Chandu Claver witnessed how her parents were ambushed as they brought her to school in the morning of July 31. Her parents were rushed to the hospital but her mother, Alice, died after a few hours. Chandu is currently recuperating but the child is reportedly in a state of shock.
Increasing number of children victims
In recent years, there has been a steady increase on the number of children being direct or indirect victims of human rights violations. From 2001 to June 2006, the CRC has documented more than 800 cases of human rights violation affecting more than 215,233 children. Ten children have been reported missing while 58 innocent lives have been lost. “Hundreds have been maimed and were left orphaned. Thousands have fled their homes, and the figure is still escalating,” the CRC said in a statement.
These recorded violations are proof that children are not spared by the all-out war being waged by the Macapagal-Arroyo government against the people, the CRC said.
While children are being orphaned and are forced to leave their homes with their surviving relatives, their lives are already ruined by the recurring nightmares and the reality that they have been robbed of a loved one.
For Pandoy, the orphanage is his home for now. He said it is enough that he sees his mother once a month, sometimes once a week when he is able to “escape” his guardian to take a peek at her in the nearby center for women.
“Tsaka na ako uuwi sa amin, pag laki ko na,” (I will eventually go home to our place in Samar when I am old enough.) he said. (Bulatlat.com)