“I shouted at them three times, that we are kids, then they stopped firing and replied that they were firing at the hills,” Alvin said, adding that he immediately went to Roque when the gunfire stopped.
Mabini, Compostela Valley – “Saba mi. Naa mi dala flashlight. Maskin kinsa, makaingon gyud nga mga bata mi, (We were noisy. We had a flashlight. Anyone can tell that we were children,” recalls Alvin, (not his real name), the 12-year-old brother of eight-year-old Roque Antivo who was killed in last Wednesday’s strafing incident in Sitio Kidaraan, Barangay Anitapan, Mabini, Compostela Valley, who could not believe they were fired at by the soldiers.
Alvin said they were on their way home from their farms, he, brother Roque, and his 13-year old uncle Jefrey. It was nightfall and the three of them were walking in a single row when Alvin heard the sound of gun fire, which he thought at first came from an air gun, but he rolled over when he began seeing sparks.
Another young life snapped. Roque Antivo, aged 8, died from a bullet wound at the chest fired by soldiers as he and two other boys walked home from his family farm in Crossing Kidaraan, Barangay Anitapan, Mabini in Compostela Valley. His older brother said Roque did not even cry out when he got hit. He died minutes after his family brought him home.(Photo by photo by John Rizle L. Saligumba / bulatlat.com)
“Nisinggit pa gani ko, mga bata mi sir, tulo ka beses, ayha sila miundang og pabuto, dayon mitubag sila, sa ibabaw ra daw sila nagpabuto, (I shouted at them three times, that we are kids, then they stopped firing and replied that they were firing at the hills,” Alvin said, adding that he immediately went to Roque when the gunfire stopped.
“Gikugos nako si Roque. Maumod na man gud siya. Kato akong uyuan, si Jefrey, niadto kay Daddy, niapas. Naigo na siya, (I carried Roque. He was slumping on the ground. My uncle, Jefrey, went to Daddy. He was hit,” Alvin said.
Sonny Cortes, stepfather of Roque and Alvin, never thought at the end of the day he would lose one of his sons.
Cortes said they were at the farm the whole day with his brother-in-law, and three others, harvesting corn, when the kids came to their farm hut to bring them lunch. The farm hut is 30 minutes away from their house in Sitio Kidaraan, Purok 6, Barangay Anitapan, Mabini, Compostela Valley.
By nightfall, they were going home to prepare for dinner. Cortes even told Roque to get some karlang (root crop) for their dinner which the boy obediently followed.
Cortes told the kids to go ahead to the main road where they would take their motorcycle home. But a few minutes after the children left, he heard gunshots. He shouted for Alvin and Roque, but no answer came.
A while later he heard somebody approaching and crying. It was Jefrey, crying “Kuya Bobong (Cortes’ nickname), gipusil mig sundalo, naigo ko diri sundalo, naigo ko diri. Pirti niyang hilak, (Kuya Bobong, we were shot by soldiers, I’m hit here (pointing to his jaw) and was crying.”
He asked where are his two sons, but thought of not going there at once. “Huna-huna nako, kung naay mga sundalo, dili gyud mi binlan nilag bisan isa nga buhi. Mao tong akong gipaandar ang motor para makadungog ang mga sundalo. (I thought if there were soldiers, they will not leave us alive. I turned on the motorcycle so the soldiers can hear us.”
Cortes said soldiers were in their area for two days. He had even fetched water for them earlier.
And there he saw, from where he was on a motorcycle, some 40 meters away, his children, Alvin, carrying Roque, telling him, “Daddy, si Roque naigo. (Daddy, Roque is hit).” Roque was hit in the chest near his left armpit.
They were about to take off when they saw soldiers from five meters away. Cortes knew they were the ones who fired at the children. He shouted at them, “Sir, kabalo ko nga inyong labaw si Sir Llorca, nganong gipusil man ninyo ang mga bata, nga kagagmay ani, gipamusil pa gyud ninyo. (Sir, I know your officer Sir Llorca, why did you shoot the kids, they are young and yet you shoot them.)” He was referring to the soldiers’ officer Lt. Llorca whom he knew.
He said he saw the soldiers dropped on the ground, some of them even pointed their guns at him but he did not notice at once.
The soldiers told him to turn off his flashlight but the motorcycle light was left open so he could see. Lt. Llorca was with them, and he addressed him, “Sir, gipusil man ninyo akong anak sir, (Sir, you shot my child).”
“Nagtindog siya (Llorca), nabato. Ang iyang mga tawo, naa sa palibot, giingnan mi nila, naay kalaban sa ibabaw, (He stood there (Llorca), dumbfounded. His men said there were enemies on the hills,” Cortes said.
“Nitubag ko, ‘Wala may NPA diha sir, uma man nako ng sa ibabaw (I told them, ‘there are no NPAs [New People’s Army] there sir, that’s our farm up there,” then one soldiers told them, “Isakay nang naigo, larga na larga (Take the wounded out, take off now.)”
“Mao to dagan ang motor, sakay mi tanan, mga singko minutos among gibyahe. Si Ronnel nagkugos kay Roque, Si Jefrey naa sa likod, sigeg gunit sa iyang baba, ug si Alvin, naa sa tangke. Pag-abot namo sa balay, halos dili na kaginhawa si Roque. Segundo lang ang milabay, nabugtuan na siyag ginhawa. Patay na gyud tawon akong anak, (We drove off, about five minutes. Ronnel carried Roque, Jeffrey was at the back holding his jaw, and Alvin at the motor tank. When we came home, Roque could hardly breathe. Seconds away he died. My son died,” Cortes narrated.
Roque just finished third grade with honors, and dreamed of becoming a seaman. He was turning nine this April 28.
Jefrey, 13-year-old survivor of the Mabini strafing, underwent surgery on his jaw in this april 5 photo.(Photo by hoto by John Rizle L. Saligumba / bulatlat.com)
Meanwhile, Jefrey is recuperating at a hospital in Tagum City.
A legitimate encounter?
The shooting at Kidaraan was deemed a “legitimate encounter” between troops and the NPA, says Armed Forces 1001st Brigade commander Col. Angelito de Leon.
But Cortes said that night they did not hear exchange of gunfire, but only seven shots fired briefly.
The Brigade released a statement to Davao Today citing a certain Lt. Col. Jerry Borja of the 71st Infantry Battalion saying that the troops were in Kidaraan, Barangay Anitapan to act on reports of the presence of NPAs.
The human rights group Karapatan said the military fabricated the encounter story. Hanimay Suazo, Karapatan Southern Mindanao’s secretary general, said accounts they gathered from residents said an encounter happened in another village, Barangay Libudon, which is far from the Kidaraan.
“Namakak ang military para majustify lang nga wala silay accountability, (The military is lying to justify what happened was not their accountability),” Suazo said. She added the officer Llorca whom the victim’s father identified that night is 2nd Lt. Llorica belonging to the 71st Infantry Battalion Alpha Company of the Philippine Army.
Suazo said the 71st IB is notoriously known as a unit formerly under the command of retired General Jovito Palparan (who is now in hiding from charges of abducting two female students), and is also the military unit responsible for the killing of nine-year-old Sunshine Jabinez in Pantukan, Compostela Valley in 2010.
Residents of Sitio Kidaraan said soldiers had been in their area for two days. Cortes even fetched water for them.
“Makakita man sila sa amo ug makit-an pud namo sila. Makita gani nila ang mga bata molabay moadto sa among uma. Ingon sila nga naay kalaban sa ibabaw, pero klaro nga ang buto nga gikan sa ila, sa patag ra, (They could see us and we could see them. They could see the children coming to our farms. They said their enemies are up in the hills, but the shots clearly came from the fields, it came from them),” Cortes said.
Karapatan’s Suazo said they will make sure that the military will account for this. “There is blood in their hands in the murder of this hapless child,” Suazo said.
Perpetrators lurking around
Meanwhile, Cortes and his wife Evelyn decided to transfer the wake of their son, Roque, to another area, as they now fear the soldiers who are in their community. “We have to secure ourselves,” says Cortes.
Most of the residents in Crossing Kidaraan also said that they will vacate the area for a night or two as they hold the same apprehensions with the family.
One of them said they will have more peace of mind helping the Cortes family tend to Roque’s wake. (John Rizle L. Saligumba/davaotoday.com)