“Our family is hurting that we cannot be with Nur-Aiza. We long to be with her again.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Lourdes Omar had high hopes that her daughter, Nur-Aiza – the first among her 10 children to finish college – would help them rise from poverty.
But Nur-Aiza was taken by soldiers at the height of the Zamboanga siege in 2013. She has been incarcerated ever since. She is charged with illegal assembly, illegal possession of firearms, multiple murder and frustrated murder, along with 274 other Moros who were randomly arrested then transferred detention to Camp Bagong Diwa in November 2013.
“She was only looking for her two other sisters who got lost during the chaos. She went to our house thinking that they might still be there. When she went out, soldiers accosted her. They grabbed her by the wrist, punched her and, accused her of being a member of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF),” Omar, 49, told Bulatlat.com.
Omar joined this year’s Manilakbayan hoping that President Aquino would hear about their plight.
Last Nov. 10, she visited her daughter at Camp Bagong Diwa, only the second time since she saw her last year. Both were in tears when they hugged each other.
“Ma, please get me out of here. I am not a member of the MNLF. Please help me,” Nur-Aiza 22, told her mother in tears.
From one rights violation to another
Omar is not new to human rights violations. When she was only 11 years old, her sister was brutally killed by suspected soldiers who were deployed in their community in Lanao del Norte. Soldiers were staying in their community on orders to encroach on their ancestral domain. Her sister’s remains were desecrated — with her ear and left breast chopped off from her body.
“Back then, we did not have a Manilakbayan to help air our redress. We kept to ourselves and decried the injustice, only within the comfort of our own personal space,” she said.
Her family moved to Zamboanga City to move on from the tragedy. Omar thought they finally did, as several years later, she also got married and had a family of her own. But now she is confronted yet again by another predicament.
“Our family is hurting that we cannot be with Nur-Aiza. We long to be with her again. We cannot imagine how our family could ever be happy again until we are reunited,” Omar said.
Despite the difficulties lakbayanis face, she said, she could not forego the opportunity to join this year’s Manilakbayan. She said she draws strength from her loved ones and hopes that in seeking justice for her daughter and the killing of her sister many years ago, this would never happen again to their family and to others.
In the transitory houses
Two years since the Zamboanga siege, Omar and hundreds of Moro families are still residing in transitory houses. They are being supported by concerned local government offices and international humanitarian agencies.
Still, she said the conditions there remain dire.
Omar said they could no longer return to their house in Sta. Catalina as their community was burned down during the siege. Along with their homes, the Moro families also lost their livelihoods as most earn as vendors in the nearby port. Their neighbors also earn a livelihood as construction workers.
As a community health worker, Omar only earns less than $2 a week. She also sells rice cakes in the port. If she is lucky, she said she could take home about $3 a day. This could hardly cover their family’s needs.