31 July 2007

4 violent deaths

about a week ago i was invited to say mass at the last night of the wake of s/sgt. gerardo licup . s/sgt. licup was one of 14 marines who were slain in an ambush in basilan. the incident was banner story in the media for several days. in a way, s/sgt. licup was more fortunate; he was one of the 4 among the slain who were not beheaded by alleged milf/abu sayyaf operatives. a comrade from libon, albay, was reportedly hacked in several places. amidst the swirl of relatives, neighbors and friends, the raucous drinking and petty gambling, the family of the deceased played gracious hosts and grieved. his mother and an aunt had their blood pressure constantly checked. they have much to cause them grief. a few months earlier, s/sgt. licup's father lost his life at the height of supertyphoon reming.

in april, deep into the election season, i was also called to say mass at the wake of 'tsip' enrique bausa, a retired police town chief & a candidate for municipal councilor of daraga. he was felled down by suspected npa rebels while attending a santacruzan katapusan in a barangay. at that time, the family was in doubt if it was really the npa who did the crime. the comelec though didn't want to call it technically as election-related. later, a daughter-in-law carried his name & won in that election. in june, police arrested 2 suspected npa rebels & charged them with the murder of tsip bausa.

sometime in march, an activist friend texted me with a request to say a wake mass for don imperial. don was 28 yrs old (same age as mine), a husband and father to a 1 yr-old son. don's death came about this way: one evening while his small family was having dinner at their home in castilla, sorsogon, several men in black military uniform, their faces masked by black bonnets, entered their home. in the presence of his wife and son, they accused him of being an npa member, manhandled him, then riddled his body with bullets from several high-powered rifles. don was a victim of what has come to be known as extrajudicial killing, another numbing number in the statistics of death.

entering the funeral home, i instantly felt a palpable mix of heady emotions among those present there - his family and friends. there was anger, like slow-burning coal. there was pain and mourning. there was a search for answers, a longing for meaning at the senseless death of a loved one. there was also much fear. don's extended family hails from castilla yet they chose to hold the wake at a funeral home in legazpi, far from other relatives and friends, in the hope that somehow there was safety, if not in number, then, at least, in distance.

this 3 august will be the anniversary of yet another victim of extrajudicial killing in albay, that of pastor isaias sta rosa. he was a methodist pastor involved in agrarian advocacies. one evening, his wife let in the his ashen-faced brother who was knocking at their door. it turned out, a gun was being pointed behind his back. when the pastor's brother entered their home, several armed men with face covered by bonnets came along too. they assaulted him, accused him of being an npa member, and terrorized his family. they tied his hands and shoved him inside one of the rooms where they proceeded to interrogate and beat him some more. the rest of the family were ushered into the adjoining room. after sometime, they led him out of the house, his hands still tied. a few minutes later, several gunshots were heard. when they came to venture out of their homes and looked for him, the neighbors and family of the pastor found his lifeless body by a nearby creek. a few meters away was another body, that of a man who was later identified as pvt1c pastrana of the phil army, via his wallet and mission order document. the pastor's family also identified him as one of the armed men who entered their home.

when the commission on human rights investigated, the extent of the phil army's cooperation consisted of declaring pvt1c pastrana as awol. they would not give anymore info on him or his mission order. to make things more interesting, the daraga pnp declared the crime as a simple case of robbery with homicide.

s/sgt. licup.
tsip bausa.
don imperial.
pastor sta. rosa.

soon their names, transcribed on official records, would melt into numbers, the building blocks of statistics. war deaths. election-related violence. extra-judicial killing. when a person's name and a lifetime's memory join the ranks of grim statistics another injustice is being committed.

on my part i will remember their names & their stories for as long as i can. for it is through their names and stories that their deaths retain that potent force to effect needed social change. only by a firm remembrance will they eventually achieve the earthly justice that they & their family's seek.