Stories of Horror from Mindoro

Community News & Features Jul 1, 2004 at 1:38 pm

By Marlou Tiro

For Nanay Angelina Aldaba of Mindoro Occidental, there is no greater pain than leaving her beloved homeland. “I may have little possessions but those possessions are dear to me,” said Nanay Angelina as she related her heart-wrenching experience in Mindoro in the hands of the Philippine military.
Nanay Aldaba was one of the guest speakers during an afternoon sharing on the life of civilians in Mindoro. Held recently at the St Anthony’s Church Parish Hall on Bloor St West of Toronto, the forum was organized by the Filipino Worker’s Support Committee and the Concerned Filipinos of St Anthony’s Parish as part of an awareness campaign of the prevailing human abuses in the Philippines.

Fighting back her tears, Nanay Aldaba narrated her traumatic experience with a voice that almost became too soft to hear. Frustrated and angry, she vehemently denied any link with the New People’s Army (NPA). She asked herself many questions. “Why are they condemning a poor and old woman like myself? Is it wrong to help my fellowmen in need? Do I have to be called a rebel for doing a good deed?”

Nanay Aldaba has left many questions unanswered. All she knew was that she had to pay a steep price for being a concerned citizen. Suspicions that surrounded Nanay Aldaba stemmed from her community involvement. She was the president of a cooperative union and an active member of the church. “They thought I was an NPA sympathizer because I welcomed this militant group in my home. They thought that I support the NPA. They are mistaken. Our cooperative is for everyone who needs help such as those who need food to eat. I need to feed any stranger that knocks on my door because there is no available restaurant in my place. It is a mountainous province. As a devoted Christian, I believe it is my responsibility to offer a helping hand to the needy.”

The cooperative, explained Nanay Aldaba was set up to encourage the people to become self-supporting. They realized that seeking government assistance was futile. “Our request for a better livelihood from the government has been left unheeded. We tried to seek help from the municipality but we undergo difficulties and it takes them a lot of time to approve any programs that are meant to uplift our livelihood.”

In the Philippines, Nanay Aldaba heard about the massacre of her friends and neighbors by the military. “Everyday, I live in fear. I get startled just for a squeaky noise”, she said.

News that someone had been killed on a particular day was no longer news in the neighborhood because it had been a daily occurrence. It was simply a question of who is next. There were already rumors that the Aldaba family would be the next target. “I never believed my family when they asked me to leave my hometown. I told them that there is no reason the military would execute us. They do not have proof that we are NPA sympathizers,” Nanay Aldaba said, explaining she still had faith in the government’s democratic system.

That changed, however, when some military personnel visited her home. “They questioned me several times for welcoming to my home some suspected NPAs. I got scared with the way they looked at me. I could not help but looked at their rifles. They sounded harsh and very impolite.”

The presence of unidentified persons in the neighborhood and the mysterious footsteps in the night scared Nanay Aldaba. She also noticed that her dogs never stopped barking every night. She knew that her family was under surveillance.

One day, she saw her neighbors packing their things. “They said they cannot stand anymore the fear.” She learned later that one of her relatives was killed with his head cut off. Late that afternoon, there was already a caravan of people fleeing from their homes with their carts full of belongings, carts too heavy to drag for a hungry carabao. “I really pity them,” recalled Nanay Aldaba, frequently taking a deep breath before saying another word. The days that followed, she felt like living in a cemetery. The place was like a ghost town with only few of her friends who were still adamant to stay. “My husband and I decided to leave because we could not stand the constant mental torture of not knowing whether we would survive for another day. So we left for Manila to stay with our children until our papers from Canada came through.”

As the audience sat and listened helplessly to her story, they became more anxious when a documentary film was shown that gave more explicit details from the experience of other victims. To a horrified audience, “Alingawngaw ng Bala” (The Echo of Bullets) depicted the existence of torture and ill treatment in the Philippines today. It highlighted the serious discrepancy between reality and the law and proper justice. There were photos of men with their heads cut off, a pregnant woman raped and killed, another woman dead beside her infant and a plastic bag of decomposed bodies with traces of torture. The film blamed all these atrocities to the members of the security services who were responsible for extra judicial killings, disappearances, torture, and arbitrary arrests and detention. Although the film also showed the military’s denial of the crimes, victims never changed their perception of the perpetrators were. Referring to one case where a mother was mercilessly killed, one military personnel interviewed defended himself saying, “the victim died because she was caught in a crossfire.” The victim’s family replied, “she was inside the house and cooking while taking care of her child. How can she be caught in a crossfire?”

Jovy Favilla, a systems analyst who hails from Ilocos Sur expressed his disgust after watching the film. He needed to get out of the hall for a break.

Contemplating on what he just witnessed, he could not believe what he just saw. Favilla said, “The Filipinos should do something about this. I feel like we still live in a barbaric age where killing and torture are normal. I just do not know where and how to start in helping solve such problem. We cannot leave our fellowmen in this kind of situation. We are lucky to live in a peaceful country.”
Perry Sorio of the Philippine Network for Justice and Peace, brought the film to Canada. “I have watched this film a couple of times and I really have deep sympathy to the victims. These are innocent civilians who are at the wrong place. They do not have the choice but to become victims because they happen to live in that area.”
Nanay Aldaba’s son, Rev. Reinald Aldaba of the Pilipinong Migrante sa Canada had to convince his parents to leave Mindoro upon learning that his family was accused of being an NPA sympathizer. It was not an easy task though,” claimed Rev. Aldaba. “They were born and raised in that home town. Their livelihood and family are there. They find it difficult to stay in a foreign land.”

Based on unconfirmed reports, it is believed that the NPA armed combatants are now estimated at about 23,000 with 8,000 of them hard-core regulars. The NPA operates in all of the country’s 73 provinces, including Metro Manila, and controls perhaps 20 percent of the barangays, which is the basic unit of government in the Philippines.NPA operations are described to be detrimental to the government’s economic programs. Some of their sympathizers, however, claimed that the NPA’s “are fighting for the poor.” The group is extremely decentralized, with local commanders having wide latitude to conduct attacks as they choose. Typically, NPA elements avoid contact with AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) troops by remaining in remote, mountainous areas until ready to stage an attack. They are also considered to be a major threat to the Philippine government’s security programmes prompting the military to stage a war against them. The military’s policies to fight against insurgencies, however, have been viewed by several human rights groups as a “pretext for power abuses.”