|8-year-old girl writes her first story: Her ordeal in the hands of the military|
|Written by Karen Papellero|
|Tuesday, 20 November 2007 14:53|
Tuburan, Cebu – An 8-year-old girl was allegedly interrogated in school before being abducted by elements of the 78th IB, PA based in Brgy. Gaang, Tuburan town in Cebu last Oct. 16, 2007.
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According to witnesses, about 20 or so heavily-armed men in military uniform entered the school grounds of Brgy. Mag-alwa Elementary School looking for a little girl that day. The soldiers claimed that they have heard that a child of a suspected NPA member, who goes by the name Botilla, attends classes in that school. When the soldiers were able to locate Nena (not her real name), they interrogated her.
”Nena” related her story in a written statement after she was rescued by her aunt Lisa Baldespinosa and Karapatan last Oct. 31, 2007, two weeks after she was held in the clutches of the military.
“Gidagit ko sa army didto sa eskuwelahan. Ako ang gidagit sa Army, atong Oct. 16, 2007. Gi pa ngotana nako sa army didto solod sa among rom. Og gipagawas ang tanan namong klasmates og perteng hilaka nako kay nahadlok ko sa army. Nag sigi sila og pangotana sa ngalan nako og sa akong mama og papa. Pagkahuman ninglakaw sila...,the statement read.
(I was forcibly taken by the Army from the school. I was abducted by the Army last Oct. 16, 2007. I was questioned by the army inside the classroom. And they told all my classmates to go out and I cried so hard because I was so afraid of them. They continuously asked me my name and the names of my father and mother. Afterwhich, they left…)
The soldiers, Nena said, asked her if her parents are NPA members. She answered with a resolute “No, Sir.” The soldiers pressed on with more questions that she, Nena said, had a hard time keeping up. When they asked her who was taking care of her, she told them that her parents left her under the care of Rogelio and Hermenia Barcenal, their neighbor in Brgy. Mag-alwa.
The military wasted no time and immediately pounced on the couple. When they got the information they needed from Rogelio and Hermenia, which was to confirm the identity of the child’s parents, they (the soldiers) declared outright that they are going to take the child with them to their camp in nearby Barangay Gaang.
What happened afterwards was also related by Nena in her statement which read: “Gipakoha ko pagkahapon sa army ni teyo len nga gisogo sa army didto sa Mag-alwa Elementary School.. ge dala ko sa Gaang sa mga army og giingnan ko pagka bontag nga adto ko pa eskwelahon. Gikoha ko sa military og geenter byo ko kadaghan kay gipangita ang akong mama og papa.”
(I was fetched by Tiyo Len (Glen Barcenal) who was commanded by the army, from Mag-alwa Elementary School. I was brought to Gaang (where the military camp is located) and I was told that in the morning I will attend school there. I was taken by the military and I was continuously interrogated because they are looking for my mother and father.)
That night, “Nena” slept with Glen Barcenal, nephew of Rogelio, his wife and kids in the daycare center which adjacent the camp. They were heavily guarded by more than a dozen armed men.
Glenn Barcenal told the fact finding mission team that he always wakes up at early dawn. But that Tuesday morning, Oct. 16, sometime around 4:00 am, he awoke to the sound of heavy footsteps and somebody yelling his name. He recognized the group of a certain Yambot and Labores, both members of the 78TH IB.
The armed men ordered him to accompany them to Sitio Ipil, Brgy. Mag-alwa and have him identify Lydon’s (Botilla) house. Glenn, no stranger to military intimidation, kept his guard up and refused to heed the order.
“Nibalibad ko. Ako silang giingnan nga kung mokuyog ko, tabla ra na nga dinakpan ko (“I refused. I told them that if I were to go with them, it would be as if I were their prisoner),” Glenn narrated.
But Labares threatened to bring Glenn to the battalion quarters if he would insist on being stubborn.
“Okay, mukuyog ko pero dad-on nako ang akong asawa ug iblilin nako akong mga bata ila kang Roy (I will come with you but I have to bring my wife along, but before that I’ll leave my kids over to Roy, a neighbor),” Glenn finally relented.
Glenn, with his wife in tow, directed Yambot and Labares’ group to the now-empty house of Lyndon Botilla in Sitio Ipil. After which, he was allowed to return to his house.
Some few hours later, at about 10:00a.m., Glenn was once again summoned by the same soldiers of the 78th IB but this time was told to report to the barangay hall.
“Ayaw’g kahadluk (Don’t be afraid),” the military said. “Igo lang mi mangutana nimo kung asa ang anak ni Lyndon (We’re just going to ask you where Lyndon’s child is).” Glenn claimed that when he said that he doesn’t know anything about the child’s whereabouts, the military purportedly let him go. This contradicted Nena’s statement that it was Glenn who brought her to the military camp.
Rogelio turning over custody of the child
Rogelio and Hermenia Barcenal told the fact finding mission team that they became alarmed last Oct. 17 when the 78th IB summoned them to Nena’s school.
Upon arriving at the meeting place, they learned that the military have escorted Nena back to Mag-alwa Elementary School that morning, along with Glen and Wena.
When they came face to face with the soldiers, Rogelio said, they were told that a certain Myrna wanted to talk to them. They later attested that Myrna was Myrna Romero, a rebel-returnee who is an active member of the local Civilian Volunteers Organization, a paramilitary group.
The military, Rogelio told the team, grilled him and his wife about the child’s parents. When they said that the child was just left to them temporarily last Oct. 5 and that they had no idea where the Botilla couple were, they were told that they have no right to have Nena in their custody. The military alleged that the child was a victim of abandonment by her parents. And that since they do not have blood relations with the child, Nena should be turned over to the DSWD office.
Having declared this, the 78th IB, with Myrna Romero, drafted a sworn statement signed by Rogelio and Hermenia surrendering their custody of eight-year-old Nena to Myrna Romero.
Nena corroborated the incident in her statement, “Og gidala ko sa Mag-alwa, Oct. 17, 2007, gipaperma ni mama Merna… nga iadto ko sa DSWD. Gidalako ni mama Merna sa longsod ibilen onta ko sa DSWD wala ko ningsugot. Ningkuyog lang ko ni mama merna kay mahadlok ko malayo sa amog Balay.”
(And I was brought back to Mag-alwa, Oct. 17, 2007. Mama Myrna made them sign that I was to be brought to DSWD. Mama Myrna took me to the town proper to leave me at DSWD but I refused. I only went with Mama Myrna because I’m afraid to be so far away from home.)
Nena was in Myrna Romero’s house until she was rescued on Oct. 31, 2007.
Last Oct. 23-26, 2007, the fact-finding mission team headed by journalist and development worker May Macapobre and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Peasant Movement of the Philippines) was able to talk to Nena in Myrna Romero’s house, albeit not privately. Wherever the child goes, Myrna followed her like an obstinate shadow, especially when the child is being interviewed.
“It was very apparent that the child has been brainwashed,” May expressed. She shared that when she asked Nena if she misses her mother, the child declared that she’d rather stay with her Mama Myrna because her mother often admonishes her and spanks her most of the time. (Two days after she was released, Nena revealed that she was terrified of Myrna.)
“When I asked her if there was someone else she’d like to see, Nena whispered to me that she wanted to see her aunt Lisa Baldespinosa, who took care of her until she was five,” May disclosed.
When the fact-finding team finally got hold of Lisa, the older sister of Nena’s mother, through the help of a non-government organization, the Farmers’ Development Center (FARDEC), the rescue mission was set in motion.
On Oct. 31, Tuesday, some two weeks after Nena was forcibly taken by the military from Rogelio and Herminia Barcenal and turned over to military agent, Myrna Romero, the fact-finding team along with Lisa Baldespinosa, Atty. Alfonso Cinco IV of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), a local reporter of GMA-7, and two foreigner-exposurees of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), trooped to Tuburan to get Nena back.
It was the day before what the Latin Americans call “Dia de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead). And yet Nena’s Rescue Team has never felt more alive.
“I’m in high spirits, I can’t wait to hold my niece in my arms again,” Lisa, in between tears of excitement and anxiety, shared to the group.
Like Lisa Baldespinosa, the team was optimistic that they will be taking Nena back with them on their return to Cebu City that day.
When the team arrived at the town hall, its first stop was at the Mayor’s Office. The team intended to seek the mayor’s help and at the same time inform his office of the group’s plan to return the child back to her relative. Unfortunately however, Mayor Constancio Suiso III already had prior engagements.
They proceeded to the local DSWD office. The group was received by the DSWD head, Mrs. Berlina Cana, who claimed that she was “forced” to turn over the child, despite not having a court order, to Myrna Romero because the girl, Nena, was adamant not to come along with her. She also denied having any knowledge of the military’s involvement and that the child was abducted by them. She agreed to come along with the team to Myrna’s so that the child would finally be reunited with her aunt.
Before 12 noon, the team arrived at Myrna’s place which was located just a few kilometers away from the town center. At the sight of her niece, Lisa rushed towards Nena and embraced her tightly.
The team, headed by Atty. Cinco, introduced itself to Myrna, who was at that time administering Nena’s take-home exam. On the same table where Nena was intently answering her test papers, Atty. Cinco spotted a gun quite “normally” lying on the table. When he asked Myrna if the gun was real and if it is loaded, Myrna abruptly said “Yes.”
When Atty. Cinco raised his concern against this, Myrna replied, nonchalantly:
“Normal ra na, Attorney. Maskin ang akong mga anak naanad na nga bisan asa aning lugara, makakita ra sila og pusil. Shooting area man pud ning lugara.” (That’s normal. Even my children are accustomed to seeing my guns lying anywhere in this place. This place is also a practice-shooting area).”
“Day, dili man ka mahadluk ani (pusil) no?” she addressed Nena. (You are not afraid to see this gun, right?). Nena tentatively nods her head in assent.
After a while, Atty. Cinco gathered Myrna and Mrs. Cana of DSWD into a private corner to talk about Nena and Lisa’s intention to gain custody of her.
Meanwhile, Lisa finally had the chance to talk to her niece in private. Afterwards, a teary-eyed and smiling Lisa happily proclaimed that Nena wants to come home with her.
During the private conference, Myrna explained to Atty. Cinco how the child came into her custody and expressed that she has no intention of keeping the child and that she’s ready to relinquish Nena to her relatives. The DSWD officer said that since Lisa is a legitimate guardian of the girl, there is no more reason to keep her with Myrna.
Less than an hour later, the team returned to the DSWD office where Mrs. Berlina Cana drafted a written document stating officially that Lisa Baldespinosa has the custodial right over the child.
After two weeks at the hands of strangers, Nena is now able to dream freely of what she wants to be when she grows up: a journalist. She had her debut when she told her story about her ordeal in the hands of the military. Bulatlat