“Hindi pwedeng habambuhay tayong takot.” (We cannot live in fear forever.)
This is the cry of leaders of people’s organizations, Community Health Workers (CHWs), and community members from nine (9) barangays in Guihulngan, Negros Oriental during a psychosocial mission spearheaded by health organizations, volunteers and religious groups held August 20-21, 2015 at upland Barangay Tacpao in Guihulngan city.
“The Calagos are good people. They can be depended on in times of need. We cannot comprehend why they were killed,” sobbed Sulpicia Calago. Sulpicia is the sister of Endric Calago, Barangay Kagawad and vice-chairperson of local peasant organization Kaugmaon.
“We conducted this psychosocial and medical mission in response to the request of communities in and around Brgy. Tacpao through their people’s organization,” said Dr. Magdalena Barcelon, chairperson of Council for Health and Development (CHD), a national organization of community based health programs (CBHP) in the Philippines.
Communities in Guihulngan experienced various natural and human-made disasters with militarization and earthquake as the most traumatic events in recent years.
Endric Calago and his wife Rosalie, was strafed with bullets and their bodies burned inside their very own house on the night of May 24, 2015. The heinous crime (murder and arson) believed by community members to be perpetrated by elements of the 11th Infantry Battallion (IB) Philippine Army, left two orphaned and homeless children. It also sparked international and local outcry against the perpetrators and the barbarity of the act.
Following the incident, community members continue to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) exhibited through difficulty in sleeping, hyper-alertness at the sound of dogs barking, and avoidance of sleeping in their own homes for fear of danger to their own lives. Meanwhile, children also expressed fear on guns and the military as can be seen from their drawings during the play and art therapy. The communities attributed the cause of their anxiety and stress to the ubiquitous military presence in their area.
Contrary to provisions of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) which states that military forces are prohibited from dwelling in civilian centers (school, health center, etc.) and prescribes encampment at least 500 meters from residential areas, the 11th IB forces continue to stay in the village’s livelihood center and homes, cited Jessa Cachila, RN, executive director of Negros Island Health Integrated Program (NIHIP), a CBHP based in Bacolod.
Members of the people’s organization report that the military continue to harass them with threats to their lives such as “unti-unti naming kayong uubusin.” (We will slowly finish you all.)
A fisherman from a coastal barangay of Guilngan shared that he was also not spared from threats. His panagatan or pump boat was burned by suspected military men whom he believed was because of their active campaign against big business control in the Tañon Strait, located between the islands of Cebu and Bohol.
In spite of all these occurrences, the people of Guihulngan remain steadfast in their struggle for justice and genuine social change.
“We know from CBHP’s 42 years of experience that the government always resorts to military solutions to quell the people’s unrest at their unjust and deplorable situation and to neutralize their strong resistance against human rights violations and development aggression. But the long history of people’s struggles against inequality and oppression have also showed that with collective action and resistance, the people’s aspirations and hope for justice, genuine freedom and democracy will overcome the forces of repression,” concluded Dr. Barcelon.##