“Why did the soldiers have to kill them? If they were indeed rebels why were they not arrested instead?”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
The two women interviewed by Bulatlat for this article requested anonymity, for fear of further harassment and threat to their lives.
MANILA — “It’s difficult, no? …It’s like going through it again,” said Nanay Salome to Nanay Armida. The two women were at the Human Rights Protection Office of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Thursday, Dec. 7, and they had both just talked to a CHR staff.
“I was trembling, and my hands are cold,” Nanay Salome said. The two women both lost a daughter on the 28th of November. They had just narrated to the CHR staff the circumstances when they claimed the remains of their daughters.
The daughters of Nanay Salome and Nanay Armida were two of the 15 fighters of the New People’s Army (NPA) who were killed in the reported encounter with police and the Philippine Air Force 730th Combat Group on Nov. 28 in Nasugbu, Batangas. The Philippine National Police said the NPA were on board several vehicles when they fought it out at a police checkpoint.
Those killed were: Glen Mark Aytona, Carl Espinosa Labajata, Julieto Pellazar Jr., Karla Bahasa, Henry delos Reyes, Joshua Hernandez, Evelyn Pagara Manalo, Roberto Dolendon, Alfred Cadag, Josephine Lapira, Anthony Felix and Graciella Pocaldo.
The two women requested that their names and their daughters’ names be withheld for their safety. They said the families of the 15 killed were subjected to harassment.
They went to CHR together to urge the commission to help them seek the truth behind what they believed was a gruesome murder of their daughters.
“Why did the soldiers have to kill them? If they were indeed rebels why were they not arrested instead?” said Nanay Armida in an interview with Bulatlat.
They appealed to the CHR to conduct a thorough investigation on the death of what they collectively call “Nasugbu 15.”
The longest two days
It was on Nov. 29 when Nanay Salome heard the news that her daughter “Nene,” was among the 15 who were killed in Batangas. A friend from the province relayed the news to her.
“It was like the two longest days,” she said. Aside from the long hours of travel, it also took them a day to finally claim the bodies of their daughters from the authorities.
She, Nanay Armida and her husband, other friends of Rayka and Nene sought the assistance of Gabriela to claim the bodies. It was on the afternoon of the 29th that they traveled to Batangas. They reached the province at 1:00 a.m., Nov. 30.
At the funeral parlor, several men were guarding the area where the bodies were placed, all of them wearing masks.
Nanay Salome said they were not allowed to see the bodies immediately. They were told that the Scene of the Crime Operatives-Batangas (SOCO) was conducting an autopsy of the bodies. They asserted that they had to see their daughters. “We needed to identify if it is indeed them,” Nanay Salome said.
They were made to wait for an hour. At about 2:00 a.m., they were finally allowed to see the remains. They were told not to touch any body because of the formalin.
Inside the funeral home were 14 of the bodies, while one was placed outside. All the bodies were naked covered only by cloth, which, the two women believed, were placed only when they arrived, because there was no trace of any stain.
They cried foul over the condition of the remains. Nanay Salome said there was no mat; the bodies were not even cleaned and had begun to reek. She said the funeral parlor looked like a “slaughter house.”
Nanay Armida even pleaded to the men in the funeral home to dress her daughter but she was ignored. She saw Rayka on the cement floor without mat in the corner of the room.
A certain Inspector Hernandez, also wearing a mask and a bull cap, told them that they could not take the bodies without permit to travel, which they could only get from the police station.
They faced another hurdle at the police station, where their arrival irked some official who threatened to jail them.
“He said: ‘Who are they? Don’t let them in. Handcuff them if they insist,’” Nanay Salome said in Filipino.
They decried harassment in the police station: police started taking pictures of them and asked for their identification cards. Policemen also confronted the Gabriela members whom they accused of being communists, which they denied right there and then.
“They were tagging our organization as communist. We asserted that we are a legal organization. If they are going after the NPAs they should go to the mountains and not target us,” said Vian Bautista of Gabriela who was with the women when they claimed the bodies.
After hours of waiting and asserting, they finally were able to claim the bodies of Rayka and Nene. But before they left the police station, they had to pose for a picture while holding the permit to travel. “As if the photos they took were not enough,” said Nanay Salome.
On Dec. 1, at 12:00 midnight, Rayka and Nene were finally brought home.
Questions that needed answers
The two women have many questions in mind when they saw the bodies of their beloved daughters.
Nanay Salome said Nene’s neck was bloated, her one eye was covered with cotton and both of her upper arms were wrapped in packaging tape.
Rayka, on the other hand, had a gunshot wound on her forehead and the back of her skull was broken. “That is why her hair was pulled back because the embalmer had to cover the back of her head,” said Bautista.
She also saw the body of a man whose face looked like it was smashed, his shoulder was also broken and his stomach was blasted. “It was only his eyes that were recognizable,” she told Bulatlat.
That is why Nanay Salome and Nanay Armida wanted to know the truth as they were not given copies of the SOCO report. The death certificate they got from the City Hall only indicated “gunshot wound” as cause of death.
“If it was an encounter then why did it appear that the gunshot wounds were inflicted at close range?” asked Nanay Armida.
“What is the truth? How come their death was so brutal,” said Nanay Salome.
In response, Jacqueline Ann De Guia, CHR spokesperson told the mothers that they would closely monitor the case of the so-called Nasugbu 15. She said CHR Region 4 has already dispatched a team in the area and have already come up with an initial report, but these are not yet for public consumption. They can only get a copy of the report when the investigation was already concluded.
De Guia also told the mothers to encourage other families to give their statements to the agency.
The two women said most of the families of the 15 live in highly militarized areas in Batangas and have difficulty leaving their communities.
They also told De Guia that they too were subjected to harassment. They said a man arrived at the burial and asked around regarding the deaths of both Rayka and Nene.
They also said that they received a text message from someone who introduced himself as from the public information office of the Armed Forces Philippines asking the mothers if they can grant an interview with Al Jazeera.
Both mothers are hopeful that they will get to the truth behind the death of their daughters with the help of the CHR.
Gabriela, in a statement said that the result of the investigation can also be instrumental in filing cases of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law against culpable units of the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.