Quote for the Week..

"Why are the country’s political leaders quick to act on amending the Constitution to change nationalistic provisions for the benefit of foreigners or to extend their terms of office but are allergic to amending the Constitution to address the people’s aspirations for self-determination?" - Marvic Leonen,Dean of the UP College of Law, in a keynote address delivered at the 1st International Solidarity Conference on Mindanao; March 16-18, 2009 in Davao City, Philippines.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

When he looked around, his siblings and his father were dead or dying

DATU PIANG, Maguindanao (MindaNews/16 Sept) -- A portion of the pawas (marshland) still reeked of death on Sunday, six days after a fisherman and five of his children, one of them pregnant, were killed by shrapnel from an alleged air strike targeting “renegade” members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). A red-white-and-green malong hangs at one corner of the kamalig (farmers’ resting hut). Dannex Canday, son of the hut owner, said they took down its nipa roof and “wall” made of coconut leaves and piled them on the ground because shrapnels from what exploded on the riverbank had grazed them, and the bamboo and round timber posts, as well.

A crater produced by one of three bombs allegedly dropped by a plane, one of them killed a fisherman and five of his children; only one of them survived.

Aida, 18, the eldest child of Daya Manungal and Vilma Mandi, owned that malong. In four months, she was going to give birth to her first baby.

But she died instantaneously, her head almost severed, her right eye gouged out by shrapnel.

Maguindanaoans say it must have been “Kahanda nu Kadenan” (God’s will) or “bagi” (destiny).that Guiamaludin, 13, the eldest son, survived.

The blasts produced three huge craters, each measuring 1.5 meters to 1.8 meters in diameter and at least ¾ meter deep. Shrapnels were still found in the third crater some 30 meters away from the riverside kamalig.

Two of the craters are on the riverbank itself, about three meters apart, very close to the kamalig. The kamalig was not burned. Whatever exploded nearby was not incendiary.

A fragment from the ill-fated banca lay on the ground. Nearby, the detachable bamboo seat, on top of which is what appears like a cloth--wrapped makeshift “cushion.”

Blood on the cloth and on Aida’s malong has since faded but not totally rinsed off by rain.

The stench of death still blows across this vast marshland.

Four minutes to safety

They had traveled some 800 meters from Sitio Dagaren in Barangay Tee, and had only about 800 meters more (not 500 to 600 meters as earlier estimated by MindaNews) to reach Butalo bridge and the highway.

On a “pumpboat” – in these parts, actually a small but motorized banca -- it is a two-minute and thirty-second ride to the death site from the bridge, but four minutes from the site to the bridge.
Daya knew they were four minutes to safety. But he had to stop, relatives said, because the boat’s engine had malfunctioned.

Daya apparently feared more the possibility of sinking than being mistaken for rebels from the air. The boat had more children than adults. Their clothes were multi-colored. Guiamaludin wore a bright golden yellow shirt.

On such a beautiful morning, even those along the highway could tell the approaching boats carried civilians, as they and the barangay captain asked soldiers on ready-fire position at Butalo bridge, to hold their fire. The soldiers held their fire.
View of the kamalig as boat approaches it from Butalo bridge. Daya was coming towards the bridge when he steered the boat towards the kamalig in the pawas.

Daya steered the boat towards the pawas, instructing his children -- the pregnant Aida, 18; Guiamaludin, 13, Bailyn, 9; Zukarudin, 7; Adtayan, 5 and Faidza, 2 - to wait in the kamalig. They never reached the kamalig. Guiamaludin recalls that just as they had disembarked from the banca and taken two to three steps through the mud, they were thrown away by the blasts. He could not say how far away he was thrown off.

Guiamaludin, the lone survivor from his father’s boat said when he looked around, his siblings and his father were either dead or dying.
Guiamaludin, the lone survivor from his father’s boat. MindaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas.
Ten to 15 meters away, still cruising the river, the terrified occupants of the other boat screamed and cried as the bombs exploded. Vilma, Daya’s wife, held on tightly to her 16-day old baby, Fairudz and children Bainor, 11, and Tata, 4.

Mohalidin Unsi, Aida’s husband, was frantic. In four months, they would be having their first baby.Shrapnels were still found in the third crater. The bigger ones had been taken by the police, villagers from the highway said. Mohalidin had no time to grieve when he reached the bank and saw his lifeless wife.

“Pinulot nya raw yung mga body” (He said he collected the bodies) and put them on the boat, to bring them to Butalo bridge, Noraisa Mandi, Aida’s aunt, said.
Noraisa said that as Mohalidin was counting and collecting the bodies, he was shouting to the planes overhead to stop bombing.

Mohalidin narrated how his father in law, Daya, groaned in pain. But when he came back for him, said Noraisa, Daya was gone. He had fallen into the river. His body was recovered the next day.

Vilma, Mohalidin and Guiamaludin claim there was no exchange of gunfire before the blasts. Residents along the highway some 800 meters from the blast site said they heard no exchange of gunfire before the explosions.

Military sources told MindaNews that gunfire exchange over such a wide expanse of river and marshland can be heard up to five to seven kilometers away at daytime and up to 10 kilometers at nighttime.

The Commission on Human Rights said it has directed its regional office in Mindanao to investigate what happened. “Children as collateral damage is unacceptable,” CHR chair Leila de Lima said.

”There was no bombing,” Zamudio told MindaNews on September 16.

Guideline 2 of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ “Tactical Adjustments on Military Operations During Ramadhan,” states that “tactically, artillery and air strikes will be minimized as much as practicable.”

”Nonetheless,” it added, “field commanders are not prevented to proportionately employ such firepower when extremely necessary in addressing imminent threats from an overwhelming LMG force.”

“LMG” is military parlance for “Lawless MILF Group,” referring to renegades in the MILF like Kato and Bravo, who, the MILF leadership maintains, is still within their control.Zamudio stressed the pilots merely fired back because they were fired upon by the rebels.

He said rockets were used on them, not bombs

“Do rockets produce craters?” MindaNews asked.

“There are craters?” Zamudio asked.

(By Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews for Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project)

No comments: