by Florence (Dom-an) Macagne-Manegdeg
“Would anyone help me make sense of war please?” On August 7, 2007, it will be one year since and my young daughters packed a few belongings and left the comfort of our niche in the cool city of Baguio in Northern Luzon, Philippines. We traveled further away from our hometown, the mystic mountains of Sagada, Mt. Province and romantic beaches of Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte. We fled to Metro Manila, a place sweltering with heat and filth, overcrowded with urban poor and a haven for infectious and contagious diseases. We also took solace in a few more comfortable zones. Inside the university compounds, the La Mesa watershed area, the Quezon City Circle and Wild Life Parks, some spacious subdivisions, the church yards and the convents. Or anywhere where a tree spreads its leaves to shade a tiny flower and branches for a chirping bird to perch on was somehow home and reprieve to us. Unfortunately, my youngest daughter contracted Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever while we lived with my in-laws in a middle-class subdivision. A plague that knows no boundaries. We had to rush her to the nearest hospital and paid a hospital bill that rolled like a taxi meter.
Seeking sanctuary and serene places to pause and re-view our path as we moved on to the life journey of a widow and two orphans of war is an endless question of where to, what next and how to. At times, tears flow wishing these were not true. Sans a famous name, or a bank account in our possession except that we are the family of one of the less celebrated cases of extrajudicial killings proclaimed as peoples’ martyr Jose “Pepe” Riveral Manegdeg III. We met people from various walks of life, various persuasions yet of common vision who in their own ways offered us hearts,
hands, shelter, arts, money, prayers, thoughts and love. Finally, along our journey to peace and healing, we sought refuge in the serene mountain and calm lake of Mt. Taal and communities nearby including the welcoming hearts and hands at the Maryridge Place of Healing and Renewal. Taal, the folks say means Truth.
“Along the journey, I have always believed that those who have gone ahead of us in the spirit world are guiding us, just as relatives whispered in condolences. While indeed, human hearts and hands had been along the way when we needed them most.”
Along the journey, I have always believed that those who have gone ahead of us in the spirit world are guiding us, just as relatives whispered in condolences as I sat with emptied heart during the wake of my husband. While indeed, human hearts and hands had been along the way when we needed them most.
What happened? I first noticed the presence of two masked men on motorcycles that came to our peaceful isolated neighborhood by the hillsides in Baguio City last July 30, 2006. The next day, we heard news that Alyce Omengan Claver died when together with husband and child their car was sprayed with bullets on their way to school. It gave me uneasy feelings. I reported the incident to responsible government agencies, relatives, friends and church people. Considering the rise of incidents of killings done by masked men on motorcycles, they were alarmed and warned us to be vigilant and use commonsense when needed. The Civilian Intelligence Detective Group (CIDG) even suggested mockingly they could give me a licensed gun to protect myself. Nevertheless, we refused to panic for all the more it does not make sense.
Allowing some time to pass, last August 7, 2006 we were terrorized to see the same motorcycle with plate number AF 1033 with two strange masked men once more. Sensing danger and consulting a friend, I packed a few clothings, talked to my two young daughters and we fled our rented home. They had to stop going to school. It made more sense to be together and be secure in the presence of each other by end of day even as it was uncertain what happens the next day and the next weeks until a year passed.
Plate number AF 1033 was found to be registered in another place not in Baguio but in Ilocos where Pepe was killed. Even the an agent of Ilocos National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) have refrained from checking the plates because a man of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) was accosted for possessing black ribbons received by human rights advocates in the Region. Some honest investigators were also killed effectively silencing others who are sincere with their tasks.
Speaking with my cousin today recalling the incidents, she reveals that even as we left, she saw masked men on motorcycles going up and down our place several times in the succeeding months. They did not stay long. At one time, she was awakened in an early morning by the barks of our dogs led by Justice. Some strangers were exploring the 109 steps stairway to reach the place we left. They did not bother to take off their motorcycle helmets and their masks. It is not many homes by the road end where we used to live. There was only one person who owned a motorcycle for home use that occasionally travels up the steep road. Who were these men and who sent them on what purpose? They did not even have looks of adventure seeking riders nor a motorcycle out for some road testing. One thing is clear, they conceal their faces and bear emptiness in their eyes. Their aura invite suspicion and their presence warn of danger.
My beloved husband Jose “Pepe” Riveral Manegdeg III of the Rural Missionary of the Philippines was brutally assassinated with 22 gunshot wounds last November 28, 2005 amidst tobacco fields in San Esteban, Ilocos Sur. He just delivered a lecture on human rights to fellow workers in peace and justice advocacy and grassroots organizing. He was waiting for a bus bound to Manila to meet with fellow churchworkers to prepare for the arrival of an international delegation of the Global Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church in the morning then was supposed to meet me at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport arriving from Hongkong at 5
O’clock in the afternoon. He was slain by motorcycle riding men and the assassins divested his body of his mobile phone, wallet and money. Some military men in the area discreetly admitted that he would have been executed earlier of November 22 were it not for some soldiers who attempted to call off the mission for they knew Pepe as a townmate. He did write about his being harassed by men who suspiciously tailed him in the bus that day talking about following up a case of so-called “organized crime”.
Yet, the “order of battle” has been made and the list included Pepe and his colleagues. And the mission for execution was accomplished just before a happy family reunion could have been made. My husband was a radical alright. For seeking changes in a social system that perpetrates inequality, poverty and violence. For initiating a publication on Church and Society entitled “Writing on the Wall”. For writing project proposals and charismatically appealing to advocates, ecumenical partners, enlightened landlords and politicians for funds and resources to be channeled to a region long impoverished by land monopoly and local tyranny. For effectively leading fellow workers to effectively strengthen community organizations for stewardship of land and resources and forging alliances for a growing power-in-one. For transcending his own personal poverty and woundedness and transforming his energy to the greater cause for social justice and world peace. For passionately loving his mother, his children and other children, his family and other families. For loving me endlessly and comprehensively as well.
What a grave mistake indeed to kill such man. For his death simply released his spirit to inspire a great movement on earth as it is in heaven... yet more of a few young men and women like him continue to be sacrificial lambs.
I took solace in writing and making appeals for truth behind the killing of a gentle, peaceful and loving family man who was father-mother to our two daughters while I was then in foreign land trying to make a decent living as a domestic helper.
Before leaving for Hongkong, I also mourned the death of two young brothers stabbed by a reckless taxi driver and a gang of young men. Senseless violence that worsened the plight of a family in economic poverty. Both cases brought to court and the killers were eventually convicted even as they acknowledged their crime yet legally pleaded not guilty. Two young joyous brothers dead at age 23 and 15 years old and more brothers on the line? What a litany of agony in misery and poverty that it is but sane to ask the infinite WHY? and pause to create space, time and a moment to breath... within, in much deep deeper silence beyond words better expressed with a bamboo nose flute, poetry, smiles and tears...
During and after the wake of my husband, it was blatantly absurd and of much disrespect to the solemnity of mourning to see military men and their intelligence agents lurking around the wake and burial site of my husband. A pair of them were on black motorcycle with plate number BI 9872. They had the guts to join the people on vigil but left when they noticed the people were observing them. They were even heartless enough to spread disinformation about my husband and rumor of killing me and the brothers and sisters of a dead man. Four months after, my fisherman brother-in-law went missing and later found dead with mutilated body parts.
“Will the Anti-Terror Campaign erase the smirk on the faces of warmongering generals and a president who derive pleasure in the victory of depriving lives of selfless loving fathers and mothers and the dreams and hopes of youth and children with the power of blazing guns, gold and goons and legal jargons to conceal their delusions?
I do NOT believe so.”
And even as we strive to move on to the life of a widow and an orphan, we are not spared of more terror. For what would it be if not sheer horror to loose brothers in senseless violence, a husband in extrajudicial killing, a brother-in-law in murder and much worst, my life threatened by masked men for my writings and pleadings? Incidentally, all these started to happen in November 2000 to the present as more brutal killings happen outside of my family. To mention a few that have already been stricken of an apparently deadly and invisible list... a female lawyer defending the poor, student researchers integrating with peasant communities, a poor farmer leading his community to raise their concerns about mining wastes polluting their fields through a poisoned river, a peacepact pact holder among the tribes of Kalinga killed in front of his teen-age son, a teacher witnessing the assassination, a physician who served the provinces
ambushed with wife and child, a bishop feeding the poor stabbed to death, a worker of the Department of Agriculture assassinated by the same gunmen who killed Pepe, a painter and dutiful son shot in front of her pleading mother, a journalist critical of graft and corruption shot as he was buying second hand clothes for his children, a priest supporting sugar factory workers appealing for just wages, a pastor gunned by armed men barging into his home, an organic agriculturist assisting peasant organizations abducted in a busy shopping center... still missing... and many more... many more... endless list... of civilians with passion for truth, peace, liberty and comprehensive sustainable development for all.
I could not help but shut my eyes tight then open it wide several times as I take deep breathes. Wishing that all that I have witnessed is illusion or simply a nightmare. Hoping that when I open my eyes once more, I wake up to the smile and hug of my husband and father of my children as we share a cup of coffee, take our morning walks in public parks and pick up grass flowers by the roadside as our children run with our dogs with gaiety and laughter.
After all these, here comes the Human Security Act (HSA) or the Anti-Terror Act. With the passionate and bemedalled lawyers and lawmakers debating over the legality and intricacies of such law. Our case could even be used by both sides to justify their arguments. Is this due process or simply part of mitigating the dehumanizing realities of the escalating “game and theater of war” if I may quote AFP’s Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan statement last December 2006 on urban militarization? Or is it an act to legitimize the already widespread State terror under the leadership of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo?
I could not help but feel even more insecure and appalled even as I try simply to detach and witness how more senseless violence makes the papers, the streets and debates bloodier. I cry silently witnessing the manifestations of the impact of violence that shattered my children’s young minds and hearts even as I also continue to learn how to meet the demanding tasks of a mother-father. It is beyond words to articulate what war widows and war orphans are going through which brings us to seek sanctuary and sanity in healing arts as I play my bamboo nose flute and chant my dirges, sing my calls for healing and peace and strive to establish a meaningful existence one moment at a time...
Will the Human Security Act and the raging debates around it restore our once happy and simple life? Will it heal the deep soul searing wounds inflicted to our beings? And will it allow us to go back home with a sense of safety? Will it erase our fleeting fear when we see masked men on motorcycles though we have resolved not to live in paranoia? Even as we are aware that Capt. Joel Castro and his comrades in the Military Intelligence Group who maimed, dragged and pumped bullets into my husband’s sacred body is very much free and the masked men who came to disturb our peace are very well secured by their own commanders in higher positions of the State? How much sense could it be made of paying a triggerman P 120,000 and awarding a medal of valor to the commanders of men like Joel Castro and honor-hungry men?
Will the Anti-Terror Campaign recognize humane universal laws of widowhood and orphanhood? Or inhumanely and heartlessly consider orphans and widows as casualties or collateral damages of the War Industry. In our case, it has clearly ignored it. Or it simply has not considered “Pacem in Terris” or Peace on Earth. Perhaps the Vatican could help the gallant crusaders to unearth the documents that expressed Pope John XXIII’s views on Human Rights. Or they may come, I bring them to village elders among the Kankana-eys in the Cordillera and be enlightened with the edict of “Lawa and Inayan” Thou shall not do anything if it harms, it may come back we never know.
Will the Anti-Terror Campaign spare humanely and spiritually evolved civilians from being perceived and portrayed as demons and placed in a list called the “order of battle” and the “enemies of the state” that sounds like a “Schindler’s list”! Will it erase the smirk on the faces of warmongering generals and a president who derive pleasure in the victory of depriving lives of selfless loving fathers and mothers and the dreams and hopes of youth and children with the power of blazing guns, gold and goons and legal jargons to conceal their delusions?
I do NOT believe so.
Or could it be a re-enactment straight from the book though with modern weapons enflamed with spiritual quests such as that of Constantinople under the new banner of Anti-Terrorism? Or as in fantastic novels about an evil Queen’s desperate attempt to hold on to her crumbling towers? Or a pharaoh’s quest for a pedestal as high as the heavens? Spare me. Creepy and insane as it is.
Yet I pray may love and mercy empower the people of our beloved greed and war ravaged motherland... What we most urgently need is not more laws and acts and a waste of time on intellectual exercises and interpretations subject to vested interests, compulsive reactions and fixations. From the war weary souls and blood drenched ground where I belong, those accountable for all the bloodshed need simply to face the consequences of their acts and choices, be reckoned by the human spirit, and sincerely drop the campaign about terror and abhor war as a policy. In plain words, be responsible, humble and honorable enough to stop the madness! Stop shedding the body and blood of selfless and compassionate men, women, youth and children.
For what a doom indeed that a bloody and gory history repeating itself is unfolding until humanity learns its lessons...
A growing wave of people and spirits on earth as well as in heaven continue to seek the fragile, elusive and genuine peace... the “holy grail” of mythic lores. I beckon, may we be compelled to listen not only to our minds but to our hearts, our souls and our spirit as one... we only have one precious sacred body and life on earth. May we listen to the eyes and silence of the children... whose innocence and purity continue to be desecrated by violence, poverty and war.
What a tragedy to waste life in paranoia, self-deception and delusions. What hell of a life is it to be so occupied with bloody wars and endless arguments and be so helpless when natural disasters of an increasingly heated world could easily cleanse the earth in just a few minutes. What phenomenal folly is it to launch wars created in our own minds and campaign to savagely eliminate those who have dedicated their breath and lives in work that uplift the lives of the lowly and downtrodden that all may enjoy the fruits of the earth. What destructive mania is it to build-up and unleash bombs that explode the bosoms of the earth and mangle the bodies of its nurturers? And what an equally apathetic and devious scheme to make money out of the fears and desperation of those who survive.
Life is sacred... honor it.
What a liberty to hear one, two and three billions of living angels and human beings wounded as they are yet continue to sing, dance and weave as they march for Peace Not War, Love Not Hate... in its simplicity, purity and sincerity. It shall soon quell the chorus of the damned. Those who have taken what was not freely given to them shall answer to the courts of humanity and to the very Source of Breath and Life.
And a singing widow beckons... Come, let us join hands together and refrain from pitting our heads against each other. Take a little step further away from zones of comfort and walls of hiding. Bring out our shining breastplates of love, fasten our belts of faith, put on our helmets of wisdom... prepare the gongs, the trumpets and the drums... beat the rhythm of victory... the walls are crumbling, the grounds shaking, the giants are stinking and gnashing against the other as the queen is stuck in her bloody red velvety gown. Pray and play the sacred music of the breath.
Blow with the spirit of LOVE, TRUTH, JUSTICE and PEACE... LIBERTY is at hand. There is time for everything under heaven. As the Divine Spirit flows and glows to inspire humane hearts... the movement for a new world in the 21st century takes a new leap... an evolution towards the communion of humanity and divinity... here and now... the Holy Grail is in our hands... fragile and tempting ever... Beckoning us to move fast yet subtle as the wind... we shall restore the covenant of peace and rebuild with our hearts, with our hands the sacred lands and communities... as the eternal spring of life flows freely forever...
Indeed, God lives in the heart of humanity... yet God is, we are not.
Kasiyana is a word among the Kankana-ey Indigenous Peoples of Sagada, Mt. Province Cordillera Philippines. It beckons and evokes love, hope and healing in times of woundedness and turmoil.
May we humbly appeal for urgent support of all forms to the Kasiyana Peace and Healing Initiatives (KASIYANAPHI). It aims to develop and encourage programs for peace and healing journeys for orphans and widows of war. It affirms the effectivity of nature and art therapy and creative individual and group counseling. It actively joins the advocacy, concrete actions and movements for social healing and social wholeness. It also initiates the opening of spaces for peace and healing for war weary souls as it upholds the sacredness of personal and communal journey of life on sacred lands. “All that comes from the heart freely is returned a thousand fold”. Thank you.
Kasiyana Peace and Healing Initiatives. Mt. Taal, Batangas, Philippines, kasiyanaphi[at]yahoo.com, domanay_nomad[at]yahoo.com.ph or