My Cry from the Islands of Blood
After losing two friends in the recent massacre, a Filipina leader speaks out for the future of her homeland.
"We call on the international community to support us in our quest for justice and peace in our homeland."
Since childhood, Malayapinas has seen the dark side of globalization and violence in the Philippines. She walked to school barefoot after early morning hours selling eggs and cigarettes to ship passengers in her nation’s ports. She toiled in the banana plantations to earn her way to college and became a young mother. Since secret military forces abducted her trade-union husband, she has raised her voice for local health, fair trade, and food security. Her dream is to see the Filipino people live to the fullness of their potential and women free to chart their own destiny. She faces numerous death threats for speaking out.
I am crying with anger at the shocking news of Monday’s mass slaughter in Maguindanao, a province not far from my home in the southern Philippines. Ever since I learned that my two women lawyer friends were among the casualties, my body has turned numb.
Concepcion “Connie” Brizuela, 56, and Cynthia Oquendo, 35, were stalwart human rights defenders on cases of extra judicial killings in Mindanao under the Arroyo government until the very end. We were together in our advocacy to stop political killings here in the Philippines.
I will never forget the laughter of Connie. She was so gentle in her ways but so firm and brave in confronting human rights violators. Cynthia was a quiet one who stood proudly for what she believes in.
On that fateful Monday, they had been traveling with a delegation of mostly women and journalists that were stopped by armed troops. They were on their way to file a Certificate of Candidacy for the May 2010 election for Buluan Vice Mayor Ishmael Mangudadatu in the provincial capitol of Maguindanao. Mangudadatu is vying for a governatorial seat against the incumbent Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. of Maguindanao Province come May 2010 national election.
Their bodies were among the fifty-seven found buried in shallow graves, allegedly murdered by one hundred policeman and para-military troops of the Ampatuans, the ruling warlord clan in Maguindanao. Some were reportedly raped, decapitated, and chain-sawed. Two of the bodies were pregnant women. Faces of the some of the victims were so mutilated they couldn’t be identified by families.
The torture was horrific. “My wife's private parts were slashed four times, after which they fired a bullet into it,” said Vice Mayor Mangadadatu in an interview published by the Philippines Daily Inquirer. “They speared both of her eyes, shot both her breasts, cut off her feet, fired into her mouth. I could not begin to describe the manner by which they treated her.”
Is this is the kind of democracy the Arroyo government is proud to show the international community? Reporters Without Borders states that this is the darkest day of journalism in modern history—the largest single killing of journalists ever recorded.
Sadly, the death of colleagues is not strange to me. I have lost countless, including my beloved husband twenty years ago. He was a trade-union organizer. Some of my disappeared colleagues still visit me in my dreams at night, like brave Luing, who left behind two beautiful daughters.
Under the Arroyo government, violence has worsened as more military forces have become involved in the lawlessness and culture of impunity that reigns all over the island. At least sixty-seven journalists, not including the Maguindanao massacre, and more than thousand activists have been killed, disappeared and tortured during her reign.
Activists in my country are often labeled “Enemies of the State.” Usually, they were shot to death or forcibly taken, even in broad day light by believed military agents wearing bonnets, brought into safe houses, tortured, interrogated and silenced forever.
Not one has been sentenced to jail and justice has not been served. This impunity paved the way for the mass carnage we have seen this week.
Mindanao: Land of Promise and Conflict
I grew up against the backdrop of a dangerous world of war and poverty in Mindanao, the second largest island of the Philippines.
Mindanao is marked with richness in natural resources in land and in water. It is endowed with mineral resources of gold, nickel, copper, lead and chromium. The gold mines alone in Mindanao account for almost half of the national reserves. It is home to the almost twenty-seven indigenous cultural tribes of Moro and Lumads.
Yet, in contrast to its beauty and abundance, Mindanao is considered the country’s poorest region. More than 60% of its people are impoverished. Much of the island is dominated by large multi-national corporations such as the DOLE Philippines and Del Monte-Philippines. Big local and foreign mining and logging companies control vast tracts of land.
I was five years old when Martial Law was declared by Marcos in 1972. Battalions of the Philippine Army were deployed in our communities making Mindanao a battlefield of government forces and Moro resistance forces. I grew up witnessing military personnel killing innocent civilians anytime of the day. Bombings became a natural phenomenon every day of our lives.
As a little girl, I remember that whenever we heard news of Muslim attacks in the night I would constantly shake from nervousness. Tatay (Father) had to wrap me in a blanket just to keep me warm and stop me from shaking.
The injustice I have witnessed has fueled my passion to see peace rising above poverty in my country. It has catapulted me to the world of social activism and women’s activism even in the face of political persecution. I have survived several attempts on my life. It is a constant struggle of uncertainty, of choices between life and death for those of us who are left behind.
Yet, I only want to help ourselves as Filipinos having three square meals a day, a roof over our heads, a medicine for our sickly bodies and decent jobs for a living.
I just want to have a community where there is no violence against women and children, where women are dignified and respected instead of being raped and massacred. . . .