I was a fledgling labor organizer and a young woman to boot! Veteran unionists laughed at me: Why she still has her mother’s milk on her lips! With a few words of advice, they sent me off to a community of stevedores at the Navotas fish port.
When I arrived at the community, I found the still-smoking remains of many homes. A fire broke out the day before and residents believed it was a calculated move to drive them away from the area where a fishing complex was to be constructed. Fire trucks arrived to put the fire out and left about three feet of stagnant water. The people were forced to walk in this swamp and even used it as a toilet. People were getting sick right and left.
I had befriended a young stevedore, his wife and their two young daughters. The wife refused to let the children walk in the mud, carrying them wherever they went. Still the eldest child got sick. In a few days that sweet, happy and bright three-year old was gone. When she died, worms streamed from every opening in her body.
Her parents were already devastated by death, but greed was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The funeral parlor refused to release the child’s body for burial until they received full payment. The father’s pleas and the mother’s tears could not budge the owner. When I arrived at their home, the wife was frantic; her husband had sharpened his machete and left.
I found him at the funeral parlor, sitting at back of the chapel where his daughter’s body lay in a coffin. He was sitting, holding his machete so tightly that his knuckles were white. I sat beside him and placed my hands over his and shook them, hard. I had to make him listen. You have a wife and a daughter. What is going to happen to them if you land in jail.
He was silent but tears ran down his face. I ran to the office and told the staff: Release the child’s body or you will all die today. In an hour, we were on our way to the cemetery, riding in the funeral parlor’s best vehicle. We stood over the child’s grave, holding hands, grieving over that child and the fact that she was not the first, nor the last, to die so senselessly.