by Rex Godinez Ortega
[Found another article of mine floating in the Internet. This came out in the PDI broadsheet back in Aug. 2008. It is about survivors of the MILF attack in Kolambugan town. I’ve lost the photos for this article.]
KOLAMBUGAN, LANAO DEL NORTE—After a huge yawn and a little wave of her tiny hand, week-old Friendly Zusima dozed off on a mat as if nothing happened.
She was only two days old when Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels swooped down on their community in Lapayan in Kauswagan town. She survived because her mother, 32-year-old Rogelyn, still recovering from childbirth, ran as fast as she could to safety.
Baby Friendly is the sister of 2-year-old Love-love, who, together with her militiaman-father Francisco, 36, was killed by the rebels during the Aug. 18 rampage.
“I believe my husband was cradling her in his arms when they were shot. He was hit in the chest, while Love-love was hit in the head,” Rogelyn said.
The MILF attacks on civilians in Lanao del Norte may have brought the best among those who survived. But the healing of wounds, physical and psychological, is another thing.
At Kolambugan Riverside National High School, where the evacuees are staying, two teenagers talked about their ordeal in the hands of MILF rebels whom they described as between 13 and 15 years old.
“The rebels were as young as me,” Randel Sobrado, 17, said almost in a whisper while casting a glance at his bandaged right foot. A bullet had pierced through the wooden floor of their house and hit him.
Sobrado’s father was also wounded in the hand and shoulder, and is still in a hospital in Ozamiz City.
A few moments after the shooting, the young rebels kicked the door open and ordered Sobrado and the rest of his family: “Get out or be burned alive inside.”
After the family went outside, the rebels returned to the house and continued firing.
“They massacred the inside of the house including our clothes,” Randel said. “I [still] have one of those massacred shirts with me here [at the evacuation center]. Would you like me to show you,” he asked with childlike enthusiasm.
The Sobrados marched down to the highway to join other residents who were taken as hostages. Randel saw bodies along the way. “I didn’t have time to be afraid,” he said. “I just tended to my wounds.”
His neighbor, William Sechico, 14, also had a rude awakening that morning when the rebels fired upon their house in Pantar town.
“The gunshots were so loud,” he recalled. “The house was filled with smoke.”
His father Florante, 40, and his cousin, Jaime, were killed. Jaime was hit in the head because he stood up during the firing, Sechico said.
“As to my father, I don’t really know what happened. I think he was stabbed because others who saw him said his bowels spilled out,” he said.
Sechico, who was hit in the left arm, escaped with his mother and two young siblings by jumping out of their house and hiding at the back.
“I got hit because I failed to duck on time,” he said. “I knew I was hit because my arm suddenly felt numb.”
Unlike Sobrado, Sechico said he was afraid the whole time. “I could no longer understand what I was feeling then.”
For what the MILF rebels did, Sechico said he was angry. But he looked resigned to the fact that he could do nothing about it.
“I’ll just leave it to the military,” he said.
The two young survivors were interviewed by Saturnina Rodil of the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology’s Institute for Peace and Development in Mindanao. Their body language betrayed their true emotional state, she said.
“If you observed closely their hands and fingers, they were twitching as they recounted the events,” Rodil said.
If it was a curse for Randel and William to be able to recall what happened, it could be a blessing in disguise for Baby Friendly.
She had wakened suddenly because of the noise. True to her name, she gave a friendly look and went back to sleep.
Her mother, Rogelyn, said: “I may be the most unlucky victim here.”
She is constantly confronted by the thought of what was going to happen to her and her new-born, and the rest of her children who survived: Ranelyn, 13, Jeffrey, 11, and Junrey, 7.
Despite her double tragedy, Rogelyn managed to smile as she gently touched Friendly’s forehead.
Rodil described the woman as a very strong person. “She has to hold it up. Others would have crumbled already. It’s Baby Friendly that keeps her focused.” (Rex Godinez Ortega)