Julia Poloyapoy’s three sons were last seen with soldiers during military operations in Agusan del Sur. One turned up dead, while two have been missing for almost month.
BY DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Julia Poloyapoy, a 50-year-old peasant and mother of six, lost three sons on Nov. 1, All Saints’ Day. Twenty-four-year-old Fil John turned up dead with two gunshot wounds in the chest, while Philip, 31 and Pelems, 22, are still missing. They were believed to have been used as guides in military operations.
Julia is one of the many victims of human rights violations who came with the Manilakbayan and travelled from Mindanao to seek justice.
On Nov. 26, Manilakbayan’s third day in Manila, peasants and indigenous peoples who were victims of militarization under the government’s Oplan Bayanihan picketed in front of the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City to call for the withdrawal of military troops in their communities.
Julia, however, was not able to join Manilakbayan’s series of protest actions because she was not feeling well, from the travel and the emotional strain.
She says she still hopes to see her two sons alive.
All Saints’ Day
The Poloyapoys live in sitio Bagong Silang, Bayugan 3, Rosario, Agusan del Sur. Since Nov. 2, when her son Fil John was believed killed by soldiers, the Poloyapoys have left home and had not returned since. The family members belong to the peasant group Nagkahiusang Mag-uuma sa Agusan del Sur (Namasur).
In an interview with Bulatlat.com, Julia recounted that on Oct. 31, her three eldest sons were still able to come home and recount to her how they came across soldiers by the river. The three went hunting and gold-panning at about 9 a.m.. They each carried a “jolen gun,” an airgun with marbles for bullets, that was used for hunting.
Fil John, who crossed the river ahead of his brothers, was the first to be accosted by soldiers of the 75th infantry battalion, who asked what he was carrying. Fil John showed the hunting gun to the soldiers, who said it looked like an M14 rifle. Fil John asked the soldiers not to shoot at his two brothers who were by the waterfalls and were carrying the same thing.
They however, heard a gunshot, and one of the soldiers, upon seeing Philip by the falls, fired several times but missed. As he came down, Philip complained to the soldier that he almost got killed for no reason. The soldiers asked the three about New People’s Army (NPA) guerrilas in the area, to which they answered that they haven’t seen any but don’t discount their presence.
One of the soldiers threatened the three: “If the NPAs shoot at us here, we’re going to get you first.”
On Nov. 1, All Saint’s day, Julia was preparing a special dinner and has asked the three to stay home, but at around 4:30 p.m., Fil John said he had to go to their payag – the farm hut located two kilometres away – to put away the clothes that he hanged. Two minutes later, Julia recalled that Philip said he also has to go to the payag to get his headset. Another two minutes later, Pelems said he had to get his charger.
“Don’t be long,” Julia told each son.
By 7 p.m., the family started worrying because the three had not returned. They went to the farm hut, but Julia found it locked, and Fil John’s clothes were still hanging. Asking around the village, a neighbour told Julia that she saw the three with elements of the Army’s 75th Infantry Battalion on the road.
The family spent a sleepless night, waiting for the three. At 8 a.m. the next day, Nov. 2, they heard a staccato of gunfire coming from the direction of their farm, lasting some 30 minutes. The gunshots came again at 12 noon. Julia said she couldn’t stop crying by this time, fearing for her sons.
At 5 p.m., a neighbor told her that Fil John was among the dead carried by soldiers in Consuelo village, in the next municipality Bunawan.
A news report showed that the 75th IB soldiers had an encounter with NPA guerillas, where Technical Sergeant Leonardo Pilare Jr. was killed. The military claimed in the news report that Fil John was an NPA rebel.
Julia’s daughter Prely, 18, said they also heard the military claim on a radio program that Fil John was an NPA “platoon leader.”
“They admitted that they killed Fil John as they falsely claimed that he was an NPA,” she said. But the military admitted nothing to the family when they came face to face.
Julia said the radio statement of the military came after she went to Bombo Radyo and called for help for her two missing sons.
‘Present your witness’
On Nov. 10, after Fil John’s burial, Rosario Mayor Jose Cuyos Sr. along with Vice Mayor Julie Chua, and seven councilors asked to speak to the Poloyapoys at the barangay hall. With the local officials was a military officer they identified only as Gacayan.
Prely decried that even as they tried to express their grievance, the military official kept cutting them off, telling them to “present your witness.”
“If it’s true that the 75th IB killed your son, then present us your witness, at least two witnesses,” Prely quoted the military official. The official also said they “will file a case and will not tolerate” military abuses, but the victim’s family must be the one to bring forward a witness.
Julia and Prely said they also came to the 75th IB detachment, accompanied by village officials, to look for Philip and Pelems.
“We weren’t even allowed inside the camp, only the village chairman and a councilor was let in,” Prely said. The soldiers claimed that they don’t know anything about the missing men.
Julia said they also tried to file a complaint with the police about Fil John’s killing, and the disappearance of Philip and Pelems, but a certain SPO4 Sumili refused to file a blotter report, saying that a witness is required for that.
“You don’t even have to come here, just send your witness,” Julia quoted the police.
When they asked for a copy of the police report on Fil John, the police gave them a police request for the victim’s autopsy report, but it was ripped in the middle.
“They were very rude,” Julia said of the Bunawan police.
On Nov. 11, about 140 families from villages in Rosario and Bunawan evacuated from their homes after hearing a series of gunfire.
“People were afraid that they would meet the same fate as my brothers,” Prely said.
The evacuees stayed at the Bayugan 3 gymnasium, and returned home on Nov. 20, and were accompanied by people’s organizations and health workers, who conducted a relief and solidarity mission.
Karapatan data shows that there are 83 victims of extrajudicial killings in Mindanao by state and paramilitary forces under the term of President Aquino. Some 2,500 people had to forcibly evacuate in Mindanao in this year alone.
“We just want my two brothers back,” Prely said. “It saddens us that we don’t know if they’re still alive. It hurts that they did this to my brothers who did nothing wrong.”
“Somebody must pay for justice,” she added.