NOTE: This story was written last April 30, 2017.
Sporting red puffy eyes, seven-month pregnant Annalyn Luna silently cried while she reminisced her last days with her children, Reden, 9, and Crislyn, 11, and 70-year-old mother Lolita Pepito who were killed in a crossfire between the Philippine Army and CPP-NPA last April 20 in Cawayan town in Masbate.
The mother of four who arrived from Cebu days after the incident was not able to see the bodies of the victims. The families and barangay officials were prohibited from getting close to the area of the incident until over a week which caused the foul smell of the decaying corpses.
Lolita’s 70-year old husband, Paulino, was the only one who survived the shootout with a gunshot wound on his left arm and several scratches on his body. He recalled the scenes from the unfortunate day saying, “I thought I was going to die.”
The adrenaline shot through the aging man’s body enabled him to crawl on the ground to save his life. He said if it was not for him crawling first on his left arm, he might have had a gunshot right through his head. Fortunately, a gunfire wound on the left arm was the only serious injury he had.
Paulino said he was grateful that he survived the shootout. He explained that what occurred was a miracle giving him second chance in life. This unforgettable second chance at life, he believes, was for him to tell everyone.
The house in the farm they were tilling in Sitio (sub-village) Lubigan in Barangay (village) Panan-awan is about three to four kilometers from the main road and has three neighboring families who were also involved in the incident.
But most of them were mum on the matter due to the traumatizing event. Even 10 days after its occurrence, the horrifying memories of the ill-fated day were still fresh.
The residents ran in fear when fires were exchanged. When the firing ceased, 424 residents evacuated to the barangay hall and health center while others temporarily resided with their relatives far from the shootout area. They were supplied with relief goods from the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Managament Council (MDRRMC) of Cawayan and were sent home days after the incident.
On top of all the risks the issue held, Karapatan, an alliance for the advancement of people’s rights, went through a massive regional fact-finding mission last April 28 joined by more or less 100 civilians and local media practitioners in Bicol.
People from Karapatan visited the shootout area that day which was also the first time the families of the victims visited the area eight days after the fateful day.
The scene was in utter devastation, with the holes on the roofs and walls from gunshots and wrinkled clothes thrown out of the cabinets and hangers and a wooden floor stained with the victims’ blood. Paulino joined the team to the shootout area and described the scenes he remembered from that unfortunate day. The civilians were prohibited from coming to the farm for days which left the animals and plants unattended and caused the death of the family’s carabao (water buffalo) buried a few feet away from the hut.
Steering away from the horror of the recent event, Vivencio Villamor, barangay captain of Panan-awan, defended the residents and said that they are not rebels or part of the NPA. He was saddened and offended hearing such accusations that were not true. He described the residents of Barangay Panan-awan as happy people before the crossfire happened. He hoped for this kind of incident to never occur again.
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