ONE week ago, the New People’s Army abducted 52-year old Gelino Vailoces near his home in Barangay Talakak, Sta. Catalina, Negros Oriental. Vailoces’ lifeless body was later found in Barangay Mantiquil, Siaton, 1.5 kilometers from the Special Civilian Armed Auxiliary (SCAA) detachment in Sitio Quadra where he was assigned.
Sitio Quadra is the remotest sitio in the remotest barangay of Mantiquil in the southern Negros town of Siaton (adjacent to Sta. Catalina). Quadra is connected to the rest of Siaton by a road that can hardly be called a road. A habal-habal ride from the town proper will cost you P200.
Until late 2013, the NPA had a support group in the community. But then the people withdrew their support. They became convinced that the government wasn’t that bad, while the NPA really had nothing but violence to offer.
In January 2014, together with the Philippine Army’s 79th Infantry Battalion and personnel from the Siaton Municipal Agriculture Office, I went to Quadra to distribute goats. The farmers had by then organized themselves into the Sitio Quadra United Farmers for Peace and Development. The soldiers, for their part, had built a classroom so that the children could now take their lower primary classes in the sitio rather than at the school in the distant poblacion. The barangay acquired a dump truck to help the farmers take their produce to the town proper. Bringing development to this windswept sitio was never easy, but at least there was peace and small signs of progress to start on.
Now with a SCAA member executed by the NPA, fear has returned. The staff of the municipal agriculture office visits Mantiquil every month but has been warned that it might not be safe at this time. Army troops are currently spread very thinly in southern Negros where the NPA has traditionally been strong—especially in the mountainous area that connects the towns.
A note—purportedly from the NPA’s Rachelle Mae Palang Command—claiming responsibility for Vailoces’ abduction and liquidation was found near the body (PTV News). Jesus Cañete of the Commission on Human Rights Negros Oriental is investigating. According to local intelligence sources, the victim went beyond his duty as SCAA member in helping the military and that is why he was targeted by the NPA.
This reminds me of the similar fate of Narciso “Dodong” Bantoto who was executed by the NPA on January 17, 2014 in front of his wife and three daughters in another hinterland village of Siaton. Dodong’s crime: he was helping the military. Dodong had been a supporter of the NPA but later realized that it was the NPA, not the military that was the destroyer of peace. He was 36. Earlier this year, the NPA ambushed a young soldier in Sta. Catalina. He was fortunate to survive the ambush, but one of his legs had to be amputated. The victim also suffered a stroke while waiting for help. He continues to undergo speech therapy in Fort Bonifacio, far away from his wife and young children in Sta. Catalina.
Going back to Vailoces, it is ironic that the late Rachelle Mae Palang, a nursing graduate, would give her name to a unit that just left 10 children – the youngest only three years old—fatherless. Palang – or Ka Hannah as she was known in the NPA – was killed nine years ago in the hinterlands of Dauin in an encounter with the army, a few months after she graduated from the Velez College of Nursing in Cebu City. Her associates kept denying that she was an NPA. The College Editors Guild of the Philippines, of which Palang had once been a vice president, wrote that “upon achieving her nursing license Mae-Mae (Palang) immediately volunteered for a three-month medical mission in the hinterlands of Negros. … Mae-Mae was killed by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on September 18 (2008) in an alleged encounter with New People’s Army rebels” (Bulatlat.com). The fact that the NPA named the command that operates in the southern part of Negros where Palang and two male NPA companions were killed, tells us what she had become at the time of her death. She would have been 30 today and NPA or not, we must mourn the untimely demise of such a young and idealistic woman.
While the Philippine economy may be growing in leaps and bounds, the IS terrorist threat checked for now, and the nation having successfully hosted the Asean Summit, in Quadra – and who knows in how many other farflung villages, unknown, obscure and unimportant to most of us – things just got worse, the promise of lasting and meaningful peace and development turning elusive, once again. The NPA, ousted four years ago, is back sowing fear and terror.