COMMENTARY: Staring at Death in the Face

DAVAO CITY (28 June) — Unnerving.

I am not referring to those near-death incidents which are related to the metaphysical realm.  What I am talking about are the ones that are real, those which involve guns and knives.

I have had numerous brushes with such incidents.  The last time happened more than two years ago.  It ensued right after I went out on local television to dismiss malicious statements by a military spokesperson that I was seen in the company of the New People’s Army somewhere in the boondocks of Compostela Valley Province.  To make it sound more truthful, that spokesperson even pitched in some details.  They said that they were able to monitor that I went out of the country, went straight to Utrecht, The Netherlands, received instructions from Jose Maria Sison, went back and vanished into the mountains.

To stress my own personal disdain towards the security forces’ accusation, in a TV interview, I told the military spokesperson that I am going to slap him if I  will ever see him for maliciously putting my family and myself in grave danger.  Right after that, we were able to monitor men, riding in tandem, staking out right outside of my rented house and were just obviously waiting to attack.  Friends and family members who were around were able to shoo them away.

The most horrifying experience though, happened on September 12, 2006.  At the time, I was accused of rebellion together with seven other leaders of progressive organizations for marching through the streets of Davao calling for social justice and an end to the corrupt Arroyo Regime.

I was rushing out of my house for a meeting at the former office of Kilusang Mayo Uno along Anda Street.  I was with a companion then.  I went out of my house’s gate head first, bowing down a little bit so my head won’t hit the rusty metal frame.  Suddenly, from behind me, my companion screamed to warn me because he saw two men whose body language would easily reveal that they have the vilest of intentions.  I raised my head, hitting the metal frame, and saw them.  One was standing by and the other one was holding a cellphone to his ear.  They were a bit surprised, maybe because they did not expect me to go out that early.  The man with the phone tried to draw out his pistol from the right side of his waist but was not able to do it quickly. I did saw the pistol grip.  The other one rummaged through his knapsack, trying to take something from it.  Literally, I stared at death in the face as I locked up eyes with the one who tried to draw a gun. Hurriedly, I stepped back into the relative safety that my house could provide.  By sheer luck, a number of my neighbors passed by and the men had to walk away.

I cannot fathom what made me survive those attempts.  Most of them were really close encounters.  They had caused my sweat glands to profusely spew out cold sweat and my knees to buckle.  Although I faced the media’s cameras with a brave face but honestly, I was quite afraid.  I feared that my little daughter would be left without a father, effectively repeating history.  My father was gunned down due to his political beliefs when I was just ten.

Former colleagues in the people’s movement are still facing the same predicament.    Some were not as lucky as I was.  Celso Pojas of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas – Southern Mindanao was felled by armed men.  Recently,  in March 2011, Rody Dejos,  a local leader of Anakpawis Partylist in Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur was also brutally neutralized together with his son Rody Dick.

During my stint in the labor movement, we faced Gloria’s Oplans Bantay Laya I and II.  Those security operational plans caused the death of a lot of friends and comrades, more than a thousand of them.  Today, in the age of the messianic and pretentious Pnoy regime, tolerance of political beliefs still does not exist.  The armed forces may have suddenly sounded benign with its Oplan Bayanihan but the truth is, the war still rages throughout the land and people are still being butchered like boars.  Body bags still pile up by the day, 40 to be exact in Aquino’s first eight months.

Paranoia, as personally experienced, would wane.  Death would just become a simple and inevitable fact for those who struggle for national freedom and democracy.  Life and struggle would still go on as they continue to march forward. What should not go on is making people stare at death in the face. What should not go on is the policy to silence dissent.

(Omar Bantayan is a former labor leader and street parliamentarian who is who is now preoccupied with trying to make ends meet.)