DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/22 April) — At 7:40pm on 07 August 2012, a text message lit up my cellphone screen. It said: “Anong ginagawa mo sa warzone? Pinapa-rescue ka ni Gen. Segovia.”
At that time, I was already sitting at a restaurant in North Cotabato, waiting for when the Army-mounted checkpoints between Aleosan and Pikit would clear so that I could proceed about three hours more to home and safety in Davao City. The text message was mortifying, to say the least.
I had gone off to the “warzone” without telling anybody. Not my husband, not the authorities at school, and definitely not the security forces. We had gotten wind of reports about armed men presenting themselves as members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who had forced the nocturnal evacuation of Dalangaoen residents the night before. They had purportedly lobbed a grenade at an Army detachment, wounding some soldier’s dependents.
Of course, journalists – and by extension, busybody columnists like me – are called upon to get the details from the ground. So off we went to Dalangaoen in Pikit.
In Pikit, we caught up with Mary Ann Arnado of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus who was touching base with the local monitoring teams in the area. Of concern were the reports of Lumads trapped in Hill 244 in Maguindanao. The IPs needed safe conduct pass to come down as they were cordoned off by two layers of combatants – the BIFF and the Army troops. Again, it appeared that the report had to be verified. And so we proceeded to Hill 244 in the vicinity of Salbo.
We were barely a kilometer off Hill 244 about an hour before the sun came down in those parts when the fireworks started up ahead. Our car screeched to a stop and did a turnaround, ready to exit.
For crying out loud – we had been told they had guns! Any doubt about their willingness to use these rapidly evaporated as responding volleys arced through the sky.
I rapidly searched my memory for data on maximum distance those bullets could fly, and of course, came up blank. Sorry, such details weren’t covered in my training to be a clinical psychologist. Nope, neither were they ever mentioned in the various safety courses I attended for those desiring to work out there in highly secure areas.
So it was with extreme mortification that I apprehended the text message. The AFP Eastern Mindanao Command’s Gen. Jorge V. Segovia knew I was in the area. He thought I needed rescuing.
I had just had my ear chewed off by my husband who was disappointed to find out that I was not in my office waiting to be picked up at six o’clock. His disappointment turned to dismay when he apprehended where I was at that very moment when he called – I was four hours away and turning tail, running from bullets flying. Two hours later, we would still be analyzing our exit plan.
Suffice it to say that we got home at midnight without need for rescue.
In the work I do out there, I never intend to need rescuing from our security forces. They have enough on their plate as it is.
It is with a measure of pride that I reflect back on the emergency post-Pablo psychosocial response I have directed the ADDU Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services to conduct in the three months after the typhoon. Not once did any of my teams suffer through any thorny security issues in all that time even as we served contested geographically isolated and depressed areas such as Sitio Limot in Barangay Binondo, Baganga.
Yes, our team was the first psychosocial support that made it in the hinterlands of Limot in early February this year. No, we did not come in expecting to be victims of “Baganga massacre reprised”. And, no, the team did not need rescuing after it had delivered.
But the soldier will always be on standby to rescue wayward civilians who wander off to high security places at times when they shouldn’t. Never mind if these wayward civilians coordinate their entry into these areas or not. When civilians are in the path of unfriendly sniper fire intended for the soldier, soldiers would secure them whether the civilian likes it or not, asks for it or not.
To rescue wayward civilians under these circumstances poses a threat on the soldiers’ lives. Such should at least require a modicum of cooperation on the part of the pasaway, wouldn’t you agree?
In the dark the other night, as the band of ragtag do-gooders calling itself a “national fact-finding mission” trekked back from Sitio Limot to Baganga proper after having been abandoned by their Saddam drivers, I could very well imagine how they scared each other in that five-hour walk with the prospect of ending up as “Baganga massacre reprised”. The dreaded makasalanan government troops were coming up ahead any moment to rescue them, after all.
It’s strange how an outfit that has the financial resources to hire Saddam trucks and text their moment-to-moment experience to get to Sitio Limot in Binondo had not come up with an exit plan that would not bother the security forces on the ground. That they never thought of local drivers abandoning them seems to me that they sent people in without an accurate assessment of the community conditions they would likely find. They thought of this excursion as just that – a lark. A walk in the park. A misguided assertion of their freedom of mobility to deliver psychosocial services that they are not professionally qualified to do for people who did not ask for it.
Irresponsible is a word that comes to mind.
I can think up of other adjectives to portray exactly what I think of leadership that puts its own people in danger and make them suffer through relentless hours of inexplicable, unpredictable terror. I think you call that human rights violation. But maybe the term does not apply to people who eagerly seek to be violated in this way.
Obviously, the leaders of this fact-finding group did not want security forces to rescue them. That fact would render puny their prepared report on how soldiers harass civilians in Limot. But it would have been another mark of the government’s purported neglect had progressive nuns and do-gooders been left out there to the harsh elements as they wish. Instead, braving sniper fire, the soldiers pulled them out.
What a very ungrateful lot these pasaway. Dapat isumbong kay Mareng Winnie. (Gail Tan Ilagan, PhD, Director of the Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services at the Ateneo de Davao University, writes the column, “Wayward and Fanciful” for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews)