For the fallen
Patricia Evangelista Philippine Daily Inquirer December 06, 2009 THERE are two lechonsito girls, sugar and honey. Their mother Cecile has not been home for two years, caring for children in Qatar. Her husband Eduardo stayed in Tacurong, licensing officer 3 for the Tacurong City government. The overseas work was necessary to pay for the tuition of the two college girls. Honey studied in Manila, Sugar in Iloilo. Both girls had not seen their mother for two years. Sugar had not seen her father for one. On Nov. 23, two weeks after Cecile came home for Honey’s graduation, the couple stepped into a service car, a red Toyota Vios driven by a Tacurong City Hall employee named Wilhelm Palabrica. Eduardo, 53, had suffered a mild stroke days before, and Cecile had made arrangements to bring her husband to Cotabato City for a CT scan. With them were Mercy Palabrica, Wilhelm’s cousin, and Daryll de los Reyes. Both were also city hall employees. On the road to Shariff Aguak, the red Vios with its cargo of five was stopped along with a convoy of vehicles from Buluan, Maguindanao. All five bodies have been found. Sugar is petite, with straight black hair falling just beneath her shoulders. Honey keeps her hair in a ponytail, and holds her sister’s hand.

They are quiet girls, soft-spoken. The family wants justice, wants law implemented by a government without fear or favor. They want every murderer found, to the last man. Those men were animals. The girls wish they could hug their parents, but the bodies are too battered to hold. *** Noel Decena was 25 when he died. He stopped classes after high school. They couldn’t afford tuition. His father is a truck driver, whose eyes were growing weak. Noel took himself off from his hometown in Midsayap, North Cotabato to General Santos City to hunt for a job. He found it in a small weekly newspaper called Periodico Ini, published by a man named Freddie Solinap, who took Noel under his wing. Noel had potential, Freddie said, learning quickly and at once. Freddie always thought Noel would go back to school, and encouraged the boy. His brother Joseph graduated from high school this year. Joseph—Love-love, as the family calls him—had reconciled himself to giving up college. Noel took him aside, and promised him an education. Love-love would go to school; Noel would make sure. Every time Noel came home, there would be a Tshirt for Love-love. Noel had a girl, Jinky, a pretty brown-skinned girl with a quiet smile. They were together two years, broke up, and got together again. Jinky hated Noel’s drinking; it was why they fought. He stopped for her. Noel told Love-love that he would be home on the 24th for Midsayap’s Foundation Day. The day before, he received a message from his

big brother. “I-ampo ko diri kay naa na mi diri sa Ampatuan. Kritikal amo sitwasyon diri.” Please pray for us, we’re already here in Ampatuan. Our situation here is critical. Freddie did not know Noel had gone to Ampatuan. He thought Noel was in Sultan Kudarat, dealing with the paper’s circulation. Freddie was in a bus on his way back from General Santos when he received a message from a colleague, asking if he knew Bart’s status. Bart was Ernesto “Bart” Maravilla, of Bombo Radyo in Koronadal City. Freddie asked what had happened to Bart. His colleague laughed at him, asked him what sort of media man he was that he didn’t know what was happening. Freddie messaged his editor in chief for a situationer, and received no reply. He finally responded to his colleague that he was in Davao attending a seminar. It was, he explains with a shrug, his way of removing himself from the embarrassing position of being an ignorant media man. It was only when he arrived at his office that his secretary gave him the news. Media men and Mangudadatu women had been held hostage on the road to Shariff Aguak. Five of the men belonged to him, including his editor in chief. Noel Decena was one of the five. It was at night when the massacre was confirmed. It was Freddie who went from funeral parlor to funeral parlor, hunting for Noel’s body. The others had family; Noel’s was far away. He did not believe Noel was dead. Love-love sent messages to Freddie, asking if the stories were true, if his brother was dead. Freddie answered Love-love the next morning. Jinky heard about Noel from her mother.

When she raced to Midsayap and the Decena home, she found Noel in a white coffin, laid out in a makeshift parlor outside the one-room hut. There were paper flowers in bright blue and red, and blue plastic. They told Jinky Noel’s secret: that he was planning to ask her to be his wife. Love-love misses his brother. They laughed a lot the last time he was home. He didn’t know he would come home dead. *** When Andy Teodoro was murdered, he left behind a family and a newspaper. He died on a Monday morning, but his paper will not. Hope will not allow it. There are nine Teodoro children. Winston, Hope Joseph, Rich Andrew, Joan, Charity, Jonas, Teddy, Andrea and Sophia. Hope is the second son, and Andy’s right hand. The Central Mindanao Inquirer covers region 12, with a circulation of more than 500. Andy has worked for the paper for almost 20 years, and in the last years brought Hope with him for coverage. Andy, bureau chief of the weekly six-page paper, shot photos, filed stories, and was capable of hitting friends in his column when he felt it was necessary. Charity says Papa would come home in the dark, wet from the rain. Teddy says Papa would travel far for a story, just to put meals on the table. Everyone dies, says a weeping Joan. But not this way. All of them, all nine children who now sit in white shirts and dark glasses, dripping tears into laps, have lived through Andy’s death. How would you feel, asks Rich Andrew, if you saw your father dug out of the earth with a backhoe?

Eight-year-old Sophia does not understand why these men killed Papa. Sophia, all of 8 years old, curly-haired with swollen eyes. Papa never did anything. Papa never hurt anyone. She wants them all to die, these men. She wants them to disappear. Andy’s wife Gloria is angry. “Whoever the killers are, and I will not say their name, I hope it ends here, their power, their brutality, their viciousness. I want it to end here.” Hope is studying his Papa’s columns now. He is reading all the papers he can. He will do what he has to do, so his Papa’s work will not die with him. Hope is not afraid, what happened to his father only decided him further. He will write because he believes someone must show the good and the bad, he believes in what his father did, he will write where his father’s column used to be, the way his father used to write. Hope will begin soon. He’s only waiting for his press ID. *** With reports from Kiri Dalena. Email at pat.evangelista@ ©2009 all rights reserved