Story no. 3 on war orphans. Back half a century ago, in the 1970s, a counter-insurgency war against the New People’s Army (NPA), communist rebel army, was raging all over Mindanao. I was in Kidapawan, covering a human barricade of farmers against the bulldozers of a company backed up by the military in a protracted land dispute. It was here that I stumbled on an orphanage of children who were victims of war.
eastwind journals, May 1, 2022 (archives tr72)
By Bernie V. Lopez, firstname.lastname@example.org
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The human rights lawyer of the farmers working pro bono, my host, put me in the orphanage house. Shirley, the young woman in charge was all alone, taking care of about 30 children of varying age. She seemed so calm even as the kids were rowdy and noisy. She said that to leave them alone was ‘therapy’.
When I woke up in the morning, Shirley warned me that there was a military jeep outside, charged with looking after me, a stakeout where they showed themselves visibly as a psyche-war. But Shirley assured me I would not be touched. It was ‘standard protocol’ for Manila-based journalists covering issues there. I was naturally identified with the ‘left’, hosted by the ‘leftist’ lawyer for the farmers. For the military, ‘left’ was a generic term which included all who spoke out in protest.
Shirley introduced me to the boys, aged 5 to 17, giving a quick background of how they became victims of war. I interviewed some briefly and was in tears. Prominent in her stories was a six-year-old boy named Teban. His dad was identified by the military as an ‘NPA supporter. Often, on mere suspicion, or if farmers could not refuse the request of rebels for some food, they were considered ‘NPA supporters’. They were caught in between the violent war between the soldiers and the rebels.
There was one case where a farmer, in a feud with another, spread rumors that the other was an ‘NPA supporter’. Intel was sometimes unreliable, arbitrary, and based on hearsay. The more frequent the encounters with a lot of casualties on both sides, the easier it was for intel to degrade.
This was the story of Teban to the human rights lawyer, as retold by Shirley. The soldiers came in the dead of night to the hut of Teban’s family. Without warning, they open-fired, the Armalite bullets easily penetrating the soft nipa walls. Teban’s father was hit instantly on both knees. Realizing he would be lame and useless to support his family, he killed his entire family with his bolo, the wife, and three children, including Teban, before committing suicide. The father hacked them in the dark as they lay huddled together on the floor. Teban alone survived with multiple wounds.
The other orphan kids had basically the same story, witnesses surviving the massacres of their families. That orphanage was home to these traumatized children of war. Shirley had a hard time with her flock of war children. She was not a psychiatrist who specialized in trauma. All she did was cuddle them and feed them, which was the best therapy she could give.
Funding for the orphanage came from supportive Japanese human rights lawyers, but they were running out of money. They could not sustain financial support. The kids could not stay forever. They had to be released to the world, to their relatives, otherwise the children of war would pile up at the orphanage. Going back to Kidapawan after a few years, I visited the orphanage again. There was a new set of kids except for a few. Shirley said Teban was now a teenage jeepney driver and a good mechanic. Time healed the deep wounds of war, but Shirley said they would turn fresh again when the kids who had grown up would see armed soldiers. The war finally dissipated through the years and the orphanage was closed. But Teban lingers in my subconscious even today as I write this from memory. Everywhere in the world, children are often the largest casualties of war.
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