A widow's search for justice

A few years ago, after attending a national summit on extrajudicial killings sponsored by the Philippine Supreme Court, I received a request from a friend to render assistance for the early resolution of the murder of Pepe Macagne, a militant peasant organizer in Northern Luzon.

Pepe’s death was one of the hundreds of unsolved murders committed under the blood-stained Oplan Bantay Laya of the heartless Armed Forces of the Philippines, which was notorious for being the private army of the shameless ex-Philippine Pres. Gloria Arroyo whose 9-year despotic rule was as equally horrendous and violent as the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’.

Pepe’s poor widow, Dom-an Florence Macagne, to this day continues to search for justice.

Below is a recent article she wrote in memory of her beloved husband.

I AM SORRY : An Open Letter from a Widow on Senseless Killings

To my fellow widows, I am sorry. I do not know if this message will bring you solace at this point time. Yet, it is my hope that someday it could help heal the deep wounds of war and violence we share in common as we live on. I am a widow like you.

To my gentleman friend soldier who informed me of another tragedy , I am sorry for the loss of lives of your comrades in the battlefield of this gory senseless war that I continue to abhor.
To the mothers, to the fathers, to the friends, to the brothers and sisters of the noble people whose blood were spilled over our greed and war torn motherland, I am sorry.

To the equally fiery warriors who staged the ambush near the mighty Chico River in the Mountain Province, Northern Philippines last July 9, 2010 and those who intend to do so, I am sorry. Nobody wins in bloody wars. I deeply lament that these killings continue.

To the children who witness, experience and ask endless questions about the senselessness of wars and all the violence around you, I am sorry. May you someday realize the answers.

I know that there are no words enough to express all the pain and sadness that the tragic deaths of our loved ones has brought upon us. Not so long ago, I too buried the bullet riddled body of my husband who died of 22-gunshot wounds from the weapon of death of a merciless assassin.
Pepe, my comprehensive friend, husband and father of my children was a peaceful loving gentle person who wrote his thoughts and spoke his opinions being critical to those who cause and are indifferent to the suffering of the common people. He lived up to what he preached, a simple happy life together with his family and befriended people from all walks of life not for self-aggrandizement but with an admirable selflessness and sense of service.

Yet, in 2005, at the height of the Oplan Bantay Laya military campaign and a time when democratic civil governance was once again at its lowest ebb in the country, he was labeled a terrorist, an enemy of the State and placed in a dreadful ‘list for order of battle’ . He was extra-judicially executed. Police investigation identified Philippine Army Captain Joel Castro as the assassin. Castro pleaded not guilty and was subsequently promoted in rank, the witness backed off out of fear and the case did not see trial.

With equal indignation over the senseless killings of kindred people like Pepe, I too join the voices of those who feel aggrieved over the deaths of the soldiers who were caught amidst the insanity of warmongering campaigns leading to endless tragedies and loss of lives, shattered hopes and dreams.

Yet, I am equally sad that the sentiments over such tragedy is being played up and exploited to justify the equally disturbing intensified presence of battle-ready military men amidst the peaceful communities of Mountain Province and elsewhere in the Cordillera. That at the same time that the military are active, mining companies as well as corporate commercial tourism are also staking their quests to exploit and extract resources over our ancestral lands further compromising the remaining watershed in Northern Luzon and fuelling restiveness and discord amongst our people.

I also find viciously scheming the continued drumbeating of the name of a cultural creative who is now labeled and broadcasted as a terrorist leader. Artus Talastas, as I and Pepe have known him is a softspoken compassionate artist with unwavering commitment for the protection and assertion of sovereignty not only of his homeland in Mountain Province but the wider Cordillera and the country as a whole. He grew up with a loving grandfather, a WW II veteran as both his parents died while he was a child. His father and art mentor was the first architect graduate from the Cordillera who then served as hospital administrator.
Artus is no stranger with the indigenous peoples struggle to keep the historic Chico River flowing. He is mindful of collective efforts of the community and wide network of advocates to keep aggressive corporate mining, megadams and other exploitative projects out of the region. He also wept as civilian peacepact holders, youth leaders, healers, farmer leaders, development workers who stood up against such menace were demonized, killed, disappeared, tortured and imprisoned in the banner of government anti-terrorism and anti-insurgency campaigns.

The last time I had a chance to talk with Artus, I learned he sought refuge in the mountains when he was placed under military surveillance after a peoples peaceful assembly in Baguio City against the Philippine Mining Act of 1995. I could still remember how media attention was focused on him holding a burning garland of flowers offered by then Pres. Fidel V. Ramos as a sign of goodwill yet symbolically rejected because the issue was a life and death concern for the indigenous peoples asserting self-determination.

Artus also narrated how he heard voluntary stories of the soldiers who bombed and burned forests and ricefields even at the height of drought in the early part of 2010 while food security and climate change are pressing issues of the times.

I tried to explore his opinions about the peace process and how those who have joined the rebels think of reintegration to civilian life. ‘Yes, the peace process should go on. Many would like to rejoin civilian life safely without having to go through the process of surrendering to the military, he responded pensively.’ This allowed me to catch a silver line of hope, elusive as the holy grail of peace it may be.

Now, while I sing lullabies and tell stories to children amidst these challenging times, I pray... may they someday run along to soar with eagles, swim in flowing rivers and bathe in cascading waterfalls, dance with the dragonflies along the rice fields and fill the air with their laughters. For then, the great Spirit of the warriors soldiers or rebels together and many other young men and women as well as elders that now blend with this mighty river shall chant in joyful chorus.
Let it be my sacred tribute to these noble souls to see these children grow up to their dreams of happiness and peace, bearing the wisdom of their roots, weaving a life of courage, integrity and dignity wherever they may be... just as I was nurtured by my great mentors of life.

It is not easy, yet I maintain a nonviolence and a nonvindictive stance as I also continue to be critical of militaristic so-called peace campaigns while I continue to pursue restorative justice and accountability along the peace and healing process.
Lastly, I continue to play my bamboo nose flute to serenade war weary souls as well as love hungry beings to walk along the path of truth, peace and healing amidst the turbulence.

Indeed, it is worth all the gold in the world to give a chance for that peace that we attain when we set aside our own hurts, our own grievances for a moment… for the sake of knowledge and understanding… for love, life and liberty we so covet.

As we breath kasiyana… kasiyana… let us rise up from where we fall, embrace the path of light, glow and grow with a golden heart… forever…

*kasiyana is indigenous Kankana-ey word in Northern Luzon Philippines that when invoked in times of pain and turmoil invokes a three fold process of healing a) recognizing the woundedness b) evoking hope c) undertaking humane loving action to ensure healing and growth.

Dom-an Florence Macagne. Kasiyana Peace and Healing Initiatives . kasiyanaphi@yahoo.com. Sagada, Mountain Province, Philippines . July 21, 2010
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