A Davao Today article by Grace S. Uddin
KAHAYAG, Compostela Valley–As far as military officials are concerned, Grecil Buya, a nine-year-old girl, was a Communist who used her M-16 Armalite rifle against soldiers engaged in a firefight with New People’s Army guerrillas in this hinterland village on March 31.
According to General Carlos Holganza, the commander of the army’s 101st Brigade whose men killed Grecil, there were indications from his men that the girl was a member of the NPA team the soldiers fought with that day. In a complaint against the NPA filed by some of the soldiers, they claimed seeing the girl holding a gun and turning it at them. That was why, they said, they were forced to fire at her.
“There are only two things to consider,” Holganza said in a phone interview with davaotoday.com, “either she was carrying the rifle herself or she was told to carry it.”
Although Holganza said they would investigate the incident, it would seem that, at this point, the military doesn’t care much for the truth, whatever it may be: it has used Grecil in its propaganda campaign against the NPA, claiming that Grecil was proof of the communists’ continuing recruitment of children and minors–a charge that the NPA has always denied.”The death of the child-warrior clearly indicates the NPA’s continuing program to recruit minors as their combatants,” Captain Jose Francis dela Fuente, a spokesman of the Army’s 8th Infantry Division (ID) based in Western Samar, was quoted in several reports as saying. The military initially reported that Grecil was 12 years old.
But in interviews with davaotoday.com last week, relatives, friends and local officials insist that Grecil was never an NPA guerrilla.
“I can testify that Grecil was not an NPA. Why? Because I was her godfather during her christening. I can witness that the child goes to school every day, has an ID and other school documents that will prove that she was a student,” said Eulogio Almasa, this village’s barangay captain. “I am 100 percent sure that she was not an NPA.”
Riza, 10, a schoolmate of Grecil’s who attended her wake, said Grecil could have received two ribbons during the graduation ceremonies last March 27 of the Simsimen Elementary School. “Her ribbons were â€˜Most Neat and Clean’ and â€˜With Honors’,” Riza said. Unfortunately, those ribbons were never pinned on Grecil because she and her mother missed the ceremonies. Three days later, should would be dead.
Grecil performed well in school but there were times that she was distracted by too much playing. Her mother, Pacita Buya, was forced to stop Grecil from attending school last year because the girl was hooked on playing, particularly spider-fighting, rather than attending classes. But, according to Pacita, she made good this year. “She wanted to be a nurse,” she said.Grecil, according to Pacita, likes dancing and singing and was fun to be with. She watched the noontime show “Wowowee” all the time and thought the show’s host, Willie Revillame, was a great artist. She would belt out such songs as “Luha” by Aegis and the song “Hawak-Kamay” by Yeng Constantino.
Grecil was the eldest of the four children of Pacita, 38, and Gregorio Galacio, 30. (The couple never married, which was why Grecil used her mother’s surname.) The family lived in a small hut in Purok 6, in barangay Kahayag. Gregorio is a tuba (coconut wine) gatherer and Pacita grows vegetables in upland areas of the village.
Grecil would have turned 10 in October. They called her “Inday,” a responsible elder sister despite her constant playing that often made her neglect her household chores. “She took care of the carabao whenever she didn’t have class,” said Candido Buya, 64, Grecil’s grandfather. Candido was at the farm when he heard the gunshots that morning.
Grecil’s father, Gregorio, had forbidden the girl and one of her six-year-old brother Gary to bathe at the stream 25 meters away the house. But the two disobeyed their father and went anyway.When shots rang out, Gregorio said he immediately gathered his childen and found only two. Pacita, who was dressing up for a trip to the town to sell the coconut wine, frantically got out of the house naked waist up.
Now shivering in fear, Pacita tried to sit by the kitchen door but Gregorio pulled her away just as three bullets hit the door. It was at that point that Gregorio decided they better run. Before leaving, Gregorio looked back to see if Grecil and Gary were emerging from the woods by the creek. But none of them came. He said he desperately wanted to run for the creek but couldn’t because of the firefight.
A neighbor said he heard Gary calling out Grecil’s name down at the creek. Gary later found his way back to family by traversing the stream. When Pacita asked him where Grecil was, Gary said he lost track of her; he called her name but she did not reply, he said.
Pacita and Gregorio thought Grecil must have went back to the house to see if her family was still there.
The parents only learned of Grecil’s fate while they were at a nearby school, where they and the other villagers had sought refuge. A neighbor happened by and told them that Grecil was dead. Minutes earlier, according to Pacita, she was hopeful that her child would turn up safe because a mother and her two children who were separated during the firefight were reunited at the school.
When the situation returned to normal at around 1 p.m., soldiers asked Almasa, the village leader and Grecil’s godfather, to fetch Grecil’s body.”I was very eager to go together with my councilors and purok leaders,” Almasa told davaotoday.com.
“In the reports,” Almasa said, “the soldiers claimed that Grecil was holding a rifle. But what I saw was only the child’s dead body and there was no M-16 found near her body.” According to him, Grecil was hit in her right elbow and in the left side of her head–her brains had been blown off.
Soldiers likewise searched Grecil’s house and said they found an M14 there. “Captain, see, you are a witness,” one of the soldiers told Almasa, who was present during the search.
But Almasa told davaotoday.com that “I am firm that the firearm found was owned by the rebel.” He added: “Once a rebel comes to your house, you cannot refuse them, just like when they leave their firearms.”
The military has likewise accused Grecil’s father of being an NPA guerrilla, which, according to the charge, explained the presence of the guerrillas in their home. “That is not true,” Gregorio told davaotoday.com. “If I were an NPA, I wouldn’t go to the police station and claim my daughter’s dead body.”
“As far as I know, the Galacio family is not well off and they work hard to make both ends meet,” Almasa said. “If Gregorio is an NPA, what will he feed his family? We all know that a rebel has no salary.”
Neighbors also said that a plastic container Gregorio was using to gather coconut wine was found in in the area where the encounter took place–proof, they said, that he was just an ordinary man trying to support his family.
The NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has been waging a Maoist revolution in the Philippine countryside for more than three decades now. According to the government, the NPA is 7,000 strong. According to the NPA, they derive support from the poor Filipinos–the masses–especially in the countryside. There have been past incidents when villagers were caught in the crossfire during armed encounters between the government and the NPA.
Gregorio found it unfair for the military to call her daughter an NPA guerrilla. He pointed out that an M-16 rifle was too heavy for her daughter to carry. A report by Mindanews last week said a picture taken by the military showed Grecil’s dead body to be as tall as the rifle beside her.
“The rifle was planted so that the military would not be embarrassed by what they had done,” said Pacita. “How could a nine-year-old child, so small, carry that? (davaotoday.com)