Fifteen-year old Kennedy Abello should have been in his second year in high school now in his hometown in Guinyangan, province of Quezon.
However, he and two other school boys his age were forced to stop schooling as they face murder, frustrated murder and rebellion charges at the Municipal Trial Court in Calauag, same province.
ï¿½Ano ba yun?ï¿½ was all that Kennedy could muster to say when asked about the cases filed against them.
Kennedy, Joey Imperial and Jefferson Paraiso, all 15 years old, are young coconut farmers. They walk one-and-a-half hours from their hometown in Guinyangan to Barangay Pisipis in Lopez, Quezon to gather coconuts for copra.
They sell copra for P12 a kilo or P600 per sack to traders in Guinyangan. Sixty percent of their earnings go directly to their landlord while the boys share the rest of the 40 percent. On the average, Kennedy said they take home P150 each for four days work.
On June 7, the boys woke up at 2 a.m. and started gathering coconuts in Barangay Pisipis. At around 6 a.m., the three, together with their relatives Hildert Imperial, 19, Fernando Torres, 43, and Nonilon Paro, were almost done with their dayï¿½s work when they heard a gunshot from nearby.
At first, Kennedy said they did not bother to check what it was.
ï¿½Hindi kami umalis kasi kailangan namin hakutin ang niyog para maibenta,ï¿½ he said. ï¿½Malapit na kasi ang pasukan, kailangan namin ng pang-enroll.ï¿½
However, they started to pack their belongings when a series of gunfire ensued.
ï¿½Sinako na namin yung niyog. Hinila na ni Joey yung kalabaw,ï¿½ Kennedy said of what he could remember.
They waited for about two hours for the gunfight to subside before they decided to walk to Guinyangan to sell their copra.
Media reports said an encounter ensued between soldiers from the 76th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IB PA) and New Peopleï¿½s Army guerrillas in the said town.
The group was headed for the town proper when soldiers stopped them.
ï¿½Tinawag kami ng mga sundalo tapos pinadapa kami at pinagapang papalapit sa kanila,ï¿½ the young boy said.
The soldiers beat up the six coconut farmers as soon as they got close. ï¿½Pinatayo kami, tinutukan ng baril, sinuntok at sinipa,ï¿½ Kennedy said.
Kennedy said the soldiers then forced him and Joey to carry backpacks while Torres and Paro had to carry a generator each on their backs.
Meanwhile, Kennedy said the soldiers used the farmersï¿½ wooden cart to carry the body of a soldier who was shot dead during the encounter.
The six were then forced inside a military truck and brought to the Calauag Municipal Hall where they were detained on charges of murder, frustrated murder and rebellion.
Kennedy, Joey and Jefferson are now out on bail while the three adults are still detained.
On July 14, soldiers set-up a military detachment in the village hall of Brgy. Mal-ay, Lopez, Quezon, a report from Karapatan said. This was after a fact-finding mission team led by Karapatan stayed in the village from June 7 to 14.
The team responded to the residents of the villages of Pansol and Calantipayan in Lopez town and the villages of San Vicente, Binangbang, Cawayanan and Camohaguin in Gumaca town who asked for support against rights abuses of soldiers conducting counter-insurgency operations in the area. Villagers reported to Karapatan that soldiers tagged them as NPA members and pressured them to surrender at the army detachment.
Some 200 soldiers from Mindanao were deployed in Mal-ay village to augment the 16th IB PA. The soldiers began a census on July 16, and required residents to submit pictures of family members.
Dorris Cuario, Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of Peoplesï¿½ Rights) secretary general for Southern Tagalog reported the arrest of 16 civilians in Brgy. Veronica, Lopez, Quezon at 3 p.m., July 18. Soldiers arrested the 16 after another firefight with NPA guerrillas in the village on that day.
As of presstime, only 11 individuals have been named. They are: a certain Buenvenido, Arven Malinao, Vicente Malinao, Jayson Argodo, Gena Soriano, Edmund Cuaresma, Norman Musa, Nono Nocito, Wald Gimenez, Emo Lucito and a young 12-year old girl, Mae Argodo.
Initial reports from Karapatan said those arrested were brought to the 201st IBPA in Brgy. Silang, Calauag, Quezon, where Karapatan members were able to talk to the 11.
Cuario reported that the victims were taken pictures while they wore nameplates and were forced to sign blank documents. Soldiers took the victimsï¿½ five axes, rice, six chickens and a dog.
They were then brought to the detachment of the 76th IBPA in Sitio Ibul, Brgy. San Francisco, Lopez, Quezon. There, they were again forced to sign blank documents, Cuario added.
Quezon province is one of the priority areas named by the military when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared an ï¿½all-out warï¿½ against the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the NPA.
However, Cuario reported that most of the victims are innocent civilians or known activists in their region. From 2001, Karapatan-ST has recorded 137 killed and 24 disappeared. Eight of those killed were human rights workers.
Residents in villages where new military detachments have been set up complained that their movements in their communities have been restricted because of the military presence, Cuario said. Most of the farmers said they could not go their farms while students are afraid to go out and play.
For Kennedy, Joey and Jefferson, their studies will have to wait as they have seeked refuge in a religious institution in Manila. ï¿½Natatakot kami umuwi. Hindi muna kami mag-aaral hanggat hindi tapos ang kaso,ï¿½ Kennedy said. (Bulatlat)