Shot at on Good Friday
Easter people, how do we survive a war without looking away? I could not look away from a friend who was shot four times in the chest. One bullet hit his left lung; three barely missed his vital organs. He is alive but in pain, and fears for his life.
This wounded ExO (executive officer) of Barangay 188 is confined in a small private room in a public hospital. His wife, worried about finances, at first asked that he be moved to a ward. But he is safer where he is because a hired gun might be lurking to finish the job.
He is a Muslim, an active and inspiring leader of the Muslim-Christian Peacemakers’ Association (MCPA), and a war veteran.
First it was the war on poverty. Now 42, he is fighting to feed his family and put his three young boys through school. He accepted a job as ExO of their barangay and was earning P6,000 a month for this lowest-level law enforcement position. It offered no social security and PhilHealth benefits. He took it anyway, and his family got by with his efforts and those of his enterprising wife, who sold trinkets on the side.
Then came the war on drugs. His job demanded that he accompany policemen conducting “tokhang” operations in the community, which meant “knocking” on—often “knocking down”—doors of the homes of suspected drug users/pushers, and forcing them out to confess to their deeds without benefit of due process. The ExO could not refuse. It was part of his job.
His wife later told me he feared giving up on it because the family depended on his income. He also feared that the police might turn against his family, and they would suffer the victims’ fate.
The ExO and his companions were on their way home in an open van on the night of Good Friday when everything was still. Four men suddenly appeared on a dark downhill slope on the road. One stopped in front of the van. Another came close and said in a loud voice: “Siya nga ito (He’s the one)!” They were looking for him, and found him.
Always ready with his gun, the ExO rose from his seat. The man standing in front of him began firing at him, and he fired back. The gunman, still firing, backed away. A bullet grazed the right eye of the driver, and hit both his arms. The driver stepped on the gas even as he was fainting. The van careened forward. It screeched past the entrance to their community, and then the ExO also lost consciousness.
Onlookers milled around the vehicle, curious and fearful, but did not help. The two barangay tanod who were riding at the back of the van alighted and ran to the ExO’s home to call his wife. She screamed for help. A neighbor, an active woman leader of the MCPA, ran with her to the van.
The woman leader of the MCPA gathered all her strength to lift the bleeding and unconscious ExO. Still, no one moved to help, or to offer a vehicle to take them to the hospital.
But another woman came to the rescue. She hurriedly got her pedicab (which she used to deliver water around the village), helped lift the ExO into it, and pedaled with all her might to the hospital three kilometers away!
I was at the hospital on Easter Sunday. The day before, Black Saturday, the ExO turned 42. Of course, he could not eat, and he groaned in pain. I wanted to look away, but could not.
The gunmen were Christians, the ExO told me. His wife, who is Christian, worried even more for his life.
I went to visit the wounded driver in the ward. “Namatay si Kristo, pero nabuhay kami (Christ died, but we lived),” he said to me. I was startled because I had thought he was Muslim. His mother, who was by his side, said he was new in his job, and that the hospital’s doctors would not remove the bullet from his right arm until the family produced P15,000 for the surgery.
Before leaving, I gave the little cash I had with me and apologized for the small amount. The mother ran after me down the hall, asked for my name and thanked me.
This story is not new. It is happening daily in many places. Many of us shrug our shoulders and look away. I wish I could. But they are too close to me to be ignored. They are my fellow peacemakers.
Marites Guingona Africa is the founder and executive director of The Peacemakers’ Circle Foundation Inc. She teaches Muslim-Christian dialogue for nation-building at Ateneo de Manila University.
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