A worrying pattern
I wrote recently about the arrest of Dr. Natividad “Naty” Castro, a model health worker who serves the underserved. It was an effort to lend my small voice to the growing outcry that protests against unjust Red-tagging, targeting, and treatment of those who extend care to disadvantaged communities. It should disturb the reader that this column space will again be dedicated to a similar story.
Chad Booc, who would have turned 28 this year, was a volunteer teacher for the lumad. He graduated with a computer science degree from the University of the Philippines and took the road less taken when he decided to dedicate himself to teaching in lumad communities and championing their advocacies. When I followed his Twitter account some time ago, it was due to a realization that there was a lot happening to such disadvantaged communities that did not get news coverage. I reasoned that while I couldn’t actively be present for such communities, to know about their struggles was the bare minimum I could do.
Booc used to post about life with the lumad. He used to talk about getting frustrated with students who were getting left behind, only to be reminded how much these students had on their plates — poverty, disenfranchisement, trauma. He used to talk about stories of harassment, murders, and arrests of community leaders and civilians, and the mundanity of having to live with these realities day-to-day. He was a young person who reflected the same hunger shown by so many of the youth on social media these days — a hunger to magnify voices that are not easily heard, a hunger to change things for children who deserve better. He was braver than so many of us armchair activists who fight our battles on social media. He had done what is unthinkable for many, and turned his back on a lucrative career to serve others. One can’t help but remember others who have walked similar paths, like Dr. Naty Castro herself.
Booc and his colleagues were repeatedly Red-tagged and targeted during their years of work. The government has repeatedly tagged lumad schools as fronts for the New People’s Army. He was one of five who were killed by state forces on Feb. 24 in Davao de Oro. According to the Army, the deaths were a result of a series of “armed encounters” with a “communist terrorist group.” The Communist Party of the Philippines has denied that the five victims were members. Residents have also denied that there was an armed clash. The Save Our Schools Network in Cebu has denied that Booc and colleagues were rebels or were ever armed, and stated that the five victims had been sent to Davao de Oro to do community research.
Much of the concern raised about the killings of the “New Bataan 5” has to do with the lack of investigation: that the public is expected to accept the military’s one-sided account of events as fact. Forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun, whose autopsy report of Booc was released last week, decried the lack of opportunity to investigate the scene and the state of the other four victims. Other news sources have also pointed toward other questionable details: the severed limbs of one victim and the peeled-off skin of another. Many groups have expressed their outrage at the lack of due process, fair trial, and lawful arrest that characterize this worrying pattern of Red-tagging incidents. After these deaths, the unanswered questions have prompted more calls for a thorough and impartial investigation.
Detachment is difficult. There is sadness and bewilderment that someone so young, who was so vital to the life of his underserved community, is now gone. The “culture of impunity” and “culture of violence” are no mere monikers. It is hair-raising that in the comments section for news stories about Booc’s death and autopsy, there are thousands of “laugh” reactions, callous comments poking fun at the victims who “deserved” the treatment, satisfied at one-sided accounts, scornful toward those who should have been deemed innocent until proven guilty. It’s just as troubling that the possibility of being Red-tagged and targeted accordingly is such a real and present threat—that a fruitful life, full of service, could so easily be cut short: denied due process at its conclusion, and denied due investigation in the aftermath.
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