DIGOS CITY, Davao del Sur – Survivors of the June 25, 1989 massacre on Friday marked its 32nd anniversary through a tribute with national and local officials and unveiling of a monument and peace hall in Barangay Binaton here.
One of the survivors, Nelly Ayap-Digal who was 15-years-old during the tragedy, vividly remembers that they gathered that morning for worship at the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) in Sitio Rano Barangay Binaton.
She said about 73 members of the Bagobo-Tagabawa tribe were attending the Mass when her uncle came and warned them that heavily armed New People’s Army (NPA) rebels headed by ‘Kumander Bensar’ were approaching.
“We did not listen to him, we continued worshipping and later on, we heard a gunshot. They (NPA) killed my uncle. We ran and hid in a nearby house but they fired at us. I saw my relatives and neighbors killed and soaked in their own blood,” Digal said in the vernacular, adding that her nephew was one of them.
“I was hit in the head and in my spine. I was then rushed to the hospital,” she recalled.
The tragedy left 39 people – 22 children, 10 women, and seven men – killed on the spot.
“It pains me every time I think about it. However, I still thank God that I am alive and have recovered from the incident,” she added.
Meanwhile, Helen Dominguez, one of the survivors who lost five family members on that fateful day, narrated that some of them managed to run away and go into hiding while the others, including her family, were left behind and mercilessly shot dead by Bensar’s group.
“I ran and hid through the squash plants with my four-year-old child and prayed to God that we are spared from harm. I heard people screaming and begging for help but Besnar ordered his men to fire at them,” she said in the vernacular.
She added that NPA rebels went to three houses near the chapel and killed everyone who was caught hiding.
After three hours of killing spree, the group went back to the UCCP chapel and started singing and laughing about the carnage. Sensing that the perpetrators already left, Dominguez and her child stood up and saw bloodied dead bodies.
She cannot describe her anguish when she saw the lifeless body of her pastor husband who was beheaded by the communist group.
“They beheaded my husband. I lost five members of my family. You just don’t know how painful it is,” Dominguez said.
Mayor Josef Fortich Cagas said the city government allocated a PHP100,000 budget for the annual commemoration of the incident.
He said the families of the victims were also provided with livelihood programs, as well as scholarship grants for their children.
Cagas vowed to put a memorial marker on the exact site where the massacre happened.
“We will make sure to establish it before our term ends in June next year,” he said.
He added that the tragedy will be forever etched in the Digoseños’ hearts and a constant reminder for them to be strong and fearless.
“As we seek justice for the victims, let us honor their deaths in strengthening our stand against terrorism, criminality, and insurgency,” he said.
Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Undersecretary Lorraine Marie T. Badoy, who personally attended the commemoration, said the 1989 incident is a manifestation that the government was not helping to address the needs of the people.
“I guess the government during that time has not responded to your needs, that is why the presence of these killers (NPA) are everywhere,” she said.
Badoy, who is also National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict spokesperson, vowed that the Duterte administration would do everything to protect the welfare of the indigenous peoples.
“You know, at the end of the day, the President will always say there's only one thing that the people want from a public servant, and that is to serve. You just serve. That's what the President says if you want this (insurgency) to end," she added.
Rano Monument and Hall of Peace
As part of the Rano massacre commemoration, the Bagobo-Tagabawa tribe unveiled the Rano Monument in Rimpong Tribal Village, Barangay Binaton, in memory of the 39 victims.
It was organized by the Kapiid Ka Banua (KKBI) Tribal Council and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), symbolizing the people’s strong condemnation of the Communist Party of the Philipines (CPP) - NPA and its terrorist acts.
Davao artist Kublai Millan designed the memorial and the Vale Kasunayan (Hall of Peace) depicting life, renewal, and transformation of the said tribe after the painful massacre.
“We remember those who were massacred through the dead leaf that is bigger than all of us. It looms above all and invites us to walk under it and see the cross beneath these giant dead leaf. The names are there to be known and remembered by all, and the words of anger and grief are immortalized,” Milan said.
He added that part of the monument is a sprouting leaf that symbolizes new life.
“Then as we look up to this new leaf, we see it forming the shape of a dove – the symbol of peace. It’s an invitation to all those who come over to experience the culture of Bagobo-Tagabawa to bring peace in their hearts,” Millan added.
He, however, clarified that the whole complex not just becomes a venue to remember but to transform from the violence of the past.
“We strive not just to remember, but to bring transformative justice to the lives laid to waste by an ideology whose foundation is violence and whose aim is to destroy. As has been defined, transformative justice seeks to respond to violence without creating more violence, and it is a collective act and mindset by the community,” Millan said. (PNA)