NEW YORK CITY — When Filipina Celma Dumaguing accepted a friend’s invitation to join a Facebook group of an organization supposedly advocating women’s issues in the Philippines, she was sure she was doing the right thing — giving back to her motherland by supporting various women’s causes.
But reading too much hate posts against the government and the members’ “unnecessary call to action to rally against the state” in that Facebook group made her doubt its sincerity, triggering her decision to leave the group.
Thirsty for the truth, Dumaguing was among the Filipinos who trooped to the Consulate General of the Philippines here on Tuesday, after learning that some indigenous people’s (IP) leaders were here to “break their silence” on the atrocities of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).
“Para akong naliwanagan (I feel like I was enlightened). I did not know that the group I joined in Facebook was among those supporting the communist terrorists our IP leaders were saying,” she said, after hearing their stories.
Dumaguing said the tribal leaders’ speaking tour here left Filipinos in awe, as most of them, she said, were unaware of the true happenings in the IP communities.
“Their visit here is significant because I am now aware of the groups destroying them. At least nalalaman ng mga tao (at least the people know), that is what’s important.” Dumaguing said.
Come out in the open
The tribal leaders, who have been getting death threats for speaking about the deception and harassments posed by the communist terrorist groups before the international community, expressed their commitment to continue the fight that they have started.
Joel Innocencio, president of Filipino community group Patriotic Filipinos, said while it was not the first time he heard about the stories of the IP leaders, he said he was not surprised that the people who attended reacted the way he did the first time he heard them.
“They came out in the open with the truth, based on their experience, based on (what they experienced about the) deception and lies by the Reds,” he said.
Not just IPs’ woes
“The problem of the IPs is not theirs alone, its a problem of all Filipinos. Whatever happens in their ancestral domains affects peace and order, and it has a domino effect,” he added.
New York-based Filipina Juliet Payabyab said she felt surprised after hearing the IP leaders’ challenges in fighting the armed insurgency movement in their ancestral domains.
“They are the ones experiencing it. Personally, now I understand. The audience, the community here, they are interested because we only see them in the newspaper,” Payabyab said.
Disseminate the truth
Raphael Emperado, on the other hand, vowed to help rally the Filipino community in New York to listen to the stories of the IP leaders.
“We will help disseminate the story of our IP leaders. Importante malaman ng mga kababayan natin (It’s important for our countrymen here to know about their stories),” he said.
Presidential Communications Operations Office Undersecretary Lorraine Marie Badoy, for her part, called on the Filipino communities here to take an active role in voicing out the true stories back home.
“Check your sources, educate yourselves. It just hurts too much to hear these ignorances,” she said.
“Dumating na ang panahon ng CPP-NPA, tulungan nating ihayag ang kwento ng mga IP leaders (The time of the CPP-NPA has come. Let’s help our IP leaders’ stories be heard),” she added.
During the conference, some of the IP leaders, who were part of the armed rebellion before, said they became first-hand witnesses of how oppression and deception strangled tribe members to death.
Datu Ramon Bayaan, who was with the NPA for three years, said apart from killing thousands of traditional leaders who oppose their ideology and replacing them with revolutionary chieftains, they systematically deceived the IPs.
“Pagkahuman nilang makuha ang mga komunidad, ang mga kadtong traditional leader sa amoa, dili na nila pansinon. Kaya ang ila gihimo, mag-organize, magpili sila ug chairman (After they get the trust of the community, they would snub the traditional leaders. What they do is they organize and choose a new chairman), he said.
Datu Awing Maraan Apuga, on the other hand, said he was trained to become a child warrior by the NPA, eventually becoming a teacher of the Salugpungan school.
“Habang tinuturuan akong magsulat at magbasa, tinuturuan na nila akong maghawak ng baril, paano mag-target kung may kaaway (While they were teaching me how to read and write, they would teach me how to handle guns, how to target enemies if a fight ensues),” he said.
The tribal leaders are making their way across the United States — from New York to Chicago, California and Washington DC — to call on the international community to hear their plight back home.
The CPP-NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines. (Rom Dulfo, Philippine News Agency)