Three days of ‘People Power’, Pablo survivors’ version

Mar. 01, 2013

But they held on, persisted, and never lost hope. On the cold road, under the harsh heat and damp, they waited. They had nothing but themselves, arms extending over each other for strength and solidarity, and hearts filled with hopes and dreams for life to be better.


Davao Today

Davao City, Philippines — It was a day that Davao City has not seen for many years: thousands of people barricading the streets, storming the gates, not of a palace, but a cold edifice where government kept what is supposed to be due them.

A phalanx of police tore through their ranks with their truncheons, lashing on people who tried to load on their backs the food packs they had hoped would at least give them something to last for a few days.

The relief goods that Pablo victims had longed for were at hand, only for a moment, as this slipped away, taken back from them by brute force.

But they held on, persisted, and never lost hope. On the cold road, under the harsh heat and damp, they waited. They had nothing but themselves, arms extending over each other for strength and solidarity, and hearts filled with hopes and dreams for life to be better.

This is the tale of the Pablo victims barricaders, this is a tale of a city who never welcomed them, except for a few who embraced them and held vigil with them as they wait for an interregnum.

Day One, Monday, February 25. Thousands of them braved the road from the Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental, provinces whose once green uplands, hills and mountains were ripped up in a flash by a storm that destroyed many lives, farms and their future.

More than 80 days of waiting in vain for government aid drove them to come before the gates where government has kept food relief that they were supposed to be receiving.

An estimated 5,000 had started massing up that night at the gates of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) regional office. Their only demand: that the officials of the government who have promised last January to give them relief of 10,000 sacks of rice will face them in a dialogue.

A night passed, hours trickled by and nothing came.

Day Two, Tuesday. When the gates of the DSWD opened just in time before the noonday sun started to strike, they barged through the gates, right into the warehouse where sacks of relief food packs were kept.

Men, women, young and old alike, including the children, rammed through the gates of the DSWD and came out like ants, loading on their backs goods, the basics in a poor man’s cupboard – noodles, biscuits, sardines, rice and soap.

What they thought they could finally bring home was however gone in a few hours, snatched away by police who did not only take away the goods from them, but also struck them with truncheons as though they were thieves.

Looters they were called, but for the Pablo victims, they cannot steal what is essentially theirs.

Tears and blood fell, wails and screams and outpourings of indignation filled the sad afternoon air, as they huddled back together on a portion of Damazo Suazo street, regrouped, and tried to muster any courage left to decide whether to continue or abandon the fight. At least eight, including an 11-year-old child sustained wounds from the beatings.

DSWD regional director Priscilla Razon had refused to come out the tall gates of her office to face the protesters. She insisted that the barricaders produce a master list of names of the Pablo survivors first before they release the 10,000 sacks of rice they promised to the group last January.

Another night fell.

Day Three, Wednesday. Public support poured in. As nuns and the religious came to offer prayers and lit candles to lift heavy hearts, lawyers faced the media to defend the protesters, affirming the correctness of their actions.

Some well-meaning individuals donated 220 sacks of rice to the victims. Some, like members of the media union of a radio station also came to the picket line and offered water.

“The incident showed that the people’s frustration and the cumulative anger have pushed them to the wall and they will do what they need to do to claim what is rightfully theirs,” the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao Davao chapter declared in a press conference that day.

“This is not a question of legality; it is a question of justice and human rights,” the UPLM Davao said as they defended the protesters from threats of police and DSWD officials to file cases against the protesters for “looting” and creating “public disturbance.”

“The state has an obligation to address the grievances of its people, and ensure the safe guarantee of the people’s right to food, shelter, and freedom of expression,” the UPLM pointed out in response.

Before midday struck, violence broke again when protesters spotted a man with a gun who tried to break their ranks. The protesters mobbed the man and confiscated an automatic pistol from him.

Police however picked up two protesters in the scuffle and brought them to detention, on accusation that the two protesters were trying to fight back the anti-riot policemen.

City Mayor Sara Duterte had ordered the police to break off the barricade because “she did not like what they did.” She also gave orders to the police “to use the right amount of force” against those who would resist.

The protesters however, persisted in their protest against the threats of the Mayor.

No word yet from the DSWD officials, until late in the afternoon a DSWD officer contacted a social worker supportive of the barricading Pablo survivors and said director Razon, together with DSWD assistant secretary Camilo Gudmalin, and others were now open to discuss with the victims.

A deal was struck late in the evening, after four long hours of negotiations. Finally, the DSWD agreed to give the 10,000 sacks of rice, among others. They also committed to providing relief provisions until June.

Cheers of jubilation were finally heard. The protesters decided to leave the barricade as they were welcomed to take shelter for a night in the facilities offered by the Assumption School of Davao, a school run by nuns.

Day Four, Thursday. They were all packed up and eager to go home with the good news to their families, if only for one thing: they could not go until they bailed out two of their colleagues who were detained by the police the previous day.

The protesting Pablo survivors who spent the night at the Assumption School of Davao decided to walk the stretch of Cabaguio going to Magsaysay Park where the buses were waiting to take them back to their homes.

The protesters decided to pass by the Sta. Ana Police Station, near the Magsaysay Park to check on their two fellow protesters were detained. But before they were able to reach the police station, police were already blocking the road.

The police practically cordoned off the protesters leaving them trapped in the middle of the road. Davao police chief Ronaldo dela Rosa declared that they could not allow the protesters to proceed to the police station and assemble again.

Another standoff ensued. The police held on to their phalanx while the protesters remain perched on the ground hungry and sweltering in the heat. Already exhausted from the three days ordeal, many of them had wanted to go home, if only their two colleagues were released.

Dela Rosa meanwhile maintained that they will release the two only if all of the protesters have left the city, which means heading towards Panabo City in the north, which is still an hour away from where they were standing along Leon Garcia street.

The police released the two of their detained colleagues, upon the intercession of human rights lawyer Carlos Isagani Zarate, who accompanied the two towards Panabo where they united with their colleagues who still waited for them even it was already mid afternoon.

Sweet taste of victory

“Mouli na lang gani mi, ingon-anaon pa gyud mi. Gipanggutom na gud mi, gipangnerbyos pa gyud naay mga sniper nakapaliton sa amo (They still treat us like this even as we are finally leaving.  We are hungry, we are scared because of snipers training their guns on us),said Karlos Trangia of Barug Katawhan, the group of survivors that spearheaded the barricade.

They were thankful that their demand of 10,000 sacks of rice will finally be released in the next four months. However, their only regret was that they were made to undergo such difficult ordeal that put their lives in danger.

“Bangis gyud diay ang gobyerno (The government is really harsh),” Tina, a young Matigsalug woman from Barangay Mangayon in Compostela Valley said. “Gidugay guday gyud mi, gilisod lisod gyud ang katawhan.  Gibulad pa nila og adlaw una nila gihatag ang gikinihanglan (They made delays and made things difficult for us.  They made us wait under the sun before giving us what we wanted),” lamented Tina.

“Sa karon, nagpasalamat mi kay ilahang gihatag ang ilang gisaad sa amoa. Nalipay ang uban ani, ang uban nagpabilin pa gihapon nga nagsubo tungod sa mga kaguliyang kagahapon (For now, we are thankful they gave what they promised. Some are happy, while others grieved for what happened the other day,” Datu Matunao, a Matigsalug leader said.

The 10,000 sacks of rice, according to the protesting Pablo survivors would last not even a month. But, in a situation where they almost have no harvest and no recourse, it was better than nothing.

“Nalipay mi sa kadaugan bisan ingon-ani lang. Among napamatud-an nga naa gyud diay tay mahimo kung magkahiusa lang ta (We are happy for what we won even if it is just this much. We showed that we can do something if we get to act together),” Nanay Auring a resident of Compostela said.

“Kung kwentahon tanan, gikan sa kahago, pildi man gyud mi. Pero daug mi sa pagpakita nga ang katungod sa katawhan, ihatag ra kini sa gobyerno kung kini pakigbisugan. Magpaabot mi ug hantud dili nila matuman ang ilang mga saad, padayon namong angkunon ang among hiniusang gahum, ang gahum sa katawhan nga magkahiusa ug moalsa arun lamang maangkon ang angay lang unta nga ilaha  (I can’t say that we got our fair share with all the efforts we gave.  But in the end we won by struggling it out for government to give us our rights. We shall wait for them, and if they can’t deliver their promise, we will continue to assert our power, our people power to get what is due to us),” Trangia’s Barug Katawhan said. (Kenette Jean I. Millondaga, Irene V. Dagudog,




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