Why they flee sitio Bermuda

Jun. 12, 2008

Davao City–Somewhere in Bankerohan, in a compound still shady with trees, three-week-old Vermon Autan sleeps soundly on a mat in the bottom bunk of the dormitory-type room that he shares with his parents and four other siblings.

The place is not his home.

But crying only when he wants milk from his mother, Vermon looks at peace. He shows no sign of being scarred from the journey that his parents and the rest of his Ata-Manobo tribesmen took from their home in sitio Bermuda on May 12.

How he came upon this place was a long story.

It started in the afternoon of May 2, before Vermon was born, when his father, Allan Autan, 33, was on his way home to their village in Purok 4-B, Barangay Mangayon, in the municipality of Compostela. Allan was with his brother Jennis, 19.

They had spent several hours cutting down four trees. They planned to sell the lumber to furniture makers to tide their family over while waiting for the profit from the rice that was yet to ripen.

Allan especially needed emergency money because his wife was about to give birth to Vermon, their fifth child.

A few meters from their village, the brothers were startled when they looked up and saw two uniformed government soldiers with their long firearms trained at them. Allan recognized the guns — a machine gun and an M-16 rifle. In his teens, his family lived in Talaingod, Davao del Norte and he was the favorite errand boy of the government soldiers stationed in their village.

BABY VERMON. Baby Vermon Autan, his mother Jenalyn and his four siblings have since been transferred from Bankerohan gym after the three week old baby got sick. (davaotoday.com photo by Barry Ohaylan)

Allan immediately raised his hands. “Good afternoon,” he greeted the soldiers in the vernacular. The soldiers responded by grabbing him and his brother and forcing him on the ground. Then, the soldiers took his machete from his side and forcefully removed his backpack, where he had carefully placed vegetables he had picked up along the way and was planning to cook for dinner.

The soldiers shouted at them, asking where they lived. They said that they were from Purok 4-B, which was just a few meters away. The soldiers refused to believe them and accused them of being supporters or members of the New Peoples Army.

But the brothers denied the accusation. Allan reasoned that they couldn’t be NPA members because they were carrying a chain saw.

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