Untold Story of Ka Sitoy

CPT ROSA MA CRISTINA ROSETE-MANUEL (FA) PA

The author is currently the Deputy Chief of the Public Affairs Office, 10th Infantry Division, PA, Panacan, Davao City. She was born in Davao City and a graduate of a Computer Engineering Course in one of the prestigious universities in the said City. Before she entered the military service, she has been a contractual employee of the Philippine Coconut Authority in Region XI and has also worked as a Computer Instructor at the Philippine Women’s College of Davao. She was called to active duty in 2000 and eventually underwent the Officer Preparatory Course (OPC) training in Tanay Rizal under the Candidate Officer and Soldier’s School. She is happily to an Army Officer and they have two children. Her first assignment was in Samar Region wherein she has handled both staff duties and company grade responsibilities.

Ka Sitoy' remains.

Ka Sitoy's remains.

IT WAS a cloudy Friday morning on 19 November 2008 when we left from Camp Panacan to Barangay Caso-on, ComVal Province to witness the exhumation of the remains of Arnel Visagas or Ka Sitoy, a member under Maoist communist-terrorist’s Guerilla Front 3.  Ka Sitoy was among those encountered by the troops of 3rd Special Forces Battalion led by 1Lt. Vicente Cammayo last  November 7, 2008. That ill fated encounter resulted to the death of three (3) soldiers and the capture of 1Lt. Cammayo by the communist-terrorists

Upon arrival at the detachment in Barangay Casoon, I wandered around. I noticed the PNP-SOCO, media, barangay residents and the immediate family of Ka Sitoy were waiting by the vicinity.  Maj. Roylan Orquia, commander of 3SFBn informed everyone that we will be traveling towards Sitio Anagasi on board M35 truck, Kennedy Jeep and other military and police vehicles. I drew closer to Ka Sitoy’s mother, Mrs. Visagas, whom I boarded with in the same vehicle.

Rain started, as we were traversed the muddy road to Sitio Aganasi.

THE LONG TREK.  10ID officers and men, together with Sitoy’s family, starts their climb to the grave site.

THE LONG TREK. 10ID officers and men, together with Sitoy’s family, starts their climb to the grave site.

The author talking to Ka Sitoy’s mother minutes before the start of the hike.

The author talking to Ka Sitoy’s mother minutes before the start of the hike.

Mrs Visagas started talking nonchalantly in response to the questions asked about her son’s childhood and membership in the CPP/NPA/NDF. Concealing her aches and pains, Mrs. Visagaas stood firm for her son answering every question asked. As once a child myself, I see the agony of a mother, the heartaches and worries caused by her prodigal son.

Mrs. Visagas tells the story of her son as she recalls.  “Arnel was with the NPA for 12 years. All of my children were recruited by the communist-terrorist NPA but Dodoy (Arnel) was the only one who was convinced and eventually joined,” she exclaimed. According to Mrs. Visagas, Arnel was a silent person whose daily routine revolved around the farm and at home. She continues to share, “He was a very good son but he was slow-learner compared to his other siblings”

Momentarily, our conversation was cut as we needed to get off the vehicle which got stuck in mud. While the driver and escorts manually turned the front wheel drive for us to get through, Mrs. Visagas kept to herself.  Returning back to the vehicle, Mrs. Visagas, wose thoughts were lucid, continues the story of Arnel.  “My husband called me up to inform me that Arnel died in an encounter with the soldiers. I was in Manila working as a household helper since 2004. I can hardly believe it, I said to my husband “its impossible!!! Arnel just called me a week ago.” Mrs. Visagas reveals that in the past months, Arnel has been calling her to find him a job in Manila. He had been telling his mother that he was tired and wanted to rest. “I told him that I will ask my boss if he could accommodate my son in one of their family businesses.” Hearing that, I retorted, “Nay, indeed, he rested in peace!” I overheard one of our escorts behind said, “It was already the sign, Nay, he rested for good. Maybe he is really tired of what he went through.”

Mrs Visagas explains that it was his husband who insisted to exhume Arnel’s remains. She has been to the graveyard when she arrived from Manila. In grief,  she nagged at Arnel’s graveyard while tapping her hands on the ground saying, “Look at you, you were buried just like a dog because you won’t listen to me!”

Approaching Sitio Anangasi, we crossed over a small river, and halted to disembark. I thought, we have arrived, but alas, we started on foot to proceed to the sitio.   As we walked, Mrs Visagas held a small bag and an umbrella.  I looked around… ahead of us and behind us. I saw media friends, the SOCO and local residents who brought with them shovels, sacks and jungle knives walking.

We started to walk at around 11:00 in the morning. At this point, rain shower continued to pour over our heads. Mrs.. Visagas, looked around to find her husband  who went back to town get her hypertension medicine.  Openly the hurting mother said to me, “If not for my husband’s request, I won’t go back here.  “Dodoy” can’t blame me for this. He’s hard headed! He won’t listen to me anymore. I told him I never dreamed of having a NPA son. Our neighbors tell me that he has a big position in the said organization. I told them, “I don’t care. I didn’t carry him in my womb for nine months to grow up to be like that” she sighed.

Mrs. Visagas learned about Arnel being with the NPA through neighbors who saw him with the NPA. From then on, she would nag NPA’s who pass-by their barangay, to bring back Arnel to her.

“They (NPA) won’t listen to me. They even told me that I no longer have the right over my son because he is of right age to decide on his own.  In fact, she added, one of the low-ranked NPA told me that I don’t show them respect with the way I was acting” she said.  Mrs Visagas smirked at mention of the word “respect.” She added in a sad note, “I am the mother of Arnel, as a mother, they (the NPA) should have accorded me first the respect before I can respect them.

“All I wanted was my son to be back, and disrespect was what I got.  With that, I told them I won’t force them to bring my son back to me but I demanded see him just the same. After a few days, Arnel appeared in our house, to my dismay, he was not all excited to see me. He even nagged me for what I did to his comrades. We convinced him to leave them (NPA) but he left us instead.  I felt ashamed of myself.  I pursued my plan to go to Manila not only to earn more to help for my other children but I more because wanted to forget the pain that my son has caused me,” she uttered firmly.

Ahead of us was Maj Orquia, of the 3rd Special Forces Battalion, PA. He signaled the group for a rest, so, all of us rest at Purok 19. I though to myself, “We must be almost there, because it was already 1:30 in the afternoon.” We all shared bananas for lunch as we continued to walk until we reached Purok 21.

Now closer to the site, one of the soldiers pointed at the encounter site where 1Lt. Cammayo was captured.  The terrain was tough, a typical place where basic social services of the government are very much needed. No wonder, this place became a haven of these NPA’s as it is very far from “civilization” yet accessible for the NPA’s extortion activities.

It was already raining hard and from Purok 21, we walked a kilometer up to the alleged grave yard of Ka Sitoy. Reaching the site, the PNP-SOCO immediately cordoned the area pinpointed by the local residents and  started digging.

Start of the digging on Sitoy’s identifed shallow grave site.

Start of the digging on Sitoy’s identifed shallow grave site.

While the digging was going –on, media networks started interviewing Mrs Visagas. At first, she was very stiff as she tried to answer the questions. She narrated the same story she told me to the media.

On the other hand, one of the six people who buried Arnel was called by the Sitio Leader of Anagasi to narrate how they found and buried Arnel’s body. Manong Boy (I forgot his name) said, “We came from our farm and I was carrying firewood when we saw the group of Ka Jinggoy (more or less they were a hundred) running towards our direction just meters away from here (pointing the graveyard). We knew of their encounter with the soldiers because we heard the gunshots. We saw a person covered hammock with blood spilled over his body.” He said that Ka Jinggoy went near them when he was asked what they will do with the dead man’s body. Vivid in his memory, Ka Jinggoy said “It’s all up to you whatever you’ll do with Sitoy, you may preserve him like anchovy. Go and inform Sitoy’s family that he is dead but don’t tell it now, maybe, in few days.”

Manong Boy said he was shock with his statement knowing Sitoy had been a loyal NPA member. He averred that he even overheard some of the NPA members saying that Sitoy has become a burden to them.  I laughed at he though and interrupted the conversation to say said, “Ah, what?? Preserving him like anchovy? After his services with the NPA’s, just like that?” I was murmuring to myself, “That’s horrible, for sure there are more Sitoy’s buried around here!” Manong Boy reiterated again what Ka Jinggoy said and shook his head.

On the other corner, I heard Ms Visagas crying over the testimony of Manong Boy. She exclaimed and almost shouting while crying, “I just wanted my son back, they won’t give Dodoy back to me and now they are returning him like anchovy. It’s all your fault because you did not listen to me!” She cried continuously. I looked around and was everyone was affected with the statement from a mother who lost his son. I was holding my own tears, I felt the pain because I am a mother, too and with that same moment, I suddenly remembered my mother back home.

Manong Boy attested that they were the ones responsible for burying the remains of Sitoy to avoid health risk among the local residents. He said that they immediately buried Sitoy using their bare hands and jungle knives. “The grave was only a waist high. It’s the best we can do for him and for the people here”, he said.

Moments later, local residents started to pulling-out Sitoy’s remains. The PNP-SOCO and the media pre-positioned themselves.. Everyone started covering their noses as stench filled the air.

As the Sitoys remais was pulled-up , Ms Visagas cried even louder at the sight of his son who had been dead and buried four years. “Dodoy, ko!” she said repeatedly.

The stinky and awful smell cowering over the place pushed the people to move away from the area, as they can’t bear it no more.

Beside me were Sitoy’s brothers, I asked them if they want to be like Arnel someday. Boldly, his brother retorted “NO” and the other saying “That’s his fault, he is hard headed. He chose to be like that. He left us to be with them (NPA).. He can’t really blame us, we convinced him many times to leave them (NPA).”

We immediately went down to the Sitio and the word that keep bugging my mind while traversing down the hill was “anchovy”. I looked around the houses.  Some were peeping and looking at us. The media on the other hand were taking photos and videos and some interviewed Ltc Kurt Decapia, 10ID Public Affairs Officer and Major Orquia. In the far corner, Sitio leaders were busy constructing a “Kangga” where the cadaver of Sitoy will be placed and pulled by a carabao.

We headed back to Sitio Anagasi. We reached the site at around 3:30 in the afternoon. Exhausted and hungry, we shared lunch through a boodle fight. Practically nothing was left on the table except a plateful of fish anchovy.

I smirked at the sight of the anchovy and wonder how many innocent people have turned to the “dogs” for refuge but later thrown back to the dogs as appetizers.  How many Arnels as there who dreamed of changing back to normal life but end up in a fish net with the rest of the small fry made into anchovies, an appetizing treat for an encounter with the soldiers.

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