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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/17 October) — Artoro Dagansan is a kagawad in Barangay Manurigao, a geographically isolated and depressed area in the farthest highlands of New Bataan. The village council had been preparing to receive the medical mission that was arranged by the 66th Infantry Battalion last month. It was to have been held on 13-15 October 2014. Manurigao residents were looking forward to that rare time when access to something as basic as health services – a luxury in this place – would finally get there.

Medical missions are dangerous missions. Not too long ago, even the public health staff on the way to a medical mission in Davao del Sur suffered a landmine attack. Similarly, some soldiers doing medical mission outreach in Tagum had been ambushed on the road.

The medical mission in Manurigao is yet to happen. You see, the advance troops that were sent in to secure the road for the entry of the Kiwanis and other partners to the medical mission figured in an unfortunate incident early Sunday. It ended in the fatal shooting of two civilians – father and son – both residents of Sitio Taytayan a few kilometers below. They were Artoro’s cousin and nephew.

Carol and I didn’t know about it. She was working on a report about the post-disaster management of the dead. I’m working on a paper on the gaps in post-disaster mental health and psychosocial support and have identified one of these gaps to have been the support – or lack hereof – provided to soldiers who were involved in the search and retrieval of dead bodies. We would have gone to Sta. Cruz had there been elements of the Bravo Company, 39th Infantry Battalion who could be located at their headquarters an hour away. However, the battalion commander could not assure me they could be found on short notice.

As I did not have much time for field work, I called 66IB commander LTC Michael Logico asking to come down if we could interview some of his soldiers who had handled the victims of TS Pablo. When the news van got to 66IB, LTC Logico smartly strode out and handed us a piece of paper.

“I’ll come clean,” he said. “Here’s my statement.”

Confused, I skimmed through the one-pager and homed in on three things:

1. A 16-year-old civilian and his father were shot by soldiers.
2. The soldiers fired first. In fact they were the only ones who fired.
3. The fatalities were from Sitio Taytayan.

Sitio Taytayan happens to be the only remaining village in New Bataan that the COPERS is accompanying for community recovery. The residents there are as yet to be relocated. I quickly searched my list of householders in the village and found the family name of the fatalities. Right then and there, I tried calling the sitio leader on his cellphone, but he wasn’t answering.

I don’t really know LTC Logico, unlike the three battalion commanders of 66IB that came before him. I had nominated Manny Sequitin for the Ten Outstanding Philippine Soldiers in 2011 on the strength of my observation of how he reworked the image of the soldier in New Bataan. I still remember a time when the flag-waving, placard bearing rallyists would encamp outside the soldiers’ gates. They packed up when Manny came in.

In 2009, I did part of my dissertation work with 66IB soldiers. I could rightfully claim that I understood a bit about the combat and operational stress factors in New Bataan. Taking over Manny, Bob Ancan had invited me back to work with his troops. So too did Tony Florendo, with whom we at COPERS worked most in the aftermath of TS Pablo.

But I haven’t worked with Michael Logico.

I only know him as a barefoot runner with Ilongo roots. Regulation haircut, spit-and-polish, by-the-book commander, by the looks. Sometimes we talk when I drop by to inform him about a COPERS team or a group of research students working in his area of responsibility. He would unfailingly remind me to coordinate with the barangay captains.

Back to Wednesday, the day when he would have been up in Manurigao with the medical mission. We cleared up the misunderstanding over what Carol and I were there for. Still, having brought the matter of the shooting out in the open, we ended up talking about it. LTC Logico said he had secured and confined to barracks the troops that had fired the fatal shots. I asked if anyone had debriefed the two soldiers. He said no.

I told him I could divest myself of the original agenda for my visit and conduct psychological first aid (PFA) on the two. He asked me to change my MindaNews shirt so as not to unduly confuse the soldiers when I sat down with them . He produced an oversized black polo shirt which I gladly accepted. I left Carol to do her interviews.

Four days after the potentially traumatizing event, mental status exam of the two soldiers revealed them to have the frame of mind for normal conversation. I proceeded to conduct a critical incident stress debriefing.

Here’s the thing. Had I talked to the soldiers as a media practitioner, I could tell you what the soldiers told me. But as a psychologist, I can’t. Unless I have the soldiers’ permission.

In any case, New Bataan parish priest Fr. Ed Tuling soon joined us. The battalion commander informed Carol, Fr. Ed and me that the tribal council was convening the next day and he was hoping that we could witness the proceedings.

“My men shot them. I won’t deny that. It was an unfortunate mistake,” he said.

At 9:00 am today, LTC Logico presented the two soldiers before the tribal council. Fr. Ed and I were there to observe as the traditional rituals of justice were ably mediated by the council of elders. At one point when it appeared as if both sided wouldn’t and couldn’t yield, Mayor Lorenzo Balbin chimed in with a question on acceptable alternatives.

Artoro was asked to speak for the Dagansan family.

It was with much difficulty that Artoro mustered his rage and resentment at the death of his cousin and nephew. Behind him, the widow was crying silently. In the war of emotions, raw grief won and Artoro wept.

LTC Michael Logico, this big powerful man wearing a uniform of authority, quietly crossed the room and knelt before the kagawad. Whatever he said wasn’t picked up by the microphone, but Artoro willingly went into the soldier’s powerful arms and cried:

“Salamat, colonel, sa imong pagkilala sa among kasakit,” he said.

There was not a dry eye in that room. It was an image that would stay in my mind for the longest time.

What came before had been so terrible. What came after, when words ran out and hot tears opened up naked hearts so they could talk, well, that was so human.

And the healing begins. (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to gail.ilagan@gmail.com. “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says.)

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