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I saw the murders once… then a thousand times in my dreams

The bishops of The Philippines say they have the same dream for the country as the president, but they want a society built on care, justice and respect, while the president is trying to create a traumatised society hypnotised into obedience. Violence produces trauma… and trauma destroys… We tell just one story
HONG KONG (SE): She was 29-years-old when she told the Sunday Examiner about the trauma she was suffering as a result of witnessing a multiple murder some 15 years earlier.
As a 14-year-old, she was enjoying a late afternoon volleyball practice in preparation for an upcoming game against a neighbouring barangay.
Her memory is clear. “I was wearing a blue T-shirt with a pink flower on the front, denim jeans and sports shoes, although some of us were barefooted,” she said, adding that there were 16 in the squad, as they would field two teams.
“It was 4.30pm,” she continued. “I was responsible for organising the session so I looked at my watch when the coach was interrupted and asked to attend a cockfight nearby.” He picked up his gun from the side of the court and left.
He was wearing a striped T-shirt, with black and brown hoops and he asked me to take over while he was gone.
“Then I heard a loud intake of breath, the kind you hear when someone is terrified,” She related. “I looked down at the open area slightly below us, about 100 people were there and they were scrambling and scattering in all directions.
“I ran towards the melee and then… one gunshot… I saw my cousin… he was already on his knees, his legs were slipping apart. The trunk of his body was sagging and head swaying groggily.
“He was holding his five-year-old son in his arms… then he crumpled to the ground. Blood spurted from his body, like the way children’s books illustrate the spray from the blowhole of a whale.”
His son remembered who fired the gun, but Ambos said she did not see, but what happened after that she did see and has seen a thousand times in her dreams since that fateful day.
“I recognised the men standing around, some were cousins and all well-known to my family. One of them was only two metres away from our volleyball coach. The coach still had his gun—a big gun with bullets the size of your finger.
“He fired,” she stated. Her memory is vivid, getting out of her chair she swivelled her body in a half pirouette as she demonstrated how the wounded man’s body swung and his shoulders began to sag. Then he teetered with his face turned to the sky.
“I remember his eyes were wide open, like a sea of white with small black dots and mouth closed. He fell on his back.”
She ran to the wounded man, but he was not breathing. “I took his gun from his sling. It was a big gun, it belonged to the city government. He had it because he was part of the military.”
Her coach took the gun away from her. She was relieved as she did not know how to use it. “I went to the first man who was shot. He was still alive. I knelt on one knee and spoke to him. He told me who shot him. Then he died.
“The brother of my coach was there too and his father. They all had guns. His father fired at the man who fired the first shot. He was acting crazy.
“I could see the blood seeping through his shirt. Then the two brothers fired. One bullet hit him in the backside, travelling up his body, virtually severing his head from the trunk.
“His head swung like a trapdoor on a loose hinge. His wife rushed to him. She was pregnant. She kept trying to stuff her hands down the trunk of his body to stop the bleeding. She kept screaming.
“I looked up and saw my father. He was the barangay captain. He was running down the hill, his arms raised above his head as he waved wildly crying out to stop the shooting. He was wearing the uniform of the Civilian Voluntary Organisation.
“He had a gun too. When he arrived shooting was still going on, but into the air. I watched him. He never took the gun from its holster.”
There were wounded people. She was sent to get medical supplies and something to make a stretcher to take the wounded to hospital. Some people helped her and got the supplies from a cousin with a sari sari store.
“People in the area had dropped to the ground. I could hear crying and sobbing, and the whimpering of fear.”
But only one of the wounded was still alive. They made a crude stretcher and a largish group took off to run him to the nearest hospital about two hours away. There was no road.
“They took turns at carrying the stretcher. The wounded man kept saying, ‘It is so painful.’ His face kept changing colour; red, yellow, black. He kept groaning and saying, ‘I want to pee.’ But his bag had burst and his pee was running inside his body.”
He died on the way, but the group carried him all the way to hospital.
Her father was charged with the murders. She said that he had been a good barangay captain, but had wealthy and powerful enemies whom he had stood up against in the past.
It was a set up trial. “I wanted to be a witness for him, but he would not allow it, saying, ‘These people are military, if you do that they will kill you.’
“I have regretted that decision ever since and many times I have thought it would have been better to have died at the hands of the military than to have let my father be convicted for a crime he did not commit.”
He was found guilty and sentenced, but as a barangay captain had friends and a few days later he walked out of the jail and fled to the mountains.
“He had many friends among the mountain people, as he had helped them and protected them often in the past. But he never returned.”
She had heard her father was dying in those lonely hills and the dreams had come back, but friends were able to organise a priest to visit him before he died and this calmed her.
Now into her 40s, she does not dream anymore, but it is not time that healed, rather her own determined efforts and those of the skillful people who worked with her and listened.
As the bloodshed of martial law and the so called war on drugs continue in the Pearl of the Orient Seas, thousands more who have been forced to witness the murders will no doubt dream well into the future, their fearful nights punctuated with the terror of an incomprehensible, crazy moment of life.
This is not the creation of a peaceful, law-abiding society nor the making of a happy or joyful people, but a recipe for resentment, revenge and anger prone to boiling over into the same violence that once terrified them.
But what of the children of those who died? The barangay captain’s daughter says that she hopes that when the time is ripe, she will have the opportunity to tell them what really happened to their fathers.
Names of people involved and locations have been omitted