OZAMIZ CITY (SE): “The wound in the people’s minds is deeper and more painful than the wounds in the body of Sister Kathleen Melia,” Father Sean Martin from Ozamiz City in The Philippines told the Sunday Examiner after the 70-year-old Columban sister was bashed in her home on March 1.
Sister Melia has worked among the Subaanen people in the hills of Zamboanga for over 30 years and the unexplained attack is being described by the people as one more step in the chain of evil that is maligning their lives.
Sister Melia returned home to Midsalip on the afternoon of March 1. Around 9.30pm she went out to close windows when she was attacked.
A hand was clamped over her mouth and the other hand began choking her, but she was able to get at her attacker’s face and, in protecting himself, he took his hand off her mouth—she screamed.
He then thumped her on the chest and she fell the 30 centimetres from the raised pathway, hurting her leg and losing consciousness. He then ran off.
Sister Kathleen lives in a compound of three houses, the other two are community homes for the Subaanen people to gather and speak in their own language without being mocked, derided or laughed at by others.
After 30 odd years she speaks their language well and the people came to help her, then the police arrived. As there is still wonder whether the attacker intended to kill or frighten her, the police sent security with her to hospital in Ozamiz City.
She needed a blood transfusion, but the search for a donor was arduous and time consuming, with a seminarian eventually having to travel the five hours from Cagayan de Oro to match her B negative blood type.
Then a boat trip to Manila, as flying was problematic. The morning boat had not arrived by nightfall, but there was faith it would come eventually.
Father Martin says that this is just one act of violence among many in the volatile area of the nation, where the politics of the gun rein, the rich plunder and grow richer and the poor are squeezed out of even the little they have.
But this is how politics and industry operate in Mindanao and deaths related to conflict of interest among various groups does not come as a surprise.
Father Martin related that in the previous week, Rosing Arnosa, who ran in the election last May against the incumbent mayor, Leonida Angcap, was shot five times in front of his house in Midsalip around nightfall.
Although badly wounded he did not lose consciousness and recognised the gunman, who is now the murderer, as Arnosa later died of his wounds in Pagadian Hospital around 1.00am.
He believed that the barangay captain, Eduardo Selim, from Matalang, was angry because his son was arrested and charged with being a goon (violent enforcer) for Angcap.
Bail was set at 120,000 pesos ($19,354). Significantly, the mayor paid half and the family the other half.
In the small town of Midsalip alone nine people were killed in the run up to the elections in May last year. Four were goons, thugs or hitmen of another mayor and five worked for Conrado Lumacad, who also ran against Angcap.
Father Martin adds that although the mayor has two charges of plunder against her, it does not seem to concern her, even though the president, Rodrigo Duterte, has spruiked some rhetoric about the crime.
Duterte seems more intent on killing the poor and did not complain when the congress removed the charge of plunder from the Kill Bill that was passed in the lower house on March 7.
“But in these remote areas, killing witnesses and scaring opponents is the usual way for powerful people to keep control,” Father Martin explained.
He also remembered that Angcap’s son killed five road workers while driving under the influence in the early hours of the morning in 2013, but it was hushed up and did not even make it to the newspapers.
He still holds his job with the municipality.
“Plunder, manslaughter with impunity is the name of the game in the world of the mayor and it just increases the brazenness,” Father Martin reflected.
It is all a warning to Sister Melia not to stand in the way of mining and logging companies that come to rape the countryside, mostly illegally. She is just one more person on someone’s hit list.