(Editor’s note: Innabuyog-Gabriela is giving this column space to a statement presented by Dr. Constancio Claver, husband of the late Alice Omengan-Claver, on the occasion of the first anniversary of the July 31, 2006 ambush of the Claver family that killed her.)
A year ago, a hail of bullets snuffed out the life of my wife, Alice, and left me and my children permanently scarred. The flash of a van and the assassins shooting off deadly high-powered rifles – the images remain as vivid today as they were a year ago. On July 31 last year, Alice Omengan-Claver was savagely killed in a brazen daylight ambush in the middle of the busy town of Tabuk, Kalinga, Philippines. Though wounded, my second child and I were able to get out of the carnage alive.
Alice – a wife, a mother and a comrade. She was always there for me – unwavering in her support. She was a practical companion, a de facto secretary, a mentor, and a social event adviser all rolled into one. She was invaluable, and I couldn’t have made it in my career without her constant guidance.
She was the “hands-on” mother who was always there when the children needed her – at home, in the playground, and even in the school. She poured so much attention and love on our children. No wonder our children kept romping off with the Most Neat Awards at each school year’s end. She was so involved with the children that she was a perennially elected as an officer of the Parent-Teachers-Community Association of all the schools our kids attended.
But above all, she was a good comrade. Though apprehensive of the turbulent times that characterized the last 20 years, she remained a pillar of strength in our common struggle to seek a better path for our countrymen. Whether the issue at hand was indigenous peoples’ rights, or women’s rights, or alternative politics, Alice was always there. In a seemingly endless and seemingly unfruitful political struggle, she did more than her share to keep us both going.
And so today, we remember Alice. And in doing so, I am forced to recall a painful memory that happened a year ago. I recall to you her final acts of heroism. At that fateful moment when she first became aware of the shooters, she instinctively threw her body to cover mine. As a result, she caught seven of the deadly projectiles intended for me. Her selfless sacrifice did not stop there. At the hospital Emergency Room where we were rushed to, she insisted that I be attended to first. Because of such unselfish acts, I am still alive today. I owe my life to her heroism and sacrifice – such a great loss.
Owing to the prominence of the case, the Philippine National Police successively sent in two task forces to make an investigation. But after 12 months of work, the task forces still have not come up with a prosecutable case. The heavy-handed actions of certain elements within the Philippine National Police doomed the investigations, creating a climate of fear, and discouraging the witnesses from openly speaking up.
This has not stopped us however, from getting to the truth. I now have come to believe that I was targeted for assassination because of my political beliefs. We now know that Alice is only one of those who have been killed in the name of the Philippine government’s insane war against imagined terrorists. We now know that the Philippine State, led by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, has undertaken a counter-insurgency program that is now leading to the deaths and disappearances of unarmed civilian activists. To date more than 800 men and women have been killed, and another 200 abducted and remain missing since 2001. We lay the blame for these wanton killings and disappearances directly on the shoulders of Commander-in-Chief Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and her crazed minions in the Cabinet Security Cluster and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The protests against these extra-judicial killings and abductions by forces of the State have slowly mounted from the different sectors of Philippine society. HUSTISYA!, the organization of the family members of the victims of human rights violations under the Arroyo Regime, has been at the forefront of this protest movement. But this rising tide of disapproval and dissent has been met with brute force from the State’s military and police apparatus. And with the Bush-inspired Republic Act 9372 or the Human Security Act in place, a vital ingredient for de facto martial rule in the Philippines has been made available.
Yes, there also has been a growing realization that such tragic events in the Philippines are closely related with geo-politics of other nations, particularly that of the United States. The launching of the U.S. so-called “War on Terror” in an international scale, together with the countless billions of dollars poured into the effort, served as a cue for the Philippine State to escalate its war on insurgents – and on anyone and any group that disagreed with its policies. It is for this reason that we have had to carry the campaign on the extra-judicial killings beyond Philippine shores.
To date, the campaign has been able to draw the attention of the European Union, as well as some other nations, to the situation in the Philippines. After conducting its local investigation, the United Nation Special Rapporteur Philip Alston has squarely laid the responsibility for the killings on the Philippine military. Likewise, Amnesty International, the Asian Human Rights Commission, and the Washington-based Human Rights Commissions have all attributed the atrocities to State security forces. The Permanent People’s Tribunal in Europe, an international independent tribunal, , went a step further and ruled Arroyo and George Bush guilty of crimes against humanity. And just recently, 13 Members of the Canadian Parliament simultaneously moved for the tabling of a petition for the conduct of a parliamentary hearing on the extra judicial killings in the Philippines. In all of these instances, the active presentation of the case of Alice the circumstances of her death, as well as the results of our own investigation all played very significantly roles.
This brings us to the here and now. My three children and I have been forced to leave the country because of the continuing and the escalating threats. Our three children, despite the wrenching trauma of being forcibly made motherless, have admirably been able to cope – another legacy of strength from Alice, I believe. And we have decided to continue the fight somewhere else.
And this month marks the anniversary of the death of Alice. We cry for justice, as do the families of the countless other victims. We know that today, the odds are against us, but that will change. The death of Alice, and so many others, cannot be allowed to be forgotten and to be of naught. We believe that justice will prevail in the end – but this cannot be attained without a struggle – a struggle for true freedom and liberation. We therefore call on all freedom-loving Filipinos and people of the world to join hands with us to work together for meaningful social change in the Philippines. Only through this will we be able to find the true justice and peace that we all seek. #