By ABIGAIL ANONGOS
Sunday afternoon, Ilocos Sur.
We went through the protocols to enter the receiving area for the Sunday visit, already teeming with expectant family members, friends and lovers, yes. We were a few minutes late, so no more tables for us, but it was not really a problem since we made the most out of the Monobloc chairs. We chose a vacant space in the middle of reception—an open air, nipa-thatched building—and waited. And then Rakel (yes, with a “K” to her colleagues in the CDPC-CPA network) is notified in the PA system for visitors.
She finally emerged, one among the many clad in deep orange. This friend of mine is fashionably sensitive, so I could not help smile a little when I saw that her glasses had a touch of flowery orange. She tells me later, ayoko na ng orange. After many an exchange of hugs (and tears), she settled down beside her husband Pastor Bill, fanning herself with this woven pamaypay from Indonesia, a present from her daughter Aisah. We exchanged kumustas and made the most of the 2.5 hours of visit allowed to us.
For those who may not know yet, Rakel is a Cordillera activist, an Ibaloi-Kankanaey from Itogon, Benguet. She hails from Ucab—a community that fiercely and successfully resisted the open pit mining of Benguet Corporation. Rakel worked closely with Cordillera communities for their right to health as the Health Program Desk Coordinator of the Community Health, Education, Services and Training in the Cordillera (CHESTCORE) in Baguio City, since 2004. She is married to UCCP Pastor Bill Mariano, and they are blessed with three children. (At this point I realise we are getting older. Rak’s kids call me tita. Not manang). The eldest, Aisah, is a colleague in the CPA. She is our deputy secretary general.
With four other women activists in the region, Rakel submitted herself to the Municipal Trial Courts of Galimuyod and Salcedo, Ilocos Sur in February 2018 and availed of the right to bail to prove their innocence on 14 counts of frustrated murder and attempted homicide filed against them.
On September 18, Rakel submitted herself to court but this time has to be detained as she faces a non-bailable fabricated charge of murder and 8 counts of attempted/frustrated murder filed against her again by the 81st IB, alleging that Rakel is an NPA member that had an armed encounter with the 81st IB in Ilocos Sur last 2017.
It has been 17 days since Rakel submitted herself to court and detained. Immediately, her lawyer also submitted a petition for bail. The entire ordeal and the series of trumped-up charges since July 2017 is taking its toll on Rakel’s health. She has been suffering from hyperthyroidism, aggravating her mental health condition where she experiences trauma and depression. The submission to court and detention is an act of courage. It was a painful and difficult decision for Rakel and her family.
I was away from Baguio, observing the International People’s Tribunal (ironically) when Rakel submitted herself to court on September 18. All I could do was watch the video shared online by CHESTCORE and read the statements posted by colleagues, family and friends. I too felt pain and anger at the injustice that Rakel has to go through, along with many other women activists in the region and the country, because of State policies that allow for such injustices, and no human being fighting for human rights and the very right to life deserves this. Political persecution of activists and the criminalization of human rights defenders must come to an end.
Says Aisah, “My mother served her life as a community health worker tending to medical needs of individuals and communities in far flung areas. I feel pain and anger as she has to go through this. I felt her pain as we had to submit her and leave her there. I know mama is strong. Kaya natin ito. We pray and hope all her cases be dismissed.” Before we left, Rakel hands beautiful long-stemmed plastic roses to Aisah. They’re from her selda-mates, for Rakel’s children. Ginawa nila para sa inyo, she says.
Among many other things we encourage Raks to try her hand in the garden whilst in detention. Baka pwedeng mag initiate ng herbal garden gaya sa CHESTCORE office, we suggest. Kamote pa lang ang naitanim ko diyan, she tells us. The practical Igorot.
CHESTCORE with CPA and Cordillera Human Rights Alliance initiated an urgent appeal to support Rakel and her family—for bail, other legal expenses, medical and counseling needs, visitation—in addition to your many prayers and moral support. Let us support this call and bring Rakel home before Christmas. # nordis.net