When the 78th IB held a press conference two days ago in reaction to the kidnapping allegations against them by 8-year old Mariel Botelya, it only served to fan the flames of its guilt.
For the members of the 78th IB stationed in Brgy. Gaang, Tuburanwere not only lying through their teeth; they were also undermining the kidnap victim’s story.
They claimed that the child was not at all kidnapped and that the peasant organization, KMP-Cebu, was only blowing things out of proportion.
But just who is blowing things out of proportion?
Allow us to relate the circumstances, as they actually happened. This is based on the Fact Finding Mission Report dated October 23, 2007. The fact-finding team spent three days in barangay Mag-alwa, Tuburan,gathering information and making affidavits of witnesses.
On Tuesday, October 16, 2007 according to a signed statement made by Teacher Heide Rebaya of the Mag-alwa Elementary School, the 78th IB, under the command of a certain Lt. Lorens Siobal, went to the school looking for a child whose last name was Botelya. When the unsuspecting teacher confirmed that there was indeed a student by that name in her class record, the 78th IB immediately went to see the child, grade two pupil, Mariel, and wasted no time questioning her if she were indeed the daughter of a certain Juan Botelya.
When the innocent little girl nodded in assent, the military exhausted her with more questions regarding the whereabouts of her parents, where she comes from and who she was currently staying with. When she finally gave out the names of her guardians, the military went over to them and declared that they are taking the child over to their camp in nearby Barangay Gaang. The guardians, Rogelio and Herminia Barcenal, who later claimed in their affidavits as having been coerced and intimidated, accompanied the military and 8-year-old Mariel to the 78th IB quarters.
The following day, Wednesday, October 17, the 78th IB escorted the girl back to her school. They ordered the Barcenal couple to appear before them at the school because a certain Myrna wanted to meet with them. That “Myrna” turned out to be Myrna Romero, a rebel-returnee who also happens to be a member of the Civilian Volunteers Organization (formerly known as CAFGU). The couple claimed that they were made to sign a statement that Mariel was left over to them by the Botelya couple and that they have no right to be girl’s guardians because they are not her blood relations.
And yet, ironically, right then and there, Mariel was turned over to Myrna Romero, who is also not in any way related to her, but whom the little girl was later forced to call “Mama” herself – barely two days after the two had been introduced. When Belina Cana (Tuburan DSWD) was asked by yours truly if the DSWD was able to secure the proper court order in turning the child over to Myrna, Mrs. Cana answered no.
Obviously, this is not a case of kidnapping. The 78th IB merely invited a helpless, unaccompanied 8-year-old girl to sleep in its military camp and bombard her with endless questions about her rebel parents. Besides, how could it be an abduction when, according to them, the child went willingly with them?
No coercion and intimidation even took place when the 78th IB, in a rush of social concern, stormed without warning to the Mag-alwa Elementary School, garbed in their military raiments, as though they were going off to battle and not to see an innocent, eight-year-old girl during a regular school day, in a small, quiet barrio.
And now, they are attempting to sway the argument away from their uncalculated, criminal action and distort the real picture by continously driving the point that the child, Mariel, is the daughter of alleged NPA members and who, they claim, abandoned the girl. But since when has the 78th IB, in a magnanimous fit of concern over a child abandoned by its so-called rebel parents, taken over the role of the DSWD? This argument is not only seriously funny, in that it reveals how ignorant our own Armed Forces could be in the laws pertaining to children. A child, wether or not he or she is the progeny of rebels and outlaws is still protected under the Universal Declaration of the Rights of the Child.
But in a more serious tone, the questionable action of the 78TH IB also reveals how little the state could do to protect its littlest citizens. RA 7610 or Anti-Child Abuse Law, Article X, Sec. 22a (On Children as Peace Zones) states that Children shall not be the object of attack and shall be entitled to special respect. They shall be protected from any form of threat, assault, torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment; by taking Mariel into their custody, the AFP was actually holding the child hostage until such time that her parents would come out in the open and claim her.
It is so alarming that the military could do this anytime, anywhere to children of suspected enemies of the state. More alarming still is how the Armed Forces of
No matter how good the 78th IB may be at diverting the issue and covering its own dirt, unfortunately for them, the facts – the actual claims of the witnesses, and the victim, Mariel – are just too good and pure for it to be tampered with. Now that its dirty laundry has been hang out to dry, the AFP, through the 78th IB, is trying to do some damage control by slinging mud against those who dare speak out against their abuses.
Later, Mariel Botelya, will publish her own account, and the people shall see who was trying to undermine who. Mariel, all eight years of her, has lived an innocent existence. The 78th IB has had its share of notoriety, in less than a decade’s stay in, and has in fact been kicked out from its original camp in Sogod after a petition made by its residents.
Blowing things out of proportion?
Let the facts speak for themselves.
Atty. Poch Cinco IV
Vice President for the Visayas
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers