The military may have cut off his head and mangled his face and body. But Rey Cayago’s face and name could never be forgotten by his colleagues, his family, and the migrants and their families whom he had helped.
BY EMILY VITAL
Vol. VIII, No. 15, May 18-24, 2008
There is a face to the growing number of those killed under the Macapagal-Arroyo administration. But more than the face is a name, as well as a story of struggle and commitment.
Rey Cayago’s face, name and story are worth remembering.
“We were threatened by soldiers that our community will be transformed into another Marag Valley and Tabbak. They (accused us of being) members of the New People’s Army (NPA). They showed us pictures of community destruction. They even told us that they were going to bring in soldiers who were trained by (retired Gen. Jovito) Palparan,” said a resident of Pananuman in Tubtuba, Tubo, Abra.
A 29-member fact-finding team went to Pananuman, Tubtuba, Tubo, Abra, early this month to investigate and document cases of human rights violations. Members of the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance and Indigenous People’s Rights Monitor said in a statement that what they saw reminded them of Marag Valley and Tabbak.
Marag valley in Cagayan was known to have been a “no man’s land” due to heavy military operations which included aerial bombings, shelling, food blockade and forced evacuations. Tabbak, on the other hand, is a community near Pananuman which was once called the “no-man’s land” of the Cordillera. For more than a month, the soldiers are doing the same to the residents of this community.
Desecration of the body
Since May 12, soldiers belonging to the 50th Infantry Battalion under the 503rd Infantry Brigade headed by Lt. Dalven Abdul Rashid Avila and Lt. June Pedregoza have conducted aerial bombings and mortar shelling in the community.
The residents said that on March 24, Avila was heard bragging about cutting a member of the NPA into pieces. He threatened community leaders that he will do the same to them if they do not stop supporting the NPA or refuse to give information about it.
Based on the statement released by members of the fact-finding team, the indigenous peoples who have a high regard and respect for the dead asked Avila to allow them to retrieve the body of the man said to be a member of the NPA to give him a decent burial or bring him to his family. Avila refused.
The residents were only able to locate the body of the alleged NPA member and give it proper burial last April 21, or three weeks after the incident. The body was later identified as that of Rey Cayago.
The team accompanied Cayago’s family and exhumed the body on May 4.
In an interview, Yboy Macatiag, Migrante staff and member of the fact-finding team said, “Ayon sa medical team, pinugutan ng ulo si Rey. Nakita ang kanyang ulo ilang metro ang layo sa kanyang katawan. Basag ang likod na bahagi ng kanyang bungo. Yupi at di na makilala ang kaliwang parte ng kanyang mukha. Nawawala rin ang kanyang kanang kamay at kanang paa.” (The medical team said that Rey’s head was cut off. His head was found a few meters away from his body. The back of his skull was severely crushed and fragmented. The left part of his face was beyond recognition. His right hand and right foot are missing.)
In a joint statement, the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance and the Indigenous People’s Rights Monitor denounced the desecration of Cayago’s body and the AFP’s refusal for the body to be retrieved and given a decent burial. “These are blatant violations of the Protocols of War embodied in various Geneva Conventions and International Humanitarian Laws as well as in the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).
Connie Bragas-Regalado, Migrante International chairperson said, “What they did to Rey proves how vicious state terrorism is. No words can describe their atrocities.”
Regalado said, “Naging mas malinaw ang pasismo para sa mga migrante dahil sa ginawa nila kay Rey. Masigasig silang nagkampanya laban sa political killings. Iba pa rin ang dating kung galing sa sektor ang biktima.” (Because of what they did to Rey, migrants now see fascism more clearly. They have persistently campaigned against political killings but it is different if the victim comes from the sector.)
Advocate of migrant rights
Cayago worked as a full time staff of Migrante from 2005 until December last year.
Regalado said, “Lagi siyang nangunguna sa pag-mobilize sa community. Matiyaga siyang nagpapaliwanag ng mga isyu.” (He is always first in mobilizing community residents to join rallies. He patiently explains to them many important issues.)
Cayago was active in the campaign to save Marilou Ranario, an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in Kuwait who was sentenced to death.
In her speech during Cayago’s wake, Marilou’s sister Rowena said in tears, “Itinuring niya kaming kapamilya. Lagi siyang nandiyan para sa amin lalo na nang magkaproblema kami sa ate ko. Sinasamahan niya kami palagi. Hindi man lang ako nakapagpasalamat sa kanya. Pero hindi pa naman siguro huli ang lahat.” (He treated us as if we are part of one family. He was always there, especially when my older sister had a problem. He would always accompany us. I never had the opportunity to thank him. But I think it is not yet too late.) Looking at Rey’s picture, she said, “Rey, thank you sa lahat (for everything).”
Macatiag who worked closely with Cayago described the latter as a good organizer and advocate of people’s rights. He said that Cayago was instrumental in the campaign against the demolition in Bgy. Holy Spirit in Quezon City, the community assigned to them.
Regalado said, “Lagi siyang nakangiti. Wala kang masasabi sa kanyang aktitud sa gawain at pakikitungo sa mga kasama. Wala siyang reklamo.” (He was always smiling. There is nothing in his attitude toward work and in his relationship with colleagues that needs to be criticized. He never complained.)
Amy Cayago, eldest sister of Rey, described Rey as a good brother and thoughtful person. “Noong una, hindi ko siya maintindihan. Nagpapaliwanag siya palagi. Sa kanya ko natutuhan bakit tayo ganito, bakit kailangang lumaban.” (At first, I could not understand him. He would always discuss with me. From him I learned why we are like this, why we have to fight.)
She added, “Masakit para sa aming mawala siya. Pero alam ko, masaya siya sa desisyon niya. Pag naiisip ko siya, lumalakas uli ang loob ko. Sa kanya ako kumukuha ng lakas ng loob.” (Losing him is painful to us. But I know, he was happy with his decision. When I think of him, I stop feeling weak. I draw my strength from him.)
Santiago Cayago, Rey’s father, could only say to those extending condolences, “Tuloy lang. Tuloy lang ang laban.” (Just continue. Just continue the fight.) Bulatlat
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