BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Friday, May 27, 2011

Families of Victims of Summary Killings Feel Ignored by the State

A project for Target EJK:

(Sharing the grief: Children of slain journalists come together yearly for the Saranggola Summer Workshop, the NUJP's program that enables them to share experiences and listen to others as part of their healing process. JES AZNAR)
Of the five children of slain radio broadcaster and anti-mining advocate Gerardo “Gerry” Ortega of Palawan, it was only his second daughter -21-year old Erika who saw the bloodied body.
The eldest daughter, 22-year old Mika was in Manila while his younger children were kept from the crime scene.
A lone gunman shot Ortega in the neck in the morning of January 24 in Puerto Princesa City. He died on the spot.
Four months on, Erika still struggles to understand what happened. She is still asking her mother, Patty Ortega when her father will be back.
“There is still no acceptance for her,” Patty says in a recent interview in Palawan with Target EJK.
Patty says that when time permits, she intends to take Erika for counseling.
“I need to do that soon,” she notes.
Her other children, although spared from seeing the actual crime scene, are also left dealing with pain and trauma.
Sophia, 13, told Target EJK that she dreams of her father wearing the shirt that he wore the day he was killed.
“It’s difficult,” she says.
Patty says there has been no state intervention or assistance as far as psychosocial therapy is concerned.
For now, the Ortegas have their hands full pursuing the person they believe was behind Gerry’s murder, former Palawan governor Joel Reyes.
Patty says that Reyes had sufficient motives to have her husband killed. But Reyes strenuously denies the allegations that he was in any way responsible. “It is simply irrational and unfair to link me to the killing…regardless of whatever criticisms he might have hurled against me,” Reyes has said in a statement issued to the media.
The case is still ongoing with the Ortegas urging the Aquino administration to help bring the perpetrators to justice.
In the meantime, Patty says she and her family need counseling help.
Experts agree. Father Ben Moraleda, a marital and family counselor and a faculty member of the Ateneo de Manila University’s Center for Family Ministries (CEFAM) works to help victims of trauma.
He tells Target EJK that families of victims of summary killings end up “deeply traumatized.”
And in a recent article he wrote for the March 2011 issue of The Voice, a publication for the Asian Federation against Involuntary Disappearances, Moraleda maintains that most victims’ families end up in denial over what has happened to their loved ones.
He believes that many of them have not had the chance to “process” events and so therefore have not been able to move on.
“Most if not all of them had either ‘forgotten’ the event, or denied or trivialized its effects on them. The most common reason for these varied reactions is, he believes, because the victim-families were still living in the same oppressive political, economic, social conditions which caused the disappearances of their loved ones.
Thus most of them remained a victim or took on a victim mentality. Most victims feel a loss of trust or a deep sense of not being safe, from anyone, including oneself.
“This is surely one of the gravest wounds inflicted on the family of the disappeared. Therefore, the process of ‘recovery’ must start there, in helping the ‘victim’ to regain trust and to start believing again that one is protected and is safe,” he says.
Therefore, he says, healing workshops and counseling should be provided.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) says that there are not enough interventions for the state for families of the victims of EJK.
“What the government provides is very limited,” says Rowena Paraan, Secretary-General of NUJP, in an interview with Target EJK.
She says that even the “first-aid” provided to the families of the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan massacre was provided by NUJP and the Children’s Rehabilitation Center, a non-government group.
Immediately after the massacre, the two groups flew in psychologists to Mindanao from Manila to help with the counseling of roughly 140 relatives of the victims.
The Department of Health had its own initiative for the Ampatuan massacre victims’ families but Paraan said this was limited to one day and that counseling was provided only to one member of a victims’ family.
Letty Batul, sister of Palawan-based journalist Fernando “Dong” Batul says that in Palawan, no support is provided by either the local or national government as far as counseling is concerned.
“We are on our own,” Letty laments.
Her brother Dong was shot dead in 2006.
A local court last April 11 has acquitted the police officer Aaron Golifardo who was charged with being the gunman hired by a senior local politician.
NUJP’s Paraan says that with the high number of EJK cases in the country, there is a need for the government to step up and exert more efforts to help the families that are left behind.
On its own initiative, NUJP regularly holds a summer workshop for the children of slain journalists.
For five years now NUJP has been organizing the Saranggola Summer Workshop, which consists of field trips and psychosocial sessions.
Around 40 children and their mothers have been going along.
Paraan says that the workshops have been very helpful for the victims as the families realize that they are not alone and that hundreds of other victims share their experiences.
“Friendships are formed,” notes Paraan.
Last April 15 to 17, the NUJP held this year’s workshop at Pook ni Maria Makiling in Los Banos, Laguna.
The NUJP gathered 20 families for this year’s event. They came from different provinces and most of them looked forward to seeing each other again, May Rodriguez, NUJP director who heads the project, tells Target EJK.
This year’s event had different sessions and each session was presided by psychologists from the CRC. The breakout sessions included art, theater and writing workshops.
“The workshop is a way they process their grief,” says Rodriguez. She says it was a way for the victims’ families to express their emotions and pent up grief.
The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance of Australia, a union of journalists and artists in the Asia-Pacific country, funded this year’s Saranggola Summer Workshop.
Aside from psychosocial assistance, Paraan says the NUJP, with the help of different funding agencies, provides scholarships to children of murdered journalists.
To date, NUJP has been sending some 76 children to different public elementary, secondary and tertiary schools.
These initiatives, Paraan says, should be the responsibility of the state.
Unfortunately, Paraan says, the help provided by the state is limited.
“There should also be humanitarian assistance,” Paraan says.
In a separate interview with Target EJK, Precy Villa, chief of the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) Public Affairs and Advocacy Division, said that the agency provides a so-called Critical Incident Stress Debriefing for victims of traumatic events such as typhoons, deaths and other calamities.
The program, conducted by DSWD social workers and psychologists, is generally a psychosocial intervention that is provided by the agency immediately after the crisis.
Its goal is to maintain the safety of the victims and to help them return to their levels of functionality before the onset of their crisis.
“We provide critical incidence stress debriefing so lessen their trauma,” said Villa.
DSWD also helps the victims of traumatic events get access to livelihood programs of the government.
“We have micro enterprises and other livelihood assistance,” she added.

(Among those who took part in this year's Saranggola Summer Workshop were the children of journalists George and Macel Vigo who were both slain in June 2006 on their way home to Kidapawan City. JES AZNAR)

Scholarships are also provided to children of victims of trauma or crisis but with the help of the Department of Education.
Villa said DSWD refers them to the Department of Education. 

She urged victims in need of help to go to any of the 16 regional offices of the DSWD nationwide. TARGETEJK