‘Bloody Sunday’ as seen from a boy’s hiding place
The 9-year-old boy kept his eyes fixed on his smartphone, hunting and shooting down his enemies, lost in an alternate reality offered by a video game. “Panalo ’ko (I won),” he said shortly, smiling sheepishly.
But again he clammed up to a question he had been asked too many times already: What did you see? He didn’t want to talk about it, he said, because it made him feel “sad.”
If not for his grandmother Imelda, whom he called “Lolay,” the boy would not have sat down with the Inquirer on March 10 in a cottage by the beach in Barangay Calayo, Nasugbu, Batangas.
It was in one of those cottages made of bamboo slats, the windows covered with cheap curtains, that the boy lived with his father, Ariel Evangelista, 25, and stepmother, Anna Marie, 30.
The Evangelista couple died in a cottage next to theirs in a police operation on March 7. They were among the nine members of progressive groups who were killed in simultaneous raids in the provinces of Cavite, Batangas, and Rizal, with police searching targeted activists’ homes and offices for guns and explosives.
Anna Marie’s family lived on the beachside property and rented out cottages to vacationers who could not afford the private resorts in Nasugbu.
When, more than a decade ago, investors began to develop the stretch of fine, gray sand from Nasugbu in Batangas to Ternate in Cavite, Anna Marie’s father, Armando, now 56, was among those who led the community in opposing the land conversion.
Quoting her grandson, Imelda said that before the family went to bed on the night of March 6, with the boy staying on the top bunk of the double-decker in the single room, Ariel told his son not to be afraid and to be strong.
The boy might have remembered this because when the police arrived at dawn, he said he did not cry or make a sound even when they took his father away.He said he climbed through a small space that put him close to the ceiling and watched.
There were six men, he said; one, who barked the orders, was the “pinuno” (leader). Quoting the boy, who nodded occasionally, his eyes on the cell phone, Imelda said the police grabbed Ariel and handcuffed him.
The police hit Ariel with a blunt object on his right face and at the back of his right leg, so hard that “he could not even stand or walk anymore.”
Imelda was unsure whether it was the butt of a gun, but a piece of steel pipe was later found near the wooden cabinet, which had been rifled through.
Anna Marie was able to get away and was thrice heard by relatives crying for help (“Tulong!”)
The police removed Ariel’s cuffs and took him to the next cottage, Imelda said, adding that he tripped as they dragged him off.
‘Nanay’ came back
The boy’s account, as recalled by Imelda, was that Anna Marie ran back and embraced Ariel, and the police took her, too. She quoted her grandson as saying that “Nanay really loved Tatay because she came back for him.” It was his Nanay who taught the boy to read and write.
As the police began to leave the family’s cottage, the boy climbed down from his perch and hid under the bed.
Imelda said one cop returned and trained a light on where the boy was hiding. “He said he heard the cop say, ‘Sir, there’s a child,’” she said. “Then another said, ’Wag na ’yang bata (Leave the child).’”
Imelda said the boy stayed under the bed and ran for help only when he saw the pinuno leave. Gunshots
As the day broke, relatives and neighbors could do nothing against the raiders. They could not say how many there were.In the other cottage, Anna Marie’s uncle was asleep when the police pulled away his blanket and ordered him to get out before forcing the couple inside.
The boy said that all throughout what had happened, he never heard his father speak or cry. But he clearly remembered the shots fired.The couple’s next of kin denied that the Evangelistas kept any weapons.
“They’re activists, but I never thought it would cost them their lives,” Armando said of his daughter and her husband.