15 year-old survivor of military torture, rape seeks justice; dreams of becoming a lawyer
February 15, 2022

After more than a year of enduring in silence, a minor from Quezon province comes forward with the horrors she experienced at the hands of Philippine military forces belonging to the 59th Infantry Battalion.

On July 27, 2020 a 15-year-old girl whose identity is hidden under the name ‘Belle’ was abducted and blindfolded by soldiers. She was brought to what she presumed was their military camp where she was interrogated about supposed New People’s Army (NPA) activities in their community and her mother’s involvement in them. Belle said she had no idea about this accusation, saying that her mother was only a farmer. She was then tortured for information.

Belle is the daughter of a member of the group CLAIM or Coco Levy Fund Ibalik sa Amin, an organization of small coconut farmers calling for the return of coconut levy funds. Human rights groups said that CLAIM has been a target of state-enforced harassment and red-tagging for years. Soldiers who took Belle reportedly forced her to admit that her mother was an NPA member.

“Nung umaga na, wala na akong piring noon kaya nakita ko yung paligid na napakaraming sundalo. At nung umaga ding nun ay puro pag-iimbestiga at puro pananakit ang ginawa nila sa’kin at pilit nilang pinasusuko yung magulang ko at dinidiin nilang kasapi ng NPA na ang katotohanan naman ay magsasaka lang ang magulang ko. Halos araw-araw ko naman siyang kasama at siya po ang nagpapaaral sa amin pero ang ginagawa ng kasunadluhan ay pinagbibintangan nila na kasapi si mama ng mga NPA.”

(Come morning, I was no longer blindfolded so I saw that the surrounding area was full of soldiers. It was that morning that I was interrogated and repeatedly hurt and they kept on forcing my mother to surrender. They were accusing her of being a member of the NPA when the truth is, she is just a farmer. I’m with her everyday and she’s the one who sends us to school, but the soldiers were accusing her of being an NPA member.)

Criminal complaint

Belle’s ordeal did not end in the military camp. A reported paramilitary member, Leoven Julita, brought Belle to his house after her interrogation and abuse. She was then locked up for four days. Afterwards, she was again brought back to the encampment where she was physically abused and raped.

In her criminal complaint at the Department of Justice central office in Metro Manila, Belle included Julita’s parents as an accessory to the crime.

Belle was then brought to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Lopez, Quezon. Despite her pleas with the staff of the agency, she did not receive any help. She was instead forced to sign a statement saying that she was against her family and that she did not want to return to the custody of her mother. Because she was repeatedly threatened that the armed goons would kill and her family, she signed.

“Dinala ako sa DSWD ng Lopez at sapilitan akong pinagawa ng salaysay na kontra daw sa pamilya ko para hindi ako makuha pero ang gumawa no’n ay si Leoven at pilit nga po akong pinapapirma. Tuluy-tuloy ‘yung pagbabanta nila ‘pag hindi ako pumirma. Ilang araw din akong nakakulong sa office nila.”

(I was brought to the DSWD in Lopez and I was forced to make a statement saying I was against my family so they couldn’t claim me but it was Leoven who made that statement that I was forced to sign. They kept on threatening me if I didn’t sign. I was locked up in that office for a few days, too.)

Afterwards, Belle was taken to the house of a pregnant police officer where she was again locked up. A few days later, her sibling came to get her at the DSWD. Before they were allowed to leave, though, they were forced to sign another statement saying Belle experienced no abuse from and that she went willingly with the military. Filled with exhaustion, they signed the document and went home.

Dreams barred by threats

The harassment from military forces continued after the incident. Belle’s fear and anxiety persisted.

In an interview with Altermidya, the 15-year-old recounted instances when she saw soldiers spying on her while getting her modules from her school. She had also been receiving threat messages from unknown senders. All these forced Belle to put her schooling on hold– a decision that was painful for her.

“Gustong-gusto ko talagang makapagtapos ng pag-aaral pero hindi ko magawa yan kasi lagi na lang silang sumusunod. Syempre nakakatakot kasi meron silang pagbabanta sa buhay ko at sa buhay ng pamilya ko. Kaya pinili ko na lang na tumigil sa pag-aaral ko kahit mahirap para sakin ‘yun.”

(I really want to finish school but I can’t do that because of their surveillance. Of course, it’s scary since they’re threatening my life and my family’s life. So I chose to stop going to school even though it was difficult for me.)

Belle said that she had always wanted to become a lawyer. From an early age, she had seen land from her community being stolen with no lawyers there to defend the people. It is her dream to become that defender one day.

“Pangarap ko talaga nung bata pa lang ako maging abogado kasi… wala kaming abogado sa lugar namin habang nagaganap yung pananakop sa mga lupa.”

(It was my dream as a child to be a lawyer because we didn’t have lawyers in our community while our lands were being taken over.)

‘They destroyed my life’

When the harassment continued after Belle was free of the military’s clutches, she sought the help of Gabriela to file charges against them. With the help of the women’s group, she was able to get legal aid from the National Union of People’s Lawyers.
 The 59th Infantry Battalion released a statement discrediting the Belle’s narrative through Gabriela Southern Tagalog’s Facebook post.

The military denied that the incident happened and that Gabriela was only spewing lies. Belle denounced this statement, saying that it was actually Gabriela who has been helping her and her family in her fight for justice.

“Sinasabi nila na ginagamit ako ng Gabriela, na sinisira ng Gabriela yung buhay ko na sa katotohanan, sila naman yung sumira sa buhay ko na ni pag-aral, hindi ako makapag-aral kasi lagi silang sumusunod,” she shared. “Yung pamilya ko, lagi nilang pinagbabantaan na papatayin nila. Lumapit po kami sa Gabriela at kusang loob po kaming lumapit dahil alam namin na sila lang yung makakatulong sa’min… Sobra pong laki na nitulong sa amin ng Gabriela.”

(They’re saying that Gabriela is using me, that Gabriela is ruining my life when in truth, they are the ones that destroyed my life. I couldn’t even continue my studies because they kept on following me and threatening the life of my family. We willingly went with Gabriela because we knew that they were the only ones who could help us. Gabriela has been a big help to us.)

With the help of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, Belle will file criminal charges against all those who were involved in her harassment, torture, and rape. This includes the then head of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr who was in charge of the anti-insurgency task force activities at the time.

“Sapat na yung pananahimik nang ilang panahon. Kailangang kami naman yung humingi ng hustisya at maningil sa kanila sa mga pambababoy nilang ginawa.”

(The time I spent in silence is enough. It’s our turn to seek justice and make them pay for their gross transgressions.)

She urges all victims of military harassment to come forward and seek justice, just as she is doing.

“Hindi kami titigil na humingi ng hustisya sa mga ginawa nila. Sa aming mga kabataan na nakaranas ng gan’to, hindi kami titigil hanggang hindi namin nakakamit ang hustistya. At alam ng panginoon ang tama.

(We will not stop seeking justice for what they have done. We, the youth, who experienced this will not stop until we have attained justice. And God knows the truth.)


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