Trigger warning: Descriptions of violence and death
More than a month after the death of activist and Lumad teacher Chad Booc, progressives continue to testify to his service, amplifying calls for justice as evidences break the military’s claim that Booc was killed in an armed encounter.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun classified the incident as a homicide.
“I would classify this death as a homicide. Please take note that murder is not our term. It’s a legal term,” she said in a press conference last March 11.
Dr. Fortun, who inspected Booc’s remains, said that it was probable that the shots fired had “an intent to kill”.
“All I can tell you from now is that Booc sustained very serious injuries of the trunk from multiple gunshot wounds. There were internal hemorrhages. [Ang] meaning niyan, buhay pa yung tao nung siya ay binaril,” Dr. Fortun added.
[“It means that he was still alive when he was shot.”]
She said that she was only able to autopsy the embalmed remains of Booc, who died due to massive blood loss. She also pushed to have further investigation to fully figure out what truly transpired during the incident.
“We try to explain what those bullets speak. A step further is whether we can reconstruct the shooting,” she added.
The 10th Infantry Division initially said that Booc was among five people who were killed in an armed encounter in New Bataan, Davao de Oro last February 24. Contrary to this claim, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) Chief Information Officer Marco Valbuena said that the state forces’ “‘encounter’ claim is an outright lie”. The local New People’s Army (NPA) unit in the area confirmed that no encounter happened in New Bataan, Davao de Oro (READ: Lumad teacher Chad Booc killed by state forces).
“The AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] claims that an encounter occurred, but initial information from locals confirms that there was no encounter that took place,” Save Our Schools (SOS) Network added.
The five victims, which came to be known as the “New Bataan 5”, were sent by the SOS Network for research work in Davao de Oro. Booc died with fellow Lumad teacher Gelejurain “Jurain” Ngujo II, community health worker Elgyn Balonga, and drivers Roberto Aragon and Tirso Añar.
On February 15, 2021, Booc was among the detainees in what the state claimed as a “rescue operation” in a Bakwit School in Cebu. However, Lumads and progressives view the arrests as an attack against their community. They faced accusations of training students as child rebel soldiers, but this was later dismissed for lack of proof (READ: Shock and terror in a Cebu Bakwit School, with 26 Lumad students and elders, and teachers detained from ‘rescue op’; ‘Bakwit School 7’ freed from trumped-up charges of serious illegal detention, kidnapping).
Contrary to these accusations, Booc said that Lumad schools were built to teach Lumad children to protect their rights against oppressors.
“Ang role ng mga Lumad school at ng mga kabataan ay napaka-potent na tool para isulong ang ating mga progressive na changes. Tinuturuan doon ang mga kabataan na magsalita, kung paano magpahayag ng kanilang mga saloobin, kung paano mag-express ng resistance against sa mga powers na nag-e-exploit o nag-o-oppress sa kanila,” Booc expressed in a 2020 interview with Perspective Live.
[“The role of Lumad schools and the youth is a very potent tool to forward progressive changes. In Lumad schools, we teach the youth how to speak, how to state their opinions, and how to express their resistance against powers that exploit and oppress them.”]
Prior to his arrest in a Lumad school, Booc was also already detained in 2017, after protesting against the extension of Martial Law in Mindanao during a congressional session on the Marawi siege. He and seven other individuals were charged with “disturbance of proceedings”.
Steadfast in the face of threats
Even before his arrests and death, Booc has endured being branded as a communist or even a terrorist several times.
“Throughout their years of service, Chad, Jurain, and Elgyn had been subjected to threats, harassment, intimidation, including death threats, red-tagging and terror-tagging, and surveillance. It is then even more deplorable that the people who take up the initiative to serve in far-flung communities, where the Duterte government cares little to address the needs of its residents, are targeted and killed,” SOS Network said.
In fact, Chad’s sister Jennah Booc said that in 2017, her brother posted several records of threats and attacks. Addressing which, he said, “Blame the AFP for my death.”
Despite the persisting terror-tagging, Booc’s family and friends testified that he stood against such threats to continue serving Lumad communities and fighting for people’s rights.
“Despite the mortifying experiences-harassment, constant red-tagging, terror tagging, and even death threats from the hands of our own state forces, the AFP military, PNP [Philippine National Police] and NTF-ELCAC [National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict], Chad remains steadfast in his principles of peace, human rights, and justice,” Jennah Booc wrote.
Jennah expressed her disgust over the killing of her brother, who merely chose to be of service to rural communities.
“It’s so disgusting to know that our own government bruttaly [sic] tortured and killed my brother just for merely speaking out on the rampant militarization in the Lumad’s ancestral lands, closure of their schools, exposing them for the murders of the indigenous families and traumatizes children. Backed by the Duterte administration, foreign investors have been burning down Lumad mountains and destroying domains owned by locals,” Jennah added.
Napoleon Booc, Chad’s father, also waved off the accusations thrown at his son by state forces.
“My son was an extraordinary person – he loved the poor and the marginalized. He was not a terrorist. He had so many plans to help the downtrodden,” Napoleon said.
In fact, despite the military’s claim that the New Bataan 5 were armed when they were killed, SOS Network said that Balonga, who was among the victims, even contacted her family to fetch them in Davao City on February 23.
“Elgyn was still able to send a text message to her family asking to fetch them. This was the last known contact,” SOS Network stated.
The SOS Network, along with relatives, friends, and progressives, continues to call for an impartial investigation on the deaths of the New Bataan 5.
A life of service
A cum laude graduate of BS Computer Science in UP Diliman, Booc’s undergraduate thesis about a mobile application has also been widely recognized. As such, he received remarks about his studies being “wasted” as he has chosen to serve Lumad children.
“Ngunit hindi ba’t mas sayang kung yung ‘Husay at Dangal’ na nakuha natin mula sa unibersidad ay gagamitin lang natin upang paglingkuran ang mga mapagsamantala, ang mga dayuhan at ang mga malalaking kapitalistang nagpapahirap sa mga manggagawa?” Booc wrote in 2017.
[“Won’t the ‘Honor and Excellence’ that we learned from the university be more wasted if we will only use them to serve exploiters, foreigners and huge capitalists that oppress workers?”]
In his social media posts, Booc shared that it is more fulfilling to share his knowledge to Lumad children, despite not being able to fully apply his computer science degree in his career.
With his “#FromCStoCS” (Computer Science to Countryside) stories, Booc said that although he wasn’t able to use everything that he had learned, it is the joy of seeing Lumad children and their smiles that reminds him why his knowledge was not wasted.
“Sa paglilingkod natin sa mga inaapi, sa mga marginalized na sektor ng ating lipunan, kailanman ay hindi masasayang ang ipinagkaloob sa atin ng unibersidad. Hindi sayang na nag-UP tayo para tumungo sa kanayunan, kasi ito dapat ang tungkulin natin, ang paglingkuran ang sambayanan,” he added.
[“In our service to the oppressed, to marginalized sectors in our society, what has been imparted to us by the university will never be wasted. It is not a waste to have studied in UP to go to rural areas, because this is our duty, to serve the people.”]
Jennah Booc said that Chad had everything he needed to secure a high-paying corporate job, but social realities made him selflessly choose to serve the people and teach in Lumad communities.
“As a soft-spoken but dauntless national-democratic activist as he is, he knew that computer programs could wait until our society embraces a comprehensive program that is of the masses and for the masses. Since then, he had devoted his life to serving the people in whatever way he could,” she wrote in a Facebook post.
UP Diliman Office of the Chancellor Executive staff also released a statement condemning Booc’s death, saying that he was a civilian non-combatant who committed the life of being an “Iskolar para sa Bayan”.
“It is in service of such a vision that our core values of honor, excellence, and compassion are most nobly exemplified, and we are proud to honor their lives and remember them as among the best of our students and the best of our teachers,” they wrote. [P]
Graphics by Jase Michael Manatad