It was early morning, around 6:35 a.m., just right after the parishioners and well-wishers who sang joyful songs on the occasion of the 32nd birthday of Fr. Julius left the convent, a series of gunfire were heard. The sound of the gunfire was very near. Then there was silence. A few minutes later, mothers, wives, children and the rest of people of Tumahubong started shouting, crying, rushing everywhere, calling through their mobile phones, running here and there. All eyes and heads are geared towards the hill, as if they see what is behind that small hill called the “high ground.”
We went out to see what was the commotion was all about. Different stories came rushing as we pass by the neighborhood. But when we reached a certain point in zone 7, people, started running very fast and rushing towards us. All were wearing fear in their faces, shouting and crying “the Abu Sayaf are stationed at Block O. Run! They are coming and have entered the camp.” We knew that it wasn’t true because we knew that the military are positioned in that block but for precautionary measures we hurried back to the convent for safety too.
Then we received the official news that it was not ordinary gunshots but an ambush on the poor gomeros just right in the crossing before entering Tumahubong proper. Two died on the spot and one of them is Larry Mangaran, Sr. We were shocked. Larry was with us last night at Claret School of Tumahubong, very happy and contented with the Tanduay he hid after the small salu-salo prepared for them by Fr. Julius. And now he is gone, one of the innocent victims in his homeland. We are nothing after all. Life is very fragile. One moment you live, the next time you die.
Julius, Educ and I rushed to the car and went to see the real situation. Elmer, Sunny and Aldrin were left in the house. And this is the first thing we saw:
A riffle grenade that miraculously fell into Puloy’s hand. He was dubbed to be the savior of the rest of the sixty plus men in the truck. If the riffle grenade landed somewhere else, it could have been the largest and bloodiest ambush every staged in Tumahubong.
We proceeded to the TARBIDC Office located at Camp 1. Lo and behold what we have found. Mangaran was lying still in the bloody ambushed truck, dead.
Two more dead bodies were lying on the floor, covered with blanket and the rest of the wounded being treated and helped by everyone. Then the signal was given to evacuate them and bring them to the airstrip for an airlift evacuation.
While waiting for the helicopter to come, relatives tried to keep their loved ones to stay alive and animated. Others tried to sustain the serum and contain the burst of blood coming from the gunshots. The less injured were brought by trucks and cars to Isabela already. The worst injured waited and waited for hours for the rescue team. When the mayor and the police finally came, they brought the other victims in the car but they died on the road too.
I have watched closely the faces of the two gomeros that were waiting for the helicopter. I have watched closely their faces as they turn from tan to pale little by little. I have looked straight into the face of the two dying man. I was teary eyed when the families started to cry. I can’t stop but let my tears also roll down my cheeks. It was painful for me, much more for the bereaved families. I was deeply moved by the cries of the children as they lose their father forever.
Julius joked at Allan, the last one to die, that he better live because its now his chance to ride the chopper. Julius actually asked for his life as a gift for his birthday, but he certainly died of hemorrhage no matter what the american soldiers tried to resuscitate him.
We have waited for almost three hours before the rescue helicopters arrived at the dubbed Rhoel Gallardo International Airstrip. Seven (7) died in the ambush. Only 6 were reported in the newspapers. Thirty (30) got wounded and only 22 were reported in the news.
It was another bloody morning in Tumahubong. It’s another day of mourning. A day of joy turned into morning. But nevertheless the people never lost their hope, they continued to believe that the Love of Christ Urges Us On even in times of persecution, even in times of trials and pain.
Coincidentally Julius was wearing this shirt today.