First posted 07:24am (Mla time) Sept 26, 2006
By DJ Yap
Editor’s Note: Published on page A1 of the September 26, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
EVERY TIME she gave birth, Francia found herself making a painful choice between caring for her baby and carrying on the struggle as a cadre of the communist New People’s Army.
Always, she ended up choosing ideology over motherhood. As each of her children was born, she left them in the care of other people.
“A month after I gave birth, my child would be sent to a caretaker — each of them to a different family,” she said in Filipino. “I would get to visit them maybe once a week. But they never really thought of me as their mother.”
“That was just the way it was,” said the 31-year-old mother of five.
“When you’re inside (the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines), there’s no distinction between men and women. You forget you’re a woman; you forget you’re a mother,” she said.
But after years of fighting in the mountains, Francia finally realized it was time to choose family over principle.
In May 2001, she left the communist movement and surrendered to the government in order to be reunited with her children.
Hers was one of the stories told at yesterday’s Peace Tech 3, a dialogue among youths on the impact of war and conflict on women.
The forum connected students and teachers at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, with their counterparts at the Notre Dame University in Cotabato City.
It was the third in a series of teleconferences on issues concerning the youth.
During the forum, women who were caught in armed conflicts talked about their experiences before a large group of mostly high school students.
About 750 students listened in at UP, while an audience of more than 1,100 attended the forum at Notre Dame.
Francia was the first speaker. When she began her story, she was calm and collected, but as her narration went on, emotion took over, and she shed tears.
A native of Bicol, she was only 19 when she was recruited to the NPA. “It was not my original intention to join. I was supposed to be applying for a job, but when we were taken to a camp, I just went with the flow.”
After six months of training, she went to see her family again. “We were all in tears. My parents said they were afraid for my sake. They pitied my condition because I had grown so thin,” she said.
“But in the end, when I was talking to them, it was as though I was also trying to recruit them (into the NPA),” she said.
Married to a comrade
Francia assumed combat duty within the organization and, for 12 years, fought government forces in Southern Luzon.
She married a comrade, and gave birth to five children, with ages now ranging from 3 to 12.
As standard policy in the camp, every time Francia gave birth, her child was taken away to be reared by different caretakers.
“They (her children) didn’t even know each other. And they only thought of me as a relative,” she said. “It was difficult knowing my children were growing up with other people.”
“It hurt me, but I just tried to ignore the sad feelings. I couldn’t do anything. I had no choice,” Francia said.
This went on for many years, she said, until one day, she just woke up wondering why she could not live a happy life with her family.
“When I became older, I realized that the ideals of my youth were not as important as my children. I longed to be with them,” Francia said. “I wanted a good future for them.”
Today, her family is complete. Her husband turned himself in to authorities three weeks ago, out of concern for their 7-year-old daughter who is in a hospital for a lung infection.
“I’m happy now that we’re a family,” she said. “I may have made bad choices for my children. But I hope they’ll understand me when they’re older.”
Her children may still be getting used to the idea of themselves being a family, after growing up in different households.
But Francia is unperturbed. After all, she now has all the time in the world to look after them.
The organizers and partners of Peace Tech 3 were the Assisi Development Foundation, Center for Peace Education of Miriam College, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Australian Agency for International Development, Canada Fund for Local Initiatives and Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co.
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