“I try to visit him as often as I could, everyday if possible,” said Maden Sedom, wife of political detainee and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights defender Jonte Sedom. “Otherwise he would be inside his prison cell where he could not even stand.”
Maden recalls the image of Jonte in his cell, the height of the room not allowing a grown man to stand. “They would even taunt him when he sits,” she recalled. “They would shout at him, sit straight NPA! His lower back is already in pain. He can only stretch whenever he has a visitor. And that is why I try to visit him everyday.”
Jonte has been in prison since June this year after members of the Philippine Army barged into his home and allegedly found supplies and ammunition for the communist-led New People’s Army (NPA).
Helpless without him
Maden has a small business in their community, stocking rice and groceries she loans out to her neighbors, explaining the supplies they have in their home. Jonte, on the other hand, works under the National Greening Program (NGP) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Both of them work in tandem on their small farm, which they plant with corn.
“I feel helpless without him,” Maden said. “We do things together. Now, for example, instead of the 14 kilos worth of corn seeds we used to sow in our farm, I was only able to sow four.” And even so, she will only be able to harvest it in January.
“I sometimes feel like my heart is being crushed when I see my children, aged eight and 12, hauling some logs just to add to our income,” said Maden. “They would get paid P100 or P200 by the loggers. They use this to buy rice.”
Maden had to close down her small business. She had to use all their funds in visiting Jonte at the precinct. An irony, she said, because Jonte’s concern is for their family, if they had enough food on their table.
Military no longer interested?
Their community leaders had sat in a dialogue with the provincial governor of Bukidnon, Jose Ma. Zubiri, asserting that Jonte is not a member of the armed group. Gov. Zubiri had also called into the meeting members of the 8th Infantry Battalion who assured the indigenous leaders that they are no longer interested in filing a case against Jonte.
However, on October 27, Maden heard from her neighbors that the military were planning to move Jonte to a precinct in Davao.
“My children are losing hope,” said Maden. “If they would move Jonte, it would be harder for us to visit him.” Their fare to the precinct would cost P250 (roughly $5). The previous daily salary of Jonte under the NGP could not even cover it.
“But it doesn’t matter if we are draining our finances,” said Maden. “We want to have Jonte back with us. If I would have to show myself at the precinct everyday, if we have to borrow money to pay for his legal counsel, we would do that.”
Taken by state security forces
Jonte is a member of Kasilo, the Indigenous People’s Organization in their Tigwahanon community. Despite his work, he also finds time to support the calls of their community in their defense of their ancestral domain and their assertion of self-determination and self-governance. Many times he and Maden had joined their neighbors in evacuating to the political center of the province whenever their small community is targeted by military operations. Together with Maden in many of her journeys and in seeking help from support groups are their organization’s leaders who, grateful to Jonte’s commitment to their community, are also determined to see him free.
On June 22 this year, 11 from their community were taken by members of the 68th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army. The military men were allegedly ‘searching for someone,’ so they cordoned the males of the community with their hands held behind them. Their houses were then searched by the military, who reportedly found arms and explosives for the NPA in some of them.
Emboldened by martial law declaration
It was not the first time for the military to barge into the homes of the Tigwahanon. However, in the past, their excuse had been that they were in actual hot pursuit of the NPA. But the military had been emboldened by the declaration of President Duterte of martial law in May this year. This, for them, gave legitimacy to their warrantless searches and mass arrests.
Maden knows the danger she puts herself into every time she leaves their community to visit her husband. But for her, even their home is no longer a sanctuary. “Jonte has always been with us,” she said. “I see the other prisoners at the jail, also unjustly arrested, waiting for any progress on their non-existent cases. Their ordeal is made harder by the fact that no one is there for them. This is a small sacrifice for everything Jonte has done for us, not just as his family, but as a member of our community whose rights he has been fighting for.”###
Maden and children received protection support from RMP-NMR's 'Welcoming the Strangers' Program supported by the Lifeline Embattled CSO Assistance Fund.
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