- J Watford
This was how the villagers of Barangay Roosevelt in Tapaz, Capiz referred to Julie Catamin. In this community of Tumandok, everyone knows each other. Their needs and aspirations are aligned and they treat each other as family. When they elected Julie to be the village chairperson, they put their trust in her ability to look after them well.
They weren't wrong. Julie was the sort of leader everybody could turn to. She cared for her villagers and took her responsibility seriously.
When the military and police intensified their harassment of Tumandok communities to force them to give up their ancestral land, Julie did what she could to protect her villagers. She took part in a National Task Force to End Local Armed Communist Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) ceremony where local leaders denounced communist rebels. She did it because she knew that there were no armed rebels among her villagers and she didn't want them to be red-tagged by the military and police.
Maybe Julie was too naive, because on 30 December 2020, just three months after the ceremony, her village was raided by joint police and military forces. She watched in horror as they dragged out four villagers, one of them a frail elderly woman, and accused them of being NPA members.
She had no idea then, but several other raids were happening across Tumandok villages in Tapaz that day. Roy Giganto and other Tumandok leaders would be shot dead, and 12 other Tumandoks would be abducted and jailed.
Julie decided to start taking photos with her phone—photos that would reveal the dangerous farce of the raids. Soldiers and cops rummaging through their victims' belongings and putting guns and ammunition under clothes. The victims, who would later be known as among the Tumandok 16, looking bewildered and scared.
Julie quickly posted the photos on Facebook, condemning the attackers. 'This is worse than martial law,' she lamented.
Julie fearlessly spoke up against the attacks, even giving a radio interview on the same day. She stood by her accusations, determined to help set her villagers free by testifying in court for their release.
That was when the threats began.
Julie was summoned to the 12th Infantry Battalion headquarters in Calinog on 25 February 2021. 'We know your villagers have asked for help from Bayan Muna lawyers and some church groups, ' a certain Lt. Estrada told her. 'You do know that they have ties to the NPA, right?'
The officer then warned Julie that if her village persisted in working with the red-tagged groups, something similar to the December 30 raids might take place.
Three days later, as she rode her motorbike on her way home from Calinog, two men riding in tandem on a motorbike shot her several times. She died on the way to the hospital.
The next day, various government agencies in the region released their propaganda on social media: Julie was an anti-communist leader, which was why the NPA targetted her. They hailed her as a martyr and demanded 'true justice' for her.
They of course failed to mention Julie's condemnation of the raids on her village, her testimony against the military and police, and the fact that just hours before she was gunned down, members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) had gone around Barangay Roosevelt, looking for her.
I read her villagers' comments about Julie after she died. 'Sobrang bait (She was so kind),' one of them wrote. She was always helpful to us, another one said.
'God is watching,' a villager wrote, echoing what Julie herself said in her radio interview in December. 'They can't hide what they did forever.'
Julie was 48 years old.