GENERAL SANTOS CITY,PHILIPPINES —Mention her mother’s name and 8-year-old Rhully Mae Montano Shulla quickly breaks into tears.
“She can’t sleep alone. She must constantly be in the company of others. She can’t be left alone,” her grandmother, Nanay Maura, said.
Rhully Mae is the youngest of two children of Marife “Neneng” Montano, publisher of Saksi News, who was among at least 32 journalists and media workers slaughtered in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao on Nov. 23, 2009. They were accompanying the wife and other relatives of then Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu in filing his candidacy for governor against the ruling Ampatuan family.
Two years after the massacre, the children of the victims continue to suffer from trauma and financial woes.
Nanay Maura, 65, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that Rhully Mae had been showing disturbing behavior since losing her single mother. Aside from her fear of being all by herself, the child has become somewhat forgetful, her grandmother said.
“She would arrive home without her bag. Often, it is left either in the tricycle or in school,” Nanay Maura said.
Rhully Mae would always call her mother, the grandmother said. Barely three days before Neneng’s second death anniversary, the child kept asking “Where’s my mama? When will she come home?”
Her performance in school has also been affected. According to Nanay Maura, the school principal had advised her to seek professional help.
“The problem is we don’t have money. Meanwhile, I always encourage her to go out and play with her friends or peers,” the grandmother said.
Rhully Mae and her elder brother, Jether, 18, are recipients of scholarship grants from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP). She receives P1,000 so she can enroll and P500 in monthly allowance.
Jether, a first year accountancy student at a private school in General Santos City, gets P1,500 per semester during enrollment and P3,000 monthly allowance.
“We miss our bonding time. Going out to the mall, dining together and buying toys, clothes, etc.,” he said as he recounted the happy times he and his sister had with their mother. He described his mother as hardworking, someone who would do everything to provide what they need.
“Jether was a spoiled brat during his boyhood. But he has changed a lot since he became a teenager, all because of Neneng’s patience and love for him,” Nanay Maura said.
The grandmother said she had lost not only her daughter in the massacre, but also “my own livelihood.” She used to work and stay in the farm at Isulan town in Sultan Kudarat province to augment Neneng’s income.
“We helped one another to provide the needs of her children. Now, I am left alone to face the difficult tasks of rearing and providing their basic needs,” she said.
Nanay Maura said she needed financial support for the schooling of two children and their survival.
Another massacre victim and single mother, Gina dela Cruz of Gensan Focus left behind five children—aged 18, 11, 10, 7 and 2 years—in the care of her mother, Nanay Nancy, 65. Three of the children are scholars of the NUJP and Bantay Bata 163.
Often, Nanay Nancy said they would eat just once a day because of financial problems since her daughter’s death. But the children have learned to live with it and nobody is complaining, she said.
The eldest child, Jergin, now 18 and also a single mother, was compelled to work “part-time as majorette instructress during the day and a promo girl of a liquor brand at a disco bar in the evening,” she said.
But Nanay Nancy, who is busy with household chores and taking care of the other children, is worried if Jergin really works at Horton’s Disco Bar on North Osmeña Street.
On their own
John Elliver “Janjan” Cablitas, 18, said the death of his mother, Marites, publisher of Gensan Focus, was a big loss to the family. “She left behind a deep and aching void no one can ever fill,” he said.
When Marites was still alive, everything—breakfast, uniforms, etc.—were ready when her children woke up in the morning, said Janjan, a second year student taking up BS Marine Transportation. He and his elder brother, Mark Elliver, 19, are scholars of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ).
Their mother was the one doing all the housework, Janjan said. Now, they have to do it by themselves, he said, as their father, a policeman, is always on duty.
“We miss the times when we were together. I will never forget when she was still alive it was a real party during our birthday. Now, during birthdays we prepare just ‘pancit,’ and, sometimes, none at all,” he said.
The support given by the Inquirer motivates and inspires Ma. Alexandra “Polay” Morales, 12, to study hard. She is the eldest daughter of slain Gensan Focus sales agent, Rosell Morales.
Polay dreams of becoming a lawyer someday “to help my family overcome poverty and to help victims of injustice find justice for themselves.”
Right now, she said, she is developing her reading habit. “I heard that you have to read a lot when taking up a law course. So as early as now, I want to develop my reading habit,” she said in the vernacular.
“She needs to develop self-confidence. She’s shy,” said her mother, Grace.
After the massacre, Grace noticed that Polay would usually sulk in a corner and cry. “Before, I was worried. She was not saying anything. She would just cry and cry,” she said.
Polay said she was close to her father. “He helped us do our assignments, brought us to and fetched us from school and, during his free time, we went out together to eat and buy toys,” she said.
Since his death, the family’s finances have turned from bad to worse and the children are not getting the proper nutrition needed for their age.
Appeal for help
Teresita Maravilla, who lives in the city’s Barangay (village) 6, said she had been taking care of four of her brother’s children—Colleen, 16, Jashen, 15, Josh, 11, and Jinx Cyrus, 7. She said she was buying and selling scrap iron for a living.
Teresita said the youngest child, John Clarence, 5, had been living with her other brother in Cadiz City.
Another journalist from the province, Henry Araneta, a correspondent of radio dzRH, was among the massacre victims. With a report from Carla P. Gomez, Inquirer Visayas