BUKIDNON, Philippines – Napoleon Booc burst into tears as he paid tribute to his son Chad during the last day of the young activist’s wake in Davao City before the body was flown back to Cebu City.
Chad’s remains were brought to Cebu on Friday, March 4, a week after his death was announced by the military in Davao de Oro province.
It was in Cebu where his mother Jessica and youngest sibling Nikki saw his body for the first time since his violent death.
The day also marked the first time that a Mass was officiated in Chad’s honor.
“His death did not feel real until we finally saw him in a casket,” said Nikki, the youngest of the five Booc siblings.
Chad, who would have turned 28 this April 17, was one of the five members of a group sent by the Save Our Schools Network (SOS Network) for research work in Davao de Oro last month.
Those killed with Chad were activist and Lumad school volunteer teacher Gelejurain “Jurain” Ngujo II, community health worker Elgyn Balonga, and drivers Roberto Aragon and Tirso Añar.
The group was traveling back to Davao City on Wednesday, February 23, the last time Balonga, one of Booc’s companions, had contact with her family.
Balonga asked her family members to fetch them as soon as they reached Davao City on February 23, according to SOS Network.
But the military said Booc and his companions were armed New People’s Army (NPA) rebels killed during an encounter in New Bataan, Davao de Oro, on the morning of February 24.
Sobbing, Chad’s father denied his son was a rebel or a terrorist contrary to what the military, police, and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) have been claiming.
“My son was an extraordinary person – he loved the poor and the marginalized. He was not a terrorist. He had so many plans to help the downtrodden,” the 66-year-old Napoleon said.
Napoleon broke his silence during the last day of Chad’s wake in Davao City on Thursday, and a day before he took his slain son’s body back to Cebu City.
Chad, he said, excelled in his academic studies until he earned his Computer Science degree, cum laude, at the University of the Philippines Diliman in 2016.
The activist and Lumad school volunteer teacher wanted to help people even while he was in school that he joined a group that developed a mobile application for a campus-based psychosocial wellness program.
The project was meant to provide a convenient and accessible mental health first-aid service to students fighting stigma and discrimination.
In 2019, Chad helped in developing a Manobo dictionary app to help in the education of Lumad in Mindanao.
Napoleon stood beside Chad’s coffin, wept, and recalled the time he advised his son to be more careful given that he was being red-tagged, and received death threats.
He said Chad dismissed the threats and assured his father that nothing bad would happen to him because none of the accusations were true.
In between sobs, the grieving father repeatedly asked Chad’s forgiveness for failing because he was not there to protect him while the young man was being shot.
“Dili nako kaya, Dong. Grabe ilang gibuhat, Dong. Dong, Chad, sorry kaayo, wa tika maprotektahi sa mga tawo nga mihunos sa imong kinabuhi, Dong, og naa pa lang ko, Dong, sugaton gyud nako sila bahalag akoy mauna,” Napoleon said in Cebuano.
(This is unbearable, my boy. What they did was terrible, my boy. My boy, Chad, I am so sorry I failed to protect you from those who took your life. If I were only there, my boy, I would’ve dashed at them. I wouldn’t care even if I go first.)
But he said he couldn’t stop his son from choosing the vocation that made him happy and gave his life meaning.
Former Ateneo School of Government Dean Antonio La Viña, one of the lawyers of the SOS Network, also paid tribute to Chad. He said he admired the young man’s grit and flamboyant attitude even amid threats.
“I am in sorrow. Angry, yes. But also grieving their deaths because I loved these two young men (Chad and Jurain) because of their total commitment to the Lumad,” La Viña said.
La Viña said he has kept a video of the activists before they left for Davao region, something which, according to the lawyer, may be used for “legal purposes.”
“But, I have to tell you, I cried. It’s a story of love, a story of commitment, a story of struggle that is not yet over,” he said.
La Viña said trees would be planted in honor of the activists at a place where they had one of their happiest moments prior to leaving for Mindanao.
“Yes, they are seeds. We will plant trees to remind us of Chad and Jurain’s love and commitment to the Lumad,” he said. – Rappler.com
Grace Cantal-Albasin is a Mindanao-based journalist and awardee of Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship