Children's rights

Social workers strive to heal trauma in Negros Occidental conflict zones

Reymund Titong

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Social workers strive to heal trauma in Negros Occidental conflict zones

REFUGE. Lyra Versoza, a Leyte-based mental health practicioner, conducts a psychosocial assessment of residents in Sitio Dangalon, Barangay Hilamonan, Kabankalan City after a series of armed encounters between government troops and communist rebels.

Central Philippines State University-Office of Student Services and Affairs

Kabankalan social welfare and development head Cyril D. Ramos says residents of conflict zones are afraid for the safety of their children, and farmers worry about their ability to meet their families’ survival needs

NEGROS OCCIDENTAL, Philippines – The sound of approaching trucks these days always sends at least one child crying and shaking in the hamlet of Dangalon, in Barangay Hilamonan,  Kabankalan City.

Ramon Tingal says his daughter is one of the anxious minors, still unable to shake off the trauma of the May 3 clash in their village that injured two soldiers and killed his brother, Crispin, a farmer tagged by the military as a communist rebel.

The clash that killed the 36-year-old Crispin and another battle on May 11 roused anguish and anxiety among members of the close-knit clan and their neighbors, Ramon told Rappler on the sidelines of a June 9 training workshop on psychological first-aid  for residents, teachers, and personnel of the City Social Welfare and Development Office (CSWDO). 

Ramon’s daughter displays distress at loud noises. She is easily frightened by lorry sounds, even if these are not army-owned vehicles.

“Nahadlok gid ko, pati ang akon mga bata sa natabo sa kay utod ko,” Ramon said.

(I am terrified, even my children, about what happened to my brother.)

“Subong, ga pangayo kami sang oras sa mga military nga maka estorya, para ma plastar namon sa ila ang amon gusto, ilabi na ang amon seguridad” he added.

(At the moment, we are asking the military for a dialogue to discuss what we need, especially with regard to our security.)


Crispin’s family had immediately pushed back at the military’s claim that he was a rebel.

His wife, Dolly, said the farmer and father of seven children was scheduled to attend a seminar on the sustainable livelihood program of the Kabankalan City Social Welfare and Development Office (CSWDO) and the city agriculture office on the day the military claimed he was involved in a clash. 

The CSWDO told Rappler 122 families in the barangay fled their homes temporarily during the the recent clashes.

Whether or not their kin are killed or red-tagged, whether or not their villages are labelled communist influenced, families struggle with fear and the anxiety born of not knowing when you next have to flee home and farm.

In these polarized communities, social workers do their best, walking a tightrope between security units and conflict-affected communities.

The June 9 workshop happened when the CSWDO reached out to Leyte-based  Independent Mental Health practitioner Lyra Verzosa and Dr. Ma. Pilipinas D. Jareño from the Central Philippines State University’s Mental Health Services Unit.

Their brief: help in dealing with what parents and teachers have reported as negative psychological effects among school children caught in the crossfire of clashes in Kabankalan and neighboring Himamaylan.

Teaching empathy

Kabankalan CSWDO head Cyril D. Ramos acknowledged that hundreds of residents in the southern cities are afraid for the safety of their children.

Farmers also spoke about feeling uncertain of their inability to meet their families’ survival needs. 

“We are working with mental health professionals to provide psychosocial support to people who were distressed by the series of encounters in the upland communities of Kabankalan and Himamaylan cities,” Ramos told Rappler.

PROCESSING TRAUMA. Residents of conflict areas in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental undergo a psychological first-aid workshop on June 9. Reymund Titong

Verzosa conducted the workshop held at an events place in the city.

Using creative visual arts, she helped participants process individual stress experiences and learn how to manage circumstances in a crisis.

“I hope educators were motivated to be more empathic with the pupils they teach, and to incorporate their workshop learnings in classroom curricula to promote resilience as a proactive approach to crisis intervention,” she said.

Verzosa also conducted a stress management session via acupressure, a method of pressing on acupuncture points to facilitate energy circulation.

Deep breathing exercises were also done during the session.

Rights and security

Psychosocial needs assessment evoking justice, health, education, safety, and residents’ security needs were also given focus during the session.

“Lipay gid kami sa sini nga training kay tungod sini, kabalo kami mag dala sang amon emosyon kag kaugalingon sa tunga sang isa ka krisis sa subong pa nga medyo mainit gid sang sitwasyon namon sa Dangalon,” Ramon told Rappler.

(We are so happy about this training. Because of this, we will be able to manage our emotions amid a crisis, which is essential given the current state of events in Dangalon.)

“During the running gun battle, some residents of Barangay Buenavista in Himamaylan City, including young children, were affected. Based on the preliminary statistics from the Kabankalan City CSWDO, fifteen young children who had firsthand experiences with armed conflict have had psychological distress,” the CSWDO chief said.

The Tingal family and their neighbors represent the taillend of evacuations in southern Negros Occidental going back to the last quarter of 2022.

With clashes marking the government’s efforts to deal decisive blows against Asia’s oldest communist insurgency, people have taken shelter in gymnasiums, churches, schools, barangay multi-purpose halls, and the newer disaster emergency centers in town and city centers.

Children have had it bad in these battles.

On October 6, 2022, fighting in Barangay Carabalan, Himamaylan forced students on their way to school to scramble for shelter. By late night of that day, the minors taken to the city’s main evacuation area were still trying to reunite with their parents.

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The Carabalan clash lasted four days. The number of affected individuals breached the 1,000 mark on the second day and rose to 18,000 individuals across three villages by the time the Armed Forces gave the green light for residents to return home.

The October 2022 encounters displaced more than 5,000 persons, prompting officials of the third-class component city to declare a state of emergency.

Days of fighting killed two soldiers and rebel leader Romeo Nanta, also known as Juanito Magbanua, the commanding officer of the NPA Apolinario Gatmaitan Command and spokesperson for the Communist Party of the Philippines’ Negros-Cebu-Bohol-Siquijor regional party committee.

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