By Chito A. Fuentes
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:29:00 01/26/2008
TAGBILARAN CITY â€“ He should have been out swimming with his family in Cebu on his 35th birthday on Jan. 17. Instead, Ronaldo Sendrijas was bathed in his own blood after being shot along Graham Avenue in Tagbilaran City in Bohol.
Two bullets fired from a 9-mm pistol felled Sendrijas at about 9:20 p.m. on the sidewalk in front of Paz Pharmacy. Both hit the napeâ€“one exited from the mouth while the other lodged in the abdomen.
He had just emerged from Ramiro Community Hospital to buy medicine for his elder sister Aileen who had given birth to a boy a day earlier. Two killers, however, had other plans.
Sendrijasâ€“ex-seminarian, ex-rebel and ex-detaineeâ€“became the latest entry on the list of mysterious deaths that befall militants in the country.
The third of seven children born to a farmer and a teacher, Sendrijas became one of the most recognizable names in the communist underground in Bohol in the last decade.
His mother Margarita said Ronaldo was an intelligent boy. He was second honor in Grade 6 and valedictorian at the San Jose National High School in Inabanga town. It did not surprise her that he considered becoming a priest when he enrolled at a seminary in Dumaguete City and later at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Tagbilaran.
â€œHe was religious,â€ she recalled when interviewed at Coop Funeral Homes where her sonâ€™s body lay.
Unlike most boys, Ronald was active in church activities and was a lecturer for the Christian Community Formation Course hosted by the barangay chapel, she said.
Sendrijas, however, gradually gravitated toward activist causes. He was a founding member of the Association of Concerned Inabangnons, which resisted a plan to sell Inabanga water to Cebu.
Margarita did not notice her sonâ€™s increasing disillusionment with the system. He did not discuss it with her but somehow she was no longer surprised when she first learned that he had embraced the path of revolution, she said.
Sendrijas was seen in a daring raid on a police detachment in Sta. Fe in Danao town on Dec. 14, 1999.
About 50 members of the New Peopleâ€™s Army (NPA) in Army uniforms approached the 702nd Philippine National Police Provincial Mobile Group detachment in an Isuzu Elf. They were bringing two roasted pigs, soft drinks and beer to the Christmas celebration of a military camp in neighboring Carmen town.
A policeman, who was a neighbor of Sendrijasâ€™, identified him among the group and immediately alerted his comrades who opened fire. Two lawmen died, while two others, including the detachment commander, were wounded.
Partly because he was good copy to media because of his seminary background, Sendrijas seemed to grow in the eyes of the people, including the military. He allegedly served as secretary general of the Central Visayas Regional Party Committee, although knowledgeable sources said he did not really occupy such position.
â€œNot really big,â€ a source once commented.
Sendrijas was arrested in Cebu in 2003 in connection with the rebellion cases filed against him in Bohol and Cebu but was released in 2006 after posting bail.
Coming in from the cold, however, has never been easy.
Life above ground
Like many of those who resurfaced after life in the underground, Sendrijas could not shake off labels of the past.
When the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) provincial chair Victor Olayvar was killed on Sept. 7, 2006, Sendrijas was implicated as a suspect by Supt. Arturo Evangelista, then Bohol police chief, who cited an alleged NPA purge.
Sendrijas angrily denied the charge, saying he considered Olayvar â€œan idol.â€
He was again implicated in the killing of one Bebiano Divinagracia on Nov. 26, 2007. A day after the killing, soldiers went to San Jose looking for Sendrijas.
He, however, seemed determined to turn a new leaf, taking his causes to a new arena.
On Nov. 29, 2007, he took his oath as barangay secretary of San Jose, a month after the barangay elections. â€œHe was chosen because of his capabilities and for what he has done in our place,â€ said barangay chair Escolastico Socorin.
Socorin, who said Sendrijas was a neighbor, revealed that they shared â€œsimilar observationsâ€ and â€œnew perspectivesâ€ for the village. By appointing Sendrijas, he said he was giving him hope despite his past.
Like other victims before him, the killing of Sendrijas has triggered an exchange of accusations between militants and the military.
Bayan said only the military campaign under Oplan Bantay Laya II would gain much from his death.
â€œIt is a chilling message to ex-political detainees, surrenderees and even legal organization members and leaders that they would only be spared from extrajudicial killings if they would denounced their principle, surrender and cooperate with the military,â€ it said in a statement.
Sgt. Narciso Tabaniag, a retired soldier involved in counterinsurgency propaganda, claimed Sendrijas might have been killed by former comrades because he decided to lie low.
As far as the Tagbilaran police is concerned, identifying the culprits is anybodyâ€™s guess. â€œThere is not even a clear description of the suspect,â€ noted Chief Insp. Jacinto Cesar, city police chief.
He admitted that the killers were â€œexperienced,â€ judging by the manner of killing.
There seems little indication that the murder will soon be solved. For the moment, those who love Sendrijas can only reflect on the life he lived.
â€œWhat you started for the people will continue to burn in the struggle for freedom,â€ declared a wreath sent by the Bohol Detention and Rehabilitation Center detainees.
Sendrijasâ€™ village may be in mourning but this does not mean the end of his dreams. â€œThis has only served to inspire us,â€ Socorin said.
On his last day on earth, Sendrijas showed that service came first. â€œWe had expected him to be in Cebu so we could go swimming to celebrate his birthday,â€ Margarita said. But he chose to help his sister at the hospital, she said.
On Friday, his remains were to be brought to the San Jose barangay hall, the first time in the village that a vigil were to be held for a barangay secretary. He will be buried today.