Valentines Day: Peace Memorial Day in Basilan

I learned to appreciate Valentines Day when I am in High School already. Although during my grade school, we celebrate this special day greeting our teachers and singing them Love Songs connected to the occasion. But its only in High School that I appreciated the celebration most.
A day where most people in the planet, young and the not so young anymore, talked about Love and loving. We usually hold our Juniors and Seniors Prom during this special day. Before we left high school life as Seniors, we had our last engagement with the Juniors in our Alma mater- the Claret High School of Tumahubong in Sumisip, Basilan.
Hand made cards serves as sweet reminders of Friendship and Love. But more importantly, this Day of the Hearts and Day of Love gave more meaning to us in the family and became more memorable after that fateful incident on Valentines Day in 1999.
I was cleaning our backyard and fixing the fence when a neighbor came to bring the bad news to me. “Your brother has been ambushed, he was among the 5 church workers killed by the rebels,” the neighbor told me. I was shocked by the painful news early that Sunday morning. I went immediately to the funeral parlor and there I saw the lifeless body of the 5 church workers still unattended.
Iwas filled with anger and hatred at that time. My late brother was among the 5 church workers who’ll represent our parish of Saint Vincent Ferrer in the Annual Lenten Alay Kapwa Seminar in Isabela City when the tragedy took place. My brother left a widowed mother with 5 children, dreams shattered because of this violent incident.
This is supposed to be a beautiful day, but it turned out to be painful and bloody. Only 1 survived the carnage- a lady catechist- Manang Baby Ylanan. Killed were Nong Emiliano Eugenio- the driver, Nong Abundio Salburo, Nang Alma Rabacca, Nang Neneng Abasto and my brother Teodoro “Kiking” Escabarte. A Valentines Day sprinkled with blood of innocent civilians, church workers whose only dream is to raise their family and children amidst challenges being experienced by most people in the village. All of the women victims were my co-catechists, while Mr. Salburo- our Barangay Captain then and my brother were Zone leaders of the parish.
I learned a deeper meaning of Valentines Day after this painful experience. LOVE expressed not only in words but written in blood. Incidentally, February 14 is also the birthday of my eldest daughter Sarah Jane. She is 20 years old now.
Valentines Day is being celebrated as Peace Memorial Day by the Catholic Church in Basilan, Philippines. For it is on this day, that 5 church workers gave their ultimate service to the church amidst the violence that rocked the island province up to this time.
The service jeep which is owned by the Claretian Missionaries where the church workers rode to their final destination that fateful Valentines Day years ago, was now enshrined as PEACE MEMORIAL for all those in who work for peace in Basilan. (Danny Escabarte/Peace Advocates Zamboanga)

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