Friday, March 1, 2013

Unclogging my files: An unabridged interview for Central Echo

The signing of RA 10368 by President Aquino during the 27th anniversary of the EDSA Revolution on February 25, 2013 has given justice to the victims of  human rights violations during Martial Law. Known as the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013, the law is an attempt to “right the wrongs of the past.” It is considered an official recognition of the atrocities committed during the regime, largely by security forces.

RIGHTING A WRONG President Aquino signs the Human Rights Victims Reparation
and Recognition Act, which provides compensation to thousands of victims of
 martial law, at the Edsa People Power Monument in Quezon City on Monday
February 25, 2013. Witnessing the signing are (from left) Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman,
House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada,
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares and Speaker Sonny Belmonte.
(Source: and Richard A. Reyes)
Although much delayed, the act has been warmly welcomed by various sectors of the society, especially the victims of atrocities during those dark period in the Philippine history.  I do not intend to apply for benefits as I am not qualified. Or even if I were, I would give the honor and privilege for those who suffered most.

What caught my interest is the other provision which is  educational in nature. The law also provides for the creation of the Human Rights Violations Victim’s Memorial Commission, whose task is to heighten the youth’s awareness – through education – of the excesses of the Marcos regime as well as the heroism of those who fought it.

Even before the Implementing Rules and Regulations is drafted, I want to volunteer on this area now by sharing the unabridged interview to me by the associate editor of Central Echo because of its relevance to the series of posts on EDSA Revolution. His first attempt was to conduct the interview via on-line chat. But due to flaws in technology,  guide questions were sent thru private message, instead.  Of course, what was printed on the October 2012 issue of the publication which highlighted the Martial Law stories  was the edited version of the interview.
Central Echo (CE): What was the atmosphere during martial law? Was it really a period of fear, or of prosperity as what the elders say?

Me: It depends on one’s perspective. Those who were apolitical or apathetic with the realities in the society were not necessarily affected. They may even felt relative peace and order.  But those who were concerned with human rights experienced the brunt of dictatorial rule that used the military establishment to quell any form of protest against excesses/abuses of the regime or even a simple concern with human rights. I have experienced both worlds.

During the declaration, I was studying in bible school in Bacolod City. Except for the initial fear of the unknown, the period was never a big deal for me being apolitical at that time due to my religious orientation which was more concerned about salvation of the soul. It was a decade later  when I  studied at CPU that my consciousness was raised and subsequently involved in human rights issues. That was when  I witnessed the harsh realities of that period.  There was a rampant  violation of human rights. A dangerous  time for any defender of  human rights, who was  considered a suspect of subversion. Something really to fear.

CE: During the investiture of then CPU president Rex Drilon, how did Centralians welcome the arrival of Marcos for the ceremonies?

Me: I was not  in CPU yet during that period. But I heard  that the University had its share  of student activism. Some claimed CPU was once a hotbed of activism- some renown leaders were sons  of the University personnel/  Baptist leaders like the Ortigas and De la Fuente brothers.

CE: Were there any significant incidences during this period? For, instance witch hunts against rebels or widespread arrests on campus.

Me: My focus was with the religious sector at that time, mostly outside the University. Although I had some coordination with the student activists on campus. But despite my seemingly low profile on campus, I was still included in the list of blacklisted students. Because at that time, your presence in any rally, protest action or even forum/symposium discussing realities would qualify you to the list. Thereafter, military agents or civilian informer would tail you or put you under surveillance. Some even enrolled in schools for that purpose to the extent that lectures related to realties and human rights were monitored.

One significant thing I remember as far as CPU is concerned was the revival  or restoration of the   CPU Republic in the first quarter of 1980s – an off shot of students mobilization towards that end. I think  the first election was won by activists who organized the  Pangmasa Party  which later coalesce with seemingly moderate leaders of   rival party, the Alliance of Democratic Students (ADS). It  gave birth to one of the longest political party in CPUR i.e.  Koalisyon.

Red scare  and witch hunting were rampant and widespread. Since  the declaration of martial law was premised on the threat  of communist insurgency,  any form of opposition to the regime was associated with it to justify their adverse action. Even the revolutionary movement was not spared from deep penetration agents. There were those who joined the movement, not necessarily because of conviction but to penetrate the mainstream of the movement, being military agents. In our case in the religious sectors,  we have pastor friends who confessed later that they were  military assets tasked to  monitor  our activities.

CE: Have you heard any stories about the brutality of the regime, specifically upon "subversive" Centralians?

Me: Many. In fact, a close friend experienced torture after being arrested by the military. He was exposed naked in front of torturers to humiliate him. Left naked in an  air conditioned room and underwent both  psychological and physical abuses.

CE: I learned that you have joined the NPA. How did you arrive to that decision? Did you have any regrets thereafter?

Me: No,  I did not join the NPA. I won’t be qualified even if I did as I have been  uncomfortable with guns or armed struggle. But I was part of the underground movement (by necessity) representing the religious sector . There was little option at that time for those who earnestly wanted to serve the people by going against  the tide.

My political conversion took place in the 1st quarter of 1980  while doing pastoral ministry to political detainees in Camp Delgado. Raised up in seemingly apolitical environment, my primary motivation was to witness for Christ.

Ironically, I found myself converted to their commitment, dedication, courage and strong resolve in the service of people. I felt humbled to think that these people who were not so much concerned about their faith in God or the lack of it have this kind of love to the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters. Unlike us we who confessed and professed to be followers of Christ but failed to put such faith into practice.

Thereafter, I became interested in studying Philippine realities, attending symposium, forum on human rights, joining prayer rallies, organizing seminarians and pastors. At times, I enrolled part-time in the seminary to have more time doing volunteer work in church-related organizations with solidarity program for the poor.  In 1984, with only one semester left before graduation, I decided to work full time during the intensification of the people’s struggle until the  EDSA Revolution in 1986.  At that time, I  no  longer saw the meaning of my studies to the situation of the country. I wanted to serve the people. So I went where they were.

EDSA 27 YEARS AFTER A man flashes the Laban sign, symbol of the fight against
the Marcos dictatorship, as confetti rains on the Edsa People Power Monument
during the commemoration of the 27th anniversary of the civilian-backed
military revolt that toppled the Marcos regime.
Credit : and RICHARD A. REYES
Regrets? When I  realized the extent of  my isolation from Christian community due to my previous  involvement,  I  almost entertained regrets. At that time, our religious denomination was not quite open to our involvement with the people’s struggle. We became controversial.  After EDSA Revolution in 1986, I  decided to go back to the mainstream and resume my studies in Theology. But the college wont accept me for technical reasons. Thereafter,  I  witnessed how those of us who deviated from the norms of faith were  considered  prodigal sons/daughters, treated with suspicion, by some, scorned  by others.

However, knowing  that my motivation for such involvement  was basically out of   Christian conviction, I did   not see any reason to regret. Especially, that God has given me the opportunity to  witness how  Filipinos and even my children  enjoy the restored democracy. I feel the sense of fulfillment and pride in  having participated in the struggle of the people during that darkest  period of history. In fact, my previous experience has become my  source of strength. For every time I encounter  crises, harsh or difficult situations in life, I would  look back to such experience and assure myself that:  if God has made me survived in such critical times, there is no reason why I cannot cope up with any other circumstance in life..  

CE: After martial law and the fall of the Marcos regime, how, do you think, should Filipinos do so that such an event shall never resurface?

Me: The problem before  was  that the response of many was sporadic and some much delayed.  Only few stood up in the early part of Martial Law. Hence, their protests were  easily contained , some were  silenced  either by arrest, isolation or termination. Many succumbed to  the red scare tactic to neutralize legitimate opposition. So the repressive regime had all the time to perpetuate their control.

To  avoid the repeat of the dark past, we should  get involved in the early stage of repression or human rights violation. Just like what you did in the latest issue of Central Echo where you voluntarily shut your mouth as protest to the provisions of Anti Cybercrime Law that  violate civil liberties. Let us stand up to be counted  or  forever hold our peace.  

As Martin Niemöller, a German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor, beautifully described in his best known  "First they came...” which became popular among church people during the  Martial Law period:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

No comments:

Post a Comment