One late afternoon in early September as he was on his way to work, Satur was accosted by an armed man. His bag and all its contents were taken, but he himself was left unharmed. Even then it did not appear to him as an ordinary crime. The then worsening political climate — the bombing of Plaza Miranda the previous August , the roving police patrols — were enough reason to make him suspicious.
Upon the advise of friends, he began to side-step. He filed for a leave from the Manila Times and resigned from his post as assistant business reporter and regular reporter but retained a position as roving correspondent. He and his wife Bobbie Malay began to limit their movements in the city and moved to a house in a location they informed to no one.
Sure enough, on Sept. 21, 1972, then dictator Ferdinand Marcos signed Proclamation 1081, implementing martial law in the Philippines.
Without warning, police squads walked into Manila’s newspaper offices and broadcast stations, ordered staffers to leave. They posted announcements saying “This building is closed and sealed and placed under militar control.”
Local airline flights were cancelled. Overseas telephone operators refused to accept incoming calls. Marcos went on nationwide radio and TV to declare the state of martial law. He said that the functions of the civil government would continue, but schools and campuses would be closed. He announced restrictions on travel, the press and communications, and that these would remain in effect until the government dealt with “a conspiracy to overthrow the government.”
When the police raided the Manila Times office, Satur had already gone semi-underground. His name, along with other journalists, columnists and editors such as Alejandro Roces, was in a list released by Malacanang and read by then press secretary Kit Tatad as individuals to be immediately arrested.
Satur changed his appearance. His hair which he usually wore short grew long, and he stopped shaving.
The entire time that he was living underground, he sought and was given help by friends and allies, many from the business community and from former government officials. He and his staff in the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) national liaison committee and subsequently the national press bureau maintained very simple work and living quarters, and they continued to do their organizing and other political work under the regime’s tightening noose.
In 1973, on his birthday, April 7 that same year, he and Bobbie Malay began producing the Balita ng Malayang Pilipinas (BMP), a bi-weekly publication clandestinely printed on a mimeograph machine and when security compelled it and they had to move quarters, printed via silk screen and squeegee.
The BMP contained economic reports and political pieces analyzing developments in the country, and its copies — less than 200 — were carefully and secretly sent to former members of Congress, the business community, and members of the international press. Its five pages were all in defiance of the Marcos dictatorship and martial law, and appealed to its readers to resist the regime by supporting the growing revolutionary movement and its efforts.
Lacking sophisticated technology, Satur et al produced the BMP esentially sitting on the floor. Another staff, Julius Fortuna, called the small, squat and wobbly table on which Satur placed his typewriter as their publication’s ‘economics desk.’
In 1974, Satur was assigned to Central Luzon, and was integrated in the NDF’s territorial work in the region. He led efforts to organize nationalist businessmen and political personalities critical of Marcos, among them former Con-Con delegates, former government officials, and local civilian activists involved in the First Quarter Storm of 1970.
As he went out seeking support for the revolution and the anti-dictatorship movement, Satur spoked plainly and simply: it was the cause of democracy he was selling, and his quiet manner all but hid a strong commitment prepared to defy danger even to self. He was never turned away, and many pledged their support both to him and the revolution.
An ally from a big corporation, however, one time felt it right to admit to Satur that previously he had qualms about helping because of the risk that the regime would catch wind of it and punish him and his business. The ally informed his lawyer, a known personality who had ties with Malacanang, that he was helping Satur. To his surprise, his lawyer told him: “Satur may be a communist, but he is a good man. Go ahead and help him.”
For the next two years, Satur continued to write for BMP, and other revolutionary publications like Liberation that sought to counter the lies of the newspapers Marcos allowed to continue such as the Manila Bulletin and the Daily Express.
By 1976, Satur had been elected to an elevated position in the NDF. It was after the 3rd Plenum in Zambales, however, that the strength of his commitment was tested.
Two of the participants to the plenum had been captured, and under torture, gave their captives’ the names of others who attended. By then, Satur had returned to the NCR, but upon hearing the news, he hastened to the UG house he and his staff kept in Olongapo with the intent of cleaning it from any and all materials that could endanger the unit and other comrades.
Alone and on his own, he arrived at the house. Thinking he had gotten there safely, he proceeded inside and was met by military who, it turned out, had been keeping watch for the last few days.
Satur was handcuffed. The arresting official, a major, shoved Satur. The man angrily bared his chest and pointed out numerous scars – bullet wounds which he said was courtesy of Satur’s comrades in Isabela. Satur quietly answered: “Bakit ka naman humarang sa bala?”
The major grew livid, and again pushed Satur as his men took him into custody.
The next days and months were a series of serious physical, moral and ethical challenges. Satur faced all in relative silence, even as his body was beaten and tortured, and he was viciously verbally abused and threatened with every possible punishment short of a brutal death.
There was seldom a quiet moment except for those spent in sleep. His hours – when he wasn’t being interrogated and tortured — were spent counting cracks on the wall, the ants that traversed its surface. To break the monotony of the activity he would sometimes talk to the ants (he said more to the insects than he ever did to his captors).
Soldiers would mock him, “Nababaliw ka na dyan, luko-luko!”. Satur always ignored them.
Then, every four to six hours he would be taken out of his solitary cell– whether it was in Camp Olivas or Camp Crame– and tortured. His eyes were blindfolded, and handcuffed, he would receive blows from all directions. He was kicked on the chest and back, he was slapped and pummelled. His genitals were electrocuted. All the while he kept his silence, even as he swayed, fell and was dragged back up to be beaten yet again. And again.
Sometimes his torturers would make fun of him by speaking to him in English. “Writer ka pala, ha!” they said, and mocked him in ungrammatical English. He could not stop himself from begging them, “Mag-Tagalog na lang kayo kaysa mahirapan pa sa kaka-Ingles…”
The moment he was arrested, he immediately resolved that he would not answer even the most seemingly harmless question. Self-hypnosis, he called his method of enforced indifference. He would take his mind somewhere else, and he would not focus on the pain and instead ignore it.
He was certain that if he did not break his silence and refused to speak, he would keep his dignity and more importantly, his loyalty to his comrades and the revolution. He knew that the men who tortured him needed information from him, needed him ALIVE to show to their boss in Malacanang. So he waited, and waited until his captors would let up and, perhaps, give up and just throw him in solitary confinement.
One day, grow tired they did. The man who led his torture was a lieutenant named Rodolfo Aguinaldo.
Aguinaldo was exceptionally vicious even when compared with his fellows. While others — when they took Satur out of his cell to subject him to more torture and abuse — blindfolded him, Aguinaldo ripped off the blindfold and all but foamed at the mouth as he hissed at Satur, “Putangina mo, I want you to look at me as I beat you up!”
And Satur would stare back at him, defiant but still silent.
Aguinaldo was relentless, but Satur refused to even faint. He struggled to get up on his own unassisted as blow after blow fell on his half-naked body under the weak yellow light of the 20-watt bulb.
Aguinaldo did his best to break his spirit, spat at him, pulled his hair, struck his head again and again.
“Walang human rights-human rights sa akin!” Aguinaldo yelled.
Frustated that Satur would not answer any of his questions, Aguinaldo lifted his foot then clad in a heavy army boot and landed a blow on Satur’s chest. The mark would not fade for the longest time, and Satur never forgot long afterward; but at the time, he refused to give Aguinaldo the satisfaction of seeing him express the slightest pain.
“Putanginang ‘to, ayaw magsalita! Pagod na ako!” Aguinaldo yelled to the soldiers who helped him.
It was then than Satur spoke up. It was impossible for him to not to, even as his breath came in gasps.
“Sige, Gen. Aguinaldo, magpahinga muna kayo.”
For the next nine years, Satur Ocampo was an inmate in various prison camps. He suffered torture in various forms, but he not once wavered. Though tried by a military court for rebellion, he was never found guilty.
TO BE CONTINUED.