Achieving Happiness

December 15, 2009

Satur Ocampo as student leader and unwitting ISAFP agent

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 2:56 am

It was 1959 and Satur Ocampo was 19 years old.

Being the son of poor farmers, Satur the student was frequently on the lookout for part-time work. He wanted to study, but he also carried a deep sense of responsibility and wanted to help his parents. He was the fifth child among 12, and he aimed to also help send his younger siblings to school.

So he resolved to be a working student. He sought productive employment: productive not only because it paid, but more so because he learned from it. He did not look down on menial work, but he wanted work wherein he could use his mental skills.

The paying job he waited for came one day on his sophomore year in college when he was doing presswork for the Philippine College of Commerce (PCC) student paper, The Businessman, at a suburban printing press.

Satur was then the managing editor, but in the following year he would become it’s editor in chief. At the same time he was also class president, and would be up to his senior year. The husband of the manager showed an interest in his editorial capability and offered to recommend him for another job wherein he, Satur, would be able to practice his skills more ably.

Satur was ecstatic, so much so that he found nothing suspicious when, for the interview for the new job, he was taken to a safehouse. He was also briefed intermittently but often at length for two months. He was given readings on the history of the communist movement in the Philippines (his new employment was primarily research and writing work, he was told) and other political readings.

As for the job itself, Satur found that it went hand-in-glove with his activities as a student leader. He was told that he was to observe and write about the topics of discussions in student activities in the caucuses and conferences of student leaders. He was tasked to document his observations and assessment of personalities and ideas of specific persons and monitor their movements.

All this was easy for Satur, and he found it interesting. As student government official and campus paper president, he was a frequent delegate to various conferences across the country. He attended activities of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), the Student Councils Association of the Philippines. He was serious in his participation, and was often involved in the preparation of workbooks and the conference publications.

He idolized Claro M. Recto and read his work. He wrote editorials articles for the school paper exposing and denouncing student hooliganism and fraternity violence (for a time he was a target of the frats and received threats), and exhorted his fellow students to follow the footsteps of patriots like Recto and make something of their time in the educational system.

In the reports he wrote for what he believed was his part-time job, he laid down his own ideas and observations about the issues discussed in the conferences. He sincerely believed that part-time work was research into the activities of Filipino youth and the student body. He even had an idea that his research was being used by the Ministry of Education.

Imagine Satur’s shock, then, when he realized, much, much later that he had been recruited into the intelligence service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines or ISAFP! He only discovered it two years to the day he joined when one afternoon, returning to the office to turn in his report for the week, he found a dossier on himself complete with photos. With it were dossiers on other student leaders.

By the time he learned what he had gotten himself into, it was very difficult and even dangerous to back out. At the time, he didn’t sufficiently understand that the ISAFP’s anti-democratic orientation and practices, so he thought that it would be easy to leave.

His efforts, however, were not successful. he was met with veiled threats and told that that “it was not easy to just quit the game.”

It took Satur two more years to leave the ISAFP, and it was a two years fraught with difficulty. He argued with his case officer and his analyses and conclusions. He often desisted from writing certain reports. All the while he was increasingly ashamed of being a snoop, reporting on friends whose political views he had come to share. He also felt a traitor to himself as overnight he grew to hate his job and the very institution.

He was finally able to completely break way when he was ‘burnt’ or exposed accidentally by a new CO.

Satur considered his stint with the ISAFP as a shameful episode in his life, but he has since looked upon the experience in a positive light. His experience helped open his eyes further to the realities of conflict between the Filipino people and those who governed with iron fists, corruption and coercion. When the time came when he was formally introduced to the national democratic movement, he embraced it with alacrity and even relief: to this cause he would give his heart and soul and use all his skills and intelligence. His knowledge of the work of the ISAFP and what it served strengthened his resolve that the national democratic movement was right, and that the revolution was correct.

In 1976, he once more came face to face with his former chief then Major Greg Perez and former associates at the ISAFP. Satur was then a captive, a wanted man of the US-Marcos regime. He told them: “You have grown old and have not changed; I am older, too; but I have changed.”

Perez could only shake his head. In the man that stood before him there was but a trace of the boy they were able to fool into being a spy. The man who faced him had, since the last time they saw each other, become a revolutionary.

Advertisements

December 14, 2009

Satur Ocampo’s 9 years to freedom (Part II)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 7:04 am

The year is 1984. Ninoy Aquino was assassinated the year before and the masterminds were the same ones who insisted that Satur Ocampo and other political prisoners remain behind bars.

Time passed both slowly and quickly for Satur. His days were spent working with and for his fellow prisoners, in meetings with lawyers and supporters in the campaign for his release. He began to write about his life from his childhood up to the point when he saw himself as part of the Movement and the Movement had become a part of him, his life’s choices and his decisions.

In all that time, he had not seen his wife and comrade Carolina ‘Bobbie’ Malay, but he had exchanged letters with her — letters of love and commitment expressed both to each other and the Revolution, letters that spoke of their unbreakable bond. These letters that grew in number as the months and years went by, were written on the thinnest paper available, easily hidden, easily destroyed when necessary:cigarette rolling paper. Mrs. Malay smuggled them in and out, a secret employee of an unofficial but effective postal service.

In that time, the international newsmagazine Newsweek named Satur as one of the Ten Outstanding Political Prisoners in the World. The distinction made him busier than ever, even in prison, as foreign journalists came to interview him. More support came from various quarters, and Satur spent hours daily at the typewriter he was allowed to have writing letters thanking supporters, writing statements and speeches to be read at events to which he ad been invited but obviously could not attend.

As the international campaign demanding his release continued to grow, the dictator Marcos remained stiff-necked in refusing.

Marcos’ own defense secretary Juan Ponce Enrile had already made the recommendation that Satur be set free because he was a model political prisoner. Marcos ignored the recommendation, saying that Satur remained defiant — “a viciously militant detainee,” Marcos called him.

(writer’s note: In the course of the interview, Ka Satur grew more than a little indignant when Marcos was mentioned. I asked him how, beyond the politics and the issues of accountability, he felt about Marcos and his son Ferdinand Jr. who was also running for the senate and in the slate of presidential candidate Sen. Manny Villar.

“Bongbong has reportedly said that he can work with Satur Ocampo. But the question is, does Satur Ocampo want to work with him? I would much rather not. He takes a position of absolving his father, of denying the crimes his father and his government committed under the veil of martial law. Can I work with him? How can I when I represent people whose rights his father violated? People who still wait for justice? He’s a guest candidate in the Villar slate, and so am I. It ends there. It would be naive to expect more.”)

Like any other prisoner, Satur had an important goal: to regain his freedom. He missed his children, he missed his wife, it was true; but what also ate at him was the awareness that he could do so much more for the Revolution if he was beyond the walls of prison and free.

From time to time, there would be supporters who would whisper to him that they had plans to set him free. They hinted at military operations that would allow Satur to end his stint as a prisoner, and he could rejoin the Movement. Satur smiled and thanked them even as he refused. A jail breakout would mean violent confrontation, and he did not want anyone to die at his expense, not even his police and military guards.

What he wanted, what he began to plan for, however, was an escape that would not make it necessary for a gun to be drawn or a single bullet to be fired.

After Enrile made his recommendation for Satur’s release, the National Press Club adopted a resolution recognizing Satur’s continued practice of journalism even as he had left the formal journalism profession. It was a tribute, the NPC said, to his commitment as a reporter and a writer, a true journalist who wielded his pen even in the most difficult personal circumstances so he could write about the truth.

It was a special recognition that the NPC had awarded to only one other individual, Carlos P. Romulo.

Sometime in August 1984, the NPC under the presidency of fellow activist writer Antonio Ma. Nieva, sponsored a forum on press freedom. Marcos, not wanting to appear that he was an enemy of the press but an ally in defending its freedom, granted Satur a furlough.

Satur delievered a speech, “The Press is Nothing if It’s Not for the People”, and the NPC’s main hall on the top floor was full to the rafters.

It was then that Satur first put together his plan for escape.

May 1985. The NPC announced that it was conferring lifetime membership to Satur. Marcos allowed it, and Enrile gave his assent. Satur would once more go to the NPC building in Manila.

As the NPC gave Satur lifetime membership, it also gave him the right to participate in the election of its officers which it was holding on that same day.

Satur arrived accompanied by a dozen guards all in civilian uniform, but armed all the same.

As president of the organization of political detainees, Satur was also well-respected and liked by the prison guards and the prison staff. They called him ‘Sir Satur,’ like he was a knight instead of a criminal in the eyes of the dictatorship. Satur, in turn, had always been generous to the guards, and treated the younger men like younger siblings. He had even helped a number of them with their financial difficulties, going so far as to lend one of the guards P2,000 so his, the guard’s, wife so she could open a karinderia inside the prison grounds. At the time, P2,000 was no paltry sum.

So that day of the NPC election, quite a number had actually volunteered to escort Satur, but only 12 were allowed to go.They had heard that the last time Satur went to the NPC, there were food and drinks, and the guards who had escorted him did not go hungry because ‘Sir Satur’ made sure that they were not neglected.

As was the system, six guards went up to the NPC building with Satur and six remained downstairs.

Upstairs, beer and wine flowed like water, and the tables were spread with different viands and various kinds of pulutan. It was an informal gathering of journalists, and Satur was in his element greeting and being greeted by former colleagues and sympathizers among the newspapermen and women. His children and Mrs. Malay, and brother Lito also arrived, taking advantage of the opportunity to see Satur in a different physical context.

As the minutes ticked and Satur made the rounds in the NPC’s environs, the guards began to, well, let down their guard. They saw Satur shift from one conversation to another with different people. They saw him relax and laugh. They saw him eat and drink. They kept an eye on him, but more and more their focus shifted on the food and the beer, both blissfully free.

They, too began to relax and laugh.

Then Satur reminded them that their colleagues were still downstairs, that they were probably hungry. No, they didn’t have to trade places — all 12 of them could come up and eat. It was a humid day, the heat was suffocating. It would be better if all 12 stayed upstairs in the NPC’s airconditioned halls. After all, it would still be a few hours before the election results would be read, and Satur had yet to cast his vote.

The guards agreed.

Satur had already whispered to Mrs. Malay and Lito his plans, and instructed them to leave early. Satur’s little boy, Anto, cried when he was told. He wanted to see his father vote, he said. But in the end, and without fanfare, he obeyed Satur and left.

Around 2pm, Satur talked to his guards and explained the situation. The voting was done one more floor up, and only NPC members were allowed. Could the guards wait for him to come back instead of accompanying him? The area was cramped with election paraphernalia and the tables of various candidates, there would be no space for all 13 of them.

It’s okay, Sir Satur, they told him. Dito na lang kami! And the guards made him a toast.

So Satur climbed the short flight of stairs to the next and top floor, alone and unaccompanied. He wrote on his ballot and walked, not back to his guards downstairs but to the exit at the back of the NPC.

With all 12 guards upstairs, there was no one left to watch that other doorway or the stairs that led downstairs. With all 12 guards upstairs, Satur went his way down quietly, unhurriedly, but he almost walked into a reporter from the Manila Bulletin whose eyes grew large when he realized who he was facing. Satur smiled, put a finger to his lips in a shushing gesture, and continued his way down. He got into a waiting car in the parking lot right across the NPC.

Four hours passed before the guards noticed that none of them ad seen Satur in the past hour. It was not until four hours later that the alarm was rang and the doors and gates of the NPC was suddenly closed and everyone in it questioned regarding Satur’s whereabouts.

By then, Satur had shaved off his mustache, had his hair trimmed and breathed air as a free man for the first time in nine years.

December 8, 2009

End the culture of impunity and fight for justice

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 3:09 am

In the last two weeks, there have been massive outpourings of grief and outrage over the brutal Ampatuan Massacre. Filipinos from all walks of life watched shocked and angry as images of torn and bloodied bodies strewn across a grassy hilltop were shown on television, and as the reports why they were there and who were behind their deaths began to come out. Now we all wait with bated breath – and some with raised and clenched fists—as martial law is imposed in Maguindanao and the investigations into the Massacre continue.

The nine years of the Macapagal-Arroyo presidency, democracy and human rights continue to deteriorate. A shocking 1,118 victims of extrajudicial killings has been recorded and documented since 2001 when she ascended to office. Three hundred fifty-seven (357) more were documented to have survived assassination attempts. Another 204 have been abducted and remain missing to this day. Scores have been tortured while thousands have been displaced and harassed, and hundreds have experienced physical assault in the course of military operations or while exercising their rights to assembly and free speech. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) recorded 29 journalists killed in the course of their work during the same period, but this excludes the 30 killed in the Ampatuan Massacre.

The Macapagal-Arroyo government issues declarations that it is appalled by the extrajudicial killings, but largely these pronouncements are aimed to appease the increasing criticism against its lack of genuine and thorough actions to put an end to the bloodbath. For the most part, the responsibility of finding the perpetrators and piecing together the circumstances surrounding the murders largely falls in to the hands of the families, their attorneys and human rights groups. In all cases, the effort of making inquiries and proving the liability of the security forces is an uphill battle.

Political murders are conducted continually at the hands of the AFP and its mercenary allied forces such as the CAFGU. In cases filed with the CHR, the UN, and the police, complainants and witnesses point towards ski-masked in motorcycles without license plates as the perpetrators, but also name elements of the AFP down to the actual Infantry Battalion and army command they belong under.

In the meantime, hardly any formal investigations were initiated by the Philippine National Police (PNP) or the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to clarify the circumstances of these killings.

The phenomenon of extrajudicial killings assumed alarming proportions in 2001 and spiked to a gruesome high in 2006. Under the pretext of fighting terrorism and in line with counter-insurgency efforts, the AFP and its Death Squads have carried out almost 900 politically-motivated executions.

Now, a climate of fear and intimidation reigns over those defending human rights, exposing government corruption and opposing the anti-people, anti-sovereignty policies of this government. The safety of activists, progressives and defenders has worsened considerably over the past decade, most significantly following denunciations against human rights abuses committed by the police, military and paramilitary forces, and against corruption by state officials and against impunity.

Impunity. How has the culture of impunity became so entrenched?

Public institutions in the Philippines have been politicized and many fail to perform their functions as required by the law. What do we mean exactly by politicization? Simply put, it is the direct interference by the government or by politicians into the workings of public institutions so as to deprive these institutions of their independence and their capacity to control themselves from within in terms of the norms and standards that they are supposed to uphold.

Primary among the most politicized institutions are the police and the military.

It is both a tragedy and a cause for outrage that the very institutions and individuals sworn to protect human rights are the ones abusing them in the most unspeakable ways. They stand not with the people in defending civil liberties and democratic rights, but against them. We must not mince words in saying this: the system of accountability in the military and police – as is frequently the case in the three branches of government — is so weak it is all but non-existent.

It’s not at all surprising that so many Filipinos have grown to despise politicians and to be cynical of elections. They see politicians as primarily self-serving, only aiming to fatten their pockets through underhanded and corrupt means even as they enjoy the privileges of being government officials. As for elections, these are viewed as mere formal and legal version of contests between the ruling elite for control of resources from the main government, and for profit from illegal economic activities.

The contest for control over these resources and illegal wealth gives a premium to leaders with skills in manipulating illegality and the uses of violence. Since these contests are joined in elections, candidates with these skills, plus the money from these rackets, always have the advantage. Victory in elections means access to central government resources, control over police and to a lesser degree the military, and a level of influence over the judicial process Victory in elections through the use of guns, goons and gold. In short, massive electoral fraud.

This is what many Filipinos insist happened in Maguindanao. This is what many strongly suspect the Macapagal-Arroyo regime succeeded in doing in tandem with the Ampatuan clan. And it has taken the sacrifice of 57 lives to finally blow the lid of this enormous can on worms. The Ampatuans were confident and killed with impunity because they controlled the police and to some extent the military. They were arrogant and killed with impunity because they confident they had Malacanang’s support and backing. It was, and is , a relationship of mutual and despicable convenience and benefit.

There is an inherent conflict between national security and democracy in this country. Why? Because when Malacanang speaks of the former, it primarily refers to its own security against the popular clamor for the executive’s resignation and ouster. Democracy, the voice of the people demanding genuine change, is only paid lip service, and worse, often in democracy’s name to the powers that be commit so many abuses against the Filipino people.

There is also an inherent conflict between enforcing national stability and protecting human rights. Why? Because national stability, again in the vocabulary of this government, means Malacanang watching its own back and preserving itself at the expense of the truth and justice. To preserve itself, this government declares there “is a need to ensure national stability” or “peace and order against destabilizers.”

To preserve itself, its allies among the ruling classes, and the very corrupt system they benefit from, this government attacks civil liberties and human rights in the guise of protecting democracy.

How dare we say this? Because immediately after such declarations, there is a wake of human rights violations in various forms, from higher taxes, anti-people executive orders or proclamations, to campaigns of militarization, harassment, abduction, and extrajudicial killings of human rights activists and other critics and watchdogs of government.

The Arroyo administration pretends to champion human rights when it in fact violates them. It declares itself to the international community as a defender of freedom and liberty, but it ruthlessly wields force, deception and violence to attain its self-serving goals. It uses the guarantees of democracy to try to destroy democracy. They who have been sworn to be protectors of democracy daily prove that are its sworn enemies. Even without the national declaration of martial law, the abuses against Filipinos’ human rights are no different from those perpetrated under a dictatorship.

The Philippines today is a barely-functioning democracy with a press under siege. While it is true that it’s almost impossible for any infraction of human rights to go unnoticed for an extended period, it only through the insistence of a vigilant media, and not because of any effort of the government. Who can deny that there have been relentless attacks on the media and anyone who expresses dissent? These have been recorded in hundreds of cases in the Commission on Human Rights, the House and Senate committees on human rights, even in police blotters.

Supporters of Malacanang may well say that the administration has taken steps towards bringing justice to victims. But anyone with the slightest sense of logic will see that there have been very insufficient efforts to ensure that these government-established mechanisms function in terms of credible standards.

For any domestic justice mechanism to be credible and legitimate, a number of basic standards, principles and norms – both within the framework of local human rights laws and international law – have to be met. None of this has been done. For instance, it is necessary to ensure victims’ right to an effective remedy including reparations for human rights violations recognized under local and international law, but to this day, he compensation bill for the victims of the Marcos dictatorship remains in limbo.

And what effective remedies can this government boast off? Have it’s so-called solutions worked? Have the killings stopped? Have the families of those abducted, disappeared or killed received justice for their love ones? And what has happened to the plans for the resumption of the peace negotiations with the National Front of the Philippines (NDFP) where remedies to the armed conflict should be discussed? What has happened to this government’s so-called commitment to a just and lasting peace?

On a more timely note — can we be assured that before Macapagal-Arroyo’s term ends, justice will be rendered the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre, the private armies disarmed, the killers and masterminds placed behind bars to serve the just and necessary sentence?

The president has time and again asserted that her government does not allow impunity and says that the country must pursue national healing and reconciliation.

But again and again it has also been pointed out — can there really be peace without justice? Can genuine peace exist in a society where economic and political interests clash and it is always the poor who suffer injustice at the abuses of the ruling elite?

And who believes that there is no impunity in this country when the blood of so many, many civilians – men, women and children — has been spilled? When the killers of these over 1,000 human rights advocates, members of progressive people’s groups, activist lawyers and members of the clergy remain at large at unpunished? The need to strike a blow against the deeply entrenched cycles of impunity has never been greater.

For those who believe in the struggle for reforms, and I do, there is a necessity for thorough and uncompromising reforms of the general system of governance are needed to prevent the recurrence of further serious human rights violations. Such reforms are essential and urgent if it is to be made clear to the killers in uniform, the warlords, the militarists and war-mongers that justice will be rendered, all perpetrators will be apprehended and punished, and that there will be no exemptions. All this will require credible and concrete efforts and measures to depoliticize public institutions such as the police and the military.

The issues of the rule of law and the immediate need to end the culture of impunity requires a serious response from the government – and this is a message we address to the government that will succeed the Macapagal-Arroyo administration. The next presidency must rise to this challenge, to this great task and heed the demand of civil libertarians, human rights defenders and all peace and democracy-loving Filipinos to end impunity. It must try to achieve what the incumbent administration has failed miserably to do.

Who among us does not share the vision of a Philippines freed from the fetters of economic crisis and political turmoil? A country where the majority of the people – the poor and working classes – do not suffer the yoke of poverty and exploitation. A country where the needs of the majority for education, health and housing are met; and there are countless opportunities for them and their children to develop their skills and gifts, so they can create art and beauty even as they also build a self-reliant, independent and self-sustaining economy.

What we need, what we aspire to is a Philippines where the government is untainted by corruption, and its leaders are not greedy and power-hungry; where there is no impunity and where justice cannot be escaped by those who commit crimes that destroy hundreds of lives in a myriads of ways.

What we work for is a country that does not exist in the shadow of foreign powers; a country not indebted or enslaved, and its territory cannot be taken over by foreign troops that their own nations’ economic, political and military interests to the extreme detriment of our nation’s sovereignty, internal security, and at the risk of the Filipino people’s safety.

The path to a just and lasting peace – and hence genuine progress and development – is the people’s determined and continuous struggle to cut the roots of the nation’s problems including the 40-years’ armed conflict through fundamental social, economic and political reforms.

The Filipino people, for the last four decades, have waged the fight for genuine land reform and national industrialization, for genuine independence and democracy, for economic sovereignty and against unequal treaties and agreements. They fought against the US-backed Marcos regime and the anti-people and anti-national regimes that followed. The continue to oppose anti-people policies and programs, administrative corruption and impunity against accountability.

As the Filipino people shoulder their historic task for genuine social change, we can do no less. We must do all that we can to fight this government and the culture of impunity.

Mag-aklas at baguhin ang gobyerno, palitan ang sistema.

December 2, 2009

Satur Ocampo’s 9 years to freedom(Part I)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 4:59 am

1976.
Having failed to break Satur’s spirit with torture, the US-Marcos regime and its henchmen tried to use other, more peaceable means to get him to speak. They tried convincing him with the help of former friends and acquaintances.

Gen. Romeo Gatan, then provincial commander of Rizal, ‘borrowed’ Satur from his detention in Central Luzon and took him to Mount Banahaw to see one of Satur’s friends back in his student days, a former UP ROTC Corp Commander. Together, they ate roasted goat and drank whiskey. They sat around a table and talked as if it was an ordinary visit, as if Satur was an ordinary visitor.

Then Gatan revealed his true agenda: he said that he wanted Satur to visit one of the ‘ispiritistas’ who lived on the mountain and get an amulet that was would make him bulletproof. Apparently, the said mystic had powers that enabled him to resist physical harm, and if Satur wanted, these powers would be transferred to him. He would become invulnerable to even high-powered bullets, they said. Satur could then return to the underground and replace Jose Ma. Sison. In exchange for his freedom and his superpowers, all Satur would do is give, from-time-to-time, updates on important developments in the revolutionary movement’s plans.

Gatan also made a prediction that Jose Ma. Sison would either get sick or die in the immediate future, and Satur would be his successor. All of them, except Satur, raised their glasses and made a toast to these future-tellings.

Satur struggled hard to keep a poker face. In his head, the word “surreal’ kept flickering like a glow worm. To his captors, he remained polite as he refused. He was taken back to Central Luzon, anting-anting free.

After a period of torture and nine months in solitary isolation where he was allowed neither visitors nor any reading or writing materials (the real torture to a mind like his), Satur was taken to Bicutan and then to Camp Crame.

In Crame, he was still placed in isolation. A man used to solitude, Satur did not find it difficult to bear the almost permanent silence that surrounded him more closely than the wall of his cell. He found ways to entertain his brain and keep it active.

As a young boy he had had an interest in meditation, in finding inner calm through concentration. In prison, he returned to things he had read about Indian mystics and how they came about their skills and how they honed them.

In the endless afternoons that seamed into long nights, he began to to practice meditation. His efforts soon enough became productive:he sat down or lay back and directed his mind inward, prodding it to think back to his earliest memory. He was surprised at all the things he managed to remember– his childhood, his early youth. He thought back on things he had done, things that had happened to him. He recalled past hurts, small victories, moments of bliss, the events that led him to where he was and his place in his country’s unfolding history.

In the silence of his solitary cell, Satur smiled in gratitude. He found that all the difficulties he had faced, even the most brutal ones in his most recent hours, had not been enough to cause him regret.

He examined his heart, and it remained whole.

He examined his conscience, and found that it, too, was pristine. All that enabled him to withstand torture and resist everything else that could have led him to betray the noble and human cause he believed or others who shared it was still there, and there was nothing in his early life that he would have changed.

This was how Satur began his nine years in prison.
—–

1977. Satur was elected as the first president of the Samahan ng mga Bilanggong Pulitikal sa Bicutan.

In Bicutan, there were many other national democrats who had been arrested and like Satur, had been tortured. Unlike Satur, however, many were discouraged and demoralized. Denied their freedom and unable to immediately accept what they experienced, some were silent, refusing to speak. There were others, too, who were ashamed: under torture, they were forced into betraying friends and comrades.

Satur saw his new political task, the new ideological work he must undertake. He and other comrades such as Fidel V.Agcaoili and Ed Villegas sought to rally the others.

Revolutionary discipline, he thought to himself. It is what will keep us from deteriorating within the confines of this prison. It will help us to remember that we are revolutionaries, and the reason why we were imprisoned is because the cause we have embraced is far greater than anything the enemy can ever hope to achieve.

So Satur embarked on a campaign of discipline. He exhorted comrades to show the enemy that they were no ordinary prisoners. He and the others kept their quarters clean, maintained good hygiene, did all other work like washing dishes, doing the laundry and cooking meals collectively. They also studied collectively and discussed issues and developments as they found out about them from the outside world. As a guide, they read and reread books like William Hinton’s Fanshen as their own guide to living in their new ‘community.’

They practiced fanshen which Hinton defined as “to throw off superstition and study science, to abolish word blindness and learn to read, to cease considering women as chattels, and establish equality of the sexes, to do away with village magistrates and replace them with elected councils. It meant to enter a new world.” –

Everyday became busy for Satur. He helped establish supervise income generating activities for the detainees (pendant-making, t-shirt printing, basket weaving. They saved bulalo bones and carved them; and eventually they were also making trinkets from plaster and polymer clay); lobbied with the prison authorities for better living conditions (better ventilation, for one; and they won their campaign to be allowed to prepare their own meals instead of having the prison prepare the food which was often execrable: roots were still attached to camote or kangkong in the sinigang; pebbles and even rocks in the boiled rice, etc); wrote secret letters to his wife Bobbie who was still working underground (letters which were also secretly and most creatively smuggled out by his mother-in-law Mrs. Carolina Malay); and met with foreign journalists and a few local reporters who quietly dared to defy the regime by seeking interviews with political prisoners like Satur.

Sundays, however, were busiest. It was the one day in the entire week when families were allowed to visit the political detainees, and the whole compound was alive with love and reunion.

Satur’s two youngest children Silahis and Antonio, often came with their lola to visit; but because Satur was president of the organization of detainees, he was often busy in consultations with the families of other detainees who sought his help, his advice, his comfort. They called him by turns ‘SC’ (for ‘Supreme Court’), ‘tatay,’ ‘guidance counselor.’

They brought to him their problems and those of their detained loved ones (poverty, sickness, homesickness), their dilemmas (marital woes, plans for panliligaw) and legal difficulties (the organization frequently lobbied for the release of prisoners on humanitarian grounds such as age and illness, and they had a standing list of names to be prioritized for release. Sometimes the prison authorities would comply and support the release of a detainee, sometimes they would be recalcitrant). Satur and other senior detainees and organization officials always had a busy time consulting with the families.

His two children, being children, whiled the time away running around the compound, playing with other children or their cousins who came with them. Sometimes Satur would excuse himself to attend to Silahis and Anto and lift them shrieking as they played ‘helicopter’ (he swung them around and around in his arms), ‘flyover’ (he bent over in the shape of the infrastructure then newly-built along EDSA and let his boy and girl climb over or crawl under him) and ‘pyramid’ (from a standing position, he bent his knees, and Silahis would climb on one knee and Anto on the other, each rushing to reach their father’s head first).

There were Sundays, however, when Satur would be too busy to even play with his children. The sun would set and Silahis and Anto would kiss him goodbye and he had been unable to even spare them 30 minutes straight to ask them about their schoolwork, their health, the small details of their childhood which was swiftly leaving them.

At night on such Sundays, Satur’s usual reserve would break, and he would be unable to stop his tears.

By 1978, there was already international campaign initiated by allies in the foreign press and human rights organizations calling on Marcos to immediately release Satur and all other political prisoners. Satur had written an open letter to foreign delegates of an international conference titled ‘World Through Justice’ held in the country, and it was published by the international press. He also wrote to various associations of journalists, and his letters were also published. He also received the support of the International P.E.N. and the International Federation of Journalists. In his missives, Satur denounced the regime and its top executive. He exposed the torture and other human rights violations perpetrated by the military, and gave full detail regarding the abominable conditions faced by political detainees in the various prisons.

In retaliation, the dictator Marcos released a statement denying the existence of political prisoners, saying all there were in the prisons were criminals against the Republic. Neither did his government condone torture, and that no one was tortured.

Satur, Marcos said, was a criminal, and his crime was rebellion. Marcos said that there was no way under his rule that Satur would ever go free.

TO BE CONTINUED.