One could practically see the pavement expanding– the noontime heat was that intense. No one, however, could be heard complaining.
The front of the Court of Appeals building along the street intersecting Padre Faura was full of people: relatives, friends, colleagues of the Morong 43 and members of the media. Everyone was waiting, there was sadness and anger, anxiety and worry in the air.
Colleagues nodded hello, smiled, shook hands. Many exchanged updates, their eyes sad. Were the lawyers inside already? What about the families of the victims? How were the victims? The newsreports are enough to make one’s heart bleed! Is she ok? Is he holding up? Sira-ulo talaga ang militar, but then we all know that already.
Soon enough one, two, three buses arrived as well as army jeeps ridden by soldiers in full-battle gear and the atmosphere was suddenly galvanized. People began raising their fists and crying out “Free the 43! Health workers, palayain!”
The police began their attempts to push people away from the street and onto the sidewalk but to no avail. There were cheers, some clapped, family members wept and everyone there who knew what injustice was raised their fists in salute. It was the least that could be the done for the 43, they who had been under military custody for the past nine days and counting; they who must suffer nightmares asleep and awake.
The convoy of military vehicles entered the Court of Appeals compound and one by one, the Morong 43 came down, handcuffed, looking exhausted but still defiant. Even from a distance, they could be seen holding their heads high, many of them had their own fists raised. Oh the sudden wave of emotion among those outside the gate! The tears that could not be stopped as they saw the friend and colleague they respected and loved being treated like a criminal. The anger that surged at the recollection of accounts of how the 43 were arrested and their sufferings in detention!
The Morong 43 are ordinary civilians who choose to do the extraordinary of working for the poor and the marginalized. For their sacrifice willingly made (so willingly that it’s no longer a sacrifice), they were arrested and kept under close military watch, subjected to torture endless and threatened with prolonged incarceration.
The AFP cannot fight and win in its war against the NPA, so it attacks civilians and presents their arrest as achievements. This is how the military convinces the public that they uphold human rights? This is how they present themselves as defenders of the law and protector of the weak?
It was a long day and it left one wondering: when will this ever end? To do evil is clearly much easier then to commit good, and those who dare to defy this rule are are punished.
The developments in the case of the Morong 43 continue to unfold and the most noticeable among them is this: the AFP is losing. Their officials cannot argue worth a damn even legally, and they have to resort to name-calling and generic accusations. The AFP stubbornly insists that the 43 are NPA members, and have come up with various ludicrous explanations to bolster their charges. Apparently, if one gives free medical treatment to farmers in the hinterlands, one is automatically NPA. It’s a crime to help poor people and keep them alive when the government can’t and won’t.
The AFP changed tack.
“Okay, so maybe they’re not NPA-NPA, but NPA medics. These NPA medics carry acupuncture needles and stethoscopes instead of armalites, they’re still NPA. (This argument is supposedly to show that the AFP knows how to differentiate somewhat the combatants from the non-combatants, but hey, who knew that the AFP knew that there was a difference? ). These NPA medics keep a clinic in Quezon City, give seminars on first aid in urban poor communities in Manila and they work in various hospitals like Jose Reyes Medical Center as nurses in the emergency room. So what? They’re still NPA. They probably keep their day jobs as a cover for their true work as NPA. They were there during the Ondoy relief operations and devoted time and energy to the victims of the typhoon? So what, NPA medics can do that! Their parents, wives, husbands, nieces and nephews and grandchildren, friends and colleagues see them on a regular basis and they watch soap operas together some nights and attend rallies some days? So what, they’re still NPA, albeit medics. Besides, there’s already the MRT and the LRT Line 2– mas madali na silang makakabyahe mula sa kabundukan…”
One could laugh if one weren’t so angry. And now we wait, and the Morong 43 wait, and justice is so long in coming we have to rush out and pull it forward lest it be detained by those who thrive in a culture of impunity.
This is something I wrote way back.
Just and humane: the revolutionary movement’s treatment of POWs
Before his capture, former prisoner of war (POW) of the New People’s Army (NPA) P/Insp. Rex Cuntapay believed that the NPA skinned the faces of their prisoners. He also thought that the NPA killed without reason.
Three months after his capture and upon his release, he admitted he was wrong.
“Sumusunod pala sila sa batas ng digmaan. Sumusunod talaga sila sa kasunduan ng NDFP at GRP, y’ong CARHRIHL na tinatawag (That changed when I was held as a POW. I saw that they are principled people, I saw that they follow the agreement between the NDFP and the GRP, which is called the CARHRIHL.) (From Alex Remollino’s January 2009 article in Bulatlat).
It’s comes as no great surprise that members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) carry the grimmest beliefs regarding the NPA. The Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and its propaganda machinery work around the clock to ensure that the revolutionary forces are demonized, distorting the NPA’s true nature as a revolutionary institution that abides by Protocol II of the Geneva conventions; the GRP-NDFP Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) that was signed by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in 1998; the NPA’s Three Rules of Discipline and Eight Points of Attention; and international humanitarian law (IHL).
The issue of prisoners of war is covered by the CARHRIHL, and through the years, the NDFP has worked assiduously to lay down the political basis for the humane treatment of POWs and the guidelines for their safe and immediate release. After all, the release of prisoners of war is not new to the revolutionary movement. History and many, many instances have shown and proven how the revolutionary movement on its own volition and upon its exercise of its political will and authority can release POWs, regardless of the dictates of the GRP.
This will and authority emanate from the democratic people’s government which was founded and strengthened after almost four decades of the revolutionary struggle of the people against the ruling classes.
Former POW Neptune Elequin said that even during his captivity, he was confident that he would regain his freedom because the NPA respects human rights. During the turn-over ceremony that led to his release, he testified as to the kind of treatment he received.
“Maganda ang naging trato sa akin. Hindi man lang nila ako kinurot. Kung ano ang kinakain ng mga kasama ay siya ko ring kinakain,” (I was treated well. I did not suffer even a pinch. What the comrades ate I also had), he said.
The NPA treats its POWs with humanity and kindness. In all the cases included in this book, the rights of the POWs were recognized and respected by their NPA captors.
Brig. Gen. Victor Obillo in a Manila Times April 17, 1999 report was quoted as saying that his captors treated him well, “I could not have asked for more.”
Former POW -Sgt. Ramiro G. Lawas even said that he was grateful to the NPA for being kind to him.
“They treated me well and never laid a hand on me,” he said in Visayan during an interview with members of the press. “They treated me not as an enemy, but almost like a fellow guerilla. They treated my wounds. Their behavior was so different from the behavior of my fellow soldiers in the military.” (Bulatlat Volume 3 June 15-21, 2003)
Lawas shared that he was allowed to move freely around the camp NPA and share experiences with the red fighters. He was even allowed to keep three pet birds. When he developed allergies from eating dried fish and sardines, the usual staple of the guerrillas, he was given corned beef and other suitable canned goods. Once in a while, they would have meat from deer and wild pig. He even had a regular supply of juice and chocolate malt drink; and occasionally he enjoyed a bottle of soda.
Former POW and CAFGU Eduardo Raya also said that he was treated well. “They did not harass me, they even fed me well, bathed, and given lectures on my rights and violations.” (March 21-27, 2004 Bulatlat)
Cuntapay and his fellow ex-POWs PO1 Marvin Agasen and PO1 Alberto Umali in the meantime said that there not a single incident wherein their custodians hurt or threatened them. As Agasen said, they – the NPA – recognized their rights as humans. They also shared that their nearly three months in the guerrillas’ custody gave them insight into why groups like the NPA exist.
“Gusto nila, pantay-pantay ang lahat ng tao sa Pilipinas. Ipinaglalaban nila yung mga magsasaka, mahihirap” (They are fighting for the peasantry, the poor),” Umali said.
The GRP has historically taken a hardline stance against negotiating for the release of POWs in the custody of the revolutionary forces. In some instances, it has even denied the existence of POWs and instead accused the revolutionary forces of kidnapping. This is a clear-cut attempt to criminalize the revolutionary forces by charging them of common crimes and dismiss the political implications and worth of the issue of POWs . Instead of entering negotiations, the GRP often arrogantly demands that unconditional release of POWs in the care of the NPA.
What’s worse, to ensure that no negotiations for the release of the NPA’s POWs take place, the GRP sometimes launches intense military operations in the areas where the POWs are believed to be; or launches rescue operations that directly endanger the security and safety of the POWs.
Police Chief Inspector Abelardo Martin was captured by the NPA’s Apolonio Mendoza Command on December 3, 1999 after a raid of the Dolores police station which he headed.
Because of initial GRP refusal to negotiate and to implement a SOMO, Martin’s release was delayed until his captivity reached 16 months.
From the onset, the NPA had expressed its readiness to release Martin but the GRP refused to negotiate. For the more than one year that Martin spent in the custody of the NPA, he experienced humane and lenient treatment. It was said that in the last months, he Martin was allowed to freely mingle with the masses in the barrio. He was also often seen jogging along the seashore and bathing in the sea. He was also given medical attention: a cataract in one of his eyes was surgically removed by NPA medics.
The AFP matched the NPA’s humane treatment of PCI Martin by killing him in a disastrous rescue operation.
Regimes past and present of the GRP feared and continue to fear the growing strength of the revolutionary government because the latter cultivates and nurtures this strength with the irrevocable intention of putting and end to the existing set-up of exploitation and oppression. This is why the GRP is ruthless and relentless in undermining the revolutionary movement and their judicial processes. The issue of POWs – their capture or arrest, trial, and the processes that lead to either their conviction and punishment or pardon and release – reveal much about the ideology and praxis of the revolutionary movement.
And on this, the former POWs are the best resource persons. Their experiences with the NPA are more than proof that in this exercise of its political power, the revolutionary movement is as compassionate and humane as the cause it carries: genuine democracy, freedom, and a just and lasting peace.#