Hope and Struggle: Reflections on our Jail Visit to Batangas

Last June 30 while the public watched the inauguration of the new President of the Republic, Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III, some members of Women Wise3 together with Defend Southern Tagalog and Mr. Danilo Reyes of the Asian Human Rights Commission took time to visit some politcal detainees under the old regime of GMA.

Cha, Sonny, and Billy, all organizers of SAMBA or Samahan ng mga Magsasaka sa Batangas (Association of Farmers in Batangas) were arrested in Talisay Batangas last November 2009. They were charged with illegal possession of firearms, an accusation with no solid grounding.

Truth is they are mere leaders and members of people’s organizations that aim to uplift life of farmers if not totally eradicate the roots of their misfortune. And being organizers of peasants groups, they find nothing illegal with what they do – their demands are totally legitimate and their means are democratic.

Oplan Bantay Laya, the notorious anti-insurgency program, remains to be blamed for their detention, Cha, Sonny and Billy pointed out. During the martial law, activists and people accused of being communists are charged with “rebellion” thus making them “politcal detainees” in the real sense of the word. But with the ingenuity (read:notoriety) of Arroyo, Ermita et.al they created the new concept of legal offensive

The victims narrated to us their grim experience of interrogation and torture before they were brought to the official detention in Batangas City. Again, this demonstrates the law enforcement agencies’ disregard for the law and human rights. People’s organizations and non-governmental organizations have been continuously condemning the inhumanity of torture and its transgression of international conventions that the Philippine Government ratified but to no avail at most times. It is good that a new law against torture HB was passed in the last 14th Congress, but whether it will deter state forces to use torture is totally another matter.

The lunch we shared was simple and meek but their stories’ impact on us, visitors, are deep and lasting. Though all of us are already involved in human rights advocacy, seeing real victims under grave conditions and hearing their real stories makes us realize more the value of our collective struggle for justice and change, no matter how protracted. As we leave the detainees, our passion in our advocacy is ever renewed.

There are more than 200 political detainees under yesterday’s regime. The inaugural address of Aquino pointed to the “attainment of justice” as a core objective of the new regime. We are hoping that the plight of the many political detainees and their families will come to a close in the near future. For without it, justice remains illusive.

It is a natural tendency to hope with the new government. For Cha, Sonny, and Billy hope comes with the struggle for change because with the complexity of the social ills we are in, we cannot afford to merely hope, we need to act and fight for the change we need and justice we seek.

Mayeth Sapigao, Women Wise3 Coordinator

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