Under a regime anchored on falsehood, all it takes to be a hero is to tell the truth.

During the National Union of Peoples Lawyers first anniversary, Jun Lozada, the whistleblower who linked the First Family to the multi-billion ZTE bribery said, "They say I am a hero because I came forward to tell the truth. I did not know that just by telling the truth, one becomes a hero.”

Heroes do not rise in times of comfort. While ideal, telling the truth at such a time is not heroic. But in times when to tell the truth is to invite a tyrant to train her gun on your head, it is heroic. The Arroyo administration has invested most of the resources at its disposal to kill truth. It dreads truth, as the Spanish colonizers feared a mass revolution. At that time, you rose up in arms, you were marked for death. In our time, you tell the truth, you are marked for death or enforced disappearance. Yes, Jun Lozada, you are a hero.

To the Arroyo administration, Lozada is no hero. He is a termite threatening falsehood, the foundation of its tyranny. Her heroes are abroad. Annually, she presides over the Bagong Bayani Award and lauds them- Filipinos pushed to seek greener pastures from the desert that is the Philippine economy where employment is a miracle. Why, their dollar remittances are saving the Philippines from certain economic doom resulting from economic mismanagement. Indeed, no one can deny the contributions of our OFWs. But far from being heroes, they are victims.

One does not rise to heroism from being a victim as what Arroyo made of Angelo dela Cruz, a truck driver abducted in Iraq by Islamic militants with threats to behead him unless the Philippines pulled out its troops from Iraq. He was released after 17 days. The accidental hero is no hero. Heroes are conscious of the risks they assume for the common weal. Andres Bonifacio whose birthday we celebrate today knew that by leading the Philippine revolution against Spain, he could lose his life. Yet the ferment of his spirit urged him to resist colonization. Our Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) took plane rides out of the country not to keep Arroyo’s economy afloat but to silence grumbling stomachs.

Arroyo’s definition of heroism removes the element of struggle against an oppressive structure. It removes the issue of truth. Which present day Philippine heroism must push to the fore. Which she wants to shove into a shredder. The human rights defenders, political dissidents waging a principled struggle, and journalists in the forefront of resistance to lies are the heroes in these times, but Arroyo tagged them Abu Sayyaf lovers, communists and terrorists. One by one, they are being killed or are made to disappear. The perpetrators obviously believe that they do not only abduct and kill bodies; they also abduct and kill truth.

From its early days, Arroyo and her minions have been telling lies after lies to the Filipino people, suppressing truth when it slackened her grip on power. Her decision to run for President in 2004 after she made an announcement not to a few months earlier was a portent of more lies to spew out of her mouth. When the Senate, through its congressional investigations, was piecing truths about her regimes’ lies, she issued E.O. No. 464 preventing cabinet members, police and military generals, senior national security officials, and "such other officers as may be determined by the President" to attend congressional hearings without her permission. With that EO she had power over truth and lies. The wimp Romulo Neri appeared before the Senate but refused to tell the truth. He got the top Social Security System post as a prize!

The House of Representatives has always been a willing instrument to promote the Arroyo regime’s falsehood. In 2005, the House of Representatives schemed to kill the truth about fraud in the 2004 presidential elections. Last Wednesday, in behalf of Arroyo who is quaking in fear over the possibility of the truth about her role in the ZTE scandal being exposed, it put the impeachment complaint into a train bound for eternal damnation. Even the most hallowed vanguard of truth became a tool to perpetuate an environment of falsehood and promote a national consciousness pervaded by lies. In the Neri case, the Supreme Court ruled that to hide the truth is protected by executive privilege. So what if the truth will set the Filipino nation free?

And it has been oft-repeated that truth sets us free. Truth presided over the ouster of the Marcos and the end of the Estrada regime. Unfortunately, the truth that quashed the Estrada regime saw the rise of the Arroyo principality of falsehood.

Every move of the Arroyo regime is calculated to ensure her stay in power, not to increase the purchasing power of the poor family’s peso. By that, it has to promote lies, using money from the public coffers. Even before former House Speaker Jose de Venecia announced last week that legislators were bought in 2005 to vote against the impeachment complaint, the fact was already well-known. Equally well-known is that many local government officials are given money and legislators are taken to junkets abroad at the public’s expense to buy their loyalty to her lies.

With a huge chunk of the Philippine budget allotted for the promotion of falsehood, it is no wonder the national consciousness is a false consciousness. In an atmosphere of lies, the casualty is freedom: freedom from repression, even freedom from hunger. The streets are begging for mass actions like the ones staged during previous regimes. But as long as Arroyo keeps feeding the falsehood machines and neglects restructuring the economy, the masses will continue to be weighed down by worries over the next meal. The crowds in the mass protests will continue to thin, while queues in offices issuing passports and foreign visas grow day by day.

Hunger, which is worse now than it has ever been in the country, has driven the people to a state of lethargy if not apathy. Enforced on the nation, hunger is a form of repression. It silences protest and resistance to falsehood with as much force as the barrel of a gun.

Enforce hunger among the masses, enforce disappearance of activists and freedom fighters, slay the heroes, slay the truth, keep giving chocolates to the legislators and officials. A combination of all these has given teeth to a tyranny of unparalleled magnitude in the Philippines.

These are the times of living most dangerously. But these are the times that call on us to emulate Andres Bonifacio and be heroes.

These are the times to speak the truth and reject lies.

(This article also appears in The Northern Dispatch.)


The article Rage sent shivers down my spine. I read it midnight of last night. And I was unable to sleep. I have heard people recount torture ordeals. I read about the Martial Law torture chambers. I was incensed. But last night I wept. Maybe it is because I finally received news -however heartbreaking- about Sherlyn and Karen, the two students who were abducted two years ago. I never met these two women, but I sometimes seriously wondered about them. At the time of their abduction, one was in an advanced stage of pregnancy. What happened to the baby? No one answered this yet.

Today, I was too depressed to do anything productive other than lecture in school. It was a good thing I had an online chat at past 8 tonight with another human rights lawyer and we processed our grief and comforted each other. The article affected her, too, in the most elemental way.

When there was a discussion on my poem His House Was Raided By The Army, a lawyer shared the experience of her client who was tortured but escaped. I commented that the client was lucky they kept him alive. The lawyer said, "I am not sure if lucky is the right word. He will be scarred for life.

After reading Rage I regret my statement. I am caught between hoping the Unelected President Arroyo's Terrorism Agents will kill the victims and praying they are kept alive. To kill them is appallingly cruel. To keep them alive is equally so.

I am reproducing Rage here.

By Patricia Evangelista
"Rebel Without A Clue"
Philippine Daily Inquirer

THIS is the story of one Raymond Manalo, farmer, who disappeared on Feb. 14, 2006 with his older brother from their farm in San Ildefonso, Bulacan. Manalo was neither activist nor rebel when he disappeared. He escaped more than two years later. He says there are many, many more like him.

* * *

They put you in a cage four feet by one foot small, the height of an average man. There are hollow blocks to the side and iron grills in front. You sit with three other men, crouched in a line. There is no other way to fit.

Your brother is in the same cell. The door opens, more of them come in. More of them like you—beaten, bruised, helpless. They are put inside the next cell. This time there are two men and a married couple. The woman has burns all over her body. She was raped, they tell you. She was raped and beaten until she soiled herself. They say she has gone mad. They take her away.

This is where you shit, where you piss, where you wash if you still care. You do not feel the wind; you do not see the sun. Your food comes rarely, and what comes is rotten, leftover pig feed. Three men arrive, from Nueva Ecija. They are tortured. One of them has both arms broken. Bleeding.

Sometimes, when the soldiers are drinking, they take you out of your cage and play with you. The game varies, but it is usually the same. Two by fours, chains, an open gardening hose shoved down your nose. You crawl back to your cage, on your hands and knees. You wake up to screaming, to the sound of grown men begging, and you wonder which one it is this time. Sometimes, one of your cellmates will disappear. Sometimes, they don’t come back.

Then they take you away, and there is a doctor, pills, antibiotics, a bed. They tell you they are taking you home to see your parents. You meet the man they call The Butcher, and he tells you to tell your parents not to join the rallies, to stay away from human rights groups, that they would ruin your life and your brother’s. He tells you, this small man in shorts, that if you can only prove you’re on his side now, he would let you and your brother live. He gives you a box of vitamins, and tells you that they are expensive: P35 per pill.

They put a chain around your waist. The military surround your farm. Your mother opens the front door crying, and hugs you. You tell them what you were told to say. You hand them the money Palparan told you to give. Then you are told you must go.

Always, you keep thinking of escape. You make yourself useful, to make them trust you. You cook. You wash cars. You clean. You shop. No task is too menial. And one day, while you sweep the floor, you see a young woman, chained to the foot of a bed. Her name is Sherlyn Cadapan, she tells you, Sports Science, University of the Philippines Diliman, the same Sherlyn who disappeared from Hagonoy, Bulacan on June 26, 2006. She says she has been raped.

Later, you meet Karen EmpeƱo, also from UP, and Manuel Merino, the farmer who rushed to save the two girls when they were abducted. Karen and Sherlyn are in charge of washing the soldiers’ clothes, you and Manuel and your brother Reynaldo wash the car and carry water and cook.

The five of you are taken from camp to camp. You see the soldiers stealing from villagers. You see them bringing in blindfolded captives. You see them digging graves. You see them burning bodies, pouring gasoline as the fire rose. You see them shoot old men sitting on carabaos and see them push bodies into ravines. And in April 2007, you hear a woman begging, and when you are ordered to fix dinner, you see Sherlyn, lying naked on a chair that had fallen on the floor, both wrists and one tied leg propped up.

You see them hit her with wooden planks, see her electrocuted, beaten, half-drowned. You see them amuse themselves with her body, poke sticks into her vagina, shove a water hose into her nose and mouth. And you see the soldiers wives’ watch. You hear the soldiers forcing Sherlyn to admit who it was with plans to “write a letter.” You hear her admit, after intense torture, that it was Karen’s idea. And you see Karen, dragged out of her cell, tied at the wrists and ankles, stripped of her clothing, then beaten, water-tortured, and burned with cigarettes and raped with pieces of wood. And it is you who are ordered to wash their clothes the next day, and who finds blood in their panties.

And you are there, on the night they take away Manuel Merino, when you hear an old man moaning, a gunshot and the red light of a sudden fire.

* * *

The day Raymond Manalo and his brother Reynaldo escaped was the day he promised himself they would pay, all of them who tortured Karen and Sherlyn, who killed so many, who tortured him and his brother until they begged and pleaded. They were pigs, he says, those men were pigs. If he escaped, they told him, and if they couldn’t find him, they would massacre his family. And if they do not answer to the courts here, they will answer to God.

They can still kill him, he says. But even if they do, it is too late. He’s told his story.


On Facebook which is virtually the only (with rare exceptions) place - if it is that- where my very hectic schedule permits me to socialize, I posted my poem His House Was Raided By The Army. I wrote this after listening to a Northeast Indian (who must remain unnamed for security reasons) relate his 1990's experience as a human rights defender and the depressing (Sorry, folks, but I really use this word often.) situation in his homeland Manipur which, I think, mirrors the depressing situation in our own. If we have our Oplan Bantay Laya, his people have the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The poem was written before the murder on 17 November of Manipur journalist Rishikanta seemingly by state security personnel. The murder serves to justify and exacerbate the anger in my poem.

Poet Alex Munoz (real name: Butch Espere), who is definitely a "brother in the faith" responded with a moving poem which he called Resolution No. 1 (Reply to HIS HOUSE WAS RAIDED BY THE ARMY). After reading it, I felt my soul soften like I was a cloud floating in the atmosphere. Apparently, Alex found my poem depressing (There is that word again!) and it may have driven him to anger. And as he said to me in Facebook, "After reading your poem last night, I wished I could talk to those people and tell them, FIGHT BACK. RECLAIM YOUR LIVES! I guess that was all to it. Because I can't, I tried writing the poem." Whew! Here is a guy who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. In his poem he says, "This war is not about razing or dying. It's about seizing the higher ground." These lines make my hair stand on end.

The two poems together elicited an impassioned discussion on rights abuse. Fifty (50) comments were generated in less than 48 hours. I uploaded the comments in the Comments Section here and urge readers to pay attention to them as well. I forwarded the poems to the (Northeast) Indian and to other Indian friends because I know they could share our thoughts with their people. Besides, as Alex/Butch said, the poems were written with them in mind.

I posted the poems on my Multiply site, and they were published by Bulatlat but they also deserve a space in this blogsite. It opened in May 2007 as a poetry site until my opinionated self could not resist writing a line or two- OK, long paragraphs at times- about issues. So once again, let us shift to poetry.

His House Was Raided By The Army

Firm he stood on the quaking ground of justice
And obliged the cracked lips of mendacity
To declare the truth grappling to surface
From the prison of hollow, specious rhetoric

Then his house was raided by the army

He halted the arms of death before they fired
At his hapless people who could no longer tell
The face of Life from Death, Hope from Trepidation
A flash of light from his nerve unsettled Darkness

Then his house was raided by the army

He marshaled the strength of weeping women
Their virtues slain in the altar of madness and terror
Carefully, he covered their painful nakedness
With promises of hope he sometimes disbelieved

Then his house was raided by the army

Will his tired people adjourn from digging graves,
Or waiting in vain for the ghosts of the disappeared?
When will the torrent of fresh blood dry on the roads
Paved by courage, blasted by terror, entrenching doom?

While he meanders between despair and hope

Another house will be raided by the army. (12 Nov 08)

Resolution No. 1

The winged wind had just whispered
to the trees the invaders are here.
But do not scamper, my dear Melinda.
Hush, the owl would soon sound
the clarion call. See the sky turn pitch
ebony to blind our foes, the vines sway

to seal the glades. This is our forest,
their trap; their Styx, our Ellysian Fields;
the "masa" our gods to keep us immortal.
So be damned no more by false analogies.
Worry not about death or kindred cares.
For this war is not about razing or dying.

It's about seizing the higher ground.
Take these arms as your pillow
when you lay-spread on the rathole.
Hold them close to your bosom
to banish the demons lurking beyond
our trenches. Recast them into harpsichord

for new lays for old minstrels, to make
lovers of us all. Kiss the gasera flames
goodbye, tiger roll to the wooded knoll.
Now, there beneath the evening star
let us discard our right to remain
silent as we, doomed to take the prize,
squeeze the stone in their hearts. (20 Nov 2008)



"The pen," wrote the playwright/poet Edward Bulwer-Lytton, "is mightier than the sword."
No one grasps the full import of this statement more than a tyrant desperate to stay in power and afraid of the groundswell of dissension to state terrorism.

On 17 November 2008, two men were killed in different parts of the world. They had some things in common aside from their date of death: both were journalists, and their murders are being imputed to state security forces.

It was supposed to be an ordinary day for
Areteo Padrigao, hard-hitting commentator of the Radyo Natin and a writer for the Mindanao Monitor Today. He dropped off his children to school in Gingoog City, Misamis Oriental in southern Mindanao. Then two men on board a motorcycle shot him in front of the school gate. He sustained several gunshot wounds, enough to cause several deaths in one human being if that were possible.

At the time of his death, Konsam Rishikanta Singh, 22, was the junior sub-editor of the
Imphal Free Press (IFP) in Manipur, India. He failed to report at 5.00 p.m. on 17 November as he was wont to do, being in charge of night desk work. Instead, Mr. Pradeep Phanjaobam, IFP editor, received a phone call. It was an unsettling one because it was made to the confidential phone line, known only to the IFP staff. After asking if Rishikanta reported to duty, the caller announced that he was shot dead.

Police officers stopped reporters of the newspaper Huiyen Lanpao when they rushed to the scene. According to human rights lawyer Babloo Loitongbam, Executive Director of the Manipur-based
Human Rights Alert, it is inconceivable for a person to perpetrate the murder and escape the attention of law enforcers. All the points of ingress and egress are heavily guarded by state security personnel. It is easy to do the math here.

Padrigao's murder is reminiscent of the 2005
ambush of activists Chandu and Alyce Claver in Kalinga, Philippines that claimed the life of Alyce and left Chandu seriously wounded. The activists were to deliver their child to school. Parenthood, among many others, is also a casualty of state terrorism.

Rishikanta's murder, too, draws a parallelism with the Claver case. In the latter, the perpetrators were not supposed to escape scot-free because all possible exits were guarded by law enforcers. Up to this time, however, none has been indicted for the dastardly crime. Rishikanta's case might suffer the same fate. Sadly, state terrorism opens doors for criminals and closes them for victims.

The two journalists' deaths happened under similar atmospheres albeit in different worlds. These two worlds are dominated by governments that have something in common: they detest truth. Truth, after all, sets people free- free from the shackles of oppression, free from the bondage of tyranny. They have allowed and are in fact nurturing a culture of impunity in human rights violations.

The Philippines holds the record of being the
most dangerous place in the world for journalists. Since 2001 when the unelected President started to sit in the most powerful swivel chair in the country, fifty-two journalists have been summarily executed. Padrigao is the fourth victim this year. This is not to mention the more than 800 activists and lawyers who were either summarily executed or forcibly disappeared, the latest victim being James Balao
. This is not also to mention the arbitrary arrest of and filing of trumped-up charges against hundreds of activists, human rights workers and other political dissidents, the latest victim being lawyer Remigio Saladero.

The reign of terror is being operationalized under Arroyo's
Oplan Bantay Laya (Operation Plan: Freedom Watch), brandished as a counter-insurgency measure, aligned with US President George W. Bush's global war on terror. In truth however, Oplan Bantay Laya is waging an inhumane war which makes no distinction between insurgents and civilians, and underground and legal organizations. It has targeted activists, journalists and lawyers known to openly criticize and/ or struggle against a corrupt, repressive regime. In a public speech in 2002, Arroyo called activists and civil society groups opposed to the joint US-military exercises for their implications on sovereignty and human rights, communists, terrorist and "lovers" of Abu Sayyaf.

Giving more muscle to
Oplan Bantay Laya is the Human Security Act of 2007 which defines terrorism as an act that creates “widespread and extraordinary fear and panic” among people. The possibilities are broad and even legitimate acts may be construed as acts of terrorism. Journalists and activists are easily susceptible of being brought under the label terrorists. Certainly, the law is very dangerous and entrenches a climate of Martial Law.

Northeast India where Manipur is located is plagued by the
Armed Forces Special Powers Act. This is an upsetting piece of document. It vests security forces with unhampered power over an area declared disturbed, which in the mind of the national government means that the people in the area are harboring designs of seceding. And it is up to the national government to say whether an area is disturbed or not. The security forces have a wide berth of discretion to search, arrest and shoot anyone. Even a non-commissioned officer has license to kill if he/she deems that it is justified by the need to maintain public order. Virtually, this shocking law creates gods who have absolute power over life and death even from among humans with faulty judgments. Under it, the rape of women and torture have been legitimized as necessary in military operations, what with the impunity with which the crimes are committed!

The law applies only to the seven Northeast Indian states to arrest secessionist or revolutionary struggles. These territories are dominated by indigenous peoples and have a history of marginalization and neglect suffered in the hands of the national government.

It is therefore no wonder that Padrigao and Rishikanta, two vanguards of truth, were killed. Truth is the most dangerous weapon against the states they called home. As the New York-based
Committee for the Protection of Journalists, an independent, non-profit organization founded in 1981 for the promotion of press freedom, asserts: "Murder is the ultimate form of censorship. One reporter is killed, and hundreds are sent a message that certain topics are too dangerous to be discussed."

Douglas MacArthur, speaking on the reality of war said, "Whoever thinks that the pen is mightier than the sword has never encountered automatic weapons." The killers of Padrigao and Rishikanta may believe this. But they fail to realize that the blood of martyrs nourishes the heroism of resistance.

In our struggle against tyranny, in our struggle against oppression, in our struggle against injustice, let us hoist high the torch of truth. In the strongest possible terms, we denounce the killings of Padrigao and Rishikanta and call on truth lovers all over the world to do the same!

(This article was also published by The Northern Dispatch.)


(In November 2008, indigenous lawyers from Asia came together in a human rights training organized by Tebtebba headed by Victoria Tauli Corpuz, UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Chairperson. Noting that indigenous peoples all over the world are exposed to the same perils and problems brought about by globalization and its development paradigms that are essentially oppressive of indigenous peoples, they decided to form a network of indigenous lawyers. Calling themselves the Asian Network of Indigenous Lawyers, they declared their solidarity to work for the promotion of IP human rights. One of the first things the group did was to issue an official statement on the enforced disappearance of James Balao, a staunch IP rights activist. An article on this statement was published by Bulatlat.)

It is brought to the notice of the Asian Network of Indigenous Lawyers (ANIL) that Mr. James M. Balao, founding member of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) has been abducted by a group of armed men in civilian clothes claiming to be policemen on 17 September 2008 in La Trinidad, Benguet and that his whereabouts are still unknown to date.

A petition for a writ of amparo filed by Mr. Balao's family with the assistance of the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) is pending before the Regional Trial Court in La Trinidad, Benguet. ANIL is concerned that on the behest of CHRA and CPA, the Commission on Human Rights issued an order for the inspection of state detention facilities. But the military denied entry to Camp Aguinaldo.

There is reasonable ground to believe that the enforced disappearance of Mr. Balao is linked to his non-violent resistance to the Arroyo administration’s program of aggressive harnessing of natural resources in the indigenous cultural communities/indigenous peoples' ancestral domains under the Mining Revitalization Program, among others.

In this connection ANIL:

• Expresses its solidarity with the Balao family, the Cordillera Peoples Alliance, the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance and other organizations and individuals involved in the campaign to bring out James Balao;

• Reminds the Philippine Government of its international human rights obligations to ascertain the whereabouts of Mr. Balao and to ensure his safety and security:

• Strongly urges the Philippine Government to make public his present legal status, if he is in the custody of the state security forces, as indicated by some reliable sources; and

• Calls on the Philippine Government to become a state party to the UN Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance

*The above statement was signed for the Asian Network of Indigenous Lawyers (ANIL) by SHANKAR LIMBU of the Lawyers’ Association for the Human Rights of Nepalese Peoples (Nepal), BABLOO LOITONGBAM of Human Rights Alert (India) and CHERYL L. DAYTEC of the Cordillera Indigenous Peoples Legal Center (Philippines). For further information, please contact JENNIFER T. CORPUZ of Tebtebba (Indigenous Peoples International Centre for Policy Research and Education)- Philippines. Her mobile number is +639175081678.