I was personally touched by the Morong 43's lack of self-pity. The spokesperson for the 15 male detainees said: "We understand that we are not the only political detainees you are representing. There are many of us in the country. You ask us to be strong. Yes, we are strong. Together, let us struggle against injustice."
In the women's detention facility, there were 26 of them who greeted us in their yellow shirts (You'd think they are part of Noynoy Aquino's campaign team- except that it has been almost seven months since election day.). Two were in a government hospital because they just gave birth. I looked at their faces. Some of them are mothers. I knew in my heart of hearts that they were missing their children so much. It did not show. Instead they spoke and sang of their dreams for a just society.
Today, they will begin a hunger strike for their freedom and those of other political detainees. Here is their statement:
Today we begin our hunger strike. This is the only course of action left us to end our continued illegal detention, there being no clear action by the government for our unconditional release.
On December 6, we will be on our 10th month in detention. We were arrested last February 6 by a joint AFP-PNP operation based on a defective warrant. We were tortured physically and psychologically, deprived of sleep, subjected to various indignities, threatened with harm, denied legal counsel for several days and illegally detained until now. Planted evidence was used and false charges were filed against us. Our human rights continue to be violated. Every day in jail is an injustice to us.
For the last 10 months, our families and friends from different sectors have never stopped working for our release. Even the international community was alarmed over our illegal arrest and continued detention. Various human rights advocates here and abroad have been unceasing in staging activities and protest actions calling on the President Benigno Aquino III to withdraw the charges against us.
The Department of Justice has conducted a review of our case. The findings have been submitted to President Aquino. The president himself has admitted that our arrest was based on a defective warrant and that “evidence wrongly gotten cannot be used.” Yet despite these findings, there are no clear indications that the charges against us will be withdrawn anytime soon.
Our action today and in the succeeding days is a call to President Aquino to simply order the withdrawal of the case against us forthwith so that we may be immediately and unconditionally released. We believe it is only fitting that we stage this hunger strike as the world observes Human Rights Week. We fight not only for our freedom but for the freedom of all political prisoners nationwide.
FREE THE MORONG 43!
FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS!
(Photo credit:Pistong Melliza)
Today is International Day to End Violence Against Women. I am sharing my poem that was published in Chaneg ten years ago.
While Silence is Her Refuge
He crushed her being
spat on her education
raked her self-confidence
burned her plans
charted in the kitchen
where her work was never done.
Violence upon violence
visited her scar-ridden body
The pain - so severe
she could not even scream.
Silence was her refuge.
Her wounds ran much deeper
than sisters could imagine
But she swam alone in the
sea of her nightmares and anguish
Fears covered, cries stifled
Silence was her refuge.
The crowd had a million ears
but not one for the moans
of a sister’s tortured soul
It taunted her for her questions
crucified her for her speech
Word of pain was infamy
The crowd rubbed salt on the
raw, bleeding wound
Since then, silence became her refuge
A daughter now does the work
that is never done
Her spirit protests not
numbed by her mother’s death
and her own, for like her mother
she died a hundred deaths
and will die a hundred more
because silence is her refuge.
The crowd does not know
that silence betrays
The crowd itself has run
a million times
to silence for refuge
It still does.
When will the crowd realize
that silence is a foe?
It harbors violence
and squeezes the blood
that waters and keeps alive
the tree of death
that has eternal life
while silence is woman’s refuge./ Cheryl L. Daytec, 13 March 2000
When Gloria Arroyo rose to power in 2001, she assumed the throne with the burning desire to sit there forever. But she knew that she would be stopped by the guardians of democracy. She would be stopped by the journalists whose pen was always thought to be mightier than the sword- these watchdogs of society who can bring a totalitarian regime down to its knees, who could set a nation free from the yoke of oppression with just one weapon: the truth. She knew she would be stopped by the lawyers who have sworn to uphold the rule of law that frowns upon tyranny. She knew she would be stopped by the defenders of justice and human rights, the inherent rights of human beings and peoples against the arbitrary and capricious exercise of state power.
So Arroyo had to stop them first before they would stop her. She targeted them: the lawyers, the journalists, the human rights defenders. She put them on military surveillance. They were threatened. Their offices were ransacked and raided. They were tagged as communists. They were arrested without warrant. Their names were put on the military Order of Battle. And she went on killing and kidnapping sprees assisted by her sycophants among the state security forces who thought that their allegiance was to her greed for power and not to the Filipino people. One by one, the lawyers, the journalists, the human rights defenders, were disappearing. One by one, they were dying in the most inhumane and horrendous of circumstances. Nobody was paying for the senseless shedding of their blood, for the enforced disappearances. Cases against perpetrators were being dismissed by a corrupt justice system.
Witnesses were being harassed. In an outright mockery of democracy, the Butcher General Jovito Palparan, perhaps the most blood-thirsty and ruthless general to walk the face of the earth, was extolled by the State as its guardian. The atmosphere of impunity was not only alarming; it was shocking. It was shocking the Filipino people. It was shocking the world.
In 2005, this country was named the most deadly place for journalists by Reporter Without Borders. The Committee to protect Journalists was kinder: it named the Philippines the second most dangerous place after Iraq which was mired in a war that time. The International Association of Democratic Lawyers and the International Association of Peoples Lawyers denounced the Philippines for the extrajudicial killings of lawyers and judges calling it one of the most dangerous places for the legal profession.
We knew then that democracy in this country was an illusion. The message of the killings was clear: In the words of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists: "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." It was a time of living most dangerously. But we did not stop. We knew then that our pens and the truth they wrote, our microphones and the truth they spoke, our courage and the justice and human rights advocacies it championed, our law books and the rule of law they enshrined – these were needed more than ever. As guardians of democracy we rose above our personal considerations, our fears for our own security safety. We founded the National Union of Lawyers in 2007. We founded the National Union of Journalists. The impunity had to be stopped. But it did not.
Last year, 58 people were massacred, 32 of them journalists. Two of them were co-founders of NUPL: Connie Brizuela and Cynthia Oquendo who used their profession fighting for the oppressed, the marginalized, the disadvantaged.
To date, no one has been made accountable for the massacre. No one has been made accountable for the disappearances and the killings of other lawyers, journalists and activists. According to the human rights group Karapatan, from the time Arroyo came into power in 2001 to the year 2009, 1118 were extrajudicial murdered, 204 were disappeared, 1,026 were tortured and 1,932 were illegally arrested. But as Prof Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions said: "(N)umbers are not what count. The impact of even a limited number of killings of the type alleged is corrosive in many ways. It intimidates vast numbers of civil society actors, it sends a message of vulnerability to all but the most well connected, and it severely undermines the political discourse which is central to a resolution of the problems confronting this country.
The killings have not stopped. Palparan is still calling the shots. And nobody has yet to be punished by our justice system for the crimes committed on the guardians of democracy. We honor the memory of the 58 who perished in the massacre last year by demanding that the Aquino government speed up the investigation and indict those who are responsible especially the Ampatuans who used their privileged position in the Arroyo administration to commit one of the most perverse crimes in Philippine history. We urge the Aquino government to block the dilatory tactics of the Ampatuans. A government on the straight path understands that justice delayed is justice denied and will not sleep until justice is served. We urge the government to investigate the other murders and disappearances and to release all political prisoners who were persecuted simply on account of their support for powerful expressions of dissent to tyranny. We urge the government to dismantle all private armies and paramilitary groups that have been instruments to commit political killings with impunity. The non-action of this present dispensation will make it complicit in the crimes, in the travesty of justice, rule of law and truth, and in the attack on democracy.
Someone said that “whoever thinks that the pen is mightier than the sword has never encountered automatic weapons." The enemies of truth, rule of law and justice may believe this. They do not realize that the blood of martyrs nourishes the heroism of resistance. For today, we honor the 58 who perished in last year’s massacre by renewing our commitment to democracy, truth, rule of law and justice. We honor our fallen comrades,Connie and Cynthia. We will continue the struggle. They did not die in vain.
On behalf of the National Union of Peoples Lawyers, I thank you./
The world does not belong to this place
Not to this time
Mine. Yours. Ours together
Marooned in contentment
Fear laced with sorrow
Slowly, deliberately slithers
Over our peace
Like a snake after its prey
The longing to remain here
In the circle of your embrace
To say vows
We want to honor
But may not
For to honor them
is to be dishonorable
Tugs, stays, tempts, explodes
Our pace rises to crescendo
Impelled to create as much distance
Between us and the world
When the sun vacates the horizon
Darkness is our wide shawl
From the million prying eyes
Our paths are as clear
As our catastrophe
Split in two lonely parts going
To opposite directions
Behind us a crumbling arcadia
That was never really ours to keep/ chyt may2008
Sometime in August 2009, my grad school classmate Emina Cerimovic told our class about how four-year old girls are seen in Bosnia wiping car windshields while begging for money. That story is a mirror image of what is common in the Philippines, a very wealthy country where only 5% are affluent and 70% live below the poverty line.
The red light flashes
I step on the brakes
She rushes to my direction
With a dirty cloth in her hand, she wipes
The non-existent dust off my side mirror
She stares at me with the eyes of the legion
Draped in vulnerability
Who live mourning
The death of their dreams everyday
I feel her nudging the heart of humanity
To awaken from deadwood slumber
The green light flashes
As I fish into my pocket for some coins
I hear cars behind me honk with impatience
Fearing their rage I release my brakes
And drive away as coins fall on my feet
In my side mirror I see
The slumped shoulders of a four-year old
Who looks sadder than a widow
And more venerable than a grandmother
She moves between rushing cars
In a rat race that worships gold
Five miles away…
How could a helpless infant
With an atrabilious look
Make me feel such abyssal self-disgust? /chytdaytec
(Photo credit: Emina Cerimovic)
Be careful. I say, be very careful
Doubt is an armor; trust is a weakness.
Do not just kiss the gleaming white paper
With your thumb marinated in violet fluid.
You do not know if it is your death sentence,
Or a sturdy high fence to keep you off your land,
Or an absorbent sponge to sop up your sanity
Or a sell-out of your soul or your possession,
Or a permanent pact with the Devil himself
Education has attached hideous horns to faces,
Even to those that look like cherubs or seraphs .
Those who trounce deceit need no paper
For a handshake can do as well as it does
Honesty is from the heart, not the schools./ chytdaytec
In a Café With a Meager Crowd
They often sit in a café
whose meager crowd is its lure
while the tea brews
and cream perfects its assault
on the blackness of the coffee
Their talk spirals from the pit of the mundane
to the limits of the profound
like morning glory leaping out a high fence
from the wet mound of earth
They swap stories about small victories
and large victories
About injustice which is never big or small
because size is not a benchmark of evil
which is the only benchmark of itself
They snatch moments of silence among them
that, as though soap bubbles, readily burst
into congruent opinions.
Their collective spirit hangs over them,
shrivels at their depression,
over their helplessness
They do so much. Nothing is done
as if they are pouring water
into permeable barrel
Injustice always cracks victory
What is peace in the cool valleys
when the hills are trembling in fear?
Supplicant for vigor, their spirit nags them
to let laughter soak up the tears that weigh it down
One, somehow, catches the plea
He starts sculling the dialectics
till they syncopate
into chats about the weather
Not only. Even the latest scandals
involving the movie and political stars.
The inane giggles buoy up their sagging spirit
At the close of night,
they move to different directions
looking forward to the next date
in a café with a meager crowd. / chytdaytec