This day marks the fourth year of Jonas Burgos' disappearance. Poet Butch Espere expressed his remembrance of his comrade through a moving poem.

A Placard for Jonas

by: Butch S. Espere

(Note: This April 28 will be the fourth year of the abduction of Jonas Burgos by elements of AFP-ISAFP. It was a May 1st rally at Liwasang Bonifacio when a friend from Bulacan broke the bad news to us who were huddled under a tree for some break. It was then the height of extra-judicial killings and abductions under the Arroyo regime. It was a time when every activist in the ND movement had a feeling that anyone could be a victim yet was not prepared to believe that it could happen to Jonas, son of a pillar of press freedom in the country. His abduction made every one feel the military's message “wala kaming sasantohin basta gustohin namin”. Four years since, the Burgos family has been clinging to the hope that Jonas is still alive and this poem is meant to light the flames of that hope.)

we still could remember

how it was whispered

while we took refuge

under the shade of trees

at Liwasang Bonifacio

away from the crowd

the words were stilettos

swishing in the still air

stabbing us dead in silence

helpless as we fought

the sudden, all too sudden

surge of dread and disbelief

we raked the city for what remains

of life strewn in the park amid angry

May 1st manifestos vainly trying

to spot your shadow in the blur

of passing jeepneys but failing that

we sought you in the ordinariness

of the things you left behind: a garden

of organic flowers in unknown fields

the fire you lit in the dark that kept

burning in the heart of farmers in vigil

for your return and a gallant mother

who refused to shed a tear in public

since then, life's been a street

where we walked on the narrow

colliding lanes of hope and rage

while humanity in all drudgery

do their daily acts over and over

again: we still drink black coffee

in the morning, smoke a cigarette

or two as butter-fingers flipped

the papers for some happy news

and even when it rains we still go

to rallies to scream at the beast, "You

can not chain Prometheus for eternity!”



(Melissa Roxas' Press Conference after her release from abduction, from Habi Arts on Vimeo.)

Late last year, the Supreme Court of the Philippines in Roxas v Arroyo ordered the Commission on Human Rights to investigate the abduction and torture of Fil-Am activist Melissa Roxas. In her amparo petition, Roxas claimed that she was abducted by elements belonging to the Philippine military. The Supreme Court found that the police and the military investigations on the abduction were one-sided. In ordering the CHR to conduct a thorough investigation, the Supreme Court said:

Ironic as it seems, but part and parcel of the reason why (Roxas) was not able to adduce substantial evidence proving her allegations of government complicity in her abduction and torture, may be attributed to the incomplete and one-sided investigations conducted by the government itself. This “awkward” situation, wherein the very persons alleged to be involved in an enforced disappearance or extralegal killing are, at the same time, the very ones asked by law to investigate the matter, is a unique characteristic of these proceedings and is the main source of the “evidentiary difficulties” faced by any petitioner in any amparo case.

Last week, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines en banc released its resolution which may be summarized in one sentence: The New People's Army, not the military, abducted and tortured Roxas! However, the CHR did not substantiate this with any evidence. Rights groups all over the country were and remain outraged. In a press release today, the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers, the largest organization of human rights lawyers and paralegals in the country, through Atty. Edre U. Olalia, its Secretary General, castigated the CHR for its resolution.

The full text of the NUPL press release is as follows:


Human rights lawyers association National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) challenged the resolution of the Commission of Human Rights on the abduction and torture of Melissa Roxas, a Filipino-American activist and Bayan-USA member.

“We are at a loss to interpret such illogical legal reasoning ,” states NUPL Secretary-General Atty. Edre Olalia. He was referring to the Resolution’s findings that Roxas was indeed abducted and tortured, but then stops short of holding the military accountable. The resolution further went into unprecedented speculations on who could possibly be behind these human rights violations, pointing at the New People’s Army (NPA).

Roxas was abducted on May 19, 2009 in La Paz, Tarlac. She was repeatedly subjected to physical and psychological torture to force a confession that she was a member of the NPA.

The Resolution states that there was “insufficient evidence” to conclude that military agents were the ones behind Roxas’ abduction and torture. It then, in a leap of inference perhaps betraying a scarcity of objectivity, went on to say that it has received “information” from unspecified individuals saying that the NPA could have possibly committed the kidnapping and other human rights violations on Roxas.

Atty. Olalia points out that “the CHR is quick to deflect AFP’s hand in Melissa’s torture, while giving credence to flimsy and questionable sources to surmise NPA involvement. However, CHR was not able to produce a shred of evidence to substantiate its incredible claims.”

The CHR itself admits the dubiousness of its findings, adding in its defense, “the failure to identify specific persons to accuse and hold responsible is not fatal to the competence of the CHR to make a finding on the question of the commission of human rights violation.”

The Court of Appeals had earlier granted Roxas’ petition for a writ of amparo, declaring that her testimony was “credible and worthy of belief.” The Supreme Court itself had additionally directed that further investigation be conducted with the use of extraordinary diligence in order to identify the perpetrators behind the abduction and torture. And yet with one stroke of the pen, the CHR aims to remove the burden of responsibility on the military to prove that it was not guilty of abducting and torturing Roxas. “Where is this extraordinary diligence?” asks Atty. Olalia. “It is downright ironic for the CHR, which is constitutionally tasked to investigate human rights violations, to be the first to mask the AFP’s role in Melissa’s abduction and torture.”

Joining other other human rights victims, their relatives, and human rights advocates, the NUPL tells the CHR, “Stick to the issue: given the facts, pattern, motive, means, opportunity and context of her ordeal, Melissa was clearly abducted and tortured by the State security forces under the Oplan Bantay Laya program of GMA. Ignoring the overwhelming facts will only engender impunity and make perpetrators gloat and swagger like they were her protectors rather than cut them down to size and make them accountable.”#

Reference: Atty. Edre U. Olalia, NUPL Secretary - General (09175113373)


(AP Photo/Angelo Carconi, Lapresse

The Flight of Wingless Birds: The Roma's Lament*

by Cheryl L. Daytec

Some 150 Gypsies whose camp was dismantled have taken refuge in one of Rome's most ancient basilicas, creating a standoff Saturday with city officials trying to get them out…Some people who had gone outside for work or to procure food hadn't been allowed back inside.- Daily Reporter, 23 April 2011

Almost 300 Roma have fled their homes in Hungary in fear of far-right vigilantes, creating fresh problems for a government facing international criticism over a new constitution and media, 23 April 2011

the police often come. “Go home!”
where is home?
we were born in obscurity
between nothingness and death
the world did not celebrate our birth
neither do we, years after

we knock on Heaven’s door
alas, we are not among the chosen
who deserve its grace

where do we go from the darkness behind?
on the streets between rushing cars
selling wares- sometimes lies- to strangers
eager for the green light?
or the battered cardboard boxes
on the sidewalks where we rest
our weary bodies, rain or shine?

like birds hatched without wings
we are
chance in its blundered shape
hope limping on the edge of death
we are
a ramshackle car
with almost empty gas tank
negotiating a wet dirt road
buried in thick fog

we exist in a present that refuses to fade
into the past whose prodigal abjection
we wish to bury in the interstices of amnesia
our own history objurgates itself
it was written not by our hands
we dread to trail the road
into tomorrow’s gate
leading to a golden city above
that may not welcome us
now we know- its foyer on Earth
has no space for our cold bodies

thorns on our paths-
we clip them with each step

but oh, how they grow and multiply each day

*Thanks to my friend Butch Espere who gave this poem its title.


(This article was supposed to be appear in my column in the 2009 Holy Week edition of The Northern Dispatch. However, I did not submit it for one reason or another. I am publishing it here if only to celebrate Jesus' life as a victim of human rights violation and as a human rights advocate.)

Last Christmas, I wrote that Jesus Christ was a victim of the very thing he despised- flagrant profiteering. Christmas, which is supposed to be the observance of his birth, has become an occasion for crass commercialism. A reader sent a message to my website: “You made Jesus sound like a really ordinary human being and that makes him more interesting. I would like to read the bible to know more about the man you described him to be. ”

This inspired me to write more about Jesus as a man and to show the relevance of his life to present day concerns like human rights, activism and power. If it does not show yet, he is the historical figure I admire most.

He was indeed an ordinary man, but he also sought to be extraordinary. He communed with the dregs of society, lepers, and prostitutes among them, who were shunned by the society he lived in. He had a way with words. And he was also very political.

“Give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God, the things that are God’s,” he told his followers. Many people, faithful Christians among them, think that this is an order to submit to authority. I have no quarrel with that, but I must qualify my assent. Jesus could not have been referring to absolute submission in all cases. The man, after all, spoke in riddles and in parables. He preached against oppression and injustice. And an oppressive government has no right to demand obedience. In other words, a submissive constituency does not belong to an oppressive Caesar. To surrender to a tyrant is to support tyranny. What does a tyrant deserve? If it has to be civil disobedience, it must be given to him/her.

Jesus was not a reactionary. Even if it was not fashionable to rock the boat, he rocked it because he had to. He made authorities tremble in fear. Here was a man of the masses who was eroding the public faith in them.. This sent the authorities into frenzied anger. He had to be silenced. They concocted a case against him. They tortured him. They summarily executed him. A typical response of a repressive State, if we consider the Philippine situation. He was a victim of human rights violation.

Filipino activists trying to be the change agent Jesus Christ was also earned the ire of the authorities. One by one, they are disappearing. In other cases, they are being murdered. Still, in other cases, they are being arrested on trumped-up charges. Their tragedies are indubitable proof of the Arroyo Regime’s unparalleled human rights record.

Jesus Christ himself was arrested and accused of a crime he did not commit. The judge found him innocent of any crime. “I find no fault in this man,” Pontius Pilate said. But he did not stop the executioners even if he had the power to do so. He washed his hands which was symbolic of his not wanting Jesus’ blood on his conscience. But with or without washed hands, he was as guilty as those who summarily executed Jesus.

Well, when Gloria Arroyo will wash her hands, that will be the day. Only people with conscience will do that. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Lady Macbeth driven by obsession for power, plotted the King’s murder and prevailed upon her husband to execute the plan. Mocked into proving his manhood, he did as she wished and he became queen while she, queen of Scotland. Nagged by guilty conscience, she began to wash her hands in frenzy to rinse out an illusory bloodstain. Eventually, she was driven to suicide, unable to make peace with her conscience.

Then in Shakespeare’s Scotland, the extreme was murder; now, in the Philippines, the extreme is a call to a Commissioner of the elections body with an order to alter figures in your favor. These days, the murder of a presidential opponent would raise international alarm and earn you antipathy votes translatable into votes for the opposition. La Gloria had the sense not to resort to that. But Lady Macbeth and La Gloria are morally related in the sense that they wanted power so much and did the most extreme to grab it. The similarity ends there, though. La Gloria still has to prove to the world that she has a guilty conscience by washing her hands.

Actually, she does not need to wash her hands. The Melo Commission brilliantly did it for her. The commission, created in 2006 to look into extrajudicial killings, implicated the military but cleared La Gloria of liability. Of course, the cleansing portion of the report was not surprising. What did you expect from a commission whose function was to investigate the crime of its creator? Maybe, we can say that she washed her hands by creating the commission that washed her hands. I have to admit that even as I propose the idea, I say that it sounds highly speculative or like what the courts would call “a claim not supported by a scintilla of evidence.”

And so it is that the more than 900 summary killings and close to 300 enforced disappearances are the crimes of Arroyo in the same manner that Pilate killed Jesus. Without dwelling on the legitimacy of her presidency, she is the Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces. All it takes for the killings to stop is for her to call an end to them. While military death squads exist, it only means she has not raised the alarm.

Jesus died in the most shameful way somebody guilty of a heinous crime could be executed at that time. Many activists today are dying in the most undignified way, some with their families left without a body to bury. And the disappeared are in torture headquarters suffering the most harrowing experiences ever known to the human species.

After the death of Jesus, more people were drawn to his teachings. The more Filipino activists die, the more the masses will be stirred to action against tyranny.

As Jesus’ blood watered the tree of Christianity, so will the activists’ blood water the tree of resistance.


Bird Wings

by Cheryl L. Daytec

Come, my jailer, come closer,

I am too weak to move to you

Chains have broken my body

But my spirit is unbeaten, firm

Come feel the shape of my wish

From this- my gasping breath

Strike me with your bloodied gaff

I will be grateful to you, my jailer

Death is like my pair of bird wings

Your gaff the chain around your soul./cld


China tells U.S. to quit as human rights judge

A man rides a bicycle past a billboard located near the entrance to the studio owned by detained activist Ai Weiwei in BeijingReuters – A man rides a bicycle past a billboard located near the entrance to the studio owned by detained activist …

BEIJING (Reuters) – The United States is beset by violence, racism and torture and has no authority to condemn other governments' human rights problems, China said on Sunday, countering U.S. criticism of Beijing's crackdown.

The row between Beijing and Washington over human rights has intensified since China's ruling Communist Party extended its clampdown on dissidents and rights activists, a move which has sparked an outcry from Washington and other Western governments.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is the most prominent of the activists to be detained by police or held in secretive custody in the latest crackdown.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Friday she was "deeply concerned" about it, and cited "negative trends" including Ai's detention.

A U.S. State Department report on global human rights released on Friday said Beijing had stepped up restrictions on lawyers, activists, bloggers and journalists, and tightened controls on civil society.

It has also increased its efforts to control the press, Internet and Internet access, the report said.

But China has shown no sign of bowing to foreign pressure.

Its Foreign Ministry on Saturday dismissed the U.S. report as meddling, and its own annual report about U.S. human rights stressed Beijing's dismissive view.

"Stop the domineering behavior of exploiting human rights to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries," it said, according to excerpts published by the official Xinhua news agency.

"The United States ignores its own severe human rights problems, ardently promoting its so-called 'human rights diplomacy', treating human rights as a political tool to vilify other countries and to advance its own strategic interests," said a passage from the Chinese report

Produced by the State Council Information Office, the government's public relations arm, the report dwelled on what it said were severe deprivations and threats facing many Americans, as well as Washington's invasion of Iraq.

It also cited the United States' refusal to ratify a number of international human rights pacts, and listed poverty, hunger and homelessness as stains on the country's rights record.

"The United States is the world's worst country for violent crimes," said the report. "Citizens' lives, property and personal safety do not receive the protection they should."

"Racial discrimination is deeply rooted in the United States, permeating every aspect of social life," it said.

Criticism of China's human rights problems do not come just from foreign governments and groups.

Chinese rights lawyers and advocates have also been dismayed by a recent burst of arrests, detentions and heavy sentences against dissidents and activists.

On Sunday, hundreds of Chinese police moved to prevent a planned outdoor service by a church in Beijing that had been evicted from its former premises.

(Editing by Sophie Hares)


Morong 43 file countercharges for arbitrary detention;sue Gloria Arroyo, military, police for P15 million in damages

Members of the Morong 43 today filed a civil case for damages in Quezon City against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, former Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales, former Chief of Staff Gen. Victor Ibrado and other top-ranked military officials arising from rights violations during their detention last year.

It is the first countercharge filed against the former president, now congressman, Arroyo for human rights violations committed during her nine-year term.

The Morong 43, a group of health workers undergoing training in Morong, Rizal, were arrested and detained for 10 months on charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. They were released last December 17, 2010, after President Benigno Aquino eventually ordered the Justice Department to withdraw the information against the “illegally arrested” group in the face of an overwhelming and broad clamor for their release.

Morong 43 counsel Atty. Edre U. Olalia said, “The government clearly admitted the arrest of the Morong 43 did not stand on legal grounds. Now the Arroyo administration must face the consequences of its actions.”

Doctors Merry Mia Clamor and Alexis Montes, nurse Gary Liberal, and community health workers Teresa Quinawayan, Reynaldo Macabenta and Mercy Castro are claiming moral and exemplary damages amounting to P2.5 million each, for physical and psychological torture, and other acts of harassment and threats. Central to these acts was the military forcing them to admit that they were members of the New People’s Army.

They are also claiming actual damages for personal effects such as cellphones, laptops and money in wallets taken by the military when the group was arrested at a farmhouse in Rizal last year. Total damages can reach more than P15 million, “ an amount that cannot in any wise assuage the harrowing experience that they went through ” according to the plaintiffs.

Co-counsel Atty. Ephraim B. Cortez said the complaint is based on Civil Code provisions which make any public officer who violate the constitutional rights of individuals liable for damages. “It is not possible to undo the illegal acts of the state, so the law turns to compensation as a remedy for the victims. Although the reparation cannot fully undo the damage, it will affirm human and legal solidarity with victims of gross violations of human rights,” he said.
While Arroyo, Gonzales and Ibrado did not personally direct the arrest and subsequent detention of the health workers, Olalia said they should be accountable because of Oplan Bantay Laya, the Arroyo government’s counter-insurgency program.

The complaint also impleads as defendants former commanding general of the army Gen. Delfin Bangit, former commanding army officer of the 2nd Infantry Division Gen. Jorge Segovia, former army commanding officer of the 16th Infantry Division Lt. Col. Jaime Abawag, army men Lt. Col. Victorino Zaragosa, Major Manuel Tabion, and Col. Aurelio Baladad, and police superintendents Marion Balolong and Allan Nubleza. The illegal arrest and arbitrary detention of the Morong 43 were human rights violations perpetrated by foot soldiers and policemen under Arroyo’s aggressive policy of Oplan Bantay Laya. All activities under the program were with the ‘knowledge, acquiescence, tolerance, inducement and/or upon the orders of Arroyo and Gonzales’,” said Olalia, quoting from the complaint.

Olalia, who is secretary-general of the group’s counsel National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said the complaint also assails Oplan Bantay Laya as the framework of the huge number of extra judicial killings, enforced disappearances and other unsolved human rights violations. NUPL served as the Morong 43’s counsel along with the Public Interest Law Center.

Hence, this will only be the beginning. This is part of a series of countercharges that will be filed against the Arroyo regime by the victims of human rights violations and their families.”

We hope this first filing will encourage all other victims and families to file similar well-grounded countercharges in different fora versus top officials and high-ranking perpetrators as part of the continuing search for justice and the battle against impunity,” Olalia said.

NUPL and its different chapters all over the country is already preparing other cases against Arroyo and other top officials who served during a term tainted with the worst human rights record after Marcos. “The message is clear: you cannot get away with it just like that,” Olalia emphasized.
The group, which is the Philippines’ largest organization of human rights lawyers at present, earlier this year launched a campaign against impunity. “When the state fails to meet its obligations to effectively investigate violations and to take adequate measures in respect of the perpetrators by ensuring that those suspected of responsibility are duly prosecuted, tried and punished without delay,” says its campaign rationale, “impunity exists.”

The campaign is supported by other organizations such as the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, the International Association of People's Lawyers, the Lawyers Rights Watch of Canada, the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers of the UK, the Japanese Association of Lawyers for International Solidarity Action, the Progress Lawyers Network of Belgium, Droit Solidarite of France and the National Lawyers Guild of the US, among others. They have previously joined the broad clamor for the release and for justice for the Morong 43.

In September last year, hundreds of delegates of the Conference of Lawyers in the Asia-Pacific V (COLAP V) from several countries unanimously called for the unconditional release of the Morong 43 and vowed to support any move by Filipino lawyers and organizations to bring the perpetrators to justice and to fight impunity. #

References: Atty. Ephraim B. Cortez, NUPL assistant secretary general for legal services (09164093986); Atty. Edre U. Olalia, NUPL secretary general (09175113373)

POEM: CAST-OFFS (for Miss Ethiopia)

for Miss Ethiopia
by Cheryl L. Daytec

Everything is in two suitcases

I leave nothing but bitterness

And a smorgasbord of garbage:

Old clothes, used toothbrushes

Empty canisters, assorted papers

Receipts, a small bottle of olive oil

Yes, even the sharp memories

The beautiful, the acrimonious

And the variegated scandens vine

I pruned from its mother spreading

Its foliage in a big corner claypot

I put it in that light sky blue vase

Bought on discount from Tesco

That vine barricaded my sanity

When it was desperate to escape

From the matrix of my solitude

I did not put the English channel

The snow-capped mountains

And the one hour gap between us

She felt I deserted her anyway

I was a usual presence, a habit

The vine traveled to her room

My surrogate- a warm presence

She put it back to my window sill

The moment she touched my hair

Again. Was that a Friday in winter?

Soon the gentle cleaning old man

Will discover the vine orphaned

I was told he will put it in a curve

At the edge of the swimming pool

Where it will grow longer, longer

Like live strands of memories

Snaking their way through time

Until they lingeringly grow too long

That no one - perhaps not even we

Will remember how they began/ cld


From the Pentagon to the French government to the water privatizers, here are some of the beneficiaries of the campaign in Libya.

United Nations Security Council resolution 1973 has worked like a Trojan horse, allowing the Anglo-French-American consortium - and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) - to become the UN's air force in its support of an armed uprising. Apart from having nothing to do with protecting civilians, this arrangement is absolutely illegal in terms of international law. The inbuilt endgame, as even malnourished African kids know by now, but has never been acknowledged, is regime change.Lies, hypocrisy and hidden agendas. This is what United States President Barack Obama did not dwell on when explaining his Libya doctrine to America and the world. The mind boggles with so many black holes engulfing this splendid little war that is not a war (a "time-limited, scope-limitedmilitary action", as per the White House) - compounded with the inability of progressive thinking to condemn, at the same time, the ruthlessness of the Muammar Gaddafi regime and the Anglo-French-American "humanitarian" bombing.

Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard of Canada, NATO's commander for Libya, may insist all he wants that the mission is purely designed to protect civilians. Yet those "innocent civilians" operating tanks and firing Kalashnikovs as part of a rag-tag wild bunch are in fact soldiers in a civil war - and the focus should be on whether NATO from now on will remain their air force, following the steps of the Anglo-French-American consortium. Incidentally, the "coalition of the wiling" fighting Libya consists of only 12 NATO members (out of 28) plus Qatar. This has absolutely nothing to do with an "international community".

The full verdict on the UN-mandated no-fly zone will have to wait for the emergence of a "rebel" government and the end of the civil war (if it ends soon). Then it will be possible to analyze how Tomahawking and bombing was ever justified; why civilians in Cyrenaica were "protected" while those in Tripoli were Tomahawked; what sort of "rebel" motley crew was "saved"; whether this whole thing was legal in the first place; how the resolution was a cover for regime change; how the love affair between the Libyan "revolutionaries" and the West may end in bloody divorce (remember Afghanistan); and which Western players stand to immensely profit from the wealth of a new, unified (or balkanized) Libya.