DAVAO CITY (MindaNews /04 August) — Those from far-flung villages in the Davao-Cotabato region came to Davao City at dawn on Monday, the fourth of August and found their way to the Almendras Gym as early as 5 a.m. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) had scheduled August 4-6 as the dates for claimants under Republic Act 10368 [the law passed recently by Congress recognizing human rights violations (HRVs) during Marcos’ martial rule and providing reparations to the victims of HRVs] to file their applications for recognition and reparations to the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board.
Hundreds of them had arrived at the gym an hour before proceedings would start at 8 a.m. When I arrived there are at 7:35 a.m., I had no choice but to take my place at the tailend of one of the pila lined up at the entrance to the gym. I noticed that one line had Moro men and women as could be determined by their attire; one surmised they had come from Cotabato. By 8 a.m. there were more than a thousand who jampacked the grounds of the Almendras gym and more were arriving, including those who rode the mini-bus of the Municipal Government of Matan-ao (Davao del Sur).
One noticed that there were tables at the entrance of the gym and by 8 a.m. there were a few men and women who sat on the chairs. One surmised they were the CHR people who would check the documents that we were supposed to prepare and be submitted on this day that included a form where we were supposed to give information about ourselves, especially as to how our HRVs were violated. But no one was giving the crowd orders on what to do. There were no notices placed on strategic walls that we could read to give us an idea what was to be done, as to what procedures to follow. All we could do then was to find our place in the pila that became longer as more people arrived.
But as the crowd ballooned and with no one marshaling the crowd, chaos arose. People assumed there were lines for those in Cotabato (seeing the line of the Moro claimants), another for the Davao provinces and another for those from Davao City. As the proceedings began, someone from the CHR announced that anyone can stand in any of three lines that had formed. The crowd became unruly as they sought to find themselves in only three lines. As there were no sufficient structures in place that people could follow to make sure the lines were orderly and as there were no staff people to impose a certain level of discipline, new arrivals would just insert themselves into the lines that had already formed. Tempers erupted and the chaotic situation made everyone frustrated.
I felt nostalgic about the rallies and demonstrations during martial rule. No matter how big was the crowd there was always order as to where the people would place themselves and the sense of discipline was something one was very proud of. This morning, we were no different than the lines forming at DSWD relief centers in Tacloban City in the aftermath of Yolanda, doing our best to protect the little space we found for ourselves in the line.
As I stood there feeling frustrated and irritated at the inefficiency of the CHR staff, all I could do was to be patient and to bear this indignity as best as I could. And yet I could not help but raise questions in my mind: Those in Manila did not have to undergo this difficult process as there was an office set up within the UP Diliman campus where people could go anytime to submit their documents. So how come the CHR could not set up the same kind of an office in key cities in Mindanao so we need not all come together for only three days to file our claims?
This was not the first time the CHR staff implemented this procedure. Before doing it this week in Davao City, they were already in other cities. They would have learned some lessons on how to deal with crowds, but how come, the lessons did not help them come up with a systematic and orderly procedure now? If they claim to have limited personnel, was it not possible for them to ask other government agencies to assist them, e.g. the local PNP to help with crowd control?
As I was seething deep inside, knowing fully well that it would be hours before I could find myself at the head of the line and then be allowed to enter the lobby to submit my documents, I texted a few friends who were submitting their claims and had planned to come on Tuesday, August 5. I texted them what the condition was as we were lining up. One of them texted me back: “This inefficiency victimizes the victims twice over!”
Act of Resistance
I must confess that as the morning got hotter and my back (with a history of back pains) was starting to make life uncomfortable for me standing there on line, I thought of pulling out as there was no assurance that my inconvenience would end by noontime. But as with the claims that we human rights victims fought for through the efforts of Atty. Swift’s law office, I wanted to do this for its symbolic value. Even if I had to go through this inconvenience (which is no match to the 22 months of detention as a political prisoner), I would gladly do it as a symbolic act to once more attest to the evils of the Marcos dictatorship. And with the attempts of the Marcoses these days to rewrite contemporary Philippine history, my being there it is an act of resistance.
Still I thought: here we are gathered together — for what? To fight for the little crumbs that might come our way? (After all, the amount that will be budgeted for the reparations may only be a tiny fraction of the Marcos wealth that has not been recovered until today, and certainly a tiny amount compared to the billions of money involved in the PDAF and the DAP).
There was another realization. Looking at the faces of the hundreds who were there, one knew these were the people who suffered the brunt of martial rule. Many were already elderly, like me; a few came with people assisting them. I saw a man on a wheel chair, another with crutches. A few I was able to talk to were children of parents who were killed or disappeared during martial rule. They are mostly poor peasants, laborers, informal settlers and from humble abode. One knew they needed the money that could be received for being a claimant. Some of them were not able to be in the list of Atty. Swift; this time, they would do their best to make sure they are in this list.
Very few from the elite were there lining up, but this was but a reflection of the resistance movement against the Marcos dictatorship. Very few from the elite were brave enough to take part in this resistance movement; it was the poor in the countryside and the cities who served as backbone of the movement. And yet after EDSA I, the elite is back in power and are the ones again mainly benefitting in the PNoy administration’s claim of growth in this country, which as everyone knows, has not been inclusive to also benefit the poor. And thus, here we are lining up, hoping to both assert our right to a symbolic act and the right to be compensated for the cruelty inflicted on our bodies during martial rule.
I was on Line No. 1 and there were supposed to be only three lines. But Line 3 – where people stood under the heat of the sun – was constantly in flux as people struggled to remain on line or to insert themselves. There were constant pushing and pulling and the two CHR personnel who controlled the gate into the inner sanctum were at risk themselves if the crowd turned into a mob. It was 12:45 at noon, when I finally made it to the inner sanctum. Five hours had passed since I arrived and what a relief it was to finally reach home base.
I was listed No. 445, meaning there had been 444 other persons ahead of me. After signing up, I was told that the personnel could only handle at most around 200 persons on this day. I was not surprised; while on line I had watched how much time was needed to check the documents. On average, it took one CHR personnel at least 20 minutes to check the documents and decide which next line the claimants would go (one line enters the gym for the next round of checking documents while the other line are for those who needed assistance to make sure they had all the documents needed. Most of the Moro claimants went to the latter, which did not surprise me at all).
I was told to return on Tuesday August 5. Better if I would be there before 6 a.m as there will be a roll call before gates opened at 8 a.m. I was too tired and hungry to react to these orders. So I left the premises and went home. Abangan ang susunod na kabanata.