DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 23 March) – March 26, 1983… or 34 years ago this coming Sunday, March 26, 2017… was the Saturday before Palm Sunday (March 27, or the start of the Holy Week that year). I was newly employed in the Resources Development Foundation Program (RDFP) with the late Atty. Larry Ilagan, Gus Miclat, Mae dela Rosa and others.
After leaving the RDFP office just before 5:00 p.m., I went to an apartment, just 5 minutes’ walk from City Hall to deliver to a German pastor, Volker Schmidt, documentations regarding human rights violations committed by the Marcos regime.
Those of us in the HR network in the city had not known that Saturday afternoon, that the apartment had been raided by the AFP’s military intelligence arm a few days earlier and arrested everyone who stayed inside the apartment as well as those who visited the people there, including Volker.
I knocked on the door, a man opened it, and as soon as I was inside, other men ganged up on me and held me tight. I knew immediately I had fallen into a trap. So began an experience of oppression, rights deprivation and cruelty, the memories of which remain sharp in the cupboard of my mind all these 34 years. Within a second, I thought that was the last day of my mortal life on earth, as many of those who fell into such a trap did not survive the night of interrogation.
But I survived and lived to tell the tale, only by the grace of a loving God who protects the righteous, perhaps luck was on my side, but also maybe because I did not panic and managed to mobilize my inner resources to face my captors squarely without fear. Though blindfolded and with hands and feet bound by rope, I managed to speak to the officer-in-charge (in English, of course), humbly asking him to make sure his men won’t harm me. Actually, a voice was heard (also in English) and I assume he was the officer speaking these words: “When I leave this house, I cannot guarantee your safety but if you cooperate, they will not harm you.”
Cooperating means to “confess” but my captors would rather leave it to the intelligence officers to do the favor. So they left me alone that night. At dawn, they dressed me in a military uniform, and airlifted me to the Nichols Air Base in Manila, where I was then rushed to the 15th MIG Compound at Camp Bago Bantay somewhere in Caloocan City.
I became a desaparecido for a week, with the military denying that they had arrested me. Meanwhile family and friends assumed the worst, even if they prayed hard I would remain alive. I was turned over to Gen. Galileo Kintanar, already known then as the interrogator of activists with links to the Church. In fairness, he just verbally threatened me that if I do not make a list of all those with whom I have direct and indirect contacts in the human rights network (including friends in the UG), I would never be surfaced and could then be eliminated.
I stood my ground telling him there was nothing to confess. He got mad when I spoke those words in his face! And for the second time, I thought I was a goner. Then to my surprise – and delight – owing to all the pressures from everywhere (including a visit of the late Senator Pepe Diokno and Sr. Marianni SFIC to Camp Bago Bantay, as they correctly assumed I was kept there), the military succumbed to the Supreme Court justices to respond to the habeas corpus (let the body appear!) order. Easter Sunday, I had my own “resurrection” which led to an appearance at the Supreme Court, filing of a case “conspiracy to commit rebellion” against me in the RTC (where Museo Dabawenyo now stands) and imprisoned at the Metrodiscom Detention Center in Davao City.
For the 22 months that I was incarcerated as a political prisoner, I was taken occasionally to the RTC for the trials. Early on, the lawyer who defended me was Jess Dureza (a classmate in high school) but who later left my case; with Larry Ilagan taking over and the State Prosecutor on behalf of the Marcos regime was Rody Duterte, another classmate from high school.
FORWARD TO TODAY, MARCH 23, 2017. Could history repeat itself again… so soon? I am too old and sickly now to be arrested once more and put in prison if I am still seen as a threat! But I pity those who might go through the same kind of terrifying experience! No woman or man in this day and age should ever have to go through the same kind of experience, if we are to consider ourselves a civilized nation!
But if it comes to pass, she or he will cry out the same phrase that I did through the long years of imprisonment: HOW LONG? How long before true freedom and justice will dawn once more in OUR (not just somebody else’s) country!
[Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is Academic Dean of the Redemptorists’ St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. He is author of several books and writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw).]