Victimizing the victims twice over (Part II)

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 5 Aug) – I was furious… as in really, really FURIOUS; I felt like a volcano ready the erupt anytime. The susunod na kabanata turned out to be – literally –nakakasuka. As I underwent another frustrating day waiting in line to file my documents as a Human Rights Violations’ Victim (the term used to label us by the Human Rights Violations Claimants Board or HRVCB in conjunction with the Commission on Human Rights), I felt my blood rising to a dangerous level. 

If not for the maintenance medicine I take every morning, I could have collapsed while lining up again this morning. At various moments, I felt like vomiting while waiting for my turn to have my documents processed. There were similar complaints I heard from claimants who were senior citizens like me who were at the Almendras gym today. 

This was how today turned out. After the harrowing day yesterday, I returned to the Almendras gym at 7:20 a.m. There was a huge crowd already lining up. Those of us issued numbers the previous day positioned ourselves near the entrance as we were promised to be the first ones to be allowed entry to the gym. A quarter before 8:00 one of the staff of the HRCB announced that only those issued numbers on Monday would be entertained today, as 600 were given numbers. Based on what they were able to accomplish on Monday with only 300+ claimants; documents processed, only 300 more could be processed today Tuesday.

The long queue and the chaos persisits on Day 2. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano
The long queue and the chaos persisit on Day 2. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano

She then announced that those who were from Davao Oriental and Norte as well as Compostela Valley should go home and wait for instructions as to when they will go to Tagum City sometime in September for their turn to have their documents processed. Only those from Davao City would be given numbers today but will need to return tomorrow. However, my guess was that there would be more than 500 from Davao City who have no numbers. So can all of them be covered on the last day of this 3-day marathon? (Apparently, yesterday afternoon, all those who came from Cotabato were entertained so they could all return home. As for those coming from Davao del Sur, there was no instruction as to when will their turn be.)

With that announcement, a good number left the compound but there were new arrivals so the crowd still jampacked the front of the gym. Meanwhile, we thought the gates would open at 8 a.m. so that proceedings would begin. For whatever was the reason, the gates opened only by 9 a.m., an hour late. We patiently waited for instructions what was going to happen next. I was beside Kalay Montera from Mandug, wife of Doming, who was my co-detainee. (Doming died last May so Kalay, as widow, came to file the claims). Those of us with assigned numbers (mine was 446, not 445 as I wrote earlier) were now given a new set of numbers as we lined up. I had No. 36. Kalay was not feeling well, so we managed to find chairs to sit on while we waited for our turn to be called.

Meanwhile, one could see that given the circumstances, there were those who just arrived today who found ways to find someone they knew among the gatekeepers so they didn’t have to stand in line and be allowed entry even ahead of us. That made me furious even more as I saw a few of them being able to enjoy the privilege. I wanted to object openly but didn’t have the energy to do so anymore. At this point, I was going to conserve whatever energy was left in my body so I could finish and go home as early as possible.

I thought that since I had my number, I just had to patiently wait for my turn, submit my documents, sign whatever is to be signed, finish all that needed to be done and then go home to finally be rid of this nuisance. It was not meant to be; I was to be subjected to more horrors (which, of course, did not only happen to me). Something has been really terribly wrong about the procedures followed by the HRCB in conjunction with the CHR. There were no clear instructions that we could access, not even in the websites as to exactly what documents were required and what procedures would be followed in the actual site like the one held here at the Almendras gym.

In the absence of an office set up by the HRCB/CHR in Davao City, there was no place we could check on these details before 4-6 August. We thought that since the Ateneo Legal Center (APILA) had gotten into the act – as a voluntary agency to assist claimants – we all assumed that the advice of the staff of APILA was enough. I had been to the APILA office enough times to be able to check out what exactly were the documents I should bring and their instructions I thought were sufficient enough. This, however, was not the case. Neither did the HRCB/CHR put up signs at the venue – with all the details especially in terms of documents to be brought – for us to check before falling in line. And there was no one at the site who could give us the right information before we lined up. So we lined up, waited and waited and when we finally reached the tables where our documents were processed, that was the only time we knew if we had all the documents required.

While many of the claimants suffered under the heat of the sun outside the Almendras Gym, the bleachers were empty inside. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano
While many of the claimants suffered under the heat of the sun outside the Almendras Gym, the bleachers were empty inside. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano

In the inner sanctum, we had to report to three tables. In each table there was a staff person (or volunteer) who would check the documents. It turned out that it was not necessary to go through the 3 tables, as they did practically the same thing, namely to find out if all documents were on hand. But each table had its own interpretation regarding the documents; one table insisted on the true copies, another was OK just with the Xerox, another did not need IDs issued by government agencies, another was OK with ID of private school.

All three however indicated that the final arbiter was the fourth table where the lawyers were who would finally decide if all documents were in order. I didn’t want to waste more time, so I asked the one in the third table to just tell me straight what were the final documents required so I did not have to go to the final table of the lawyers to be told to still collect more documents. I was told to make sure the certified true copies of documents were available and IDs issued by government agencies.

So off I went, got out of the gym, walked under the heat of the sun, found a taxi and went home so I could collect all that I still needed. (As it turned out, Murphy’s law was in full force once more today; not only did it take time to find a taxi along that busy road but the traffic was terrible). To make the story short, I was back inside the gym 30 minutes later. I got the OK of the third table and was ushered to the final table, where we took again the circle seats to wait for our turn. Lo and behold, the guys at the table didn’t look like lawyers at all; they looked like they were college freshmen!!!

And when my turn came, I faced this very young man named Bernard Laguindino who told me later that he was a college student from Manila hired by the HRCB to come to Davao for this event. He certainly was no lawyer, he was not even a law student. So why did the staff at the three tables referred to them as lawyers? Perhaps the only reason he got hired was because he could operate the gadgets. I wondered what he knew about the Marcos dictatorship and if he cared to know about human rights violations.He hardly looked at my papers and didn’t care if I had certified true copies or Xerox copies. He then asked me to sign my signature on a pad and then took my photo. Two minutes later, I had my blue paper labelled Acknowledgment Receipt and My Docket No. was 2014-11-00396.

And that was it. I was done and I was told to take the exit. It was a pyrrhic victory of sort. I won in the end, but I didn’t feel victorious at all.

Going out by the side door and reaching the part where hundreds were still waiting for their numbers, I spotted a few of those with whom I spent time in prison. They were still waiting for their numbers. I shared with them what my experiences were and warned them what to expect when it was their turn to enter the inner sanctum. One of them finally blurted out: Mora man tag gitorture na sab ani oy! (It is as if we are undergoing torture once again!)

It was 11:45 a.m. when I left the comrades at the site of our new experience of torture and went home, feeling very tired but also feeling very sorry for the hundreds who remained there. I walked to the circle where I could find a jeepney to bring me home. There stood the statue of Andres Bonifacio and I thought of a line from his poem: Aling pag-ibig pa ang hihigit kaya sa pagkadalisay at pagkadakila, tulad ng pag-ibig sa tinubuang lupa!

And with a sense of bitterness, I could not help but think: oh what some of us of our generation did for the love of this country; but having undergone a recent eight-hour ordeal (five hours on Monday and three hours today), was it all worth it?