Alexis Montes recalled his ordeal. Upon their arrest, he and his group were “handcuffed with plastic wires and blindfolded with cloth reinforced by packing tape, and we remained that way for more than 36 hours.” He was forced to admit he was an NPA rebel, and when he denied it, “I would be hit in the chest.”
“A few moments later, I felt someone touching my hair as if trying to attach something. It felt like small alligator clips, which were probably connected to an electric power source and were placed on my head. [It] numbed my hands and arms, disabled me from walking, made my eyes and face feel heavy, made me sleepy, and made both my thighs twitch. I was made to drink water mixed with granules and made to smell something. I had to be lifted from my seat as my whole body was numb and I could not stand.”
This barbarity did not happen during the pit of martial law. It happened only a little more than a couple of years ago. Montes was one of the Morong 43, a group of health workers that was conducting a workshop on health services in Morong, Rizal, when they were raided by police and soldiers. They were detained without charges and tortured, some physically, most others mentally, but in all cases brutally.
One might think that it is better to be tortured mentally than physically, but tell that to the mothers among the Morong 43. Their torturers threatened to harm their children if they would not confess to being rebels. That might sound like an idle threat today, but it wasn’t so then. That was a time when political activists were being massacred—500 to 700 died during Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s rule, depending on the count engineered in great part by the berdugo, Jovito Palparan. In a poetically ironic turn of events, he has become a fugitive today, thereby confessing to his sins without torture. But when your captors told you then that you and your loved ones would end up in a ditch somewhere with throats slit, you believed them.
I’m glad some of the Morong 43 are haling Arroyo and several military officials to court. It’s a minor version of the class suit that the victims of torture and the families of the disappeared and “salvaged” filed against Ferdinand Marcos after he fled (with American help) to Hawaii. I hope the other victims of torture and the families of the disappeared and “salvaged” during Arroyo’s time will file that class suit against her as well. If only to remind people of what her regime was, which wasn’t altogether a second-rate, trying-hard, copycat of martial law. In some ways it improved on it.
Not surprisingly, Elena Bautista-Horn says she is surprised by the suit against her boss, Arroyo, because she had nothing to do with it. But of course she had, in ways that add whole new meanings to having to do with a crime. It’s a grand testament to folly, like Marcos’ own, the extent to which a spectacularly power-mad person is willing to go to acquire and keep power. In the end futilely, but not without leaving a mountain of bleached bones behind.
What made Arroyo’s renewed anticommunist war worse even than Marcos’ was that it was cynical through and through. Marcos at least had reason to fear the communists, Arroyo did not. It was no surprise that Arroyo discovered the need to crush the communists while she labored under a state of siege—not from the communists but from the citizens. This was not long after “Hello Garci” blew up in her face. She unleashed the military not to quell the insurgency but to quell public protest against her illegitimate rule. But she raised a pile of corpses among the political activists anyway for the verisimilitude. You can’t be more cynical than that.
Indeed, the lengths to which she would go to keep power you see in the way she coddled the Ampatuans, giving them free rein to strike terror in the heart of Maguindanao so long as they blanked out her and her friends’ opponents in elections. The more terror they struck in the hearts of enemies, the better. Unfortunately for her, they went on to strike terror in the heart of the world as well. But she is responsible for that too, however indirectly. Conspiracy in a crime makes you responsible for all its consequences.
One is tempted to say, particularly when you see Arroyo in her current state, trying to generate sympathy, or at least pity, for her plight, not unlike Marcos while in miserable exile in Hawaii, that it’s yet another lesson on how the mighty will fall, and the malevolent mighty poetically hard. We felt that way too after the torture victims filed a class suit against the Marcos estate and won. Retribution comes; not always swiftly in this country, but it comes. But we do know too that tyrants have a way of coming back. The Marcoses now figure they can even turn Ferdinand into a hero. More importantly, we do know that the lack of real punishment for tyrants encourage not altogether second-rate, trying-hard, copycats to follow in their wake. Arroyo might never have done what she did if we had done to Marcos as he deserved.
That’s what gives me new appreciation for what the new government is doing. A suit against Arroyo by the Morong 43 is good, a class suit against Arroyo by the families of the dead and disappeared better. But you need something more, you need something that will prevent tyrants from coming back, you need something that will prevent new tyrants from coming to be. You need to punish them, you need to give justice to the aggrieved. That is what the prosecution of Arroyo will do once Renato Corona is removed as the single biggest obstacle to it. That is what establishing the truth about the viciousness, quite apart from the venality, of a despotic regime will do. It will assure not just that tyrants would fall but that they would remain:
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