September 22, 2011
Panay island, Iloilo City, Philippines
Threatening the ‘Insurgent’
“Witnesses are now ready to testify of your participation in insurgency”.
I came from a country that was widely known as the ‘cradle of democracy’ – the 1986 uprising of the Filipino people that ousted the more than two-decade rule of former dictator President Ferdinand Marcos. The collective protest of the people, popularly known as People Power, in the capital of the Philippines then prompted the officials and the military to withdraw their support to Marcos and eventually his downfall. Then, a new president was then installed in the name of President Corazon Aquino.
Aquino ruled from 1987-1992, promising reforms in the government which led to the advancement of people’s movements inspired by the People Power. Various non-government organizations mushroomed. They were actively taking part in governance. But Aquino’s charm of trying to provide a democratic space for activists calling for meaningful reforms were gradually quelled and silenced. The call for genuine agrarian reform, decent wages, job security, employment opportunities all fell into deaf ears.
After her term, presidents Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, and Gloria Arroyo took their turns in leading the country. One of the common policies they did not bother to lift or to dispose of is the counter-insurgency program, assuming different names. But this program is taking its toll among activists in legitimate people’s organizations advancing the people’s democratic rights.
The post Marcos rule was marked by a sharp increase in the cases of human rights violations during the time of former president Gloria Arroyo from 2001-2010. The counter insurgency plan Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2 claimed the lives of activists in the democratic mass movements. Tagged as communists, rebels, and even terrorists, activists were either gunned down or abducted. Now, our government found an easy way to neutralize the legitimate protests of the people, sowing fear among the vocal critics of her administration.
Governments in the Philippines failed to handle well the problem of insurgency. There is the existence of armed revolutionary groups in the countryside leading the liberation movement. For over three decades now, this is the insurgency thing our government has to face and is currently dealing with. But the military operatives under the Armed Forces of the Philippines have been focusing their operations against helpless and unarmed activists.
The current Philippine government under President Noynoy Aquino, the son of former President Corazon Aquino, is now unleashing its terror under Oplan Bayanihan, its internal peace and security and counter-insurgency plan. The first victim of extra-judicial killing of President Noynoy Aquino came from my island in Panay. The offensive against activists continues until now.
Me, an ‘insurgent’?!
In the morning of September 21, while I was dressing up my four-year old kid for her day care class in our village, I received a letter from the mailman with the sender Fuentes, Roco, and Associates Law Firm based in Roxas City, Capiz. I immediately opened it and upon reading the first paragraph of the two-page letter, my sight dimmed and I caught myself numb. I was frightened. I failed to continue reading the entire letter. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, hugged my kid and sent her to school.
Then I readied my self to take a bath. As I was preparing to leave for my work, I took a glance at the letter. I sat down for a while, relaxed a bit, and braved myself to read the entire letter.
By calling and labeling me an insurgent, the letter is telling me that something bad will happen to me, my husband and two kids, and my family if I will not cooperate with them. But the problem is, I do not know if who they are since the letter bore false and fictitious address. Also, the letter is threatening me that charges of rebellion, extortion, arson with robbery, and murder will be filed against me soon.
But why would I cooperate? For what? I am not an insurgent, in the first place. I have been into environment advocacy work, leading anti-commercial mining campaigns in my region and at the same time launching information-education campaigns in community. I am into legitimate environment advocacy work. I bear no arms and ammunitions. I live peacefully with my neighbors, friends, and worked harmoniously with the people in the community I served.
Interestingly, the letter was delivered to me on the third day of Panay island-wide anti-mining conference organized by various church denominations and I was one of their resource persons. September 21 was also the 39th year of the declaration of Martial Law during the Marcos dictatorship. What a co-incidence!
An environment advocate now accused as an insurgent? Are the perpetrators trying to silence me?
After reading the letter, I sought the help of my fellow activists. They comforted me and went with me in the police station and have my case reported.
As I hugged my 4-year old child upon reading the first few lines of my letter, I want to burst into tears. The threat is real. The letter was sent to me and I have been reading it.
I held my tears back so that my kid won’t worry of me that morning. Fear crept in me. I fear for the life of my husband and two beautiful kids.
My being a mother and a wife shook the core of my strength that morning. I felt confused and bothered.
Gaining Strength, Moving Forward
My anxiety was eased a bit by the words of encouragement from my fellow activists. Text messages of support poured in after I exposed the threat in the media. In the afternoon of that day, I joined the mobilization of various human rights advocate commemorating the 39th year of Martial Law. Then, I went home as I was told by my friends that I should be home early.
Upon reaching our house, I washed clothes and did the regular household chores.
On the night of September 21, as I gazed my kids fell into sleep, I kissed them and burst into tears. I whispered to them, “I love you very much. Mama has to move on. I will not allow fear to enslave us. But let us be more careful this time. Our God will surely bless us all tonight, and in the days to come”.
As I calmed myself to sleep, I resolved to myself that I am not alone in this fight.
A new morning, September 22, brought me into my laptop and started making this article. My tears flowed, releasing the discomfort and anxiety I felt the other day.
Yes, I am scared, but never afraid. Attempts to neutralize my cause may come, but I should and must be strong to face these stuff.
And as I unleash my fear through this writing, my little girl enrolled in day care class is still asleep. I am composing myself that when she will wake up today (September 22), she could feel the strength in me and I will again prepare her for her class.
Then, my loving husband who works in another province in our island texted me…”Honey, be strong. I love you”. Then I sighed and began my day with my work as an environment activist #