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UPPER RIGHT HAND: A déjà vu of footfalls and trembles

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/27 July)  — I heard the sound of heavy footsteps.  It was clear they were of boots – footfalls of military boots, running inside the house.  I used the kitchen door and went out as fast as I can.

I ran and ran and ran until reaching a river. It was dead end for me. Three men caught me, held me tightly and told me to give up and support martial law.

We went back to the house, my hand tightly held by two men. The interrogation started – where are my comrades, write down their names, who are the leaders, what was my rank in the movement and many more questions. A sergeant said that if I do not cooperate and give the information they wanted, they will bring me to the beach and rape me.

At the PC Barracks, I was kept in a room where the Master Sergeant glared at me like he was going to devour me. He was like Goliath and I was David. He kept slapping my face, hit my stomach, burned my arms with his cigarette, kicked me with his boots and stamped my swollen foot with his weight down on me.

He kept shouting at me: “Cry! Cry! You’re a communist!” and I always shouted back “you are a fascist, heartless fascist!”  I was not allowed to sleep and eat for three days.

These happened during martial law but the nightmare haunted me for years. I would wake up sweating and frightened. Mere sight of military boots made me tremble. The trauma was so real.

Martial law and Marcos closed down all media entities, suspended classes, and illegalized all activist organizations and their members.  Activists were called communists, subversives, trouble makers, demons and godless.  These were used to scare the people.  Anybody caught to shelter or support the activists will be arrested and punished.

I know the chilling effect of martial law on many people especially on my family and the families of activists like me.  Everyone was forced to be silent. Criticism against Marcos and his government was “rumor mongering” which was “unlawful” and an “attack against the new society.”

All government employees in civilian and military agencies were required to fill up forms that will enumerate all members of their family up to third degree including their addresses, work and many more.  This was to identify and monitor any family member who might be with the leftist or “subversive” organization. Men who wore long hair were “suspicious-looking” and subjected to interrogation and even detention.  Martial law was made an excuse to arrest and imprison critics, enemies and even rivals in business.

Terror was real.  Soldiers raided and searched houses without any warrant papers. Martial rule was a license to arrest people and imprison them indefinitely. Thousands were “salvaged” and killed during raid and hundreds disappeared.  “Salvaging” is now called extra-judicial killing.

Many memories came back today on President Duterte’s fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA).  I am particularly thinking how he would talk about the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) which is not supported by so many, if not all, civil society organizations.

The Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) and the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) together with other groups of lawyers, religious people, media, students and teachers, workers and peasants, women and medical professionals have strongly opposed the Anti-Terrorism Act.  As passed, ATA is not an attack against terrorism but against freedom and democracy.

“Activism is not terrorism. You have no reason to be afraid if you are not terrorists.” This is the favorite line of the authors of this law, the militarists and the supporters of ATA.

And yet, ATA is terrorizing the people especially the workers, farmers and indigenous peoples.  ATA is a threat to the students and professionals, the scientists, the media and entrepreneurs. The ordinary citizen may not know each article and section of ATA but experiences are better teachers.

Working with UPLM, I had the chance of interviewing people who are victims of human rights violations.  Picketing workers were arrested because they disrupted the business although they only demanded their employers to give them living wages and complained about unfair labor practice and harassment.  During jail visits and attending court hearings, I talked to political prisoners who were arrested because they were active members of their farmers associations. Many of them were charged with possession of explosives and or firearms which were clearly planted during raids or inspections at the military checkpoints.

These people are not terrorists but they were stripped of their basic human rights. These workers and peasants organized themselves in order to make their life better by collective work and getting proper education to develop their skills. And yet, their organizations were called as fronts of the communist party or the New People’s Army.

Several organizations critical to corruption, militarization, human rights violations, land-grabbing, harassment and political killings are labeled as communists and terrorists.  Red-tagging their leaders is like a license to kill.  These are done by putting up posters with pictures and names of the persons tagged as “terrorists” and “wanted”.  The social media is widely used to demonize and terrorize legitimate organizations including the Makabayan party-list representatives who are critical to the Duterte government.

Even before ATA, military abuses and police brutalities were rampant.  Extra-judicial killing was the order of the day and killed more than 40 peoples’ lawyers and hundreds of leaders and members of progressive organizations.

With this new law, we are told not to worry if one is not a terrorist.  But we know this is not true.  It is one thing to be actually involved in terrorism and another thing to be suspected or charged of committing a crime.  With ATA, suppression of legitimate dissent and opposition is given legitimacy and institutionalized.  Progressive personalities, social advocates and activists accused of being terrorists will be victimized again of warrantless arrests and detention, extra-judicial killings and abduction, reminiscent of martial law in 1972.

State terror is real.  It started way back before ATA. My nightmare is again haunting me.  It is not yet over. It is a déjà vu of those trembling footfalls.

But I am undaunted.  History teaches us that the people’s movement will always win its fight against all forms of oppression, against real terrorists, against dictatorship.  People will always seek freedom, democracy and justice.

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews.  Upper Right Hand is a revolving column of the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM). Grace Mahinay is an associate member of UPLM as a paralegal. She was with the First Quarter Storm and was detained for many years during martial law of Marcos and Cory Aquino’s government.  She is also a member of Gabriela, a national militant women organization]

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