Even a lot worse this time inside Bicutan

NDFP Consultant

Chelo Banal-Formoso’s September 25 Philippine Daily Inquirer article Inside Bicutan in time of worse than cholera touched familiar chords in my memories of the time I was among the political prisoners in Camp Bagong Diwa during the Marcos martial law regime.

I was then twice confined here at Camp Bagong Diwa during that period — the first time sometime before her October 1978 visit to the detention center and the second time from 1982 up to the release of all political prisoners and the closing down of the detention center for political prisoners in Camp Bagong Diwa right after the February 1986 EDSA People Power.

About 30 years ago, the Marcos martial law regime was claiming to have supposedly already “normalized” the country’s situation, that accordingly necessitated the imposition of martial law in September 1972. In actual fact, the Marcos martial law regime was then still persisting with its fascist dictatorship.

The Marcos fascist dictatorship kept prating then that “there are no longer political prisoners in the country.” In actual fact, however, human rights organizations had then documented, with exact body count, the existence of some 750 political prisoners throughout the country.

About 75 of those 750 political prisoners were then confined at Camp Bagong Diwa. I was then among those 75.

Now, the Benigno S. Aquino III regime also keeps prating exactly the very same Marcos line that “there are no longer political prisoners in the country.” But, in actual fact, human rights organizations have been documenting the actual existence at present of about the same number (750) of political prisoners throughout the country.

One big difference now is that there are now some 450 of us, political prisoners, here in the same Camp Bagong Diwa, five times more than our number during the Marcos martial law regime.

Of these 450 political prisoners presently confined at Camp Bagong Diwa, are some 30 directly or indirectly related to the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) — including five of us, NDFP peace consultants — who have been arrested, tortured, swamped with trumped-up criminalized charges, and who continue to be detained, heavily repressed, restricted and deprived. All these, despite standing agreements with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH) for our protection from surveillance, arrest, torture, detention, trumped-up prosecution, and other repressive acts that would deter our effective participation and work in the peace process.

There are also some 50 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) officers and forces, who have long been detained here (many of them for about or even more than a decade already), also on the basis of trumped-up criminalized charges. This, despite a peace agreement (the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro) already signed by the GPH and MILF about six months ago, and the recent submission of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law for legislative approval.

And also brought to Camp Bagong Diwa in November last year were about 260 additional Moro detainees arrested when the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)-led stand-off in Zamboanga City took place in September last year. Many of them are, however, only innocent civilians, including a number of minors (below 18 years of age) and elderlies (past 70 years of age).

There are, furthermore, about 100 other Moro political prisoners — mostly innocent community folk arrested en masse in “all out war” operations launched against “terrorists” — to justify the collection of tens of millions of dollars of bounty claims from the US Anti-Terrorist Aid.

And there are also a handful of US rendition victims from another country (Indonesia), who have been transferred from previous imprisonment in a foreign country (Malaysia), forcibly (drugged, blindfolded and straightjacketted) smuggled into the country by Philippine police intelligence forces under the direction and supervision of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. They were assigned fake Filipino identities, charged as Abu Sayyaf Group terrorists, swamped with “terrorism” charges filed against the fake identities assigned to them, and have been kept in Philippine imprisonment — Guantanamo style — for about a decade now. In June 2012, I was surreptitiously transferred here from Camp Crame detention because of my exposé of all these, and the constant intensive US FBI intrusions into the cases of political prisoners there, especially the Moros.

The swamping of numerous trumped-up charges, given the very, very slow crawl of justice in the country’s courts, have been resulting in the intended practically indefinite detention of these political prisoners here in Camp Bagong Diwa and elsewhere in the country.

The fact that all political prisoners brought here to Camp Bagong Diwa are considered “high risk”, and thus specifically confined to “special intensive care” or “maximum security” jails under extremely heavy restrictions, has made our quest for justice and freedom, and our very situation under detention all the more difficult.

There are furthermore the related difficulties, and many times the intentional failures, in bringing us to courts in our far-away localities, resulting in the further slowing down of our court cases; the problems even in the visits of our relatives and supporters from our far-away localities; and the excessively tight restrictions imposed upon us and our movements within our very cramp jails.

There are also the very, very stingy and very, very poor food rations that, in reality, amounts, at the most, to only 20% of our measly PhP50/day per inmate nominal food budget — the lowest, compared to that of jails in all cities in Metro Manila and other cities in the country, where the nominal food budget ranges from PhP80/day to PhP100/day per inmate. (€1 = 56.60 Philippine pesos; US$1.00 = 44.70 Philippine pesos — ed.)

And there are the fascist attacks time and again ordered by the top national leadership of the jail management, and viciously implemented by their “greyhound” (search) operatives. The ultimate in absurdities take place during these “greyhound” operations. Confiscations, soiling and wastage of our food, medicines, beddings, clothings and other personal belongings, and even outright thievery takes place right and left. They justify all these by insisting that what they have been confiscating are all “contrabands”. Such include transistor radios, ballpens, paper clips, blunt scissors, artwork and handicraft materials and products, sewing needles, shaving razors, small shaving mirrors, toothbrushes with long handles, nailcutters, belts, rice cookers, cooking stoves, lighters, branded vitamins, and even money. Practically all these have been essential necessities for our humane existence and daily needs as inmates.

What makes their confiscations and their justifications of the confiscations all the more absurd is that most of those items confiscated were brought in with the official permission of the local jail authorities. Many of these were actually bought from the local jail personnel’s cooperative store.

We, NDFP peace consultants and political prisoners, led in making complaints against the absurd and cruel confiscations and many other human rights violations committed by the “greyhound” operatives of the national jail authorities. In reprisal the latter ordered the confiscation of the typewriter that we used to type our complaints. The national director of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) all the more absurdly tried to justify the confiscation of the typewriter, claiming that typewriters are also considered as “contrabands”.

In very stark contrast, in the more than seven years I was detained here at Camp Bagong Diwa, during the Marcos martial law regime, there were no issues at all here about the categorization of any of the belongings of political prisoners as “contrabands”. Unlike now, we were then, without any question and controversy, allowed radios, typewriters, all writing/artwork/handicraft equipment and materials, all cooking equipment and tools, all tools and materials for personal hygiene, and many others that national jail authorities and their “greyhound” operatives now one-track-mindedly, absurdly and in even more fascist mindset and manner keep categorizing and confiscating as “contrabands”.

Very ironically, as political prisoners here at Camp Bagong Diwa during the period of out-and-out fascist dictatorship, we then actually never went through such absurd and fascist “greyhound” operations and confiscations that the present national jail management and forces have every now and then been wielding against us and have been justifying, contrary to our political and human rights, and contrary even to ordinary sensibility.

To make us feel “at home” as “guests of the state”, the buildings we were confined in here during the Marcos martial law regime had no cells and iron bars, but only individual rooms made of wood, that were locked from inside. The main gate of the buildings we were confined in would, however, be locked from the outside only late in the night.

We were then also given more “freedom” within our jail area. We were allowed whole daytime access to wide grounds, where on our own we could have sunning, engage in sports, exercise, and other activities, and also tend to vegetable gardens and raise poultry within a wide-open five-hectare space around our jail buildings. Very much unlike now, when we are not at all given access to grounds outside our very cramp jail buildings, and are instead confined most of the time to a tight, narrow two-by-forty meters corridor of one wing of one floor of the jail buildings, where there are a series of control gates, that are padlocked practically the whole day. Only occasionally, at present, are we allowed access to the rooftop for sunning and exercise, and for only very limited schedules.

We were allocated entire floors of buildings for kitchen work, mess halls, television rooms, a library (with a free daily supply of fresh newspapers), and a couple of production areas (with machines and tools, like cutters, grinders and hammers, to make handicrafts and art work, and even shoe repairs, and the like). Given the mentality of the national leadership of today’s jail authorities, practically all of these would not be given way to.

We used to run our own cooperative store, where goods were sold without any markup at all. Unlike now, where the local jail personnel own and run their exclusive cooperative store, and charge us at more than double the market prices of goods.

So that we could ourselves determine what to make for our meals and control our own food budget and purchases, we were then given, in cash, a daily food budget of PhP12 per detainee, the present equivalent of which is more than PhP250 — more than five times our present already very stingy nominal daily food budget of PhP50, or more than 25 times the real worth of our present even more stingy actual daily food rations.

No different at all from the others, the present post-martial law government has only been putting on a democratic façade, and in reality continues to hold a big and growing number of political prisoners — despite its repeated denials — and treats us all with persistent fascist mindsets, policies and rules, that, in terms of our experiences as political prisoners here at Camp Bagong Diwa, have ironically been even worse than during the “normalization” period of the Marcos martial law regime.

All these only reflect how fascism have in essence and in practice continued to rule over the county under pseudo-democratic regimes that have taken over after the fall of the relatively more openly fascist Marcos regime. All these only reveal that true democracy and real freedom still need to be fought for all out, in the interest of the entire oppressed people in the country.

NDFP peace consultant and political prisoner
Special Intensive Care Area 1 Jail,
Camp Bagong Diwa
01 October 2014