We won’t be erased

A week ago Juan Ponce Enrile, Marcos’ former defense minister and currently a senator, spoke on video in a documentary that no one was incarcerated during Martial Law for their political beliefs. In response, Bantayog ng mga Bayani’s current Executive Director May Verzola Rodriguez wrote this well received letter online.

(The image of the newsclip above is from Nestor Castro who was together with her at Camp Dangwa in 1983.)

Dear Mr. Enrile,

You have to be more careful with your lies.

I was a political prisoner in 1983, arrested by virtue of a presidential commitment order (PCO) signed by President Marcos. My prison cell was in Camp Dangwa in Benguet, an office room converted into a prison cell (whose most memorable feature was that it had no toilet facilities).

A few weeks after my arrest, a military helicopter came for me and airlifted me to Camp Aguinaldo, where to my surprise, I was brought before you in your office. I had no idea why. Maybe your intelligence people had tagged me as someone important in the Left (wrong), and was worth personally interrogating (wrong again).

You are likely to have forgotten that half-hour of our meeting. It’s been 35 years, we have both grown older, and you had a busy life as Marcos’ secretary of national defense implementing his martial law, likely overseeing the arrest of more dissenters like me, and then saving your skin and your name later.

But I haven’t forgotten. You had a male, brown room. You sat on a huge padded chair and rocked it as we spoke. Behind you was a shelf full of books. Above you was a huge painting of your wife Cristina.

I sat on an office chair in front of your table. I was wearing slippers. I sat there hearing you claim you read all of Marx’s books, and knew more about communism than most communists. It’s useless to fight Marcos, you said, and young people are wasting their lives doing it.

Cristina’s painting looked down on us. Here were two Cristinas, I thought, one the wife and the other his prisoner. Fidel Ramos dropped by, took the other seat in front of me, and addressed me in Ilokano. He said the same thing: you are wasting your lives; cooperate with the government instead.

What exactly am I doing with these two monsters of martial law, I thought.

My crime, when finally I was slapped charges, was subversion, specifically membership in the communist party. Prison life was slow and killing. But us, political prisoners, we always fought back.

Fast forward a few months in 1983. It was a day in December. Marcos, looking and talking like a dying man, had a few of us brought to him personally and given orders for our release. Of course it was the year Ninoy Aquino was killed and some brownie points were called for.

Name one, you said last week. I name myself one then. We won’t go away, Mr. Enrile. We won’t be erased.

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