Neri Colmenares On Torture, a Human Rights Code and Movie Acting

Only five months into organizing student councils in the region, Colmenares was again arrested, this time by military agents under the command of then PC Lt. Rodolfo Aguinaldo who was known for his notoriety as a torturer. Colmenares was charged with rebellion and detained for three years.

The next thing he knew he was having a reunion with his parents who travelled all the way from Bacolod to his detention cell at the PC headquarters in Tuguegarao, capital of Cagayan.

Sanay na si Nanay (mother) bumisita sa nakakulong” (My mother got used to visiting me in prison). He recalls his mother bringing him his favorite tortang talong (fried eggplant topped with ground beef and chopped potatoes), medicines, and some clothes.

Atty. Neri Javier Colmenares leads a performance during the congress of the International Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL), Oct. 14

After his release in 1986 following the fall of the Marcos dictatorship, mother pleaded with him to finish college. So Colmenares went to the Philippine Christian University (PCU) in Manila where he spent his first year in college and led the founding of Blue and Silver, the university newsletter.

He said being a lawyer was not in his plans at this time. “Actually ang gusto ko maging artista” ( I wanted to become an actor) he deadpanned, “o kaya reporter.”

In 1987, Colmenares finished his economics degree in San Beda College and took up law at the University of the Philippines (UP). He is now finishing his masters degree at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

The lawyer

In his early years as a lawyer, Colmenares had his share of run-of-the-mill civil cases, mostly on marital separations and annulment. But he has spent much of his time handling human rights cases.

He has, in fact, argued before the sala of Honolulu Judge Manuel Real during the deliberations on the class action suit against the Marcos Estate for violations of human rights during martial law. Colmenares is one of the 10,000 victims who filed the case against Marcos.

He is also co-convenor of the lawyers group Counsels for the Defense of Liberties (CODAL).


This may be his first time to take a chance at representing Bayan Muna as its third nominee in Congress, but legislative work is not new to Colmenares. He has been the party-list group’s general counsel since 2000.

He was also a co-author of the two impeachment complaints filed in Congress against President Macapagal-Arroyo in 2005 and 2006. He also argued before the Supreme Court (SC) under then Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr. on the constitutionality of the National ID System and recently on BP 880, the Calibrated Pre-emptive Response and Executive Order 464.

The declaration of a state of national emergency by the President in February 2006 saw him again facing the same high court to argue on the constitutionality of Proclamation 1017.

His latest SC appearance was in connection with the constitutionality of the Peoples Initiative of Sigaw ng Bayan as counsel for intervenors in the Lambino vs Comelec case.


If elected, is he ready for the long, round-the-clock debates at the House of Representatives? “I’m not a hypocrite to say I’m not afraid to argue with (looks at the ceiling), Lagman, for example,” he says. Then his normal bubbly self turns sombre. “But I’m ready to engage them because I believe most of their arguments are totally, legally baseless.”

Mas madalas nakukuha lang nila sa garapal” (Most of the time they engaged in demagoguery), he adds. “If you study the bill right, find the weaknesses and engage its proponents to a debate, the proponents will look horrible once they ram it down our throats,” he says. He learned this lessonduring the recent debates on the proposal to create a Constituent Assembly.


With 123 out of the 824 victims of political assassination during the past six years being members Bayan Muna, Colmenares said he has become used to threats and harassments. He faces the issue squarely, though. “Who’s not afraid of faceless people who shoot you?” he asks. “I dread the killings but I continue to hold on to my principles.”

He further explains: “The unjustness and atrocities of a system are so much that the fear factor is completely subdued. The sense of outrage wins over the sense of fear for physical safety. The sense of justice for the victims removes the notion that I’m going to hide because I’m afraid.” (

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