Bayan-EV Spokesperson Decries Military Harassment

More than a month after he was illegally detained and interrogated, the spokesperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) in Eastern Visayas talked about his ordeal at the hands of the military.

BY JOHANN HEIN B. ARPON
Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 44, December 9-15, 2007

More than a month after he was illegally detained and interrogated, the spokesperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) in Eastern Visayas talked about his ordeal at the hands of the military.

It was last Oct. 28 when Flor “Pong” Acbo was arrested by members of the Philippine Army’s 62nd Infantry Battalion based at Polangi, Calbiga under the command of Col. Jonathan Ponce. Before that, he survived an assassination attempt last Jan. 28, when men on board a motorcycle shot him just outside the Bayan headquarters in PHHC, Tacloban City.

He explained in an interview with Bulatlat that it was only now that he was sharing his detention experience because he has first to ensure that he is no longer under surveillance. This after he was instructed by the military to report, on a regular basis, about the activities of Bayan and also of his whereabouts. A cellular phone number was even given to him and was told to just look for a certain “Mark” when giving the said information.

It was last Oct. 28 when he went to his hometown Pinabacdao, Samar to participate in the barangay election when military stormed their town and arrested him. In a statement issued by the military after the arrest, they justified that they went to Pinabacdao to act on a report that there were 12 armed individuals sighted in the area. Failing to find any armed group, they explained that they chanced upon Acbo and “invited” him instead for questioning. This, however was refuted by Acbo, who said that the military searched many houses without the consent of the residents and they were looking not 12 armed individuals but were asking about his whereabouts. In one particular house where Acbo attended a birthday party, a search was also conducted and the owner was even roused from sleep with an M-16 armalite pointed at him.

The soldiers, many of whom were in civilian clothing but carrying high-powered firearms brought him to the battalion headquarters. He stayed there until the evening of Nov. 1 while three groups were alternately interrogating him. On one occasion, he was blindfolded as he was being interrogated by someone who claimed to be a former member of the revolutionary movement. Acbo also shared that his interrogators were insisting that Bayan was a front of the communist group and that he was the assistant of Fr. Santiago Salas, spokesperson of the National Democratic Front (NDF) in the region. He denied all accusations claiming it was all part of their Oplan Bantay Laya (Operation Freedom Watch) to link Bayan to the revolutionary movement to justify their attacks.

Hit list?

A list containing many names including members and leaders of progressive organizations was shown to him and was asked to identify them. Some on the list were already victims of extra-judicial killings, like Prof. Jose Maria Cui, an officer of the Confederation for the Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) in Catarman, Northern Samar who was gunned down January of this year in his classroom while his students were taking an examination. Also in the list was Pax Diaz who was also killed by motorcycle-riding assassins on July 6, 2006 just outside his home in Barangay (village) Magallanes, Tacloban City.

They were also asking Acbo of the whereabouts of some of those on the list including this writer and Nestor Nirza Jr, acting director of the Popular Struggles Commission (PSC) of Bayan-Eastern Visayas.

Tortured

While the military’s statement that he was not tortured physically was true, Acbo said, “My prolonged detention and the undue worry it caused to my wife and children were psychological torture that really had a great effect on me.” The military confiscated his cellular phone giving him no chance to inform his wife about his whereabouts. Throughout his four days of detention, he was expecting that his wife would visit him but she never came. It was only after his release that he learned that his wife went to the battalion headquarters of the 62nd IB on the same day he was abducted, but military officers denied that he was under their custody. His wife together with his children even went to the 8th Infantry Division’s headquarters in Catbalogan, Samar and were able to speak to a Captain Chico, spokesperson of the division; he too denied that Acbo was under their custody.

Detention, not invitation

Also in the interview, Acbo refuted the claim of Colonel Ponce that he was only invited for questioning. He said that he was actually detained because he was denied of his request to vote during the October 29 barangay election. A soldier during his first day of captivity was even taunting him by saying, “Adto an dalan tipagawas, iskapo!” (There’s the way out, you escape). Acbo that time remembered the many cases of suspected rebels captured by the military only to be reported the next day as having been shot while attempting to escape.

Still a spokesperson

Despite insinuations of the military that he stopped his stinging remarks against military abuses and calls for the ouster of Mrs. Gloria Arroyo, he remains defiant. He has now resumed his duties as spokesperson of Bayan and has already granted interviews from the media to speak on the alliance’s views on many issues. As to the two instances in one year that his rights were violated, he said: “They attempted to kill me and when it didn’t work, they tried to harass me thinking that I will buckle down. No, I will continue my commitment to serve the masses and will remain as spokesperson of Bayan.” While in detention, he even informed his captors that he won’t resign as spokesperson partly because he made a promise to Atty. Felidito Dacut, Regional Coordinator of Bayan Muna (People First) before the latter was assassinated during the time of Gen. Jovito Palparan, Jr., that he will not waver in his commitment.

Indeed, he is being true to his word. Bulatlat

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