Tagaytay 5: We’ll Continue the Fight

After 859 days (two years and four months) of agony, the Tagaytay 5 (T5) are now free and vow to continue their crusade against injustices and to free other prisoners from the much-bigger “cage” of an unjust society.

Vol. VIII, No. 30, August 31-September 6, 2008

The Tagaytay 5 or T5—Riel R. Custodio of Batangas City; Michael M. Masayes of Tagaytay City; Axel Alejandro A. Pinpin of Indang, Cavite; Aristides Q. Sarmiento of Calamba City, Laguna; and Enrico Y. Ybañez of Tagaytay City—are now breathing fresh air outside their 30m x 30m prison cell in the PNP’s (Philippine National Police) Camp Vicente Lim in Calamba City, Laguna. They vow to continue their crusade against injustices and to free other prisoners in the much-bigger “cage” of an unjust society.

In a press conference arranged by the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainee Laban sa Detensiyon at para sa Amnestiya (Society of Ex-Detainees for liberation from Detention and for Amnesty), Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance)-Southern Tagalog, and Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) at the National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP) building in Quezon City, Pinpin, Custodio, and Sarmiento said that they couldn’t believe that they are now free.

The other two, according to their lawyers Jose Manuel Diokno and Carlo Ybañez, are resting after their stressful and painful incarceration.

In the grave of the living

It all began when the T5 were traveling along Ligaya Drive, Brgy. Sungay, Tagaytay City, around 6:30 a.m., on April 28, 2006. They were abducted by an estimated 30-40 heavily armed elements who later turned out to be a composite team from the Philippine National Police (from the combined units of Cavite PPO under PS/Supt Benjardi Mantele and PSupt Rhodel O. Sermonia; PRO4-RIID under PS/Supt Aaron D. Fidel and PSupt Rafael S. Aguilar; Cavite PPMG-Tagaytay under PS/Supt Cabillo; and other units) and the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines-Philippine Navy Intelligence and Security Force (NISF) under LTSG Peter Tolentino. Their abductors wore various uniforms with some in plainclothes, all bearing no nameplates, and carrying no warrants of arrest.

For four days and three nights, which seemed like an eternity for them and their relatives who were frantically searching for them, they were kept blindfolded and hogtied.

They were interrogated without the aid of a legal counsel, physically harmed and repeatedly threatened with electrocution and summary execution.

“When I told them that I won’t talk anymore unless I have my counsel with me, they began another round of torture,” Sarmiento said. “But let me clarify that we were heavily tortured not physically, but here” (he points to his head).

He paused for a while, as though suffering from a mental block, and then he continued his story.

“I told my interrogators that if they wanted to electrocute me, it must be 220 volts so that I would shake. But if they wanted us dead, then let 3,000 volts of electricity pass through our body. No more talk.”

The worse torture, he said, was when they were put in a safe house near a firing range, blindfolded and hogtied. Every time a shot was fired, he was told that it was his companion who had been slain and that the place where they were taken would serve as their graves.

“They told me that the hole where my body would be buried is already there,” he said. I told my tormentors, ‘Let it be. What can I do?’”

He also told this reporter that upon their abduction, they were divested of their belongings.

“It was just like a hulidap (Filipino slang for hold-up in the guise of an arrest) or kotong (extortion) operation,” he said.

Jokingly, he told the other media people present in the conference that he was surprised when they were presented as “captured New People’s Army rebels” on May 1, 2006 and saw their abductors – whom they thought to be kidnappers and hold-uppers – in complete police uniform.

For the rest of the days, weeks and months that they were in jail, what they really fought hard against were inip, inis at init (boredom, annoyance and heat) shared Axel, a horticulturist and a poet.

Donato Contente, a former political prisoner himself, said that the T5’s prison cell is quite unique, in the sense that it is more like a pig pen rather than a prison cell, where at times as many as 15 people are packed like sardines inside.

“It is not easy to be imprisoned. It will make your mind decompose,” Axel said, mentioning as well the corrupt culture of the police, their mixing with common criminals, and the harsh prison conditions—the smell of the comfort room, the heat of the cell, notwithstanding the rain and the cold winds blowing outside, and the lack of communication.

“All we did there was to count ants—red and black,” Sarmiento joked to the media.

Condemnable act

For his part, Diokno of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) condemned police officials who claimed that the farmers were guilty of “subversion”.

“In 1994, the Anti-Subversion Act was repealed and it isn’t illegal anymore to be a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines,” he said.

On the other hand, Ybañez, one of the legal counsels for the T5 and a nephew of Rico Ybañez, said his uncle wants to seek redress after the Department of Justice (DoJ) barred him from visiting his wife’s burial and his son’s wake in 2006.

Ybañez added that his uncle suffered emotionally while in detention.

During the interview, Ybañez told this reporter that they are now studying the possibility of filing cases against the abusive PNP officers.

People’s victory

“Today, there may be cause for some joy and celebration for progressive human rights advocacy and the militant mass movement, as it scored another victory in the long quest for freedom and justice. The T5 political prisoners were released yesterday, Aug. 28, after being held illegally by government security forces for 28 months on the strength of a court order dated Aug. 20, 2008 from the Tagaytay City Regional Trial Court Branch 18, presided by Honorable Judge Edwin G. Larida Jr.,” said Sarmiento as he read, in a very loud, compassionate voice, their prepared joint statement for the press conference.

“This is truly a victory for the mass movement steadfastly campaigning for the release of political prisoners and respect for human rights, using creative combination of relentless legal advocacy, untiring implementation of meta-legal tactics, and widespread solidarity work in the home front and abroad. Despite the countless limitations, this campaign to free the T5 political prisoners decisively thwarted the conspiracy and malice and mischief unleashed by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Department of Justice in our 859-day ordeal,” Sarmiento continued.

“The rebellion case against the Tagaytay 5 should have been dismissed as early as Nov. 26, had the Department of Justice through the Office of the City Prosecutor of Tagaytay City not persisted in its legal bamboozling and hoodwink tactics by using the non-criminal act of subversion to prove the criminal charge of rebellion to prolong our unlawful detention so as to convict unarmed militants. The DoJ’s tactic of trying to use subversion to prove rebellion smacks of Cold War rabid anti-communism and McCarthyite witch-hunting to cripple legitimate people’s organizations advocating for genuine social change.

“This is GMA’s and the PNP’s ‘legal offensive’ in aid of the US “war on terror” which victimizes unarmed militants and activists by blurring the distinction between armed revolutionaries and the unarmed populace…” he further said.

The crowd, comprised by friends, sympathizers and the church workers from the NCCP, was overjoyed by the release of T5.

Pinpin, Custodio, and Sarmiento said that now that the “rude interruption” is over, they would buckle down to work—which means resuming their political activity in the service of the people. (Bulatlat.com)

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