By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — Pagtatagpo sa Kabilang Dulo is a collection of poems, letters and testimonials of the families of victims of enforced disappearances.
Published by the group Desaparecidos and the Amado V. Hernandez Resource Center, the book aims to educate the Filipino people on the rising cases of abductions and enforced disappearance in the Philippines, with 205 victims since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed power in 2001, according to the human-rights group Karapatan.
The book is the product of a series of workshops facilitated by members of Congress of Teachers and Educators for Nationalism and Democracy (Contend). Other materials included in the book were collected by Ipe Soco, son of a desaparecido.
The materials are presented according to the names of each desaparecido, there are 27 of them, most are victims under the Arroyo government and a few under the regimes of presidents Corazon Aquino and Ferdinand Marcos. Most of the relatives have a piece on the life story of their loved one, giving the victims a human face. The desaparecidos are a good father, a caring mother, a sweet husband, a dutiful daughter and so on.
While most of the desaparecidos were involved in advocacy for human rights, for the welfare of peasants, indigenous peoples, workers and in the movement for genuine societal change, there are ordinary citizens caught in the counter-insurgency operations of the military, including a son of a consultant of the National Democratic Front, a niece of another NDF consultant and a brother of a peasant organizer. Their cases prove the desperation of the state in quelling dissent.
Also included are the testimonials of Raymond Manalo and a poem by Melissa Roxas, both survivors of torture and abduction.
Particularly gripping are the testimonials of Bonifacio Ilagan whose sister Rizalina was among the Southern Tagalog 12 and the excerpts from the affidavit of Manalo. Vivid accounts of torture show how inhuman and cruel the perpetrators are, all of whom are state agents according to the survivors and witnesses.
The workshops were intended to be therapeutic, said Rolando Tolentino, one of the facilitators. Psychologists from the Community Medicine Development Foundation (Commed) helped in processing the trauma of the participants whose loved ones remain missing. The experience was both painful and liberating, as reflected in the works of the participants.
During the workshops, the participants were not expected to become excellent writers, Tolentino said. What was vital, he said, was to let the relatives write down their thoughts and fears. In fact, only at least four of the contributors were really into writing. Many though were able to produce literary pieces, such as Soco’s. He writes:
Ang pagtatagpo ay walang takdang panahon
Ang kabilang dulo ay walang lunan.
Hindi ito langit, purgatoryo
Ikaw at ako;
tayo ang kabilang dulo.
Tayo ang magpapasya sa pagtatakda ng panahon;
ang lilikha ng daan;
ang magpapaningas ng sulo at gagabay;
ang magmamarka at lilikha ng tipanan.
At kung kailan sila tatagpuin,
nasa atin ang kapasyahan.
Letters and testimonials reveal emotions ranging from guilt, hopelessness, anger, deep longing for their loved ones, hope and courage. The contributors did not limit themselves to personal remembrances — they also expressed and shared a collective commitment to seek justice.
While the testimonials are overflowing with love for the missing, the families of desaparecidos let out words that hurt their enemies, expressing their anger and a solemn pledge to continue the struggle.
Soco writes: “Magtatasa uli ako ng panibagong lapis, nang matulis na matulis, kasintulis ng dilang naniningil sa estadong kriminal.”
“Ang Alamat ng Kaduwagan” of Dee Ayroso scorns the perpetrators:
Pana-panahon pa rin siyang sumasalakay, nagpipilit magnakaw ng katapangan at maghari sa loob ng taong may takot. Pero nakalimutan ni Duwag, kahit sa taong may takot, sisibol ang tapang kapag nagpasya ang taong harapin ang tunggalian.
For those who were not involved in the movement for change before their loved ones went missing, their search has resulted in their understanding of the cause waged by the desaparecidos and, eventually, their own transformation and solidarity.
In the words of Edita Burgos, mother of Jonas, who wrote the introduction: “Ang pagpuno sa kawalan ng bawat isa ang nagpapatibay sa pundasyon ng kanilang pag-asang muling makapiling ang mga kaanak na matagal nang nawalay.”
Belet Batralo, sister of Cesar, writes in her poem “Nakarating na ba sa iyo?”
Nakarating na ba sa iyo?
Nasa lansangan na rin ako
At nakataas ang kamao
Itutuloy ang laban mo!
Peachy Burgos, sister of Jonas, writes:
Nasaan ka nga ba, aking kapatid?
Ating ugnayan pilit pinatid
Di kami titigil, di pakikitil
Karapatang maging malaya, di pasusupil
Coni Empeno, mother of Karen, writes:
Sa aking sarili ay naipangako
sinimulan ng anak di dapat mabigo
Kanyang ipinaglaban huwag isusuko,
ipagpapatuloy gawaing nahinto.
Elizabeth Principe, a former political prisoner and whose husband Leo Velasco went missing, writes with courage: “If you are still alive, my love, be strong… But if you are gone because of the suffering you underwent in the hands of the AFP that abducted you, my only consolation is that your name will be engraved with the rest of the heroes of our country.”
“Pagtatagpo sa Kabilang Dulo” is a good literary collection precisely because the “writers” write from their hearts. They need no muses.
“Pagtatagpo sa Kabilang Dulo” succeeded not only in honoring the missing but also in exposing state-sponsored terrorism. (Bulatlat.com)