By RONALYN V. OLEA
A Year After Ordeal, Life Goes on for Freed ‘Morong 43’ But Scars Remain
MANILA – Dr. Alexis Montes was wiping away his tears throughout the program on Feb. 3 organized by church workers who were involved in the campaign for the release of the Morong 43. It was evidently an emotional moment for him, less than two months after he and 32 others were released after 10 months in detention.
It was also a moment of deep reflection borne out of his realization that, while most of them had been freed, hundreds of other political detainees remain in prison.
“The journey is not yet ended,” Dr. Montes said. “There are still hundreds of political prisoners languishing in jail. We have to be militant and vigilant in our campaign for human rights and peace.”
He is one of the 43 health workers arrested on Feb. 6, 2010, in Morong, Rizal. They were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives and were branded as members of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. On Dec. 17, 2010, 33 of the Morong 43 were freed after a local court in Morong dismissed the charges against them. Two more were released before the end of the year. Three have remained in jail.
Dr. Montes admitted that he still could not believe that they were arrested. Serving the poor and the oppressed is “not without danger of threat,” he said.
“Our 10 months in detention is only a fraction of the sufferings of other political detainees,” he said. “We are fortunate for your overwhelming support that boosted our morale throughout,” he told the gathering of friends and colleagues.
Sixty-two-year-old Lydia Obera has kept the white handkerchief the soldiers used to blindfold her during her first days in captivity at Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal. She would have wanted to keep the shirt her captors used to cover her head, if only it did not smell so bad.
Mama Del, as she is fondly called by her colleagues in the health sector, is a slim, small woman who endured 10 months of detention and torture, including 14 days of solitary confinement.
“At my age, they did not respect me,” Obera said, referring to the soldiers. “They forced me to wear disposable diaper during our first night at the camp. I insisted that it be removed. They did not close the door whenever we use the comfort room and they were the ones who pulled our pants down,” she told a gathering of church workers who were involved in the campaign for the release of the Morong 43 on Feb. 3.
“It was difficult but we needed to be courageous,” she said. “Many times, the interrogators would tell me how stubborn I was. I kept telling them that we are innocent,” Obera said.
For Dr. Merry Mia-Clamor, knowing the truth is enough to keep them going. While she also admitted that the days and nights at Capinpin were a nightmare, Clamor said the knowledge that their families and many supporters were monitoring them and were working for their release made them strong.
Thirty-seven of the Morong 43 spent almost three months at Camp Capinpin until their transfer to a civilian detention facility at Camp Bagong Diwa on May 1, 2010. Five have remained at the military camp.
“There was a point when we felt that we are no longer afraid. We know that if we stop fighting for our rights inside their territory, we’d lose,” she said. “The prison became a battlefield for us, women detainees.”
Clamor said when they sensed that one of them had been taken out of the prison cell, they would hold a noise barrage in protest. “Every day at 6 p.m., we would pray together and then we would sing,” Clamor related, adding that Pananagutan, Awit ng Pag-asa and Salubungin ang Bagong Araw were their favorites. The first is a Christian song and the two are songs of struggle. “This melted our fears,” she said. Many of them were held in solitary confinement for a certain period.
Their conditions at Camp Bagong Diwa were a little better as there were no more interrogations and torture. The women detainees conducted medical checkup on other inmates, provided health skills training. The women detainees also underwent stress debriefing.
Clamor said she realized that the other inmates at Camp Bagong Diwa are also victims of injustice. “Because of their poverty and lack of knowledge, they languish in jail,” she said. “We miss them already but we do not want to be imprisoned again,” she said and smiled.
The three, like the rest of those who were released, were back to their work.
“We are in the communities because we are needed there. It is not heroism. We are there because we get inspiration from the communities we serve. It is so much to keep us going,” Clamor said. She said that although their work is not financially rewarding, they get fulfillment from serving the poor.
“Jesus, like the Morong 43, was a community healer. Like Jesus, they serve the people without asking for any payment,” Rev. Sol Villalon, chairwoman of the Promotion for Church People’s Response (PCPR), said. “We have been inspired by the health workers. The sufferings they endured may be difficult but these also deepened our commitment for justice and peace,” Villalon said.