By DOMINIC GUTOMAN
Trigger warning: rape, violence
MANILA – This year’s International Day for Women Human Rights Defenders also marks the third month of the arrest of Adora Faye De Vera, a 66-year-old martial law survivor and a human rights worker.
But the long-time human rights defender is currently detained at the detention facility in Pototan town, Iloilo Province since August 27, where she is facing trumped-up charges of murder, frustrated murder using explosives, robbery, and rebellion, to name a few.
“It is obvious that these are trumped-up charges. My mother is already old and currently suffers from chronic asthma and anemia. Her conditions speak for her incapacity to do these crimes [she is accused of],” her son Ronald Emmanuel De Vera told Bulatlat.
Still, her life and continuing advocacy remain an inspiration to her son, Ron, as he is more known to his friends and colleagues, and far so to more activists, per her former colleagues.
Who is Adora De Vera?
De Vera and her two companions were abducted in 1976, where they were tortured and raped. She was able to escape a year later and sought refuge at the Amnesty International and Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, where her plight was first documented.
But despite this, no investigation was ever carried out, and the soldiers she named in her affidavit were even promoted. Meanwhile, her two companions, Flora Coronacion and Rolando Federis have remained missing.
“She was even forced to undergo an abortion because of the repeated rape and violence that she had to suffer from the Philippine military,” Ron said.
Her horrors, however, did not end here. In 1983, she was arrested for the second time until she was released after the toppling of the Marcos dictatorship.
Despite the pain that the Marcos dictatorship left her, Ron said it did not deter her mother from seeking justice and accountability for the atrocities of Marcos Sr.’s administration – being among the ten original plaintiffs of a class-action suit against the Marcoses in 1986. This is not only for her own fight but for others as well.
“Dong* is someone you would look up to. Her life and her contribution are testimony of why it is a rational decision to fight back,” De Vera’s former colleague and former executive director of Gabriela Liza Maza said.
De Vera later became the secretary general and head of the education committee of women’s group Gabriela in the early 1990s, where she led in creating modules, and holding training and orientation on violence against women.
“She was among those who tediously fought for the rejection of US military bases in 1991,” Maza said, underscoring the historic rejection of the proposed RP-US Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Peace.
After her stint in Gabriela, she also served the urban poor sector, the peasant women, and the indigenous people as she continued her cultural work in Panay.
Following his mother’s path
Ron is now part of several human rights groups both inside and outside the country. He was a former program coordinator of Amnesty International, former country coordinator of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, and currently part of the Board of Trustees of the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus.
He is also a member of the organization KAPATID – Families and Friends of Political Prisoners as he continues to amplify the campaign to free his mother and all the political prisoners.
“I would say that I am a Mama’s boy. She would treat me as her equal and not use any metaphor or euphemism to explain the situation around me because she believes in my capacity to process and understand things,” Ron said.
At a very early stage, he understood his mother’s political involvement. “There are questions that I used to ask when I was young. For example, in her anecdote, she asked me if I wanted her to stop her work in the communities. But I answered no because that would hinder her time for many communities.”
This track continues as he exhausts all the means to campaign for his mother’s release in the local and international scene.
Ron is among the delegates of the Philippine Universal Periodic Review (UPR) during the fourth review of the human rights situation in the country by the UN Human Rights Council.
“From there, we exposed the dehumanizing situation of prisons in the country while calling for the release of all the political prisoners. It is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Philippine Constitution that no one should be imprisoned based on their political views,” he added.
In the conclusion of the human rights situation review, four member-states recommended improving the prison situation in the country, at least 35 states called to end impunity and probe human rights violations, and some 38 states called for the protection of human rights defenders.
“We have not received a commitment from the member-states to address the political prisoners. But the recommendations are part of our small victory. We were able to pressure the government. That gives me hope— our situation is not easily buried under,” Ron said.
These are only among Ron’s efforts in continuing the human rights track of his mother. Aside from international and national lobbying, he is also involved in local campaigns, fundraising, and other public awareness efforts not only to set his mother free but to also to honor her lessons.
“She is the first to teach me that human rights are always an intersectional issue. So in my advocacy for LGBT rights, it is not enough to rely on identity politics,” he said.
Inspired him to pursue arts too
Apart from his brand of activism, Ron also attributed his inclination to arts to her mother. Her mother, after all, taught him how to read and write through the poems she had written.
“My mother serves as my inspiration,” Ron said, attributing his passion for visual arts and poetry to his mother.
One of her notable works, while she was illegally detained during Marcos Sr.’s dictatorship, is Sabi Niya Siya Raw Ang Aking Ina. This poem is dedicated to her son, narrating her fear of being unrecognized due to her continuous political detention.
“She was using artistic and cultural work to teach me crucial lessons,” Ron said.
Ron recalled that one of her mother’s life works was documenting the oral tradition of Tumandok. “She went to Panay to transcribe and translate the epics of Tumandok from Kinaray-a to Tagalog and Filipino.”
“She taught me that art is always a marriage of form and substance. It should be rooted in the material condition of the artist, not just a confessional. But, at the same time, it also has tempo, rhyme, and beauty,” he said.
To never surrender
Maza, for part, said De Vera continues to inspire young activists, particularly those against the US military intervention. This, she said, has become even more relevant following the visit of US Vice President Kamala Harris.
“Adora Faye exemplifies the lingering legacy of the US-Marcos dictatorship: victims who never achieve justice and are punished twice over for their continuing fight for democracy, social justice and women’s emancipation,” the statement of Gabriela read.
According to Karapatan, there are 842 political prisoners in the country, 99 of them have illnesses, while 15 of them are arrested during the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Despite this, Ron said that her mother remains courageous with a strong mental fortitude despite the third detention under the regime of another Marcos president.
“For my mother, giving up is not an option. This serves as a crucial lesson for me that I continue to carry on different aspects of my life,” Ron said.
With this in mind, he sought to continue to call for the release of all the political prisoners, dismissal of the trumped-up charges, ensure a fair and speedy trial, and appeal for the humanitarian release of those who have urgent and special needs like De Vera.
In the coming March 2023, Ron plans to hold a two-person art exhibit showcasing the artworks he made and his mother— one of the many initiatives that will help them garner funds and public support.