Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. V,    No. 19      June 19 - 25, 2005      Quezon City, Philippines











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Copyright 2004 Bulatlat



The Price a Peace Advocate Has to Pay

Angelina "Angie" Bisuña Ipong’s friends all say the same thing about her age. She does not look it. Not only is Angie a person so full of life but the wellness exercises that she religiously observes has made her unusually agile and energetic for her age. But life in prison had changed all these.

BY Cheryll Fiel

BLINDFOLDED: Intelligence operatives escort
Bisuña Ipong, accused of being
an NPA leader, into a military camp, March 8.

PAGADIAN CITY - Angelina "Angie" Bisuña Ipong’s friends all say the same thing about her age. She does not look it. Not only is Angie a person so full of life but the wellness exercises that she religiously observes has proven very beneficial to her that she is unusually agile and energetic for her age.

But life in prison had changed all these.

Angie has been in detention for almost three months now at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) in Pagadian City in southern Philippines. The 60-year-old peace advocate complains of a feeling of heaviness in chest, dizziness, nausea and numbness in some parts of her extremities. This started after she was finally transferred to the regular jail, after eight days of torture and solitary confinement.

As far as the courts are concerned, Angie has to be kept in jail because she of the rebellion charges filed against her by the military at the Branch 23 of the Regional Trial Court, 9th Judicial Region in Molave town, province of Zamboanga del Sur, the country’s southernmost province, some 800 kms from Manila.

Angie’s defense counsel, Emil Deleverio, said the armed men who took away Angie in a sweep of violence last March 8 from a Mission House in Aloran, Misamis Occidental did not present any warrant of arrest. "She was illegally arrested, brought to a military camp, held her there incommunicado for days and tortured her. The military clearly violated the law," Deleverio said.

Tortuous route

After her detention at the Army's 1st Infantry Tabak Division Headquarters in Pagadian, Angie was brought to the Southern Command Headquarters in Zamboanga City. A few days later, she was presented to media by AFP’s Southern Command Chief Lt. General Alberto Braganza.

Human rights advocates and religious groups, together with the Commission on Human Rights’s (CHR) regional director lawyer Manuel Mamauag, immediately went to the Southcom hoping to finally see Angie. But they failed. The group included members of the Free Angelina Movement that groups members of the clergy, professionals, students and lawyers who vowed support for Angie, as well as a private counsel.

Since they were assured that they would see Angie at the hospital, the group went to the hospital the next day only to be told that Angie had already been brought to a town in Molave, Zamboanga del Sur. It was while Angie was there that the military produced a warrant of arrest based on a rebellion charge. It alleged that she participated in an NPA ambush that took place more than a decade ago.

It was a tortuous route for human rights advocates, hopping from one military camp to another, before they finally got hold of Angie. Several times, the military deliberately denied having her in its custody while she was right inside the camp, being subjected to torture, interrogation and even sexual molestation.

Angie would later talk about her ordeal and how she pleaded with her captors to stop the torture. "After days of torture and relentless interrogation, I pleaded with them to spare me of the things they would not like to be inflicted on their mothers and sisters. I did not expect those horrible things to be done to me," Angie said.

Angie's defense

Deleverio, who is also a Zamboanga del Sur provincial board member and a human rights lawyer since the martial law years, said there is no direct evidence linking Angie to the charges heaped on her by the military. Aside from the fact that the warrant of arrest on Angie's rebellion case was issued only after she had been abducted, he said the warrant was made on the basis of affidavits of witnesses who are poor farmers and clueless of the documents that the military pressured them to sign.

Deleverio cited how five witnesses have already recanted their statements after finding out what the documents they had signed were all about.

The lawyer further said the witnesses now complain of being harassed by soldiers who have searched for them and ordered them to report to the Army Tabak Division headquarters.

He said it is the military that deserves to be charged with all the atrocities it committed against Angie.

Meanwhile, Angie's hearing has been set on July 1, 8 and 15 at the RTC Branch 23 in Molave. A petition for bail has been filed at the court. Deleverio is optimistic that as soon as trial begins. "Angie should be out soon, unless the military can manufacture evidence to hold her in detention," he said.

Human rights groups and members of "Free Angelina Movement" are demanding a speedy disposition of the case. They fear that any delay means more time for the military to fabricate proofs against her. They are also worried over Angie's safety whenever she is brought from her prison cell to the courts in Molave.

Waiting for freedom

At present, she is being kept inside a cramped cell that has only a small window for ventilation. Angie stays here with 12 other women inmates who are charged with common crimes, such as robbery, illegal drugs trade and illegal gambling.

After her transfer, Angie found herself in yet, another struggle - that of trying to get over the feelings of ennui and the boredom of a life stifled and quelled while battling against bitter memories brought by the indignities the military did to her being.

Barely regaining strength after more than a week-long hunger strike, Angie tried to regain her physical condition by trying, at first, to do early morning jogs around the jail grounds. She found delight in sharing moments with inmates, and even tried her hand at making cards, reading and writing a journal.

But as days dragged on, she confessed, there is just something about the monotony of prison life that tends to pull her down. "Sometimes, I would feel my precious time is wasted. The whole (prison) system just kills my spirit," Angie said when asked how she was coping, trying to hold back her tears.

”I could not help but feel down whenever I am visited by thoughts of life outside, and the things that I am supposed to be doing," she told Bulatlat.

A widow, Angie is dying to go back to her work in peace advocacy, networking with non-government organizations, and spending time with her family and friends.

Source of courage

Angie said her challenge now is to sustain strength for her legal fight. She said she finds respite at the thought of visits from her family and relatives, and human rights advocates concerned with her plight.

Last month, CHR Commissioner Wilhelm Soriano came to visit Angie. With him were Attorney Mamauag, CHR Region IX director, Commissioner Cueto, Dr. Amata, and other members of the CHR sub-regional office in Pagadian City.

Angie said she is heartened by the outpouring of support. She also said there should be no let up in human rights and peace work. "More oppression and injustice will be unleashed as the economic condition worsens with the exploitation and manipulation of the privileged few," she said.

While inside her cell, Angie closely monitors political events. Upon hearing of the spate of killings of human rights advocates and political activists, Angie urged other human rights activists to persevere.

Even Angie's defense counsel is getting his own share of harassment. Deleverio cited how 10 fully-armed soldiers came to his office, suspiciously getting his service for executing an affidavit related to the Oakwood Mutiny. They however did not return on their scheduled meeting.

He also told of burly-looking men coming to his office, pretending to be asking about an AFPSLAI office in the area.

When asked why he is defending Angie, Deleverio said he believes that Angie's rights had been violated.

"Every practicing lawyer who sticks to his oath will have to voluntarily give himself in defense of those whose human rights are being violated." Bulatlat




© 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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