Rebel without a ClueAugust 26, 2009
During my itineration earlier this year about human rights problems in Asia and the response of my former organization, the Asian Human Rights Commission, I shared with people in the United States the specific case of the disappearance and torture of the Manalo brothers in the Philippines. I read the following column that appeared last November in the Philippine Daily Inquirer about the case of the two brothers, which also describes the torture of two University of the Philippines students, Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno, who disappeared in June 2006 - a well-known case in the country.
It is my hope that this information will be useful to educate people at home about human rights problems in Asia, and specifically the Philippines, and the impunity that permits it to continue without any justice for the victims.
Rebel without a Clue
by Patricia Evangelista
Philippine Daily Inquirer
THIS is the story of one Raymond Manalo, farmer, who disappeared on Feb. 14, 2006, with his older brother from their farm in San Ildefonso, Bulacan. Manalo was neither activist nor rebel when he disappeared. He escaped more than two years later. He says there are many, many more like him.
* * *
They put you in a cage four feet by one foot small, the height of an average man. There are hollow blocks to the side and iron grills in front. You sit with three other men, crouched in a line. There is no other way to fit.
Your brother is in the same cell. The door opens, more of them come in. More of them like you—beaten, bruised, helpless. They are put inside the next cell. This time there are two men and a married couple. The woman has burns all over her body. She was raped, they tell you. She was raped and beaten until she soiled herself. They say she has gone mad. They take her away.
This is where you shit, where you piss, where you wash if you still care. You do not feel the wind; you do not see the sun. Your food comes rarely, and what comes is rotten, leftover pig feed. Three men arrive, from Nueva Ecija. They are tortured. One of them has both arms broken. Bleeding.
Sometimes, when the soldiers are drinking, they take you out of your cage and play with you. The game varies, but it is usually the same. Two by fours, chains, an open gardening hose shoved down your nose. You crawl back to your cage, on your hands and knees. You wake up to screaming, to the sound of grown men begging, and you wonder which one it is this time. Sometimes, one of your cellmates will disappear. Sometimes, they don't come back.
Then they take you away, and there is a doctor, pills, antibiotics, a bed. They tell you they are taking you home to see your parents. You meet the man they call The Butcher [Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr., who retired in September 2006 and is being considered to head the Dangerous Drugs Board], and he tells you to tell your parents not to join the rallies, to stay away from human rights groups, that they would ruin your life and your brother's. He tells you, this small man in shorts, that if you can only prove you're on his side now, he would let you and your brother live. He gives you a box of vitamins, and tells you that they are expensive: P35 [about US$.75] per pill.
They put a chain around your waist. The military surround your farm. Your mother opens the front door crying, and hugs you. You tell them what you were told to say. You hand them the money Palparan told you to give. Then you are told you must go.
Always, you keep thinking of escape. You make yourself useful, to make them trust you. You cook. You wash cars. You clean. You shop. No task is too menial. And one day, while you sweep the floor, you see a young woman, chained to the foot of a bed. Her name is Sherlyn Cadapan, she tells you, Sports Science, University of the Philippines Diliman, the same Sherlyn who disappeared from Hagonoy, Bulacan on June 26, 2006. She says she has been raped.
Later, you meet Karen Empeño, also from UP, and Manuel Merino, the farmer who rushed to save the two girls when they were abducted. Karen and Sherlyn are in charge of washing the soldiers' clothes, you and Manuel and your brother Reynaldo wash the car and carry water and cook.
The five of you are taken from camp to camp. You see the soldiers stealing from villagers. You see them bringing in blindfolded captives. You see them digging graves. You see them burning bodies, pouring gasoline as the fire rose. You see them shoot old men sitting on carabaos and see them push bodies into ravines. And in April 2007, you hear a woman begging, and when you are ordered to fix dinner, you see Sherlyn, lying naked on a chair that had fallen on the floor, both wrists and one tied leg propped up.
You see them hit her with wooden planks, see her electrocuted, beaten, half-drowned. You see them amuse themselves with her body, poke sticks into her vagina, shove a water hose into her nose and mouth. And you see the soldier's wives' watch. You hear the soldiers forcing Sherlyn to admit who it was with plans to "write a letter." You hear her admit, after intense torture, that it was Karen's idea. And you see Karen, dragged out of her cell, tied at the wrists and ankles, stripped of her clothing, then beaten, water-tortured, and burned with cigarettes and raped with pieces of wood. And it is you who are ordered to wash their clothes the next day, and who finds blood in their panties.
And you are there, on the night they take away Manuel Merino, when you hear an old man moaning, a gunshot and the red light of a sudden fire.
* * *
The day Raymond Manalo and his brother Reynaldo escaped was the day he promised himself they would pay, all of them who tortured Karen and Sherlyn, who killed so many, who tortured him and his brother until they begged and pleaded. They were pigs, he says, those men were pigs. If he escaped, they told him, and if they couldn't find him, they would massacre his family. And if they do not answer to the courts here, they will answer to God.
They can still kill him, he says. But even if they do, it is too late. He's told his story.
Bruce Van Voorhis
(Bruce Van Voorhis is a staff member of the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong whose work often focuses on the Philippines. In addition to working at the commission since 2000, he is also a co-convener of the Hong Kong Campaign for the Advancement of Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines, a coalition formed in April 2005 to respond to the upsurge of extrajudicial killings in the country.)
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