“Until now, we have not attained justice. We will continue to fight for it.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Loida Magpatoc was 24 years old and two-months pregnant when she was arrested by elements of the Army’s 36th Infantry Battalion in Kibungsod, Magsaysay, Misamis Oriental in February 1983.
Magpatoc was then detained in a military camp in Bancasi, Butuan City.
“Even though I was pregnant, I was not exempted from torture,” Magpatoc told the crowd gathered in Mendiola commemorating the 44th anniversary of the declaration of martial law, Sept. 21.
She was given the water cure. While she lay on her back, water dripped from a jar placed about three feet above her head. After about 15 minutes, she lost consciousness.
Sometimes, her captors played darts, using her face as the dartboard. The worst was the Russian roulette: a soldier placed a single bullet in a revolver, spun the cylinder, placed the muzzle against her head, and pulled the trigger several times.
One time, she was taken out of the camp and the soldiers told her she would be killed. Her cousin, who was arrested along with her, was “salvaged,” the military’s term for summary execution.
For five months, she was hidden from the public view. No visitors. No lawyers.
What sustained her spirit, she said, was the thought that “this was all part of the struggle for national liberation and democracy.” When she decided to fight the Marcos dictatorship, she had prepared herself for sacrificing her life for her beliefs.
“I told myself I won’t give in. I was telling my child, ‘Hold on, hold on’ and she did,” Magpatoc said, trying to smile as her eyes welled up with tears.
Every September 21st of the year is a throwback for many political prisoners like Magpatoc.
For the past decades, photojournalist Lito Ocampo has been covering protest actions marking the anniversary of martial law and other human rights related issues.
Ocampo, the younger brother of former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo, was also detained during martial law. He was arrested on May 12, 1974 in Dagupan City, Pangasinan.
Ocampo was 19 years old. At the time of his arrest, he did not belong to any organization and did not consider himself an activist. Still, he languished for five years in three detention facilities – Camp Crame, Youth Rehabilitation Center in Fort Bonifacio and in Bicutan.
Ocampo said he was subjected to different forms of physical and mental torture. For several times, he was kept in solitary confinement up to two weeks. Yoga helped him cope with the difficulties.
Ocampo said a fellow political prisoner, Oni Azarcon, taught them the basics, particularly breathing techniques. “Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I practiced yoga and it helped me fight mental stress,” he told Bulatlat.
He also became active in sports such as basketball and volleyball. He also busied himself with handicraft making.
More importantly, Ocampo said life in prison led to his political awakening. He attended discussion groups and learned from fellow political prisoners.
He joined hunger strikes to demand the release of nursing mothers, fight for visitation rights and better services for inmates.
Like Ocampo, Felix Dalisay, a Kabataang Makabayan organizer during the ‘70s, also had sad and fond memories of life in prison.
Dalisay was detained at the Ipil Rehabilitation Center in Fort Bonifacio for two years.
Breakfast was coffee, which tasted like “a pair of socks left unwashed for one month” and one piece of pandesal. Lunch and dinner would be a piece of dried galunggong (Mackerel scad) and “sinibak na kangkong,” (river spinach) complete with the hard stalks.
Rarely did they have meat. If at all, Dalisay said, it would be one slice of meat as “hard as leather.”
When visitors brought food, it became a policy for political prisoners to centralize these to ensure that everybody would have their share.
Besides the regular discussions, Dalisay said, they also had cultural performances. He remembered cultural activists’ adaptation of the 1970 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. “Of course, they changed the lyrics of the songs to make it progressive,” Dalisay.
“Our rule had always been to convert the negative into positive,” Dalisay said. “And apply the principle of addition and multiplication.”
There were more than 350 political prisoners in Ipil Rehabilitation Center at the time of Dalisay’s detention. About 50 were women.
They had regular criticism-self criticism (CSC) sessions. Dalisay said the sessions proved helpful in maintaining healthy relationships among political prisoners.
Their experiences in prison had shaped their characters and emboldened their spirits. After they were released, all of them continued their political work.
After more than 40 years, Magpatoc, Ocampo and Dalisay are still in the thick of the struggle for genuine change.
Magpatoc, now 57, is one of the peace consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
Ocampo, a freelance photojournalist, and Dalisay are both members of Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda).