I STAND HERE before you to speak about something that had been kept in silence and had only been talked about in whispers; something so uncomfortable and fraught with uncertainty and difficulty. It is a subject that had to wait for more than a decade before people can face up to it and, hopefully, do something about.
It had been more than 14 years since the tragedy happened. More than seven years since I wrote about it in an article ... and more than one year since I came out with the book that described it in detail, which drove the CPP-NPA frighteningly mad all over again. ... It is sad that until now - more than a decade since then - we still do not know how many people lived and died under these atrocities other than saying they are more than a thousand.
How was I involved in all this?
My initiation into the world of the underground was not particularly unusual. Just like any other fresh high school graduate, I entered college wild-eyed and raring for new things to do and discover. That was 1983 - a period of rapid political ferment. Opposition leader Ninoy Aquino was killed and immediately I found myself in the center of radical political activity. I was still a freshman when I became an activist and later, revolutionary. ... Part of my being a revolutionary was being a staunch defender of human rights - though it never occurred to me that the revolutionary movement I belonged to would itself be one of its major violators. ...
As we all know, our struggle did not stop with Marcos - we also rebelled against the "US-Aquino regime". Human rights violations continued; student leader Lean Alejandro and labor leader Ka Lando Olalia were killed then. I also remember it was 1987 when I was one of the organizers of a peasant rally gone awry, which came to be known as the Mendiola massacre. It was also 1987 when I first went to the hills for a brief taste of country life - an "exposure trip" to the guerrilla zone. The following year, 1988, I decided to live the life of a full-time guerrilla for good. Alas, 1988 was also the year when Oplan Missing Link happened. I do not know whether I came to it or it came to me. ... But something went wrong. Or perhaps there was something very wrong even at the beginning that was just waiting to assert itself.
How did it begin?
Oplan Missing Link started sometime during the early middle of 1988. It began with the creation of Task Force Missing Link, which was the Party's knee-jerk reaction to a failed military operation. "There must be spies among us," was the mindset of the people who formed it. The Task Force was assigned with investigating possible enemy infiltration within the revolutionary movement. It initiated the arrest of a few suspected individuals who were then subjected to intense interrogation. When none came out of it, they began to use torture.
That was when the bodies started to roll. Under pain and terror, the first victims were literally forced to say what the interrogators wanted to hear. The suspects invented stories, and worse, were compelled to name other comrades. This created the domino effect - more torture bred more victims, and so forth. It became a vicious cycle that threatened to raze the entire Party machinery, including its top leadership.
It was at the tail end of the OPML when I, along with six other guerrillas, was swept into the whirlpool of violence. This was in November 1988. At that point, they seemed to have already developed a standard format for interrogation and torture. ...
One of the worst punishments we endured was the denial of food. We were fed just enough to keep us alive: no more than a teaspoonful of rice at mealtime, though sometimes none at all. The rain was partly a blessing, as we could drink from pools of collected water. All of us became all skin and bones in a matter of time. ... Some begged the guards for their leftover fish tails and bones.
Compared to the others, the physical torture I received was lighter. The worst I got was a dislocated jaw, concussions on my head, and wounds where the chains rubbed on the skin. The others had to endure far worse... The standard methods were mauling, slapping and the more imaginative "flag ceremony" where the victim was made to stand with her wrists tied together while she was hoisted up from the ground. This can last a few hours to a few days.
There were other forms of brutality. At times, they slit the captives' skin with a knife or shaved off their eyebrows for fun. Sometimes, the victims' legs were forced apart and the torturers sat on their thighs. Other times, the torturers seared the skin of their victims with a lamp.
They also experimented with various combinations of physical and psychological terror tactics. A colleague was beaten up and hung on a tree. She was then made to watch how they beat up other victims. Then she was made to listen to the taped voices of her children. It was difficult to believe, but sexual abuse also happened among some victims.
To our minds, the choices had been narrowed down to either owning up to the accusations against us or enduring the suffering until we died from it. Those who did not catch on to this or else refused to "cooperate" altogether were eventually killed. Even the act of execution was used to further terrorize the detainees, such as the one Ka Paulito narrated:
..."One of our companions was brought in front of us. They then turned him around while we waited in suspense. Next thing we knew, the back of his head was hit with a large wooden club. He fell down, then shouted: "Wala akong kasalanan, mga kasama!" (Comrades, I'm innocent!). He repeated this line incessantly, as if in a chant. He was groggy but was still able to stand up. Again, he was hit on the same spot but he remained standing. With the third blow on his head, his skull cracked open, and he lay dead on the ground."
I could go on and on and narrate the details. But I guess you now get the picture. The sheer brutality of the experience itself may have been one of the reasons why people refused to talk about it for a very long time.
The Philippine solidarity movement knew, or at the very
least suspected, that there was something being kept from
us, something so big that we couldn't be told. And yet, we
waited with patience, mindful of the need-to-know rules of
security and discretion. Faith in the structure and
process of democratic centralism kept some from demanding
answers. For others, it was trust - trust in our comrades
- they were the hope, and the bitterness of betrayal still
sours our mouths, the stench of treachery leaves many with
no stomach any longer for activism.
Now we do know, and there is no easy acceptance, no going back to the comfort zone of faith and trust. There is only the horror of knowing that to some degree, no matter how small the role we played, we have been implicated in an evil act. Now we do know, and the survivors alongside the families and friends of victims are calling for a Truth Commission, and more. They need answers and we are obliged to at least try to understand why our revolutionary movement turned in upon itself; or face the prospect that history will once again repeat itself.
Dee Dicen Hunt