By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA –“Where is our country headed? Why is it that what is right is being viewed as wrong? What is wrong is made to appear right?”
Rez Cortez, the actor who usually plays the role of villains in local movies, tearfully uttered those words at a forum organized by Pagbabago! People’s Movement for Change on May 21 at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.
“I have been a villain in films, and this administration is trying to make me appear as a villain in the eyes of my country.”
Cortez is facing charges of serious illegal detention. The charges stemmed from the exposé of the so-called Hello Garci tapes, or the wiretapped conversations between a woman who is believed to be President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and a former elections commissioner, widely believed to be Virgilio Garcillano. Cortez and Sammy Ong, a former agent of the National Bureau of Investigation who recently died of lung cancer, were accused of detaining Sgt. Vidal Doble, an intelligence agent believed to be the source of the tapes, at the San Carlos Seminary in Makati City in 2005.
On June 6, 2004, Ong presented to the media the “mother of all tapes” that he said were evidence of systematic electoral fraud by the Arroyo clique. The tapes are allegedly a master copy of those wiretapped conversations.
In 2005, Ong and Cortez were slapped with the illegal detention charges, but these were dismissed by a Makati Regional Trial Court. In April this year, the Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision, reviving the charges against the two. A warrant of arrest has been issued. Cortez’s lawyers filed a petition for the temporary lifting of the warrant.
Cortez broke into tears when he talked about Ong at the UP forum. He visited Ong at the Chinese General Hospital recently, days before Ong died. “I felt said seeing the once proud Sammy Ong, who bravely exposed the truth about the cheating during the 2004 elections, bereft of color, looking like he was already dead. It was a depressing sight to behold. Then I realized that this is what happens to those who muster the courage to fight for the truth,” he said in Filipino.
Pagbabago! forum in UP Diliman. (Photo by Ayi Muallam)
Cortez said the case has affected his work and his family. He admitted that he had thought of giving up the fight. Closely identified with the late Fernando Poe Jr., the closest rival of Arroyo in the 2004 elections, Cortez has been a familiar face in anti-Arroyo protest actions.
He described himself as someone who used to be apolitical, someone who did not care. Since he got involved in the 2004 electoral campaign, Cortez said he realized he had to do something. He thought to himself, “Perhaps it is time that I looked at what is happening in our country…We should all get involved.”
Cortez criticized Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez who, he said, is the one behind the filing of the case against him. He recalled what Gonzalez had told him when they met: “So you are Rez Cortez, one of the destabilizers.”
Cortez said he draws strength from his children. “Dad, continue the fight. We support you. Do not give up,” one of them told him.
Like Cortez, Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada, decried the so-called harassment suits filed against him.
Lozada, the star witness in the bribery and corruption surrounding the $329-million National Broadband Network deal with ZTE of China, was charged with perjury by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s former chief of staff Mike Defensor. Lozada was arrested on April 29 and imprisoned at the Manila City Jail until the Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 26, on May 7, decided to turn him over to the Senate’s custody.
Besides the perjury case, Lozada has been slapped with 15 other charges, including theft, gross negligence and dishonesty.
“It’s good that nuns have been my companions. Otherwise the government might file rape charges against me,” Lozada said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
“It is frightening to think that the whole machinery of the government is being used for political ends,” Lozada said in Filipino. “Today, it is being used freely by the government to pressure those who are against their brand of politics. This is what I observed,” he said. “Your hair would fall just by thinking about it.”
Even if the Arroyo administration has the power, the money and influence, Lozada added, it does not have the truth. “If that is all that we have, that is sufficient for me.”
“I am determined to pursue what we are fighting for. Frankly speaking, I am very angry. But I would channel my anger the right way,” Lozada said as he concluded his speech.
Labor lawyer Remigio Saladero Jr. related his ordeal during his arrest and detention and the continuing threats he and other leaders of people’s organizations in Southern Tagalog are facing.
In this Bulatlat.com video, he recalls the harrowing experience.
Saladero was among the 72 activists who were charged with multiple murder and frustrated multiple murder in connection with a raid by the New People’s Army (NPA) in Calapan City, Mindoro Oriental, in March 2006. He was the first to be arrested among the 72 respondents on Oct. 23, 2008. The six other accused were detained at the Calapan City District Jail. Just this February, Judge Manuel C. Luna Jr. of Branch 39 of the Calapan City Regional Trial Court dismissed the case on technical grounds.
Saladero said that among the accused were a polio victim and a diabetic patient who takes insulin twice a day. “How could they bear arms and ambush fully armed elements of the Philippine National Police with their condition?” he asked during the forum.
Barely a week after their release from detention, Saladero said, he was informed by a relative that another murder case had been filed against him and 61 other activists in Southern Tagalog. This time, the case involved the killing in July 2008 of a member of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) in Rizal, allegedly by members of the NPA.
Saladero was also among the 27 Southern Tagalog activists who were charged with arson and destruction of property in connection with the burning of a Globe tower in Lemery, Batangas, on Aug. 2, 2008, allegedly by the NPA. The case was recently dismissed for lack of probable cause.
Saladero said that there had been a subversion of the legal process. The Mindoro case, he said, did not go through the preliminary investigation and the warrants of arrest bore erroneous names and addresses.
“One case after another, the same modus operandi of using aliases in the warrant, writing the wrong address so that we could not assert our rights and defend ourselves in legally,” he said.
Worse, Saladero said, the charges of murder, frustrated murder and arson are nonbailable offenses.
“What they did to us is terrible,” he said.
“Pity my clients who are workers and peasants because there were so many pleadings that I was not able to write, many appeals that I was not able to file because of my arrest and detention,” he said. “Others lost hope because, according to them, if even our lawyer was detained, what would happen to us?”
Saladero said that leaders of people’s organizations have been compelled to lay low due to threats of arrest and detention.
The labor lawyer said that forums provide them venues to ventilate their outrage. “These forums are therapeutic. Through these, we could somehow get back at them.”
At the same forum, lawyer Ameh Sato of the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) noted a trend in the way the harassments are carried out. “Apparently, where before the target of trumped-up charges were the Metro Manila-based party-list representatives and prominent national leaders of the progressive mass movement, now the new evil scheme is to put also in jail en masse its regional and provincial leaders and members, with sustained extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances in the countryside through militarization and state terrorism.”
Sato added that “with the elections fast approaching and her administration still haunted with untold controversies, it is easy to understand the agenda behind the filing of trumped-up charges against Arroyo’s critics and perceived enemies: her obsession to perpetuate herself in power beyond 2010.”
“But in the case of those belonging to the progressive legal opposition, the filing of false charges against them is clearly rooted in Oplan Bantay Laya and the US war on terror,” she said.
Oplan Bantay Laya is the government’s counter-insurgency program that has been blamed for the worsening human-rights abuses in the Philippines. (Bulatlat.com)