By Renato Reyes, Jr.
Supporters and relatives of the Morong 43 today held a caravan to Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan to visit the detained health workers and call for their immediate release. Some 40 vehicles joined the motorcade which started from Quezon Memorial Circle at around 8am. The Philippine caravan coincided with actions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Ottawa and Vancouver, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Denmark, Netherlands and New Zealand.
Upon reaching Camp Bagong Diwa, the supporters of the 43 were surprised by the blockade conducted by the police belonging to the NCRPO. Earlier, church groups were also prevented entry. The church groups included a Protestant bishop and Catholic nuns .
As I approached the officer at the gate, I noticed the sign posted on the railings: RED ALERT, it said. The whole camp was placed on RED ALERT probably due to the recent travel advisories on “terrorism”. There were scores of policemen at the gates and the entry of vehicles was restricted.
We told the officers at the gate that we had been given a permit by the BJMP to hold a religious service inside and visit to the Morong 43 detainees. Camp Bagong Diwa is the headquarters of the PNP’s NCRPO but inside is also the BJMP compound for detainees.
The officers of the NCRPO refused to recognize the permit given by the BJMP. For more than an hour, they refused us entry, citing no clear reason (it’s like we were some sort of terror threat to them). The camp commander, a certain Gen. Regis, refused to meet us despite repeated requests.
I told the officers at the gate that I had personally informed NCRPO chief Gen. Nicanor Bartolome who was in Washington at the time that we would be arriving today. Gen. Bartolome texted that he will be informing his deputy, a certain Gen. Regis.
The PNP would not budge and showed no interest in accommodating the visitors despite a BJMP permit. This forced the participants of the caravan to block the gates of Camp Bagong Diwa. Shouts of “FREE THE 43” were soon heard in Bicutan. Placards and pictures of the detained health workers were raised at the gates of the police camp.
Since the PNP was already on red alert, they were immediately able to deploy about probably two platoons of anti-riot police to block the protesters. Tension ensued. The supporters of the 43 felt truly insulted by the response of the PNP. The PNP began pushing the protesters back, who in turn pushed back at the PNP.
The tension was only resolved when the protesters gave way to vehicles who were exiting Camp Bagong Diwa. At that point, the PNP still had no clear answers as to why they were blocking the Morong visitors.
We were being given a lot of bureaucratic crap. After some time, the warden of the BJMP facility came out to meet us and explained the limited space for visitors inside the detention facility. He said it would be best to visit by batches of 25. We agreed with the assurance that all those who wanted to visit will be accommodated.
We boarded the BJMP vehicle together with past and present partylist representatives, members of human rights groups and the health sector. We were brought to the compound for male detainees. We were able to enter without any incidence.
Since visits would be conducted by batches, we decided to make our visit short to be able to accommodate the other visitors. We had a short program and the visitors gave their solidarity messages. Ka Satur Ocampo called on the detainees to be steadfast, saying that he himself was detained for nine years during martial law.
We then proceeded to visit the female detainees. They were happy to see us. They had watched the blockade and tension at the gates, live on TV, in a flash report.
We were joined by directors Bibeth Orteza and Carlitos Siguion-Reyna and artist Kiri Dalena. The female detainees were in their usual high spirits, singing Martsa ng Bayan and given a very emotional interpretation of a Joi Barrios on desaparecidos. The poem moved Bibeth to tears, as it had been part of the “Mrs. B” monologue wherein Bibeth played Mrs. Burgos, mother of the missing Jonas.
The detainees then sang happy birthday to Carlitos. The meeting was short but you could see from the faces of the detainees that they were agitated and they believed that our struggle outside prison will set them free. Malen Serrato, a schoolmate from UP and member of the Center for Nationalist Studies, told the visitors that they may be imprisoned physically but their minds and hearts were free.
We went back to the gates of Bagong Diwa to find the relatives lined up waiting for their turn to visit. The relatives were brought to the detention facility but were brought back to the gates. This incensed the relatives because no explanation was given why they were being brought back. The PNP later explained that there had been some miscommunication or lapses and that they merely wanted the process to be followed. One officer, a certain Col. Mabanag even threatened the relatives that they will all be arrested if they staged a rally inside Camp Bagong Diwa. Yes, this jerk was issuing threats for incidents that have no basis whatsoever.
I left Camp Bagong Diwa after the PNP confirmed that the relatives would be allowed to visit the detainees. We were exhausted for some reason but we left also in high spirits.
One visitor remarked: “Baligtad pala dito. Pag dalaw mo, akala mo ikaw ang manga-agit sa kanila (detainees). Yun pala, sila ang manga-agit sa iyo.”
Our struggle continues until the 43 are free