Growing old, we like to meet old friends. We “junior senior citizens” (a term coined by Nenette, a college friend of my late wife Mae) enjoy the luxury of time to get together for coffee or dinner. But in the case of Fides (our friendship dating back to almost half a century ago), we had our last couple of appointments at the Manila regional trial court.
Attending the trial hearing of her husband Vic Ladlad has been our way of catching us up on latest personal stories but also my means of expressing solidarity with Vic and other political prisoners who are facing trumped-up charges. Being at the trial is a personal matter. Another of the accused is the husband of my cousin Bobbie — Satur Ocampo.
Vic, Satur, and others have been charged with a multiple murder case. They are accused of supposedly murdering rebels suspected of being government spies. State witnesses claim they saw Vic and Satur, among others, ordering the killings in the locality.
But the accusation is patently false, refuted by the fact that both Vic and Satur were detained at Camp Nakar and Bicutan, respectively, during the time of the supposed commission of the crime. Realizing the mistake, a witness produced a new affidavit that changed the date of the crime. In the original affidavit, the commission of the crime took place in 1984, but in the revised affidavit, the killings happened in June 1985. The change had to be done to make it appear that the crime was dated after Satur obtained freedom by way of a daring escape in May 1985. In any case, the changing of the date makes the evidence against Vic untenable. Vic was still in detention in 1985; he was released from prison upon the fall of the dictatorship in 1986.
Further, the defendants argue that this multiple murder case filed at the Manila regional trial court is a recycled one. The regional trial court of Baybay, Leyte, had earlier dismissed a similar case. Consider the absurdity of the evidence: In both the dismissed case and in the current case, the same skeletal remains of three alleged victims were found in different towns. In the dismissed case, the skeletal remains of three alleged victims were exhumed in Barangay Monterico, Baybay. In the present case, the skeletal remains of the same victims were exhumed in Barangay Kaulisihan, Inopacan. The tale of itinerant dead skeletons would look like a script taken from a horror fiction movie.
But as Fides observed, one can be either enlightened or entertained by the trial. The accounts of witnesses produced by the military are laughable. What I encountered is worth sharing as a joke. The witness for the prosecution testified that he saw a memorandum about the killings that was signed by the chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). But he kept fumbling for the right alias of Joma Sison. He jumbled the names Amado Guerrero, Armando Guerrero, Amando Guerrero. Which led the amused judge to quip: “baka maging Leon Guerrero.”
The prominent names in the case are those who have been part of the publicized high-level peace talks — Vic, Satur, Joma, Adel Silva, Raffy Baylosis, and Luis Jalandoni. But others, specifically Eksam Lloren, a former mayor, and the peasant organizers, are unknown to the public.
In truth, Lloren and the peasants were no longer active in the revolutionary movement when they were arrested. They are collateral damage, so to speak. Although innocent of the criminal charges filed against them, they continue to languish in jail because they refused to turn state witnesses and testify against their former comrades.
They are very upright, very principled, very courageous people. But for rejecting the wicked military offer, they have suffered more. One of the imprisoned peasant organizers, Bernabe Ocasla, died from a heart attack. He died in a most subjugating, most undignified manner. He was handcuffed to the hospital bed despite the plea of his daughter to the police to have the handcuffs removed.
The names of the remaining detained peasants are Norberto Murillo, Dario Tomada, and Oscar Belleza. Together with Eksam Lloren, they are detained at the notorious Manila City Jail.
I didn’t immediately recognize Eksam when I attended the hearing. He approached me and said, “Naalala mo pa ba ako?” I said he looked familiar, but I could not recall where and when we met. He then reminded me of my visits to his town in Bohol. Only then did I realize that he was once the three-term mayor of Jagna, Bohol, a beautiful, serene coastal town, about an hour away from Tagbilaran City. The economics professor and National Academician Raul Fabella has raved about Jagna, a town also known for a high school that has gained international recognition for its novel, unconventional way of teaching math and sciences to poor students.
I came to know Eksam in the early 2000s, when I was asked by a non-governmental organization to help the town set up sustainable investment projects. Eksam’s leadership was exemplary, and his municipality became a paragon of good governance and sustainable development. He was the pride of Akbayan (his political party), being one of the few progressive candidates to win at the local level.
Despite being a former CPP cadre and later being affiliated with CPP’s rival Akbayan, Eksam is a person who commands the respect of other political actors. Gloria Arroyo’s Arthur Yap and Rodrigo Duterte’s Jun Evasco (both will be slugging it out in the Bohol gubernatorial elections) want Eksam freed. I am hoping Akbayan and other groups will provide moral, political, and material support to Eksam and his fellow prisoners.
One way of showing support is to attend the hearings. Presence of sympathizers boosts the spirits of those falsely accused. Following the hearings and knowing the accused also provide insights into the dismal state of the Philippine justice system: Trumped-up charges, manipulation of evidence, recycled cases, delayed justice, inhuman prison conditions, etc.
Justice is a public good. We cannot allow authorities to break justice. It is most shocking when President Duterte himself accepts this as the norm. Remember what he said early in his term: “We planted evidence.”
It’s most worthy that Vic’s lawyer is Chel Diokno. Chel has given his time defending victims of injustices.
Chel deserves to be elected senator. Among all the candidates, he is the most knowledgeable and the most passionate about reforming our justice system.
From attending that hearing, I have realized that my support is no longer just about being a friend of Fides and Vic and Satur. I will continue attending future hearings and will continue talking and writing about the issue as my own little way of reforming our broken justice system. Justice for the political prisoners; justice for all.
Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.