by Atty. Alnie G. Foja
(NOTE: This is the second essay Atty. Foja has written about the illegally detained health workers, a. k. a. the Morong 43, and forwarded to her friends and colleagues to publish online. Click here for the first essay.)
Yesterday was my second trip to Camp Capinpin. The visit was organized by Gabriela and Gabriela Women’s Party and arranged by the Office of the good Senator, Jamby Madrigal. It was dubbed: “Women Lawyers and Women Legislators visit the Women Detainees” with the objective of probing deeper the allegations of sexual abuses committed against the women detainees and getting first-hand details from the women-detainees themselves.
Sen. Madrigal had previously advised the authorities at Camp Capinpin of the intended visit and had made a written request to be allowed her delegation of five lawyers, five doctors and 3 psychologists/counselors access to the Morong 43.
The nine-vehicle convoy of Morong 43’s family, Gabriela and Gabriela Women Party leaders and members, lawyers, doctors and other medical practitioners, media and Sen. Madrigal’s delegation arrived at the gates of Camp Capinpin way past lunch time. We had to forego the scheduled lunch in order to save time and capture that generous moment when the soldier-guards would open the gates, welcome the Senator and let her delegation in.
There was a conspicuous display of welcome for Sen. Madrigal and Sen. Loren Legarda whose delegation was also visiting. And there was parade of honors too! But again, to save time, Sen. Madrigal excused herself from the usual briefing and courtesy meeting with the officers after the parade. “I do not need to be briefed and I do not need to be lied to”, she said in the car on our way to the detention facility, perhaps forgetting that there in the front seat was Lt. Cabading who served as our escort?
Emmie de Jesus (whose name was listed as one of the counselors), Dr. Julie Caguiat, Atty. Evalyn Ursua and I thought that we could all go inside, get that two-star mark and see the Morong 43 face to face! Pero sadyang napakahirap abutin ang mga bituin, lalo pa yaong wala namang ningning!
The warden following orders from above would not let Atty. Ursua and me in even after we insisted on our rights as the Morong 43’s lawyers, flashed our IBP cards for proper identification, and yes, even after the warden recognized me as one of the lawyers from the previous visit. We could go in anytime, he said, because we are lawyers, but not with the Senator. “Yes, anytime but not this time.” The rationale simply escaped us!
And the doctors, they can also go in if they are from Sen. Madrigal’s office prompting the Senator to quickly comment to officer Zaragosa on the phone that, “I am a Senator, not a hospital. I do not have doctors in my payroll as that would be tantamount to graft and corruption.”
But time, oh, so short a time, was running out! After much wrestling, Emmie, Doc Julie and the rest were left behind. Only Sen. Madrigal, two lawyers (Atty. Ursua and me) and one doctor (Dr. Hazel of PGH) were let in.
I was only too glad to see them again.
We were able to gather all 26 female detainees in the biggest cell they call the “main door”. We exchanged greetings and explained the purpose of our visit. We organized ourselves and were ready to begin the group and/or individual interviews when someone pointed to the camera that was staring at us. And we thought that we were left alone after we requested for the lady guards to step out!
As if being illegally held for crimes they did not commit were not enough! The women detainees are as psychologically tortured as they were weeks ago, and perhaps even more, because the uniformed and un-uniformed men who visit their cells, though certainly not welcome, torture their minds with their bodies and soul trembling, of the thoughts and the real fears of what these men are there for, of what they do in the silence of the nights and of what they are capable of doing.
Through it all, we were able to see to it that the visit would be fruitful. But it was also marked by shameless, face-to-face violations of both the visitors and the detainees’ rights.
As of this writing, the two-star mark on my right wrist has almost faded. But the numerous violations committed by the military in such a short visit linger.