Indigenous People’s Coordinator of the Diocese of Infanta, Fr. Pete Montallana’s letter to the editor, titled “An Irony and Emotional Torment Many Times Over”, that came out in the December 15 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, voiced out his alarm over so many ongoing cases of the most vulnerable innocent poor people, including indigenous peoples, being victimized by arbitrary detention and other acts of violence by reactionary state forces, and for years not being able to attain justice.
One of many such cases we have with us at the Special Intensive Care Area (SICA) Jail, here in Camp Bagong Diwa, and many, many more in other jails in the country, is that of a native Dumagat, Eddie Cruz, whose family and fellow tribals have long been living in their ancestral domain around one of the mountain peaks overlooking the Wawa Dam.
Since 2005, Eddie Cruz has been an official employee of the Montalban Tourism Office under the Montalban Municipality, where he had been working as a regular tourist guide.
At 3 p.m. of June 10, 2010, led by a Lt. Lopez, a platoon of the Bravo Company of the 16th Infantry Battalion (16th IB) arrived at Sitio Tuay, Barangay San Rafael, Montalban, Rizal.
In implementation of and as usually practiced in their Oplan Bayanihan “counter-insurgency” program in the countryside, the government soldiers encamped in the two-hut residence there of Eddie Cruz’ family.
Obliged to give way to the government soldiers who took over their residence, the family had to send the children out of the area for their well-being and safety. Obliged to be the principal host as the family’s principal income-earner, Eddie Cruz had to remain in the hut where he resides, and, assisted by an uncle and a cousin of his, arrange for the accomodation of the government soldiers in the family’s two huts. After the government soldiers were fed the family’s supper, they divided their numbers with the intent of spending the night and the next several days in the two huts.
At 11 p.m., the government soldiers heard hollers, coming from the upward bend of the dirt road leading to the residence of his family. At once, the government soldiers suspected that those hollering were New People’s Army (NPA) fighters, apprehensively passed around the warning “May kaaway!” (“There are enemies!”), and immediately started firing in the direction of where the hollers came from. After an hour or so, and no shots were fired back at the government soldiers, they manuevered to search the area for the “kaaway.”
Finding none –as those who were fired at had scampered away — the returning government soldiers hog-tied, blindfolded, and beat up Eddie Cruz, insisting that he knows that those hollering are NPA forces and that they are hollering for him. His pockets were searched for whatever. All his money kept there, worth about P3,000, were “confiscated”. His identification cards, including that of his being a regular employee (as a tourist guide) of the Montalban Tourism Office, were also taken from his wallet and burned to ashes.
He was brought 30 minutes away, to the Wawa Dam mountain peak atop their residence, and then more brutally beaten up with fists and rifle butts, until he lost unconsciousness.
After having been held for three days where the government soldiers camped at the mountain peak, he was brought to the 16th IB camp in Baras, Rizal, and there detained for three days, all the time with his hands tied at his back. He was then brought to the Taytay Police Station for booking, and then to the Taytay Provincial Prosecutor for inquest. The arresting forces filed trumped-up charges of “illegal possession of firearms, ammunitions and explosives” against him (he was purportedly carrying an M16 armalite and also purportedly had a rifle grenade in his pocket when he was arrested). He was then returned to the 16th IB camp, held there for two more months, until he was transferred to Camp Capinpin in Brgy. Sampaloc, Tanay, Rizal, where he was detained for another three days. After the 16th IB finally, even if already much belatedly and illegally, had obtained an official court order for his detention, he was transferred to a regular jail — at the Montalban District Jail — where he was confined for nine days.
The Montalban District Jail authorities were concerned that too many — relatives, friends and co-employees at the Montalban Municipal Office — were visiting Eddie Cruz in jail every day, and that, moreover, he is personally acquianted with practically all the people living in the community around the Montalban District Jail. Thus, he was again transferred, on August 28, 2010, to a detention center for “high risk detainees” — at the Special Intensive Care Area (SICA) Jail, here in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City, where he has since been detained for more than four years now.
Initially, even while in jail, Eddie Cruz continued to receive his salary from the Montalban Municipality. But in March 2011, the head of the Montalban Tourism Office, Municipal Councillor Rolando Hernandez, attended a court hearing of Eddie Cruz to explain to the latter that, because he can no longer perform his tasks for the Montalban Tourism Office, the payment of his salary will temporarily be suspended, but, since he is indeed a regular employee of the office, will automatically be resumed as soon as he is freed and able to function again in his previous work as a regular tourist guide.
Following this, the Mayor, Vice-mayor and the entire Sangguniang Bayan of Montalban wrote an official attestation about Eddie Cruz’ being a regular employee in good standing in their municipality, and about their disbelief about the accusations his arrestors made against him. They send a copy of their letter to the Office of the President, which also made inquiries about Eddie Cruz’ case. None of these has yet received any reply.
Under detention, Eddie Cruz has been suffering not only the very, very slow crawl of justice, for which the Philippines is one of the most notorious — if not actually the worst — in the world. He has also been further suffering the many, many failures of the jail authorities to bring him to scheduled court hearings. Since court hearings in his trumped-up case started in July 14, 2010, jail authorities have not brought him to court for 15 scheduled court hearings. The failure to do so have all been intentional — with the jail authorities absurdly claiming that Eddie Cruz is a high risk political detainee, and that there is always the risk of his escaping en route to and from his court hearings.
Eddie Cruz is only one of presently some 500 national minorities — mostly Moros — at the SICA 1 and SICA 2 Jail here.
Eddie Cruz is only one of presently some 500 of us, documented political prisoners in the country, practically all of whom are similarly also victims of trumped-up criminalized charges, in violation of the landmark Hernandez Doctrine, to viciously justify their arbitrary and illegal arrest and continuing detention. (Still ongoing are the documentations of some 300 more presently detained at the SICA 2 Jail here — mostly also national minorities, who have been accused of taking part in the Zamboanga City stand-off of the Moro National Liberation Front — including about 70 innocent civilian community residents in the stand-off area.)
In the meantime, Eddie Cruz has unjustly and cruelly been suffering continuing arbitrary and illegal detention, and many other violations of his legal and human rights for four and a half years now… and counting.
The long-ongoing persecution of indigenous peoples in our country today parallels the evil persecution of innocent natives in the colonies of the Roman Empire some 2000 years ago. Today’s “Holy Innocents Day”, December 28, is a recollection of such evil persecution, victimizing especially the children of the natives in the Middle East.
Unless all the intentional evil wrongdoings of the present ruling state’s powers that be are not rectified soonest, for Eddie Cruz, and others like him wrongly arrested and detained indigenous peoples, and like the rest of us — about 800 other political prisoners in the country today — there will be no Happy New Year at all for all of us.
National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace consultants detained at Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan, Taguig City
(28 December 2014)