If arrested, do a ‘Bien’By Flor Caagusan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
(Editor’s note: Flor C. Caagusan is cofounder of the feminist groups Kalayaan and WeDpro and is a passionate environmental advocate for the Cordilleras [Baguio City], her origin. She is an independent editor and writer; senior consulting editor at Philippine Entertainment Portal. She worked at Institute for Popular Democracy, Manila Times and Diliman Review, University of the Philippines.)
I had an easier time than most martial law detainees.
“Reason for arrest: Entering a u.g. (underground) house,” said that Isafp (Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines) dossier in 1974. Wrong. I didn’t just breeze into the small one-room house where scriptwriter Ricky Lee lived alone. The door was locked. Even the wooden jalousies were shut tight in spite of the midday heat. One of the three agents lurking inside opened the door as I knocked and, with pistol aimed, pulled me in by my shoulder.
I was clean, not a scrap of “Red propaganda” among the contents of my bag that they scattered on the bed. No matter. The interrogation began while I shivered uncontrollably on a chair. Pistolman played it cool, cajoling me into relieving them of their ignorance. The man in a Hawaiian shirt dished out threats.
“What are you doing here? What’s your connection with the Communist Party? Cooperate and we’ll let you go. If not, you’ll rot in prison. What’s your position in your unit? Who are the others? Come on, all you have to do is cooperate …” Blah-blah-blah.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
For once, being stubborn served me well. I needed no rousing slogans like “Serve the people” and “Makibaka, huwag matakot!” to sustain me. I simply abhorred being detained and threatened by these coarse characters. Yet I was completely trapped. The only way I could detach myself was to delete from memory everything and everyone I knew, even my own life story, like a virus-struck computer. (“Block out” was the term in those pre-info tech years.)
The problem was, I resented the third agent not only for his heckling; he was cooking the rice and canned goods for their lunch, and munching the tsitserya that I had bought only the day before.
He even hit the nail on the head, though unknowingly: “Maybe she’s the one who bought all these. Maybe she’s the finance officer.” He was mocking my effort to forget.
“You know, we shot two of your comrades. They tried to escape.” Hawaiian Shirt showed me an ID photo of Bienvenido Lumbera, a dear friend and teacher. “Do you know him? He’s dead now.”
Rage and grief exploded without a sound in my stomach. Then, suddenly my body stopped quaking and, at last, my brain went dead.
They still didn’t know what to make of me. So they just slammed me in Camp Aguinaldo.
Hawaiian Shirt lied, it turned out. I caught a glimpse of my “batchmates” who were detained at the far end of the building: Bien in the living flesh; Ricky Lee, sickly then but surviving his torture during the early morning raid; and Caesar Carlos, who would be battered night after night during our 10-day detention before we were transferred to Ipil Rehabilitation Center in Fort Bonifacio.
Around midnight, another victim joined them: my husband Noe, slapped with Republic Act No. 1081 (Antisubversion Law) for dutifully fetching me from that trap.
Next day, I watched as writer Bobby Tuazon “played piano” on an ink pad. Then again on the next, journalist Jo-Ann Maglipon. (“Two days late,” we tease her even to this day.) Finally, I had warm company in that unlit cell stacked with confiscated no-no readings.
At a reunion decades later, we would recall our trauma and ask, “Why haven’t we written about it?”
“Mahirap, masakit (It’s hard, it pains),” said Bien who did try to escape and could well have been killed.
That morning of Jan. 29, 1974, he dashed from the house to España Extension with the devil on his heels. When he got to Mercury Drug, sweat stung his eyes and his eyeglasses were misting over with the heat of flight. Pursuing Pistolman caught up with him. Worse than the blows was the humiliation when Pistolman snatched the glasses and broke them.
The glasses were soon replaced, but only after many years would broken lives be re-membered and some great escapes finally revealed.