Priest’s diary: They hit me in the chest, kidneys …By Fr. Amado L. Picardal CSsR
Philippine Daily Inquirer
(Editor’s Note: The following are excerpts from the third chapter of a soon-to-be published book, “The Beloved: Memoirs, Diaries & Letters of a Priest.” The author is the executive secretary of the Committee on Basic Ecclesial Communities of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.)
At 4 o’clock in the morning of Sept. 21, 1973—the first anniversary of martial law—I and three other seminarians quietly slipped out of the seminary. I wore jogging pants and my scout-ranger jacket. We carried some of the leaflets that we mimeographed the previous nights. These leaflets contained a denunciation of martial law and a call for people to resist the dictatorial regime.
We planned to saturate the city with these leaflets. Other students belonging to various cells were also doing the same thing in different parts of the city. We broke up and pressed ahead in different directions.
As I was walking alone in the dark and deserted streets of downtown Cebu dropping leaflets at doorsteps and in mailboxes, I suddenly felt hands grabbing me from behind. One man held me by the neck, another by the arms. A third man aimed a .45 caliber pistol at me and said, “Don’t move, you are under arrest!”
He frisked me and grabbed the leaflets I had tucked inside my jacket. A car suddenly pulled in beside us and I was shoved inside. I was sandwiched between the two men while the third sat in front. My whole body froze and my heart raced as the car sped along Jones Avenue and entered Camp Sergio Osmeña. I had a sinking feeling, as if I was falling into a void, as I said to myself: “Oh God, please help me. I have been caught.”
The men took me to the office of the Constabulary Security Unit on the third floor and dumped me inside a small, dark and windowless room they called the “dragon room.” This was the room where they conducted tactical interrogations. What happened next seemed surreal. It was an experience of pain, shame and humiliation that I tried to forget and did not want to talk about. Years later, as I tried to come to terms with the past, I wrote a psalm that described what I and many other political prisoners had gone through.
Under the glare of a light bulb over my head, the intelligence agents took turns interrogating me. They hit me in the solar plexus, ears, chest and kidneys every time I refused to answer their questions. I gasped for air after every hit. The pain became so unbearable that I passed out.
When I regained consciousness I had no sense of time, as it was dark inside the room. I didn’t know whether it was night or day. I was hungry and thirsty. Instead of giving me water, somebody forced me to drink rum. I became groggy and they continued to ask me who my comrades were and where they could be found. They thought that too much alcohol would loosen my tongue. Instead, I wailed like a child.
After a while, another intelligence agent was assigned to interrogate me. He treated me like I was his younger brother. He spoke softly and told me that the torture would stop if I gave them the information they wanted. He also brought me food.
I got down to thinking, assessing my strength to stand another round of torture. I thought about my comrades, especially Magno and Cynthia. If I disclosed their names and where they could be found, they would be picked up, tortured and imprisoned.
I resolved never to give any information that would lead to my comrades’ arrest. Yet I had to tell my torturers something that would make them believe they had broken me so that I have finally cooperated. So I told them: “Please, don’t hurt me anymore. I will tell you everything I know.”
The head of the Constabulary Security Unit came. He was stocky and dark. He looked like a bulldog. I overheard other agents referring to him as Major Rosaroso. He asked me about the source of the leaflets that had been seized from me and about the identity and location of my contacts.
I told him that the hierarchy of the underground had many layers and that I only had one contact and it was this contact swho gave me the leaflets.
“Who is your contact?” the major asked.
I thought up a name then said, “Tina.”
“What is her family name?” he asked.
“I don’t know her family name,” I replied. “That is the only name she gave me, and I don’t even know where she lives. She only comes to the seminary to contact me.”
The major ordered an agent to go through the unit’s files and look for anyone named Tina. After a while, the agent came back with the files and photos. He showed me a picture of a popular student activist who belonged to a radical student group, the KM-SDK. Her name was Tina.
“Is this your contact?” the major asked me.
I didn’t say anything.
“Is this your contact?” He asked again.
I told myself that she had probably gone underground and they won’t find her. Then I answered, “Yes, that’s her.”
They seemed to believe me and the torture stopped. They were glad that I was finally cooperating with them. They asked me if I was willing to work as an informer if they released me. Thinking I would go into hiding once I got out, I said yes.
The following night, or was it day, I heard the scream of a young woman in another room. An agent told me that they had picked up Tina and was interrogating her. He told me that they would use me as a witness if she was going to be tried by a military tribunal.
I was seized with remorse. What have I done? I asked myself. To save myself and my comrades, I gave them her name and she was now suffering.
When the major came to see me again, I told him everything I had told him was a lie, and that I was retracting my statement.
Tina was immediately released. But my conscience would continue to haunt me for the despicable act of falsely implicating her to save my skin. It was the worst sin I had committed.
I was sent back to the dragon room for further interrogation. They were mad at me for lying to them. And the torture resumed.
They treated me like a punching bag and a soccer ball. But I refused to tell them anything.
After so many days of torture, my body and mind became numb. I couldn’t feel anymore. When one of my interrogators shoved his .45 caliber pistol into my mouth and cocked it, I just sat there and didn’t care if he pulled the trigger.
In exasperation, my interrogators told me they would use the electric shock on me to force me to talk. They showed me a machine with electrodes that they said they would attach to different parts of my body.
Suddenly I was filled with terror.
“OK, I give up, I can’t stand it anymore,” I told them. “I will tell you everything.”
They believed I had finally reached my breaking point.
This is the gist of the story I told them: I had been recruited by Ed Garcia and Sam Javelosa to the Lakasdiwa in the early 70s. With the declaration of martial law, the members of the Lakasdiwa decided to lie low. I was trying to revive the movement in Cebu and I started by organizing a cell in the seminary. We produced the leaflets ourselves using the seminary mimeographing machine and distributed these ourselves. We didn’t have any contact with any group. We were on our own.
I gave them the names of the seminarians who helped me produce and distribute the leaflets. This story had to be close to the truth to be credible.
My interrogators seemed to believe me. To check out my story, they invited the three seminarians for questioning. But since all they knew was about the production and distribution of the leaflets, they were sent home after the questioning.
Seeing the sky
And finally my tactical interrogation was over. I survived without disclosing the identities of my comrades and friends. I was turned over to the Regional Command for the Administration of Detainees for formal investigation.
I spent almost a week in a small cell inside the provost marshal’s office. It was like a cage. This was the holding cell for those undergoing formal investigation. The investigator assigned to take my sworn statement was a Sergeant Allega. He was assisted by an attractive female staff member. All I did was repeat the story I had told to my interrogators. The female constable typed everything I said. From time to time Sergeant Allega would ask for more information but I stuck to my story, careful not to implicate my comrades. After our last session, the investigator told me I would be sent to a detention center for “rehabilitation.”
On Oct. 3, 1973, I and two other prisoners were put on a military truck and taken to the Lahug Detention Center. We were handcuffed and accompanied by armed guards. It was the first time I saw the sky since I was arrested. It was a gloomy afternoon, with dark clouds hiding the sun. By the time we reached the detention center, it had begun to rain.
The camp was enclosed by high walls and coils of barbed wire. The guards took us to the administration building where our pictures and fingerprints were taken. The officer on duty added our names to the list of prisoners on a blackboard.
I’m a political prisoner
Then we were taken to a one-story building that looked like a prefabricated schoolhouse without windows and ceiling. Air and daylight filtered in through a small opening near the roof. Once we were inside, the guards closed the steel door behind us and I saw burly men with tattoos all over their bodies. One of them asked us, “Who are you and what are your cases?”
I was the first one to answer. “I am Amado Picardal and I am a political prisoner,” I said.
A dark young man with a shaved head approached me and said: “Come with me. Nobody’s going to harm you. You are exempted from this initiation. They respect political prisoners here. I am Hugo and I am also a political prisoner.”
The two new prisoners with me had criminal cases. They were just teenagers but they were immediately subjected to the initiation rites for new arrivals.
The initiation was called “baptism.” The two boys were taken to the toilet and their faces were dunked into the toilet bowl filled with urine and excrement. Then the other prisoner took turns punching them. Later that night several sex-starved prisoners sodomized them. And I thought all these could have happened to me, too.
I found it difficult to sleep on my first night there.
I woke up at around 4:00 o’clock in the morning. I tried to convince myself that I was back in my bed in the seminary and all that had happened was just a bad dream. But the stench reminded me that I was still in prison. I wiped the tears on my cheeks and went back to sleep.