Valentine’s Day in time of martial lawBy Corinna A. Lopa
Philippine Daily Inquirer
(Editor’s Note: The author wrote this piece in 2000. She was then 38 years old and married to Al Alegre, with two daughters. Though now separated, both Corinna and Al have continued their commitment to serve the people through work with NGOs and people’s movements.)
February 14, 1985, was a most meaningful Valentine’s Day for me. It was the day when my boyfriend, Al, was to be released from detention in Ipil Rehabilitation Center at Fort Bonifacio in Makati.
Together with many jeepney drivers, activists and some artists (movie directors Lino Brocka and Behn Cervantes, among them), Al was picked up on Aurora Boulevard in Cubao, Quezon City, that fateful day of January. There was a jeepney strike that day and the corner of Aurora and Edsa was one of the many mass-up centers. As in any other strike, a column of police had formed, and across them, a composite group stood, arms linked. Suddenly, explosions were heard. Pillbox? Tear gas? Before he knew it, plainclothes men were pulling Al into an unidentified jeep, together with many others.
I stayed home that day as a gesture of sympathy for the jeepney strikers. Close to noon, Ditchay, then with Peta [Philippine Educational Theater Association] and a group mate from my high school days at Assumption called. She said she was at Camp Karingal, Sikatuna Village, in Quezon City, and that Al was among those who had been arrested in Cubao. She assured me, though, that colleagues from Peta were keeping watch together with many sisters from the religious congregations. I thanked Ditchay, and then called Al’s office, the Worker’s College at Ateneo, to double-check the info. Yes, they confirmed Al’s arrest. They asked me to secure Al’s belongings in his apartment and in his mother’s house.
Vigil at the camp
At Camp Karingal, we were not allowed to see Al and his companions. But there outside, massing around were many religious, students, activists, cultural workers and the families of some of those arrested. The sisters assured us that they would keep vigil throughout the night.
Accepting that I could not see Al, I proceeded to his sister’s home. His mother had to be informed. His things in his apartment and in his mother’s home needed to be cleared. Lawyers had to be contacted. I had to take a leave of absence at the school where I was teaching.
The next day, as I arrived at the gate of Camp Karingal, I was told that the group was going to be transferred to the Quezon City Jail. Everyone was on alert as the group was going to be bused there, and I and those who had kept watch overnight wanted to be sure that that was where they were going to be taken.
Soon enough, the bus came out and we were all soon trailing them to the city jail on Edsa across from Nepa-Q Mart. Thankfully, they were not thrown in with the rest of the inmates in jail. Instead, they were taken to the office of the jail superintendent. And that was how friends, sympathizers, family members finally got to talk to them.
Al was in a fighting mood. It was an unfortunate incident, but he and the rest of the group were ready to fight. He was especially in high spirits because of the camaraderie in the group. It really helped that there were so many artists in the group. And it definitely helped that the two directors were with them!
The entire group was being detained without charges, and the 24-hour deadline was fast approaching. We were told to go to Mofire on Shaw Boulevard that afternoon where a meeting of all relatives with the lawyers was to take place. We were told that a group of human rights lawyers had decided to take on the case. We were told that a bonding company had already been contacted to put up the bond.
Forming the team of human rights lawyers were Haydee Yorac, Arno Sanidad, William Chua, Frank Chavez, Tito Guingona, Ex Javier and Bobby Tañada. After introducing myself (a daughter of a classmate of his brother, Nats), I asked Bobby to especially watch out for my boyfriend, one of the detainees.
That evening we waited for word from Malacañang about the fate of the group. Well, we were finally informed that a PDA (preventive detention action) had been slapped on the entire group. The PDA was in truth the much-dreaded Asso—arrest, search and seizure order—which the military used during martial law till it was lifted in 1981.
In those days, having a PDA served on you meant you could be detained without charges, and for any period of time. Only the President of the Philippines could set you free.
Thus, finally, we were told that the group would be transferred to Ipil Rehabilitation Center in Fort Bonifacio the next day.
We prepared for the transfer, as, again, we had to make sure that the detainees were going to be taken to Ipil and not somewhere else.
Again, families, friends, the religious, were with us. We drove to Fort Bonifacio in a convoy of cars, taking Edsa and going over then under Guadalupe bridge, and finally into Fort Bonifacio.
It was almost sundown when we got there. The detainees piled out of the bus and into the barracks as we watched from outside the gate of the detention center.
In one sense, the PDA and the group’s detention at Ipil assured us of what the future would be like. We had already graduated to the stage where their detention could no longer be denied, or that they could no longer be transferred to an undisclosed place or safe house. The arrests had moved to the “legal” stage where the state had acknowledged that the detainees were in its custody.
In the following days, I could not even feel sad over the fate of Al. Many things had to be done. Support work for the lawyers had to be done. Strategizing meetings had to be attended for the campaign to release the group. I remember going with a Good Sheperd sister to Novaliches, Quezon City, to find the home of one of the jeepney drivers. After roaming around what looked like a rice field, we found the driver’s wife in a hut. The sister took on the difficult task of informing the wife of her husband’s detention.
The case became celebrated. The press often referred to it as “Brocka, Cervantes et al.” And Al often joked that “et al” referred to him.
God gifted us with a feisty and courageous judge, Miriam Defensor-Santiago. She ordered daily, marathon hearings. Usually, it took two weeks to a month between hearings. Santiago would mince no words and expose the bankruptcy of the case being argued by the military lawyers.
Leading the defense was an equally feisty and courageous lawyer, Haydee Yorac. She would grill the policemen who arrested the group and glare at them. The hearings were at once comic, disgusting and frustrating.
In the meantime, visits by family members were allowed at Ipil. One had to sign a logbook (full name, address and relation to the detainee), and go through two body searches. Gifts, food and other things had to be carefully inspected. Finally, one could see the detainee in a common visitor’s room, where guards kept watch.
Ipil was known to be a showcase of the dictatorship’s humanitarian face. Thus there were facilities, such as a ping-pong table and a garden for exercising. Detainees slept in bunks and were not confined to individual cells. Al mentioned being served “galunggong” (cooked different way) for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.
As it had drawn international attention because film directors Brocka and Cervantes were among the detainees, the case fast became an embarrassment to the Marcos dictatorship. Eventually, it was announced that the detainees were being granted “temporary freedom” by President Marcos. On Feb. 14, 1985, two weeks after their arrest, the detainees were delivered to the St. Joseph’s College campus on E. Rodriguez Sr. Avenue in Quezon City where families and friends awaited their return.
That night, Al and I attended a Valentine’s concert at Ugarte Field (now Ayala Triangle) in Makati where cultural groups converged to play protest songs. It was a perfect night for us. Sitting on the wet grass, we listened to songs that spoke of love of one’s country. It was good to be together, to be in love, in the time of danger, protest, dissent.
Were we thankful that Marcos set Al and his companions free? Never. Instead, we vowed all the more to bring down the dictatorship.