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Violating Sanctions

An American Woman’s Listening Tour Through the Axis of Evil

“I Don’t Have Anything Left to be Afraid Of”

The Author By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | February 11th, 2008 | Comments 5 Comments »

“My father was taken in broad daylight!” says Lorena Santos, who was 24 at the time. “He was abducted in northern Mindanao. It was 10:00 in the morning, while he was walking across the street.” That was February 19, 2007, a year ago next week.

Leo Velasco was 53.pict0271_4.JPG

“A van stopped abruptly in front of him and men threw him into the van. At first, it was two men, but he struggled, and so more men came,” Santos, whose friends call Aya, reports. “These accounts came from witnesses: a security guard at a building and a cigarette vendor from whom my father had just bought cigarettes. Immediately, the car sped away.”

“That was the last time anyone saw him,” she says softly. Steely. She’s told this story before.

A newspaper account accused him of being a leader with the New People’s Army, which is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, and a leader of the National Democratic Front, the Communist Party’s civic wing.

According to a preliminary report to the United Nations Human Rights Council released two months ago, “government officials consider [the Communist Party and its wings] the ‘most potent threat’ to national security.”

“The Communist Party was founded in 1968 and grew in strength and popularity during the years of martial law from 1972 to 1981,” explains Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions in the report. “The return to democracy in 1986 produced internal divisions, …[but] membership in the CPP is legal, and has been since 1992, when Congress repealed the Anti-Subversion Act.”

Aya’s father was a negotiator for the peace process between the government and activist groups in Mindanao, she asserts. Not an insurgent. Not a terrorist. Not even a Communist.

But, apparently a threat to the government.

Aya works for KARAPATAN, a non-profit organization that investigates military abductions and extrajudicial killings (karapatan.org). “I assist people who have families who were abducted. I had been working here almost a year before my father was abducted.

“I am one of the victims now.”pict0263_4.JPG

Aya was in the KARAPATAN office in Manila, where we are sitting now, when her cell phone rang that February day a long year ago.

“A friend of my father’s said ‘I have to see you; it’s an emergency.’ He started crying and said ‘Take care of yourself and your brother.’ That’s when I knew something was wrong.”

Her mother, a community health worker, was in a small city in the Cagayan province without cell service. She learned of her husband’s abduction on the radio.

“We made inquiries at military camps, but all we got were denials.”

“It took some days to get details. I even went to Cagayan De Oro to see what happened. I interviewed some of the [nearby offices’] security guards who saw it. One resigned from his job because he was afraid. I spoke with the other two. They didn’t want to testify; they were afraid.”

“It’s a busy street, with a lot of cars passing, like an office area. I know a lot of people would have seen it,” Aya shakes her head. “One security guard saw my father struggle and saw his glasses fall off.

“He picked up my father’s glasses and gave them to a newspaper reporter. The reporter was harassed by the police, who took the glasses. I’ve asked for them, but they won’t give them back.

“The one thing that really bothered me,” Aya grows quieter. “[The guard] said my father was thrown in the van like a pig.”

Nine months later, her mother was abducted and was missing for three days before the military announced they captured a “big Communist rebel,” says Aya.

Elizabeth Principe, a 54-year-old community health care worker, is still in jail.

“She had just come from a doctor’s appointment, and was waiting for her ride. Men took her. It was a van, also a van. Six to eight men took her.”

“According to my mother, she was immediately blindfolded and handcuffed. She was taken to a facility and people took away her purse, cell phone, money, glasses. She could hear people scheduling interrogations [of her].

“She was blindfolded for three straight days. She was handcuffed for three straight days. She was forced to wear headphones with blaring music. They were trying to disorient her. They told her it was dinnertime, but it was lunch. She counted the planes flying overhead to keep time.

“The military presented my mother at a press conference, saying she was a terrorist. They said she was on a mission to topple the government. The day after she was abducted, there was a failed coup, and they tried to link her to it.

“They kept her blindfolded until right before the press conference. Her eyes were squinting, teary. They tried to make her look disoriented. She was handcuffed, and she showed her bruises. When they took her away, she shouted that she’d been handcuffed and blindfolded for 72 hours.pict0275_4.JPG

“She was at a detention center. It took hours for us to see her, my brother, who is a lawyer, and my coworkers from KARAPATAN.

“She was still handcuffed. I asked police to take off the handcuffs, which they did. They brought out her purse. They had put subversive documents in my mother’s bag…a newspaper of the New People’s Army, information that’s available on the internet that no one would carry [around]!

“We filed a case [in court]. The night before we filed the case, they tried to transport her at 11:30! My brother called me, and I ran from where my taxi dropped me at the gate of the camp to the detention center. I saw big women trying to carry my mother. They had her hands and legs up in the air to stuff her in the van.

“I put myself in front of the van door to stop them. The women were apologetic, saying they were just following orders.

“They transferred her. Good thing my brother is a lawyer. Next morning, we were able to defer the arraignment. She was transferred back. This all happened in one day! It was malicious.

“I was relieved, and I was afraid. When she’s in detention, they can do anything to her.

“And of course, my father is still missing.”

Aya wipes away tears.

“This is a lot to deal with for a young person. I have to live through it. I cannot stop looking for my father. I cannot stop fighting for my mother’s freedom. This is what we do.

“This is for justice. This is for peace.”

Are you afraid for your safety? I ask this young woman.

Aya pauses. “No. Sometimes when I’m walking home from work, I imagine, what if some van abruptly stopped and tried to take me? I guess I don’t have anything left to be afraid of.”
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5 Responses to ““I Don’t Have Anything Left to be Afraid Of””

  1. Janet Bridgers Says:

    It’s a cliche, but we take so much for granted in the U.S.

  2. John Reinke Says:

    Thank you for reporting this very tragic story, Kelly. Most folks in the U.S. have no idea of the deaths and violations of human rights that are occurring in the Philippines right now!

    Included in this group are around 20 murdered pastors of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, the most recently killed of whom was Filomino Catambis. Pastor Catambis, aged 60, was gunned down on the island of Leyte on Friday, February 1st - a little over a week ago.

    I urger readers to check out the Karapatan website mentioned in Kelly\’s story.

  3. Gigi Bell Says:

    What is it about “Not an insurgent. Not a terrorist. Not even a Communist?”

    How can we even say that…how can we defend what we think is correct when we ourselves will not defend the idea?

    What is so wrong about being a communist?

    What is wrong with communism other than propagating the idea of equal opportunities and equal rights?

    I strongly disfavor what ills the current administration and the current system inflicted on all, not just Leo and Beth, but for all victims of the present system and the present status quo.

    If we want people to realize that there is a better society other than the one we have right now, why shrug the term “communism” as something so evil, we do not want any association to it?

    What is wrong when we believe in communism, other than lumping it with all the evilness of society, why not propagate the idea that it is like being in a buffet dinner where people who wanted to eat can eat what they want but not overfed themselves leaving others with none, just eating appropriately because the foods are free. Or, being in a formal sitting dinner, guests of honors have the turkey, the best wines, the white laces, the caviar, the best of it all, while leaving the servants and the onlookers to salivate, I mean just salivate by just looking at the grandeur of the feast because they can only watch but not taste it. Someday I will be sitting on that chair.

    I do not know if my point is well taken. We who believes in this idea of, not absolute, but relative equality, should we not be open about this? How can we make people realize the greatness of the idea when we ourselves wanted people to believe that Leo who believe in such idea be not a believer of that idea.

    For crying out loud that is so pathetic.

    What is wrong with communism?

    We should be explaining to people that nothing is wrong with that idea, but how could we shrug it as a pile of excrement.

    I am a communist and I am proud. I think Leo is a proud communist who wanted people to have equality and freedom from hunger and poverty.

    I know but you may say, may not feel the bereavement of the family but I know how it feels when the idea that I believe in be projected as evil. I think Leo feels the same way.

    Communism is a political-economic idea focused on the common good, what is so damn wrong about it. It is like being a believer of capitalism and Buddhism.

    My goodness, at least respect your father Aya. He is a communist, he is no murderer, he wants to serve the people.

    Why can we stop being arrogant and be in denial of something so good as being a socialist. Who believes in the good of society, not for personal interest but for all, not just ourselves?

  4. Gigi Bell Says:

    And again, why lump Communism and Socialism with Terrorism?

    Why don’t we define Terrorism and Socialism and Communism, distinguish the difference and do not lump them in such fashion of equal evilness.

  5. Gigi Bell Says:

    WHAT IS WRONG WITH COMMUNISM.

    TERRORISM IS EVIL…AND COMMUNISM TOO?

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