MANILA, Philippines - “Tinuod na, Sir (It is true, Sir),” was the repeated response made by 22-year-old farmer Luicito Bustamante to Davao City Regional Trial Court Executive Judge Isaac Robillo when he was confronted, paragraph by paragraph, on the contents of his supposed affidavit. The confrontation took place last Wednesday during the summary hearing on the petition for a writ of amparo filed by Luicito’s mother on Nov. 7, 2007.
Luicito’s mother, Bebelita, filed the writ of amparo more than a week after he was reported taken Oct. 27 by armed paramilitary men in the hinterlands of Paquibato, Davao City. The paramilitary group led by one Noli Obat, a leader of a religious sect, tagged Luicito as an NPA member.
During the court hearing, Bebelita was visibly distraught as the haggard-looking and visibly disturbed Luicito told Judge Robillo that he was a former NPA who voluntarily surrendered to the military through Obat. “Bakak man na (Those are lies),” Bebelita vehemently protested as her tears welled. Her son is an ordinary farmer, she asserted. Luicito’s two friends, who were also present in court, also shook their heads in disbelief; they were with Luicito and saw that he was even crying when forcibly taken by Obat’s group.
Luicito’s affidavit, cleanly printed in English, was accompanied by Visayan translations. It was supposedly subscribed before a public prosecutor in Davao del Norte on Nov. 8—curiously, only a day after Judge Robillo granted the writ of amparo requiring the respondents, which included President Macapagal-Arroyo, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon and several other military and police officials in the Davao region to produce the young farmer in court on Nov. 14.
On questioning by lawyers from the IBP-Davao City Chapter, Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) and Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), which acted as counsels of Bebelita, Luicito admitted that he can hardly read, even the Visayan translations of his affidavit. When asked who prepared his affidavit, Luicito pointed to a lawyer representing the military, who prepared it inside a military camp in Davao City.
Luicito was obviously under “duress.” In fact, Sheriff Serge Tupas claimed that Luicito was presented as “detainee” to him by Obat when he served the writ of amparo.
The hearing lasted less than two hours. Judge Robillo then declared that Luicito can now “move freely” without further restrictions on his liberty and security.
Luicito initially declared he wanted to be under Obat’s custody. Yet, after the hearing, when lawyer Manuel Quibod, IBP-Davao City president, thoroughly explained the extent of Judge Robillo’s order, Luicito told his military escorts that he decided to be with his mother Bebelita. Quibod, by then, already knew why Luicito “changed” his decision.
Then, barely an hour after he regained his “freedom,” Luicito showed to his mother, siblings and members of Karapatan the “real” reasons behind his court testimony: cigarette burn marks on his neck and back and his severely scarred ankles, which days before had been tied with wires.
He also recalled several occasions during his captivity that he was blindfolded and severely beaten by his captors. At one instance, the severe beatings caused him to urinate and defecate in his pants. Apparently the indignity done to him was not enough, he was also forced to swallow his own feces. He also recalled an instance where his head was wrapped with hot pepper-laced cellophane, causing a severe burning sensation on his nose, eyes and entire face, while he gasped for breath.
Luicito admitted that he was “too scared and confused,” thus, he agreed to follow the instructions of his captors during the hearing of the writ. “They told me that I should tell the court what they wanted me to say so that no one gets hurt … but all that was said was not true.” He was relating his ordeal by bits and pieces, at times in tears. He does not want to go back to their place, Luicito said, the trauma of his 20-day captivity sadly etched on his face.
Luicito’s amparo application was the second one filed by the IBP, UPLM and FLAG in Mindanao, following the writ’s introduction by the Supreme Court as a remedy for extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances. The first one was filed in Pagadian City, which resulted in the release Nov. 7 of Ruel Muñasque, a leader of the Christian Youth Fellowship-United Church of Christ in the Philippines and Bayan Muna organizer, after 14 days in military custody. Just like Luicito, Muñasque initially claimed that he voluntarily surrendered to the military but later recanted in court.
Incidentally, Luicito’s amparo application was filed and granted a day after Chief Justice Reynato Puno lectured judges, prosecutors, lawyers, police and military officials in Davao City on the significance of the writ in the protection of human rights. Puno also urged the public to “use amparo” because it is “free” since no docket fee is required.
Indeed, amparo turned out to be not only free but, more importantly, powerful enough to secure the freedom of Luicito and Ruel.