Speak, memory
FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa () - July 21, 2007 - 12:00am

I attended the first day of the Summit on Extrajudicial Killings called by Chief Justice Reynato Puno wanting very much to listen in on the dialogue and conversations between the many groups which attended. This was, after all, the spirit in which the summit was being called.

It could not have been put better than by Justice Puno who was the host for that day. “If there are compelling reasons for this summit one of them is to prevent losing eye contact with these killings and disappearances, revive our righteous indignations and spur our united search for the elusive solution to this pestering problem.”

My problem was, like Russian author, Vladimir Nabokov, my memory kept getting in the way of listening earnestly to the conversation which as one newspaper correctly described the issue in question was ‘political’. Nabokov’s autobiographical account of his life had less to do with accurate dates, names, and addresses as regular biographies are expected to be than the memories engraved on his soul. That is why it’s very title ‘Speak, Memory’ is a string of episodes which were to him more ‘real’ than any story of his life.

Of the many memories that crowded my mind that day, one that demanded more space was Jose Ma. Sison and the Plaza Miranda bombing. I left the country just before the Plaza Miranda bombing and the suspension of the habeas corpus by President Marcos. As a journalist in Marcos’ bad books I joined in the chorus who pointed at the dictator as the culprit so that he could ‘declare martial law.’ That is exactly what happened. Marcos did declare martial law not long after the Plaza Miranda bombing. For years, that was all we were to believe until a former rebel, Victor Corpuz threw his own bombshell of a story. He announced it was not Marcos who did it but Jose Ma. Sison.

According to political analysts, Joma allegedly ordered the bombing because they believed it would provoke the declaration of martial law and therefore in his logic, hasten the revolutionary situation. In his book “Silent War” Corpus gives his credentials for making the revelations through a first-hand account of the communist insurgency in the Philippines and how he thinks it can be defeated.

But it was not just Corpus who had a story to tell. So did former Senator Jovito Salonga who was then an exile in the US. He visited us in London once and over dinner at my home, I dared to ask him what he thought of the Corpus revelations. He said “it is true”. From the most injured man to rise from the Plaza Miranda devastation, he had more right to be believed than most.

When I asked him how he knew that I vividly remembered his face and gestures then, (there’s my ‘insistent’ memory again interposing) he said “from the driver who drove the NPA bombers into the Liberal Party rally.” I noted from the Summit program that Salonga was among those who were slated to speak later that day as a representative from non-government organizations but I did not get to hear him as by then I had left the hall. I don’t know what Salonga spoke about that afternoon. But it was the memory of the conversation with him in London that was my standard for measuring the reality of the Summit event. It may be mine alone but to me it was more real than the expertise and papers being presented that day and it told me one thing: there was no way the issue of ‘extrajudicial killings’ and ‘forced disappearances’ could be satisfactorily explained without the perspective of past events and other wide ranging factors which would not and could not be addressed that day. The presentation would be too voluminous to be contained in a two-day event. This is not to blame the organizers or to belittle their work. It simply means that those who demand higher level of discernment will have to do their own homework and thinking to put the Summit in perspective.

One person who might have been able to shed more light on the Plaza Miranda bombing was top Communist leader Kintanar who was assassinated (by unknown killers). His own comrades admit he was killed not only because he knew too much but because he had dared to oppose the Utrecht command. In 1972, Kintanar was present when Danny Cordero, an able NPA commander confessed “he had thrown the grenades at Plaza Miranda in 1971 and that Sison himself had ordered the bombing.” In a flurry of faxes to media Sison accused Kintanar and two other Politburo members of being “renegades”, “enemy agents” and “gangsters.” Kintanar returned the compliment and called him a “dictator”, “Stalinist” and “dogmatist.” The CPP announced later that Kintanar, Filemon Lagman and other “rejectionist” leaders would be tried by “people’s courts” and meted out death sentences.  Lagman was also gunned down by unknown killers.

*   *   *

As I left the Summit hall, the thought came to me why the case of Joma Sison and the Plaza Miranda bombing has not been pursued in court in all these years. Several people died in that bombing, there were witnesses and they are still alive to tell the story. Certainly Major General Victor Corpus should be called as a living witness before he too will no longer be able to do so. So should Senator Salonga. Here we were discussing how the law must be made to bear on those who would take lives in their hands, whether they are military or NPA when the alleged mastermind of Plaza Miranda remained at a distance mouthing human rights violations?

Has anyone in government dared to propose that perhaps Sison should be charged with murder for Plaza Miranda and brought to court. They say this cannot be done there is no extradition treaty with the Netherlands. But given the gravity of the issue, a case could be made with the Netherlands government, which by the way is a member of the European Union. Ms. Abigail Jan Hansen-Goldman who came with the support from the EU presented the paper, Law, War and Ending Silence: Command Responsibility and Extrajudicial Killings and Due Process and the Special Courts.”

By the way the name of the UN rapporteur is Philip Alston not Stephen as I had written in my column “Loading the dice.” But as Nabokov’s story telling through memories, the name will hardly matter. More important and certainly worth probing is how the UN rapporteur came to this role. It may be because the UN carries the weight of impartiality. Fortunately, many Filipinos are more aware today than they were during Marcos’ martial law to resist black and white statements on allegations of human rights violations with an ongoing insurgency and internal warfare.

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