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MY EXPERIENCE OF IMPRISONMENT AND TORTURE

By Prof. Jose Maria Sison
Founding Chairman, Communist Party of the Philippines
Chief Political Consultant, National Democratic Front of the Philippines
March 15, 2008

I have been informed that the International Action Committee Stuttgart, an organization in which Turkish, Palestinian and German people work together, is holding this forum to commemorate Political Prisoners Day. Thus, I have been invited to speak on my experience of imprisonment and torture in the Philippines, together with two other former political prisoners who shall speak about their own experiences in Turkey-Kurdistan and Palestine.

I thank the organizers for inviting me. And I wish to express my warmest greetings of solidarity to all those who are present and to all the people in organizations that are represented here. I have strongly wished to be with you tonight. But unfortunately, the Dutch authorities do not issue travel papers to me for attending this forum. We have to resort therefore to the audio-visual techniques that are available to us.

As instructed by the organizers, particularly by Ms. Elsbeth Sureau, I intend to present to you the following: 1. a summary of my imprisonment and torture, 2. the reasons for imprisonment and the political situation then obtaining in my country, 3. the protest and resistance within and outside prison, and 4. the perspectives. I shall use 15 minutes to speak and let the German translation run for another 15 minutes. I shall answer your questions in the open forum.

Under the Marcos fascist dictatorship, the Philippine military raided a house in Barrio Pagdalagan del Norte in San Fernando, La Union and arrested me and four other comrades in the wee hours of 10 November 1977. They handcuffed us and brought us in a convoy of cars to the intelligence headquarters of the Philippine Constabulary at Camp Crame in Metro Manila. Then close to noontime I was brought to President Marcos himself with whom I debated for about thirty minutes. I was brought back to Camp Crame. At around midnight I was brought to the national headquarters of the Philippine Army, Fort Bonifacio, where I would be detained until 5 March 1986,

I was put in solitary confinement in handcuffs in a small cell, with a boarded up window and a solid door with small bay window that opened only when the guards and inspectors checked my presence in the cell. In relays, teams of investigators came to my cell in order to interrogate me on 11 and 12 November 1977. They were interested in asking me only a few questions, such as who succeeded me in the position of Chairman of the Central Committee (CC) of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), where was he and where the offices of the Central Committee were located. They could not get anything from me. I always invoked the right to remain silent.

On 13 November 1987 I was manacled behind my back, forced to sit on a chair and my legs were fettered together. I was blindfolded with my own shirt and then with another piece of cloth. Then someone was hitting me with fist blows on various parts of my body and threatening to bump my head against the wall. The most painful blows I received were on my floating ribs and solar plexus. The one hitting me was asking so many questions to betray comrades and allies. But I refused to answer. When I noticed after a hour that I was not being hit on the face, I thought that I would be presented in public soon and I became even more determined to resist the interrogation.

I was not given food and drink and was kept awake by guards who kept on making threats. Then I was subjected to one variant of the so-called water cure. I was laid on my back on an army cot, with my hands and legs attached by irons to each side of the cot. A small towel was put on my mouth and a hand held my mouth shut. Water from a pail was ladled to my nostrils with the use of a dipper. I had the repeated sensation of being drowned to death. The interrogators were repeatedly asking questions, probably 100 to 200 questions, for a period of six hours. I refused to give any answer that would betray anyone in the revolutionary movement. In the later part of the torture, one of my torturers commented that I would have a heart attack if the torture continued. The torture stopped.

The blatantly physical tortures applied on me was always accompanied by threats of worse punishment as well as death. I came to know by experience that every kind of torture had physical and psychological aspects, with one aspect being principal and the other being secondary. The worst kind of torture that I suffered in my nearly ten years of imprisonment was solitary confinement for a total of more than five years. The principal aspect of this torture was psychological. What was most agonizing and excruciating was that I did not know when this kind of torture would end. At the same time, the physical aspect of the torture was being attached by irons to the cot in a small cell with boarded-up windows and with a solid door.

I was arrested and imprisoned because I was the Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines and I had been fighting from the underground against the US-directed Marcos regime since 1968. I was accused of subversion and rebellion. But it took Marcos more than a year before I could be presented to any of the two military commissions he assigned to stage farcical trials against me. I made no plea to each one of the two military commissions on the ground that I did not recognize them as legitimate courts, inasmuch as I was a civilian and the civilian courts were functioning. To prevent the fascist dictatorship from rushing me to my death, my lawyers argued against every foul move of the military commissions and went to the Supreme Court on one petition for habeas corpus after another.

Our legal strategy was to gain time and prevent the rapid conclusion of the military trials against me. My lawyers and I were successful in this regard. We were sure that the crisis of the ruling system was becoming worse from year to year, the broad masses of the people were outraged by the escalating level of oppression and exploitation and the revolutionary forces and people led by the CPP were steadily gaining in strength. In 1983 the Marcos made his worst political mistake by having his chief political rival Benigno Aquino killed at the airport upon his arrival.

This flagrant act of murder would rouse the broad masses of the people to launch ever growing protest mass actions. At the same time, the NPA was intensifying tactical offensives against the reactionary army and police forces. Ultimately, the US, the bishops of the Catholic and other Christian churches and most sections of the comprador big bourgeoisie and landlord class gave up on Marcos. Thus, he could be ousted from power by a convergence of contrary forces with contradictory motives, ranging from those of the Left to the Right.

The political prisoners launched various forms of resistance inside prison. For the purpose of advancing the revolution, they engaged in ideological, political, cultural, economic and technical studies. They built Party groups, mass formations and protest committees . They issued statements and carried out mass protests. They did alliance work among prisoners and visitors of various political persuasions. The association of former political prisoners kept on growing outside prison and became a powerful political force with a broad united front character.

I had a great disadvantage in being in solitary confinement most of the time. At the same time, I was a symbolic figure for other political prisoners and the broad masses of the people to rally to because of the extreme forms of human rights violations inflicted on me.And I did everything I could in order to smuggle out statements and poems to rouse the people to fight the Marcos fascist dictatorship. Every time there was a hearing of my cases before the military commissions and the Supreme Court I could pass on my writings to my lawyers. Eventually I found more ways of smuggling out my writings. I was highly conscious of demonstrating to the people that I could resist the enemy even as I was in extremely difficult conditions. I always hoped that somehow I could inspire the people to fight.

Outside of prison, the growing revolutionary forces of the people and the broad united front of patriotic and progressive forces against the fascist dictatorship were ever growing in strength. At the same time, the campaigns for solidarity and support among the peoples abroad were likewise ever growing. Parliamentarians, trade unionists, women activists, youth activists, academics, professionals, scientists, artists, religious leaders, human rights workers and all other kinds of people supported the political prisoners in the Philippines and their just cause of fighting for national liberation, democracy, social justice, development and peace.

When one is in prison, especially if one is in solitary confinement like me, it is of utmost importance to always keep in mind that the broad masses of the people and definite progressive organizations outside of prison in the Philippines and the world at large continue to fight and provide ample support for the just cause. The political prisoners must remain resolute and militant against all attempts of the enemy to divide and demoralize them through tactics of sheer intimidation or carrots and sticks. When I was arrested and presented to Marcos, I told him that he could imprison me but not the revolutionary movement. In my most difficult times in solitary confinement, when the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks and months were like tons of lead falling on my brain, I kept on telling myself that "every day that passes is a day closer to my freedom". Ultimately, I was set free by the revolutionary mass movement.

When I was arrested on 28 August 2007 by the Dutch authorities, I was reminded of my terrible experience under the Marcos fascist dictatorship. At the same time, I thought that I could prevail over the false charge of inciting murder in the Philippines because of my long experience of resistance in prison. I was firm in asserting my innocence and invoking my right to remain silent. Eventually, the decisions of the district court of The Hague on 13 September 2007 and the Court of Appeal on 3 October 2007 set me free from preventive detention in solitary confinement. My lawyers proved to be excellent in my defense. And I also benefited from the solidarity and active support of peoples and their organizations throughout the world.

But my ordeal in The Netherlands and in Europe has not come to an end because the Dutch authorities and the Council of the European Union are quoting out of context certain statements in the aforesaid court decisions that I continue to play a prominent role in the activities of the Philippine revolutionary movement. They are now using said statements to claim that the Dutch courts have found me liable for "terrorism" and to misrepresent the movement for national liberation, democracy, justice, development and peace as "terrorism". I continue to need the expertise of my lawyers as well as the solidarity and support of the peoples of the world in the struggle for justice against my persecution. Thank you. ###

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