By RONALYN V. OLEA
Covering human-rights issues enabled me to meet wonderful people. These include Jose “Bong” Barsoles and Romeo “Tatay Romy” Luneta, both victims of torture during martial law. News of their passing away — Ka Bong on June 29 and Tatay Romy on July 9 — saddens me.
I was struck by their resilience. In my separate interviews with them, Tatay Romy and Ka Bong narrated how they endured the torture at the hands of their captors. After being released from prison, it would have been easy to just forget but both chose to continue the struggle to achieve justice. They are among the 9,539 original petitioners to the class suit filed against the Marcoses in 1986.
I always saw them during protest actions of Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda) demanding just compensation for victims of the Marcos dictatorship. They also attended rallies condemning extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and other human rights violations.
During my last interview with Ka Bong in March 2011, he could not believe that he was delisted from the list of original complainants. He did not receive a single centavo from the $10-million settlement agreement with a Marcos crony awarded by a district court in the United States.
Tatay Romy, meanwhile, gave me a phone call after the dialogue of Selda with House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte in January this year. He would have joined the dialogue had he not fell twice that morning.
Fr. Diony Cabillas of Iglesia Filipina Independiente, one of the leaders of Selda, captured the poignancy that comes with their death. He wrote this after Ka Bong died –
Pumanaw ka na hindi man lang nasaksihan ang maraming palakpak ng ating kasamahan at sambayanang Pilipino sa pagsasabatas ng Kumpensasyon sa mga biktima ng martial law.
Pumanaw ka na walang naririnig mula sa Pangulo ng Pilipinas na kinikilala ang mga aktibista noong martial law na nagbuwis ng buhay at ang mga buhay pa ngayon na mahina ang tuhod, may sakit o may karamdaman kahit man lang sa pag-ukit ng kanilang pangalan sa mga monumento sa mga publikong lugar bilang pagkilala sa kanilang kabayanihan.
(You died without witnessing the applause of our colleagues and of the Filipino people with the passage of a compensation law for martial-law victims.
You died without hearing the president of this republic recognizing the contributions of activists of martial law who offered their lives and those who are still alive but whose knees are already weak or are already sick. They got nothing, not even the engraving of their names in public monuments as recognition of their heroism.)
During his second State of the Nation Address, Aquino pledge to provide compensation for martial law victims but the bill remains pending. The Lower House passed its version of the indemnification bill, House Bill 5990 on March 21 but the Senate’s version, Senate Bill 2615 is still with the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
Compensation is not about money. Tatay Romy said, in one of my interviews with him. He added that no amount would be enough to compensate for the crimes of the Marcoses. “If they [Marcoses] would be punished, our sufferings would not be for naught,” he said.
Yes, he and Ka Bong fought for justice but they bore no illusions. In his own words, Tatay Romy said, referring to President Benigno Aquino III: “He, like the Marcoses, belongs to the ruling elite. They wish to preserve the status quo.”
Ka Bong and Tatay Romy are testimonies to how elusive justice is in this land. Ka Bong and Tatay Romy inspire others to continue fighting for justice. They might not have seen the fruits of their struggle but they had committed their whole lives to it nevertheless.