Monthly Archives: May 2012

From NOT ON OUR WATCH, a book of martial law recollections: the full text of “Lest We Forget” by Roberto Verzola

The book NOT ON OUR WATCH by Jo-Ann Maglipon (ed.) is now in bookstores, after a successful launching at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, Central Bank Bldg., last May 10.

I wrote a chapter in that book, which is entitled “Lest We Forget”. The chapter includes my personal account of the torture I suffered under the military, the first time I tell the full story in public.

If you want the full text of this chapter, please click on this link: Full text of the chapter,

My online version is slightly different from the book version due to minor editing changes.

Some excerpts: (p.155-158)

Sometime in the afternoon, still within the critical twenty-four hour period after our arrest, my name was called. I braced myself for another round of interrogation. It was Esguerra and a few more officers. I repeated my Story, which no one believed, of course. So they made me do a “squat jump.” With one foot forward and the other back, you squat first, then jump as high as you can, falling with the other foot forward. Then you jump again, for as many times as you can. Until I could barely stand. No body contact at all. Esguerra told me, “O hindi yan torture ha! (See, that’s no torture!) We do that to PMA cadets all the time!” Well, I’ll take the “squat jump” over blows to the solar plexus anytime. After the session, my legs hurt so much and I couldn’t walk by myself. Two men had to assist me on the way back.

But I was not going back to the ISAFP jail cell. I was being “borrowed” by another intelligence unit for further interrogation. ISAFP had its methods; Metrocom intelligence had its own. Metrocom was the Metropolitan Command of the Philippine Constabulary (PC), headed then by Gen. Fidel Ramos. Lieutenant __ Garcia of the Metrocom Intelligence and Security Group (MISG) took me to Camp Panopio along EDSA near the PC headquarters. He made a perplexing comment which made sense only later, “So, you’re taking up electrical engineering!”

The MISG office was bigger than the ISAFP office I saw. It was longish, and the middle served as an aisle separating a row of perhaps eight to ten tables. I was taken to the far corner, on the right. With Garcia was a senior officer whose name escapes me now. After the usual questions, I told them the Story. They didn’t believe me. They gave me paper and time to write my personal background and history in the movement. Same Story. Then they brought in the Machine. Two lengths of wire extended from it, both ending with bare wire, the insulation stripped. One end was tied around the handle of a spoon. The Machine is a field telephone generator. It has a wheel with a handle. The wheel turns a dynamo, which generates electricity that causes a distant telephone to ring. An operator at the distant end picks up the phone, and the two ends can talk. The field generator probably generates forty to sixty volts and, if turned really fast, may give as high as ninety volts or even more. The standard house wiring in the Philippines is 220 volts. In the U.S. it is 110. My interrogators tied the end of one wire around my right index finger and inserted the spoon into my pants, on my right waist, until it rested where the leg meets the lower abdomen, near the crotch. My body would complete the circuit.

When I was young, I used to watch my uncles and older cousins as they slaughtered a pig. As soon as the pig realized something bad was going to happen, it would shriek for dear life. It was a grating shriek of helplessness, desperation, and terror, one that rang in your mind long after the pig was dead. It was that kind of scream that issued from my throat every time my torturers spun the wheel around. It was totally involuntary, the automatic response of a body invaded by an alien current of a thousand spikes snaking through one’s cells and nerves. I could stifle it no more than I could stop my hand from jerking away when shocked briefly by live house wiring.

Across the aisle were two civilian Metrocom employees. They were women, apparently on overtime. They went on with their work, as if they heard or saw nothing. Business as usual. No sign of surprise or concern. Metrocom apparently used the electric shock treatment often enough to make its civilian employees inured to screams.

Since it was mid- to late afternoon by the time we got to the Metrocom headquarters, I knew that my twenty-four-hour margin was almost up. I had already missed several meetings. Within twenty-four hours, houses whose locations I knew would be abandoned. In those twenty-four hours, I had forced myself to forget all the names and aliases I had ever heard in the underground. (As a consequence, my memory of people’s names has been bad ever since.) I also realized that the smallest information the MISG got from me now would only lead to more questions and further interrogation. And if I gave some more, then they would want even more, and the torture would not stop until I had given all. So I’d have to spill all, or nothing. At this time, they were still asking me details about the story I had made up. And we all knew that this was leading to a dead end.

Eventually, they moved the spoon’s position so that it now cupped my genitals. The senior officer had become so exasperated by this time that he spun the wheel really hard, earning them a particularly bad case of screaming. He admonished me, “Ang hirap sa iyo, alam mo na, na alam namin, na nagsisinungaling ka, ipinipilit mo pa rin ang istorya mo! Kaya pala Obet ang pangalan mo, e. Obstinate ka!” (“The problem with you is, you know that we know that you are telling us lies. Yet, you insist on your story! So that’s why your name is Obet. You’re obstinate!” I thought back: Well, it’s all or nothing. Whether my twenty-four hours are up or not yet, I choose nothing.

Spin a wheel. All or nothing?

Nothing. Like Basilio.

When they escorted me to my cell, I was utterly exhausted, physically and emotionally. But I was at peace with myself.

A day after, the jailers brought in a new detainee. It was Jun Suarez, who handled the printing of Taliba ng Bayan! I stared at him, unbelieving. I was never even asked about it, so how did they trace him? Apparently, Jun’s wife, who was a journalist, was under suspicion and placed under surveillance. That led the military to their home, where Jun kept the printing paraphernalia. So, the “sunog” (series of raids) was still raging.

One or two nights after that, we were telling each other stories to pass the time and distract ourselves from the tension. Onie was telling us about his girlfriend, who had broken up with him, a real sob story. Then it was the turn of somebody else, who ended up telling us about his girl too. After he gave a detailed description, Onie’s ears perked up. He was suddenly curious. Then Onie asked, pointing to his face, “Did she have a mole here?” Silence. When it dawned on us that he thought that was his girlfriend, we all spontaneously erupted into hard, long, boisterous, tearful laughter. As the laughter rolled on and on, we sensed that the tone had gradually shifted, and it was now directed at our jailers. As it died down, someone shouted a defiant, “’Tang ‘na ‘nyo!” (cuss words are the same in any language, aren’t they?) That triggered another round of even more boisterous, intentionally louder laughter, directed this time at more than our jailers. It sounded like we wanted the whole camp – no, the whole city – to hear our taunts. In the darkest days of martial rule in the Philippines, inside a cramped jail cell in a military camp that housed captives with battered bodies, unbroken human spirits proclaimed their freedom and flaunted their defiance of dictatorship with contemptuous laughter at their military captors and the authoritarian system that jailed them. I slept well that night.