2 p.m. April 2, 2007. Municipal Trial Court. San Francisco, Bondoc Peninsula, Quezon.
Court personnel: Criminal Case No. ____. People of the Philippines v. Edong Cantos. (not his real name).
Jae: Counsel for the Defense, your Honor. Same appearances.
Ugly opposing counsel: For the Prosecution, your Honor. Appearing for the private complainant, same appearances.
Judge: Continuation of hearing. Is the witness for the prosecution ready?
Ugly opposing counsel: Your Honor, there has been a development. I, together with the complainants, have conferred with the accused in this case. We have reached an agreement. In exchange for his future cooperation, my clients are willing to execute an affidavit of desistance.
Judge: Comment from the Defense Counsel?
Judge: Counsel, the prosecution has signified its intention to drop charges against your client. Any comment?
Jae: (ten-second pause). No Your Honor, no comment.
* * *
You want my comment, Judge? Ugly Opposing Counsel? You wanna hear it? You wanna know why I took so long to reply? You want to know the comment I dared not say in your small, hot courtroom in the middle of nowhere, ten hours away from Manila, for fear of losing my license barely ten months after getting it?
Here is my comment.
I knew about that “development”, Judge. It was whispered to me before the Court session started by the farmers I represent, the farmers of Sitio Nilantangan that Edong Cantos tilled, worked and forged hopes with. They told me that Edong had switched sides, and is now being groomed to testify on the side of the landlords against the peasants.
Hide your smirk, opposing counsel. “Conferred” indeed. Fancy language that hardly describes what you and the goons you represent did. Your men plied him with litson baboy and told him there was more of that where it came from. Edong told one of his farmer-friends that they promised him he would never go hungry again. How dare you. How dare you use his hunger as arsenal, when you caused that hunger?.You caused that hunger for three thousand farmers you have denied the right to land. You caused that hunger for twenty of their leaders that you sent to jail on various fabricated charges. You use as leverage against him a criminal case that you made up. And then to seal the deal, you threaten to hurt him if he doesn’t acquiesce or if he returns to his group of farmers. You knew he was illiterate, Counsel. Of that group, you knew he was the one who could not read or write. And you picked him out.
This wasn’ the first time you did that. You did that months before, to another farmer. You kidnapped him and forced him under duress to sign an affidavit against a farmer-leader. You did not succeed that time. He came back to us, and executed a criminal complaint against your men for Serious Illegal Detention and Obstruction of Justice. The witness whose house you ordered to be burned after he testified in court against your client? He filed a complaint for arson. What about that man whose arm your men lopped off with a bolo very recently? He can’t wait to recover and get back to community organizing. The sixty farmers you issued warrants against for qualified theft, they’re still around: angry, indignant, but always, always hopeful.
I represent brave people, Counsel. They who have the audacity to dream of a better world. They whose voices you cannot stifle. Who do you represent, Counsel? What kind of people?
Bumalik ka, Edong. Naniniwala kaming hindi mo kagustuhang sumama. Tinakot ka, binigyan ng panandaliang pamatid sa nangangalam na sikmura. Nauunawaan namin yon. Ngunit magtiwala tayo sa isa’t isa at sa lakas ng ating puwersa. Edong, lumabas na kamakailan lamang ang survey na hindi sa kanila ang lupang sinasakupan nila. May laban tayo. Kaunti nalang, Edong. Huwag tayong magpagamit sa kanila. Huwag nating hayaan na sirain nila ang ating hanay. Ituloy natin ang ating pakikibaka, ang ating pananalig, at ang ating pagpapanday para sa isang mas makatarungang lipunan at mas magandang bukas.
Hindi ako mangangakong hindi na tayo magugutom muli. O hindi na tayo mamumuhay sa takot, o binabaril ang bahay sa gabi. Ngunit tawirin natin ito, Edong. Gaya ng sabi ng paborito kong kanta, ihatid, itawid natin ang isa’t isa. Walang iwanan.
* * *
Which is not to say I’m not heartbroken. Texted Danny Carranza, a trusted friend and zealous Bondoc Pen/agrarian reform advocate, while the proceedings were going on. “Hindi yan ang una at hindi yan ang magiging huli,” he told me.
“Bata pa siguro ako, kaya sumasakit pa puso ko,” I replied.