Regional Trial court Judge Ester Veloso subpoenaed me to testify in the libel case filed by prosecutor Mary Ann Castro against lawyer Vicente Fernandez II last July 29. I don’t know the main protagonists of the case personally although both are personalities that figured in the news at one time or another, so I was familiar with their names.
It was good that lawyer Lani Reso-or accompanied me to the court or I would have been at a loss about what to do. Still, that wasn’t the first time I actually testified in court. In 1989 (or was it 1988?) I was detained in a military camp and was asked to testify a couple of times against my former comrades. I was supposed to be in rehabilitation so I wasn’t able to refuse the prodding of my captors.
It’s not fun facing people whom you consider family only months before. The first case involved people who were superior to me in the underground movement and all of whom I respected. I looked away and stared either at the ceiling or at the wall, imagining I was in a different place. I could have cried but fought off the urge. Dialectical materialism told me to accept reality.
I can still remember the spectacle of government prosecutors and human rights lawyers tangling in front of Judge Burgos (I forgot his first name). Gloria Lastimosa-Marcos (now Dalawampu), who was then the lead prosecutor, was as sharp as she could be at that time. Among the counsels for the defense were Vic Balbuena (now dead) and Democrito Barcenas.
I remember Balbuena whispering thanks to me “for being truthful” and not allowing myself to be used by the military to twist facts just to pin down the accused. During a lull in the hearing, one of the accused, a woman, approached me saying she understood my situation and couldn’t I ask to be relocated to another province instead so I won’t be used for propaganda purposes? I told her Cebu was the only home I knew.
A major twist was Balbuena waving the warrant of arrest issued against me a couple of years before. I was arrested in 1987 and charged with rebellion (the first one to face such a case in Cebu under the Cory Aquino administration).
I was detained at the Bagong Buhay Rehabilitation Center and freed a few months later after the Task Force Detainees helped me post a bail bond. It turned out the release order was signed by another judge so that when the original one discovered it he promptly issued a warrant for my arrest. I did the next best thing, which was to go back to the underground.
Defense lawyers asked the judge to effect the warrant of arrest apparently to wean me away from my captors. Judge Burgos asked around for a police officer to formalize my arrest, an awkward move actually because I was already under detention and was a government witness. Anyway, I was brought after the hearing to the then Metrodiscom chief Panfilo Lacson, who then remanded me again to the military.
Months later I testified again, this time against a woman friend (she’s now with the local media years after she was amnestied). Suffice it to say that those months were the lowest of my life, one that still haunts me almost two decades later.