Dear Friends, Comrades, Supporters and Fellow Human Rights Defenders,
Assalamu Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuh!
Exactly one year ago, January 14, 2012 just at the stroke of midnight, I was with my two sons, Eeman, (17 years old) and Ameer (13 years old) in a rented house at Catalunan Grande, Davao City when combined elements of the Regional Special Action Force and Regional Intelligence Unit of the Philippine National Police led by PSupt. Fernando Ortega forcibly broke in the door in order to arrest me. As the assaulting team was still alighting their vehicles, I already noticed them from inside the house and I immediately turn on the lights. The men were in full combat attire, with long high-powered firearms, bullet-proof vests and laser night vision googles as they were under strict orientation that I am a highly dangerous target who possessed bombs and weapons.
There was still every chance for me to escape but I did not consider that option as it will just cause unnecessary commotion in the already quiet and sleeping neighbourhood. I peacefully submitted myself to the arresting team who then brought me to the Davao Medical Center for physical check-up which is a standard operating procedure.
Due to direct threats against my life, I had been running the life of a fugitive since I left my hometown in Sulu in 2009. Since then, I had been sensibly imagining the day of my arrest and have also psychologically prepared my two sons, Eeman and Ameer, on what they should do when that event will actually happen. Both of them have clear instructions whom to call on, what to do, how to conduct themselves when I will be arrested. We had been talking about this fateful event for several times. But even with the amount of preparation, nothing in my imagination actually prepared me for that day. The first thing that crossed my mind was what if they will summarily execute me. The Philippine state is notorious in its record for summary execution and political killings and Davao in particular is also infamous for the Davao Death Squad and so the idea that I may never even reach the nearest police station scared me like hell. I tried so hard to maintain presence of mind and engaged the arresting team members in a conversation. I asked them to bring me to the nearest police station so they can duly record the conduct of my arrest into the police blotter. I recalled this standard operating procedure being taught in our past human rights seminars and I have never realized until such time that such procedure could spell life and death for a person in custody.
I was fortunate enough that the arresting team led by Col. Ortega faithfully observed the procedures in conducting arrest and dutifully brought me to the Talomo Police Station. After that, I was brought to the Davao Medical Center for physical examination. There, I pleaded with Col. Ortega to return back to my house in order to check on the situation of my two minor children and to give them access to my whereabouts. Without hesitation, the good officer went back and was able meet my two lawyers who were already in the house frantically calling all police stations and military camps for my whereabouts.
Prayers throughout the night
As I left my children alone in the house that night, I prayed very hard and entrusted everything to Allah’s mantle of protection. I kept praying “Hasbunallahu Wa Ni’mal Wakeel” I trust no one besides you Ya Allah. I recited this over and over again in the course of such perilous journey where anything could just happen. There were two critical roads which I greatly feared. Going out of the subdivision, we turned left towards downtown. At that juncture, I thought, if we will turn left towards Tacunan, then something will be very very wrong as I could easily be executed there. I prayed so hard and invoked Allah’s mercy. It was such a relief that the vehicle turned right and we went towards the national highway. At that point, again, if this will turn left towards the diversion, it will another dangerous turn. I insisted that we go straight ahead because I knew that the Talomo Police Station is towards that direction. In fairness to the arresting team, they were indeed heading towards the nearest police station.
Private plane waiting
While at Camp Catitipan, I noticed that the arresting team was in a hurry and I asked why. One of them informed me that after conducting all the SOPs e.g. medical check-up, picture-taking, documents’ turnover, etc., I will already be turned over to the Military Intelligence Group who came all the way from Zamboanga City. The MIG reportedly has arranged for a private plane to take me to Jolo, Sulu. The assigned officer of the PNP asked the MIG why they are so interested on Cocoy Tulawie that they are even willing to charter a private plane to transport him to Sulu. At that point, I realized that the Governor of Sulu is obstinate in delivering a very resounding statement. That it is simply foolish of me to fight against a highly powerful and influential politician who will never hesitate to spend millions in order to silence any dissent and take full control over his own fiefdom. The chartered private plane symbolizes power, machismo, and ostentatious display of wealth which is simply a criminal act given the wallowing poverty and the suffering of the people in Sulu.
Despite a Supreme Court Order transferrin g the venue of the case from Jolo to Davao City, the MIG operatives from Zamboanga City simply wanted to deliver me to their patron so they could then collect the handsome reward. Since no amount of reasoning could convince the arresting team to wait until Monday when the courts are already open, my legal team had to call key cabinet members over the weekend just to delay my transfer to Jolo. It is noteworthy to mention here that the late Secretary Jessie Robredo readily helped us by instructing the PNP Superintendent in Region XI to suspend the transfer to Sulu to give my legal team a reasonable time to confer with the Supreme Court. The Chair of the Commission of Human Rights also burned the mobile phone lines to reach out to the Supreme Court even on a weekend.
One year after.
It has been a year since that fateful arrest on January 14, 2012. A lot of things happened since then which can perhaps be the subject in forthcoming letters from prison. What is clear though is the fact that despite the sustained campaigns and legal strategies, money and political influence remain to be my foremost obstacles to freedom. It is sad to note that despite the rightness of my cause, the public sympathy, the earnest efforts of HR groups and the CHR, the international support and a solid legal defense, my accuser can still afford to prolong my incarceration by the simple excuse of delay and by paying off each and every legal remedy via known tricks of well-oiled law firms.
From the confines of my prison though, I have learned to respect time. Never have I fully understood the virtue of “sabar” (patience) until I have lived the life of a prisoner. I have no choice but to follow routines like head count, search of contrabands, etc. It is also part of routine that I get to wear a yellow t-shirt all the time which for me could subconsciously rob me of my own identity. I realized I need to struggle to maintain my health, psychological well-being and the political will to sustain my fight not only for myself and my family but also for my people and other human rights defenders who are into far worst conditions than the one that I am currently experiencing.
I have also learned to resign everything to God’s plan and mercy. Listening to the plight of hundreds of inmates that I have encountered here, I realized that despite all the odds I am facing, I am even more fortunate than many of them. So that keeps me humble, patient and grateful with each day’s worth of blessing. In my long years as a human rights activist, it is only now that I have fully appreciated the importance of our shared advocacy and the global solidarity that connects our struggle. I feel overwhelmed by the love and support of leaders and organizations from Hong Kong, Germany, Ireland, US the European Union and all over the world most of them I have never even met before.
Just last week, during one of the weekend visits of my family, my son Ameer cried when he learned that I will have to be transferred again from Davao City to Manila after the Supreme Court approved Gov. Sakur Tan’s petition for transfer of venue. He asked me why I seem to be helpless over my own situation now when all their growing years, they looked upon their own father as a fearless defender of the rights of others. In his desperation, Ameer asked me why I could not defend my own self? Ameer’s question gave me a pang in the heart and almost crushed my spirit as a father. If I had not been tempered by the day to day survival measures of prison life, I could have just broke down and cried. Yet, I accepted his question for what it is worth. I know I have not given him a satisfactory response. I may not have the answer now but I know deep in my heart that Allah will answer my prayers in His own time.
I wish to end this letter with a thanksgiving and a deep sense of gratitude for all your support, hard work, generous assistance, prayers and well wishes in the last 12 months when I had been robbed of my freedom. Thank you for working so hard for me and my family. Let us continue working together to defend all human rights defenders in the Philippines and all over the world. I have full faith that Insha Allah, I will be able to return back to Sulu as a free man in order to continue my important mission as a human rights defender of my people.
TEMOGEN “Cocoy” Tulawie
LETTER FROM PRISON
January 14, 2013
Davao City Jail
Maa, Davao City, Philippines
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