MANILA, Philippines — On the 42nd anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law, a poet and activist in Central Luzon got a taste of what life was like for many Filipinos under totalitarian rule.
Pia Montalban, coordinator of a support network for farmers in Hacienda Luisita, the vast Tarlac sugar estate owned by the family of President Benigno Aquino III, received threats related to her work.
Late Sunday night, Montalban posted this message on Facebook:
“Kanina may lumapit sa kin, binibigyan ako ng papel na may telephone number daw, sakali daw magbago isip ko sa ginagawa ko. Bumilis lakad ko. Ngayon katatanggap ko to mula sa isang kaibigan … so ‘pag may something, pakihanap ako sa NOLCOM.”
(“Earlier today, someone approached me, handing me a piece of paper on which was written a telephone number, just in case I changed my mind about my work. Just now I received this from a friend … so if something happens, look for me at NOLCOM.”)
NOLCOM is the military’s Northern Luzon Command based in Camp Servillano Aquino, Tarlac City, practically on the doorstep to Luisita.
Montalban accompanied her post with a screenshot of the text message sent to her by her friend, whose identity she requested not be divulged. It read:
“Pi, kanina pagbalik ko sa sasakyan ko, meron lalaki nasa tabi ng sasakyan ko. ‘… sa NOLCOM ako. Meron ka b number ni Pia. Pia Montalban. Nanjan ba cya? Saan cya sasakay sau b o sa iba?’ Sabi ko, ‘Sino un? media ba? wala ako kasamang Pia.’ Sumakay na ako at unalis na kami ng driver ko.”
(“Pi, as I was returning to my car, a man was standing next to it. ‘… I am from NOLCOM. Do you have the number of Pia. Pia Montalban. Is she there? Is she riding with you or someone else?’ I said, ‘Who is she? Is she with media? I have no companion named Pia.’ I got in and left with my driver.’”)
Responding to questions on her post sent online by InterAksyon.com, Montalban said the first incident happened during a multi-sectoral mobilization to commemorate Martial Law.
She was having statements photocopied for distribution to media at the only establishment that was open, a computer shop in front of the NOLCOM headquarters, around 1 p.m.
As she was renting a unit, Montalban said a man in civilian clothes entered the computer shop and did likewise.
“Namumukhaan ko na sumusunod sya sa martsa. Medyo napaisip pero ‘di pa kinabahan (I recognized him because he had been following the march. It made me think a bit but I wasn’t worried yet),” she said.
But as she exited the computer shop, “may nagsalita sa likod. ‘Kapag nagbago isip mo sa ginagawa mo tawagan mo kami.’ Inaabot niya ang puting papel nakatupi. Binilisan ko na lakad ko (someone spoke from behind me. ‘If you change your mind about what you’re doing call us.’ He was trying to hand me a folded piece of paper. I quickened my pace)” to where the protesters had assembled, at the nearby Plaza Luisita Complex.
“Inulit pa niya, inaabot ‘yung papel at kung magbago daw isip ko. May dagdag pa, huwag daw ako matakot (He repeated himself, trying to hand me the paper and if I changed my mind. He added that I shouldn’t be afraid),” Montalban said. “Hindi ko nahawakan ang papel. ‘Di ko siya pinansin (I didn’t take the paper. I didn’t respond to him).”
As soon as Montalban turned a corner, “dahil kita na ‘ko ng mga kasama, patakbo na ‘ko. Nagbanggit ako sa mga kaibigang magsasaka. Gusto nga nila sugurin. Wala na (because the comrades could see me, I ran to them. I told friends among the farmers what had happened. They wanted to accost the man. But he was gone).”
Montalban said she changed the shirt she was wearing and retreated somewhere safe, “malayo sa (far from the) event.”
“Baka ‘kako random lang na harrasment. Then itong message. Gabi na ‘tong message (I was thinking maybe it was random harassment. Then this message. I got this message at night),” she said.