Thursday, December 10, 2009

For pastor, film evokes torture memories

By Clarice Colting-Pulumbarit, Karen Lapitan

Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: December 09, 2009

AS SCENES of Iza Calzado and Allen Dizon being tortured flashed on-screen, Pastor Berlin Guerrero could not help remembering his own experience in the hands of his abductors, believed to be members of the military.

“Even when I watch ordinary movies, when the protagonist is captured or subjected to pain, memories flash back,” he said.

Guerrero spoke in front of students and teachers of the University of the Philippines-Los Baños on Dec. 3 when “Dukot,” which stars Calzado and Dizon, was shown. The film is about abductions and human rights violations said to be perpetrated by the military in the country.


A pastor of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), Guerrero vividly recalls the torture he suffered shortly after he was abducted on May 27, 2007, after saying Mass in Biñan town in Laguna.

For 24 hours, he was clubbed on the back with a large bottle containing mineral water, his hands shackled. Intermittently, a plastic bag covering his head was tightened until he could no longer breathe. He passed out twice.

His captors pulled and played with his nipples, taunting him that his wife and daughter were also taken and would be punished similarly.

Despite the ordeal, Guerrero said the torture was mild compared to the mutilation that others had suffered. (In “Dukot,” the abducted activists were electrocuted, raped and killed.)

Still, he said, it did not lessen the inhumanity of the crime “when freedom and rights are removed from a person and he is hidden from justice, this is already torture to the person and his family.”

More than his bruises, the psychological punishment lingers.

“When I am subjected to similar settings, such as when I go to the dentist and it is hard to breathe, I recall the torture. The thought that it could happen again also remains, as well as fear for myself, my family and the church I belong to. Seeing fear in the eyes of your loved ones is worse than the physical pain,” he said.

When Guerrero was surfaced, he was jailed in Cavite until Sept. 11, 2008, when the Court of Appeals dismissed the murder case filed against him.

Justice has not yet been served, he said. His captors have remained free and unpunished as investigations were no longer pursued.

Guerrero is trying to overcome the fear—he is still a church pastor and works with other victims of human rights violations in Southern Tagalog to attain justice.

At least three other UCCP pastors have been abducted and two have been summarily executed in the region.


Guerrero points at President Macapagal-Arroyo as the source of the human rights violations, and believes that she is running for office to evade responsibility. “It is clear who the perpetrators are, as evidenced in the Maguindanao massacre where the murderers are men in uniform and those in power.”

The mass killings in Maguindanao on Nov. 23 constitute only a small portion of the total number of cases committed against human rights in the country.

“Private armies and warlords do not exist in Mindanao alone. Even Gloria [Macapagal-Arroyo] has this tendency to use the police and military as her own private armies,” Guerrero said.

Dizon, the actor, was also present during the screening. The movie’s theme, he said, should be adopted by mainstream producers as part of industry efforts to promote social consciousness among viewers.

This, however, would be a difficult step though it could serve as a tool for safeguarding human rights—an issue that is highly relevant today, he said.

“I hope every Filipino would have a chance to watch this movie,” he said, adding that the production made him understand social issues, especially human rights.

Guerrero lauded the movie as aptly depicting the abductions and human rights violations happening in the country today.

Throughout the screening, the student viewers let out exclamations of shock and rooted for the protagonists when they were nearing escape or being found by their parents.

Ginalyn Laurenciano, a first year student, said she got carried away and cried. “I was shocked at what is being done to activists. What the parents in the movie said is true—if they broke any law, they should be sent to court, not abducted.”

Rayan Brozula, a fourth year student and secretary general of The National Union of Students of the Philippines-Southern Tagalog, said he remembered Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, two fellow UP students who were also abducted and not yet surfaced.

UPLB student activists, he said, were also being harassed and tagged as communists.

One teacher said the film was both “disturbing” and “enlightening.” The abductions really happen, she said, citing the disappearance of Empeño and Cadapan as an undeniable fact.