ED­I­TO­RIAL! In place of barbed wires

Sun.Star Pampanga - - TOPSTORIES! -

THE lan­guage of the barbed wire needs no trans­la­tion.

Ar­rested in 1974 dur­ing the crack­down of dis­si­dents when the coun­try was un­der mar­tial law, Dolores “Dee” Stephens Fe­ria was im­pris­oned for two years with­out charges. Through­out her im­pris­on­ment, she kept a di­ary.

This record rep­re­sents, “in terms of clock time,” the “two years, two months and 17 days” of her in­car­cer­a­tion. Fe­ria smug­gled out th­ese ac­counts in “two-by-eight-inch scraps of folded onion skin” when she was re­leased from a mil­i­tary camp in 1976.

Edited by Fe­ria un­til her death on Mar. 22, 1992, “Project Sea Hawk: The Barbed Wire Jour­nal” was pub­lished in 1993. In his in­tro­duc­tion, her col­league Petron­ilo Bn. Daroy wrote that Fe­ria in­ten­tion­ally an­gered sol­diers to dis­tract them when they raided the de­ten­tion cen­ters to keep them from thor­oughly search­ing her things and dis­cov­er­ing her di­ary.

Know­ing that she would be bod­ily searched be­fore her re­lease, Fe­ria smug­gled out the slips of pa­per in the “only way anatom­i­cally pos­si­ble,” wrote Daroy.

The book’s sig­nif­i­cance and con­tin­u­ing rel­e­vance to Filipinos and other cit­i­zens fac­ing the cul­ture of the barbed wire in its many guises and trans­mu­ta­tions is its au­then­tic­ity and hon­esty in doc­u­ment­ing how peo­ple strug­gled un­der and re­sisted state repr essi on.

The costs of wit­ness­ing and ex­er­cis­ing the free­dom of ex­pres­sion with­out fet­ters im­posed by one­self and oth­ers, es­pe­cially in­stru­ments of the state that gag and si­lence crit­ics, can be gleaned from the sac­ri­fices of Fe­ria in first keep­ing the jour­nal and later pre­par­ing it for pub­li­ca­tion.

“The prospect of be­ing able to at­test to the hor­rors of Mar­cos rule, of be­ing able to record the hu­man con­di­tion in the de­ten­tion cen­ters some­how al­le­vi­ated the dread of be­ing tor­tured or pun­ished and put in soli­tary con­fine­ment. Writ­ing had be­come a historical and moral— even ge­netic— re­spon­si­bil­ity,” Daroy wrote.

It was only af­ter 1986 that she found the courage to un­fold those slips of pa­per. “There would be no more diaries, no more jour­nals away from the coils of barbed wire. I would not write any­thing of im­por­tance again... I had been pushed against the wall in a spe­cial form of in­ner si­lence— a breed of hu­mil­i­a­tion known only to those who work with their heads. They who have learned that rape can also as­sume many vari­a­tions, the least of which is phys­i­cal.”

Shar­ing the Filipinos’jour­ney started when Fe­ria sup­ported Filipino work­ers and joined them at picket lines in the West Coast. Af­ter World War II, she joined her Filipino hus­band Ro­drigo when he re­turned to the Philippines. They first taught at the Sil­li­man Univer­sity in Du­maguete City and later

at the Univer­sity of the Philippines (UP) Dil­i­man, where she be­came a fac­ulty mem­ber of the De­part­ment of English and Com­par­a­tive Lit­er­a­ture.

She be­came a mem­ber of the Aca­demic Free­dom Group, which at­tracted mil­i­tary sur­veil­lance. De­bunk­ing Mar­cos’s no­tion of a “hu­mane mar­tial law” as a “a fatu­ous de­cep­tion even at its best,” she wrote that Project Sea Hawk was the code for a covert Philip­pine mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion that in­volved keep­ing thick dossiers for more than 12 years on dis­senters, which jus­ti­fied the “light­ning strikes af­ter mid­night or be­fore dawn” to cap­ture, tor­ture, and ex­tract in­for­ma­tion from “sub­ver­sives”.

Fe­ria wrote her di­ary en­tries “be­fore sun­rise, the only safe time”. Af­ter “fac­ing the void in the dark night,” Fe­ria re­solved to write and safe­guard the di­ary. “An even sad­der time (than be­ing called liars) will come when this painful pe­riod in our his­tory will be for­got­ten, or pi­ously di­luted... Some­one has to write th­ese things down.”

Fe­ria was pre­scient, fore­see­ing how, some 50 years later, historical re­vi­sion­ism and al­ter­na­tive facts can col­o­nize the past and hostage the truth. Be­yond the grave, her wit­ness­ing rei­fies how we should con­tinue to de­fend and up­hold the right to free­dom of ex­pres­sion in the face of state re­pres­sion to si­lence dis­sent, crit­i­cism, and par­tic­i­pa­tion in gov­er­nance.— Sun­nex

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