Archival’s undoing

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014


I COULD not recall now the exact date, but it was in 1987. I was among two people who were nabbed in a raid by the combined force of two units under the Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 somewhere in Barangay Sapangdaku. My companion, an old farmer, and I were brought to one of the units’ headquarters inside Camp Sergio Osmeña.

The way that unit conducted its anti-insurgency operation at that time brought fear into the hearts of insurgents. I was therefore worried when I came face to face with its operatives.

What eased the worries a bit was when I saw at least two friends who were “detained” inside the facility but were treated leniently after deciding to cooperate with the unit’s elements. These friends tried to comfort me even as I was subjected to the usual intense interrogation.

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The office was a cramped one, with a small detention cell and a stair that led to the second floor sala and a couple of rooms. I noted that one side of the brown stair’s wooden support had blotches that were encircled with white chalk. An operative told me that these were dried bits of brain from someone who was shot while being interrogated near the stair.

I was actually prepared for any eventuality at that time, knowing how the military and police comported themselves during the Martial Law years. But it would have helped had members of my family were able to talk with me. They weren’t. I expected a lawyer to visit me, but none came, except for a lanky young man who hadn’t even taken the Bar yet.

That young man, who was almost my age, was Noel Archival and would, years later, become a prominent legal practitioner. He was working for a controversial human rights lawyer who had a conflict with the officers of the unit that snagged me. I wasn’t surprised that the unit’s officers initially made it hard for him to talk with me.

He tangled with the unit’s chief on the matter of my rights as a prisoner and got berated in the process. He was made to wait outside for a long time, but he didn’t leave. I admired his courage although I was amused by his effort to memorize and spout the principles enshrined in the Bill of Rights in such a worrisome circumstance.

When he finally was given a chance to talk with me in private, his persistence surprised me. He didn’t advise me of my rights. Rather, he repeatedly told me to stand my ground and not to be swayed by threats or abuse. He talked about his frustrations when people that he and his boss defended turned around and cooperated with the arresting unit instead.

As I said, I was already prepared for any eventuality and didn’t need the reminders.

But it was obvious that he didn’t know me well. Still, his presence, and the courage he showed under fire, helped strengthen my resolve some more. I refused to “cooperate” and was eventually charged in court and transferred to the city jail.

Archival was killed by unidentified armed men along the national highway in Dalaguete town yesterday. After he became a lawyer months after we talked, he continued to lead a life that often pushed him to the edge of danger. He took on controversial cases and often won them, at times, some would say, in equally controversial manner.

The way he tangled with the chief of the unit that arrested me reflected the kind of lawyer he later became. He wasn’t deterred by threats to his life that he encountared in the pursuit of his intentions. That may have, partly, been his undoing.

(khanwens@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 19, 2014.

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