I HAVEN'T seen a scene like this after former dictator Ferdinand Marcos was ousted 31 years ago today. Sen. Leila de Lima surrendered yesterday morning to the police after a warrant of arrest was issued against her a day before by a court in Muntinlupa. She was promptly brought to the court, with her supporters ensuring she would be safe. Lawyer Alex Padilla attended to the legal concerns surrounding her arrest.

I was a college student when military men arrested around 20 alleged subversives in a raid on a couple or so of “safehouses” in Cebu City in 1980. A military tribunal handled their case and it was heard at Camp Sergio Osmeña, which was then the headquarters of the Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police (PC-INP) 7.

We knew that justice could not be had in a case heard by a military tribunal, so we set a protest action in one of the hearings. Unknown to the members of the tribunal, those arrested brought with them cut masking tapes.

When the hearing started, they placed the masking tapes on their mouth to symbolize lack of freedom. One of them who didn’t tape his mouth then recited Amado Hernandez’s poem, “Lumuha Ka Aking Bayan” while the students who were in the audience shouted slogans. The military tribunal eventually had enough of it, cut off the proceedings and proceeded to haul the prisoners to the vehicle and back to the detention center.

Padilla is a law practitioner, but he surely wasn’t one when human rights lawyers did their thing under the dictatorship. I still see former senator Rene Saguisag being interviewed about recent developments, but he he has been slowed down by age. When he was younger, he used to do battle with the dictatorship’s lawyers in the defense of those arrested for trumped up charges. In the face of power, they were masters of brinkmanship.

There was this story, for example about a hearing wherein Saguisag’s passionate defense of his client earned him the ire of the court (was it a military tribunal?). He reportedly was fined for his excessive arguing, took money from his wallet, paid the fine and continued his harangue, was fined again and again paid the fine. Of course, there were also the late Jose Diokno of the Free Legal Assistance Group and even Aquilino Pimentel Jr., father of Senate President Aquilino III.

Interestingly, the dictatorship almost always made heroes out of those arrested and charged for their beliefs. Arrests are badge of honors in those times because those arrested were perceived as the oppressed being victimized by ruthless oppressors. I am not saying that this is happening to Delima although she is perceived as a martyr now by her supporters. A good number of people, mostly avid supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte hate her guts.

There are those who already adjudged her as guilty and ridicule her when given the chance. Party-list Rep. Harry Roque, for example, insinuated that de Lima wanted to be jailed in a military camp “dahil maraming lalaki doon.” This just shows how factionalized our setup is, just like during the waning years of the Marcos dictatorship.