Not if he hasn’t changed since Martial Law
By Raïssa Robles
Father Joaquin Bernas has built a formidable reputation as an intellectual priest. One who has put together his vast knowledge of Catholic Theology with that of Philippine Law and Constitution.
Early this week, I stumbled on a document dating back to those dark years of Martial Law that showed Fr. Bernas in a different light. It showed what stuff he was made off in those trying times when civil liberties and human rights were systematically abused.
The document narrated the raid at the Loyola House of Studies inside the Ateneo de Manila University Katipunan campus by the dreaded Metrocom on April 10,1978.
One 17-year-old student named Teotimo Tantiado was picked up and whisked away.
Five days after the raid, the Jesuits sent over one of their priests to the Metrocom headquarters to inquire about Tantiado. They had received reports that the student was in the hands of Metrocom Colonel Rolando Abadilla. The priest was assured that Tantiado was alright.
The Jesuits learned to their shock afterwards that Teotimo Tantiado had died that same day at V. Luna Hospital of “mysterious causes.”
A week later on April 22, the Armed Forces of the Philippines under General Fabian Ver confirmed his death in a press release which said:
A joint investigative panel of representatives of the Jesuit priests and the Philippine Constabulary ruled out foul play into the recent death of a Filipino youth previously arrested on suspicion of involvement in subversive activities.
Notice that the press release did not say that the authorities had evidence to show Teotimo Tantiado was involved in subversive activities. It merely said he was “arrested on suspicion of involvement.”
During the 14 years of Martial Law, thousands just like Tantiado were similarly “arrested on suspicion of involvement in subversive activities.” And it is for this reason why the Marcos presidency is to be harshly condemned and Mr. Marcos should not be elevated a hero.
But I digress from the topic at hand.
Two days after the military press release was issued, Bulletin Today, which was controlled by Marcos crony Hans Menzi, bannered the story on its front page with this headline – Rule Out Foul Play in Death of Detainee.
Other Marcos-controlled newspapers – Times Journal and the Daily Express – followed the same propaganda line.
The Jesuits could have left well enough alone. During those terrifying times, silence was the better part of valor for most Filipinos.
The Minister of the Department of National Defense Juan Ponce Enrile – boy, does that name sound familiar – anyway, his own office also said it had ruled out foul play in the sudden death of a healthy college kid “arrested on suspicion of involvement in subversive activities.”
But the Jesuit provincial superior then – a Filipino named Father Joaquin Bernas – decided to fire the first salvo. He immediately issued a carefully worded press release. It merely said – “no Jesuit had a part in preparing that release” issued by the military which had said that Jesuit priests had taken part in a joint investigation to determine the student Teotimo Tantiado’s cause of death.
The lawyer-priest Bernas had in effect called the military top leadership, including its commander-in-chief Marcos, and Martial Law administrator Enrile – liars.
To drive home the point even further, a group of Jesuit piests personally signed and issued a separate press release saying:
We wish to disassociate ourselves, completely, from this statement issued by the Department of National Defense; we do not believe that the autopsy “rules out foul play”; we do not believe that “there is no need for further investigation”; we do not exonerate the military from the charge of torturing Teotimo Tantiado; we do not exonerate the military from the responsibility for the death of this boy.
An American Jesuit priest named Walter Hogan was so angered by the death that he wrote a separate release saying:
It is my opinion that Teotimo died as a direct or indirect effect of the treatment he received while in custody of the military. I base this opinion on the general record of the military during five years of martial law. There is a rather long list of people who are known to have been arrested by the military and who made their next appearance as dead bodies.
Nothing much came out of the Jesuit defiance at that time. But it made the priests marked men in the eyes of the Marcos killing machine.
In the long run, however, the Jesuit experience became embedded in our present Constitution when that same former Jesuit provincial superior named Father Bernas was appointed to help craft it in 1986. Bernas served as the Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Citizenship, Bill of Rights, Political Rights and Obligations & Human Rights of the 1986 Constitutional Commission.
Now, will Father Bernas bow to more senior clerics who tell him to zip it?
Or will fellow Jesuits come together as they did during Martial Law? Let’s watch and see.