The inside story: Ka Satur’s almost-aborted trip to Geneva

In about two hours, Ka Satur and wife Ka Bobbie are set to arrive in Geneva to the warm embrace and cheers from members of Migrante International-Switzerland chapter. I am sure Ka Satur will go straight to work, to perhaps frantically reschedule meetings with human rights monitors and fellow parliamentarians who have all expected to see him earlier this week.

Frankly, I did not expect Ka Satur to be able to go to Geneva last night. Yes, he secured a permit from the Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 57. Yes, the Supreme Court has issued a status quo order against the justice department. But I was truly convinced that the Arroyo regime would move heaven and earth to stop Ka Satur from leaving Manila and taking his just cause to Geneva.

As soon as an immigration officer at the airport punched his passport number on a computer at about 5:30 pm yesterday, a red flag was up and Ka Satur and Ka Bobbie were ushered into a small, cramped room just beside the immigration counters. They were soon shown a copy of a memorandum coming from Justice Sec. Raul Gonzalez alleging that the court order Ka Satur obtained was not yet final and that he be barred from leaving the country.

To my mind, that was expected. Mrs. Arroyo and her henchmen have again shown that there is no fair play and rule of law in this country. To cut Gonzalez’s story short, he was enforcing a mere motion for reconsideration filed by his prosecutors regarding the travel permit obtained by Ka Satur. More importantly, he was defying, ignoring and violating a valid court order signed by Judge Reinato Quilala allowing Ka Satur to go to Geneva.

Prominent human rights lawyer Neri Javier Colmenares, Bayan Muna’s general counsel, was on hand to give the immigration officials led by Immigration Commissioner Alipio Fernandez the scare of their lives. He just matter-of-factly told them that they are liable for contempt and other criminal, civil and administrative for barring Ka Satur without a valid court order and with only an illegal order from the DOJ. Colmenares also demanded a certification that they have stopped Ka Satur even after being shown an authenticated copy of Judge Quilala’s order, and re-informed of the Supreme Court’s status quo order on the DOJ, the mother unit of the immigration bureau.

What I was already thinking at the time is how to best come out of the airport with the best-possible look on our faces. I didn’t want the media to feast on Gonzalez’s pyrrhic victory and gloat on the Ocampo couple’s sad plight. I was also thinking of calling friends who are behind the Kapihan sa Sulo Hotel so Ka Satur could vent his ire at the authorities who were bent on violating his constitutional right to travel.

By 6:30 pm, I raised the white flag and sent out a press release announcing the DOJ’s defiance of the court order and its decision to bar Ka Satur from leaving for Geneva. We’ve raised the white flag and prepared for a bigger political battle that will hold the Arroyo regime liable for the harassment at the airport, and make sure the government would have another blackeye it fully deserves for what they did to Ka Satur.

Unknown to us, Ka Satur was already calling Presidential Chief-of-Staff Mike Defensor, asking him why he is being stopped at the airport despite valid orders from the court. Perhaps sensing that the administration may suffer terrible political damage from a fallout, Mr. Defensor asked Ka Satur for a few minutes. We could only guess what Mr. Defensor did right after his talk with Ka Satur. Mr. Defensor later called up Ka Satur and told him that he should call Mr. Gonzalez.

In their animated telephone conversation, Ka Satur asked Mr. Gonzalez for fair play, for fairness. Ka Satur told the DOJ secretary that he cannot overrule a valid court order allowing his travel and that notwithstanding the motion for reconsideration filed by the DOJ, the said court order remains in force. The 30-minute call went beyond the intended departure date of Ka Satur’s flight by about five minutes.

All the while, ground personnel of Lufthansa were going back and forth the immigration area and the plane, anxious to find out whether to get back the Ocampo couple’s checked-in luggage.

In the end, Mr. Gonzalez caved in. He allowed Ka Satur to leave the country. He just wanted to ask Ka Satur to sign an affidavit where he promises to come back by June 30 and to respect the laws of the Philippines and Switzerland. Mr. Gonzalez wily tried to twist Ka Satur’s arm and to gag him by asking for a “pledge not to criticize the government” but the Bayan Muna leader was adamant.

“This is also my country. I will not shame the country,” Ocampo repeatedly told Gonzalez. I guess Ka Satur was trying to teach Mr. Gonzalez that country is different from government. Activists, democrats, liberals and all progressives should rest assured that Ka Satur did not surrender his rights and allowed himself to be gagged in this trip to Geneva. Besides, Ka Satur did not endure years of solitary confinement, torture and arbitrary detention just to make Mr. Gonzalez happy.

Just to be sure, it was Colmenares who hurriedly drafted the simple, handwritten note-cum-affidavit which was read to Sec. Gonzalez over the phone and was soon signed by Ka Satur.

True to form, the bureaucratic immigration officers still tried to delay the stamping of “departure” on the Ocampo couple’s passports! The immigration officer said she was waiting for the final go-ahead from the BID! Howls of protest greeted her stupid reason, and she then forced to finally stamp and hand over the passports to Ka Bobbie.

And they were off to cheers from other immigration officers and to sighs of relief from the Lufthansa pilot and stewards who personally came to pick up the two pssengers held by the immigration.

Minutes later, Colmenares faced GMA and ABS-CBN reporters at the check-in area. Said Colmenares: “This harassment shows that we cannot be lax in asserting our rights. Only after Ka Satur asserted his constitutional and court-backed right to travel did the government respect that same right.”

He likewise denied reports that Ka Satur signed an affidavit gagging himself while in Switzerland. “Ka Satur goes to Geneva precisely to complain before the UN and the IPU over the political persecution and killings. The government has no right or power to stop him from doing such task and exercising his rights in Geneva.”

On behalf of Ka Satur, we wish to thank Mr. Defensor for helping convince Mr. Gonzalez to follow the law and valid court orders. We also wish to thank the Lufthansa personnel for bearing with Ka Satur and Ka Bobbie as they faced down the evil forces of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who sought to stop them from leaving.

No thanks to House Speaker Jose de Venecia who refused to issue a travel authority after being prevailed by the illegal intrusions and influence of Mr. Gonzalez. The Speaker admitted this in a June 22 letter signed by the House legal counsel “by authority of the speaker”. Because of this cowardly act of the Speaker, Ka Satur was not able to use his diplomatic passport that would have allowed him visa-free entry to Switzerland. Instead, Ka Satur had to use his regular passport and had to apply for a visa with the Swiss Embassy in Makati City. The maltreatment of Ka Satur by the Speaker speaks volumes of the sham independence of the House from the Executive, and the latter’s overweening influence on the former. The last time I checked, Ka Satur remains a Member of Congress and is entitled to all right and privileges as such. I wonder what the other congresspersons would say once Ka Satur tells them the whole story.

Now that Ka Satur is set to arrive in Geneva, we hope the IPU and the human rights bodies of the UN would give him an opportunity to speak on the real issue at bar and the complicity and accountability of the illegitimate government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo

About an hour after Lufthansa Airlines flight LH 789 left for Geneva, we Ka Satur’s staff were already in Quezon City celebrating the political victory with a sumptuous dinner of pusit, liempo, tuna belly, bulalo, and some bottles of beer, of course.

(Photo of Ka Satur while in detention by the Marcos dictatorship is courtesy of Abante.)

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