Son and daughter of a doctor accused of being NPA share their memoirs about their father and their hopes of seeing their Papa, Dr. Alexis Montes, in their arms again—free.
By: Noel Sales Barcelona, Diocesan Correspondent for CBCP News Service
MORNING OF FEBRUARY 6, 2010. Around 300 uniformed and heavily armed military and police men have surrounded a farm in Morong, Rizal. They are really in war mode. On their bodies are rounds and rounds of bullets for their machine guns and some canister-like bombs for their M14.
They rode around four six-by-six trucks just to get into the area of operation. This is a special operation; they are looking for a notorious criminal only known to them as Mario Condes of Barangay Maybancal of that town. It was the name of the suspect written in the warrant of arrest released to them by a regional trial court in Cavite.
The 43 people inside the farm were stunned when the soldiers broke in. Some of them are still in their sleeping clothes when the military started arresting them. Without washing their faces, neither breakfast nor the chance of changing their wardrobes, they were forced to ride the military trucks—handcuffed, blindfolded.
The ones arrested were doctors, nurses, midwives and medical aides undergoing advanced community medicine training. They were accused of illegal of possession of firearms. Later, they were charged with rebellion.
The military said that they were dissenters, high officials of the Maoist New People’s Army (NPA). But their colleagues in their respective non-government organizations (NGOs) and other groups belonging to the medical and the religious communities stressed: they are no rebels. They are just doctors, nurses, midwives and medical-nutrition aides working closely with the impoverished, in far-flung villages, in their respective provinces and areas.
But the 202nd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army and the members of the Rizal Provincial Command of the Philippine National Police said they are dissenters. They are enemies of the State. Dangerous men and women disguised as medical workers. They are there not to share medical knowledge but to plan a protracted war against the present “democratic” and “legal” government. Therefore, they must languish in that small jail in that army camp in Tanay, and later in a jail in Taguig City, Metro Manila.
In their first six days in prison, they were held in communicado. Even their lawyers find it hard to talk to them. Now, there is a little freedom in communicating with them since they were no longer in the military custody, but of the police.
But it is still hard for the families to accept their fate just as hard to accept that somebody in the family has cancer and he or she might die anytime. It is very, very painful. It is very, very difficult to accept that injustice and the culture of impunity exist and reign in a predominantly Christian nation like the Philippines. And it has become more unacceptable, says the interviewees, to accept that the perpetrators of such act of terror are the ones who are supposedly doing righteous things to people: the elements of the State.
Memoirs of a daughter
“For me, papa, ever since is my idol. I know it is cliché to hear but despite of his shortcomings, in terms of financial support and physical presence, I have always admired his passion when it comes to helping people, especially the once living in far places,” says Allyn Montes, 24, the daughter of Dr. Alex Montes, one of the 43 health workers arrested on that fateful day of February 6.
“I remember when I was still a child, we went somewhere very far because my papa will circumcise a little boy. I remember very distinctly when the mom of the boy was handing papa the payment and papa insisted that she must keep the money. I was very confuse at that time about that because I would always hear my mama complain to him about how hard keeping us four children in a private school. Papa will just tell her that we need to adjust our lifestyle to what is just right and that the families that he is helping will be able to use the money more than us,” she smiled bitterly while gathering her thoughts about the memories of her childhood with her papa.
For her, Dr. Montes is a gentleman, a nonviolent man. He never scolds them physically, even if they have done something wrong.
“Papa never hit us (my brothers even my mama) with anything. If he is angry or does not want what we are doing, he would talk to our mama who will then scold and spank us. Probably, that is one of the reasons why I grew apart from him but at the same time like him. I never get spanked or scolded by papa if I did something bad. It was my mama who will spank and scold me (even in wee hours) but my papa, he wouldn’t.”
He is quite a stranger to her, Allyn shares. It is his duty as a community doctor and a volunteer for the United Churches of Christ in the Philippines’ (UCCP) medical committee that hinders Dr. Montes to stay at home.
“I would rarely see my papa at home; he will always be in Batangas, in Dumaguete, Cebu, everywhere, doing community work and when he is done with his work, he would come home right away, straight to his computer or in the ceiling fixing our house. No one believed us when we tell our friends that only papa built our three-storey house, including a small house below our house. That is his routine, work in the community – work at home or fixing or making our home,” she said.
Though he is a very quiet man, a man of a few words, her friends, says Allyn, learned to love her father, the doctor.
“He is a very quiet man, as all of my friends will tell me. They would rarely see my papa speaking. He will just sit quietly near our aquarium, light a cigarette and drink his beer.”
“I remember my papa insisted my mama and my nephew to visit me at work just to see me, even though we just saw each other at home early that morning. He was fooling around with my colleagues. My colleagues were so fond of him because he shows no pride being a doctor and [being] a 62 year old man,” she said, again, with a bittersweet smile painted in her red lips.
With a few seconds of silence, then the 24-year old psychologist continued her story about her papa.
“I remember my tita, telling her friends that papa is the reason why their Church had started doing community works. If my papa hears about this, he would just nod his head and tell us that he should not be credited for that. He is a very humble man. Like my mama said, you would know that he is a doctor only if he is in a hospital. A family friend mistaken him as a carpenter. On that misconception, on that incident he just laughed and agreed to the statement. He did not correct the man, for him it is no big deal,” Allyn said, now wiping a small river of tears rolling down her cheeks.
For her, Dr. Montes is indeed a good father, a silent man, a good homemaker, and good doctor.
An oasis of memories in the desserts of UAE
“Papa is a man of few words, a man of high principles, was strict but at the same time lenient. He is a kind and simple man. He is a man who would think of the welfare of others before himself and his family. Of course, Papa—Dr. Alex Montes—is a loving and caring father and of course a lolo!” Vencer Montes, D.M.D. shares, in his email, to this author.
He is now in the Dubai, United Arab Emirates, working hard, struggling to feed his family.
“My father, as my friends and colleagues would describe him, is a quiet, deep thinking man,” he said.
Because of his father’s gentleness and quiet personality, his friends at first hesitated to approach him; just like the deep blue sea, they are afraid to explore him, or fearing that they will get drowned.
“But, as soon as they would speak to him they would get overwhelmed of his wisdom on matters,” says the 28-year old dentist.
Just like Allyn’s description, for Vencer, the 62-year old Alex Montes is indeed a good father.
“As a father, he is very caring and very thoughtful… And as a person, as I would describe him, he is a person who would not complain but instead find a solution to the problem,” he said.
Unlike any father whose profession is a doctor, Dr. Montes does not want his children to follow his footstep as a physician. Vencer said, his father was afraid that they would do exactly the same thing as him: much involved in volunteer work, with no enough money to sustain a family.
“As we were approaching [him] on the time that we were about to go to college, and since we were very sure that we would like to go to the medical field, he would persuade us not to go into medicine, thinking that we would just like to take up medicine because we were just influenced by him,” he said.
“He would like us to decide on our own. Papa will always say, we should choose on what we believe that is right for us and we should choose the career what our hearts would dictate. He never knew that the very reason behind why we chose careers, that are connected to the medical profession is because we believe that it was our calling and it was what our hearts want, in the first place. When we were already in college , as we would always discuss things in the dinner table, we would see in his eyes that he is very happy (though he did not verbally said so) for the career that we chose,” Vencer told this writer.
As a young child, Vencer used to engage into arguments with his father: on politics, on social issues, everything. That is why his father wants him to become a lawyer instead.
“While I was young, I would always engage into oral arguments with my father on some pressing issues that time. As I know that I am on the side of my father, I would always reverse my point of view just to have an argument with him. And I would end up confessing to him that I did that deliberately just to have an argument… At that point he would tell me not to go into medicine and that it would be best for me to study law…”
“But I would always tell him, I hate reading books and studying law would make me read all the books in the school library, and that if you would compare books in medicine it would just take about a fourth of the library. And he would just give me a smirk on his face and would just turn his head away. And at one time, I was asking him to help me to dissect the brain of a cat, but before he would help me, he would ask me several questions first… Then I would tell him if you would like to help me then just help me! And please, papa, stop asking questions. He would smirk and will whisper to me, ‘Mag-law ka na lang kasi’,” he said.
February 6, 2010: an unforgettable day of horror
Allyn told this writer that she was stunned when she got the news that her father and 42 others were forcibly taken by the military and the police on that morning of February 6.
“The night I first heard the news, I was stunned. I could not speak. I could not even organize my thoughts. I just arrived in Bulacan, to attend a wedding. My friends noticed me, shaking, and asked me what happened… After telling them the news, they let me go home. I remember I was crying all the way to Manila. I would think of reasons why it happened. I never really came up with anything. I got home ready to go to Camp Capinpin to get my papa but we were advised that it would be very dangerous to travel considering that it was already nine in the evening. My mama insisted that I stayed with her at home, which I did, while our eldest and youngest brother went to Camp Capinpin. It was already five in the morning of February 7 and I was still in my computer desperately searching for the Camp’s phone number and address so we can call them and ask for my papa. There was no news about it on TV, which made me feel bad because no one knows about it,” she said. She, again, got teary eyed.
From 6,719 kilometers (about 4,299 miles or 3,735 nautical miles) across the oceans, the bad news had reached Vencer in Dubai.
“The first time that I’ve learned about the incident, I just arrived from a very long and tiring day of work. I would not like to believe at first, because I know my dad. He would never do such things until I received a call from mama.”
“That call had made me very uneasy. It’s hard to sleep. But the tiredness from work and exhaustion of thinking about Papa’s arrest, lulled me to sleep. The next day, I saw in the news what really has transpired that day [of February 5]. I was distraught. Even though I am working, I would think of what is currently happening to my dad since my brother hasn’t seen him; not even my mama who broke the news to me, the previous evening.
“When my co-workers saw me disturbed and no appetite for work, they asked me if I were okay. I told them the story. The next day, when the wife of my boss learned about the situation, she told me to book for a flight the soonest, so that I can fly back to Manila, to be with my family. She told me that she knows this is a trying time [for us] and we should be together as a family,” he told me in a chat message via social networking site, Facebook.
“We felt that we’re also being tortured, with our papa”
What made the arrest of Dr. Montes much more painful is the news about the torture.
“That night I have learned that my father was being interrogated and was being brutally tortured and electrocuted, forcing them to admit something that he did not do, I panicked. I wanted to go home immediately if possible that same minute. My wife calmed me down and has brought me back to my sanity,” Vencer said.
Allyn had also a share of her story about her father’s torture:
“Before we were allowed to see my papa, we were able to talk to our friends who have connections with some prominent AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) people. They were assuring us that the 43 were not harmed. Finally, when were allowed to see my papa, my mama was the one of his first visitors, my papa showed his bruises to her. He told my mama everything that is happening inside the Camp. When I learned that he was electrocuted, poked in the chest, blind folded and handcuffed for three days, my heart just drowned,” she said.
“Even now, it is still fresh to me. I would feel my wrists heat up, my back would hurt, my head would tingle and I would feel the blood draining from my head. It is like I am feeling what he is feeling. I was having a hard time eating and sleeping. I would just ask for water and I would lie down in bed at around 5 in the morning, will be able to sleep at 6AM, then wake up at 7AM to go to Camp Capinpin. Until now, I would have occasional nightmares. It is hard for us in the family, for me, when night falls because we know this is very hard for papa. I feel very sad for the AFP and the PNP for torturing the 43 health workers, especially my papa. My papa is a great man. He can be a doctor, a lawyer, a preacher, a carpenter, but the AFP and the PNP are just torturing him. It is very hard to accept that they are doing this to him, my papa, whom I look up to,” she said. Again, the tears are flowing in her beautiful brown eyes.
Happy thoughts amidst the lonely times
Her papa is absent: in every meal, in every walk, in every family reunion. It has been five months since he and his colleagues were arrested. Now they are in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig, a place what she calls “libingan ng mga buhay.”
However, Allyn tries to be happy, undisturbed by the fact that her father, her idol is not at home. She is just thinking of happy thoughts. Just like what her mother and siblings are doing every time that the shadow of loneliness, of emptiness arrives in their little home that Dr. Montes tries to fix, to beautify.
“When I try to think of the happiest moment with my papa, I would remember him sitting in a chair, playing spelling bee with me and my youngest brother. He would give us P1 for every correct word that we spell, and that is a big thing for me considering the fact that I don’t like spelling classes. He makes all things happy and easy in his little ways,” she says, with a little smile in her lips. Then comes that moment of deep, contemplative silence between her and this author; a cool breeze will blow, making the green leaves in the nearby trees dance. But their dance seems to be a funeral dance. And Allyn, on that time, will give a deep, lonely sigh—trying to find relief to the pains that now residing in her heart.
“We’re trying to be OK”
A spiritual family they are, being members of the protestant UCCP, Allyn and Vencer told this writer that they are all fine.
“Right now, our family makes it a point to visit my papa every day. This is one way of how we encourage him, telling him that he is not alone, and that he is very important to us. We make sure that we tell him what is happening outside the walls of the camp to keep him updated about his case and about the rest of the world. And for mama’s part, she never failed to visit papa. Even though my mama is physically disabled, she would always travel 4-5 hours a day just to see and talk to my papa for less than 10 minutes with the soldiers paying close attention to them,” Allyn said.
“Life goes on, as they say. When I had the chance to see my papa, he told me not to be affected of what had happened. I should go to work and continue the rest of my life. I would tell him not to worry about anything because he is part of our life and he should not say things like that. Day by day, we manage to go to work and visit my papa. I would admit that it is hard but we have to do it for my papa,” she adds, with a sigh.
For Vencer, the incident had strengthened their family ties more.
“I think that our family is getting stronger each day. This problem had glue us together. Amazingly, my mother is holding up on her pains, her back pains and hypertension. Despite all this, our youngest brother graduated from his Physical Therapy course. And even my son, even though he was very young to understand, he had his share of the pains and sufferings that the family now undergo… enlightening him about the things, cruel things that are happening in this world. I know that someday, when he is old enough to understand and accept things, he will learn… he will surely learn just like we have learned about the facts of life at the very young age, though just a little,” says Vencer in his email.
Dreaming of Papa
“If I would have a chance to talk to him, long enough, I would say to him that he needed not to worry. We believe that he has a good chance on this case. Although we need to wait longer for the justice system here in the Philippines is very slow. I will tell him that we are doing everything just to hasten the process in the provincial court and in the Supreme Court,” Allyn, against is misty eyed.
And she continued her message to her father, in between sobs:
“I would tell him that I love him for what he has been doing before this happened and I that I love him even more for telling the truth despite of all the tortures that he is receiving. My first hug and kiss with papa was last February 11, 2010 when I visited him. Hugs and kisses from him will give me the strength to stand up and face the challenges, and since he gets to hug and kiss from the whole family, I am hoping that he would get his strength from there… I really don’t know what to say to him. I just want him home because it really hurts me when I see kids with the father just beside them. It hurts that I have to travel for hours just to see him for 5 minutes when he should be in his bed room watching the news, or in his computer playing chess or in the comfort room plumbing,” then she lets go of her tears.
As this essay was written, the Free the Morong 43 Movement, together with the different rights’ groups like Karapatan and the Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights in the Philippines (EcuVoice), had already brought this case before the United Nations’ Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Roneo Clamor, deputy secretary of Karapatan and husband of Dr. Merry Mia Clamor, one of the 43 health workers in detention, had already his speech before the UN Rights Body last June 9 and Rev. Fr. Rex Reyes of the EcuVoice had already stated his viewpoint about the issue, as a clergy and as citizen of the Republic of the Philippines.
Prior this, last April 7, only a few weeks before the national elections, the Catholic episcopacy in the Philippines had already had their stance on the issue. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, through its president, His Excellency, Most Reverend Bishop Nereo Ochimar, D.D., Bishop of Tandag, appealed to the government to free the Morong 43.
On the first three months of the incarceration of the 43 health workers, different international organizations from different parts of Europe, America and Asia like the Caritas-New Zealand, had already issued their statements of concern and appeal before the outgoing Macapagal-Arroyo government to act fast and ensure the freedom of the 43. But there were no answers. They remain in jail.
Allyn told this writer that she is much thankful that the 38 health workers (the five remained in the military custody upon alleged admission of being NPAs) are now already in Camp Bagong Diwa. However, she is still worried as her father is now with the real criminals.
There were no new updates about the case, aside from the continued assailment against the military, with some of them had received awards and had their ranks elevated because of their arrest of the 43. Dr. Julie Caguiat, the spokeswoman for the Free the Morong 43, said that the military continued to malign the health workers, telling the world that they are terrorists.
On the other hand, now that’s Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is no longer president, Allyn and Vencer see sparks of hope. They are now planning to appeal the case with the “yellow” president, President-elect Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III.
“Maybe he’s more Christian, for he’s known to be a devout Catholic, than Mrs. Arroyo. We are hoping that he’d do no Arroyo, in terms of human rights. We are continuously praying that these will all end up and soon, the tears that will roll down our cheeks will not be tears of fear, of loneliness, of longing; but tears of joy and praise to the Lord that they are now free and that justice had already served,” Allyn said in her last message to this writer. All I have said is Amen, Amen, Amen…