He was arrested in the evening. A local official lured him out of his shack with promise of work. In excitement, he dropped what he was doing, changed and ran out of the house. As they walked up the dark hill towards the dimly lit street, he was grabbed by two officers dressed in civilian clothes. Thrown up against the fence and handcuffed, he was arrested.
The following three days have been a nightmare. Thrown in the overcrowded cell that B was all too familiar with, he was told he had to give names and addresses of certain criminals. With trembling lips, he stammered he didn’t know. Cursing and screaming, the officers gave him a choice of 3 charges: gambling, armed robbery, or concealing a weapon. With tears in his eyes, he chose the lesser crime, concealing a weapon.
B’s mother called the next morning early. She was frantic, over and over saying her son was innocent. Arriving in the early afternoon at the jail, I approached the officers who usually are very polite and helpful to me as an NGO (humanitarian organization). This time was not so. The officer in charge, jumped out of his chair and waving his arms and screaming told me to shut up. “You are not a Filipino! You have no right here! You will not interfere in our justice system!” Quietly but firmly I pointed out that warrant-less arrest was illegal, that they had lured him. I asked for the legal documentation and the name of the arresting officer. I had done this many times before and I knew the law and rights of the one arrested.
The officer in charge exploded in fury. His face changed color and he roared at me. We went into an interrogation room where he continued to yell. “You will not have anything to do with this case! This is a notorious criminal and we have recovered evidence of his crimes! You are not a Filipino! Don’t you dare speak English to me!”
I looked at him and in perfect Tagalog, reminded him the date of the last arrest of B and that all his crimes were drugs, not robbery or weapon related. With a brush of his hand, he said he would not entertain me a moment longer. He stormed out of the room and I could hear him threatening B.
Another officer came in the room and sat on the edge of the desk near me. In a hushed voice he said, “It’s okay, ma’am, just go home. Wait and see what will happen. B will be okay.”
The court system is overcrowded here. There are not enough judges to deal with the case load. You can sit in jail for 3 months before you have your first hearing. Then it can be years before your sentencing. No one will defend the poor. Sometimes they are arrested just because an arrest is needed. The charged has no choice but to accept the crime they are charged with.
There are many ways to have cases dismissed and we have worked these avenues before but never by illegal measures. For the next 36 hours, the police continued to badger the mother demanding money for bail. Again and again, I counseled the mother explaining what they police were doing was illegal. The mother, a poor squatter, with no education, could not grasp my explanations. She just wanted money to get her son out. When I refused, she sneered at me that I didn’t care about B. I was proud and useless. She said I was no help to the Filipino.
My tears fall silently as I sit now, alone in the dark. I know of the beatings that occur in the midnight hours of the prisoners in Station 8. I have seen the bruises and the tears of the men that are tormented there by the sadistic police officers. I have cried with them. I have heard stories that have haunted my dreams for weeks. But I cannot let them win!
My own heart and pride are wounded as the nasty words of the officer echo in my ears. The temptation to take the attitude of the average Filipino, Bahala na. (Whatever happens, happens.) Even if B is not guilty this time, I’m sure at some time he should have been caught. I feel apathetic. Lord, it would be so easy to just let it all go. No one forces me to go weekly to take food and clothes to the prisoners that we know are hungry. Many of the ones we visit and pray with, have been abandoned and rejected by their families. They are alone. It is not our problem.
The rights of the poor are abused every day. They are viewed as useless, as a burden to society. The women are taken advantage of, their children are abused. Their men are used as laborers and scapegoats. They are oppressed on all sides. There is no hope for them to stand on and no belief that they can ever change. And Jesus did say we will always have the poor with us…
But someone must stand up for them, though I am tired and hurting. God is for us- not for only the rich and educated- but for all those who love him. This battle is surely not flesh and blood. The devil loves captivity and despair. No, I am determined. What I can do, I will do, to fight for the rights of the poor that God has put in our life.