HONG KONG/PHILIPPINES: "My life was empty when I was in hiding."
Hong Kong, July 3, 2012
"For over a year, I was in hiding. My life was empty," said Myrna Reblando as she shared her story to a group of local and international journalists in Hong Kong.
Myrna Reblando, the widow of Alejandro "Bong" Reblando, a journalist murdered in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre, was one of the speakers at a panel entitled "How the Prevention of Torture Promotes the Freedom of Expression and Journalism in Asia." The panel was held at the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Hong Kong on June 25th. The speakers at the panel discussed the importance of freedom of expression with regard to the prevention of torture, sharing from their own personal and professional experiences.
Mrs. Myrna Reblando ( AHRC Photo )
Ms. Reblando, the former spokesperson of the Justice Now! Movement (the group comprising families of the massacred journalists seeking justice,) left the Philippines seeking political asylum due to death threats. She had a Php 3 million bounty on her head. She said "I decided to leave my country because people like me, who are seeking remedies and redress in our system of justice, had no protection.” She went on to say “I am a person who is being hunted for what I have spoken and without protection even from my own Philippine government. I did not feel protected, even with my own security escorts.”
Ms. Reblando is well aware of what can happen to a person who seeks legal redress in the Philippines’ justice system. “One of the dead is Jessie Upham,” she said. “He was one of the witnesses of the massacre. He was murdered before he could testify in court.”
"Thank God that I am here alive,” she said. “I can hardly imagine how close I was to death on so many occasions.” She expressed her deep gratitude to the Hong Kong Government for providing her shelter, food and protection during this time.
Ms. Reblando also explained why she felt the need to tell her story. “I felt that my person is useless; I am only thinking and living for myself. I felt that those who had threatened me had achieved what they wanted: to silence me, to push me back. I knew that I could do something."
Ms. Reblando renewed her commitment to ensure the protection of the complainants, witnesses and the families of the victims of the Maguindanao massacre case who struggle to seek justice and stay alive. She noted “to speak the truth has had a heavy cost on me and on my children. However, I have also realized that if we do not speak out, our aspirations of justice will not be achieved.”
Ms. Reblando reaffirmed the importance of the role of journalists by telling stories and reporting on the progress of the Maguindanao case. The journalists and the people “must never forget; we should not and must not forget.”
With regard to the procurement of legal remedies, Ms. Reblando said that "to express freely in pursuit of justice is possible. It is so where there are people who are willing to listen and hear. What I have said in the past and what I am saying now would not mean anything if you do not write about it," she said.
The event was organized by the AHRC and the Centre for Comparative and Public Law (CCPL) at the University of Hong Kong.
[Full of text of speech delivered by Myrna Reblando during a discussion with journalists on “How the Prevention of Torture Promotes the Freedom of Expression and Journalism in Asia” held on June 25, 2012 at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong]
Good afternoon everyone.
First, thank you all for coming to listen and to hear our stories.
I am Myrna Reblando, widow of Alejandro “Bong” Reblando. He is one of the 32 journalists murdered in the Maguindanao massacre. He writes for the Manila Bulletin, Reuters and Associated Press. Many people knew about this tragedy, but only few had extended help. Among the few are you: the journalists.
By writing stories and telling others about our loved ones, stories of ours and their families and our aspiration for justice, you also guide us in our struggle. What I have said in the past and what I would have to say now would not be effective had you not write about them.
I know I have a right to freedom of expression. We all should have. For my part, I am not a journalist like you. I am the wife of a murdered journalist who was silenced, who could no longer express his ideas and opinion. I am here with you to also use the tool that my husband has had: a freedom to express ones opinion, in pursuit of justice for him and others.
I fought to uphold this value and principle in many forms.
Inside the court rooms, I could remember in one of those hearings, the judge had asked me to leave because I cried during court hearings. She and others wants me to leave because they do not want to see me crying inside the court, again. I strongly insisted to stay to hear the trial. I told her that I did not kill anyone, I only wanted to listen. What can I do? I cannot hold my tears to fall down because of frustration.
In my interviews with journalists, what I speak is the truth, I speak my mind, I speak my heart and I never had any pretensions. To speak what is truth has had a heavy cost on me, my family and my children; however, I have also realize that not to speak the truth threatens our aspirations to obtain justice.
For over a year, I was in hiding. In this period, my life is empty. I felt that my person is useless and that I only think and secure myself. I felt that those who had threatened me had achieved what they wanted: to silence me, to push me back. I know that I could do something.
But to speak and not to speak, is where I had the dilemma. I am ready to die; however, I cannot put the life of my children at risk. I am their mother. I should be the one protecting them; I should be the one giving them protection. They have only me now; but I am not even with them now as we speak.
Two years ago, I first came here as a guest speaker of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club for their Human Rights Press Award. I received the posthumous award on behalf of the murdered journalists. At that time, I was not prepared. I was not able to explain clearly about what happened to my husband and others.
Before, I could speak freely and I thought I had freedom and protection. But now I am a person who is being hunted for what I have spoken and without protection even from my own Philippine government. Yes. I decided to leave my country because for person seeking remedies and redress in our system of justice, like me and many countless others, had no protection.
I am deeply thankful to the Government of Hong Kong for giving me protection, food and providing me shelter. Thank God now I am here alive, however, I could hardly imagine on how many occasions I was close to death in the last two years. I did not feel protected, even with my own security escorts.
In pursuit of justice, for me and my family the cost had been very, very heavy. I lost my livelihood, I cannot go home and the people whom I know could not provide me shelter when I needed the most. They fear of getting involved, even my own relatives and friends.
When I took the responsibility of being the vice chairperson and spokesperson for Justice Now! Movement, a group of families of the massacre victims, I know that it is a tough job. To speak on behalf of those who are frightened and those who could not—because of oppression, fear and absence of protection—is a position that is alarming and dangerous.
For those who choose to take this role in my country, most of them are all dead now; others are struggling to stay alive. One of those dead is Jessie Upham, one of the witnesses of the Maguindanao massacre. He was murdered before he could testify in court.
I had been, and hope to again be, very vocal and bold to attack all the wrongdoing evil of our government. It is sad that our government cannot protect their own citizens, especially those people living in rural and depressed areas. But I still hope that someday we will have a government that is able to lead and serve its own people better, to make us proud and for us to have peace in our country.
I did not live my life in vain. My person means a lot to me. I see my new role very, very interesting. I was not bitter despite of all the trials that come into my life. I strive hard to make the most of it. I reflect and study my surroundings to hear the wisdom of other people. I gain strength from them, too.
To express freely in pursuit of justice is possible. It is so where there are people who are willing to listen and hear;
Where there are people who picks from where others had left;
Who will speak for those who could not speak because they are oppressed and frighten;
Where people and groups lends their place, their time, with an open heart and mind for us—the people who are hunted for what we have spoken—to give us an opportunity to speak and express our opinions;
To all of us who are here, you never forget; we should and must not forget. You listened to and heard us.
Again, thank you all for being here with us.