CONCEPCION, Tarlac–It wasn’t midmorning yet but the heat is already unbearable. Crammed under two tents are more than 80 farmers and land rights advocates arrested on Wednesday afternoon by the police for trying to till a portion of a farm lot they say has already been awarded to them as early as 1995 under the government’s land reform program.
The detainees, dubbed the Tinang 83, were trying to till a portion of the hacienda with the same name as the community where it is located. They were taking a lunch break when the police arrived in droves in several vehicles, intent on arresting them.
“They were in no mood to negotiate. They surrounded our hut and started arresting as many as they could lay their hands on,” peasant rights activist and poet Pia Montalban said.
The detainees were given not given enough chairs at the parking lot where they were taken by those who arrested them. What paper cartons they have been using as bedding the past two nights are what they sit on. Paper plates they use to eat with are what they frantically fan themselves with, an arduous task under such wilting heat.
The lone paralegal with them is busy, asking everyone how they are doing while constantly relaying the infuriating information to lawyers on standby that Concepcion acting police chief Lt.Col. Ronald Macabitas has not shown up yet. Their release papers lay unattended at the police officer’s desk inside an air-conditioned office.
Meanwhile, detainees with health conditions are being looked after by their fellows more attentively. One with asthma keeps pumping her inhaler, obvious it is about to run out.
Still, they are in a good mood, the student activists more so. Yesterday, one of them scheduled to attend her college graduation rites, Denise Macalino of Holy Angel University in Angeles City, wore the toga she had in her bag when arrested. She probably had the most number of well-wishers in her entire graduating batch, albeit attending the rites remotely and as a police detainee at a parking lot.
The activists had another happy moment this morning. A fellow activist slipped in notes for them through the fence, drawings by children in communities they are organizing, wishing them well. Tears of joy flowed.
Concepcion’s food delivery businesses appear busier the past two days, thanks to the support the detainees are receiving even from strangers. Food keep on arriving even if instructions on the delivery receipts are somewhat unusual.
Even the coconut juice vendor across the parking lot seem to be doing brisk business.
It has been two days since the detainees are being forced to suffer inhumane conditions. But there is another thing that keeps their spirits up: a stray kitten they managed to save from the brink of death.
“It was already here in the parking lot when we were brought in. It was so weak and dying, ignored by the police who had their cars and motorcycles parked where it was. It could not even lift its head up. We fed it and let it drink water. Now, it eats on its own and walks around. So we gave it our red ribbons with slogans because it is now our comrade,” one of the student activists said.
They even gave it a name: Tinang.
(Text by Raymund B Villanueva, photos and video by Jek Alcaraz)