THE two latest headline-making flights out of the country for political reasons were made by former police officers – Mr. Lacson and Mr. Lascanas. They did it the way ordinary airline passengers do it – present their travel documents, then board the plane. Both claimed threats on their lives and the need for safe outside spaces from where to plot the next move.
What can the Bureau of Immigration really do without the so-called HDOs, or hold departure orders. The right to travel is both a human right and a universal right. Unless there is an HDO or unless the papers and travel documents are faulty, one can travel abroad.
Mr. Lacson returned home only after the advent of a more conducive political climate. He became head of the Yolanda rehabilitation team, was frustrated by the lack of official support, then made a Senate comeback. He is now relishing his former role, as a high-profile senator.
How about Mr. Lascanas, who left the country just a few days ago? We learn from his statements that there is a support group that helped him leave the country. And that, he, too, is clueless on where his revelations against President Duterte would lead to. He has only one definite plan for now. If ever a case is filed against Mr. Duterte before the international courts, he said he would gladly testify and repeat his Senate testimony on the alleged Davao Death Squad.
Media outlets are now free to report on the escapes of people from political environments they deem to be hostile and perilous to their personal safety. But in 1977, when Serge Osmena 3rd and the late Geny Lopez escaped from the Fort Bonifacio stockade, that daring escape was more stuff for the international press than the martial law-era PH media.
That escape was known to the general public in 1995 after a movie about the Osmena-Lopez prison break was made. “Eskapo” was the title of the movie. Because of the imperative of movie economics, the movie producers needed to present a thrilling, suspense-filled narrative that would guarantee commercial success at the box office. That led to one thing: overlooking the need to put in the proper context. It was martial law and the enemies of Mr. Marcos spanned the whole range of socio-economic classes and not limited to the political and economic elite opposed to him. The tribal leaders, peasant organizers, trade union activists – their trials and tribulations – never made a cameo in that movie.
The movie had all the elements of a thriller, from the discovery that one can slip out of the detention center, then slip back in. A captured NPA leader also detained at the stockade did just that – slip out then slip back in. The feat of former student leader Jorge Cabardo did not escape the attention of the Lopez/Osmena group. Jorge did it unnoticed, we could do it as well.
The planning, the guises, the anxiety-ridden minutes before the final plane boarding—and the fact that these all happened in real life—made “Eskapo” both popular culture and anti-martial law documentary. But because a movie has to have a market, the focus was less on politics than on the meticulous planning (including the mandatory slipping in of letters to the detainees) that made the escape possible.
There were four members of the Senate in the 8thCongress who made their way to the US during the martial law regime: the late Senate President Jovito Salonga, the late Senator Ernesto Maceda and the two “ Sonnys” – Osmena and Alvarez. Senators Salonga, Osmena and Maceda left via the normal modes of leaving – plane rides to the US. Of course, the three left for political reasons.
The escape of Senator Heherson Alvarez was a different story.
Mr. Marcos truly hated the young, bright Ilocano student leaders who, instead of joining his group, became vocal anti-Marcos figures. Heherson Alvarez, who is now being recalled by articles on PETA’s 50thyear as the “escort” of Cecile Guidote, was known for his anti-Marcos activism then. He was better known than Cecile. He was called the “Ilocano traitor” and was a pet peeve of Mr. Marcos. He was not Left (he was with the UP ROTC) but he was just as relentless in his opposition to the Marcos regime.
As one of the youngest delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1971, Sonny Alvarez belonged to a group of about a dozen delegates who opposed at every turn the broader plot to give Mr. Marcos awesome powers under the new Constitution. He was one of the few who refused to sign the final ConCon document.
Before the declaration of martial law, Mr. Marcos issued a “shoot-to-kill” order on Sonny Alvarez. At this point, a support group, led by friends from college, helped concoct the plot for his escape.
The key was to get the help of somebody well-connected with the waterfront, the Manila South Harbor in particular. The support group enlisted one, who was just as committed in helping Sonny Alvarez leave.
So, Sonny was dumped in the inside of a container ship bound for Hong Kong. The cargo ship’s crew did not realize that they carried a human cargo—nothing was said on the ship’s manifest—until the cargo ship arrived at the Hong Kong port and Sonny was escorted out of the container van and into a safehouse.
A few days later Sonny was in the US. His two kids have interesting names, drawn from the word “exile.”