PO1 Sevilla talks to a foreign participant in the protest. Photo by Rem Zamora for ABS-CBNnews.com
An Open Letter to Policeman Joselito Sevilla,
23 July 2013 at 20:10
To Policeman Joselito Sevilla,
I was the foreign protester who was actively denouncing to you the violence used against the activists yesterday at the SONA Protest. I was one of the 41 injured activists in the protest. Many of the injured received head wounds and contusions, two of the injured were senior citizens. They were attacked simply because they exercised their constitutional right to assemble and protest.
I came to the Philippines as part of an International Solidarity Mission and as a delegate of the International Conference on Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines. I attended the SONA protest because I had been outraged by the human rights violations committed by the corrupt Aquino regime. I am tired of the extrajudicial killings, the illegal arrests, the forced demolitions, the land-grabbings, the puppetry to US-imperialism, tired of all the oppression and exploitation of the workers, farmers, students, women, indigenous, urban poor, LGBTs, and all other oppressed groups. I have integrated here in the Philippines with many different sectors to directly see the effects of the basic problems that the Filipino people face. I personally knew people like Willem Geertman, a Dutch community worker who moved to the Philippines, who was brutally murdered by this regime last July 3, 2012. Many of the protesters have many experiences with family members, friends, and acquaintances who have been murdered or tortured by this regime. They had every reason to demonstrate against the Aquino government.
It was by chance that I was facing you. Just before our encounter I was part of the group of peaceful protesters in the front who were beaten with police truncheons. We did not carry any weapons, we only had our banners and flags. After that initial confrontation I got angry and started shouting at the police officer standing in front of me. That police officer happened to be you. I continued to ask you why the police was beating and hurting us. Your response was flashing a peace sign while saying "relax, relax". While you were doing this, a few metres away from us the police was again beating the activists. I started pointing at the attack and shouted "You are the ones that are hurting us! You started this conflict! Why are you doing this?". At this point you started getting emotional and I responded by repeating again and again the question why they were doing this. During your crying you responded to me that you were only following orders. My initial reaction was that this was a legitimization of the violence and a way to absolve yourself of any complicity in the incident. "take responsibility" I repeated over and over.
Then there was a stand-off while negotiations with the police were taking place. We were told to wait for the results. However, even before the results of the negotiations were made known, the second wave of the dispersal started to happen. Our side stayed calm while your side started coming closer and closer. It was obvious that they wanted to start a commotion on our side, which would give them a reason to start attacking the activists with full force. Despite my rage, I remained nonviolent and even put my arms behind my back to show clearly who was the attacker and who was the target. The police started to push us away but I did not see you joining them. You stayed at the same place, crying behind your shield. I was wondering whether you did not attack us because you were overwhelmed of the situation, or if you had a genuine realization about who was causing this excessive use of repressive violence. I did not have long to think about this because I got taken to the back of the protest by comrades who were afraid that the police would be out to arrest me. I tried to look for you after the clashes to have a talk with you, but you were nowhere to be found.
I write this letter because unlike the other police at the protest, you did not act violently like your mates and you did not attack us. You did what you thought was right. You were confronted with the repressive character of the police and did not follow the orders of your superiors. This is a noble act. Historically, the role of the police force is to suppress any type of resistance that has the potential to truly threaten the status quo. I hope you realize that when you follow orders that are detrimental to the people, you become complicit in the crimes that are carried out. If you are really genuine about resisting when it is right, if you really want to serve the people, then you should know that when you take orders, you have a choice and a moral responsibility to refuse to carry out any type of anti-people acts, because when you do choose to carry them out, you are complicit in the crimes that are carried out.
You alone are responsible for your actions. I hope to see you again next year, during the SONA protest of 2014. But then I hope that we will be on the same side. Together against the crimes of the state and against the violent forces that exist purely to defend that state. Together in upholding the interests of the Filipino people.
Take your responsibility and join the people's movement.
Thomas van Beersum
Tuesday, July 23, 2013