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Wednesday, 23 September 2009 14:13

TFDP had its beginning under a dictatorial regime. In the late 1960s, there was broadening and heightening of people's action and struggles against the unjust economic and political order in the Philippines. At that time, only the elite decided the fate of the peoples and the nation, while the majority few lived in misery and did not participate in the making of decisions affecting their lives.

This was met by President Ferdinand Marcos with political repression and the declaration of martial law in 1972. Torture, detention, and killing of political opposition, disappearance of leaders of peasants, workers and students, burning of villages and massive disregard of people's dignity and rights became the order of the day. The legislative branch of government was dismantled and the dictator assumed judicial and legislative powers in addition to its executive functions. Terror was Marcos' response to peoples' protest against injustice.

The reign of terror almost paralyzed various sectors of Philippine society such that there was only stifled criticism of authoritarian rule. In a country whose people is 90% Christians, 80% of whom are Catholics, the behavior of the Christians is of paramount importance. During the dictatorship, the majority in the Catholic Church waltzed with the dictator. A few priests and nuns who were directly in touch with the poor and the oppressed stood their ground. They assisted victims of political repressions in various ways, even to the point of risking their lives and becoming victims themselves.

It was in 1974 that the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP) established the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) to assist political prisoners, at a time when most organizations were banned. The AMRSP reflected on a survey which showed the presence of political prisoners in all regions of the country. The political detainees, most of whom where subjected to torture, had families who were placed under surveillance anf from whom money was extorted purportedly to facilitate better treatment and/or their release from detention.

TFDP then provided moral and spiritual support to the political prisoners, assisted them in their material needs, documented their situation as well as worked for theirm just trial and speedy release. Prisoners, on various occasions, conducted hunger strikes to push for better jail conditions and immediate actions for their release. TFDP was almost always there to help. Relatives were eager to have sisters or nuns with them when visiting the detainees in the jails, since it seemed that some respect to the habit still prevailed in the military ranks.

The first Chairperson of TFDP was Fr. Mel Brady who had a very brief stint for three months. the second Chairperson was Sr. Mariani Dimaranan, SFIC who was an ex-political detainee herself and who eventually occupied the position of TFDP chairperson for many years. Today, TFDP is almost synonymous with Sr. Mariani. But the TFDP's main source of strength, aside from its leadership and the support of AMRSP, was the many volunteers, staff and friends who in various ways, at various times contributed to the delivery of sevices to the political prisoners.

Although TFDP started as a response specifically among Catholics to political detention, many Protestants, Muslims and even non-believers later joined it and participated in its work for political prisoners. TFDP's witnessing to the inviolable dignity of persons and people attracted and drew many others to its vision, mission and commitment.

What started primarily as work for political prisoners in Manila gradually became activities not only for political prisoners but for victims of other civil and political rights violations in all the regions of the country. Thus, TFDP became a national human rights institution documenting human rights violations, assisting the victims in their material and legal needs as well as campaigning against human rights abuse and the structures amd policies that caused them.

TFDP also conducted human rights education activities to help empower people to assert their rights, in particular and to uphold, defend and protect human right, in general. It also produced alternative publications, among others TFDP Update, Lusong and Pumipiglas, which heralded the real human rights situation. Komiks, an illustrated magazine was also started in 1989 to depict the human rights situation in popular language.

TFDP also joined hands with victims of human rights violations and their relatives, workers, students, and other church-people, peasants and other democratic forces in the country in the struggles for human rights and democracy.

From its works and ranks, TFDP helped establish other human rights organizations like the Families of Involutary Disappearance (FIND), SELDA (an organization of ex-political detainees), KAPATID (an organization of families of political prisoners), and Mothers and Relatives Against Tyranny and Oppression (MARTYR). Later on, during the reign of Corazon Aquino, it lent its prestige and resources to build a human rights alliance in the country - the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) - for more effective realization of a person's dignity and human rights.





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