Adora Faye de Vera, Dong to her relatives and friends, was born in Pangasinan on 31 December 1955. She is the youngest of the six children of Julian and Candida de Vera. She loves to read books under her favorite sampaloc tree in the garden of their middle class home in Quezon City. She graduated valedictorian in a public elementary school, finished secondary education at the Philippine Science High School and became a scholar at the University of the Philippines.
Her father takes pride in Dong’s simple ways. As a teenager, she never asked for new clothes. Hand-me downs from her older siblings were appreciated. She too loves cooking. Her father narrated how, one day, he was surprised that Dong cooked plenty of food. There was no occasion to celebrate nor expected visitors to come. His daughter scooped all the food into casseroles and brought them to poor neighbors who live in shanties at the back of their residence.
Dong likewise loves to write poems. Excerpts of one of her memorable poems to her son can be read below:
Sabi niya, Siya raw ay aking Ina
Wika ng babae,
Pagkagaling ko rito sa ospital, ako’y ipipiit
Sa seldang malamig, madilim, masikip.
Ilang taon na namang ni hindi kita masilip.
Anak ko, magpakabait.
Sa mamamayan huwag magmalupit
Kabutihan ng anakpawis ang iyong igiit.
Huwag palalason ang mura mong isip
Sa bayang tinubuan ka dapat umibig.
Inabot niya ang kamay ko, buhok ko’y hinaplos
Di ko siya kilala, palayo akong umipod.
Sabi ko, huwag po kayong masyadong magkikilos
Ang dugo sa sugat ninyo’y lumalakas ang agos.
Kinabig ako ng yayang nag-aalaga
Hinahanap na ako ng aking papa.
Bago umalis, nginitian ko siya
At sa pagpapaalam, kinawayan ko pa
Pagka’t gusto kong mawala ang namumuong luha
Sa gilid ng mata
Ng babaeng maputla
Siya’y aking ina.
Years before she dedicated this poem to her son, who didn’t know her and was raised by her relatives far from her, Dong was gang raped by military men – in the guise of extracting information from her. Together with two others, Rolando Morallos and Flora Coronacion, she was abducted and brought to a safe house, an old building that ‘looks like a beer house”, by the combined ununiformed forces of Military Intelligence Security Group, Constabulary Security Unit and 231st PC Company in Quezon province on 1 October 1976.
Some 20 men stripped them naked, commanded then to run in circles, humiliated and interrogated them. A military asked Rolando to masturbate in front of Dong which he refused. He was mauled and his genitals battered with a whip while the men laughed. Dong and Flora were raped continuously by 14 men (including three civilians) that she stopped counting how many times. She was naked all the time and was given the upper portion of the double-decked bed to sleep on, the men below guarding her while playing cards and drinking beer.
Several days later, she woke up without Rolando and Flora around. Nothing would be heard from them since then. They are now included in the long list of missing persons called desaparecidos or disappeared.
For more than one year, the military kept Dong in the safe house. It was here that she hatched an idea to survive the ordeal. She played mind games with her tormentors. Dong thought that if she chose one military man to become her boyfriend, only one man would be raping her. And so the highest military official in the area took her as his concubine.
She was given back her clothes and was allowed to have a room of her own. She got the trust – well, almost – of her military “boyfriend” who began asking her to do some clerical job for him. A typewriter was brought into her room and she became her captors’ official secretary. She would be asked to type the military report to the AFP or copy the names of the suspected activists or members of the New People’s Army. Dong had an access to the military confidential files during Martial Law – but not for long.
One day, her captors became lax that Dong was left alone in the safe house. This was the time she had been waiting for. She went up the second floor of the building. Her best escape would be the small window in that part of the building she was forbidden to see. It leads to a roof and then out of the high fence. Suddenly, her “boyfriend’s” car appeared entering the garage before she was able to jump to freedom.
Her parents, a lawyer and a teacher, siblings and friends launched a campaign for the Marcos government to surface Dong. The military was then forced to produce her alive.
Dong was finally released from capture a few days before Christmas. She was disoriented and felt like floating with nowhere to go to. Asked by this interviewer how she got home, she directed her answer to her eldest son whom she had not seen for a long time. She has been sending him her voice tape, she said, only to find out later that she was not introduced to him as his mother while the boy was growing up.
Ron de Vera, her son with husband Manuel, would later find out who his true parents are. He is now with Amnesty International.
Twenty-two years have passed since they last saw Manuel. Mother and son would never see the father again.
(I interviewed Adora Faye de Vera for my undergraduate thesis in 1998. I was struck by her quiet demeanor, humility and strength of character. This frail wisp of a woman has undergone extreme pain and anguish beyond any human being can imagine, yet she remains calm and steadfast. I promised her I would be writing her story and kept the documentation for many years. Now I have fulfilled that promise. – Gloria Esguerra Melencio)