By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
BATANGAS CITY – Another birthday spent inside jail signals another year of incarceration. But Maricon Montajes who turned 23 and Romiel Canete who turned 27 last Feb. 25 are in high spirits. They said the presence of people who support them and campaign for their release gives them hope.
Last Feb. 24, a day before Maricon and Romiel’s birthday, several students from the University of the Philippines Diliman, former political prisoner and poet Ericson Acosta, former UP Collegian and poet Kerima Tariman, UP College of Mass Communication Dean Rolando Tolentino, UP Professor Rommel Rodriguez and members of the All UP Workers Union visited them and the rest of the Batangas 9 at the Batangas Provincial Jail. The visitors brought noodles, adobo and a cake for Maricon and Romiel.
Warm hugs and smiles greeted not only the birthday celebrants but also the other political prisoners who joined the small get-together prepared by the visitors.
Romiel’s mother, Elsa, 47, also took the opportunity to visit his son. “We are poor. The cost of transportation is too expensive. I have five more children to feed and send to school,” Elsa told Bulatlat.com. She said that as much as she wanted to frequently visit her son, she could not do so because of financial constraints. Romiel’s family lives in Old Balara, Quezon City, Elsa said that transportation fare going to Batangas is more than P200 ($5). She could only visit Romiel by joining other groups that visit. In a year, she said, she is able to visit her son four times only. Romiel is the eldest of her six children.
Maricon’s family hails from Davao City. Good thing that they were able to make the jail warden agree to electronic visits or e-dalaw, where families and the prisoners chat and do video calls through the computer. Maricon said this is one of the gains in their struggle inside the jail to push for their rights as prisoners.
Also, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited them last month and offered a family visit program. The UP Faculty also supports family visits, Maricon said.
Romiel and Maricon have been languishing in jail for three years alreaqdy. They are called the Taysan 3. They were arrested by the 743rd Combat Squadron of the Philippine Air Force after a raid in Taysan, Batangas on June 3, 2010. Romiel, Maricon and Ronilo Baes were integrating with the farmers in the area. Maricon is a film student at UP Diliman while Romiel is a member of Anakbayan. Ronilo on the other hand is a resident of San Juan, Batangas and a member of the people’s organization there. They were charged with illegal possession of firearms and violation of the gun ban, frustrated murder and homicide.
Maricon said every year, since their imprisonment in 2010, her only wish is that she will spend her last birthday in jail. However up to now, that wish has yet to come true. “There is nothing like spending my birthday outside jail even if there is no celebration,” Maricon told Bulatlat.com. But even so Maricon, who smiled all throughout the visit, is still very enthusiastic. She said life does not end in jail.
“I thank you all one million times for visiting us here in jail. You know how important it is for us to be visited by friends, family, comrades and even former teachers. It is very flattering to know that even if I am not in UP right now, students do not forget us political prisoners,” Maricon said addressing her visitors.
“It is very important for political prisoners to be visited by a former political prisoner to serve as an inspiration. I was released because of the strong campaign for my release and you too took part in it that is why I am also grateful for your support,” said Acosta who was imprisoned for two years in Calbayog, Samar. He assured the Batangas 9 that he too would actively participate in the campaign to release all political prisoners.
There are more than 400 political prisoners today. Human rights groups, people’s organizations and political prisoners are calling for a general, unconditional and omnibus amnesty for all political prisoners.
A short program was held during the visit, the political prisoners and the students sang progressive songs. Maricon tirelessly shared her experiences in UP and in prison with the UP students. Romiel also recited a poem, which he wrote on a bond paper and had it laminated. He gave it to his mother who is teary eyed upon receiving it.
“Visits by family and friends inspire us. It also reminds us that there are people who are working for our release,” Maricon said.
At the end of the day, the political prisoners once again thanked their visitors for traveling more than two hours to visit them. “We thank you very much especially the youth for supporting the campaign to release all political prisoners. Let us intensify our call for the release of political prisoners. The release of Ericson is an initial victory, let’s strengthen more our campaign and demand a general, unconditional and omnibus amnesty for all political prisoners,” Maricon said.