Monthly Archives: December 2013
“I wanted to give back everything I have to my fellow inmates, they who never had visitors, they who are sick and infirmed, they who are disabled, they who are old already, they who are malnourished. What I have accumulated in my long career in what society believe as crime, I wish to share and if possible spend everything on them, the needy, to them who are referred to as the socially disabled, the prisoners.” Thus spoke, one of public enemy’s dreaded number one gangsters in the early 2000s.
Herbert Colangco, 39, slim of built, soft spoken, youthful looking, without braggadocio, courteous to a fault, is not easy to classify as an offender although if one gets through the transcript of judicial testimonies, he can out rightly be categorized as a monster already, an alien out of this planet, an inhuman and incorrigible felon. In prison, he was a combination of “high risk” and “high profile.” And why not. If police records would be noted, he was the criminal mind behind all daring bank robberies in the country in the first half of 2000s. His gang was so bold and daring that their presence alone literally swept the vaults of all banks in all urban areas nationwide.
“I never had proper education as a child. I never had a chance at all to learn what it takes to read and write. My education was everything the street could offer and it is everything about outsmarting everyone. In my juvenile years, I led small bands of peers outsmarting people in the marketplace, just to make a living, just to make skin and bones stick together. As prime mover however, I never allowed anyone in my group to abuse anybody, much more so permit to hurt or injure even those who are opposed to us. It is not a poster principle for gangsterism but for me, if anyone gets miffed then I am out.”
Law enforcement quickly labeled Colanco group as the principal suspect in every bank robbery everywhere in the countryside. His group was however low key compared to the flamboyance of the dreaded Kuratong Baleleng group of similar persuasion. When this KB group was emaciated through a series of police crackdown, the remaining crew retired back to their province in Mindanao and sought refuge with a budding group headed by Colangco. The merger was called by police intelligence as the birth of the Ozamis Gang. The union of two offensive factions would likewise introduce brutality in the ranks of a subdued and scientifically managed Colanco group. Herbert, on whose surname the group would identify itself, would also be given another reference, “Ampang”, a title given as a label for respect similar to the Ilocano “Apo” or to the Bicolano’s “Manoy.” The differing manner in leading the group with Ampang Colangco insisting on a “no-casualty” policy and the other persuasion that “success includes injuries” eventually weakened the resolve of the gang to pursue its mission. Subsequently, cracks in the solid group would also lead to a series of failures and law enforcement successes in nipping the bud of the gangs. Midway through the 2000s, Ampang Colangco was bagged by law enforcement, charged in court and sentenced accordingly. That literally gave the last nail in the coffin of the so-called Ozamis gang. Remnants of the group, the violent faction, would still wreak havoc on peace and order but the police have the upper hand already. Slowly, the group would be decimated back to zero.
“I have befriended a lot of smart guys during my active years in the gang. I was never one in the first place and I was academically disadvantaged at the start. Hence, I have supported brilliant minds and sent them through scholarship. I have the resources even to extend assistance to principled leaders in some towns. I have nurtured not only friendship but camaraderie, even protection to politicians, military leadership, captains of industry and professionals who in turn would help me start my own commercial ventures above ground. My intention actually is to sustain commerce and from whatever profits or margins to be derived, it will go to charity.”
In prison, he discovered faith. He also realized that in the midst of the prison community are several sectors who are wanting of help—the visitor less, the sick, the physically and mentally disabled, the elderly, hundreds, thousands of them lumped inside the prison camp. He dabbled with programs, sought officers to help him organize a charity movement; implore gangs and its leadership to send their disadvantaged members to his program for nourishment. His business ventures are earning for him millions and these are the resources he would splurge just to help his fledging fellow inmates. It was however an awkward proposition to the prison community which is teeming with intrigues. His effort to his mind may be misinterpreted as power formulation. He sought advice from those in the prison community considered as elders and long timers. From then on, he was properly guided.
“In a small corner of the prison camp, I organized a musical band. I am fond of music. I used to sing. I was actually a frustrated musician before I started to be a gangster. I could revive my interest, draw attention and notice to those who wanted to watch my career in small scale showbiz. I intend to invite the physically disabled to my pocket shows just to have a means for me to replace a makeshift lumber as cane into state of the art aluminum “saklay” or crutches. No sooner paralyzed prisoners would be wheeled to grace my street corner shows. For starters, I would allow the patients to win in games so that I could replace their crude wheel chairs into sparklingly brand-new medical chairs. And because the melody of my weekly shows would draw kibitzers in the prison community, I had the occasion to pursue a feeding program too. That small street corner experimentation would develop into a charity show I would propose as a regular program inspired by the prison leadership.”
Prison intrigues coming from the ranks of various groups seeking attention would be affected by the charity program of Colangco. His shows would be criticized as obnoxious, loud and useless. But countless prisoners are receiving their comeuppance. Not even gangs with its full resources can equate to the resources Colangco was flooding the needy in the prison community. It was seen as a leadership threat, that which might crack open and eventually put demise on the strength of gangs and its hold on its members. Here was a person, seen as Robin Hood, exploiting himself, making himself barren, sacrificing his resources, squeezing his assets dry and sharing it to the prison community and their families.
“I will eventually grow old and in due time would die. I do not wish to be awash with possessions on my death bed. What I have accumulated I wanted to share to those who are disadvantaged and deprived. It is a promise which I never fashioned for my selfish thoughts but precisely as offering to my faith. The universe may have made me bad, so that in the final analysis, I could still save a sector and restore the goodness I crave. I have never wished to be villain for mankind. I only wanted to be of help.”
Colangco was straight face when confronted with the issue of his case on robbing banks. That he was well aware that it was illegal and it was a crime for which he must have to suffer the consequence. He also knew that what he did was a violation of peace and order; and that he ought to pay the price through the loss of freedom and consequent privileges.
“I still maintain a certain purity of purpose. I never allowed anyone, especially ordinary people caught in the cross fire of my activities to get hurt. Once, I learned that a member held up an overseas worker withdrawing a million from a bank, I immediately chastised my crew and forced him to return the money to the victim. Banks are different. You get its money, the next day, the insurance firm replaces it, no one gets hurt. My formula was simple in robbing banks. Overwhelm its security with more armed men and everyone obliges without fire fight. That’s all.”
He is a mainstay in the national penitentiary maximum camp. He is constantly repairing in one corner practicing his timing for a singing number in his show. He is busy designing the stage on which performers will grace their part. He is also checking on his notes and notebook, the resources he must spend so that everyone would be given their due assistance. For him, his every show spells penury for whatever he has saved. He knew that at the end of his singular life, whatever he has possessed would rightfully be enjoyed by the people he wished to have relished it even for once.
He never even dreams of freedom—although he knows that it will come as a blessing. His only desire is for all his resources to be shared evenly to the needy. Here is one wish which would defy criminal proclivity in whatever form.
“Sir, I already have a family here…I have two beautiful kids and they are already in grade school. I don’t even have any intention of leaving them. If at all I am released, I intend to stay and lead a quiet life here in your beautiful country.” This was disclosed haltingly but fluently in the vernacular by someone who was alleged as a militant explosive expert and was for a time recorded as “high risk” in the confidential notes of international intelligence agencies. The fellow was deemed as a terrorist in a ghostly sense.
Ade Agusalim (not the real name) was a long-time resident of Sulawesi, Selatan, Indonesia. He was born on August 11, 1964 and completed college education as engineer. After graduation, he dabbled in commerce and became a businessman. He came to the Philippines, via the back door. He knew that Mindanao was a predominant Muslim province and his presence would only be ignored.
Sometime in 2000, a bandit group achieved notoriety with a series of criminal kidnapping and related offensive manoeuvres in Mindanao. They even extended terror tactics in populated urban areas like Metro Manila already. As the military tagged the movement of the group, a fire in a cased area yielded materials which became basis for identifying personalities in the fold. The name of Agusalim was listed.
The military along with International law enforcement agencies immediately took the task of determining those at the confiscated materials (computer files) and through tie up with police agencies conducted a manhunt until several persons were haled. While the intel and classified files indicated the guilt of certain personalities, it could not be used as evidence in court. Nonetheless, charges were filed and violation of decrees was applied to get the necessary convictions.
It was disclosed that Ade Agusalim is a member of a militant Islamic group linked to the Al-Qaida terror network along other suspects including a Jeemah Islamiah operative Al Ghozi who was believed to be behind the deadly execution of various terror bombings in Metro Manila.
The crime for which the accused was charged, while it connected with terrorism, merely glossed over a well-planned terror activity with so much space and lapses. Hence, the crime charge for mass murder as in Rizal bombing incident may be shallow and dismissible. The prosecution stuck to the crime of Violation of PD 1866, a law penalizing acts that constitute illegal and unlawful possession, manufacture, dealing in, acquisition or disposition of firearms, ammunition or explosives or instruments used in the manufacture of firearms, ammunition or explosives.
On November 19, 2002, the court handed down a decision finding his guilt for Violation of PD 1866 and issued a sentence of 10 years minimum up to 17 years maximum. On August 23, 2003, he was brought to the National Penitentiary to serve time.
“As soon as I came through the Reception and Diagnostic Center, I was transferred to the maximum security camp where I was assigned to a building controlled by gangs. After a few months, I became a member of the “Batang City Jail” or BCJ. I would serve time and spend the rest of my penalty, learning the norms, the conduct and even the principles of BCJ. Gone were the Islamic ideology days for me. What was important to me at that time was to be a part of the crowd, to survive along with my fellow inmates and behave as if I was born in the same area as theirs.”
Agusalim’s prison life was never boring at all for him. He easily blended with the locals. In two years’ time, he was already communicating with them fluently in their language. His Malay racial complexion could easily pass on as Filipino already. His height (5’3”) of smaller built is, not enough menacing in a community where bullies are instant leaders. He never posed as a threat in any gathering, be it organizational or social. He would proceed where most would go. He never even allowed his personal beliefs to intervene in any group work or undertaking. He was a team mate for all.
He never even joined those convicted for terrorism like the Abu Sayaf group. And while he was given a cell assignment in the area, he would rather spend time in the prison hospital assisting patients and during off hours, maintaining a small kiosk adjacent to the sanatoriums. A few months after, his business acumen would yield considerable results. The small store grew into a grocery accredited by the institution commissary. He would be a regular guy among Muslim inmates catering to their basic needs.
The boring prison condition however would be broken when visiting time comes. Guests, scholars, volunteers, mostly women would converge to offer assistance to the prison community. In one occasion, he would be introduced to a relative of a volunteer, a lass from Ilo-ilo province. The initial acquaintance would blossom into a romance. The Indonesian, like his Filipino counterpart, in the prison community would yearn to disturb the pain of homogenous interaction and opt for marital bliss. In two years’ time, the Malay would contract marriage vow with his constant visitor. Years later, the relationship would bear two kids, all girls. To date, the kids are now in grade school.
Agusalim’s domestic sojourn is completed. He would rather stay in the country and treat his past as youthful adventure. His politics has been replaced with domestic concerns. His ideology has been buried and in turn overtaken by a skill he learned in prison on reflexology. Had it not for his friends in Indonesia, his co accused for that matter, who was successful in their political entry along with some comrades, he would rather try his luck in some remote corners of the town in the country practicing his new found vocation on para-medical services. He merely lost his political thirst as a consequence of his romantic interlude with family affairs.
A decade of prison life has indeed deradicalized his mind if not his emotions.
Prisoners are not supposed to celebrate anything. Celebration is anathema in a situation which does not augur anything celebratory in the first place. And why be happy in a condition that smacks of pain and loneliness. It is like laughing during a wake.
The influx of visitors in the prison camp merely indicates the forlorn condition of families where their loved ones are incarcerated. It is not enough to celebrate anything at all; it is merely some kind of ritual to be with a loved one. It is also not a matter of partaking anything special like food but appreciating an occasion where the family rejoins each other in a manner fitting that of a reunion. There is sympathetic problems confronting the daily grind of hardships and difficulties.
Christmas in prison is a period for reckoning what is left of luck. It is having a few minutes ogling at one another. After all, crime was committed because of love of one’s family, however misplaced or mislaid it may be. There were repentance everywhere, lamentation in some corners but there were no regrets.
Almost half of those who came to see the prisoners are their friends. They who were lucky not to have been implicated by twist of fate. They are there to commiserate, to empathize and share whatever pain of segregation imprisonment brings to their comrade. They are there to bring stability in a condition which is replete with instability. Prison administration could only watch and supervise. There must be peace in a situation which is almost ungovernable. But there is perfect order, total peace, and sublime amity. Everyone has sworn to be responsible to keep everything in proper perspective despite deficiencies in the prison community.
Christmas in a total institution like prison is observed along marginal lines. There are those hoping that authorities would grant amnesty or clemency for those who have served time. Most of those in sick bed, the infirmed and in their twilight years pray that the miracle of receiving their release papers would become a reality during the yuletide season. Politics, the traditional kind, dictate that clemency should be granted as spiritual and social indulgence to some sectors. Hope remains alive in prison during the season. Prayers abound and so are miracles. Prison is always replete with supernatural intervention. There are acquittals, there are retrials, there are startling revelations on truth. But of course these remain hidden and strictly personal.
If at all there are celebrations that coincide with Christmas, it is more in observing life. Most of those serving time and about to complete midway have so much to celebrate. They should have perished during arrest. They should have been neutralized after arraignment. They should have been rubbed out after conviction and as if to stretch further their luck, they should have been putrefied during their entry into the prison camp. And here are the prisoners, some serving for more than fifteen years, still clinging on the belief that fate would be kinder to them. They have stopped counting minutes, hours and days. They have ignored the calendar already. The have forgotten what sunrise or the setting sun is since in prison, the sun is only appreciated at noon. Days are like nights. There are no difference, everything is familiar. Everything is repetition. Everything is monotonous.
Christmas in prison is like an ordinary day save for a few melodic hymns indicating the season. No other occasions would predicate its observance through songs except the yuletide. If only because of the musical signs, there is nothing significant to reckon.
Christmas is only for freemen.
Like all children, my toddler years were devoted to hero worshipping on the superhero types. Marvel comics, that which were created by American artists in the early 50s, preoccupied my youthful imagination. One day, I was flying like Superman. Another day, I was watching over from our residential roof top the entire stretch of our neighborhood believing I was Batman. Like Superman, I could melt steel, break bones and destroy buildings just by mere staring. I was also Batman who can smack dead any villain who would cross my path. Like these two superheroes, I grew up believing that I could defend my loved ones from anything unfortunate and coddle them to a successful life with a happy ending.
Today, we have an almost endless list of heroes coming as it were from different cultures. The likes of Japanese, Korean, Chinese, American, British, whatever. There seems to be more heroes than the people they ought to defend. That is one advantage of the youth today. They have varied means of heroes to choose from. They can be anyone on a daily basis until retirement beckons them.
Years have gone by and literature, the classic kind, has overtaken much of youthful fixation. I became Gulliver. Sometimes, I would emote like Crisostomo Ibarra. Or, the jaded protagonist in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. It was a mixture of fantasy and reality, with reality more appreciated than fantasy. One day, I could be an adventurer; another day, a scientist and scholar and in another situation, a gangster. Nowhere would I imagine myself flying with a blanket like cape with briefs overlapping my tights. I look human and less amusing as anyone else and enjoying every fleeting challenge piled on top of my consciousness, one after another.
In my adulthood, I was an ordinary kid beside my protective parents. I was a carefree lad beside my doting relatives. I was an ordinary chaperone beside a loving sister. I was for sometime a hyper juvenile beside an affectionate group of friends. Entering the family years, I was an audacious father, kinda strange and distant but nonetheless responsible and caring. I may not be around anytime because of my profession, but when push become shove, I am there for the taking.
Life’s constant challenges would always knock at our door. In some instances, it would barge through as if trying to overwhelm us. There are crimes, calamities, penury and bad luck hovering above as each would land on the very spot where we tried to hide. Unless one is a hero, a challenge is something to evade. But for heroes, challenges are the spice that makes life exciting. It creates color and stimulation. Confronting every challenge, confronting every problem is a defined mission. It is not only a form of work, it is also another expression for love. Heroes love a lot and it includes every task and every trial, the harder the better.
I may not exactly fit as a hero whether the stereotyped one or the event making kind. I may have failed my dreams of becoming one because of weaknesses and intrigues. I may not have the audacity, the intelligence or the proverbial luck that makes a person on the right spot at the right time. I may not have the genes nor the pedigree, the resources nor the courage to stand up and be recognized. I may have been too ordinary to be reckoned but for those around me, I still feel that I am counted.
I may have been very distant. I may have been too aloof. I may have been too shy. But that is because I only try to be myself.
In this period whence twilight years beckon, I start to regress back to where I am comfortable. Once in a while I am Superman to my loved ones, Batman to my friends and The Godfather to my fellowmen.
When I learned about it, I registered my objection. No Mass by the highest Pontiff in Prison, not in my watch. It is not about prison, it is about a handful of prisoners. I was worried about those with mental derangement. The National Penitentiary is almost brimming to spill over proportion at 156% congestion rate. And those stuck in this community are no mean fly by night felon or ordinary snatchers. A lot of them have been adjudged by the judiciary as dangerous and hostile. Aside from drug lords and gambling lords, leaders of kidnapping and carnapping syndicates, there are confirmed bombers, rebels and unrepentant homicidal convicts. And they are literally lumped into imperfection.
Now, allowing persons of national import into this community where condition has achieved unbearable limits is pure foolhardiness. I will never be a part of this scenario. But somewhere between invitation and acceptance, there was spiritual audacity. The faith must be pursued wherever it would be. And prison is most likely the place where it should be conducted. I lost my case and the Catholic leadership was allowed to spread out his blessings.
December 22, 2013 at exactly 8AM, a group of religious nuns entered the prison gates and informed the officers on the arrival of His Excellency, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle*. The 57 year old Church leader made it a point to continue with the tradition started by almost all Cardinals before him in celebrating Mass in the National Penitentiary. For me, it was not tradition that matters, it was a security nightmare. In Vatican the best intelligence and most organized security system ever employed failed when two incidents involving two Popes were almost fatally assassinated. One was shot. One was stabbed. This is in Vatican which is a clean area, sanitized by technology and the finest spooks in the world.
And here is one situation where the highest spiritual leader of the land would celebrate Mass, face to face with the most dangerous sector of society, a community filled to the brim with what the judicial system would ascribe as persons whose conduct and crime would prescribe life imprisonment, a facility holding on specie known sociologically as pure predators. Anyone with a name, anybody with gravitas would surely be a perfect target.
The High Mass was celebrated with sacred silence and seriousness. The prisoners were at arm’s length during the spiritual exercise. The prison security force, ideal for maintaining order in a 5 thousand capacity population is stretched out to cordon 14 thousand ogling souls. The nuns and seminarians including a handful of volunteers are no match when an explosive trouble would erupt. I could not synchronize my breathing anymore. How I wish to pluck out the good Cardinal after his sermon and unload him outside the prison gates. He should not suffer the pain of waiting for danger to form in front of him.
The Holy Mass ended 11:20 AM, the Blessing was made by the Cardinal and he was escorted by a group of religious facilitators, cordoned by prison security, out from the Chapel and into the main gate. After the regulation picture taking, the religious leader was accosted into his van—safe, contented and sound. The religious program highlighting the Christmas Day was formally introduced.
All is fair and well. BUT WAIT! Not everything in the celebrated Mass was pure saintly serenity. There were two incidents that were buried from the consciousness of the Cardinal and those who attended the Mass. Two incidents involving mentally deranged inmates. One nearly got off to embrace the Cardinal during the Mass, the other one, immediately after the Blessings almost broke way, knife in hand and about to inflict suicidal scenario. The first incident was blunted by fellow inmates. The second incident involving an armed inmate was diffused by prison personnel.
It was good enough that no one from the party of the good Cardinal ever suspected that something happened. Even the nuns and volunteer religious workers were not aware that there was trouble somewhere near. Had anyone of the two ever created a scene, that episode would have been on front page already. Had the blessed Catholic leader harmed, that would have ended my career in prison which started 37 years ago.
Before the Mass, an inmate was surprised at the demeanor of his fellow inmate. He drank water from the aquarium. When he was chastised by the gang leader stating that the water was not safe and that it might poison him, the fellow stood his ground and pointed at the swimming creatures that if the water is poisoned, the fishes would have died already! He was promptly observed during the Mass.
The second inmate was a bit repentant as if he was struck by the Holy Spirit. He withdrew in a corner and flashed a homemade knife to the astonishment of some inmates in nearby confessional. There was a calibrated commotion. The inmate went to a corner and announced that he will commit hara kiri. As the prison security personnel were about to pounce, the inmate opened a packet full of shit and began to rub on his body and extremities. The air fouled and the security officers nearly fainted. The supervisor offered the inmate with drinks which the latter immediately accepted. The juice was laced with sleep inducing drugs until finally, the inmate was subdued and brought to the hospital. That also ended the brief commotion that would have marred the yuletide program.
The religious program was a successful blessing for the majority. It was however a nightmare for me.
*Tagle is the Professor of Dogmatic Synthesis at the Graduate School of Theology of San Carlos Seminary, the archdiocesan major seminary of Manila, and an Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at the Loyola School of Theology of Ateneo de Manila University. Tagle has become involved in many social issues in the Philippines with emphasis on helping the poor and the needy while maintaining opposition against practical atheism, abortion, contraception, and the Reproductive Health Bill. He currently wields strong religious and political influence as the country’s primate, with an estimated 2.8 million professed Roman Catholics in his Archdiocese. Tagle speaks fluent Italian and English in addition to his native Tagalog, and is also proficient in reading Spanish, French and Latin.
A fellow prison officer wanted to justify the slow process of encoding of records by complaining that rats ate the electrical cords rendering the entire technical exercise in limbo. Of course, it was an issue better left for the technicians to deal with and immediately repair but to submit it as issue was an amusing concern. Gamely, the officer corps took the matter in earnest.
The presiding officer sought a resolution by volunteering a proposal. He noted that since the rats have manifested their presence in the office, he suggested that all workers in the section to vacate the area and leave the office so that the rats can take over. Another officer stood up and professionally offered an idea. He recommended that a feeding program be provided the rats so that they will be full already and dismiss the idea of munching on the electrical cords.
Dogs look at their master as their god. Cats on the other hand believe that they are looked up by their handlers as a god. Rats are different. They look at man as their equal!
And so when rats invade an area, it is actually like witnessing the troop of Alexander during his army days in the field of Asia minor. Although rats are never armed, their sheer number is enough to strike fear at any intended target. Rats unlike any other mammal do not operate on the basis of territoriality. They just converge where they are and attack at any target they intend to work on.
In India, rats are treasured, respected and even subjected to adoration. There is even one community where they are never disturbed, fed to their full delight as prayerful offertory and held as sacred. In China, rats are even observed for signs of future natural occurrence. In the Philippines however, rats feeding on rice fields are gathered and cooked as delicacies.
In other cultures, a great number of rats foretell war. I remember my mother would throw into a rat hole my newly extracted tooth so that I would grow a good and beautiful tooth.
There are a lot of expressions where the creature is mentioned, poorly and otherwise. There is “only rats jump out of a sinking ship.” There is also, “If you see rats leaving a building, it will soon burn.” And of course, mafia has a warning expressed as “do not rat on your friends.”
Unlike any other animal, rats do not have any breeding season. It reproduces where health and environment allow. It is sexually mature in six weeks. It has an average life span of 20 years and the favourite laboratory testing when trying out a chemical intervention for medical purposes. Rats have almost a similar biological make up as that of man, and most likely, even that of idiosyncrasy.
Whether one is superstitious or not, it is incumbent that we understand the creatures that has been there almost ahead of man and perhaps may live more after the demise of mankind. The rat according to Chinese Zodiac indicates love and sexual compatibility. These qualities however makes humanity transcend its limits and perhaps may hold the key to its perpetuity.
Radicals, by definition and persuasion, are those who advocate for a thorough or complete social or political reform through extreme measures. They are oftentimes referred to as revolutionaries, progressives or reformists. They are never known to subscribe to norms or any acceptable social behaviour that preserves the status quo. In other words, they are for immediate, sudden change of the social order even if in the process the recourse may be outside of law or even if the means is considered criminal. The State has nothing to do with these people since they operate outside of the legal system. At best, when apprehended or caught espousing their mission, they are eventually brought to the bar of justice and therefrom impose the rule of law.
What happen next is that they are sent to the calaboose to serve time along with the so called common felons. In prison, unlike in the free community where they came from, they are subsequently mixed. At first glance, their impulse is to regroup and regain their foothold but the numerical strength of those at the other end provides a reckoning set back. They either would perish brandishing their cause or survive just by swimming along with the tide.
And so, acceptance and resignation become their nature in understanding their new environment. Everything around them spells institutional order. They are given designation regardless of offense. They assimilate and receive the usual and traditional reception given to any ordinary prisoner. At times, they are even recruited to be members of gangs, groups that represent the requirements for institutional survival.
After a year, they no longer believe in their cause, at least for the time being. They are preoccupied with the daily grind in the prison community. They are more concerned with domestic woes, food, shelter and basic needs including laundry and personal care. In a way, environment has a way of taming the wild. Imprisonment to an offender creates this condition, in much the same way, a cage does to endangered specie.
The radical is deradicalized even without institutional or organized intervention.
The question of a radical radicalizing his environment is pure myth. Unless of course the basic principle on which an ideological concept will simply be embraced in the pragmatic sense. Unless of course the world view expressed to the vulnerable community is done along spiritual means.
Religion is the most effective and the most fervent of all influence. A prisoner languishing in prison has no other way to reach out and grab sanity unless he surrenders himself to a supernatural concept. If he does not believe in a Supreme Being, he has no alternative but invent one. To preserve his sanity and sense of realism he must personally cling to this self-preserving approach. Note that there is nothing social or sociological in this self sustaining adherence. The radical has so much to confront, most of which were his personal demons before he could project himself as an effective medium.
This explains the fact that most of those branded as radicals and penalized to serve time as such would rather get into the groove of religion. First, to maintain his grasp on reality and secondly, and this is a long shot, to influence those around him. There is too much selfishness in a homogenous grouping before anything gregarious is to take place.
Radicalism in prison is never an issue and it will never even take shape at all. Nelson Mandela, one of the most famous prisoners in history, was deradicalized while serving time. Before him, we have Napoleon Bonaparte, Ninoy Aquino, Nilo Tayag, even Jose Rizal. If at all, radicalism would serve a person in prison, it was only to enhance their world view on honesty, respect for humanity and patience. These are qualities that make a person matured and enough consideration for him to further evolve into a better person learned in the art of understanding. And that is exactly the opposite of what radicalization means.
It has been said and suspicion is rife that whenever there is peace in a highly communal facility like prison, expect it to be artificial if not superficial. At any given time, more often than not, almost sudden, violence erupts. There are tell-tale signs before a commotion. There are factors and there are even stages. Any violent streak has its respective genesis. In prison or for that matter, any corrective facility, the breeding ground is congestion.
Experiments on congestion or overcrowding lead to trouble. Pack a group of saintly seminarians in a tiny room fitted for just half of them and chances are, a portion would break away and start conflagration. In prison, we talk of convicted persons, found guilty by the courts for breaking laws, lives and limbs. It does not take to be a soothsayer or a fortune teller to predict what would happen next if this group would be lumped in a small space.
It is not true that when a person is convicted, he becomes a changed person overnight. And that where he would serve time is the most peaceful place on earth because of the air of lamentation and the spirit of anguished repentance. What is pervading is another emotionally loaded consideration. There is vengeance in every inmate’s heart. There is revenge at the very core of his awareness. If at all an inmate would withdraw from such mental preoccupation it is because of his family or loved ones. After all, they are the very subject from where his fault or crime emanated. It was his fanatical love that pushed him to the precipice of committing an offense.
In prison, peace is to be haggled and negotiated. It is wished for by the community and prayed by administrators. Every commotion oftentimes speak of death on either side and worst, a career ending proposition for those tasked to manage the facility. There is no other way but maintain peace whatever its posture is, whether it be permanent or tentative or artificial. Peace is to be procured at any given price, with sacrifice as its foremost consideration.
If there is reigning peace, whether it is suspect or otherwise, there is success somewhere. Who needs hostility in the first place. Convicts have led a convulsive life bordering on brutality and accidental serenity. It is this brand of serenity that is elusive in the free community but which is compelled as a matter of course in a homogenous environment like prison. For the layman, this is an impossible to task to realize. It is almost an unreachable star so to speak. But there is no other option but tinker with possibilities to achieve a peaceful mark. No one would dare contradict this situation in the first place. In peace, there is hope and hope is always the moving force that generates internal change in the outlook of a person serving time in prison. Nobody wants to be released in a box.
And so peace is pursued and sued by every moving object in the penitentiary. Whatever its cost and worth, peace is everything. In a congested situation that brings about explosive interaction, administration must be bold in providing a counter balance to an unbearable (overcrowded) situation. Introducing amenities to make life bearable is one approach. It creates a fulcrum on which peace is anchored. Peace is therefore a responsible highlight on which every prisoner reckons. A violation of peace is an invitation for these amenities to be taken out and suspended. Hence, for a group which has been judicially sentenced for irresponsibility, this is a lesson on responsibility which can be internalized without force or compulsion. Responsibility is learned as it is taught in the practical and understandable sense.
To be responsible is a concrete term for rehabilitation in correctional administration.
He may no longer be a household name unlike some five decades ago. Nobody from the present generation would even attribute to him any of the nationalistic fervor it usually cherished sometime past. As a matter of fact, the name Rizal could no longer be related to heroism anymore. It is more often than not a term which is encountered by travellers moving southward from Metro Manila to towns in, yes, Rizal province.
Historian Ambet Anotonio lamented the deterioration of Rizal’s historical importance as his name became brands of various commercial commodities from matches to cement. Of course, his image is everywhere in the grocer’s cahier machine to every common man’s purse. The one peso currency of the country is still the most visible coin when asking for change. It is not only used to toss when a parking attendant gesticulate when a motorist would leave the slot, it is also a thoughtful memento when leaving a carinderia. Of course, no body does this in a five star restaurant.
Ask any from the selfie generation their impression of Rizal and one gets a blank stare. One even tries to rummage his thoughts whether this Rizal is a fellow dancer of Lady Gaga or the musical arranger of Justin Bieber. But for scholars, they who try to replicate erudition, Jose Rizal is the country’s national hero. His significance however could no longer be appreciated from the vantage point of globalism. Rizal stood out as a nationalist and those who espouse this ideological mannerism are either bed ridden already or fighting with Alzheimer’s disease.
Rizal’s importance however does not rest in his occupation at the center of Luneta Park. He was one among the most celebrated Overseas Foreign Worker (OFW) in the late 19th Century. Against family advise and despite economic dislocation, Rizal went abroad. First, to seek advanced education while working on the side. And secondly, although he was apprehended, to evade possible criminal prosecution by joining medics for Mexico.
Europe was foremost considered a paradise during the early stage of the country’s nationhood. It was USA then for us to day. The greener pasture lies in those faraway lands. Salvation from economic ruin is situated somewhere in those lands. That was before as it is today. The Philippines is, yes, one country one could not attain prosperity. No matter how industrious, how creative, how studious one can get, he would not be repaid accordingly. He was born a pauper and chances are, he might get bumped crossing the road and would die a pauper still.
Rizal knew that despite scholarship he would still be a second citizen abroad. Anywhere abroad discrimination then, and even at present, is the order of the day. He may have relished the beautiful landscape, the flawless complexion of women, the democratic space in government and the pervading fairness but he would rather be back to his country. He would rather embrace the dusty posts, the pot-holed streets, the lack of discipline, the intrigues, the roaming grease people, growing number of those packed below poverty line but it is his country of orientation. Rizal, like all OFWs, dreaming of capturing the proverbial gold abroad is a prime concern so that he could bring home the figurative bacon.
Rizal may have been relevant before because of his nationalistic commitment. And Rizal may still be relevant today because of his OFW’s occupational roots. His close friends were all foreigners. He even mastered their language so that he could easily communicate with them. Like an OFW working as domestic in Saudi Arabia, they too have learned not only the language but also their cultural upbringing. Wherever the OFW is, he immediately acculturates accordingly.
Rizal’s term in Germany was a notebook torn from an OFW’s diary. His stint in Spain was a documentary of how an OFW ought to survive. Rizal is still a pertinent reading today. His life is a picture more appreciated as an OFW than a rebel. Rizal was hunted down by invaders and his counterpart today haunted by taxes. There seems to be no difference before as it is today.
What must a person possess to qualify for the highest post in the land? A pedigree? An excellent educational background? A heroic streak? A principled mind? A radical advocacy perhaps? A successful business career? Or enough money and resources?
Anything goes as a matter of fact. Before, a government post was a career that has a period of gestation. It is not just a matter of luck, of being at the right time and right place, nor is it something hereditary or something to be won by chance as in gambling. There is a foundation, a learning immersion in the art of politics; on the finer art of negotiation, transactions and public relations. It is a knack for projecting the correct posture. It is giving breath to integrity, honesty and commitment. It is like giving life to a principle. Well, an evolution however happened along some historical paths.
There were mutations. There were marked changes, some transformations, alterations although there were traces of back tracking along monarchical lines.
The reality has grown apart from what is ideal. One who wanted to engage his fate by running for the highest post in the land must have a war chest almost equivalent to a lifetime of savings ready to be splurged and invested in the course of electoral campaign. One must be prepared to be pauper. One invites penury if he has limited resources. And the humiliation that goes with losing. The cost is not only terrible but appalling to say the least.
And after all these computations on potential expenditures, threats to life and overcoming strains of sacrifices, what does one gets in the process? A dreaded post? A reserve seat in the pantheon of history? A legacy perhaps?
National leadership is a calling. It requires a mental faculty made of steel. It demands full time. It is a profession that requires a highly organized mind. The role would not fit that of a sissy or a bum although they share a similar stripe. It is only perfected for those who have achieved a fully developed and matured world view.
And where are we going to rank our present leadership and perhaps assess those who came before him in this scale? Before we speculate, let us see the present socio political condition of our country first. Is government responsive to the needs, demands and desires for good governance? Are we better off if not at par with other neighbouring countries in Asia? Can we safely say that the State is fulfilling what is prayed for in the Preamble of our Constitution?
Now let us analyse.
The poverty line in the country remains the same. We are still a far cry from New Zealand. In NZ no one is situated below this line. As a matter of fact, there is no sector considered poor in that country. But let us not fret about it. There are still other economies we can still compete. Although to a certain extent, a war ravaged country in the 70s, Vietnam has begun to climb higher than what appears to be our record development profile already. Malaysia and Singapore, China and India, Thailand and HongKong are players we could no longer overtake. They have resources like oil which they can tap to jumpstart a progressive economy. We are left to fend our resolve, this time, in relation only to Cambodia and some islands in Micronesia. While the country’s resources are depleting, the flight of workers in other foreign lands would shore up the economy and keep it buoyant for some time. But that has nothing to do with stately affairs and good government.
At least for the moment, our economy is seen as consistently above average despite the influx of disasters and controversies. A temporary relief and wish fulfilment.
On the local front however, national leadership is confronted with monstrous challenges coming from the ranks of government officialdom. Corruption has taken a new tact, attacking from inside. A picture perfect scenario on what can be referred to as “inside job.” Government service if left on its own without the progressive leadership would eventually implode.
Several presidents since the country has declared nationhood underwent a series of transformed political postures as soon as they get the real picture of where the country is going. There were pressures from international agencies, from partisan peers, from personal connections. For those at the top, every minute is like crossing the river using the thread. There are several occasions when one must issue a resolve on borderline problems where one receives a tap and expression “damn if you do, damn if you don’t.”
There is a measure of goodness in what national leadership should exude. For the doubting others, everything seem based on evil. Finally, the team comprising national leadership would have nothing to express except that they were there as necessary evil.
The present leadership exemplified by Aquino is a struggle of men of principles belonging to different sectors. The bad news is that there is confusion in the ranks of stakeholders in government. But there is a silver lining, a streak of good news. Corruption is addressed head on. If only because there is honesty displayed at the top, the rudder of administration is firmly handled.
It is still a far cry for people to accept their role, to realize that political power grows out from their growls. A few more summers may be devoted to learning such realization. It began in 1986 People Power and it is still a dormant authority ready to explode. Filipinos by nature are never given to rage except when personally challenged. They smile even in adversity. A number of them even sell their votes to the highest bidder.
On the whole however there is need for a visionary whether they like it or not. Fate would decree that there should be one leading the people to their deserved destination.