I have a number of visitors the past few weeks. They were mostly sisters of prisoners. And they had fire in their eyes as they set on the task working on the records and trying to push administration to consider the situation of their loved ones so that their respective brothers would be released.
Their tenacity in the cause of their brother’s case reminds me of my sister.
I could only appreciate and compel myself to do their bidding. After all, my sister would have been in this same situation had I been in the state of their brother too. They were very aggressive to the point of being overzealous.
If given the power, they could have melted the obstacles their brother is facing. I could have been liquefied with their looks and demeanor since I represent the system that holds a person.
Yes, my sister. She must have been watching me from heaven. She must have been in her usual matron style, arms on her hips, chin up, standing tall assessing a situation, eyes fix , lips pout. She is everywhere, beside me, in my memory, even at times when I am contemplating on doing something bad.
Oh yes. She was always there for me. She was mother incarnate. She was my buffer, my defender, my representative. She was my constant counsel.
I may be good or bad, but for her I would still her brother come what may. And as such, I must be protected, secured and shielded from the elements.
Without her around, I feel vulnerable. I feel the angst of nature. I could see myself as endangered and almost exposed. She was there to blanket me with confidence.
I could be careless and uncaring, I could be callous and even heartless but everywhere my sister would be there caring and affectionate, concerned about me, about my health, my security, my person.
My sister is in heaven alright, her spirit though is with me always, her smile fortunately is in my heart and her tenacity, like all sisters are, is always everywhere.
I could be strict, I could be mean, I could be very objective, cold and neutral in all matters presented to me in work. But when a sister of anyone would approach me, I could just be a willing listener, subjective and emotional and at times, moved towards a commitment. It is the sister in my heart that governs.
Where she is, wherever she might repose her concern, in every way she is, she knows I am always there also for her. Our love bonds us through eternal times. She is that figure that makes me just and concern for all times. My moral compass and light.
The criminal justice system must be applied in a cold, neutral and objective manner. It cannot be otherwise or the system would loose its meaning. It must pass muster from law enforcement to prosecution, from the courts through corrections, until eventually towards community. That is how it should work.
Considering the fact that of all imperatives of criminal justice, it is in corrections where a convict stays and spends a considerable period of time, a different projection is therefore to be applied. From a cold, neutral and objective way, corrections must exude a different persona, a relatively contrasting persona from that of the system. The prison community must perceive their authorities not from the prism of hostility but rather from the point of fair alliance. That is to say that prisoners must realize that their custodians as parent, as friend, as confidant.
There is no other way unless one intends to breach the principles of human rights and transgress every effort to make prison life a humane community.
Corrections adheres to safekeeping and rehabilitation of offenders. The only way through this mandate to be applied is through the heart and mind. It may be off tangent with what has been its traditional past, its recent behavioral relations but working on the welfare of the prison community does not sit well with imposing tortures and harassments.
Offenders have violated the norms of society. They have disturbed the peace and desecrated public safety. Their notoriety equates disenfranchisement with social life. As a result, they should bear the brunt of segregation and enforced lamentation in a small space called prison. If at all they are beyond redemption, the State could have unplugged all hopes and should have pulled the lever of extermination. But it cannot. The criminal justice administration has as yet to fulfill the apex of justice, the true determination of truth. As it were, there are a number of acquittal in prison, this for a period after review of (some even would take place over) 10 years!
Name every person of substance, any hero even any spiritual leader, be they event makers or event made. Name any one who has achieved greatness and significance. All of them have something in common—they were all imprisoned once upon a time.
The guilty and innocents are within the enclave devoted to incarceration. Like the free community they are there co existing, partaking of life in a restricted and limited manner. Prison could only offer so much. But there is one area, which can level this up and promote justice in the real sense—the correctional orientation of its officers.
They should believe that their role is crucial in the mandate of rehabilitation, in the course of behavioral reformation. From their ranks should emanate the principle of brotherhood, of concern as in family ties and commitment in the pursuit of friendship. Such persuasive projection to the prison community could lead eventually to a change of perception, from hostility to cooperation, from treachery to collaboration. Such is the essence of reform, the lifeblood of rehabilitation, the soul of corrections.
I used to spend all my afternoon break in Fort Santiago when I was still a student of Letran College. It was just a 10 minute walk from my school. I would appreciate those mementoes of Dr. Joe Rizal specially his belt, a number of talismans, books, shirt and pants among others. As for his sartorial taste, I thought that those were my clothing too. Rizal was about my size and I could relate how he stood from ground up. Actually I am taller by a couple of inches. And then there was this compilation of his letters to his priest confessor requiring him to retract and surrender his beliefs and membership from masonry. That was my first appreciation of the word masonry aside from its operative meaning. Furthermore, I learned that almost all of Rizal’s colleagues in the Propaganda Movement were all masons.
Contemplating on Masonry
After graduation, I thought of inquiring about it. My father was mum about the organization; my mother was even against it. Since they could not answer the why, I persevered to know more about the fraternity. My first and last stop was the Grand Masonic Lodge in San Marcelino St., Taft Avenue, Manila. It was a very imposing and a vintage edifice with a number of ancient looking sculptures. It looked impressive as it projected quite a number of symbols from vines, to flowery shrubs to mean looking artworks. I stopped short however from entering the massive entrance door made of solid acacia and thought that it would not served my youthful and inquisitive mind. I would rather enter it later if I would have the stomach for such intellectual adventure. Meanwhile, I would merely coast along some fraternal orders composed of my peers in college.
Membership in Freemasonry never left my mind though. But I had no idea how to join it. Until one day, several years later, a friend would accompany me to a Masonic lodge. I would be impressed on how they would deal with applicants. First, the candidate must be a confirmed man, without defects and with a clear state of mind. He must act and apply on his own without any reference from members. The aspirant however is required to adhere in just one principle in his application, a belief in a Supreme Being. There is no space in the organization for atheism.
How a Mason becomes one
What made me fulfill my application as a hopeful member was how those who took up my cause deliberated on the form I submitted. I was informed that in the adjacent room where members assess the contender, there is a hypothetical scenario to be offered among them. Accordingly, the assessor has a beautiful wife and three lovely daughters. The assessor must leave for abroad for three months. The question is: Will you, as that assessor, allow and trust the applicant to take care of your house, where your wife and kids are staying, while you are away for a duration of time? After the question is thrown, two small marble stones are handed over to the assessors, a black and a white one. A box is circulated and with complete secrecy, the individual assessor must slip into the compartment either one of the stones. A white one signifies trust and the black one means distrust. As soon as the box has been filled, the presiding assessor empties the box in front of them all. A single black marble coming out from the box means that the applicant is rejected. His name will be sent to all lodges here and abroad indicating that his application has been denied. It indicates that he is barred from entering the craft anywhere. That is where the idiomatic expression of being black balled came from.
I thought that it was a nice way of recruiting. No wonder, whenever a mason sees another, he felt that he is always with his brother; that he is with someone whom he can fully trust.
My application was approved and I was initiated as an Entered Apprentice into the fraternal order (Andres Bonifacio Lodge, District # 199, Capitol Masonic Lodge, Kalayaan Avenue, Diliman, Quezon City). From there, I took note of all the reading materials and read everything that pertains the brotherhood; from its ancient history to its current symbolical summation. I was some kind of a Dan Brown (of the Da Vinci Code fame) already before the novelist started his literary exposition on the Craft.
Masonic literature is rich with allegorical contents. Its central perspective is on wisdom. It has its own interpretation of sensitive philosophical issues. It is almost a religion although during conferences, no member is allowed to discuss religion and politics because of its divisive considerations. One specific religious understanding which turned off the Church is the Masonic view of Jesus Christ. The Church subscribe to the belief that Jesus is God who became a man. The Craft looks at Christ as man who became God. From there, the Church had misgivings about masons. And why not take the latter explanation as feasible. It is respectable for a laborer to finally become a manager, than for a manager to become eventually a laborer. Anyway, the schism in terms of understanding was carried into a historical battle to the point that masons are not even allowed to be buried in the hallowed grounds for Catholics.
During the Commonwealth period, President Manuel L. Quezon, a mason himself, chose his cabinet according to their respective proficiency and qualification—they also must be masons. Result: Quezon’s administration was the most respected, revered and competent in the history of government service. Quezon would even be emboldened to quip, “I would rather have a government run like hell by Filipinos than by foreigners!” After his term, ironically, unqualified leaders came one after another and eventually, government became hell. But that is another story.
For me, Freemasonry is about limitations. One must have a personal compass on which he would be able to determine his own capabilities. And a square, so that from there he must carry on with confidence accomplishing all his concerns in a straight and proper way. At the center of these two precious jewels is his belief in the Almighty. Having these points in his mind, the mason proceeds to spend the rest of his life in brotherly love, relief (charity) and truth.