Prison Ordeal

At 4:00 in the morning of September 21, 1973 -- the first anniversary of martial law -- I and three other seminarians quietly slipped out of the seminary. I wore my jogging pants and my scout-ranger jacket. We carried some of the leaflets that we mimeographed the previous nights.  These leaflets contained a denunciation of the martial law and a call for people to resist the dictatorial regime.  We planned to saturate the city with these leaflets.  Other students belonging to various cells were also doing the same thing in  different parts of the city. We went on our separate ways.  As I was walking alone in the dark and deserted streets of downtown Cebu dropping leaflets in the doorsteps and mail-boxes, I suddenly felt hands grabbing me from behind. A man held me by the neck, another by the arms. The third man  aimed his .45 caliber pistol at me and said, "Don't move,  you are under arrest!"

He frisked me and grabbed the leaflets I tucked inside my jacket. A car suddenly pulled in beside us and I was shoved inside. I was sandwiched between the two men while the third sat in front. My whole body froze and my heart raced as the car sped along Jones Avenue and entered Camp Sergio Osmeña.  I had a sinking feeling -- as if I was falling into a void as I said to myself, "Oh God, please help me, I have been caught."

They brought me up to the office of the Constabulary Security Unit in third floor and dumped me inside a small dark windowless room they called the "dragon room." This was the room where they conducted tactical interrogations.  What happened next seemed surreal.  It was an experience of pain, shame and humiliation that I tried to forget and did not want talk about. Years later as I tried to come to terms with the past, I wrote a psalm that describes what I and many other political prisoners had to go through.


A Prisoner's Psalm

From this dark and damp cell
I cry out to you --
Lord, can your hear my groaning?
I cry to you all day long,
I call out to you in the night
But you are so distant or absent.
My throat is sore, I cannot scream anymore
Day and night they ask me all sorts of questions,
they strike, punch and kick me  when I do not answer.

My fingers are swollen, I cannot clench my fist
My ribs are broken, I cannot stand erect
My whole body is inflamed, it is getting numb. 

I was thirsty and they forced me to drink  rum.
to loosen my tongue and reveal to them the truth.
 They stripped  me off my clothes and my dignity.  

They are preparing the machine that will electrify my body.
And now I dread the sound of footsteps and the opening of the door.
I prefer this darkness than face the glaring light bulb.
They said only I can end my suffering
if I confess to them everything and betray those
who oppose this dictatorial regime. 

How much longer, do I have to suffer?
How much longer can I hold on?
How much longer can I maintain my sanity?
Will I ever see again the sky and the sun?
Will I ever see again the faces of those I love and serve?
Or will they make me disappear forever?
Lord, do not abandon me!
Deliver me from these kidnappers and murderers
            who are trying to maintain peace and order.
Deliver me from these mercenaries
            whose obsession is to defend national security
            the security of this blood-thirsty and power hunger dictator
            the security of his cronies and their big business interest
            the security of his alien lords and their bases and investments.

O, Lord my God,
I know you are neither blind nor deaf.
Your mercy and compassion endure  forever.
You have always been a subversive God
            you depose the mighty from their thrones and raise the lowly.

I cry out now to you: subvert this dictatorial regime!
Let your Spirit fill the hearts of those who are struggling to build a kingdom
            of justice, peace and freedom.
From this dark and damp cell
I cry out to you, Lord can you hear me? 
Into your hands I commend my broken body
and my wavering spirit.


While I was inside the “dragon room”, I felt so helpless.  I cried out to God but he seemed so distant and absent. I felt abandoned.  Under the glare of a light bulb over my head, the intelligence agents continued to take turns in interrogating me and hitting my solar plexus, ears, chest and kidneys every time I refused to answer their questions. I was gasping for air every time they hit me. The pain became so unbearable that I passed out.  When I regained consciousness I lost the sense of time since it was dark inside the room. I didn't know whether it was night or day. I was hungry and thirsty. Instead of giving me water, somebody forced me to drink Tanduay rum. I became groggy and they continued to ask me who my comrades were and where they could be found. They thought that too much alcohol would loosen my tongue.   Instead, I wailed like a little child.

            After a while, another intelligence agent was assigned to interrogate me. He treated me like I was his younger brother. He spoke softly and told me that the torture would stop if I just give them the information they wanted. He also brought me food. I was wondering if I could withstand another session of torture. Yet I was also imagining the faces of my comrades, especially Magno and Cynthia. If I reveal their names they would also be picked up, tortured and imprisoned. I told myself that I would never reveal any information that would lead to their arrest. Yet I had to tell them something that would make them believe that they have broken me and that I have finally cooperated. So I finally said, "Please, don't hurt me anymore. I will tell you everything I know."

I wanted the torture to stop and at the same time protect the real identity of my companions. To mislead them,  I finally gave them the name of a popular student activist – Tina Rosello - who belonged to a radical leftist student group.   I presumed she had already gone underground and they would not be able to arrest her.   They seemed to believe me and the torture stopped. They were glad that I was finally cooperating with them. They asked me if I was willing to work as an informer if they released me. I said yes. I was thinking that I would just hide once I get out.

            The following night or was it day, I heard the scream of a young woman in another room. An agent told me that they had picked up Tina and was interrogating her. He told me that they would use me as  a witness if she was going to be tried by a military tribunal. I was seized with remorse. I was saying to myself, "What have I done? In order to save myself and my comrades I gave them her name and she is now suffering because of my false story."

When I met the major,  I told him that everything I revealed to them was a lie and that I was retracting my statement. So Tina was immediately released. My conscience would continue to haunt me for the despicable act of falsely implicating a girl in order to save my skin. It was the worst sin that I have ever committed.

            I felt I was being sucked deeper and deeper into a black hole in which there was no escape. When I went to the comfort room, accompanied by a guard, I saw an open window and all I thought was to jump out of it. We were on the third floor but I didn't care. All I wanted was to end it all. But I didn't have a chance to do it since the guard was just beside me.

I was sent back to the dragon room for further interrogation. They were mad at me for lying to them. The torture continued. I was like a punching bag and a soccer ball. But I refused to tell them anything.  After so many days of torture, my body and mind became numb. I couldn't feel anymore.  Even when one of the interrogators put the barrel of his .45 caliber pistol in my mouth and cocked it, I didn't care anymore if he pulled the trigger. My interrogators out of exasperation told me that they would be using the electric shock to force out information from me. They showed me a machine with the electrodes that they would attach to the different parts of my body. I was suddenly filled with terror.

I finally told them, "OK, I give up, I can't stand it anymore. I will tell you everything."  They believed that I had finally reached my breaking point.

             This is the gist of the story I told them: "I had been recruited by Ed Garcia and Sam Javelosa to the Lakasdiwa in the early seventies. With the declaration of Martial Law the members of the Lakasdiwa decided to lie low. I was trying to revive the movement in Cebu and I started by organizing a cell in the seminary. We produced the leaflets ourselves using the seminary mimeographing machine and distributed these ourselves. We didn't have any contact with any group. We were on our own."

I gave them the names of the seminarians who helped me produce and distribute the leaflets (Rex Fernandez, Dwight Alcantar and Reynold Pigar). This story was close to the truth to be credible. Strangely enough, the interrogators seemed to believe me. In order to check out my story, they invited for questioning the three seminarians. Since all they knew was about the production and distribution of the leaflets, they were sent home immediately.  So finally the torture and tactical interrogation was over. I survived. I protected the identity of my comrades and friends. I was turned over to the Regional Command for the Administration of Detainees for formal investigation.

I spent almost a week  in a small cell inside the Provost Marshall's office. It was like a cage.  This was the holding cell for those undergoing formal investigation. The investigator assigned to take my sworn statement was Sgt. Allega. He was assisted by an attractive female staff.  All I did was to repeat the story I told my interrogators. The female constabulary soldier typed everything I said. From time to time Sgt. Allega would ask for more information but I stuck to my story, making sure that I would not implicate my comrades. After our last session, the investigator told me  I would be sent to the detention center and undergo "rehabilitation."

            So on October 3, 1973, I and two other prisoners were put on a military truck and taken to  Lahug Detention Center. We were handcuffed and accompanied by armed guards. It was the first time I saw the sky since I was arrested. It was a gloomy afternoon, the sun was hidden by the dark clouds and rain poured as we reached the detention camp. I had a sinking feeling as I found myself inside the prison camp which was enclosed by high walls and barbed wires. The guards first took us to the administration building where our pictures and finger-prints were taken. The officer on duty added our names to the list of prisoners on a blackboard.  Then we were brought to a one-story building that looked like a pre-fabricated school house without any windows or ceiling. The air and light could only enter through a small opening near the roof.  After we were brought inside, the guards closed the steel door behind us and I saw these burly men with tattoos all over their bodies look down at us.  One of them started asking, "Who are you and what are your cases?"

            I was the first one to answer, "I am Amado Picardal and I am a political prisoner."

A dark young man with a shaved head approached me and said, "Come with me. Nobody's going to harm you. You are exempted from this initiation. They respect political prisoners here. I am Hugo and I am also a political prisoner." 

             The two other new prisoners with me had criminal offenses. They were just teenagers. They were immediately subjected to the initiation rite for new prisoners. It was called “the baptism.” So the two young prisoners were brought to the toilet and their faces were dunked into the toilet bowl filled with urine and excrements. Then the other prisoner took turns in punching them. Later that night several sex-starved prisoners sodomized them.  And I thought all these could have happened to me too.

            I found it difficult to sleep on my first night. There was a lot of bantering among prisoners who were drinking and playing cards. Others were arguing and I thought a fight could erupt at any moment. I was perspiring and every time I breathe the smell of sweat, urine and excrement filled my nostrils. Thankfully, I was tired and I dozed off. At around four in the morning I woke up.  I tried to convince myself that I was back in my bed in the seminary and all that had happened was just a bad dream. But the stench reminded me that I was still in prison. I wiped the tears in my cheeks and went back to sleep.


October 21, 1973

Dear Ma,

It is a month now since I was arrested and detained by the intelligence operatives of the Constabulary Security Unit. After a week of tactical interrogation and solitary confine­ment I was transferred to a prison cell at Camp Sergio Osmeña and a week later was brought here. This is a detention center for people charged with common crimes ( robbery, homicide, rape, etc.). There are around 70 prisoners in my cell block - most of whom are hardened criminals. Almost every night a fight breaks out among the drunken members of the prison gangs. So far, I have managed to survive in this harsh environment.

A couple of weeks ago, I celebrated my 18th birthday. Fr. Jesena and some classmates came for a visit. They brought me a birthday cake.

Yesterday, I met Colonel Santua and he told me that I will be transferred to the political detention center at Camp Lapulapu next week. It seems that they will not try my case before the military tribunal. I will just undergo "political rehabil­itation." I still don't know when I will be released.

By the way, Fr. Rudy Abao and Bro. Ben Alforque, MSC were arrested two weeks ago. This is once again a proof of the fascist character of the Marcos dictatorial regime. Anybody who dares to criticize, expose and oppose this "New Society" will be arrested. But it does not matter. What is important is that not all can be fooled by the lies and deceit of this regime. Not all are asleep in these dark days of our motherland.

Please don't worry about me, I will survive this ordeal.  Don't be ashamed about my being in prison. To struggle for freedom is not a crime.


 It was frightening to be placed on the same cell with thieves, murderers, rapists and carnappers, etc. I was lucky there was one other political prisoner -- Hugo. He had earned the respect of the other prisoners and took me under his wings.  We were able to befriend the toughest criminal whom everyone addressed as the "Mayor."  He was regarded as the big boss,  so nobody dared to harm or molest us.  In return I acted as his secretary. He would ask me to write letters to his mother and to his various girlfriends outside.  Mayor was a Mama's boy.  In the early hours of the morning I would hear him crying and calling out to his mother.

Life in prison was dull. The guards would wake us up before six every morning and   open the doors of our cells and order us to proceed to the courtyard  where we would be exposed to the morning sun as they made the roll call.  After a breakfast of  black coffee and two pieces of  bread, we would go back to our bunks and do nothing.  We spent most of our time waiting for our next meal and dreaming of the delicious food that we would eat once we were released. Others had their bodies tattooed.  A crude design of a clenched fist with a number 1081 was tattooed on my left arm. We would also gather in small groups sharing our stories.  Some even shared the tricks of their trade (how to pick a pocket or how to rob a house). Others shared with us how they killed their victims.

Many of the prisoners seemed to be pious. Many wore the rosary around their neck. One even had a tattoo of the Mother of Perpetual Help on his back. Every evening after supper the prisoners would come together and pray the rosary.  Later, they would gather and drink rum.  By midnight many would be drunk and there would be a brawl among various gang members. Whenever a fight broke out, I would immediately scamper to a safe haven near the bunk of Mayor and Hugo.

Hugo was my constant companion. He was a student activist before martial law was declared. He told me that he joined the NPA (New People's Army) after the declaration of martial rule.  He was caught while visiting his brother in Cebu.  Hugo and I would often argue about the existence of God.  He was a Marxist and an atheist. He told me there was no material basis for God's existence and that religion was the opium of the people.  He was very convincing and I felt so inadequate because I did not know how to prove the existence of God.  I could not make an account of my faith.  The seed of doubt was planted in my mind.

I was very fortunate that Fr. Jesena , the seminary director, visited me three times a week and followed up my case.  He regularly wrote my mother and father to give them updates about me and my case.  On October 26, he wrote this letter:

Dear Engr. and Mrs. Picardal,
      Thank you for your letter. I hope things are fine with you and the children.

Amado is doing well. He has been helping other prisoners by looking into their cases and presenting those who need help to the officer in charge of the Detention Center. Yesterday, he was typing the time-table and the grouping of the prisoners. He said he has a plot for gardening. On investigation I found out that he has not planted any seedling yet.

            The wheels of justice still moves very slowly even with the PC [Philippine Constabulary]. I have been following up Amado's case also everyday and I haven't gone very far. The recommendation for his transfer to Camp Lapulapu has now gone on to the office of the officer approving it.

            My letter to General Amor was not handed directly to him but it is being circulated among different offices. I have lost track of it. I have to find out where. It seems to be playing hide and seek. So I think we have to be very patient.

            Today, I was investigated myself. I have to raise my hands to swear to the truth of my statements - or else?!? I was told to return Monday for another session.

            So will you be patient? I'll tell Nonie about your message. I am visiting Amado almost every two days and I think I can be taken now for one of the detainees. I always bring him something to eat when I visit him. Frs. Suico and Sullivan and Bro. Gerard had also visited him. He still has money with me. I'll be writing every week to give you info. God bless.

            On October 28, 1973, I was transferred to the political detention center in Camp Lapulapu. I got a very warm reception from the political prisoners. Among those who welcomed me was Minerva Generalao – a pretty college student from my hometown who was arrested a month earlier.  That evening after supper, they held a program to welcome me. There were a lot of singing -- mostly revolutionary songs. Others recited their favorite poems. There was also a comedy skit, depicting life in prison and the foibles of the guards. I was also asked to introduce myself. We ended by singing lustily our national anthem: Bayan Ko.  I really felt at home among them. Two weeks later I wrote my mother:


November 10, 1973

Dearest Ma,

Two weeks ago, I was transferred to this camp and so far I have no difficulty adjusting to this environment. All those imprisoned here are political detainees. There are more than 80 of us here.  Ten of them are ex-seminarians. My former profes­sor in Philosophy at the University of San Carlos, Mario Bolasco, is also detained here. I hope Fr. Abao and Bro. Ben  will be transferred here.

Our detention barracks, which is inside the army camp, is enclosed by walls and barbed wires. It is heavily guarded and there is a watch tower. We are living a very regimented way of life. We wake up at 4:45 in the morning for reveille and calisthenics followed by the cleaning of the place. We have rehabilitation classes and manual labor in the morning and athletics in the afternoon. I am a member of the detention basketball team. I am also in the card-making committee - we're making cards for Christmas that we will sell. We have a library, coopera­tive store, parlor games, tailoring, medical committee, food committee, etc. Next week, we will be starting our chess and ping-pong tournaments.

As you can see, we are by ourselves a little community. We are trying to improve the prison conditions and to make ourselves  at home. It is not enough to merely adjust to prison life. We have to transform the condition into a more humane and dignified one as well.

I don't know when I will be released. I am still under "rehabilitation." My detention is indefinite -- it could be for seven months or seven years.

Being detained and losing my freedom is the worst thing that could ever happen to me. But to quote from the beautiful card you sent me: "Happy are they who dream dreams and are willing to pay the price to make them come true."

It is true that my detention is really a bad thing in terms of wasted time (my studies). I'm already behind my batch and I won't be able to finish my education for the priesthood within six years. But we have to look at this situation positively. This is the time when I can assess and evaluate my life. Out of this experience I hope to emerge a better man with a deeper understanding of reality. I do not expect to go through life smoothly, I have to pass through many trials and difficulties. This is the harsh reality of life and I have to accept it with the hope that something good can come out of it.

You must have been joking when you wrote that you dream of me becoming a bishop or cardinal someday. That's an impossible dream. I don't have any desire for these high positions.    I only want to be a simple priest, working among the poor, facing life with them.

Please give my regards to all,


Two weeks later, I received a cheerful and very consoling letter from my mother, written in English, as usual:

Dearest Mading,

            I've almost bitten up all my fingernails with impatience waiting for your letter. Everybody was happy when your letter arrived.

            I am very glad that there's never a dull moment in your life there, what with all the things you like -- basketball, chess, ping-pong, and a library, too (the best of all)! You know dear, I'm afraid that you'd want to live there permanently if you are feeling very comfortable. Ouch? I'm only kidding you.

            You know, I was just joking when I said that I would like you to be a bishop or a cardinal someday. Well, who knows? It's not a crime to dream dreams, is it?

If you don't mind being out of school for one semester or more, it's okay with me. I only hope that you'll not be too unhappy about it. Remember, I have given you to our Lord when you first entered the seminary and I know that the Lord will take good care of you. I'm only very sorry that we could not visit you -- I'm certain that you understand our situation now. Nonie and Fr. Jesena are always visiting you aren't they? I wish I could send you something you'd like to eat, mind telling me your preference?

  Did they shave your head? I hope not. You've got to maintain your personal grooming even though you are in prison. I think you have some ladies for cellmates, haven't you?  I'd like to picture my boy looking "spick and span" and handsome. ehem. Gosh, not that I'd love you less if you were cross-eyed or hare-lip and very ugly. That reminds me of a description I came across once -- "He has a face that only a mother could love." Quite a beautiful thing a mother's love is, isn't it?

By the way, do you know that you've become dearer to me since you gave me a fright by landing yourself in jail? It's only now I know how brave and courageous you are. I'm really blessed having a son as fine as you are. Ouch! do you think there's any possibility that I'll land in prison by merely saying that? What a cruel world!

I am now an active member of the Cursillo movement. We have ultreyas every Wednesday. Every Friday evening we also have "School of Leaders" session. We are going to have a Purok level Pastoral Seminar one of these days. I hope we will be successful in this -- forming a Christian Community. I'm sure this is one way of realizing your dream -- of helping the oppressed.  Fr. McHugh has also invited me to be part of the Citizen's Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP).

So long dear -- your Papa and your brods and sisters are sending you their love. Be seeing you in my dreams.

                                                                                                Love lots,



I  never expected that I would end up as a prisoner in Camp Lapulapu. The last time I was in the army camp was when I was being trained in unconventional  warfare and riot control as an ROTC Scout Ranger. At least, the prison condition was much better than the one in my former detention camp in Lahug.  I was among political prisoners instead of criminals. There were eighty political prisoners -- 65 men and 15 women. The barracks of the men and women were separated by a barbed wire fence but we had a common dining hall. Most of the prisoners came from the different parts of the Visayas - from Leyte and Samar (Eastern Visayas), from Panay and Negros (Western Visayas), and Cebu and Bohol (Central Visayas).  Most were leaders of the radical student movement -- the KM-SDK, some were leading cadres of the Communist Party of the Philippines, while others were captured NPA combatants. Thus, the National Democrats and Marxists comprised the majority. There were only a handful of Social Democrats. In spite of our ideological differences, we were able to get along well with each other. I easily made a lot of friends among my fellow political prisoners.  I was glad that Fr. Rudy Abao and Bro. Ben Alforque were transferred to our detention barracks. They became my constant companions.

 The prison condition was not that harsh. We were treated well most of the time. However, there were times when the guards would pick up some of our fellow prisoners in the middle of the night and when they came back they would be groaning or crying after a night of torture. The last incident happened a week before Christmas. Many of us felt that the practice should stop. So we all decided to hold a hunger strike. On the first day of the hunger strike, the guards brought  fried chicken and  pork adobo. Our mouths watered as we gazed at the food on the table. We were never served such delicious meals before. But we refused to take them.  Instead we banged our mess kits and had a noise barrage which reverberated all over the camp the whole day. By evening time, I felt very hungry. This was the first time that I missed breakfast, lunch and supper.  I drank a lot of water and went to bed early. On the second day, the guards called out the names of  eight political prisoners. Among these were Mario Bolasco, Menandro Villanueva, Fr. Rudy Abao, Bro. Ben Alforque and myself. We were told to pack up our bags and get on the military truck.  We were brought to Camp Sergio Osmeña and placed inside a small cell. The prison authorities suspected us of being the leaders of the hunger strike and wanted to isolate us. Nevertheless, we decided to continue our hunger strike in solidarity with our fellow political prisoners who were left behind. On Christmas eve, as we heard the sound of firecrackers outside and imagined our families and friends enjoying their Christmas dinner, we continued our hunger strike.  Although I felt a bit weak , I didn´t feel the hunger fangs anymore. We greeted one another a Merry Christmas. On December 27, a week after the start of the hunger strike, the prison authorities gave in to our demands. However, those of us in the isolation cell were told that we would be not be sent back to Camp Lapu-lapu. We would be transferred to Fort Bonifacio in Manila.


January 10, 1974

Dear Ma,

How was your Christmas? I hope you have not given up hope wishing for a better one. I know how miserable it is to be deprived of our basic needs and rights. Anyway, we have to be thankful that we're still alive.

I received the foodstuffs you sent me the other day. I was really touched by the Christmas cards and letters from my brothers and sisters. I'm just sorry that I could not send them gifts this Christmas like I used to. Anyway, it  is not the gift that counts. What is important is that we are one in spirit in celebrating this Christmas and we hope that we will go through these hardships together.

 You probably heard that we had a hunger strike from December 19 to 27. After the first day of the hunger strike, eight of us (includ­ing Fr. Rudy Abao and Bro. Ben Alforque) were transferred to the Provost Marshall's stockade at Camp Sergio Osmeña. We were suspected of being the leaders of the hunger strike and they wanted to isolate us. The eight of us spent Christmas in a small cell built for four persons. We were held incommunicado. We were not allowed to receive visitors. We were told to get ready because we were to be transferred to Fort Bonifacio in Manila after Christmas. They said that they had already requested for an air-force plane that will airlift us to Manila. Fortunately, they changed their mind and only three were transferred to Ft. Bonifacio (Fr. Abao, Menandro Villanueva and Mario Bolasco). The rest of us were sent back here at Camp Lapulapu. Fr. Jesena told me that he requested Cardinal Julio Rosales to convince General Amor not to send me to Manila.

At present I'm working on my philosophy term paper. I hope to take the special exams by February. You don't have to worry about my studies, I can still catch up with my batch if I'm released before summer.

Please give my warmest regards to everyone. I'm including you in my prayers. I hope you will keep on praying for a better tomorrow.

Life in the political detention camp went back to normal.  The guards were more friendly.  The practice of picking up and torturing prisoners stopped. We spent more time playing basketball, chess and ping-pong.  We also spent a lot of time discussing various topics: politics, philosophy, science and religion. Most of these were discussed from a Marxist perspective. What affected me most was the discussion on religion. For the first time in my life I lived in an environment where the majority took it for granted that God did not exist and that religion was the opium of the people.  For many of my fellow political prisoners, the "Marxist-Leninist-Mao Tse Tung Thought" could explain everything. For them, it provides a rational-scientific explanation of how everything came to be, how society has developed, and what the future of humankind will be. They asserted that “dialectical historical materialism” can more adequately explain the origin and direction of all reality rather than   religion or theology. Thus, this scientific view of reality precludes  belief in God.

            As I listened to the discussion among my fellow political prisoners, I became more and more aware of the possibility that God may not exist at all, that God may just be the product of our imagination, and that we human beings may have created God in our own image and likeness.  The critique of  religion as the opium of the people seemed to be reasonable to me. I began to agree with them that religion can provide solace to the oppressed, especially with the promise of heaven. It makes all the suffering and oppression bearable. Because of this, people will no longer struggle for liberation.  Thus, for many of my fellow political prisoners to be a revolutionary meant to be an atheist.  The song from the Internationale sums this up: “Wala tayong maaasahan, Bathala o Manunubos…” (There is no one we can put our  hope or trust in, neither a God or a Savior).  Instead of believing in God, we need to believe in the people - the masses. Instead of hoping for a divine liberator, we have to liberate ourselves.

            In spite of the atheism that many professed, they continued to attend the regular Sunday Mass which was presided by Captain Oquendo, the military chaplain. I could sense the skepticism of many which I began to imbibe.  Like others, I doubted whether it was really the word of  God that we heard, and that whether the bread and wine was really transformed into the body and blood of Christ.  It became more and more difficult for me to believe. It was easier not to believe. What made it more difficult was that I did not feel God’s presence in prison.

            I  was impressed  by the zeal and commitment of my fellow political prisoners who regarded themselves as National Democrats and Communists. They viewed their imprisonment as a temporary setback and dreamed of the day when they would be back in the countryside continuing the struggle for freedom and liberation. They were full of hope and they truly believed that someday the forces of revolution would be victorious.  There were slogans they kept on repeating that dictated how they should behave: Serve the People, Simple living- hard struggle, Struggle against selfishness and  personal interest, etc. For a people who were regarded as atheists, it seemed that they were full of  faith, hope and charity.  They may not believe in God or his kingdom, but they believed in the people and hoped for the coming of a new and transformed world where there will be no more injustice, exploitation or oppression. They were ready to offer their whole life for the sake of the people's cause. Later, I remembered them in a poem I wrote:



 You call me godless  just because I don't believe
 in the god you adore,  a dictator who decrees:
   Blessed are the rich and the mighty
                            they shall inherit the earth.
   Blessed are the poor and the weak
      they shall inherit the sky.
   Blessed are the children of the rich
      they shall live happily after birth.
   Blessed are the children of the poor
      they shall live happily after death.

    Woe to you who subvert this sacred order
      you shall be called godless  and you will be crucified. 

I don't believe in your god
 who dwell in your golden tabernacles
    and marble cathedrals,
 who cannot see the misery of the poor
    in the slums, farms and factories,
 who cannot hear the groaning and the howling
    of the oppressed in this vast prison,
    in the cells, safehouses and streets,
 an impotent god.
I don't believe in your god. I don't believe in your idols. 
 You call me godless
 just because I don't believe  in the gods you worship,
   the god you accumulate day and night  and keep in the tabernacle of your bank,
   the god you wield that enables you to dictate the destiny of others
   the god that puts you on a pedestal. 

I don't believe in your gods.  I don't believe in your idols. 
I have seen the suffering of the poor,
I have heard the cry of the oppressed,
I have joined them in their struggle for liberation
   and I am ready to sacrifice my body and blood for their total salvation,
 and for this you call me godless.

 Who is really godless?


While I admired their dedication and zeal, I also was alarmed by the ruthlessness of some of those who considered themselves revolutionaries. This became apparent in an incident that I witnessed one night.   The lights were already out and I was sleeping in my bunk when  was awakened by a cry for help. I immediately stood up and saw Siano -- a sickly political prisoner -- being beaten and kicked by six other political prisoners. His face was already bloodied. The other prisoners just watched. I pleaded, "Please stop that … why are you doing this to him?".

Instead one of them approached me and threatened to punch me. "This demon has been informing on us. Are you going to help him?"

I backed down and remained silent as they kept on beating him to a pulp. Nobody dared to stop them. When it was over, we all went back to bed. I found it difficult to sleep. I was horrified at seeing a sickly prisoner being beaten up by other fellow prisoners on the suspicion that he had informed on them. 


February 3, 1974

Dear Ma,                                                                                                                                

I sent you a letter two weeks ago but it was intercepted and censored by the camp guards. So here I am again making another try.

Fr. McHugh visited me recently. Fr. Tancinco also came and brought the radio and the foodstuffs you sent me. The radio is really a big help. I can now listen to the beautiful music which dispels the boredom and loneliness.

You don't have to apologize for not informing me about Lolo's death. I heard about it anyway from Fr. Jesena.

Everything is alright here. I have just been assigned to work with the medical team and the library. I'm still with the piggery committee but unfortunately we have just lost one of our pigs who died of pneumonia. We have drills and marching every day. Finally we harvested camote from our Green Revolu­tion project. Just recently the OCR (Office for Civil Relation) asked us to take psycho­logical tests.

How's everybody back there? I  hope Papa has already started his work. I have been praying for him lately. Please give my warmest regards to everyone.


Around the middle of February, a prison guard told me to proceed to the visitor’s area. I  presumed that my visitor was Fr. Jesena. I was surprised and delighted to see Papa. He seemed to have grown older with most of the hair on his head gone. I never expected him to visit me after Mama told me that he was disappointed with me and blamed her for allowing me to get involved in student activism that consequently led to my arrest.  We were seating at the opposite side of the table with a guard constantly watching us. There was no smile in his face.  He seemed cold and distant. “How are you?”He asked.

I told him I was OK.

“When are you going to be released?”

I answered that I didn’t know but that I hoped that it would be soon. We had little to talk about. He didn’t stay very long.  As he left, I felt that he was deeply worried and disappointed with me. How else should a father feel seeing his son in prison? Nevertheless, I was glad that he came to visit me even if it was just for a brief moment.


March 6, 1974

Dearest Ma,

Last week, my request for a special pass was granted and so I went to the University to take my special exams accompanied by an armed guard.  I am probably the first political prisoner to do this. Fr. Jesena had made the arrangement beforehand with my professors.  I was glad to see them.  It took the whole morning doing the exams in history, chemistry, and philosophy.

I met Nonie. We had lunch at the monastery where I was warmly welcomed by the Redemptorist community. The Fathers were very supportive and sympathetic. After lunch I was able to convince my guard that we see a movie before going back to the camp. Well, it was good to be out of prison even for a day. I'm longing for the day when I will be released from this prison camp.


Two weeks later I received a letter from Mama:

Dearest Mading,

            Hullo there! How was the results of your exams? I hope you got a passing mark or I'll make you change your middle name.

Nonie has been telling me that you've grown sidewise -- bitaw, to say it in her own words, you're growing fat. I'm not happy at all about it . Know why? I'm suspecting that you’re having a "beri-beri." I've heard before that your occupation was to wait for the next meal.

            My poor son, your relatives do not approve of what you have done. If I were in their shoes, I'd do the same. Your uncles and aunts are worried about me. They are afraid that I will be the first in the family to go to Mandaluyong if the strain is too much for me. They are marveling at my remarkable endurance. I think  I have our Lord to thank for it.

            I am intending to ask your uncle Pitoy [Colonel Nadorra] to write to General Amor and plead for your release. Any objection? You see dear, you have already overstayed in prison. The government is wasting money for your board and lodging when the money could have been invested in some useful cause. Besides that, I really want you to finish your studies without delay. You know how priests are badly needed in our country today.

            Your brods, sisters and most of all your Papa are sending you their love. I hope you will be the no. 1 model prisoner in prison. I'd surely come and pin your ribbon if you will just let me know.

            I  just couldn't believe that my little boy has grown up to be a man. The last time you kissed me goodbye when you were leaving for Cebu was more than a couple of years ago. But now you don't kiss me anymore because you are already grown up. But to me you are still my boy. So long dear.


On April 15, 1974, I was brought to the office of General Luis Amor, the III PC Zone commander.  Mama and my youngest sister, Cely, were there. My uncle (Mama's brother-in-law), retired Colonel Jose Nadorra, had earlier written General Amor asking him to release me under his custody.  My uncle was General Amor's former commanding officer from way back. So finally, General Amor acceded to my uncle's request.   After giving us a long  lecture, the General signed my release paper.  He told me that  I was just a temporarily released detainee and that I  have been placed under city arrest, which meant that I could not leave the city of Cebu without permission from the military authorities. I was  required to report once a week to the provost marshal's office for accounting purposes.  I was also asked to sign a document declaring that I was treated well during my imprisonment and that I was never tortured. I was hesitant to sign it but I had no choice.  I didn't think they would release me if I refused to do so. So I was brought back to the detention center and I hurriedly packed my things.  I gave away some of  my clothes to my fellow detainees and said goodbye to them.

My prison ordeal ended after seven months.  I  survived.  Yet somehow I was a different person.  I had  been hardened by the torture, the isolation, the prison violence, the boredom, the hunger strike, etc.  In order to survive I learned to dull my senses and my  feelings.  I was no longer sure of my faith.  I became paranoid -- I was suspicious of strangers around me, thinking I was still under surveillance.   I was afraid to meet my old friends and comrades.  I began to experience recurring nightmares.

So I was free at last.  But I was released to a bigger prison -- the Philippine society under a dictatorial rule.


bimbim said...

May the sadness forget you. God bless you 'Dre. Stay healthy. You are always in our prayers.

smeltedfeet said...

Amazing story of resilience and commitment to your faith and cause in such a horrific situation. Thank you for sharing, I hope you and all the victims of human rights get justice. Your story reminds me of Father Rudy Romano, whatever happened to his case?