(Fr)Eedom is coming

As a new administration enters Malacañang with the promise of change, Maricon “Eedom” Montajes and over 500 political prisoners hope for a chance to be free.
 
photo from pinoyweekly 
 
The future looked bright for then 21-year-old Davaoeña Maricon Montajes. A student under the BA Film and Audio-visual Communication at the University of the Philippines, Maricon had simple hopes and dreams for herself and her country: to tell the stories nobody would listen to, to be the eyes and ears of the poorest and most oppressed Filipinos. All that was taken away one morning, when she woke up to the sound of bullets and screaming military men.

“I was captured”

“Lumabas kayo dyan! Mga New People’s Army (NPA) members kayo!” yelled the men, as they fired their guns at the house of a local peasant family in Barangay Mabayabas, Taysan, Batangas, around 3 a.m. on June 3, 2010. Along with two companions, Romiel Cañete and Ronilo Baes, Maricon was there to immerse herself with the masses.

She wanted to live within their stories—how they ate, slept, worked and fought for their rights—so that she may retell them as truthfully as she could. Little did she know that she would not even see the sunrise as a free woman. She and her two companions, now collectively known as the Taysan 3, were taken by men, later identified as members of the 740th Combat Group, 743rd Combat Squadron of the Philippine Air Force.

“My incarceration for almost six years has taken several opportunities from me”

Maricon is one of at least 519 political prisoners—people who were arrested and detained for trumped up charges due to their political beliefs and the exercise of such. To this day, Maricon faces criminal charges such as illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, illegal possession of explosives, and violations of the Omnibus Election Code. 

“For five grueling days, we were subjected to mental and psychological torture, series of interrogations,” Maricon narrated in a letter addressed to President Duterte.

“(We) were not allowed to communicate with our relatives and families and even consult a legal counsel while detained,” her letter further reads. “Baes and Cañete were physically maltreated during our custody inside the 740th PAF Camp in Barangay Pag-asa, Taysan, Batangas.”

Despite the Rosario Regional Trial Court’s acknowledgment that there isn’t enough evidence to prosecute her case, Maricon’s freedom, albeit temporary, comes with a P500,000 price tag. 

“We call for your utmost intervention”

Newly-elected President Rodrigo Duterte, on the other hand, promised to free political prisoners. After political prisoners’ years of missed opportunities and being robbed of their potential to become productive citizens and serve the people, such promise is a breath of fresh air.

For once, the new president acknowledges the existence of political prisoners. Incoming Labor Secretary and GPH peace panel chair Silvestre Bello III said that political prisoners will be released , according to the news reports. 
While this may be good news, political prisoners like Maricon, as well as their families and friends, remain vigilant, asking the new president to keep his word. 

To the people who know Maricon well, the charges against her are beyond absurd. As an aspiring filmmaker, her camera was her weapon of choice against injustice and oppression. Her six-year struggle for freedom has sparked campaigns and fundraising events from student activists, campus organizations and even those from the celebrity circles. 

As he holds the highest position in the land, President Duterte indeed has the potential to deliver on his promise of genuine social change, by ensuring that no citizen shall be deprived of their freedom to express and organize themselves.

For political prisoners like Maricon, that change starts with freedom from their cramped jail cells and into their homes, in the company of loved ones and the masses they serve. ###
 

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