A Tale of Three Mothers

Today, mothers’ day, the shops and malls put out all the stops to entice families to celebrate that one day of the year to honor mothers, while 3-year old Luis* is probably oblivious to all these commercial celebrations of mothers’ day.

Luis doesn’t live with his mother, yet he is being reminded of his mother all his life, all the time, by his father, grandparents, friends and colleagues of his mother, or even strangers who come in  for a visit. And whenever family finances allow, Luis visits his mother at the Taguig City Jail Female Dorm in Camp Bagong Diwa.

Miradel Torres

Luis’s mother is Miradel Torres. A political detainee since 2015, Miradel gave birth to Luis under detention on November 19, 2014, her 5th month in jail. Luis was only six months old and exclusively breastfed by his mother when Miradel had to give him away to her parents due to prison conditions. It did not help that the Infanta Quezon Regional Trial Court denied her bail for humanitarian reasons as a breastfeeding mother.

miradel

Miradel Torres carrying her baby. Photo by Bulatlat. ​

Political prisoners like Miradel are victims of trumped up charges. Miradel, a Gabriela community organizer in Mauban, Quezon, was suffering from excessive bleeding from a threatened miscarriage when she was repeatedly harassed while confined in a hospital. She was still recuperating when she was  arrested on charges of murder and frustrated murder allegedly as an NPA. Upon admission in a detention facility, jail personnel confiscated her medicines and supplements for her pregnancy. She had to share space with an inmate with tuberculosis. In addition, Miradel was assigned to sleep on the third deck of the bed.

It is a testament to Miradel’s indomitable spirit that she successfully carried Luis to term despite the confines of prison.

For women activists, being a mother is no deterrent to continue with their political work in organizing, arousing and mobilizing the masses for  genuine change. This is, after all , for the future of their children. But it is no walk in the park either, especially whenever State repression rears its ugly head.

Emilia Marquez

Consider the agony of forcibly and suddenly leaving behind a sick infant in the hospital.

On November 10, 2017, community health worker Emilia Marquez was tending to her critically-ill two month old baby at a hospital in Calapan City, Oriental Mindoro, when four soldiers from the 203rd Infantry Battalion forcibly dragged Emilia and a relative from the bedside of her baby.

The soldiers had no warrant, and refused to identify themselves. It was only after 24 hours when she was allowed to call her parents that she was being detained in the 203rd IB Headquarters in Bansud. At the time, human right workers were already looking for her in various camps and detention facilities of the police and military. Her companion was eventually released.

Emilia Marquez had, for a second time, became a political detainee. She was one of the “Morong 43,” health workers arrested in February 2010 and released in December 2010 after charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives were dismissed in Court. She continued to serve the peasants and the Mangyans in Mindoro as a community-based health worker, until that second time she was arrested .

Today, Emilia Marquez is still detained in Pinamalayan in Oriental Mindoro for trumped up charges of murder in Mamburao, Occidental Mindoro and frustrated murder  in Pinamalayan, Oriental Mindoro. Her baby is now being raised by her parents.

Grace Abbaratique - Versoza

Another young mother with a small child who was arrested with her husband is Grace Versoza. Grace and husband Juan Paolo (JP) are documentarists working on a project in Samar involving farmers.

On June 28, 2013, some 20 police operatives from the Eastern Police District Intelligence Division, Pasig Police Station and Marikina Police Station surrounded and forcibly entered their house in Parang, Marikina City, and without showing any warrants, arrested Juan Paolo and Grace Verzosa. The police also illegally searched the house and took away the couple’s SIM card and computer.

Grace was a nursing mother then with three month old Carlo*. In the ensuing confusion, Grace never let Carlo leave her arms. Carlo was with her when the police handcuffed JP, and when the couple was brought to the PNP headquarters in Pasig City when they were booked and interrogated for the alleged offense of robbery and homicide and illegal possession of firearms and explosives. They were also accused of membership in the NPA.

The couple was eventually sent to Samar prison where their case is still pending. As for Carlo, the couple had no recourse but to leave him with trusted relatives.

In the succeeding years, Grace and JP can only hear their son’s voice on the phone. But in October 2016, the International Committee of the Red Cross Philippines (ICRC) arranged for Carlo to visit his parents in Samar for the first time. The baby that Grace had nursed and was forced to leave behind was already a toddler.    

grace

Screenshot from a video by the International Committee of the Red Cross Philippines when the son of Grace and JP Versoza visited them for the first time in prison     

These three stories of young mothers forced to give up their young children even as their own personal liberties are also restrained, are among the many struggles that women activists have to contend with.

But that they were targeted for arrests when they were at their most vulnerable, as nursing mothers, is inhumane and designed to break their spirits. Not one of these young mothers were ever granted bail on humanitarian grounds.

For the sacrifices for their children and for the country, these mothers deserve no less than their freedom this Mothers’ Day. Free all Political Prisoners! 

*Names of children are not their real names for their security