Unwavering Belief behind Bars

“Steel bars, the prison cell, and confinement are not a hindrance in exercising my belief”

- former political prisoner Ronald Lucero

The case of Ronald Alcantara Lucero, 38, known to his friends as “Ka Ronald,” exemplifies the continuing state-perpetuated abuses among people whose beliefs are against the interest of those in power. He was a political prisoner for seventeen (17) years, accused of trumped-up criminal charges and convicted due to perjured testimonies by false witnesses. Despite imprisonment, he still lived his life in the cell with great conviction. Throughout years in prison, Ka Ronald refused to be demoralized and remained firm in his beliefs against the rotten system. The story of Ka Ronald serves both as a reminder of the injustices of the State and as proof of the indomitable spirit of an individual with principles.

Ka Ronald came from a peasant family in the Southern Tagalog region of the Philippines. He grew up living the reality of a backward and feudal society - with farmers being cheated off of their harvests, their lands grabbed, and their seeming powerlessness deliberately reproduced. This was the context that shaped Ka Ronald’s beliefs and pushed him to struggle for systemic change. It was the realities of an unequal, oppressive and repressive system which led him to commit his time, his talents, and his life towards the fulfillment of a truly nationalist and democratic society.

 

Deprived of the Chance to be a Family: Ronald’s arrest and the death of his wife

On February 2, 2000, at a little past four in the afternoon in Barangay Mapulot, Tagkawayan, Quezon, Ka Ronald and his companions heard a gunshot while they were organizing an impromptu educational discussion. Unknown to him, the gunfire came from the area where his wife and other farmers were holding an assembly. He would later find out that his wife was the first casualty in the military operation conducted by composite elements of soldiers and paramilitary forces, after reports of NPA presence in the area. Shortly after, soldiers arrested him without warrant and immediately transported him to Camp Nakar, Lucena City, Quezon. Ka Ronald was slapped with ten (10) trumped-up charges - 4 cases of murder, 3 cases of illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, 1 case of carnapping, 1 case of robbery, and 1 case of arson.

Prior to this, Ronald and his wife just had a newborn child. The death of his wife and his incarceration deprived them of the chance to live as a family. Ka Ronald will carry this loss even beyond his release.

 

 Injustice Under Wraps: Life Behind Bars

After a short period, Ka Ronald was transferred to Camp Crame, Quezon City where he remained until 2008. Besides the trumped-up charges, the lack of speedy recourse and violations to his right to proper trial and due process, what worsened this injustice was the inhumane treatment against political prisoners during confinement. He was tortured a number of times during his stay in Camp Nakar and Camp Crame. “I was tied up and suspended in the air while soldiers struck me consecutive times with their firearms,” Ka Ronald recalled.

Soldiers also shot him using an improvised cannon on his right chest which broke his ribs. He was denied treatment after this incident. “They even covered my head with plastic, making breathing harder as the time passes,” he added. When asked what the worst method of torture was, however, he said: “mental torture was the hardest. The soldiers threatened and blackmailed me to plead guilty to a crime I didn’t commit, or else something would happen to my son”.

Apart from torture, political prisoners were disallowed visitation from their family and friends, denied proper medical attention when ill or in pain, and were forced to live in poor and dire conditions. Ka Ronald recounted that at one point, they were forced to sleep on the floor with neither beddings nor pillows.

The ill treatment lessened after being transferred to the Batangas Provincial Jail in 2008. In 2010, after a series of harassment and blackmail, Ka Ronald pleaded guilty to charges of murder to protect his son. He was further convicted for carnapping and illegal possession of firearms thereafter. Convicted for three of the 10 charges against him, Ka Ronald was sentenced to 21 years of imprisonment. He was subsequently transferred to the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa in 2011.

During his stay at the NBP, he said that all political prisoners were separated from each other, with communication or contact highly restricted. “Although this is not true for all, there are guards who are prejudiced against political prisoners, but I understand that this is because of the government’s influence and the prevailing negative perception of the status quo against us and what we stand for,” Ronald said.

 

Finding Meaning and Purpose in Prison

Throughout the years, Ka Ronald had done many things even while in prison. His hobbies were composing songs and poems, and even dancing. He sustained his interest for the arts and used it to channel his thoughts, feelings and beliefs. Though imprisoned, he endeavored to continue his studies and eventually reached 1st year college before his release. Ronald, elected president of the class inside the NBP, found a way to communicate with other political prisoners by scheduling meetings after class. He also established a group called “United Inmates for Progress,” an initiative of inmates whose purpose is to help those so-called tawid-dagat or individuals with no families in the region. The group also launched livelihood programs in order to further help each other.

As days went by, his imprisonment deprived him of the chance to interact with the child that he never came to see. For many years, he was denied the opportunity to become a father to his son. Ronald is only one of the many political prisoners who were unjustly punished for the sole reason of exercising his civil and political rights. When asked about the targeting and illegal arrests of activists and members of progressive organizations, he explained that “such actions are meant to demoralize a person. It is meant to erode our principles. It is meant to push us to question our commitments. It is meant to stop us from resisting against an oppressive and repressive system.”

Ka Ronald maintains that he does not regret his decision and remain committed to the struggle of creating a better society for the generations to come.

 

Ka Ronald’s release and continuing call to release all political prisoners

On April 27, 2017, Ka Ronald was released earlier than expected because of his good record. With regard to his release, he said: “I have mixed feelings on the matter: both happy and sad; Happy because I’m finally free, and sad because I would be leaving my friends and comrades who are also political prisoners.”

Ka Ronald also brought up President Rodrigo Duterte’s promise to release all political prisoners and shared his impassioned insights regarding the ongoing peace talks. He said that the Duterte administration hasn’t really been true to its promise and is adding to the injustices experienced by political detainees by delaying their release. He pointed out that those released were either granted bail or has served their sentence.

Before my interview ended, Ka Ronald stated that “even if the body is restrained, the mind isn’t”. His belief and conviction did not waver during his imprisonment; it only made his beliefs stronger. The filing of fabricated charges against him was, in a way, an affirmation of the system’s repressive character. His story is just one of the hundreds of political prisoners whose only offense is having the courage to fight against the status quo.

 

About the author: Edward Acebedo is a Political Science student at the University of the Philippines - Manila. He currently part of KARAPATAN's internship program.

 

 

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