As Father’s Day comes and I remain a political prisoner (at present in the 16th month of my third imprisonment and the 115th month of the total time I have been behind bars, or almost 10 years now), I recall the close to four decades that I have been greatly distanced—physically, at least—from my sons, Carlos Andres (Dimpy) and Arthur Victor.
Barely a year after I gained freedom in late 1977 from my first martial law detention, I could not help but notice the state’s continued surveillance of me. I observed, for one, that on the second floor of an apartment unit across the street, there was a mounted camera constantly trained at our house in Sampaloc, Manila. The windows were newly heavily tinted, but in the early morning and late afternoon when sunlight was oblique and its reflections weak, the mounted camera could be discerned behind the tinted windows.
I thus decided it would be safer for me and more fruitful for my work in the national democratic revolutionary movement if I no longer remained aboveground and an easy target of foul play, especially with the unremitting extrajudicial killings and other fascist acts.
Having noticed early on that we could engage in intelligent discussions even in their tender years (Dimpy was then seven, Arthur five), I talked intimately with my sons. I explained to them the ongoing war between the rich and the poor. I told them that the army of the poor and miserable would require my full-time work, and that my problem with the army of the rich and powerful required me to become unavailable as their target.
They were serious in our talk, and seemed to think deeply about what I was saying. They asked incisive questions, such as what was the difference between the rich and the poor, and I responded in the simplest terms I considered they could understand. I shared with them the cause for which I have been fighting and sacrificing so much.
I could see from their questions and in their eyes that they understood what I was explaining, appreciated my work, and respected the step I was taking.
I did not realize how deeply their understanding of what I am and what I am doing had sunk until sometime later, when one of them vehemently objected to his grade school teacher’s writing on the blackboard “Rebels are bad.” My son stood up in protest and walked out, saying loudly: “My father is a rebel, and he is not bad.”
Sometime later I made an unscheduled visit to my sons at their Lourdes School in La Loma, Quezon City, and chanced upon the teacher in the classroom. It was break time and the boys were not in class. I introduced myself to the teacher, who expressed surprise at my surprise visit, and very eagerly helped look for my sons until we found them having a snack at the school cafeteria. She smiled happily at the family reunion.
I eventually heard the whole story from the boys’ mother. Right after my son’s protest at what was written on the blackboard, the teacher arranged for a meeting with the mother to discuss the incident. The mother explained what was behind the boy’s objection, and the teacher was able to understand his behavior. This was apparently why she was glad and helpful when we met in my son’s classroom and subsequently joined me in looking for the boys.
For a number of years hence I would visit my sons once in a while, except when I would stay quite long in a distant countryside. But for more than a dozen years before my latest imprisonment, I was unable to see them. The most I could do was to send them letters, even if replies were few and far between.
It was because members of my family were under very close surveillance, with their telephone lines bugged. A younger brother, since departed, recalled that when he was going home to our family residence in Parang, Marikina, at 2 a.m., he saw a pair of intelligence agents posted at a jeepney stop nearby. My mother noticed that she was constantly trailed whenever she went out. An adopted nephew was even abducted, tortured for a couple of days, and just dropped on a street, with red, black and blue marks all over his body due to the severe beating he received.
The fascists wanted to know if I had at any time met with the family. They could not make him talk, not only because he is deaf-mute but also because I had in fact not met with the family for decades.
Someone told me in a letter that Dimpy’s reading of our message at the opening of our exhibit, “Painting Freedom,” at the Sining Kamalig art gallery on Dec. 8, 2011, was “a stupendous, oratorical delivery” that made a strong impact on those who were present. I was also told that at the celebration of my mother’s 91st birthday, it was Arthur who read my letter to his lola, which touched her a lot.
It is only now, in this current imprisonment, that I have been able to see my sons and other family members again.
But because of work and other circumstances (one is living abroad), my sons are not able to visit often. Still I am very grateful for the respect, love and support that they continue to give me even after decades of my being an absentee dad.
This feeling serves as an oasis in the midst of the repression and hardship that I and more than 350 other political prisoners continue to suffer under the prevailing unjust structure that needs to be radically changed into a liberated, democratic, modern, pro-people and progressive system.
We remain resolute in our struggle for radical social change for the sake of the fathers and mothers and their sons and daughters.
Alan Jazmines is a peace consultant of the National Democratic Front and is detained at the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame.