The ninth month of the year cannot help but evoke memories of prison for me. It was in the early hours of September 3, 1973, almost a year into martial law, when I was arrested at a rebel hideout in Bacolod City, and later charged with the crime of rebellion and inciting to rebellion. From Bacolod I was brought to detention cells in Cebu and Camp Crame, and finally to Fort Bonifacio. For the next several months I would be living in a walled maximum-security prison compound, isolated from the rest of the world until my provisional release in November 1974.
Physical walls, the twenty-foot concrete type with machine gun towers at the corners would have broken the wild spirit in me, but the wonderful sight of freedom from the rooftop of the detention cells in Fort Bonifacio saved me from that misfortune. I would deliberately cut our block cell’s TV antenna for the pretext to go up to the roof to fix it. There, with just the sky above me, I would breathe in huge gasps of the smoggy air of freedom from outside, and see, beyond the concrete barriers, beauty in the murkiness of the Pasig River.
Somehow, seeing liberty a few meters away raised hopes and gave renewed strength to a weary soul.
Stone walls and iron bars alone do not a prison make. And coming out of those concrete fortifications somehow does not exactly mean freedom. More often than not, one comes out of a small prison onto a bigger jail whose walls are but one’s own creation. As Bob Dylan says in the song George Jackson, “Sometimes I think this whole world is one big prison yard, some of us are prisoners, the rest of us are guards.”
Indeed, many of us have not gotten free of doctrinaire chains. Oftentimes it is what we believe, do, and the words we express that create impenetrable fortresses. We become prisoners of our own prejudices, fears and doubts, unwilling to let the light of discernment in. And this malady is not exclusive to those who had been behind bars.
It is thus, not unusual to engage comrades and friends who think and speak like they have not gone past the year 1972. While many had not seen the inside of prison walls, they remain shackled to archaic dogma, weighing contemporary events from outdated ideological outlook, using familiar worn-out language even.
On the other hand, we get to see former revolutionaries seeking liberation in spiritual or theological thought to break free from the fetters of an obsolescent materialist philosophy they were initiated into. Many, like me, had sought to find solace in the soothing elements of the musical realm, exploring to find rhythm and harmony in the pulses of the cosmos.
The key to breaking away is an understanding and appreciation of the past. At some point in time we were all in the same boat and each one has a narrative to tell. There are stories and there are stories. Let us hear them out that we might tear down walls and set us free.