Colleagues, Friends Celebrate ‘Tagaytay 5’ Victory in Poetry, Music Night

Though they were literally in the dark for about half of the program, the audience and participants were determined not to spoil the mood. The activity after all was a celebration for the recent release of the “Tagaytay 5”.

Vol. VIII, No. 32, September 14-20, 2008

For what seemed like a long time, there was apprehension on whether or not the program would push through. The rain was pouring mercilessly and had caused a power outage along Visayas Avenue and a few other nearby areas in Quezon City.

But the first set of people who entered the Conspiracy Bar and Garden Café to watch the event did not show signs of any intention to leave. And then more and more people started to come in. The storm and the power outage notwithstanding, they were determined to celebrate the victory of the “Tagaytay 5”. The rain and the blackout it caused failed to dampen and darken their spirits.

Poet-musician Joel Malabanan, who performed at the event, perhaps summed up the night’s mood best with a poem he sent through a text message as he was on his way to the venue:

Nangag-uunahang pumatak ang ulan
at ang aspalto ay naging karagatan
kwerdas ng gitara’y agad nabanlawan
ng bantang di tuloy, awit at tulaan
ngunit kalikasan din ang kalayaan
hangga’t ninanasa’y walang kamatayan
sapatos ma’y maging bangka sa tubigan
hala, tuloy pa rin ang ating tugtugan!

The Tagaytay 5 are Axel Pinpin, a consultant of the Kalipunan ng mga Magsasaka sa Kabite (Kamagsasaka-Ka or Farmers’ Confederation in Cavite) and a poet who was a fellow in the 1999 University of the Philippines (UP) National Writers’ Workshop; Riel Custodio, a Kamagsasaka-Ka member; Aristides Sarmiento, a freelance researcher for various non-government organizations; and Tagaytay City-based cockfighting aficionados Enrico Ybañez and Michael Masayes.

They are facing rebellion charges filed in 2006 for allegedly conspiring with “dissident soldiers” in a supposed plot to destabilize the Arroyo administration.

The five were abducted by a composite team of Philippine Navy and Philippine National Police (PNP) elements on April 28, 2006 in Tagaytay City.

Pinpin, Custodio and Sarmiento had just come from a meeting with coffee farmers in the city and were on their way to Manila for the forthcoming Labor Day rally. They hired Ybañez as their driver while Masayes accompanied Ybañez.

Three days after, they were presented to the media as “communist rebels” who were conspiring with “dissident soldiers” in an alleged plot to “destabilize” the Arroyo administration. They were subsequently charged with rebellion.

Following an investigation, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has recently ruled that their arrest and detention were unlawful.

Last Aug. 28, they were released on the strength of a court order issued by Judge Erwin Larida, Jr. of the Tagaytay City RTC (Regional Trial Court), Branch 18.

The Artists’ Response to the Call for Social Change and Transformation (Artists’ ARREST) – an alliance of progressive filmmakers, visual artists, musicians, and literary writers – organized Huling Lagapak ng Kandado: A Victory Party for Tagaytay 5! last Sept. 9 at the Conspiracy Bar and Garden Café to celebrate the recent release of Pinpin, Custodio, Sarmiento, Ybañez, and Masayes.

Artists’ ARREST convener King Catoy said the Sept. 12 even was quite unusual in the history of the group’s activities.

“Whenever we hold an ARREST activity, it is usually about issues we are angry about,” Catoy said. “But this time, we have a reason to celebrate.”

For about half of the program, the audience had to make do with lights from candles provided by the crew. The speakers and performers, meanwhile, had to shout almost at the top of their voices just to be heard. But no matter: the mood certainly wasn’t damp and dark.

The lights went on again only about an hour later, or toward the middle of the program.

The program started with solidarity messages from leaders of people’s organizations – among them Willy Marbella, secretary-general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Peasant Movement of the Philippines); and Connie Regalado, chairperson of Migrante International.

Marbella congratulated the “Tagaytay 5” for their hard-won freedom, while at the same time reminding the audience that there are still other peasant leaders and ordinary peasants whose release has to be worked for. He cited the case of KMP deputy secretary-general Randall Echanis, who has been detained since last January after being arrested on murder charges stemming from his alleged masterminding of a supposed 1984 purge within the ranks of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in Inpopacan, Leyte even as he was in detention at the time. He also cited the case of the “Silang 9”, eight peasant leaders and organizers including Kamagsasaka-Ka chairman Renato Alvarez, and their driver – who were abducted in Silang, Cavite three days after the release of the “Tagaytay 5” and are being accused of illegal possession of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Regalado, meanwhile, praised Pinpin for having been able to keep his spirits high even while behind bars. “It is good that he was still able to write poetry even while he was in jail,” Regalado said.

Custodio thanked all those who visited them and worked for their release. “What you all did inspired us while we were in detention,” he said.

Pinpin recited one of his poems, “Huling Lagapak ng Kandado”, the very first poem he was able to write after their release.

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