Artists Barred From Conducting Arts Workshops for Morong 43

“Poetry is the written soul of the poet. It cannot be imprisoned.” – Mark Angeles, Palanca awardee


MANILA — On Oct. 2, a group of poets and visual artists went to Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City. Complete with handouts and materials for painting, they intended to give a workshop for the Morong 43 detainees.

Arrested on Feb. 6 in Morong, Rizal, the 43 health workers, now called Morong 43, have been languishing in jail for trumped-up charges. Since May, 38 have been transferred to the detention facility of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) while five have been kept under military custody.

Members of the Defend-ST, Artists Arrest and Kilometer 64 initiated the workshop. The groups secured a permit from the BJMP-National Capital Region but the activity did not push through as intended.

The group of artists first went to the detention facility of women detainees. As part of the standard operating procedures, they were searched. The materials for painting were not allowed to be brought inside. The jail guards flatly told them such materials are banned.

The eight-page handout for poetry, meanwhile, was read. The jail guards took out Gelacio Guillermo’s poem entitled “Kokak” from the copies. “Kokak,” a scathing criticism of the policies of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, is one of the poems cited as example in the module.

Despite having shown the permit from BJMP-NCR regional director Serafin Barretto, the jail warden did not allow the workshop to happen, Artist Arrest said in a statement. The artists just gave out copies of the handouts to the women detainees.

“The module on basic poetry workshop can be read even from textbooks for high school students. How would elements of poetry, figures of speech and idioms pass as subversive documents?” Mark Angeles, a member of Kilometer 64 and a Palanca awardee who prepared the handout, said.

“ If they suppress these materials, how much more do they repress the grievances of the detainees? Do they intend to detain the right to free speech and expression?” Angeles added. ”It is a direct violation of the rights of detainees.”

Later, five members of the group of artists went to see the male detainees at the high-risk detention facility. They were subjected to strip search. All handouts were confiscated. “These documents are not allowed here,” they were told.

The artists were held in a room for 30 minutes. Their photographs were taken, their identification cards were scanned. They were interrogated by a jail officer whose surname is Mutya. “We were asked all kinds of questions – who is our leader, where do we live, our school or workplace, etc. Then he said we will be investigated,” Angeles said.

The painting workshop was allowed at the male detention facility but it only lasted for 30 minutes.

Angeles said they just asked the detainees to write a poem. “Poetry is the written soul of the poet. It cannot be imprisoned,” Angeles said. (

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