Verses by and for political prisoners

Political prisoners from all over the country commemorated the International Day of Solidarity with Political Prisoners, December 3, by a simultaneous reading of a poem about the longing for freedom.


MANILA – One poem, written by a former political prisoner, was simultaneously read in various jails and other places, December 3.

The reading of the poem “Awit ng Bilanggong Politikal” (Political Prisoner’s Song) by Axel Pinpin, a peasant advocate imprisoned during the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration, highlighted the commemoration of the International Day of Solidarity with Political Prisoners.

Pinpin is one of the so-called Tagaytay 5, who were arrested by a composite team of Philippine Navy and Philippine National Police (PNP) elements on April 28, 2006 in Tagaytay City and were charged with rebellion. With Pinpin were Riel Custodio, a member of Kalipunan ng mga Magsasaka sa Kabite (Kamagsasaka-Ka or Farmers’ Confederation in Cavite); Aristides Sarmiento, a freelance researcher for various non-government organizations; and Enrico Ybañez, a driver and Michael Masayes. After more than two years, the five were released; the charges against them dismissed.

Pinpin’s poem was be read by political prisoners in Quezon Provincial Jail, Laguna Provincial Jail, Camp Vicente Lim, Batangas Provincial Jail, Bicutan Detention Center, Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center at Camp Crame and other detention facilities in Bicol and Samar at exactly 3 p.m. today. Detained consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) such as Tirso Alcantara, Alan Jasminez, Eduardo Serrano and Renante Gamara participated in the poetry reading.

According to human rights group Karapatan, there were 447 victims of illegal arrests under the Aquino administration from July 2010 to September 2012. There are 401 political prisoners in the country, 123 of whom were arrested and detained under Aquino, Karapatan said.

High-profile political prisoners in other countries, including journalist Mumia Ali-Jamal, the Cuban 5, punk band Pussy Riot and Kurdistan revolutionary leader Abdullah Öcalan also joined the poetry reading.

The poem

Pinpin wrote the poem in August 2007, while he and his four companions were still detained at Camp Vicente Lim in Canlubang, Laguna. The first part of the poem describes the prison cell and the gnawing boredom that engulfs political prisoners.

Ang pader ko’y di lamang malamig at malagkit,
Nakakwadro rin dito ang latay ng pasakit.
Ang sahig ko’y di lamang marumi at maganit,
Nakaratay din dito ang tisikong inip.
Ang rehas ko’y di lamang kalawang ang galis,
Naglangib na rin dito ang paglayang nais.

(My wall is not only cold and unkempt,
Framed on it is the welt mark of torment.
My floor is not only dirty and roughly done,
Laid on it is my sick boredom
My prison bars do not only have rust for scabs,
Crusting on it are wounds of longed for freedom.)

From the prison walls, Pinpin’s longing for freedom reverberates in his poem.

Wisikan ng tula ang langib ng paglaya!
Wasakin, wasakin ang rehas na sutla!
Wakasan, wakasan ang salot ng pagdusta!
Bumangon sa dilim na ngitngit ang tanglaw!
Banggain, banggain ang pader na ampaw!
Banggain ang karsel na pagtakas ang hiyaw!

(Wash with the salve of poems the wounds of freedom!
Bash, bash down the smooth bars of prison!
Smash, and smash down the pestilence of oppression!
Rise, rise up in the night with the raging light!
Break, break down the weak walls of repression!
Fight, fight back incarceration with cries of emancipation!)

Originally written in Filipino, the poem has been translated in seven languages, including French, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian.

A group of young activists from Stuttgart, Germany also read the poem in a public place where they usually hold their regular mass demonstrations.

Criminalization of political dissent

Members of Karapatan-Southern Tagalog held a rally in front of President Benigno Aquino III’s residence at Times street, Quezon City, denouncing the practice of arresting and detaining activists

Glendhyl Malabanan, secretary general of Karapatan-ST, said the Aquino administration, in an attempt to hide the existence of political prisoners, has been filing common crimes against political dissenters.

In a separate statement, Gabriela-Southern Tagalog said ten of the 64 political prisoners from Southern Tagalog are women.

The group said women political prisoners detained at Camp Bagong Diwa are not allowed to read newspapers, magazines and other reading materials and their visitors have to undergo strip search.

Among the detainees are Evelyn Legazpi and Pastora Latagan, organizers in urban poor communities in Laguna; Rea Pareja, a volunteer para-teacher from Quezon and Charity Dino, a registered teacher.

Meanwhile, Karapatan slammed Aquino’s offer of bounty for alleged communist leaders.

Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, said Aquino’s offer for bounty could mean more arbitrary arrests and detention and, further abuses and rights violations. “It is unacceptable that Aquino and the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] chose to just sing their way out of their accountability to their crimes against the people and say it’s for peace in the country,” Palabay said.

Karapatan criticized the Aquino administration for refusing to release political prisoners, including the 14 NDFP consultants. “The call for the release of political prisoners has been treated by the government as an obstacle in the peace talks with the NDFP, instead of a measure to hasten the talks and tackle the agenda of social and economic reforms,” Karapatan said.

NDFP consultants Serrano and Gamara have started their fasting last December 1 as a form of protest. “The symbolic protest action is very heartfelt. Even if we are experiencing hunger because of our fasting, our hearts are full because of the support we get from our comrades and friends,” Serrano said in a statement from prison. (

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