“When mothers are detained, they are not the only ones being punished…It is even more punishment for the children and their families.”
By GINO ESTELLA
MANILA – Where are women detained in Taguig City Jail?
It is in the Female Dormitory, inside the Camp Bagong Diwa compound, where several detention facilities are located. The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) euphemizes it as a “dorm,” but all the detainees there call it as it is: jail.
For visitors, a lot of walking is involved, and one has to go four stories up a building. For persons with disabilities and senior citizens, there is no special lane, but they can hold on to the hand railings.
After four flights of stairs, one finds all the women detainees cooped up on the fourth floor, in small, six-by-three-meter cells, and hallways that seemingly aim to constrict them, rather than restrict them from escaping. This is where the jail’s 10 female political detainees reside, mixed in with all the other “common crime” detainees.
A case of mistaken identity
Evelyn Legaspi, 57, has seen four years go by in prison, and now aches to go home to her family, who lives right in Taguig City.
“I already have two grandchildren, and one is about to be born,” Legaspi told Bulatlat in Filipino. “When I was first detained here, my daughter was unmarried. Now, she is married and having children.”
Legaspi is known among political detainees as the one who was brought back into prison, moments before she was about to be released. She is facing a “surprise” case from a Mindoro court.
A leader of the urban poor group Kadamay, she was first arrested in 2012, along with organizer Pastora Latagan. They were charged with murder and frustrated murder, but these were dismissed in 2015, signalling their freedom. She was all ready to leave jail, with her jail possessions and warm farewells given away to her fellow inmates. But she was informed, and again arrested, because of another case in Mindoro. Police alleged that her “true” identity is “Anabelle Bueno,” who has committed crimes both in Mindoro and Quezon.
“The courts now refer to me ‘Anabelle Bueno,’ a.k.a. (also known as) Evelyn Legaspi,” she said in Filipino. “I have neither been in Mindoro nor Quezon,” she said.
Her forehead kept curling and knotting, and she could only joke at how she never wants to hear another person tell her she looks like somebody familiar. Right now, she only wants to be Evelyn Legaspi.
Legaspi is afflicted with stage-2 hypertension, and said she grows weak as she passes each day in the cramped cells of Taguig City Jail. She resides in the fourth “dorm” where the elderly prisoners are locked up.
Sadly, she is not the only one ailing in jail.
Newly-released political detainee Rosanna “Sharon” Cabusao required a specific diet due to her health condition. Her inmates said she needed to take herbal medicine, which the jail warden initially denied. She was freed on June 15, and is now actively campaigning for better conditions inside jails and prisons.
A mother torn from her son
The story of Miradel “Madel” Torres is that of a young mother who was put behind bars while pregnant. Like some women political detainees before her, she had to nurse her child in prison, but not long enough.
Torres is an organizer of the women’s group Gabriela in Mauban, Quezon when she was arrested on June 20, 2014. She was recuperating from profuse bleeding at a relative’s house in Infanta, Quezon, when several police officers and soldiers barged into the house, ultimately seizing her and taking her on stretcher in an ambulance to Camp Bagong Diwa.
“They interrogated me as I lay on the ambulance bed,” Torres said in Filipino. “It was only after did I realize they were already booking me into prison,” she said.
On her first few days in jail, she was attended to by her fellow political detainees. For a few months, they tended to her food, hygiene, clothing and all other needs of a pregnant woman.
She was bedridden for days, and was bleeding from her pregnancy, she said. It took more than two weeks before she was allowed to be taken to a hospital. There, she stayed for weeks, but still detained.
After giving birth, she was returned to jail, along with her new-born son, whom she was allowed to nurse. However, after two months, the baby was taken away from Torres, and is now being cared for by her family in Infanta.
The Torres family rarely visits, hampered by the distance, and its accompanying expenses. When she attends her trial in a court in Infanta, she has to travel with police escort for three to four hours, leaving in the wee hours of the morning, and going back in the evening.
She struggled to keep a smile on her face. “He’s already walking,” she said in Filipino, describing her son who will turn two in November. “He’s going places, and he’s going everywhere now,” she said.
As the women detainees attend to their visitors on a Sunday, meal rations called “rancho” in jailspeak, arrived, carried in large plastic boxes and buckets. Each cell gets a serving of rice and mixed vegetables, amounting to P50 ($1) of food allowance per detainee.
Meals are scheduled per week. Inmates get fish on Tuesdays, and vegetables on weekends. One small cup of rice, and a few spoonfuls of “ulam” make up their daily meals. It is not popular among the inmates, but that is all they get.
They can, however, buy more food to cook through their co-inmate’s stores, with the money they earned from their daily allowance and workloads. Raw food is sold at bumped-up prices, and they can cook it, for a fee of a peso per minute.
Still fighting behind bars
Their comforts are scarce, but these were not available when they got there. Rather, it was fought for and sometimes, personally provided by the detainees themselves.
Loida Magpatoc, a political detainee and peace consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) bared the struggles of the inmates of Taguig City Jail. While they are, in fact, secluded from society, they have not stopped organizing and campaigning within tight cells, behind iron bars.
It will be her third year of incarceration this coming August. Magpatoc was captured in Digos, Davao Del Sur and was charged with double homicide, robbery and damage to property. For three years, none of her cases has come to a conclusion. She is one of the five NDFP consultants in Taguig City Jail.
The inmates, she said, are responsive to each other’s needs. Just like a normal community, they would campaign on issues and hold events to coincide with mass actions outside prison.
“(Among prisoners) there is a level of respect for political detainees,” Magpatoc said in Filipino. “They somehow see that we are helpful to them.”
They recently held a women’s month campaign in March, in which they held many activities, discussions and ultimately ending with a cultural program on the single hall between their cells.
They also campaigned for the welfare of their fellow inmates. A direct line to a stable water supply would not be possible without dialogues with the jail administration. Additional food rations and special healthcare would not have been possible if it were not for the collective action of the inmates.
“As long as there is a discussion, the solution to a problem is through each other’s cooperation,” Magpatoc said. “If there is no one else to fight for you, then it is up to you to fight for yourself.”
While inmates are crammed into miniscule cells, languishing in what seems to be a life sentence given how their cases lag within the nation’s courts, Gigi Reyes, an attorney implicated in the 2012 Priority Development Assistance Fund scam, lavishly resides by her lonesome in a personalized cell beside the warden’s office, receiving restaurant-quality meals every day.
The real cause of this inequality and lack of services, Magpatoc said, is the country’s criminal justice system. Political detainees have, for years, been denied due process and ultimate conclusion to their cases.
Worse, the Aquino administration does not recognize the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) between the government of the Philippines and the NDFP, she said. Magpatoc, a Jasig holder, is one of the 18 NDFP-consultants-turned-political-prisoners in the country.
The Aquino administration also denied the existence of political detainees. This is technically correct, said Magpatoc. If they were facing rebellion rather than criminal charges, they would have been political prisoners, and only a few had been charged with rebellion. Human rights group Karapatan called it “criminalization” of political acts, as fabricated criminal cases are heaped on activists and leaders to deter them from their work and deny them freedom.
Magpatoc browses through a booklet from the art exhibit Timyas ng Paglaya which included art works by some of her fellow inmates from Camp Bagong Diwa. She suddenly became quiet, her silence broken only with a few questions about the exhibit’s artists.
She then talked about her family. All of her children are part of the progressive movement, all involved in different levels and ways. She has seven grandchildren. Her husband is deceased, and her family in Metro Manila rarely visits her. But her worries are not for herself, but more for those outside the prison walls.
“When mothers are detained, they are not the only ones being punished,” she said. “What will happen to the children when their mothers are not there? It is even more punishment for the children and their families.”