Former political prisoner Ronald Lucero has spent 17 years in jail, but he takes it all as part of the struggle.
By MARY ANGELIQUE TACATA
MANILA — For 17 years, the same faces, smell, look, routine – every single day – everything seemed all the same. Steel bars that were rusty and cold kept him inside the concrete box that is prison.
Ronald Lucero, a peasant organizer, was convicted of trumped-up charges of murder, illegal possession of firearms, and carnapping. He was only 21 when he was put behind bars, and has been transferred to four different jails, from the provinces of Quezon and Batangas to Metro Manila. But the places all seemed the same to him: 17 years of no freedom.
Now 38, Lucero is determined to continue his activism as part of the mass movement for which he has already sacrificed half of his life and more.
Tragedies in February
Lucero was arrested by soldiers on February 2, 2000.
“It was a few months after my son, Richmond, was born,” Lucero started recounting his arrest. “We were conducting a pulong masa (community meeting) in a village in Quezon province when we heard multiple gunshots,” he said in Filipino. He paused, then his eyes glazed over and I almost taught that he was not there anymore. ¬
“I did not know that my wife, Michelle, died on the same day that I was arrested. She was one of those who were killed in that shooting,” he said, his sorrow heavy in his every word. His eyes were watery when he continued: “When I was in prison, I asked some of my friends to check up on her and my son, and that was when I learned that she was killed, and fortunately, my son survived and was taken by my mother-in-law,” he said in Filipino. His wife, also an organizer, was killed when soldiers fired at their gathering in a nearby area.
“I was not able to see her remains, even her grave – for 17 years – I did not even had a chance to say goodbye,” he said. At 21, he lost his wife and was separated from his son on the very day he lost his freedom.
In his 17 years of detention, he has seen his son, Richmond only once, when his in laws came to visit him. Lucero told them never to visit again because of what happened to his brother. “A few days after he visited me, he was killed on his way home,” he said in Filipino. For this he felt he was guilty, guilty of not being able to do anything to save the people closest to him.
Apparently still heartbroken, Lucero held back tears during this interview with Bulatlat.
“Paghihirap, sakripisyo, kamatayan (Hardships, sacrifice, death),” he said, his dictum in life summed up in three words. He said he did not regret anything because, anyone can go in just a snap. Uncertainty is part of life, especially for activists like him, who dare criticize policies and abuses of the state. Joining a great cause does entail great sacrifices.
At an early age, Lucero acquired his political perspective from his father, who was a member of the Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB), the revolutionary armed group that was formed out of the Hukbo ng Bayan laban sa mga Hapon (Hukbalahap). He himself saw how the state and its laws can be used against the people.
During his teenage years, their land was taken forcefully by a certain police officer. Lucero recalled it was during harvest day that they saw a sign barring them from going to their rice farm, and it was ordered and signed by that police officer. He recalled seeing the barbed fence around their golden rice field.
Instead of taking their side, the local village chief said: “If you have enough money then we can file a case.” Those words burned in his head, along with a deep feeling of helplessness. It was just a small piece of land, but it was the only thing they have.
After some time, his family sought the help of the underground revolutionary movement in the area. Soon enough, they got their land back. “This is where we should go, anytime, anywhere, when someone needs help, they will help, even without money in exchange,” Lucero exclaimed.
Living behind bars
Upon his arrest, 10 trumped-up criminal cases where filed against him. But with the help of his friend, who was also a lawyer, the cases were dropped or dismissed, until only three remained. Still, he was convicted and sentenced to 21 years imprisonment.
Lucero was first detained in Camp Nakar in Lucena city, but was brought after a few days to the detention center in Camp Crame in Quezon City. In 2008, he was then transferred to the Batangas Provincial Jail till 2011. In that same year, Lucero was convicted and sentenced. He was brought to the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa city for the rest of his imprisonment.
Karapatan data said as of March 31, there are a total of 403 political prisoners languishing in jail, most of them are charged with criminal cases instead of rebellion. Lucero cited the Hernandez Doctrine, which asserts that political offenders should be charged with rebellion, not with fabricated common crimes. He believes that it was a way of the government to remove the credibility of revolutionaries by keeping them in jail to be able to vaporize their political beliefs.
Inside prison, he was frustrated but his mind was strong enough to accept the truth that everything changed drastically in a blink of an eye. “Maraming nababaliw dito, maraming humihina ang loob, lalo na yung mga walang dalaw (Many prisoners go crazy inside, many of them lose hope, especially those who are not visited by anyone),” he stated.
For Lucero, his sense of justice did not wane inside prison. He identified unfair treatments of higher officials to his fellow prisoners. He was furious when he learned that the funds for the prisoners’ daily meals were not properly used. Every prisoner should receive food ration worth P55 ($1) per day. But, based on the food that they are served every day, he estimated that they were getting less than P30 each.
“Pag tinanong ng mga istudyanteng dalaw yung ulam namin, sasabihin namin masarap, kasi yung mga ulam namin – baka, baboy, at maling …. BAKA hindi makain, BABOY ang pagkaluto, at MALINGat ka lang gutom ka na”, he chuckled at the prisoners’ sarcasm. They have learned to laugh at their everyday nightmare in prison.
After he was adjusted to prison life, he then became a member of the Sputnik Gang, one of the recognized gangs inside the NBP. Other gangs were Batman, BCG, Happy Go Lucky, Bahala, and Commando.
Lucero then became part of the Supreme Body Council, tasked with organizing events inside the New Bilibid Prison with the help of the presidents of the Alternative Learning System (ALS) classes in elementary, high school, and college division.
Writing poems and skits were his past time. For 17 years, his way with words was enhanced, he even presents some of his skits on special occasions inside the NBP. He gained the moniker “Supremo” among his fellow prisoners, after he played the role of Andres Bonifacio, Father of the Philippine Revolution in a presentation by the prisoners before the mayor of Muntinlupa. He wrote the skit, and just for fun, he made Jose Rizal gay, because he read somewhere that Rizal loved the color pink. The mayor was so amazed by their performance and gave 35,000 PHP ($700) which Lucero distributed to his fellow performers.
Prison without bars
“Ang tao ay hindi lamang matatawag na bilanggo kung nasaloob ng selda, marami ang bilanggo sa pagkakamal ng yaman, bilanggo sa sariling karunungan, bilanggo sa tawag ng laman, bilanggo ng inggit, galit, poot, at paghihiganti (A person who is in jail is not the only one that we can call ‘imprisoned’, many human beings are imprisoned in their own greed, imprisoned by their own minds, by lust, by envy, anger, wrath, and revenge),” he became philosophical on how he views present-day society which detains us physically and emotionally.
In his skit, Bilangguang Walang Rehas (Prison without bars), he only had two characters named Lando and Anghelito. Lando was a prisoner who was sentenced to die via electric chair, while Anghelito was sentenced to life imprisonment. Ironically, Anghelito questioned God about his fate; on the other hand, Lando has accepted his. Anghelito did not know about the upcoming death of Lando.
“We make sure that people who watch it will always cry,” he said. They perform the skit in every event and every time, they never fail to make their audience tear up.
On April 27, Lucero was given pardon, approved by the President himself, and he assumed it was because of his good record and deeds. “I was supposed to serve my sentence until 2021 but, luckily I was able to get my freedom much earlier,” he said. As of writing, his family still doesn’t know that he was given pardon and has been released.
Towards the end of the interview, the mood of the room changed and his face sobered. We are all just specks in this world and anytime we can die, so we should be able to plant seeds for the next generation, he said.
“Hindi mo pwede ituro sa isang bulag lahat ng nakikita mo, ipakapa mo sa kanya para maunawaan niya (You cannot teach a blind person everything you see but, you can make him/her feel it to make him/her understand),” he knew that the fight he is fighting right now will be so long that he himself won’t be able to see the outcome. Lucero doesn’t have any regrets at all. He knew right from the start that he is just a speck, and as a speck, he should be able to teach and make others feel what the truth and real freedom is.