The First Quarter Storm through the eyes of Ferdinand E. Marcos

Prior to the scrapping of the 1935 Constitution, presidents would deliver their State of the Nation Address in January, at the Legislative Building in Manila.

On January 26, 1970, President Marcos, who had been inaugurated for an unprecedented full second term less than a month earlier, on December 30, 1969 (see Pete Lacaba’s satirical account, Second Mandate: January 10, 1970), was set to deliver his fifth message to the nation.

The classic account of the start of what has come to be known as the First Quarter Storm is Pete Lacaba’s The January 26 Confrontation: A Highly Personal Account, February 7, 1970 followed by his And the January 30 Insurrection, February 7, 1970. From another point of view, there is Kerima Polotan’s The Long Week, February 7, 1970. Followed by Nap Rama’s Have rock, will demonstrate, March 7, 1970.

And there, is of course, the view of Ferdinand E. Marcos himself.

January 23, 1970 and January 24, 1970 were mainly about keeping an eye out on coup plots and the opposition, as well as reshuffling the top brass of the armed forces and picking a new Secretary of National Defense.

January 25, 1970 was about expressing his ire over the behavior of student leaders.

On January 26, 1970 Marcos wrote,

After the State of the Nation address, which was perhaps my best so far, and we were going down the front stairs, the bottles, placard handles, stones and other missiles started dropping all around us on the driveway to the tune of a “Marcos, Puppet” chant.

Marcos then noted,

Some advisors are quietly recommending sterner measures against the Kabataang Makabayan. We must get the emergency plan polished up.

January 27, 1970 and January 28, 1970 were spent housekeeping –talking to police generals– and warning the U.S. Embassy they had better not get involved. Marcos began to further flesh out the rationale for his forthcoming emergency rule:

If we do not prepare measures of counter-action, they will not only succeed in assassinating me but in taking over the government. So we must perfect our emergency plan.

I have several options. One of them is to abort the subversive plan now by the sudden arrest of the plotters. But this would not be accepted by the people. Nor could we get the Huks, their legal cadres and support. Nor the MIM and other subversive [or front] organizations, nor those underground. We could allow the situation to develop naturally then after massive terrorism, wanton killings and an attempt at my assassination and a coup d’etat, then declare martial law or suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus – and arrest all including the legal cadres. Right now I am inclined towards the latter.

On January 29, 1970 Marcos rather angrily recounted receiving a delegation of faculty from his alma mater, the University of the Philippines; and reports in his diary that a very big student protest is due the next day.

The next day would prove to be even more explosive than the day of Marcos’ State of the Nation Address: the attack on Malacañan Palace by student protesters. Marcos writes about it in his January 30, 1970 diary entry:

…the Metrocom under Col. Ordoñez and Aguilar after reinforcement by one company of the PC under Gen. Raval arrived have pushed up to Mendiola near San Beda where the MPD were held in reserve. I hear shooting and I am told that the MPD have been firing in the air.

The rioters have been able to breach Gate 4 and I had difficulty to stop the guards from shooting the rioters down. Specially as when Gate 3 was threatened also. I received a call from Maj. Ramos for permission to fire and my answer was “Permission granted to fire your water hoses.”

For an overview of the events of that day, see Pete Lacaba’s And the January 30 Insurrection, February 7, 1970. This was another in what would turn out to be historic reportage on historic times; as counterpoint (from a point of view far from enamored of the students) see Kerima Polotan’s account mentioned above.

The next day, January 31, 1972, Marcos further fleshed out his version of the student attack on the Palace, and begins enumerating more people to keep an eye on –politicians, media people; he also mentions the need to suspend the Writ of Habeas Corpus –eventually.

For an overview of the First Quarter Storm, see also Manuel L. Quezon III’s The Defiant Era, January 30, 2010.

The Great Escape of the S.S. Mactan: December 31, 1941

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Photo above: recently offered for sale on eBay, a Baltimore Sun wirephoto of wounded soldiers aboard the S.S. Mactan.

Late at night, on December 31, 1941, an old ship prepared to weigh anchor to escape Manila. Its destination was Sydney, Australia. On board, were 224 wounded USAFFE soldiers (134 of them Americans and 90 of whom were Filipinos); 67 crew members, all Filipino, and 25 medical and Red Cross personnel, all Filipino except for one American nurse, and some others.

The ship was the S.S. Mactan. Its journey represents one of the great escapes of World War 2.

In the book At His Side: The Story of the American Red Cross Overseas in World War 2, by George Korson, chronicles the story of the S.S. Mactan.

Page 22 of the book contains this scene:

On the morning of December 24, some twenty Red Cross volunteer women were in the official residence of Francis B. Sayre, High Commissioner to the Philippines, packing Christmas gifts for soldiers and sailors in hospitals in and around Manila. Mrs. Sayre was in charge of the group.

Suddenly, at eleven o’clock, Mrs. Sayre looked up from her task at the tables to see her husband standing in the patio doorway beck- oning to her. She slipped quietly out of the room and stood in the patio. “I have an urgent message from General MacArthur,” said Mr. Sayre in a low voice. “The city may fall, and we must be ready to leave for Corregidor at one-thirty!”

Mrs. Sayre was stunned. “But we must finish these bags. They’re the only Christmas our boys will have.”

“Pack as quickly as you can,” he said and left hurriedly. Mrs. Sayre went back to the tables. The women worked quickly,  and in silence, to complete their task before the daily noon Japanese air raid over Manila.

The treasure bags, as they were called, made hundreds of American and Filipino soldiers and sailors happier in their hospital wards that dark Christmas Day. Irving Williams helped Gray Ladies make the distribution in the Sternberg General Hospital. The work was under the direction of Miss Catherine L. Nau, of Pittsburgh assistant field director at the hospital, who later was to distinguish herself for her work among the troops on Bataan and Corregidor, before the Japanese interned her.

Of the gift distribution at Sternberg General Hospital, Irving Williams said, “I shall never forget the boys’ beaming faces and delighted eyes as we went from ward to ward. The simple comfort articles meant so much to these boys, who had lost all of their possessions on the field of battle.”

The Philippine Diary Project contains General Basilio J. Valdes’ diary entry for December 24, 1941, giving the Filipino side of that day’s hectic events.

The Red Cross book continues with Gen. Valdes returning to Manila to contact the Red Cross:

Not until three days later December 28 did Williams know that these same boys would be entrusted to his care on one of the most hazardous missions of the war. Major General Basilio Valdes, then commanding general of the Filipino Army, came straight from MacArthur’s headquarters on Corregidor with the urgent request that the American Red Cross undertake to transport all serious casualties from the Sternberg General Hospital to Australia. President Manuel Quezon of the Philippine Commonwealth helped the Red Cross locate the Mactan.

The Commonwealth Government had, of course, by this time, withdrawn to Corregidor, and Manila had been declared an Open City. Sending Gen. Valdes to Manila was therefore rather risky.

The Philippine Diary Project contains Gen. Valdes’ entries about this mission, which began on December 28, 1941:

We left Corregidor on a Q Boat. It took us 45 minutes to negotiate the distance. The picture of Manila Bay with all the ships either sunk or in flames was one of horror and desolation. We landed at the Army and Navy Club.

I rushed immediately to Red Cross Headquarters. I informed Mr. Forster, Manager Philippine Red Cross, and Mr. Wolff, Chairman of the Executive Board of my mission. I then called the Collector of Customs Mr. de Leon and I asked him what ships were still available for my purpose. He offered the government cutter Apo. I accepted. He told me that it was hiding somewhere in Bataan and that he expected to hear from the Captain at 6 p.m.

From his house, I rushed to Sternberg General Hospital where I conferred with Colonel Carroll regarding my plans. Then I returned to the Red Cross Headquarters and arranged for 100 painters and sufficient paint to change its present color to white, with a huge Red Cross in the center of the sides and on the funnel.

At 3 p.m. I again called Collector de Leon and inquired if he would try to contact the Apo. He assured me that he would endeavor to contact the Captain (Panopio). At 11 p.m. Mr. De Leon phoned me that he had not yet received any reply to his radio call. I could not sleep. I was worried.

There’s an extensive chronicle in his diary entries for December 29, 1941:

At 6:30 a.m. I called up Mr. Jose (Peping) Fernandez one of the managers of Compania Maritima and told him that I had to see him with an important problem. I rushed to his house. He realized my predicament. “I can offer you ships, but they are not here,” he said. After studying my needs from all angles we decided that the best thing to do would be to ask the U.S. Army to release the SS Mactan.

We contacted Colonel George, in charge of water transportation, and asked him to meet us at USAFFE Headquarters so that we could discuss the matter with General Marshall. We met at 8 a.m. and it was decided that the U.S. Army would release the Mactan to me to convert it into a hospital ship. I was told the SS Mactan, was in Corregidor and it would not be in Manila until after dark. I rushed to the Red Cross Headquarters and asked Mr. Forster to have the painters in readiness to start the painting without delay, as soon as the ship docked at Pier N-1.

Last night Mr. Forster sent a telegram to the American Red Cross in Washington informing them of our plan.

At 11 a.m. Collector de Leon phoned me that the Apo was sailing for Manila that evening. I thanked him and informed him that it was too late.

At 5 p.m. Mr. Wolff phoned me that they have received an important radiogram from the Secretary of State, Hull, and that my presence in the Red Cross was urgent to discuss the contents of this radiogram. I rushed there. Mr. Wolff, Mr. Forster, Judge Dewitt and Dr. Buss of the High Commissioner’s Office were already busy studying the contents of Mr. Hull’s radiogram. It was specified in it that the sending out of Red Cross hospital Ship was approved; that the Japanese government had been advised of its sailing through the Swiss Ambassador and that it was necessary that we radio rush the name of the ship and the route that would be followed. Moreover, we were told to comply strictly with the articles of the Hague convention of 1907. These articles define what is meant by Red Cross Hospital Ship, how it must be painted and what personnel it must carry. It clearly specifies that no civilian can be on the boat.

I left Red Cross Headquarters at 6:30 p.m. No news of the SS Mactan had been received. At 9 p.m. I called Dr. Canuto of the Red Cross, and I was advised that the ship had not yet arrived.

At 11 p.m. I went to Pier N-1 to inquire. No one could give me any information about the Mactan

And December 30, 1941:

At 5 a.m. Mr. Williams of the Red Cross phoned me that the ship had arrived but that he was not willing to put the painters on because there was still some cargo of rifles and ammunition left. He informed me that the Captain (Tamayo) and the Chief Officers were in his office. I asked him to hold them. I dressed hurriedly and rushed to the Red Cross Headquarters. They repeated the information given to Mr. Williams. Believing that this cargo belonged to the U.S. Army I asked them to come with me to the USAFFE Headquarters. I had to awake General Marshall. Pressing our inquiry we found out that this cargo consisted only of 3 or 4 boxes of rifles (Enfield) and 2 boxes of 30 caliber ammunition belonging to Philippine Army. It had been left as they were forced to leave Corregidor before everything had been unloaded. We explained to them that there was no danger and with my assurance that these boxes would be unloaded early in the morning, they returned to the ship, took on the painters and left for Malabon for the painting job.

From the USAFFE Headquarters, I rushed to the house of Colonel Miguel Aguilar, Chief of Finance. I found him in bed. He got up, and I asked him to see that the remaining cargo there be removed without delay. He assured me that he would contact the Chief of Quartermaster Service and direct him accordingly. My order was complied with during the course of the day.

At 9 a.m. I contacted Mr. Forster. He informed me that the painters were on the job and that in accordance with my instructions, two launches were tied close to the ship to transport the painters to the river of Malabon in case of a raid. I then went to Colonel Aguilar’s office at the Far Eastern University to discuss with him some matters regarding finance of the Army. From there I went to Malacañan to see Sec. Vargas, and from there to the office of the Sec. of National Defense, to inquire for correspondence for me.

At noon, I called Mr. Jose (Peping) Fernandez to inquire where the ship was. He asked me to have luncheon with him and to go afterwards to Malabon. After lunch we went by car to Malabon. I saw the ship being painted white. It already had a large Red Cross on the sides and on the funnel.

I returned to the Red Cross Headquarters to ascertain if all plans had been properly carried out. Mr. Forster was worried as he did not know whether the provisions and food supplies carried by his personnel would be sufficient. I then contacted Colonel Ward by phone, and later Colonel Carroll. Both assured me that there would be enough food and medical supplies for the trip.

With that assurance, and the promise of Mr. Forster that his doctors and nurses were all ready to go and of Colonel Carroll that as soon as the boat docked at Pier 1, he would begin to load his equipment, beds, etc. and transport his patients, I felt that my mission had been successfully accomplished.

Here, the Red Cross book continues the story on page 16:

Late in the afternoon of December 31, 1941, Army ambulances came clanging down Manila’s Pier 1 and halted alongside the American Red Cross hospital ship Mactan moored there.

They were followed by others, and for three hours an unending line of stretchers bearing seriously wounded American and Filipino soldiers streamed up the Mactan’s gangplank. Men with bandaged heads, with legs in casts, with arms in slings, and with hidden shrapnel wounds were borne aloft by Filipino doctors, nurses, and crew.

Their faces pallid and eyes expressionless, they had no idea where they were being taken. They did not seem to care, except that the large red crosses on the ship’s sides were a reassuring sign that they were in friendly hands.

There were 224 officers and enlisted men in the group of wounded young boys of the new Philippine Army, youthful American airmen, grizzled veterans of the Philippine Scouts (an arm of the United States Army), and gray-haired American soldiers with many years’ service in the Far East. All had been wounded fighting the Japanese invaders during the bloody weeks preceding the historic stand on Bataan.

These casualties had been left behind in the Sternberg General Hospital when General Douglas MacArthur withdrew his forces to Bataan. Anxious, however, to save them from the rapidly advancing Japanese armies, he had requested the American Red Cross to transport them to Darwin, Australia, in a ship chartered, controlled, staffed, and fully equipped by the Red Cross. The only military personnel aboard, apart from the patients, would be an Army surgeon, Colonel Percy J. Carroll, of St. Louis, Missouri, and an Army nurse, Lieutenant Floramund Ann Fellmeth, of Chicago.

Aboard the Mactan, berthed at Manila’s only pier to survive constant Japanese air attacks, Irving Williams, of Patchogue, Long Island, lanky Red Cross field director, observed the three-hour procession of wounded up the gangplank. From now on until the ship reached Australia an estimated ten-day passage if things went well responsibility for them was in his hands.

The book on page 16 continues by explaining how the Mactan ended up the chosen ship for this mission:

Only forty-eight hours had elapsed since the Mactan had been brought from Corregidor where she was unloading military stores for the United States Army. A 2,000-ton, decrepit old Philippine inter-island steamer, she was the only ship available at the time when everything in Manila Bay had been sunk or scuttled or had scampered off to sea.

Working under threat of Manila’s imminent occupation by Japanese troops, Williams and his Red Cross associates, and the crews under them, performed a miracle of speed in outfitting the Mactan as a hospital ship. Simultaneously, steps were taken to fulfill the obligations of international law governing hospital ships: The Mactan was painted white with a red band around the vessel and large red crosses on her sides and top decks; a charter agreement was made between the American Red Cross and the ship’s owners; the ship was commissioned in the name of the President of the United States; in accordance with cabled instructions from Chairman Norman H. Davis in the name of the American Red Cross, the Japanese Government was apprized of the ship’s description and course; all contraband was dumped overboard; and the Swiss Consul, after a diligent inspection as the representative of United States interests, gave his official blessings.

The Mactan, lacking charts to navigate the mine-infested waters of Manila Bay, set steam late in the evening of December 31, 1941. The Philippine Diary Project has Gen. Basilio J. Valdes solving the problem of the charts (involving the charts of the presidential yacht, Casiana, recently sunk off Corregidor), in his entry for December 31, 1941:

At 5 p.m. while I was at Cottage 605, the telephone rang. It was a long distance from Manila. I rushed to answer. It was my aide Lieutenant Gonzalez informing that the ship would be ready to sail, but the Captain refused to leave unless he had the charts for trip, and same could not be had in Manila. I told Lieutenant Gonzalez to hold the line and I asked Colonel Huff who was at General MacArthur’s Quarters next door, and he told me that the charts of the Casiana could be given. I informed Lieutenant Gonzalez. Half an hour later Lieutenant Gonzales again called me and told me that the boat would leave at 6:30 p.m.

I was tired. After dinner I retired. At 10:30 p.m. a U.S. Army Colonel woke me up to inform me that the ship was still in Pier N-1 and that the Captain refused to sail unless he had the charts. We contacted USAFFE Headquarters. We were informed that the Don Esteban was within the breakwater. We gave instructions that the charts of the Don Esteban be given to the Captain of the SS Mactan and that those of the Casiana would be given to the SS Don Esteban.

I then called Collector of Customs Mr. de Leon, and asked him to see that the ship sails even if he had to put soldiers on board and place the Captain under arrest.

At 11:40 p.m. we were advised by phone that the SS Mactan, the hospital ship had left the Pier at 11:30 p.m. We all gave a sigh of relief.

The Red Cross book describes the ship’s departure as follows om p. 19:

Off the breakwater, the Mactan dropped anchor to await the Don Esteban.

As the hours passed, a little group joined Julian C. Tamayo, the Mactan’s skipper, on the bridge for a last look at Manila’s skyline. Besides Williams, there were Father Shanahan, Colonel Carroll, and Chief Nurse Ann Fellmeth.

Having been declared an open city, Manila once again was ablaze. The incandescent lights, however, were dimmed by the curtains of bright flame hanging over the city. The Army was dynamiting gasoline storage tanks at its base in Pandacan and its installations on Engineer Island to prevent their use by the enemy. The docks were burning, and over smoldering Cavite Navy Yard, devastated by heavy Japanese air attacks, intermittent flashes of fire reddened the sky.

As if by design, promptly at midnight the last of the Pandacen gasoline tanks blew up with a terrific explosion, throwing up masses of flame which seemed to envelop the whole city. A new year was ushered in, but the little group on the Mactan’s bridge was in no mood for celebration.

The charts brought by the Don Estebarfs master were not the ones Captain Tamayo had asked for. They were too general.

“Do you think you can sail without detailed charts?” askedWilliams.

“I think so,” replied the swarthy, pug-nosed little skipper with characteristic confidence.Once again, the Mactan weighed anchor. The moon was high in the sky as the ship approached Corregidor for a last-minute rendezvous with a United States naval vessel. From the shadow of The Rock sped a corvette, a gray wraith floodlighted by the moon, to lead the Mactan through the maze of mine fields. The corvette led the lumbering Mactan a merry chase; highly maneuverable, the former made the various turns at sharp angles, while the latter would reach the apex of a triangle and extend beyond it before making a turn.

A 26 year old American nurse, Floramund Fellmeth Difford, who ended up on board after being given a daring assignment, has her own version of events:

While the other nurses stationed in Manila were evacuated to Bataan and Corregidor, Difford was chosen for a special assignment because of her surgical nurse experience. A plan was devised to evacuate as many of the hospitalized soldiers as possible to Australia aboard an inter-island coconut husk steamer called the Mactan, under the auspices of the International Red Cross. It would be the largest single humanitarian evacuation of military personnel to date. And it was a suicide mission.

Col. Percy J. Carroll, the commanding officer of the Manila Hospital Center, told Difford the secret assignment was voluntary and risky. There was no guarantee the ship, which was barely seaworthy, would make it to its destination, but for the wounded, staying in Manila meant certain death. “It never really entered my mind to refuse, as we were accustomed to following orders,” Difford related in her book.

While the Japanese were on the outskirts of Manila, Difford awaited word to board the Mactan. She carried with her a note that explained that she was a noncombatant, but with the Japanese closing in, she prepared herself to become a prisoner. On Dec. 31, 1941, the order finally came. The Mactan, newly painted white with red crosses on its sides and decks so planes would recognize it as a “mercy ship,” was loaded with 224 wounded soldiers (134 Americans and 90 Filipinos); 67 crew members, all Filipino; and 25 medical and Red Cross personnel, all Filipino except Difford, who was the chief nurse, Col. Carroll, and a Catholic priest from Connecticut, the Rev. Thomas Shanahan, the ship’s chaplain.

Although the Red Cross was given clearance for the ship to leave by a Japanese commander, this was the first hospital ship to transport wounded soldiers in a war that the United States had just entered. There was great concern that the ship would be attacked by air or torpedo. Those aboard the ship rang in New Year’s Day 1942 to the sight of Manila in flames as the Americans blew up gasoline storage tanks to keep the supplies out of enemy hands.

The journey was fraught with peril. The ship had to zigzag through a maze of mines just to leave Manila Bay, following a Navy ship for guidance, and had a close call when it made a wrong turn in the darkness. The ship was infested with cockroaches, red ants, and copra beetles. Violent storms tossed the ship and drenched the patients on their cots on the decks, sheltered only by canvas. There was a fire in the engine room, and for a time those aboard prepared to abandon ship. Two wounded soldiers died from their injuries during the crossing, and a depressed Filipino soldier committed suicide by jumping overboard.

On Jan. 27, 1942, the Mactan arrived in Sydney Harbor to much fanfare, especially after newspapers had falsely reported that the ship had been attacked multiple times. Despite the primitive conditions aboard the vessel, the wounded soldiers arrived in very good condition and were quickly taken to a hospital on land. The Mactan’s voyage made headlines in the United States. Difford was cited for bravery by Gen. Douglas MacArthur and was awarded the Legion of Merit in 1942, among other awards. She and other military nurses were belatedly awarded the Bronze Star Medal for their service in 1993.

On board the ship, Major William A. Fairfield, kept a diary –he called it a “log”– from January 1, 1942, when the S.S. Mactan left Manila, to January 27, 1942, when they entered Sydney Harbor. You can read his diary and his recollections of the opening weeks of the war in the Philippines.

At the end of the voyage, the soldiers who’d been saved, all signed the document:

S. S. Mactan, Red Cross Hospital Ship
At Sea, January 12, 1942

National Headquarters

American Red Cross

Washington, D. C.

We, the undersigned officers and enlisted men of the USAFFE, in grateful appreciation of the services rendered by the Philippine Chapter of the American Red Cross under the supervision of Mr. Irving Williams, Field Director, wish by this letter to express our gratitude.

The evacuation of the wounded soldiers from Manila by the Red Cross prior to its occupation by the enemy was instrumental in preserving the lives and health of the undersigned.

The document bore the signatures, rank, and home addresses of 210 of the Mactan’s patients all of them except those who had died or were too sick even to write their names. The addresses represented almost every state in the Union and every province in the Philippines.

December 24-25, 1941 in diaries

From Malacanan

December 24, 1941: Philippine Army Chief of Staff and Secretary of National Defense, Secretary of Public Works and Communications and Secretary of Labor Basilio J. Valdes, and Executive Secretary Jorge B. Vargas, watch as President Manuel L. Quezon administers the oath of office to Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos, who also became Acting Secretary of Justice & Acting Secretary of Finance; witnessed by Jose P. Laurel and Benigno S. Aquino, in the Social Hall of Malacañan Palace. A few hours later the government evacuated to Corregidor, where the seat of government was transferred. Behind Quezon can be seen the Rest House (now Bahay Pangarap) across the river in Malacañang Park.

The Philippine Diary Project has several entries for this and the next day, covering different facets of life:

Basilio J. Valdes: December 24, 1941 begins his day at 8 am with a Cabinet meeting; on December 25, 1941, he recounts midnight Mass in Corregidor.

Ramon A. Alcaraz: does escort duties as a Q-Boat captain, on December 24, 1941.

Fr. Juan Labrador, OP, a Spanish Dominican, tries to piece together the information he has in UST for December 24, 1941. He is better informed than most.

Teodoro M. Locsin: as a civilian, December 24, 1941 was, for him, about the effects of air-raids in Manila. With nothing to do on December 25, 1941, Locsin observes life around him, and the isolation war brings.

Felipe Buencamino III: writing as a young lieutenant in Tagaytay, rounds off December 24, 1941 among the diarists.

April 17, 2011: WELCOME VISITORS v.1

In many ways, dalaw, hangin and great expectation are all quite synonymous as far as the inmates here are concerned.

The visiting area or dalawan is almost three times the space of any of the regular cells. It also functions and is interchangeably referred to around here as pahanginan. Once a week, each cell group, composed of twelve inmates on the average, gets the chance to lounge here for a few hours. The idea is to somehow experience breathing – not necessarily fresh but simply – air. There’s almost an extreme absence of oxygen inside the cells, especially between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm. And so the weekly pahangin is such a gracious respite the inmates anticipate with excitement much like waiting for a scheduled dalaw.

Every cell has a window that is not exactly a window but a mere square hole in the wall the size of my head, positioned well above anyone’s normal reach. The pahanginan, on the other hand, has one that is almost double my wing span in width. A row of inmates would usually lean on this real window, stare at the sky and just try to sniff it all in. The view, meanwhile, of a hill of swaying coconut trees, though blocked partially by the gates of the compound, provides another temporary assurance that hangin still does exist.

At eight in the morning, the dalawan is a cozy ancient room. A random but steady curtain of light and shadow gives it a cool bluish monochrome sometimes. I see it as an ingeniously lit stage design for some high social realist drama. At other times, it’s a museum of colonial history, a giant diorama. Once, I brought in a book and fixed myself on a bench and a table – strangely it felt like being in one of the reading quarters of Yenan in the 1940s.

During peak visiting hours, however, it could easily fill up to a standing room and could just be as hot and dank as the cells. But the inmate being visited could well afford not to care. He is simply in a zone with his guests – those familiar, tangible faces all gathered around him; those living, breathing creatures from the outside world who are always for him a breeze of precious fresh air.

But what if the inmate’s visitors happened also to be his complainants – or in my case, my fascist abductors and interrogators?

They’ve actually visited me twice already, these people from the 8th Infantry Division. It was not at the dalawan, though, where I was ushered to “receive” them, but in the slightly more spacious and almost empty multi-purpose hall. I remember there was an electric stand fan in the hall that ran at full speed during both times, but the prop was miserably of no use against the thick ere of militarist conceit that my unexpected guests had brought along with them. By some feat, however, of militant and punk courage, I had managed – and this is a rather priceless consolation given the circumstances – to actually make those scenes mutually suffocating. I’m inclined to reserve the details of this story for another blog entry, but there’s another gist – aside from the strongly insinuated warning that they were still pretty much in on me, these visiting mercenaries could offer me no other pasalubong.

This morning was selda uno’s turn at the pahanginan. I’m a batang selda dos but I was there too at around eleven, because a friend of mine had dropped by. But it was more of a prompt delivery than an actual visit. While shaking my hand, my friend apologetically informed me that some urgent business had come up and that he needed to go as soon as I received what he had brought me.

And so I was back in the cell in no time – with my pasalubong: a jumbo bag of crispy-fresh chicharon, complete with four packets of sukang paombong; a long brown envelope containing some documents about the Free Ericson Acosta Campaign (FEAC), and print-outs of selected articles from Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly; two ballpens, a notebook, and a thick pad of yellow paper.

I don’t recall if I had in fact requested for the writing materials, but guilt somehow led me to suspect these items as a calculatedly polite way of telling me to stop making excuses already and just write. Friends in Manila who are directing the FEAC may have given my visitor some instruction to remind me of my writing backlog; the FEAC blogsite had long been set up but no more than three works had actually come from me.

Very well, no more excuses.

I have started assembling my notes, especially from week one of my incarceration, which I think could form at least five essays. This is not meant as an excuse, but I think the problem – and this is really crazy – is that I’ve been trying to write all these pieces all at once; which is just like doing the utterly un-Maoist act of simultaneously punching with two fists or even kicking with both feet. And so it has been awful and tiring.

Anyway, I’ve actually finished one already and I’m posting it here. This was supposed to be a letter in response to those who had written me just a day after I got locked up, which never really took coherent form until a few days ago when this finally became “WELCOME VISITORS v.2.” This is mostly about things that happened seventeen years ago or thereabouts, which I think, could very well make for a narrative of the dalawan as well. For out here – or in here, rather – one of the most frequent and constant visitors is the past.

April 13, 2011: Press Statement Debacle…

This is miserable writing. This can’t be the comprehensive press statement that I’ve tasked myself to write two days earlier. It’s 1:00 am and a few minutes ago I’ve just completely abandoned pursuing my original outline. Now I’m trying, groping, cramming to come up with an alternative. I’m quite confident though that the papers which the campaign organizers have prepared and the messages of the speakers would more than suffice in providing the media with the general political context of my case, the circumstances of my illegal arrest and detention, as well as some basic details regarding my person. Just the same, my apologies. In the meantime, bear with me as I ramble on.

I have already received and read most of what have been written about me since my arrest. These have given me a clear picture of how promptly friends and comrades have actively taken my cause, and how in a short period of time the Free Ericson Acosta Campaign has reached quite an extensive base of support. I am of course sincerely touched by all this. I have long been wanting to communicate with them through letters or general statements, not only to thank them but also to personally shed light on my experience with state fascism. But I’ve been having some difficult, stubborn time with my writing.

I suppose I’m still basically ill-adjusted with my present prison set-up. I find it almost impossible to write during the day. The heat inside the cell is simply oppressive – there is no ceiling here, the lone window is less than a square foot, and my tarima is just beside two charcoal stoves that burn non-stop. The noise outside and the frenzied – sometimes juvenile, sometimes zombie-like goings on among my 12 kakosas inside a stifling, cramped-up space are just too distracting, disorienting.

But it is at night, when the heat, noise and fuss have all supposed to have subsided, that I am actually assailed by more pressing writing issues. There would always be this heavy strain that seems to balance itself upon my bobbed head, and as though from a ravine’s edge, I’d be looking down my writing pad waiting for vertigo to set in. Then this intermittent heaving motion in the chest. And, especially during the first month, I would, even without tears, just suddenly notice myself sobbing. This is pretty intense. I could never have imagined myself writing in such a wrenching, emotional state.

This is trauma of some sort I guess. But one, I think, that I’m compelled less to subvert than to temper. It is not necessarily the feeling of having been vanquished or the sense of utter helplessness that usually creeps in. No. More often, it is that surge of righteous vindication that overwhelms me.

It’s not writer’s block that has been nagging me. I call it writer’s burst. I’ve actually written a great deal already in the last two months as I tried to sum up and make sense of my ordeal. All of which, however, except for a few, amount to nothing more than disjointed rambling notes or a series of incoherent digressions.

The past week though has seen some modest breakthrough. It helped that my legal counsel had asked me to personally write my counter affidavit. I was able to finish it on time, glaring lapses in grammar notwithstanding. I was also able to complete a draft of a regional human rights situationer that focused on the cases of human rights violations in Barangay Bay-ang in San Jorge, Samar. I was in Bay-ang at the time of my arrest precisely to follow-up on these cases.

A friend of mine has sent me some samples of Ka Allan Jasminez’ Prison Diary entries. I realized that I would have to really step up on my writing and maximize relatively less restrictive conditions here as compared to those in Ka Allan’s place of detention. Already, I have started reviewing my jumbled notes and have come up with a design that would piece them together into several essays with different themes.

I am optimistic, despite this press statement debacle, that I would finally be able to handle my writer’s burst. It is very important that I do. My active engagement through my writings naturally serves to effectively amplify the campaign, as well as the general call to free all political prisoners. While I am in fact the principal subject of the Free Ericson Acosta campaign, it’s time that I enlisted myself as its principal mass leader and propagandist as well. So let’s just keep the pressure on – FREE ME! FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS!

Ericson L. Acosta

April 13, 2011

Calbayog sub-provincial jail

10 March 2011

Late last night, an abusive and rotten police offical emphasized what they think of human rights, and how detainees here at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center in Camp Crame should be put in their “proper place”.

Yesterday’s Camp Duty Officer (CDO) drunk with liquor and power, started banging at the cell gates of several cell blocks at eleven in the evening, barged into individual cells, belted out abusive and arrogant words, ordered the detainees to be roused from their sleep, and made them fall in line for a “headcount”.

Even the female detainees were not spared. Against the advice of more decent subordinate guards that the privacy of the female detainees has to be respected especially as they were already asleep and were clad only in slight clothes for sleeping, the said police official barged into the cells of the female detainees and ordered them to get up from their beds and present themselves in front of him.

In a vain effort to hide his identity, the police officer removed his nameplate from his uniform. But many of the detainees know him as Police Chief Inspector (PCI) Eco.

His abuses reached their heights when he entered Cell Block Alpha at eleven thirty in the evening.

Detainees are allowed to lock their cells from inside right after the guards’ padlocking of the cells from the outside. This is to prevent guards from entering the cells without just reason, abusing the detainees and stealing the detainees’ personal possessions when the latter are already asleep. But, prevented from immediately being able to enter detainee Rizal Ali’s cell no. 8 because it was also padlocked from inside, the abusive police officer ordered the detainee’s own padlock to be opened and while hurling invectives, confiscated the padlock and barged into Ali’s cell.

Also, after barging into detainee Mauwiya Musabpi’s cell no. 7 and seeing a tube of toothpaste lying around, the abusive police officer confiscated it, claiming that it might be used to make improvised bombs.

Mauwiya protested the confiscation, saying that the toothpaste was part of the package of goods given to him and a number of other detainees by a human rights organization. Mauwiya outrightly complained “Ito’y human rights violations.” (This is a human rights violation). The arrogant officer in turn shouted “Anong human rights? Walang human rights sa amin.” (What human rights? There is no such thing as human rights as far as we are concerned.)

In the next cell no. 6, the said abusive officer also confiscated detainee Gilbert Soliman’s small nail cutter.

And using his cellphone camera, the atrocious police officer also took a picture of some detainees, including Ed Sarmiento, in order to terrorize them.

As soon as their cell gates were opened this morning, detainees in Cell Block Alpha wrote a collective letter of complaint addressed to the Chief of the PNP Custodial Center detailing the atrocities and abuses they underwent in the hands of PCI Eco the night before.

Last night’s abuses at our detention center comprise but a tiny speck of many and worse abuses and terrorizing being committed against police and military detainees, especially political detainees, in this country. It shows how rotten, abusive and unmindful of human rights are the prisons and the police/military establishments in the country.

June 23, 2010

I was at St. Peter’s Basilica yesterday afternoon – together with the participants of the summer course on Ecumenical and Interreligious Movements. I’ve been here so many times before and it’s good to be back – after 15 years. There were a lot of people – but it was difficult to distinguish the tourists from the pilgrims. Well, one can be both.

The most moving experience for me was going below the basilica and visiting the tomb of St. Peter and the other popes, especially John Paul II and John XXIII – my favorite popes. I said prayer before their tombs. Unfortunately, taking pictures of the tombs was prohibited.

I believe that what matters most is visiting the tomb of St. Peter and the popes after a long journey, and not just seeing the beautiful basilica and the works of art of Michaelangelo and Bernini.

In the middle ages, there were three major centers of pilgrimage – Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela (Spain). Pilgrims would often go on a long journey – usually on foot – to reach these places. Now, it is easier and faster to get to these places. And it is difficult to distinguish the tourists and the pilgrims. At least at the Santiago de Compostela only those who have journeyed on foot (at least 100 km) or by bicycle (at least 200 km) can get the pilgrim’s certificate. This is what I will be doing next month – journeying barefoot along the 800 km trail of the Camino Frances starting at the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains and ending at the cathedral where St. James is believed to be entombed.

In a pilgrimage, what matters is not just the destination but the journey. The journey is both inner/spiritual and physical/geographical. The long physical/geographical journey moves the pilgrim to an inner/spiritual journey. This means moving at a slow, relax pace. There is no need to rush.

June 20, 2010

At 7:43 this morning I took the train to Assisi. By 10:15 I was already at the Assisi train station which was still 3 km to the old town. Instead of taking the bus, I just walked up. It was quite cold when I reached the Basilica of St. Francis and was in time for the mass. After the mass, I prayed before the tomb of St. Francis. I prayed for his intercession -that I will be able to run/walk barefoot on the Camino de Santiago in Spain next month – following his example.

After the mass, I walked around the town of Assisi – visiting the Basilica of St. Clare and the church/convent of San Damiano. Walking barefoot on the streets of Assisi was very pleasant, the pavement was smooth – except the rough road to San Damiano. I was very conscious of the fact that this was the same road that Francis and his followers walked on – barefoot.

I visited the room where St. Clare died and also her tomb. I prayed for a very special intention, remembering a special friend who is now in a Poor Clare monastery very far away and whom I have not seen for over 5 years.

It rained in the afternoon but I kept on walking around town. At 4 pm, I walked back to the train station to catch the last train back to Rome.

Being in Assisi brought back memories of the last time I was here – in 1994. Instead of taking the train from Rome to Assisi, I walked for six days carrying a backpack and tent, sleeping under the stars at night, and reaching Assisi on the Feast of St. Clare. I slept at the doorstep of the basilica of St. Clare that night and the following day took the train back to Rome. It was after that experience that I dreamed of walking on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela someday. This dream will become a reality next month.

June 15, 2010

I arrived here in Rome yesterday morning. After a couple of hours of rest, I went out for a 4-hour walk around the city and came back in time for the mass at the shrine of our Mother of Perpetual Help in the afternoon. I went to bed early, trying to shake the jet lag.

Very early this morning I ran for two hours along my favorite running route: the Colosseum, Terme de Caracalla, Circo Massimo, Capitoline hill, etc. I was filled with memories of the runs I did here during the four years that I was studying in Rome (1991-1995). This was also where I trained and ran the marathon in 1995. The same beautiful view – what is different is that I am 15-19 years older and I am doing it barefoot (which I thought would have been impossible then). There was one famous runner who ran barefoot in Rome before – during the Rome Olympics in 1960 – and this was Abebe Bikila, the Ethiopian runner who won the marathon. So this morning, I felt that I was running in the footsteps of Abebe Bikila. Now I can feel the freedom and the joy of running barefoot. Running on the ancient cobblestones is not really difficult or painful. So this is what I will be doing everyday while I am in Rome for a month. This is my final training for my 800 km running/walking pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in Spain next month.