By Janina Lim
I hear the banging of the gavel, the plaintive clamor of my family, the triumphant cry of the father of the woman the court has declared to be my victim. Forty empty years had passed after that day yet everything — from the noise made by the audience rising on their feet to the marching beat of my anxious heart — remains to resound in my thoughts, loud and distinct. The only part vague to me was the judge’s closing speech wherein the only words I heard clear were ‘guilty beyond reasonable doubt ‘ and ‘reclusion perpetua’
Forty years ago, I was a happy man, whose happiness came from bars, cars, drugs, and girls. ‘The prodigal bachelor’, society would call me; within the circle of my decent family of politicians, ‘the black sheep.’ You know the gangs of the brusque feared in movies? That’s where I belong. In fact, I do not just belong with them; I lead them. So whenever I asked for marijuana, they’d readily hand me a pack or two. Whenever I wanted to drive my Benz in a drunken self, they would just have to clasp on anything in the car that could save their lust filled heads from a possible collision. And whenever I get exhausted kicking the ass of the guy flirting with my girl, they’d continue my fight until the police arrives. I admit to have committed numerous an unlawful and immoral act. But the crime of rape with homicide of which the people of the Philippines and of the court accuse me of, I can swear with my wasted life, is one of the few unlawful acts I never committed.
Instead of my silk blanket embracing my body from the biting cold, a banig of tattered edges, giving anyone the impression of it to have been excessively used, does the task poorly. Instead of savoring the wonder of voyaging from sea to sea, I am deprived of even a perfect scene of a descending sun. And instead of dining with my family in a feast of unlimited lobster, I am served with a meager amount of bread I ravenously gobble up along with the others who still find their stomach in turmoil at the last crumb. In each passing endeavor I struggle in jail, the rusting bars enclose me all the more, narrowing my insight in life to the extent that injustice is the only thing that remains in the view. The honorable court that condemned me for a crime even my drunken self would have never carried out, wasn’t so honorable at all. But upon turning sixty, I still wrote a letter to the government I so despised.
The difficulty in writing the letter was writing the letter per se. It required a great deal of swallowing of pride and thrusting aside of hatred. But the painstaking efforts I had put in the letter in order to please its recipients who happen to be my demons, served only a reminder that in the national circle we both belong to, there is a hierarchy. They are the audience; I am the show. They are the majesties; I am the pleb.
The letter was a petition to the government asking that their kindness be in disposal to the aged like me. As the client of the defense party bearing the honest truth, I should have had the tenacity to not merely ask from them a compassion towards my fragile, dying body, but my right to due process of the law — had the rule of law existed — to prove my innocence of the crime. But the story I have today, the same story I told in the witness stand forty years ago, and perhaps the only one I know, is not the story the honorable court would like to hear. So to recount the same story to the same court and the same audience is foolishness likening that of a host who repeatedly serves angus beef to his guests he is aware are vegetarians.
After fifteen years of resting in a withering hope, I received a reply from the government. And I could not but wonder what could have breached to take them fifteen years before they could send their message.
In the letter, they wrote, “We grant a parole to the deserving.” What is their barometer for deserve when the method in which they measure guilt, I doubt no less? “One man will be free, before the setting of the sun tomorrow.” In this state that I could not even reach the bathroom only a few meters my neighbor without tumbling down to the ground, how then could I get to the exit of which distance is four times that of my cell to the toilet? In the state of annoyance the poorly written letter has brought me, it took me a while to digest the message that I am free. The freedom, which I have patiently waited for forty years, will be mine before the setting of the sun tomorrow; and I feel nothing.
Why the numbness? Is it because at the glow of this freedom, I only realized how caged I was? Or perhaps, it is because I was in search of something more than the powers of an approved amnesty; something that would not merely open up the bars for a man imprisoned for forty years, but would entirely demolish the bars that imprison a worn-out mind and a loathing heart. And, in that moment, I knew just where that freedom could be found.
At this discovery, that this worldly freedom does not preclude the idea of imprisonment, I am then made to be in the clouds of that gift granted only by a divine phenomenon called Death. And tomorrow, before the setting of the sun, my body, dying of age, will just be a few hours within its reach.