Christmas in Crame, 1972
Your mantra for the week: “There is a Santa Claus within me that responds to all my requests.”
Following last week’s topic, on the best gift you can give a loved one, is a present you can give your close friends, associates and people you hang around with, something that will deepen your relationship.
All it needs is a sheet of paper or a Christmas card on which you can write your personal greetings. You can start with something like, “Thinking about you this Christmas and desiring to let you know that I am truly grateful that you are in my life. And on this special occasion, I would like to let you know that there are many things I love about you, but I love you most for…. (Specify.)
“Also, there are times I wish I could give you the world, but because that’s not possible at the moment, I wish I were given the magical power to present to you what I would love to give you… (Name the present.)
“This Christmas, I remember the many great times we have spent together but the most memorable one was when… (Recall the moment.)
“Tonight at midnight, my most fervent wish for you is…” (Say it.)
I trust that my suggestion will bring you the kind of joy that you have never felt before. To this column’s loyal readers, Sison’s greetings! Reminding you that Love is the reason for this Sison, and I am sending lots of it to you.
In addition, let big, happy financial surprises come to you and whatever appropriate gifts you desire to bless you all the days of your life.
Memories of December ’72
Christmases come and go, but my most memorable one was December 1972 as a martial law detainee in Camp Crame. That was 45 years ago.
I’m a bit startled whenever I remember that most of the media people who were jailed with me have moved on to another dimension of life.
Amando Doronila and Juan Mercado, who are both still around, can attest to Christmas in prison as truly unforgettable.
With us then was Jerry Barican, who was arrested for his being a student activist.
The police picked me up for answering the only question asked of me—if I am the magazine columnist Conde de Makati. I confessed because my then editor, Luis Mauricio, was arrested a few days before my arrest, and I assumed he might have been asked for the identity of the Conde.
The magazine we worked for, the Weekly Graphic, had Luis Araneta as publisher. Though not exactly a Ferdinand Marcos fan, Luis had a son, Greggy Araneta, who, much to his dismay, went on to marry one of the dictator’s daughters, Irene Marcos.
Today, there’s Imee’s son marrying a Manglapus daughter. Inquirer chair Marixi Prieto can surely relate from a similar experience.
Debt of gratitude
At Crame, the unofficial head of our media gang was Louie Beltran, who later became Inquirer’s first editor in chief. I owe Louie a debt of gratitude for leading the protest against my being singly chosen to be transferred to the stockade, as ordered by you-know-who, to be a cell mate of Kumander Sumulong, supposedly “the most dangerous man in the country.”
That was how intensely upset at me the Palace was. That’s why my fellow detainees were constantly ribbing me about being “the cause for the declaration of martial law.” Luckily, because of Louie’s protest and the threat of the others to go on a hunger strike, not to mention Amnesty International monitoring the treatment of media detainees, I was sent back to the gym the next day.
In 1982, Sumulong was convicted of murder and meted a death sentence, which was commuted to reclusion perpetua because of his age.
After shutting down the media, Marcos allowed only a handful of newspapers to be run by his cronies. One was the Philippines Daily Express, which compared the gym where we were detained to a five-star hotel and being treated royally. This five-star “hotel,” which we call “The Crummy Hilton,” was actually just a one-room facility with 84 detainees provided with three toilets and a bath, but with no water during the day.
By the time I was released, there was a distinct improvement—there were 240 detainees with six toilets and a bath, but still no water during the day.
To keep sane
Though I spent only one night at the stockade with Kumander Sumulong and two students, the experience was traumatic with the thought that I would be there for a long time.
The two students who shared the cell with Sumulong had been there for two years. The stockade was a 3×4-meter gloomy room with hardly any sunlight except for the little rays that would filter in through the bars of the 1×6-ft window where the students said they would dry their clothes.
Oftentimes, they would launder even their clean clothes “just to keep sane.” They shared one toilet, a little sink and faucet. Nobody was allowed out of that room, which had a sign, “strictly no visitors.”
All conversations were monitored by central headquarters, while “the most dangerous man” lay constantly in one corner, “na laging hinihika,” according to his two companions.
Upon seeing me being brought to their cell, they looked at each other and said, “Kung ’yan inaresto, bukas siguro bibitayin na tayo ng mga p**ang inang nasa Malacañang.” If any of those two students happen to read this
column, please send me an e-mail so I can be sure na hindi kayo binitay.
It was a moment of celebration when I was brought back to join “the family” in the Crame gym: the feisty, brilliant lawyer Haydee Yorac; the unforgettable “you-know-who” originator Amelita Reysio-Cruz, who was being teased that when the Metrocom knocked on her door and she asked who it was, a singsong chorus of voices answered, “you-know-who”; the daring Balita publisher and editor Ruben Cusipag; Philippine News Service editor Maning Almario; Ernie Granada of the Manila Chronicle whose colorful encounters with Marcos were legend; novelist Celso Carunungan whose “Satanas sa Lupa” was a bestseller because of the Satan on earth he was referring to; writer and Con-Con delegate Ding Lichauco; Taliba’s Benny Esquivel; and later on, Luis Teodoro joined his wife, the impish Ninotchka Rosca.
That Christmas in ’72, the detainees awarded Jerry Barican and myself the TOYD awards— Two Outstanding Young Detainees for our sanitary services.
Our trophies were ceramic figurines of toilets—in recognition of our keeping the toilets clean at all times.
My mother Priscilla, who visited me every day of my stay in Crame, provided all possible cleaning materials to help in the maintenance of probably the worst toilets in the world.
Initially, the guards refused entry of muriatic acid because “baka inumin niyo” (they wish), as well as Will Durant’s books because certain chapters talked about the French Revolution.
To while away the anxiety of not knowing our fate, we would amuse each other with comic
situations, like the time when Ruben Cusipag called me to watch a Muslim brother who was laying down his prayer rug to worship. Ruben suggested we wait, “Baka lumipad ’yung rug, umangkas na lang tayo.”
Pilita serenades us
In one of his visits, Rafael Corrales, one of the few friends who bravely acknowledged at the time that I am, indeed, his friend, asked whether his sister, Pilita Corrales, could be allowed to serenade us on Christmas Day. Fortunately I was able to get permission from the camp commander, Generoso Alejo.
When Pilita arrived on Christmas Day, the whole gym of detainees, including all the guards, were ecstatic that someone like her, at the height of her popularity, was around to cheer us—who were labeled “enemies of the state.”
E-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
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