Having failed to break Satur’s spirit with torture, the US-Marcos regime and its henchmen tried to use other, more peaceable means to get him to speak. They tried convincing him with the help of former friends and acquaintances.
Gen. Romeo Gatan, then provincial commander of Rizal, ‘borrowed’ Satur from his detention in Central Luzon and took him to Mount Banahaw to see one of Satur’s friends back in his student days, a former UP ROTC Corp Commander. Together, they ate roasted goat and drank whiskey. They sat around a table and talked as if it was an ordinary visit, as if Satur was an ordinary visitor.
Then Gatan revealed his true agenda: he said that he wanted Satur to visit one of the ‘ispiritistas’ who lived on the mountain and get an amulet that was would make him bulletproof. Apparently, the said mystic had powers that enabled him to resist physical harm, and if Satur wanted, these powers would be transferred to him. He would become invulnerable to even high-powered bullets, they said. Satur could then return to the underground and replace Jose Ma. Sison. In exchange for his freedom and his superpowers, all Satur would do is give, from-time-to-time, updates on important developments in the revolutionary movement’s plans.
Gatan also made a prediction that Jose Ma. Sison would either get sick or die in the immediate future, and Satur would be his successor. All of them, except Satur, raised their glasses and made a toast to these future-tellings.
Satur struggled hard to keep a poker face. In his head, the word “surreal’ kept flickering like a glow worm. To his captors, he remained polite as he refused. He was taken back to Central Luzon, anting-anting free.
After a period of torture and nine months in solitary isolation where he was allowed neither visitors nor any reading or writing materials (the real torture to a mind like his), Satur was taken to Bicutan and then to Camp Crame.
In Crame, he was still placed in isolation. A man used to solitude, Satur did not find it difficult to bear the almost permanent silence that surrounded him more closely than the wall of his cell. He found ways to entertain his brain and keep it active.
As a young boy he had had an interest in meditation, in finding inner calm through concentration. In prison, he returned to things he had read about Indian mystics and how they came about their skills and how they honed them.
In the endless afternoons that seamed into long nights, he began to to practice meditation. His efforts soon enough became productive:he sat down or lay back and directed his mind inward, prodding it to think back to his earliest memory. He was surprised at all the things he managed to remember– his childhood, his early youth. He thought back on things he had done, things that had happened to him. He recalled past hurts, small victories, moments of bliss, the events that led him to where he was and his place in his country’s unfolding history.
In the silence of his solitary cell, Satur smiled in gratitude. He found that all the difficulties he had faced, even the most brutal ones in his most recent hours, had not been enough to cause him regret.
He examined his heart, and it remained whole.
He examined his conscience, and found that it, too, was pristine. All that enabled him to withstand torture and resist everything else that could have led him to betray the noble and human cause he believed or others who shared it was still there, and there was nothing in his early life that he would have changed.
This was how Satur began his nine years in prison.
1977. Satur was elected as the first president of the Samahan ng mga Bilanggong Pulitikal sa Bicutan.
In Bicutan, there were many other national democrats who had been arrested and like Satur, had been tortured. Unlike Satur, however, many were discouraged and demoralized. Denied their freedom and unable to immediately accept what they experienced, some were silent, refusing to speak. There were others, too, who were ashamed: under torture, they were forced into betraying friends and comrades.
Satur saw his new political task, the new ideological work he must undertake. He and other comrades such as Fidel V.Agcaoili and Ed Villegas sought to rally the others.
Revolutionary discipline, he thought to himself. It is what will keep us from deteriorating within the confines of this prison. It will help us to remember that we are revolutionaries, and the reason why we were imprisoned is because the cause we have embraced is far greater than anything the enemy can ever hope to achieve.
So Satur embarked on a campaign of discipline. He exhorted comrades to show the enemy that they were no ordinary prisoners. He and the others kept their quarters clean, maintained good hygiene, did all other work like washing dishes, doing the laundry and cooking meals collectively. They also studied collectively and discussed issues and developments as they found out about them from the outside world. As a guide, they read and reread books like William Hinton’s Fanshen as their own guide to living in their new ‘community.’
They practiced fanshen which Hinton defined as “to throw off superstition and study science, to abolish word blindness and learn to read, to cease considering women as chattels, and establish equality of the sexes, to do away with village magistrates and replace them with elected councils. It meant to enter a new world.” –
Everyday became busy for Satur. He helped establish supervise income generating activities for the detainees (pendant-making, t-shirt printing, basket weaving. They saved bulalo bones and carved them; and eventually they were also making trinkets from plaster and polymer clay); lobbied with the prison authorities for better living conditions (better ventilation, for one; and they won their campaign to be allowed to prepare their own meals instead of having the prison prepare the food which was often execrable: roots were still attached to camote or kangkong in the sinigang; pebbles and even rocks in the boiled rice, etc); wrote secret letters to his wife Bobbie who was still working underground (letters which were also secretly and most creatively smuggled out by his mother-in-law Mrs. Carolina Malay); and met with foreign journalists and a few local reporters who quietly dared to defy the regime by seeking interviews with political prisoners like Satur.
Sundays, however, were busiest. It was the one day in the entire week when families were allowed to visit the political detainees, and the whole compound was alive with love and reunion.
Satur’s two youngest children Silahis and Antonio, often came with their lola to visit; but because Satur was president of the organization of detainees, he was often busy in consultations with the families of other detainees who sought his help, his advice, his comfort. They called him by turns ‘SC’ (for ‘Supreme Court’), ‘tatay,’ ‘guidance counselor.’
They brought to him their problems and those of their detained loved ones (poverty, sickness, homesickness), their dilemmas (marital woes, plans for panliligaw) and legal difficulties (the organization frequently lobbied for the release of prisoners on humanitarian grounds such as age and illness, and they had a standing list of names to be prioritized for release. Sometimes the prison authorities would comply and support the release of a detainee, sometimes they would be recalcitrant). Satur and other senior detainees and organization officials always had a busy time consulting with the families.
His two children, being children, whiled the time away running around the compound, playing with other children or their cousins who came with them. Sometimes Satur would excuse himself to attend to Silahis and Anto and lift them shrieking as they played ‘helicopter’ (he swung them around and around in his arms), ‘flyover’ (he bent over in the shape of the infrastructure then newly-built along EDSA and let his boy and girl climb over or crawl under him) and ‘pyramid’ (from a standing position, he bent his knees, and Silahis would climb on one knee and Anto on the other, each rushing to reach their father’s head first).
There were Sundays, however, when Satur would be too busy to even play with his children. The sun would set and Silahis and Anto would kiss him goodbye and he had been unable to even spare them 30 minutes straight to ask them about their schoolwork, their health, the small details of their childhood which was swiftly leaving them.
At night on such Sundays, Satur’s usual reserve would break, and he would be unable to stop his tears.
By 1978, there was already international campaign initiated by allies in the foreign press and human rights organizations calling on Marcos to immediately release Satur and all other political prisoners. Satur had written an open letter to foreign delegates of an international conference titled ‘World Through Justice’ held in the country, and it was published by the international press. He also wrote to various associations of journalists, and his letters were also published. He also received the support of the International P.E.N. and the International Federation of Journalists. In his missives, Satur denounced the regime and its top executive. He exposed the torture and other human rights violations perpetrated by the military, and gave full detail regarding the abominable conditions faced by political detainees in the various prisons.
In retaliation, the dictator Marcos released a statement denying the existence of political prisoners, saying all there were in the prisons were criminals against the Republic. Neither did his government condone torture, and that no one was tortured.
Satur, Marcos said, was a criminal, and his crime was rebellion. Marcos said that there was no way under his rule that Satur would ever go free.
TO BE CONTINUED.