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‘Pagkakulong,’ 46 years ago

It was mid-1974. After over a year of house arrest in Zamboanga City at the onset of martial law, my husband — a student activist turned labor lawyer — landed in Fort Bonifacio, an early military detention camp for, I would wryly say, the crime of attending a dinner party.

The brief backstory is that we were in Manila for various meetings, and I was supposed to meet up with him for dinner in honor of visiting ecumenical friends. The gathering was packed, and among the guests was someone high on the military’s wanted list. When the military came, they were unprepared for such a crowd and, manifesting gender bias, decided to take all the men first. I warned the women, “They will surely come back for us,” and made a quick exit. (They did, and a kumare’s sister was taken, later subjected to rape.)

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After a night in Camp Crame, all the men were released except for the eminent college president on the military’s list, and my husband who had a long history of activism. Tracking my husband down took all of three days, a task I had to entrust to my mother-in-law (“Momsing”), fearing that I may be on some list or other myself. In fact, he was holed up at YSAF, the intelligence headquarters on V. Luna Street. As everyone knows, the first few days after arrest are critical, possibly spelling the difference between life and death. Momsing was not allowed to see him, and she therefore demanded proof of life. She was handed, in my husband’s tremulous handwriting, Psalm 23.

It finally took me a week or two to visit him, first casing the detention center with a foreign journalist friend to make sure that nothing untoward would happen to me. I made the first of what were euphemistically called “conjugal” visits in the course of half a year. My weekend routine was to commute to Guadalupe market, purchase modest provisions (some pork, munggo, and other stuff) with an allowance from the National Council of Churches, and take a jeep from there to Fort Bonifacio.

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The food supplements were important, because prison food was spare—one dish was in fact called “high blood,” featuring pieces of floating pork fat. The added food my husband shared with his cellmates, about a handful of them. He’d tell me stories about them as well as about other detainees, including women who had been subjected to sexual violence. As for the conjugal visit, sheets were tacked together, fully enclosing a lower deck to ensure a couple’s privacy. But it really wasn’t conducive to baby-making (or even love-making), with double-deck beds barely a foot or two apart.

One story I found particularly poignant concerned a cellmate in his mid- or late 20s who seemed to be having problems in his marriage. His wife, he confided, wanted to go back to college. His fellow activists told him to drop her because she couldn’t keep pace, she was “backward.” This was a time when the “struggle” (kilusan) meant everything to a young activist and everything, or anyone, that stood in its way was dispensable. My husband, who had an AB English literature degree, said No. A relationship means give-and-take. Your wife feels she has not grown and therefore has nothing to give to the marriage. Returning to college is, for her, one way of growing.

Eventually, my husband was released after six months, on the strength of cables and faxes from church and trade union friends abroad, addressed to Cabinet members representing defense and labor. That was 46 years ago, part of the dues we paid (and continue to pay) for our faith, our politics, and, in my case, for my gender. All three imperatives conjoin in my brief prayer: “Trust God, she provides.”

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Jurgette Honculada has been with the trade union and women’s movements, specifically the National Federation of Labor and the women’s group Pilipina.

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TAGS: activist husband, Commentary, Jurgette Honculada, Marcos martial law, Marcos political prisoners
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