Beyond bars and bonds: A night of art for freedom

by Arianne Christian Tapao

Word poet Juan Miguel Severo performs at a Taysan 3 bail fundraiser launched by Task Force FrEEDom at the College of Fine Arts. Photo by Arianne Christian Tapao
Spoken word poet Juan Miguel Severo performs at a Taysan 3 bail fundraiser launched by Task Force FrEEDOM at the College of Fine Arts. Photo by Jerome Orejana

Three mic stands, multiple concert lights and loud music were all it took for the College of Fine Arts (CFA) grounds to transform into a makeshift concert stage, gathering artists from a homegrown acoustic duo to popular spoken word poet Juan Miguel Severo in a night that raised almost P20,000.

All these were efforts to gather the P2.1-million funds needed to meet the bail and legal expenses of the Taysan 3, a group of political prisoners who were granted petition for bail only after they were detained in Batangas Provincial Jail for six years.

The Taysan 3, comprised of Rommiel Cañete, Ronilo Baes, and UP Film student Maricon Montajes, were charged with illegal possession of firearms and of explosives  and the violation of the firearms ban. Baes was also charged with frustrated homicide.

But raising money, as with getting people to learn about the issue of political prisoners—people imprisoned because they opposed or criticized the government responsible—doesn’t come as easy as watching bands perform.

With all the efforts made, Maricon’s mother Concepcion Montajes, 54, could only be awed.

While she herself is a self-professed pro in getting people to dole out solicitations, she admitted the situation changes when it comes to her daughter’s chance for reprieve.

So for 100-peso tickets, Task Force FrEEDOM, an alliance of individuals mostly hailing from the UP College of Mass Communication (CMC), spearheaded the benefit concert Freedom Friday with hopes to raise the needed P2.1 million from April 4 to 8.

The one-night event featured several artists such as blues ensemble General Strike, UP band The Roomhoppers and Montajes’s fellow UPFI student Mervine Aquino, who came with visual communication major Kim Tia.

In the audience was business economics Freshman Vince Barrion. Admittedly, he did not recognize most of the performers, but who was onstage did not seem a priority to him as much as the event’s purpose was.

Despite only having knowledge on Montajes, the 17-year-old Acacia dormitory resident said he came to the concert after hearing a co-dormer explain the Taysan 3’s situation.

“I think it’s very unfair that because you have a radical stand or a radical view, you’re going to be struck down all of a sudden,” he said in Filipino. “It’s unfair. That’s injustice. When I found out Maricon was a UP student, I was sad because she was only a student but now, she is in prison.”

He estimates he and only a few other students in his home college know about the situation of the political prisoners.

The lack of enthusiasm from the UP community to help in Montajes’s ordeal stems from its dearth in knowledge, Task Force FrEEDOM fundraising head Jomari Herrera said.

While it was a benefit concert that centers on the Taysan 3, Herrera conceded the task force gave the performers leeway to perform any song or poem even if it had no relation to the forwarded cause.

“Hindi kami naging strict sa content,” Herrera said. “Okay lang naman, kasi ang goal ng event ay magbigay ng awareness para kay Maricon.”

The event gathered a total of P16,884 that night, according to task force member and CMC Student Council Treasurer Jesse Doctor.

The funds raised by the task force from the concert, she said, were also enjoined with monetary donations, which explains the large sumtotal given the concert was not as crowded as expected.

To avoid compromising the bail money, Herrera said members of the task force collectively agreed on throwing contributions of any monetary amount for the concert expenses, which was estimated to be P5,000.

While he is happy with current efforts to reach the bail, Herrera thinks the long-awaited day is still a far cry from reality.

To be fair, the event was scheduled exactly a month after the prisoners were allowed bail on March 2. Herrera admitted the preparation had been short as the alliance had to think of various ways to achieve the target rate from April 4 to 8 or the efforts might be in vain, much like with what happened to Eduardo Serrano, who was arrested without a warrant in 2004 after having been mistaken as a New People’s Army member and died a political prisoner last Jan. 8.

Montajes, in her state now, has only been lucky.

Over 561 political prisoners are currently held in the country’s jails, according to data from Samahan ng mga Ex-detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto, with 54.19 percent of them arrested during President Benigno Aquino III’s term.

Despite the gravity of the situation, the campaign for Montajes has resurged into popular scene only after the Taysan 3 were recently granted bail.

Meanwhile, there are still students like journalism major Christelle Delvo, who are well-equipped with knowledge of the Taysan 3’s situation after having produced a class documentary discussing Montajes’s life in prison.

For Delvo, the horror story that is Montajes’s detainment is important to be heard as this story may just as well be anyone’s, especially any UP student, who dares enough to learn beyond the books.

“We owe it to Maricon at sa lahat ng Taysan 3, tayong mga nasa labas ng kulungan,” she said. “Nasa atin [UP students] ‘yung responsibility na talagang gumalaw para mas maraming tao ‘yung makaintindi ng issue.”

Mervine Aquino and Kim Tia perform at the Freedom Friday event held by Task Force FrEEDOM. Photo by Arianne Christian Tapao
Mervine Aquino and Kim Tia perform at the Freedom Friday event held by Task Force FrEEDOM. Photo by Jerome Orejana

Much like Delvo, Herrera remains optimistic above all else.

“Isa lang tong mahirap na hamon pero hindi dapat sumuko,” he said. “Hindi dapat tumigil at hindi dapat manghina.”

Herrera proudly said the task force was already able to raise a large amount coming from the concert as well as merchandise sales and film screenings. Dialogues with the UP administration have also been conducted to garner institutional aid.

But Herrera maintains that the power of collective action still comes top priority, sayng pressure from the public may help raise the issue’s urgency as there has no evidence to prove Montajes’s guilt.

Delvo’s wish, however, is far simpler, especially for UP students to grant: that the people should learn about Montajes.

Fortunately, hope is well and alive in people who empathize with the Taysan 3, much like Barrion, who, in his own way of going to the concert, also promises to ask his father, a lawyer, about the legalities of the Taysan 3 case and to stimulate discourse in his home college.

In the meantime, the six-year struggle against oppression for the Taysan 3 continues, as Montajes’s mother Concepcion and the rest of Task Force FrEEDOM hopes to reach the P2.1-million bail now more than ever.

And against oppression, Concepcion has one comeback: “Sino pa ba ang mag-question sa isang kolektibong pagkilos? Matagumpay lahat ang “hiniusang paglihok,” anumang mukha ito.” #

Author: TNP

The Official Student Publication of the UP College of Mass Communication.