Text by Abby Zara
Maricon Montajes found it strange to plan her own day for the first time after seven years.
More than a thousand days behind cold bars and a mandatory routine did not prepare her for the freedom that came with rightfully having her life back.
“Naalala ko nung unang week ko paglabas, nagulat talaga ako na pwede na pala akong gumawa ng sariling itinerary or personal plans for myself. Yung konsepto ng pagpaplano para sa sarili bagong-bago talaga,” Montajes said.
The UP Diliman Film student spent seven years in jail for trumped up charges: illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, illegal possession of explosives, and violation of the omnibus election code.
Montajes was integrating in a peasant community in Taysan, Batangas when members of the Philippine Air Force surrounded the house they were staying in for the night, showered them with bullets and arrested her and two others: Romiel Cañete and Ronilo Baes. The three were then known as “Taysan 3”.
Montajes became a “mayora” for the women she lived with in jail. Part of her role was to oversee the completion of inmate tasks.
“Three times a day may headcount, may cleaning duties, kitchen duties at cooperative duties. Part ng routine ko i-make sure na gumagana ang lahat,” Montajes said.
Montajes was finally freed last July 21, 2017 after posting more than P600,000 for bail. Freedom came at a high price. But even beyond prison, restrictions still abound.
Montajes did not qualify for free tuition in UP Diliman. Students who fail to complete their degree within a year after the prescribed period are not covered by the free tuition policy. Her seven years in jail had robbed her of that chance.
“Yung kahirapan lang talaga ngayon ay yung malaking tuition na kailangang bayaran kasi hindi ako qualified for free tuition or even sa STS,” Montajes said.
The right to free education in UP remains unavailable to law students and masteral takers as well. A whopping sum of more than P25,000 is being demanded for Montajes’ 15 units this semester
“Pero there’s an ongoing appeal for my tuition at may initial talks na and the Office of the Chancellor, OVPAA (Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs) , OSSS (Office of Scholarships and Student Services), and OVCSA (Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs) and other offices are open to help regarding the tuition,” Montajes said.
Montajes is partly relieved. At last, she gets a chance at continuing her education, at having a hand in what she chooses to do with her life.
At last, she returns to the College of Mass Communication (CMC).
Back at it
Montajes, however, is returning to a college that she has not seen for a thousand days.
“Maraming nagbago at maraming hindi. Una sa structure ng college nagulat ako dahil dati naabutan ko pa ang media center na hindi pa nagagamit at medyo bumabaha pa sa baba. Ngayon nag-improve na yung istruktura niya,” Montajes said.
Aside from the college’s many structural alterations, it is not populated with students Montajes no longer recognizes. Her batchmates, the people she has spent years working and learning with, have left the institution a long time ago.
But if there is anything that hasn’t changed in the college it is the students’ longing for true societal change.
“Ang isang napansin ko maintained pa rin ng mga studyante yung pagiging involved sa mga issues locally at hanggang national,” Montajes said.
CMC students are currently fighting for the junking of the repressive Faculty-Students Relations Committee (FSRC) Manual and rental fees, among other local issues.
They are vocal against President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration and the continued crackdown on media outlets that are critical of his rule.
“Imaintain lang nila ito at paunlarin pa. Pag aralan paano pa i-engage ang karamihan,” she added.
Montajes herself is an activist, part of movements that fought for some privileges in the college, including free laptop charging in the lobby and the construction of org spaces.
Again, in service of the people
Being an alagad ng media is powerful, Montajes said. She recognized its ability to influence, to mobilize.
“Aralin natin ito nang mabuti at gawing makabuluhan ang bawat likha,” Montajes said. She hopes that students in the college recognize the chance to become storytellers for the sectors being deprived of a voice in society.
Montajes also called for the continued support of the College of Mass Communication and its students in fighting for the freedom of political prisoners.
“Kahit andito na’ko sa labas ngayon, hindi parin natatapos ang kaso namin. Hindi pa tapos yung kampanya para sa kalayaan at hustisya,” she said.
Romiel Cañete and Ronilo Baes, two thirds of Taysan 3 are still imprisoned, along with at least 400 remaining political prisoners in the country.
“Suportahan, kalingain, bisitahin, alamin ang kalagayan at tulungan natin sila na makamit ang paglaya at hustisya” Montajes said.
To be free is to break routine. Montajes is rebuilding her own after seven years.
She challenges every media practitioner to do the same: expose the rotten system that we have come to know that deprives the youth of their right to education, keeps workers contractuals and struggling for minimum wage, kills farmers on their own lands.
To break free is create works that will contribute towards freedom from this system — and as Montajes did, to live and fight with the masses in order to truly be one with their struggle.
ERRATUM: The amount of Montajes’ bail was updated from P400,000 to more than P600,000.