THE INCARCERATION OF A TRIBAL MINORITY GRANDMOTHER
“Unto the pure all things are pure.”
It was summertime in Marawi , a remote and native town in Southern Mindanao, when perchance Lola (grandmother) Sana, went to spend a month-long retreat in the house of her elder sister, to baby sit her granddaughter at Cagayan de Oro. Two days later from the date of her arrival, a group of law enforcers swooped down on their dwelling and Lola Sana was carted off on charges that she was in possession and selling shabu. The prosecution was swift because she had nothing to spare as she spent her money in fare already and had nothing to entice. She was a widow since the 60s and never remarried, only to find solace and contentment by visiting her elder sisters and brothers. That would have been her last visit.
She was virtually bundled up and brought to the precinct, amidst a pandemonium in the neighborhood, charged accordingly and was sentenced to life imprisonment. She never knew what hit her. She was merely on her second day in her sister’s house, busy nurturing her grandchild, both were already on bed actually and about to douse off when commotion took place. In her first day, Lola Sana, wise already on the ways of the world considering her age at 63 then, was a bit anxious because of the kids and the juvenile roaming in their house. Her elder sister was running a compound where rooms were rented to families of laborers in the town. The kids were some kind of upbeat, edgy and agitated. She knew that the kids were in some kind of a dependency. She thought that it was the same edginess among the youth in Marawi, where she came from, that was also prevailing in the neighborhood. She knew substance or liquor but a bit alien about drugs. The youth, she learned lately, were on drugs and that it was her presence that made the police suspicious. She was a Marawi denizen, a lady who is sophisticated in her designer garb, always poised and costumed for effects. That would have been misinterpreted as luxury and lavishness. That would have signaled also some people to suspect that a stranger, opulently dressed has arrived in their town.
She has not yet pressed her magnificent looking clothes, as yet to draw from her traveling bag the rest of her gears, still on her second day yet when she was picked up for questioning. She was a widow and all her kids were in Luzon and it was her lonesome that brought her to see her siblings, older than her and already weakened by ailments. Nobody knew her and no one could even provide her succor. There was no way she can even defend or represent herself. She was schooled in Arabic up to grade 5 and never knew how to read and write. The charges, all written in English was Greek to her. For her to extricate herself from staying up in the police precinct she must have to sign and worst, she signed everything to her peril. She was brought to the cramped jail and there to await the promulgation of the courts. She had signed everything prepared for her including admission and confession, affirmation and even profession of guilt.
But the world, anywhere anyway, was only for those with somebody to share with. In her case, she was alone. A widow. Abandoned by her children. Unwanted by siblings. Alienated in her town. She must have felt awkwardness and apprehension. She was widowed by a man he loved most. She may have been the sixth wife, acceptable in her town where Muslim as she was, it was the culture that dictates relations. The husband was killed by one of his fathers-in-law, not her father though, but it was a trauma she never got acquainted with. He left her six children who after reaching the age of majority would choose to leave her for greener pasture on some places she would only hear on local news. She had nurtured her children up to the time they learned the ways of life. They matured relatively earlier and as they left, she was satisfied for a while, feeling accomplished for her loved ones but she must have to tread life, as a consequence, by her lonesome from that time on. She would move from one place to another, from one sibling, from one relative, from one neighborhood to another. She was constantly in motion. That was how she was in the past during her cohabitation however tragically short but she grew excitedly at that time. She would be treated as nobility, as a regal part of her husband’s numerous wives, the youngest and heir to the adornments and embellishments of a local clan bearing aristocracy. She loved the attention, longed for the splendid treatment, and relished the posh of her environment. It would however end tragically.
In jail and eventually in prison, she would meet people similarly situated. Those whom she would discover as deprived, dispossessed and withdrawn. Like her, luck was never a part of their growing old. Like her, luck has deserted them as soon as they have the capability of appreciating it. She was serving a life term for possession of drugs, as if she was a curse incarnate, a social irritant, an unwanted annoyance. But she never knew how to defend herself. She who grew into a manor and was pampered a lot. She would continue the same mind set in prison and she would be contented, without even an eye on freedom. For her, anywhere is her world, whether it is market place or a camp rigged with combat wires. For her, the inmates are regular characters of her world, like her siblings, relatives and friends. It does not matter where she is.
After 9 long years, at the age of 72, despite the fact that she is the oldest in the facility, she has not even aged nor contracted wrinkles. She never would even bother her custodians, the prison guards, any reliefs, any consolation, or would expect that she be regaled on promises for achieving clemency. She would still sport the bandana, the colorful headgear and the tangerine prison uniform. She would still walk with the bearing of graciousness and dignity. Prison never gave her blight and nuisance, only a space, a breathing spell to express her unity with her world. Beneath an elderly deportment, she exuded an air of youthful innocence, call it imprudent or inane, juvenile or asinine, even foolish or mad. She never seem to give a damn about her condition, even would disregard her penalty, the longest among her fellow inmate’s estimation.
That is Lola Sana. A person the criminal justice system tried to curse. A person the world would try to subdue. A person whose humanity has been violated, tricked mercilessly by law enforcers, assailed by our courts, regardless of her credulity, and shoved in prison, there to find herself and perhaps await the call from her Creator.
Her presence in prison, never improved justice at all, it even demeaned and reduced mankind of its role in the entire landscape of humanity. Her continuous imprisonment has redefined rectitude and fairness in the negative sense.
Lola Sana should have been there with her grandchild but fate and even chance never allowed that to happen. She committed a victimless crime according to fledging officers for which in her case humanity has suffered its lowest inference. The laws accordingly have spoken. And it does not even, in the process, approximate a reasonable ground.
That statue of lady justice, hitherto standing beside the prison control gate lacks something to describe the numerous Lola Sanas in the midst. Lady Justice, the statue, to complete her posture and indicate the true state of understanding, must also have a carved flowing tears cascading down her cheek! At least even in Art the promotion of fairness is still respected.