Belle sat shock and frozen still peering into the crack offered by the plyboard wall of the kubol. She could not believe what she was seeing, writhing on the floor was an inmate accused of having stolen her camera. Wooden paddles were held by two burly men as they took turns on hitting the inmate.
All blows were landing on his back thighs and on his already swollen seat showing thru his tattered thin shorts. Of the three heavy set men surrounding him, with arms across their chest watching the inmate writhe in pain and doing the questioning, one of them was her brother.
“So where’s the cam, useless asshole!?!” whack! another blow landed, the inmate writhed again.
“I don’t know what your’e talking about!” the hoarse voice was full of tortured pain. His feet and hands were bound and he laid on the floor like an earthworm trying to bore into the cement in an effort to hide his body. Sweat, tears and urine was already muddling the cement floor.
Whack! another blow landed. The air seemed to be cut by the whipping sound. This time the bruised back thighs opened a skin and bled.
Utol stepped in to stop the blows. “I think that’s enough, he will never tell us even if he knows.” he picked up the inmate by the collar. “Don’t ever make the mistake of peddling it inside” Utol breathed a little more closer to his face, threatening, ” I promise you the money you make out of it will be shoved inside your throat.”
“ and its the last thing you will ever taste.” the other man ended Utol’s threats.
“For three days, his rancho will only be for dinner. Let him do the sewers for a month.” He ordered the other men. They pick up the battered inmate. His face seemed to be a lot worse than his thighs as it showed a grotesque contortion of swollen eyes, cut lips and bleeding mouth.
“We will try to find your missing camera. Our pangkat does not tolerate thievery among our own and we specially take care that we do not offend the chapel. We have given notice to other brigada’s also” The mayores of BNG (Bahala na Gang), one of the gang organizations inside the local jail, assured Utol as the group left.
Everyone seems to be dancing on eggshells when it comes to associations with the Chapel. No one would voice out if they were really against it but everyone wants to be a part of its keep.
The chapel was built inside the local city jail. The jail being one of the oldest structure in the city predating from the spanish colonial times when the spaniards needed a national penitentiary.
Today, what only remained is the catwalk, main entrance and some part of the barracks itself. It has metamorphosized into a dilapidated city jail. One of those pockets in society wrapped up in its own forms of stories about brutalities, tortures, human sufferings, and dark secrets, even ghost stories; you would never know which is the truth or which was just for tell.
Apparently, this time Belle just witnessed a form of punishment by the pangkat. It would be a long time before Belle could tell anyone about it. Her brother Utol was part of the chapel. She needed to protect him also from harassment if ever there were any outside curious “do gooders” that would point to her or Utol as the source of investigation.
The officials of the jail and all the pangkats as well as the other inmates inside have a love/hate relationship with the chapel. The chapel was the only civilian institution inside the penitentiary where the NGO’s and the catholic church channels it outreach programs for the inmates. As such, the “graces” that came out of the chapel, distributed for the inmates and for the jailguards were always a welcome treat.
On the other hand, the chapel has oftentimes became the forefront of investigations for human rights violations .
Utol and an elder lay minister, fondly called “Lolo” by everyone, ran the chapel’s affairs including the masses held there. Utol was an inmate taken in by Lolo when he found he has an innate sense of emphathy and inclinations to do humanitarian work. Having finished college, before being comitted inside, made him one of the few intelligent help Lolo can find within the jail, and Utol on the other hand, being a devout catholic, seemed to have no other agenda than to serve his beliefs and wait out his sentence.
“Tol..” Belle’s brother called out to her as he came inside the cramped kubol. “I’m afraid we can no longer find your camera. You will have to write without pictures.”
Belle just nodded her head, still shocked from what she had witnessed.
“Did you see?” Belle nodded, she looked towards the crack at the wall.
“I’m sorry you have to see that..” Utol apologized. “But it has to be done, unless we report it to the jailguards. The pangkat would rather punish their own than deliver them to the officials.”
Belle still nodded. The camera was not important anymore, maybe she could just ride with other press people if there were official events held within the jail and she could ask for copies of their shots. She just realized how different her life outside was compared to her brother.
Incarceration was never rehabilitation, it was made to re invent the person. Everyday was a different form of punishment. If there was anything that brutality made as a statement, it was illogical. It was blind to reason and rules.
The system takes away your self worth. Acquire your meek acquiescence thru consistent beatings, hard labor and self mortification. The right to self determination is stripped immediately upon entering its gates, it was survival in a totally different world. Deviance is normal and holding on to moral values would make you extinct.
It was good that Belle was a constant visitor at the jail. It left a message to the the brigada’s as well as the officials that he had a decent life waiting for him when he got out. He was not a common criminal that frittered away life in violence, drugs and misfortune. He had a waiting life to hold onto, a future to hope for.
She remembered asking her Utol where he found strength to endure, he replied,
“You live only for the day. You ask the Lord to keep you, if only for the day. You hope and pray tomorrow would be different. It may turn out to be harder than yesterday but its a day nearer to the day you hoped to be free… from all of this” he waved around, his sad countenance marked with lessons of life.
And the day did finally come. The judge relegated his case from murder to manslaughter and sentenced him to seven years of maximum imprisonment. Since he had been already confined for seven and a half years, the gavel banged and the judged ordered him released due to sentence served.
Utol was finally home the next day. It was the sweetest day he had ever known and he never stopped talking on what he planned to do, where to go, whom to visit, retrace previous friends before he became imprisoned. He promised himself he would never waste another day to mediocrity.
He kept talking about plans of the future with Belle, and how suddenly everything was new and beautiful.
Barely a week after this sweetest freedom. Utol was found dead at 3:30 a.m. His listless body blocking a main street drain along EDSA, causing a slight flood. It was raining hard that night, the region was under signal no. 2 typhoon winds.
Witnesses said they saw a jeepney sped away after throwing what looked like a sack out of the jeep. It turned out to be Utol. He suffered 8 stab wounds. There was a deep cut in his neck and main artery at his thighs; slashes at both arms. A victim of reprisal from his previous case.
Belle never really did found out who killed her brother.
Ironically she learned, the other bittersweet word for ultimate freedom – death.