Remembering A Hero

"I Have Found My Inner Peace"

Fort Bonifacio
June 19, 1973
10 p.m.

Sen. Franciso ‘Soc’ Rodrigo

My dearest ‘Monsignor’:

I have just finished my night prayers; yes, believe it or not, I have been averaging 1,200 Hail Maries a day since LAUR. This is my 270th day in captivity with no end in sight. This morning I had my first haircut in three months. I was just about to hit the sack when all of a sudden I remembered our nights in bldg. No. 3.

I am presently occupying your former room with Monching (Mitra). Our big room is being occupied by the ‘plotters’ Geny Lopez, Serge Osmeña, et. al. I am not allowed to see or talk to them because I am in solitary confinement. I can hear their singing and laughter once in a while.

Pepe (Diokno) and I were flown to Fort Magsaysay, Laur, Nueva Ecija last March 12 and were returned here to Manila last April 11 after 30 harrowing days in a sweat-box and in complete solitary confinement. I lost about 25 lbs. in Laur. I now weigh about 148 lbs. from a high of 190 lbs. when I was picked up. I weighed 178 lbs. when you were released last December.

Firstly, let me tell you that you’ve been keeping me company all these months. Remember your crucifix which you placed near the Bulletin Board? When we were flown to Laur all our personal effects were returned to our families. Last Easter Sunday (April 22) the families were allowed to visit us. The first thing I asked Cory was to return to me the crucifix. Luckily, she was not able to return it to you for one reason or another. This was the first item allowed by the military to be given to me together with a couple of books on religion. Your crucifix is now beside my bed and I pray before it all hours of the day.

Secondly, I want to tell you all about my conversion and my resolve to join you in spreading the good news if and when I regain my freedom. God has been so kind to give me to the power to convince and persuade and which greatly helped me in my political career. Now I want to use the same gifts to spread His word. I am sure, this will please my mother no end.

It started last March 12. I had just finished my regular afternoon workout at the basketball court when I was accosted by one of the young officers here and asked to dress up “because we are going somewhere.” I hurriedly took a quick shower and I was ready within a few minutes. I was then led to a waiting blue Combi VW and I saw Pepe seated inside. The next thing I knew Pepe and I were being placed aboard a big civilian-type blue and white helicopter with a presidential seal. Then we were blindfolded and handcuffed. The chopper took off headed northeast.

At first, I thought we were being brought to either PANGARAP or Fort Aguinaldo or Crame. I counted mentally up to 900 (which is approximately 15 minutes) but the chopper ketp flying. I knew we were beyond the Greater Manila area. I began to wonder. Could it be Corregidor, Bataan, Sablayan, Mindoro? I was sure we headed northeast when we took off. Could it be Tanay, Rizal, the special forces training camp or Fort Magsaysay or Camp Aquino? (I eliminated this last possibility because I didn’t think they’ll bring me to home ground.) I prayed a complete rosary (three mysteries) which usually takes me about 15 minutes and the chopper still kept flying. I estimated we’ve been flying about 35 minutes when it finally set down. Still blindfolded and handcuffed to one of our escorts, I was helped into a pickup with rusty seats.

The landing pad was very near our destination. I smelled fresh paint as I was led into what I thought was a building. I found myself inside a newly painted room, roughly four by five meters, with barred windows, the outside of which was boarded with plywood panels. There was a six-inch gap between the panels and the window frame to allow a slight ventilation. There was a bright daylight neon tube that glowed day and night. There were no electric switches in the room and the door had not knobs, only locks on the outside. The room was completely bare except for a steel bed without mattress. No chairs, tables, nothing.

I was stripped naked. My wedding ring, watch, eyeglasses, shoes. clothes were all taken away. Later, a guard who was in civilian clothes brought in a bedpan and told me that I would be allowed to go to the bathroom once a day in the morning, to shower, brush my teeth and wash my clothes. In case of emergency, I must call for the guard. I was issued one jockey brief and a T-shirt and I was told to wash my clothes every morning. During the entire thirty days I was issued only two jockey briefs and two T-shirts which I alternated every other day. The guards held on to our toothbrush and tooth paste and we had to ask for them every morning. Apparently the intention was to make us really feel helpless and dependent for everything on the guards.

I didn’t know where we were. I could hear Pepe snoring once in a while because he occupied an adjoining room. We were told not to communicate with each other; and so to assure each other that we were still alive, I some sang Ang Bayan Ko and Pepe answered with Bayang Magiliw. We had nothing to read or to. We were never let out of the building.

When they removed my glasses, I suffered terrible headaches. For the first three or four days, I expected to be ‘liquidated’ any moment. I suspected our guards were the dreaded ‘Monkeys’ who were licensed to kill. I even suspected they were putting drugs in my meager ration. So I refused to eat. Later, the guards gave me six crackers a day. I subsisted on six crackers and water for the rest of my stay. I became so depressed and despondent. I was haunted by the thought of my family whom I have not seen since February 24.

At this point of my desperation and desolation, I questioned the justice of GOD. I remembered your famous words: HINDI NATUTULOG ANG DIYOS . . . but I felt, at that moment, he was having a very good sound siesta and I was afraid when he finally woke up, I would have been gone!

I prayed the rosary, but more mechanically than with feeling. Would God allow me to die without seeing my family? What terrible crimes have I committed to deserve this fate? The magnanakaws are living it up and I who tried to walk the narrow path of public service with integrity (and I) am now about to meet an uncertain fate? Is this justice? These questions assailed and kept me sleepless.

Cory, my children, our stay at Bonifacio, our nightly sessions, our debates and lively discussions kept flashing back like a montage. I couldn’t close my eyes because every time I did I saw the faces of my children, whom I am soon going to leave at the mercy of a fatherless world. And my poor wife Cory will have to carry my responsibilities on her frail shoulders.

I prayed the rosary and the mysteries. I recalled how you used to remind us of the glorious mysteries. I saw you clearly in my mind’s eye pointing your fingers upwards and downwards-resurrection, then you would point your finger upwards-ascension, then downwards-descent of the Holy Spirit, then upwards again-assumption, then coronation. I never forgot these vivid cues!

The mysteries started me on my meditation. It was the life of Christ from birth to the ascension. Suddenly, Jesus became a live human being. His life was to become my inspiration. Here was a God-Man who preached nothing but love and was rewarded with death. Here was a God-Man who had power over all creation but took the mockery of a crown or thorns with humility and patience. And for all his noble intentions, he was shamed, vilified, slandered and betrayed.

Then it dawned on me how puny were my sufferings compared to Him whose only purpose was to save mankind from eternal damnation.

Then as if I heard a voice tell me: Why do you cry? I have gifted you with consolations, honors and glory which have been denied to the millions of your countrymen. I made you the youngest war correspondent, presidential assistant, mayor, vice-governor, governor and Senator of the Republic, and I recall you never thanked me for all these gifts. I have given you a full life, a great wife and beautiful lovable children. Now that I visit you with a slight desolation, you cry and whimper like a spoiled brat!

With this realization, I went down on my knees and begged His forgiveness. I know I was merely undergoing a test, maybe in preparation for another mission. I know everything that happens in this world is with His knowledge and consent. I knew He would not burden me with a load I could not carry. I therefore resigned myself to His will.

To think, I have been praying the Lord’s Prayer for three and a half decades without really understanding fully the words I mumbled. I repeated that prayer so mechanically that I never really knew what I was saying. Thy Will be done, on earth!

Thy Will Be Done! These words snatched me from the jaws of death. In Laur, I gave up my life and offered it to Him . . . picked up my cross and followed Him. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it does, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
I recalled our conversation on Rizal. Remember the dialogue between Father Florentino and the dying Simoun which I always quoted to you and Jose Mari.

Remember how Simoun also questioned the justice of God?

Father Florentino’s immortal words were to sustain me through those dark nights of my soul in Laur. He said:

“I cannot read the mind of the inscrutable. But I know that He has not forsaken those peoples that in times of decision have placed themselves in His hands and made Him the Judge of their oppression. x x x God is justice and he cannot abandon His own cause, the cause of freedom without which no justice is possible…”

But Simoun insisted: “What kind of God is He who allows the many who are worthy and just to suffer and, without lifting a finger, finds satisfaction in their sufferings? Is it His will that these islands continue in miserable condition?”

Father Florentino’s answer was to become my inspiration. The just and the worthy, he said, must suffer so that their ideas may be known and spread. “The vessel must be shaken or broken to release the perfume; the stone must be struck to raise a spark. There is something providential in the persecution of tyrants.”

Yes, Soc, there is something providential in the persecution of tyrants. If only for my conversion, I should owe the tyrant my eternal gratitude!

I heard the great martyr-hero speaking to me from his grave. Rizal was not only a prophet but an extreme realist. He clearly pointed out to the Filipino the pitfalls that must be avoided. Unfortunately, like the Biblical prophets, many read him, but few really understood what he wrote.

Rizal’s faith in God was unshakable. He warned those who lacked dignity and civic virtue and who tolerated vices and became accomplices in them, of God’s wrath.

I now realize why Rizal reserved the little book by Tomas a Kempis ‘Imitation of Christ’ for his beloved Josephine. That little book, acclaimed as one of the greatest spiritual writings of all times by men of every faith and belief for the last five centuries, had a profound impact on Rizal. It was from this little book that he drew the strength of his spirituality and inner peace. He bequeathed his talisman to Josephine.

And so, the writings of Rizal, like that of a Kempis, are ever new because they are perennially Christian, yet are old with the wisdom of the ancient truths as proclaimed by the Church.

Like a Kempis, Rizal believed that He is the God of freedom who makes us love it by weighting the yoke upon our shoulders. And He is also the God of mercy and justice “who improves with His punishments and grants happiness only to those who have merited it with their exertions. The school of suffering tempers the sprit, the fighting arena strengthens the soul.”

Unequivocally and so clearly, Rizal said that we can only win freedom by deserving it and that to earn it we must improve the mind and enhance the dignity of the individual, “love what is just, what is good, what is great. to the point of dying for it.”

And when the people reach these heights, he said, “God provides the weapon, and the idols and the tyrants fall like a house of cards, and freedom shines in the first dawn.”

Soc, we Filipinos have a penchant for blaming others for our faults. The hero rebuked us for this.

“If Spain,” he said, “were to see us less tolerant of tyranny and readier to fight and suffer for our rights, Spain would be the first to give us freedom because when the fruit of conception reaches the time of birth, woe to the mother that tries to strangle it.”

Rizal’s final admonition rings with the universal truth that is timeless and ageless, applicable in his time and more so today. I have to quote him fully to do him justice.

“As long as the Filipinos do no have sufficient vigor to proclaim, head held high and chest bared, their right to a life of their own in human society, and to guarantee it with their sacrifices, with their very blood; as long as we see our countrymen feel ashamed privately, while in public they keep silent and even join the oppressor in mocking the oppressed; as long as we see them wrapping themselves up in their selfishness and praising with forced smiles the most despicable acts, begging with their eyes for a share of the booty, why give them independence?

“What is the use of independence if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow? And no doubt they will because whoever submits to tyranny loves it! x x x Why give the bride to the groom if he does not love her enough and is not ready to die for her?”

Soc, as I said, I heard the hero’s voice in Laur. How many of our esteemed colleagues are privately ashamed of what is happening and yet praise the dictator openly and on radio and television as if he were the greatest Filipino ever born. How many of our countrymen have joined the oppressor in mocking the oppressed? How many are repelled by the blatant injustices being committed, by the naked power grab of a tyrant with an insatiable lust for power, and they have it within their offices to curb the abuses of the tyrant, but they would not because they would rather beg with their eyes “for a share of the booty.”

I have no doubt, Rizal would have been the first to be picked up were he alive today and maybe re-enact his martyrdom at Bagumbayan. He was a victim of the New Land. Surely, his fate wouldn’t be better under a New Society . . . Bagong Lipunan.

I do not know what will happen to me. I have not been charged and this is now my ninth month in captivity. But I am no longer hoping to be released because I know I won’t stay free for long as long the present dictatorship does not change.

The moment I am released and I am interviewed, I know I will be rushed back to my cell because I am my worst enemy because I have not learned how to keep my tongue in check with prudence.

I marveled at your serenity during the months we were together. I think I have found your secret. You have long ago resigned to His will. I, too, am now resigned to His will. I now trust strongly in Him and have perfect hope in His mercy.

Like you, I heard Him say: “When you think all is lost, the greater reward often follows. All is not lost, though some things happen contrary to your will. You should not think of yourself wholly forsaken by Me, though I send you for a time some grief and trouble, for this is the surer way to the Kingdom of Heaven.”

And when He sent his disciples to the world, He sent them not to have temporal joys but to meet the great battles; not to have honors, but injuries; not to be idle, but to labor; not to rest, but to bring forth much fruit in patience and in good works, according to a Kempis.

And these words are true and cannot be denied.

In the loneliness of my solitary confinement in Laur, in the depths of my solitude and desolation, during those long hours of meditations, I found my inner peace. He stood me face to face with myself and forced me to took at my emptiness and nothingness, and then helped me discover Him who has really never really left my side; but because pride shielded my eyes and the lust for earthly and temporal power, honor and joys drugged my mind, I failed to notice Him.

As Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For the sake of Christ, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” To this, I say, Amen.

Forgive me for having taken too much of your time with this long letter. But with nothing else to do, with all the time in my hands, the temptation to over-write is great, to over-pray, to over-think.

If I have been too harsh in my judgment of our colleagues, I pray for their forgiveness. If I, however, understand the truth of our tragedy and have been wanting in my denunciation of the tyrant who dragged back Mother Filipinas to her dungeon in chains, I hope God will forgive me for failing to rise up to the occasion.

I hope you are in the best of health and Ate Meding and the family have been freed from their anxiety and tension. I do not know when you will have the chance to read this letter. But I could not wait to put down in writing my gratitude to a man who inspired me, when hope was almost gone, the ‘monsignor’ who steeled me with a faith that has become my ‘refuge and my staff.’

So long, dear friend, I am sure we will meet again. If not here, in that Kingdom where love is eternal.