July 18 — On the Nelson Mandela International Day for Freedom, Justice, and Democracy, feminist small press Gantala Press and support organization KAPATID-Friends and Families of Political Prisoners launched SaLoobin: Mga akda ng/para sa kababaihang bilanggong pulitikal. This collection of poems, prose, and artworks by women political prisoners, their friends and families, and human rights advocates was produced to help support the daily needs and survival of political prisoners across the country.
The launch opened with a message from KAPATID Spokesperson Fides Lim, whose husband, National Democratic Front of the Philippines Consultant Vicente Ladlad, is also a political prisoner, having been arrested in 2018 on trumped-up charges. The launch featured a reading of the following poems and excerpts from the book: “Pangungulila” by Reina Mae Nasino, read by Kiri Dalena; “Unang Araw at Unang Gabi sa City Jail” by Lady Ann Salem, read by Andrea Trinidad; “Ayaw Magpatulog ng Gabi” by Rowena Rosales, read by her daughter Aya; “Buhay Kulungan” by Teresita Abarratigue, read by Joi Barrios; “Sa Sinapupunan ng Digmaan” by Amanda Socorro L. Echanis, read by China Patria De Vera; “Shout of Justice” by Karina Dela Cerna, read by Sarina Lei Narida; “Sa(Loob)in” by Alma Moran, read by May Angeles; and “Pinay, Malaya, at Nagpapasya” by Senator Leila De Lima, read by Twyla Rubin, gender officer of the Commission on Human Rights.
Political prisoners, many of whom are peasant organizers and human rights defenders, are wrongly accused or charged with fabricated crimes and taken away from their families and lives on the sole basis of their political beliefs. Recently, the court upheld the conviction of Teresita Abarratigue, a peasant organizer who was first arrested in her hometown of San Sebastian, Samar on November 23, 2012. She was convicted of murder on January 31, 2018 and was then transferred from the Samar Provincial Jail to the Correctional Institute for Women, cutting her off from visits by her family.
The pandemic has only made this situation worse, with local jails more congested than ever. As a result, life inside jail is made even more incomprehensible. But the narratives found in the book fight through these hardships, telling stories such as that of routinary life in jail, as well as the invasion of privacy and basic human rights while incarcerated. One such narrative in SaLoobin speaks volumes about what the book is meant to accomplish: written by Frenchie Mae Cumpio, the open letter entitled, “Love Means Fighting Back,” speaks to the fighting spirit that runs like a vein through all of the pieces in SaLoobin. Although their physical bodies are jailed, political prisoners do not lose sight of and still have an unwavering belief in the legitimacy of their struggles for a better society. And though they are unjustly incarcerated, their thoughts, ideas, and emotions like anger and discontent, but also conviction and hope, are still freely felt by them, in a continual affirmation of their political beliefs and of their being human.
SaLoobin is a great contribution to literature and prison literature, in particular, while also serving as grim evidence of the normalization of the trampling of human rights in the country. While the struggle to achieve the immediate release of every political prisoner is ongoing, SaLoobin serves, at least metaphorically, to free the narratives and emotions of political prisoners and the people around them.
SaLoobin is available through Shopee at https://shopee.ph/gantala_press.