Father and Freedom
BY MARK L. GARCIA
The writer is the business reporter of the DAILY STAR. He has an A. B. Communication degree from the University of St. La Salle. He also took up theater and performance studies at the DLSU-College of St. Benilde in Manila.
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Two events in a matter of six days have struck an important, if not sentimental, chord in my heart and mind.
Independence Day may be a national event but “freedom” has also a personal imprint in me, particularly in relation to Father’s Day tomorrow.
This year’s Father’s Day celebration is the first time that my siblings and I will spend it with Papa Junior in eight years, following his release from jail in November last year.
My parents and uncle, Papa’s brother, were charged for violation of R.A. 9165 in October 2009. That was the most frustrating moment of my life, because at 14 years old at that time, I felt that my world fell apart and the entire burden of caring for my three siblings, all girls – then aged 12, 10 and 5 – was dumped on my shoulders. I felt I had nowhere to go.
After they were detained at the Bacolod City District Jail, my siblings and I were separated and lived in the houses of our relatives. Luckily, my 10-year-old sister was adopted by a family friend.
Looking back, my own high school and college education proved to be very challenging: in my young mind, I was not only concerned with etching my own mark as I chased my dream but also being engrossed in the determination that I would do my best so that my parents could be released from jail so that we can be together again as a family.
I lived on the generosity of my teachers, friends and kin. Whatever I had, no matter how small, I shared with my sisters. To say that I am grateful for their help is not enough to express my deepest appreciation for what they have done so that we can continue to live with dignity and as honestly as possible.
These kind people, along with my dreams and goals, have been pushing and motivating me to always look forward and hope that one day, my parents would be free. Downs, I had plenty, but I did not allow them to pull me to depression.
Jail visits were regularly done. Those were moments when we got the counsel we badly needed and we somehow felt he was not far from us – to correct our mistakes and push us to go on.
But I could not deny that feeling of missing my parents, especially during special occasions, like birthdays, Christmases, Mother’s Day and even school recognition programs. The sight of families in malls and other places was a source of envy.
I wished my father attended my graduation, our stage productions and other occasions that would have made him feel proud of the accomplishments of his son. The thought of my parents behind bars could be haunting, like those times when I ate dinner alone, when I wished I had one of them to listen to my plans and worries.
I graduated from high school, earned a scholarship in college and even went to Manila to study theater because of many opportunities that came along. Despite his being behind bars, Papa gave all the moral support that I needed.
Despite the opportunities in the Big City, I returned to Bacolod because in my mind, I should first support my Papa and my siblings in their needs.
I was in the newsroom working last November when I received a call from my aunt. I did not believe it at first. “Makagwa na sila, kadto ka anay sa Hall of Justice kag kwa-a ang papeles para sila ma-release.”
I felt like floating as I rushed to the Hall of Justice as instructed. After half an hour which seemed to last forever, I was hugging my father and my uncle minus the rusty bars between us and the ringing of the bell, a signal for me to leave the premises.
Since he walked out as a free man, Papa had attended the Senior High graduation of my sister (a proud man with a new pair of pants, shoes and shirt), gather us together for banters, celebrate birthdays together and eat his favorite chicken inasal.
As I greet him “Happy Father’s Day” tomorrow, I wish Mama is still around for our special celebration. Sadly, Mama passed away due to chronic kidney failure while in jail, a year after she and Papa were detained.
But I know she continues guiding us from the heavens and she just wants us to live our dream.
Happy Freedom and Father’s Day to you, Papa, and all the fathers in the world, including those behind bars.*
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