In the cramped dormitories of the Correctional Institution for Women (CIW), 54-year-old Teresita Abarratigue spends her free time writing poetry about what she misses most outside—being with her seven children.
It has been 11 years since she was arrested in her home in San Sebastian, Samar. Teresita worked as a farmer, collecting fresh vegetables and selling them to fund her children’s education. The challenge of providing for her family with unfair pay as a peasant pushed her to become an organizer for Urban Force. a peasant advocacy group. However, this only made her a target of the state.
Early in the morning of November 23, 2012, the police stormed Teresita’s home while she was resting from a full day’s work and arrested her under murder charges. Her children watched her be taken away to the Samar Provincial Jail where she would spend six years locked up before being convicted on January 31, 2018.
Teresita was handed a life sentence for allegedly taking part in a New People’s Army ambush against the military in Samar in January 2012. In reality, she was at home recovering from a motorcycle accident a week prior. She did not seek treatment as she would rather spend the money on her children’s education, but her lingering injuries made it easy for the police to frame her as part of the encounter.
After her conviction, she was transferred to the CIW in Mandaluyong City, which made visits from family burdensome. While in jail, Teresita learned that her children were being followed and questioned by police while at work or in school.
The state was not content with just imprisoning a mother. In June 2013, Teresita’s daughter and son-in-law, Grace and Juan Paolo Versoza Jr. were arrested for trumped-up charges of illegal possession of explosives and were then detained in Samar Provincial Jail.
Grace had just given birth to a son three months before the arrest. Juan Paolo, even while detained, sells paintings in exhibits to fund his child’s education who is now under the care of Grace’s family.
Teresita’s imprisonment made her miss her children’s graduations and birthdays, and now, she cannot support them as they become targets of the state. Family woes are always at the back of her mind, worsening her feeling of seclusion in a cramped facility surrounded by thousands of inmates similarly isolated from family, friends, and society.
In the intake facility, Teresita recounts how only four bathrooms accommodate 513 new inmates, but it does not get any better in the general population. In Teresita’s dormitory, some sleep on the floor in the absence of available bunk beds. Food has to be rationed and access to medicine is frustrating behind legal processes.
Teresita is not alone in her struggles. Other political prisoners in the CIW long to see their families in Visayas. The distance makes deliveries from them rare, and visits even rarer. “Magkaisa kami sa prinsipyo at pananaw kaya kapag walang dalaw o walang padala, tinutulungan namin,” she says.
KAPATID, a support group for families and friends of political prisoners, visit and donate
supplies to let them know they are not forgotten. In KAPATID’s book entitled SaLoobin, the struggles women political prisoners endure for their beliefs are documented through their literary works, including Teresita’s poem “Anak, Hintayin Mo Ako sa Aking Paglaya.”
Even after 11 years, Teresita still fights for the freedom to see her children. In 2021, she filed an appeal to the Supreme Court for release. She claims that her case is full of fabricated information, like reporting that her arrest took place at the ambush instead of in her home.
Despite her pleas for innocence, the Supreme Court has yet to acknowledge the appeal leaving her in the dark on the status of her case. Four of her fellow political prisoners have also been ignored despite filing appeals since 2018.
Teresita remains firm in her belief that she and her family are only victims of state-sponsored attacks. She calls on the government to lift their unjust sentences and free them as well as other political prisoners that have been separated from their loved ones.
But until then, Teresita will continue to endure her unjust fate and write poems about her sorrow, hoping her children will wait for her just a bit longer. ●
To support KAPATID’s cause to help political prisoners like Teresita, send your donations to 09454427266 through GCash.
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