Throwback Thursday: Charity (2011)

Image Description: A photo of the a bronze statue of a Filipina woman, the bust of her head larger than the background depicting the Philippine Revolution. The words at the top read: “Tandang Sora Memorial Shrine at Himlayang Pilipino, Quezon City, Philippines”. The title reads “Charity”. The website addresses are “” and “”.

Content Warning: About the prison and military industrial complex, mentions torture, and alludes to sexual assault.

Dedicated to my she-roes: b. binaohan, Beatriz Colmo, Charity, Dino, Sass Rogando Sasot, and all transpinay and pinay writers and organizers for justice and freedom. This poem is for you.

The heat clings to me as if I had just wooed it with
Well-placed words and its favourite drink
Making it hard to think, it’s so hot that the sweat on my thighs
Evaporates faster than the breaths in my sighs
But I’m not thinking about that because I’m here
Looking into her eyes

Ignoring her ragged clothes scrubbed clean with diligence
And the men outside with their guns and vigilance
The dirt floor and grey cracked walls,
The people pressed up like animals in concrete stalls
The strip searches and razor-wire fear
But I’m not thinking about that because I’m here

Looking into her eyes
And listening to every word that drops from her lips
Because this is the least that’s owed to her
Because this is the least that I can give

And when she’s finished speaking
My silence hangs like a stone around my neck
Heavy with all the things that you wouldn’t expect
Like my aunt’s medical career
My grandfather’s typing skills
My parents taking me and my brother away from these coconut tree covered hills
From these smoking volcanoes and smoky-mirrored unlicensed vans
From these ocean-drenched beaches and smog-stained cities I call my homeland
Growing up in a country where we can talk trash about our politicians on Twitter
Form unions, have anarchist book fairs, and march in the streets when we feel bitter
Have lengthy discussions about the state of the world in air-conditioned classrooms
Not worry about the tab when doctors finally see us about a mild cold or grave wound
My silence is filled with every decision that lead me here

Where I’m looking into her eyes
Where I’m the visitor and she’s the inmate
And my presence is just a mere consolation prize
For what we both really want:
Her freedom

Before this moment, I thought I knew what a hero was supposed to be
Some nerdy white guy with another personality and random luck
That made him big and green or spider-keen, or faster than a flying machine
They were the ones that kept the world clean from tyranny and villainy
Taking all the bad guys away from civilized society
And putting them here
And I’m looking into her eyes
And I’m listening to the words that drop from her lips
Like her name: Charity
Charity Dino.

Charity Dino was a schoolteacher who loved to read
But when she saw corporations displacing families, she saw the need
To gather up the people, form a union, start a protest
Isn’t that what they do in democracies? Isn’t that what they do in the West?
And on a stretch of road one November morning came rolling
An unmarked van that grabbed her off her feet
Shoved a bag over her head and tied her up like a piece of meat
Brought her to a cell that would be her home for two weeks
They used her body and her sex, threatened her family and friends
To get her to confess to something she didn’t even comprehend
“You’re a communist! A terrorist! Sign the paper, and we’ll stop.”
How can you confess to something you were not?
So they threw her in prison charged with carrying explosives
Though she never held a weapon, never hurt a person, and they know this
What they didn’t know was that Charity had with her community and truth
Not just Sonny and Billy, her colleagues who were tortured too
But dozens of activists who made the call throughout the world
That here in this island country, let these voices be heard
And then came visitors, letters, food rations and supplies
Charity wrote and read every day, she began to organize from the inside

And the higher-ups grew nervous, posted military around this little jail
Threatened to kill her with a hired gun, but all to no avail
So a man in a uniform with metals on his chest
Came down to see her and said “We can erase this entire mess.
Die in prison a monster, or join the army a hero– this is your choice.”
But Charity wasn’t listening to his words, it was his voice
“You’re the one who kidnapped and tortured me,” she said with recognition.
And he shrugged his shoulders, “So? What’s your decision?”
“I’m not thinking about that because I’m here,” she said.
“Looking into your eyes.
And this is what I realize.
I’d rather die in prison serving the people
Then join and serve the likes of you.
Now get out. I’ve got some organizing to do.”

So what’s a hero? What’s a terrorist?
What exactly are prisons for?
Are the villains in these holding cells
Or in offices behind closed doors?
How many more like Charity, and the Talisay 3,
From Burma to Cuba, from Egypt to Haiti
From China to the United States, from Zimbabwe to Iran
From Venezuela to Cambodia to Azerbaijan
Must be kidnapped and killed, or tortured and imprisoned
Until the rest of us finally make our own decision?
But I’m not thinking about that because I’m here.

Looking into her eyes.
And she doesn’t ask me to speak, doesn’t ask me to decide.
But I choose to offer her my privilege, my poetry, my potential to do more
Because this is the least that is owed to her.
Because that’s what heroes are for.

Note: Arrested, tortured, and incarcerated in November 2009, Charity Dino, Billy Batrina and Sony Rolegio spent more than 3 years as political prisoners in my homeland, the Philippines, all because they wanted to start a peasant union. Over that period many activists came to visit them, fundraise for legal aid, and spread the word. One of those activists was me, who wrote this small poem and used it to fundraise money in the Filipino community in Ottawa, as well as to raise awareness and put pressure on the government by petitions written by Canadian labour unions and churches. On the morning of December 26, 2013, all charges were dismissed because of lack of evidence, and Billy, Sony, and Charity were finally free to go home. Never stop writing and organizing– we can become accomplices in each other’s struggle and make a difference.

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