A Gangster Receives a Presidential Pardon
BACK in 1945, I was viewed as a devout Catholic. Once, I remember, to fulfill a vow, I walked on my knees all the way from the church door to the altar. At the same time, I was a heavy drinker and a member of a gang. I made friends easily because I was liberal with money. My means of living was buying and selling stolen goods. In one week, I could get as much as 10,000 pesos in this way. No wonder I was generous! I was looked up to in Balicbalic, Manila, where I lived.
I was admired as a “tough guy!” But close by there was another “tough guy” who looked on me as his rival. One day our gangs had an encounter. I shot my rival dead; his friends fled, and I was supreme. That was in 1947.
Now, however, I had to hide from the law, so I fled south of Manila into Cavite. A reward of 1,000 pesos was put on my head, and that was enough to encourage a close friend to betray me. In May 1949 I was caught and, on May 1, 1951, I was sentenced to life imprisonment.
LIFE IN MUNTINLUPA
The following day I was taken in handcuffs to the National Penitentiary at Muntinlupa, Rizal. On arrival, my own clothes were taken, and I was given prison clothes. My number was 11481-P. Once inside the prison, I felt unnatural. I knew I was alive, but I seemed to be in a pit. The other prisoners were like animals. I particularly hated the way that they forced newcomers who were young to submit to homosexual acts. In my heart I felt pity for their victims, and I promised myself that I would never again take advantage of or oppress my fellowman. So I took courage and prayed to God that I might be able to withstand the terrible situation in which I now found myself.
The prison director at Muntinlupa allowed freedom of worship, and there were many different groups that held services. I believed that all religions were from God, so I drifted for about six months from one meeting to another. But, after observing their conduct and habits, I came to the conclusion that there was no truth in them. One thing to which I objected was the way some of these groups would bring pretty girls to their meetings to attract attendance. This would incite the prisoners to do unclean things afterward.
Finally, I attended the meetings held by Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was impressed by their method of teaching. It was right from the Bible and very informative. I was especially interested in the name of God. Eventually, I dedicated myself to Jehovah and was baptized in 1953. I began preaching to other inmates and employees at Muntinlupa. Some listened, and in time there were a number who became Witnesses in that prison.
We had some problems regarding flag salute because of our conscientious objection to saluting. Once we had to suffer solitary confinement. One morning, however, the prisoners, numbering many thousands, were convened in the prison plaza. The flag was raised and all saluted except the Witnesses, who numbered about 20 at the time.
At that moment there was a heavy downpour of rain, and the prisoners scampered for shelter. Only we Witnesses remained standing in the rain, since we had not been dismissed. Later, the director called us and asked why we did not run like the others, but stood and got wet. We explained that our stand regarding the flag did not mean that we disrespected it. It was just that we view the act of saluting as a religious ceremony. From then on, our position in this matter was much better understood.
In 1957 the Muntinlupa penitentiary was rocked almost daily by riots between rival gangs that carried names like “OXO” and “Sigue-sigue.” To help to maintain peace and order, the prison authorities handpicked those whose record of conduct was exemplary and gave them appointments. I was assigned to be a bastonero, which is a prisoner who is entrusted to oversee other prisoners. As a reward for conscientious discharge of my responsibilities, I was chosen to be transferred to the Iwahig Penal Colony in Palawan.
LIFE IN IWAHIG
In Iwahig I was given another responsible job—I was made food administrator for some 800 inmates. I received the food supply and oversaw the cooking, as well as the feeding of the men. The authorities felt that my conduct was good, because the prisoners were content with my management, whereas some who had previously held my job had been murdered.
One day, the superintendent of Iwahig asked why the prisoners seemed satisfied with me. I told him that I was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and applied Bible principles in my work. From then on he relied on me more, and I had more freedom to preach among the inmates. As a result, I conducted a group study with some 13 persons. Soon, I contacted the Witnesses in the local Puerto Princesa Congregation, and one of Jehovah’s Witnesses helped us to have regular meetings inside Iwahig.
While I was in Iwahig, I heard news of an international convention to be held at Manila’s Rizal Memorial Stadium in August of 1963. It was July 1, 1963. I had been baptized for 10 years, but had never been able to attend a convention of the Witnesses. I felt very sad and restless. That night I could not sleep because of thinking about the convention, so I started praying, asking to be shown a way whereby I could attend.
One evening I wrote to the then president of the Philippines, Diosdado Macapagal. I appealed to him for a presidential pardon so that I could attend. On July 30 his reply came with the wonderful words: “I am granting your request.” I wept for joy. On August 10 I was released. August 15 I was with my family. August 17 we all joined with thousands of our Christian brothers at the international convention. Words are inadequate to describe my joy at that time. God had been very kind to me.
After the assembly I was able to pursue my service to Jehovah God as a free man. In spite of my prison record, I was able to get employment so that I could care for my family as a Christian man should. My present employers know that I have been in prison, but they also know that now I am a Christian; so they trust me in my work.
In the congregation, I have been able to progress to the point of being an elder. My goal in life is to keep on serving Jehovah with all my heart, together with my wife and children. And it is our hope to become acceptable to Him, and to receive his blessing of life in the now so near earthly paradise.—Contributed.