MANILA, Philippines — Prison will do Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo some good, activist-priest Robert Reyes said.
Reyes, a two-time detainee during Arroyo’s nine-year administration, offered this insight to the former President, who is fighting off possible detention in a government facility on a charge of electoral sabotage.
Reyes, also known as the “Running Priest,” observed that powerful leaders, including the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos and Arroyo, “appreciated’’ prison because they used it to detain and torture political enemies, but at the same time feared it because this could be used on them.
“They of course fear the possibility of a political boomerang, where instead of watching detractors behind bars, someone they least expect and desire to see is behind bars — themselves,’’ Reyes said in an e-mail.
Prison, however, is a good reminder of the “fleeting nature of things’’ where power, riches, fame and beauty come to an end, and teach “what ultimately matters in life,’’ he said.
“When our soul leaves our mortal bodies, it carries nothing with it except one and only one thing.… Those who remember us remember only one thing: how we loved and cared for others. And what a gift to be in prison while we still have the space and time not only to understand but do precisely what matters most,” he said.
In effect, prison serves as a retreat for those who have led a life of comfort and privilege, Reyes said.
“Prisons teach the fundamental truth that we don’t need much to live decent and meaningful lives. Here we find the precious gift of space and time to reflect and more importantly, pray,” he said.
Besides, prison is the real thing, Reyes said.
“Prison is the real thing! House arrest is not enough to discipline the vengeful and arrogant ego. Here, a virtue most leaders need to learn is inevitably learned — humility,” he said.
Arroyo was ordered arrested by the Pasay regional trial court after the Commission on Elections filed a charge of electoral sabotage in connection with electoral fraud in the 2007 mid-term senatorial elections in Maguindanao.
Her lawyers have asked the court to have her confined in her home at the posh La Vista Subdivision in Quezon City, but the Comelec maintains that she should be detained at the headquarters of the Southern Police District in Taguig City.
Reyes also said that prison was the best place to understand the workings of the country’s justice and penal systems, and get an idea why mostly the poor end up behind bars.
“Prison is thus a school, a place of special learning. Good leaders, especially Presidents like P-Noy [President Aquino], should visit prisons regularly. Instead of avoiding a place feared and dreaded, it should become a regular haunt for leaders who truly love the poor. For truly, the majority behind bars are poor,” he said.
Reyes said he was detained in May 2002 inside the Quezon City jail in connection with a libel case filed by Senator Juan Ponce Enrile and his son Jackie, and then in November 2007 in Camp Crame in connection with the “Manila Peninsula siege.’’
“Those were precious, defining moments in my life. I am sure, very sure it will do the same for CGMA [Congressman Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo],” he said.