We haven't met before. But your mother is a good friend and comrade in pens (and laptops). Your mother Grace and I were batchmates at the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, then we were colleagues (virtually) at the SunStar network (she was the former editor-in-chief in Cagayan de Oro).
Maybe, you got the activist and probing mind from her or maybe it is from how she and your father nurtured you to take your path of searching and serving. When I last met your mother at the Mindanao Human Rights Summit here in Davao last February, she was talking about your plans to go to law school, or to be a writer here in Davao. But for now, she said you're busy with immersion in communities as part of your growing activism from UP Cebu. I can see she holds you dear in her, your plans, your future.
Then that day happened. The news that soldiers took you and your companions and paraded six of you as rebels. Your titos, titas, colleagues of your mom all worked double time to get your parents there, helping in many ways to make sure you were unharmed.
Then you're all over the news, all over social media. You're the UP student activist who wasted her future. You're the trophy of the military propaganda to smash this "terrorist" ideology corrupting the youth, the nation.
Maybe that's why I felt I need to write to you. Because who knows what you were doing with the farmers in Negros? Who knows about your passion to serve in this journey less taken? Who knows what's in your heart?
I hear your story, I see Beng Hernandez again, whom I helped in her journey as a campus journalist until she became a human rights worker. It was sad to see her life less ordinary cut short by a bullet. It was sadder, and frustrating, to see her become a propaganda piece by the military. They say Beng is a rebel. But we know her better, from the countless discussions, sharing, immersions and writings. She found her passion, at a young age of 21. She found words to let us remember her. Like this poem: "I saw God in a hallway and he's dying, He taught me to raise my fist to continue living."
Beng was an Atenean like you. And so am I. We were taught to be Man and Woman for Others. Your UP education may have showed you the purpose of their legacy activism. But more importantly, you may have embodied that idea that learning goes beyond the comfort of the classroom or study room. And by the path you chose, you showed education is beyond earning a diploma, stepping the ladder of success. Learning is also trekking the hills and rivers, learning about life beyond the comfort of our homes. And true learning is to learn more from the people who have built your house, brought you food, but they themselves are homeless and hungry.
Perhaps, that is what the critics and bashers fail to see. They have to know that if it's not happening to them, it doesn't mean it's not happening to others. We are still a country searching for answers. But this country, the poor needs especially, need young critical and passionate minds like you.
I pray that what they charged against you may be dismissed soon. For truth and passion of youth cannot be contained in a cell. Let everyone know you are not just a propaganda image. You are real. Your mind, your passion, and your journey is always to be free.