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My long journey home

07 November 2019

Mario delos Reyes is reunited with his wife Gigi (left). 

By Mario delos Reyes

Part 1
I had spent almost the entirety of my productive life behind bars, but when the Big Day that all inmates are looking forward to, especially lifers, finally arrived, my emotion was strangely one of anger instead of happiness. This might have something to do with how the Long Term Prison Sentences Review Board had dragged its feet assessing my sentence, despite the endorsements of many highly respected people of the society, not to mention the trial judge’s personal legal opinion that this case must have been one of manslaughter, not of murder, that carries just a few years’ sentence. The Review Board had ignored these facts, but addressed them finally this year, maybe due to the pressure from media.



I was brimming with hope and confidence when the Chief Prison Superintendent wrote an endorsement for a Special Assessment Report on my behalf a few years back. This report is rare and given only to a few selected inmates, but even this was not able to convince the Review Board, which merely replied that “insufficient time served”. However the question that has never been answered since, is how much is “sufficient time”?

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When I was finally released after being given a fixed sentence, the CSD (Correctional Services Department) turned me over to immigration authorities. According to the prison superintendent, they didn’t know what to do with me on the basis that I have a HK ID card.

I was in the CSC for two weeks, but my departure date and flight date was given to me a week prior and my mind was not on my family, but on my adopted family who I was with for the past 26 years. Sadness engulfed me at the thought of leaving them behind for they will miss “Kuya Mario” for sure, especially the sisters in the women’s prison whom I have always tried to help with matters like drafting grounds for appeal, petitions for sentence reductions, how to earn extra money while inside, and how to beat the prison system without infringing established rules and regulations.

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I always felt a sense of gratification whenever a positive outcome was achieved with my help, and conversely, when a negative one resulted, making me feel worse than the intended recipient. However, whatever the outcome, I’ve always thanked and praised the God almighty, for His will be done.

The day of my departure finally arrived. I was escorted by two sympathetic young immigration officers at the airport, as well as Consul Paul Saret and Attache Arnel de Luna of the assistance to nationals section of the Philippine Consulate, who checked in my baggage and arranged my flight route. I was so overwhelmed with gladness by the dignified treatment given me for the entire duration of my repatriation.

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I was probably the last passenger to embark and luckily I was assigned a seat near the window and nobody knew I was a deportee except for the flight attendant who was holding my travel documents.

Upon my arrival at the Manila International Airport I was assisted and guided by a friendly mestiza-looking stewardess who initiated a friendly conversation until we arrived at the immigration counter.

A question and answer with a woman immigration superintendent ensued. I showed her The SUN article with the headline, “Mario is free” and she was amazed upon reading it. She immediately asked if she could be of help, so I told her I had a cell phone but I didn’t know how to use it. She asked me for my wife’s number and after calling it, told me that my family was already waiting at the arrival area.

One of her underlings escorted me to the right exit where my daughter and wife were waiting. They hugged me tightly, but I felt no emotion whatsoever for I got used to being away from them, first, when I was still in the active military service, then as an OFW, and finally, while in prison. This could explain the tepid feeling I felt.

Then from out of nowhere a car stopped beside where we were standing and my younger son alighted in a dramatic “welcome back, dear papa” greeting, complete with a brief tight hug. Then he carried my luggage and dropped it in the car compartment.

I was confused by the many changes I saw in Manila and didn’t recognize any of the scenery anymore on our way back home. But I know I have to begin and move on with my life anew, and catch up with what I missed for the past three decades.

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This is a personal account by the author on how he felt on his release, 26 long years after he was jailed in Hong Kong for a murder he has always maintained he did not commit. Mario lived an exemplary life as an inmate, taking up all courses on offer, including a master’s degree in Business English; and extending help to other Filipinos who were in jail, especially the women drug couriers. It’s a long process of healing, but Mario is hopeful he will overcome, with help from his wife and three children who have remained supportive through the years. Welcome back, Mario! – ed
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