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Mario is free!

06 October 2019


By Daisy Catherine L. Mandap

This spark of good news came, or rather, was confirmed to us, just a few days before we were to put the paper to bed.

Mario delos Reyes, our faithful correspondent who has spent the past 26 years in the maximum-security Stanley Prison, will be released on Oct. 5. He said so himself, in a letter he sent to us in his distinctive handwriting.

Before this we learned from some Consulate officials that Mario had finally got what he had long wished for, which was to be given a fixed sentence so he could be released. But getting the news from Mario himself made it more real, and special.

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He would be getting out shortly after being given a fixed term because of his exemplary record as a prisoner. Not a single infraction of the rules, or of getting into fights, or misbehaving. On top of this, he completed many of the courses offered to inmates that he has jokingly said at one point that if law was offered he would be a lawyer by now.

Lately, he has also been spending much of his time corresponding with and consoling Filipinas who got imprisoned for acting as drug couriers for syndicates.

Maybe it was his training as a soldier, or his natural inclination to be studious, or his steely determination to remain unbowed, that allowed Mario to withstand the rigors of prison, but survived he did, and most admiringly.


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His case easily comes to mind whenever the controversy over the good conduct time allowance given to prisoners in the Philippines is raised. If anyone is in doubt as to how this could apply to prisoners, those in maximum security especially, we need only to look at Mario.

He is the best argument for allowing prisoners a chance to reform and settle back in society.

How did he do it? Mostly by reading, writing, and generally keeping his mind busy. If he couldn’t physically leave his cell, well, his mind could certainly wander.

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For maybe half the period that he was within the impenetrable walls of Stanley Prison, Mario kept us informed about his condition and views of the outside world through his letters.

Of late, he would even enclose articles he solicited from one of the Filipina inmates he has taken under his wings and encouraged to write, to ward off pangs of despair and loneliness. These letters we consider priceless for they bring us right within the cold prison walls to feel the anguish of those paying the price of falling foul with the law.

With Mario himself it was different. Except for a few recent letters in which he allowed himself to wallow in self-pity after being denied his request for a fixed term, his commentaries were always upbeat and thought-provoking.

I remember his incisive pieces on the treaty on the transfer of sentenced prisoner (a topic close to his heart),  why the ongoing campaign against drugs in the Philippines is getting ex-prisoners like him wary of returning to the Philippines, and even his excitement at being visited by the country’s top diplomat in Hong Kong.

His long piece on Christmas celebrations back home was both festive and poignant, it made you realize things you have taken for granted because they were always within reach. 

But during one of our rare visits to Stanley, Mario spoke of a surreal moment when the loneliness and anger got the better of him, and he wanted to hit someone he thought was responsible for his failure to get a sentence hearing.

That would have gone to his record, and could have affected his chance of getting an early release.

But having toed the line for a quarter of a century, Mario needed only to shore up his self-control until the moment passed. He was adamant he would not “lose it”, as did many people in the detention facility, including a friend.

Instead of wallowing in self pity or letting the loneliness suck the hope out of him, Mario allowed his mind to grow, and go to places far beyond his tiny prison cell.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. This Mario took to heart, and freed his mind even before the doors of Stanley could be opened to him.

But he has done his time, and should now be allowed to free his body as well, even if only to feel the warmth of his family’s embrace again.

So, welcome back to our topsy-turvy world, Mario.


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