IT was my first police beat assignment.

We felt that we had no right to do what we were doing. The killing of a fellow human being was repulsive and hideous — like performing  some iniquitous farce. These were the thoughts  flashing in my mind.

The boundaries of this narrative (from that one moment in May, years back to this day) are necessarily arbitrary — like an artificial grid of days, weeks, months, years imposed on the long and true arc of the lives of men who violated women.

The death chamber suddenly was brimming with blank faces.  We are all arranged at the edges of the room, neatly divided into 10’s.

At the center, the electric chair exerted a certain centripetal force amid the dry heat of the room.

We intently watched then Prisons Superintendent Gen. Vicente Raval, launch into the standard exposition, telling the grieving family what they should and should not do.

We marveled the way he handled the grieving families, with that perfect touch of patriarchal gravity. By what right was all that done? How could such a shocking routine be allowed?

It was like a performance, a spectacle, but didn’t have a trace  of the  so called “instructions spectacle,” Ivan Turgenev thought .

And of capital punishment: could it be justified?

On the surface, the execution resembled a nightmare. But digging deeper only saw the perverse eloquence of the whole thing.  It was nothing but the unending inner city comedy of crime and punishment.

Head tilted slightly, hands folded together at the waist, the priest expressed his most heartfelt sorrow in a slow, measured tone.

He asked us to pray the Holy  Rosary. Relatives of the condemned men looked around for any signs of a phone call from Malacañang. They were in utter discomfort of a lifetime.

Attempts at conversation spelled out words that were thick and incoherent.

“Bring in the condemned man!”

The rites commenced with General Raval’s glum voice that slightly shook, though conducted at no emotional cost.

Yet, the effect was that of a  .357 Magnum Smith and Wesson barrel in a sea of silence.

The condemned man was escorted into the death chamber by  two attendants.

He stepped on a rectangle adobe block covered with wet rags that dripped with water as his feet touched them.

Three feet away from him, I stood, shaking like a leaf.  Standing beside the prison physician didn’t help cool my frazzled nerves, like the rest of my colleagues.

To my right was foreign affairs star reporter, the suave and dashing  Romy Mapile. To my left was feisty police reporter, Ruther Batiguas.

When another wet circular headdress that looked like a bishop’s cap was placed on the condemned’s shaven  head, he looked at me and gave me a warm smile.

Then in a slight, endearing stutter, kicked in by last-minute stress and anxiety of  a man facing death, he looked straight into my eyes and jested: “O, bagay ba?”

I almost expired! Before I could blink, I knew the electric lever was switched on because the rosary he wore on his neck suddenly sparked and glowed into a hundred little sparkles.

As his body jerked forward, the acrid smell of burnt flesh assailed my nostrils. I fainted!

Ruther Batiguas carried me out of the room in disgrace, before my yelping and heckling colleagues and a sea wave of humanity!

In time, the tragedy of the four boys’ execution was consigned into the bowels of the Penitentiary’s record drawers.

They became nothing but 3” by 4” index cards, filed with a thousand others. They will mean nothing and only their offenses will be remembered  — nothing of what they did right.

That they had families and were human.

That they could have been good kids with good parental supervision.

That they were raised in an atmosphere conducive to character-building and sterling behavior.

What benefit, however small, could we have derived from that depraved day (it was like a circus) and the hideousness of it all?

Would my male colleagues go back into the bosom of their work, hating vice more than before?

What about me? What did I get from it?

Apart from feeling involuntary astonishment over an execution and  contempt for savages who violated women, what moral purpose can one possibly talk about, after so many refutations were confirmed by experienced lawgivers?

The fact remains: capital punishment is one of the most urgent questions that humanity needs to solve at the moment.


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