A KNOWN German philosopher named Martin Heidegger once said “Freedom is only to be found where there is burden to be shouldered.”

Cornelio “Jun” Carmona could have reasoned out otherwise. After all, he was armed with a law degree and many experiences in rhetoric. But it was behind prison bars where he learned to walk along limits with faith, and to take a second look at the things around him.

The newly-paroled man is now working as a legal adviser in one of the offices housed in the South Wing of the House of Representatives, where he begins to build stronger connections and foundations for his second chance in freedom.

An active voice

The Thomasian community during Carmona’s time was riding along the waves of activism brought about by the assasination of democracy icon Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. in 1983. He was also caught in the tide as he juggled the top leadership in the Artlet student council and his post as associate editor of the Flame, the official student publication of the Faculty. Carmona said that both of these entities played a vital role in freely expressing their thoughts as students.

“We were all riding on the sentiments of the people. That was how we got a taste of freedom,” he recalled.

It was during his term as president when the Artlet student council drafted its constitution and had it approved by the students.The position also allowed him to attend forums, in which he led the University’s representatives.

Meanwhile, Carmona and his colleagues in the Flame dug deeper into the issue of “Filipinozation” of Dominican-run UST, which was determined by the transition of rectorship between Fr. Frederik Fermin, O.P., a Spaniard, and Fr. Norberto Castillo, O.P., a Filipino. They also used the student organ—then uncensored—to keep a close eye on the University administration.

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But actively attending to these double duties led to laxity in his academic obligations. Carmona failed to finish his thesis and complete his units for the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), which blocked his supposed graduation in 1984.

As the dictatorship fell apart, Carmona decided to fill up his unit deficiencies so that he could go to law school. He earned a degree in Economics in 1991 and sprinted to the University of the Philippines to take up Law, while managing family life and work in between his studies.

“Before, I thought that it was useless to study laws,” he shared. “But with the change of administration, I decided to give it a shot and do something that might help in promoting social change in the country.”

He graduated from law school in 1995 and was on his way to legitimizing his goal of being a lawyer when his marriage hit rock bottom a year after, when he was supposed to take the bar examinations.

“I consider the separation as one of the ‘triggering events’ in my life,” he said. “That was the beginning of everything else [that had happened].”

Marred by a dagger

Things slid down further for Carmona in 1997, when a drinking session with his friends resulted to a death, his hands bathe in blood.

They were all chatting over beer when the victim tried to knock him down with an empty bottle. The situation was temporarily mellowed down by their other friends.

“My ego was wounded when he tried to hit me with the bottle. I was thinking ‘Ano bang ginawa ko sa taong ito?’ But then I just let him be,” he shared.

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Carmona kept a close eye on the person and noticed that he had something behind his back. This increased Carmona’s suspicion that this friend might be out to do him wrong. The night eventually reached its ugly climax when the person tried to punch him at the back, forcing Carmona to bring his pocket knife out. It turned out that the other did not have any weapon in his hands.

“I was going to use the knife to drive him away—to scare him off—but the autopsy showed that I scratched his heart,” he shared.

The trial went on for eight years with Carmona on bail, telling the court the incident was born out of self-defense. But he was sentenced to imprisonment for six to 12 years. In 2005, he entered the New Bilibid Prison medium security camp, Camp Sampaguita in Muntinlupa City.

In a different perspective

His entry in prison opened his eyes to different life stories and the country’s poor judicial system. With this, he decided to assume the role of legal advisers to his fellow inmates and made himself available for counseling. A natural leader, he was later promoted as mayor and, eventually, chairman of the camp.

It was also during this time when he changed his views about God, who he formerly looked at with “an intellectually arrogant personality” and regarded philosophically.

“When I was in there, I realized the truth behind the saying that if you are at the lowest point in your life, there’s nobody else you could turn to but Him,” he shared.

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This change of heart, along with his good behavior and service to his fellow inmates, came with a big blessing. Carmona was granted parole, cutting his sentence to five years.

A changed man

The former Artlet student council president has been out of prison since last April, but is obliged to report regularly for four years until he gets absolute pardon. He has also found a job as part of the staff of Representative Romeo Acop of the second district of Antipolo City, where he’s figuring out if he’s going to take the bar examination or not.

This Thomasian is ready to take on challenges and beginnings with the learning he has acquired from Bilibid and intends to make the most out of his new journey.

“For me, being freed is having a second chance in life,” he said.

Carmona regarded his experience in Bilibid as a humbling one and said that he has no regrets over the course of events in his life.

“My life is an open book and I’ve got nothing to hide. I learned a lot inside [Bilibid]. I spent fruitful years in prison. I’m thankful for all that has happened,” he said.

4 COMMENTS

    • Eldric Paul A. (Peredo) any relations to Chito Peredo of La Salle? You are right . . . . Fr. Fermin is not a Spaniard though his last name sound to be one. He is from Utrecht, Holland. Came to UST in the early 60’s. Wonder how he can be reached.

      Keep up the good work. The article I just read about Carmona is worth reading.

      • i don’t know any chito peredo, sir. my father, edito, is from san juan, ilocos sur. his father, elpidio, had roots in bantay, ilocos sur, just outside of vigan. if chito has relations there, than we are related.

        fr. fermin was my rector in the central seminary. i hear he now stays mostly in the baguio convent.

        best regards.

  1. This article makes him sound like a noble character. His transition from being an esteemed student to a humble prisoner sounds too tragic. So fitting perhaps that it might almost certainly earn him a spot in a tragic play. Nevertheless, this article fails to recognize that the consequences of his actions does not apply to him alone. His actions are not commendable and certainly not worthy of any cloying praises. Ending on the same note that I started, I think it would also be fitting to say that his “hopeful” tone at the end is rather nauseating.

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