POSTE RESTANTE MANILA
By Randy Ford
I owed this material to an old battered cardboard box, which appeared from the outside to have been sat upon. Many years ago it was a study box … study enough to protect material in it and withstand shipment around the world. It was shipped to America forty years ago after I worked in Manila in a theater. I didn’t want to leave. I was forced to leave. I didn’t have a choice. I had a big project I wanted to finish. I was forced to abandon the project.
Forty years ago, before I flew home from the Philippines, Jesus Gomez had me to dinner. He treated me to a Chinese dinner, and our lengthy good-byes were filled with cheer and sadness. My sendoff also occurred on the eve of Jesus’ retirement from government service … a lifetime of service … an achievement worth noting. After I got to know him Jesus helped me from time to time … helped me make sense of politics in the Philippines. I received an invitation in time for his retirement party. I was going to go (my attendance would’ve been expected) except I was scheduled to fly out of the Philippines the very next morning. Jesus Gomez realized at the last moment that he wouldn’t be able to give me a proper sendoff by treating me to a Chinese dinner without showing up late for his retirement party (something he could get away with by using Filipino time as an excuse). I asked him if it wouldn’t be better if we went directly to his party where there would also be a feast, and he answered that it was highly improbable that people would miss him. I’m not sure he had many friends.
The old box (which preserved the invitation after forty years) had in it an odd assortment of clippings, papers, and odds and ends that then seemed worth saving but now were of questionable value. Why would I save an advertisement for Bioderm Ointment …”Wipe out White Spots (AP-AP) with Bioderm Ointment? On the front page of the same issue was a full-page picture of MASQUERADERS OF MARINDUQUE, the gaudy, masked Roman legion that parade through the town of Boac every Easter Sunday. The caption under the picture reminded me of my trip there. The caption under the picture read, “Brightly clad Longinus strides through open fields. He is beheaded, and so realistically.” I confess with some discomfort that I thought they used real blood, and it was something the spectators demanded. Fiction! It was fiction made up 200 hundred years ago in order to teach a lesson. It’s a time for penance, so real blood was used, but on Marinduque it turns into a colorful, whimsical beheading. I wondered if it was human blood. I should’ve asked.
Then after his retirement party Jesus took me to Manila International Airport. I counted on him getting me through customs and immigration. I expected to pay an extra fee (some would call it a bribe.) Since I waited until the last minute to send it, Jesus agreed to mail my treasured box for me. The address I used was not my own, but that of an old friend that I knew had room to store it. I would forget what was in it before I opened it again: forgot clippings, post cards and odds and ends. It would take me forty years to get to it. A label on top of the box read, “FRAGILE MEDICAL SUPPLIES URGENTLY NEEDED.” I told Jesus, in all truthfulness, that if something happened to the box it wouldn’t be the end of the world. SUPPLIES URGENTLY NEEDED. A few days later he shipped it. I didn’t know this until much later when he wrote me C/O POSTE RESTANTE Bangkok.
The letter Jesus wrote was anticipated. On an Aerogramme (Air Letter), with a preprinted Pilipinas stamp (50 centavos), there was an explanation of what he expected to get out of retirement. He didn’t expect much. He knew it wouldn’t be much, but it was something. But it included survivor benefits for his relatives: his sister Alicia and his nephews and nieces- Juan and Maria (children of his deceased brother Romeo); Armando (only child of his deceased brother Cleto); and Jesus, Ana, Moises and Concha (children of his deceased sister Josefa). So Jesus considered himself worth more dead than alive. But even then there was a catch. There always seemed to be a catch in the Philippines. Jesus, however, indicated that in order for his relatives to cash in he had to put them in his will, which he hadn’t written yet.
I read his letter the first time with interest. After that I forgot about it. I hadn’t met his relatives until the retirement party, which for me was pretty much a waste. I was too anxious about leaving the Philippines the next morning to enjoy it, and found it boring. Reading his letter over again, I found it boring too. I didn’t know why I saved it. It was boring because it outlined in detail how he hired an interpleader to help him write his will. For some reason he had to hire an interpleader, and now he had to make sure he didn’t leave anyone out. Of all of his relatives that would figure in a possible complaint with the court should something go wrong he wrote he was most concern for his nephews and nieces, who didn’t have a bright future unless he helped them … Juan and Maria … and Armando, the only child of Cleto, and little Jesus, Ana, Moises and Concha. The letter seemed focused on Jesus’ fears. He was most afraid for nephews and nieces, but it was nebulous about what he was afraid of … except of a governmental screw-up. I read, for example, that such a claim often involved fraud and mistakes. I knew fraud and mistakes were ramped in the Philippines and that this could easily happen in this case (after Jesus passed away) because though most of his relatives were literate the process was still complicated. All this in his letter, and all this in his tiny handwriting, his handwriting with curly letters. Yet it’s still legible to this day. It was extremely neat, which says a lot for the Philippine education system, a system based on our system. News about himself was brief. Only one thing was worth noting’ he wrote that he had kidney problems. Kidney problems caused backache and caused him to get up nights, and he asked me if I knew what he could take for it. There was then a fast acting internal medicine called CYSTEX that I could’ve recommended but didn’t because I didn’t know about it. Besides, I wasn’t a doctor.
“I see that there was an ad for CYSTEX in The Sunday Times Magazine.” ”If you are feeling run-down, Get up Nights, or suffer from Backache, strong cloudy urine, Buring Passages, Rheumatism, Leg pains, Swollen Ankles, Nervousness, Dizziness, and feet old before your time, kidney trouble may be the cause. Wrong food and drinks, worry, colds or overwork place a heavy strain on your kidneys so that they function poorly and often may need help to properly purify your blood and maintain health and energy. Revitalize Your Kidneys.” CYSTEX, it sounded good, but after forty years, a little late to help Jesus.
The letter reminded me of Jesus’ tardiness to his own retirement party. He was really late. Because of me he was really late. In vain I tried to get him to hurry. I could imagine how people were feeling who were waiting for him. Late to his own retirement party. Waiting couldn’t have been exactly pleasurable, given that we were several hours late. The following day, as he took me to the airport, Jesus (in response to my raised eyebrows) shrugged and told me how President Macapagal was at one time supposed to arrive at a school at 9 a.m.; but arrived at noon, making everyone, especially children, sweat in the sun. There was also a story about President Marcos and his party going half an hour late to a performance at the Met in New York City. Of course there was no indication that any of them apologized for being late.
Only partial memory of my last few days in Manila remains with me after forty years, and among those things is Jesus’ excuse or lying, though I don’t remember exactly what he said. Within his lifetime, Jesus had his share of ups and downs, as does everyone. Like us all he experienced good and bad times, the good he associated with happiness; the bad with death or something tragic. He was short and energetic and never had to shave. I understand his wife died several years before I knew him, leaving him with two children to raise. Jesus had been to the States. He showed us photographs of him and his two boys standing on the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor) and was a great admirer of Douglas MacArthur. He talked about MacArthur’s return. He celebrated MacArthur. Jesus and I had entered into one of those close American-Filipino relationships, which began simply because we ran into each other and because we both were equally curious. We had no problem communicating because Jesus grew up in an educational system where the medium of instruction was English. The medium of instruction in the Philippines then was English. The Philippine government took a great interest in education, so most people spoke English. I remember him talking about education he received and about taking correspondence courses to enhance his career. One afternoon, we talked about how, after coming from an extremely poor family, continuing his education beyond what was required gave him a new perspective on life. Jesus said it unlocked secrets of success (success as defined by a bureaucracy he found himself in) and allowed him to get the job he wanted. He was always happy in his job and thought he was doing important work. He also said that before settling on something that he considered electrical engineering and hotel management. I knew him for almost the entire two years I lived in the Philippines, and he never refused to do anything for me. He was a public servant who never refused to do anything for me. We talked about his background, how he came to Manila as a young man. He came to Manila seeking his fortune after growing up in central Luzon. He talked about how he was born into serfdom (when he was a boy, his family had been a destitute lot), and that was about all he ever told me about himself. He never was a complainer. But may God forgive me for not totally buying it because I know that farmers are not always destitute.
It wasn’t very long after I returned to the States that Jesus Gomez died of cancer (I was sadden and sad to have missed his wake). A few days before, he was taken back to the place of his birth in central Luzon. At that point he was placed in the hands of a priest. Jesus was placed in the hands of a priest while relatives begged him to remember them in his life to come. I knew their customs and imagined what I might’ve seen had I been there. I could hear people singing hymns of praise and hear prayers to their saint, and I was transported back to the Philippines and experienced feelings I won’t attempt to describe. These emotions were far too personal to describe.
In one corner of a church in Manila a candle stand held a hundred candles lit by a hundred worshipers; I imagined many of the worshipers felt what I felt that afternoon. The church that I’m thinking about is located in a plaza, one of the major traffic hubs of the city. Inside people wait their turn to kiss the feet of Crucified Jesus. There’s no impatience evident. They wait their turn after they light a candle. They wait their turn to kiss the feet of Crucified Jesus. Some even go as far as wiping the feet with a handkerchief and then rubbing themselves with it in the belief that it will protect their bodies from illness. I don’t know for certain, but I could see someone in Jesus Gomez’s family, or a friend of his or a colleague taking him to this church, perhaps by then in a wheelchair, and looking and hoping for a miracle have him go through the ritual. Now I’ve felt something when I’ve entered this church, something curious and mystical. It was something I couldn’t explain … can’t explain; and it’s something that deserves more than a superficial description, especially given the theological and metaphysical significance the church has for so many people. In many ways, it’s beyond me (excuse the pun). And given all of it … its history, its architecture, it’s atmosphere … add a Black Nazarene together with hundreds of burning candles and hundreds who are praying for favors…it is unmistakably celestial.
In my box there was an article about animism. In this article Teresa Reyes Tunay made a connection between rituals involving the Crucified Jesus of the Guiapo Church (and other church rituals all over the Philippines) with pagan rituals associated with animism and as it existed in the Philippines over 400 years ago. Many Filipinos haven’t given some of those practices. It would be in vain for us to expect them to.
Jesus unbelievably claimed that he saw a two-headed snake. He said when he saw a two-headed snake it scared the bejesus out of him. I asked him if he called on Saint Christopher for help. Whenever I went anywhere … whenever I traveled, I looked for Saint Christopher. I knew where to look. I looked at entrances of churches and houses, and frequently at bridges.
A thousand years ago (I’m guessing it was that long ago) after the myth of the two-headed snake was first told, a thinker no less brilliant than Jesus still believed he would die if he saw a two headed snake. No wonder and it scared the bejesus out of Jesus. No wonder Jesus was afraid of death. How this Chinese story affected my friend was only one example how superstitions today came from the distant past. Though living in the 20th century Filipino Catholics today can trace their belief in an all-powerful being to the 16th century, and many of their rituals can be traced back to way before then. First we have candles left in churches as offerings … as well as the twenty-centavo donations…for favors. Second the tradition of setting the date of a wedding to co-inside with a full moon so that hopefully the new couple will have a prosperous life together; and then even worship of their saints (or Santos). Such worship goes back to early Filipinos worshiping the moon, the sun, and the stars. Back then, though they hadn’t named individual objects they saw in the sky. Back then they rejoiced whenever they saw the bright morning star.
Worshiping Santos often involved two somewhat different things. It often involved the visual and the tactile. Like Christians who hold novenas for their cherished saints, there are other Christians who anoint their images with perfumes such as musk and civet or gums of trees or scents of wood. Kissing or rubbing with a cloth the feet of the image of Quiapo’s Crucified Jesus is another example. Remember they all want something. Remember they are all looking for something. Remember to a greater or lessor extent, they’re all looking for favors and it hints of something in them that is very ancient and pagan. It goes back to days when Filipinos held various images in great esteem and often asked them for help during trying times. We already know of how much faith Jesus placed in his Saint Christopher Santos and how he placed the icon near his front door. The practice was a simple one. It was simple, but as far as Jesus was concerned, all-powerful. The idea that worshipping a wooden image doesn’t work wouldn’t occur to Jesus; it had to work, just as Optrex Eye Lotion worked. He counted on it working, but we don’t know who first started praying to the moon, the planets, and the stars for favors. Heaven is out there somewhere, isn’t it?
Yes, Optrex Eye Lotion worked. It contained ingredients for red-rimmed, itchy, tired eyes, and my eyes often get irritated by glare, wind, smoke, driving, watching television, and reading (all these things), so while I was in the Philippines I used Optrex Eye Lotion all the time. Protect your eyes with Optrex Eye Lotion. And speaking of things handed down by the Chinese … have you tried OAK BARREL FOOD SEASONING? I don’t know of a connection between Optrex Eye Lotion and OAK BARREL FOOD SEASONING. Yet … savor the delicious goodness of OAK BARREL FOOD SEASONING. A OAK BARREL FOOD SEASONING available at supermarkets, groceries, and sari-sari stores.
Centuries and centuries of traditions have not failed to influence us today. I knew Jesus had his maid often use OAK BARREL FOOD SEASONING. Two people eat a dish with this seasoning in it; the first finds that it does nothing for him or her and says it’s delicious; the second thinks it adds something (actually quite a lot) but says nothing. These two reactions are obviously misleading, if not dishonest. You never know. Until recently I would’ve considered this deception minor and therefore forgivable. Now I’m not so sure. Now it seems unbelievable … unbelievable that the first person would say anything and the second person wouldn’t compliment the cook. Of course the first person was telling a white lie, and many people don’t think white lies are on par with real lies, but I happen to disagree. Sometime I think the fate of the world may hinge on a single lie, and if someone would lie about little things, then what would keep him or her from lying about something major? Then too the second person was equally wrong. It’s however not worth arguing about.
But then suppose the cook was a very sensitive person like Jesus’ maid was. Wonder if she easily got her feelings hurt. She was sensitive and she was where she could overhear the conversation about her cooking. The first person’s comment would’ve made her feel good, and she would’ve been encouraged to use more OAK BARREL FOOD SEASONING but remember the comment was a lie. Oh, but you might say that this lie was of no consequence. Remember the second person kept secret how much he or she liked the taste of the seasoning. This brings us back to …”the fate of the world may hinge on a single lie …” But we forget that Chinese people developed a taste for OAK BARREL SEASONING centuries ago. Don’t forget that Chinese civilization is an ancient civilization. What the two people thought about OAK BARREL FOOD SEASONING …including everyone else sitting around a table and maybe even the cook herself… didn’t take into consideration that a taste for this seasoning developed centuries ago.
Postscript (12th day of May 1954) I recently discovered that there was a criminal court case in 1954 that involved deception and OAK BARREL FOOD SEASONING. Court papers show that a petition was filed with the court that in part asked for “a preliminary injunction, to restrain respondent, Hon. Bienvenido A. Tan, as Judge of the Court of First Instance of Manila ‘to cease and desist from further proceeding in Criminal Case No. 32401’ of said court, entitled “People of the Philippines vs. Lim Hoa alias Lim Hoa Ting,” and to annul a given order of said court respondent Lim Hoa the defendant in said case, is charged with unfair competition, in violation of Article 189 of the Revised Penal Code.”
On or about the 12th day of May, 1954 the said accused, owner and manager of the business establishment named Ting Lian Hong located at 339-341-Ylang-Ylang street, in the City of Manila … willfully, unlawfully and feloniously engaged in unfair competition for the purpose of deceiving or defrauding A Tung Chingco Trading Company … of its legitimate trade and/or the public in general … by giving its product the general appearance of a product named OAK BARREL BRAND FOOD SEASONING. The Timg Chingco Trading Company was selling their product in the same size bottle containers, with labels with the same yellow background color, with the same grouping or lettering in English and Chinese characters, with identical wording and listing of ingredients and instructions for use of the product. They also used similar symbols … a lantern and an oak barrel, and used a similar red seal on the neck of the bottle and the same white top cover, and used the same color scheme of the lettering, all of which induced the public to believe that the said Lantern Brand Food Seasoning was the same as the original OAK BARREL BRAND FOOD SEASONING. And in spite of all this, the court dismissed the lawsuit
My introduction to OAK BARREL FOOD SEASONING came during a trip with Jesus and his wife to Makati. Makati was/is a district four miles south of the heart of Manila that seemed like four light years away. For Makati was totally different from the litter-strewn and crowded alleys and slums that plagued the rest of Manila. The instant we crossed into the district we saw a difference. There we were on a spacious six-lane boulevard lined with tall skyscrapers, and fancy shops and restaurants, a movie theater, and a modern supermarket. My initial reaction was to think that this couldn’t be the Philippines.
There were exceptions in Manila such as gardens around churches, Luneta Park and most cemeteries. I’m sure it’s different now. After forty years I’m sure it’s different, and I wouldn’t recognize the city.
The well tended trees, neat sidewalks and manicured gardens of Makati were totally unexpected. After only a few weeks in the Philippines, I was used to watching for open sewers. (I stepped in one the first day I was in Manila.). But after seeing Makati (and Luneta Park), I realized first impressions were often distorted. Before I left the States, I vowed to stay away from places that looked like home, so I would’ve avoided Makati had Jesus and his wife not taken me there. They said I had to see it. They were proud of it. They were right. I had to see it. It took persistence on their part before I agreed to go.
Twenty-five years before then Makati was no more than a treeless swamp. The idea of recreating Wall Street in Manila, somewhat disdainfully, amused me, but who could laugh over how it was transformed. It was amazing. It amazed me. Banks there stored mountains of gold, and more than 2,000 firms had offices or manufacturing plants there. A roster of the companies read like an international Who’s Who of the business world … Bank of America, Chase Manhattan, J.P Morgan, IBM. By that time Makati also had an art gallery, a bowling alley, and car parks. Swimming pools were common. We saw a private helicopter hovering over us. Since Makati then was also the home to some 150,000 of the country’s most affluent people, I was prepared for Jesus to ask me why I didn’t live there. Had he, it wouldn’t have surprised me and would’ve been in keeping with his idea of Americans.
But I understand that this prosperity came only after a slow beginning. One private company (the House of Ayala), controlled by one family (the Roxas-Zobel-Ayala family), owned half of the swampland out of which Makati emerged. Remember it was swampland, so it took vision to make it a reality, and it was the vision of one company’s top management that made it a reality. Colonel Joseph McMicking had a vision. He envisioned a new community that would also become a model city. His city would not only absorb teeming hoards from Manila but would also give them all jobs.
McMicking married into the Roxas-Zobel-Ayala family and long before the outbreak of World War II was part of the House of Ayala. Realization of McMicking’s dream involved resettlement of squatters, selling lots and creating jobs. This required bringing in industries. Industry in turn meant subdivisions, and subdivisions meant shopping centers had to be built. Considering that before he started there was no electricity, running water, sewerage, or paved streets and nothing but hovels and shanties scattered here and there, it was one of the biggest undertakings ever carried out in Manila.
In 1948 the House of Ayala took its biggest gamble. I could see where the gamble paid off. They invested in a subdivision, and they built it near fashionable Manila Polo Club and Manila Golf Club. This attracted people they wanted. It happened that they were right and old wealthy families, foreign businessmen and diplomats bought into living in a gated community. To entice them they built a subdivision with all the enmities that a place like it in America would have: paved streets, underground drainage, a good water system, and elaborate landscaping, but most importantly they established stringent restrictions on the use of land. So there were no squatters. They set out to build the most expensive subdivision possible because anything less wouldn’t have served their purpose and named it Forbes Park. And they kept squatters out. Among residents who enjoyed luxury and privacy Forbes Park offered were a number of Marcos’ cronies. I didn’t recognize names of any of them, but Jesus certainly did. Perhaps he and his wife dreamed of living in Forbes Park. They never said, but I suspected they did. I suspected from the way they talked. But they knew and I knew I couldn’t get past the white-glove guards that were checking cars at the front gate. Jesus didn’t own a car. And Makati was about as far as we could get from reality of the rest of Manila.
I’m still bothered by the divide between Makati and the rest of Manila. It so happened that I later enjoyed my excursions to Makati, enjoyed splurging as I called it, but it still bothered me. Jesus never said that it did him, and he seemed proud of progress that the Ayala clan made. It looked too modern to me … to American. It didn’t look like it fit in the Philippines. Here to me was an example of American imperialism. I threw around the word imperialism in those days.
Jesus provided me my initial tour of Makati without realizing that I wasn’t as impressed as he was. We went to a supermarket … the supermarket , which was just like supermarkets at home. That was where Jesus’ wife remembered to pick up a bottle of OAK BARREL FOOD SEASONING. I didn’t know then what it was. By the time I got home, it was explained that they couldn’t do without the seasoning since they used it quite a bit. That led them to inviting me over to their apartment for a feast, but at first I couldn’t find OAK BARREL FOOD SEASONING in what they served me. I couldn’t taste it. I thought other seasoning and spices such as ginger, garlic, pepper, and something called annatto overwhelmed it. In vain I tried to find it. As someone who hadn’t been raised on it, I thought maybe that I simply didn’t recognize it. Or maybe it was simply there to add another layer to food. I remember sprinkling a little bit of it in my palm and licking it. Then it came to me. I realized that I had been looking for it in the wrong place. It had been there all along, “hiding” in mutton, mutton that came from Australia. They bought mutton especially for me. Yes, Australia exports mutton to many countries. It also supplies many other kinds of meat, prepared and packed to requirements of importers in over 50 countries, many of them in Asia. The Australian Meat Board, through its offices in Sydney and Tokyo, can help establish trade contacts with meat processing and exporting organizations throughout the world.
Here I need to digress even more than I have. The hardest part is to be honest (if not admit my hope and my fear) even if it’s uncomfortable. Let it suffice me to say that I didn’t realize any of this while I lived in the Philippines (nor am I quite sure how I ended up there since I knew very little about the country before I moved there). In 1969 we were more preoccupied with Vietnam, though I hadn’t turned against the war yet. Even today there is still controversy over how much we helped or harmed the Philippines or whether our motives were anything but self-serving. The latter is most likely. Some aspects of being enlightened (if we ever were) came at the expense of our neighbors, though it is reasonable to imagine that we were never aware of many of our mistakes. Often we were too direct, or stepped on someone’s toes, and didn’t know that we should’ve apologized. Too often we didn’t know how rude we were. Forty years ago we weren’t aware. Then why wouldn’t we continue to make the same mistakes? Perhaps it’s an excuse, but we really didn’t know. It surely was/is a dilemma, but it was/is, I think, a manageable one.
Filipino: already a fictitious recollection makes it hard to remember a past I hardly knew anything about. I remember some of what I saw. I saw buildings, people, and traffic, but did I understand what I saw? I spoke English, only English. Most people I knew and met in the Philippines spoke English, Filipino English, but I didn’t know Pilipino or Tagalog, or any of the other languages of Philippines, so I missed a lot.
I thought I had a purpose. I had a play to write. I thought I was contributing. I came to the Philippines to write a play. I went to the Philippines intending to contribute something. I went to the Philippines intending to write a play about the Philippines. We thought I could help … contribute by writing a play. Now I’m not so sure. I intended to help. I never knew if I had anything else to give. I knew our history in the Philippines or thought I did and thought I would do my best to compensate for it, but now I’m not sure. I may be egotistical but not egotistical enough to think that I can change the world. I can only do my part. And if our forecasts are correct, a few hundred years from now the world should be a better place.
It started with Dewey when he steamed into Manila Bay at the head of the US fleet in 1898. It started after the Spanish surrendered without firing a shot. This was a few weeks before the Philippine-American War. Now how many American have heard of the Philippine-American War? Yes, there was a Philippine-American War, and it was a bloody war. Who remembers what happened in Samar or Jolo? Who cares now? Yes, it started with Dewey steaming into Manila Bay. And it was prophetic and we began making mistakes then.
English and Filipino and before then Spanish was what they spoke. Now Filipino-English, with more and more Filipino, and less and less English. This didn’t concern me much because I spoke only English.
In the March 8, 1970 issue of the ASIA TODAY magazine, under Topics, you will read an article by Carmen Guerrero. Ms. Guerrero writes about how the Philippine/American War started by a misunderstanding. So from the beginning of their relationship, Americans and Filipinos misunderstood each other. It revolved around, as it often does, a language problem. The difficulty … a Filipino soldier mistook the command of “Halt” for a friendly greeting and then was shot by an American. It was an insignificant mistake with grave consequences, to be sure.
Let’s face it, since Americans gave the Philippines an education system, Americans and Filipinos were/are linked by a common language. English linked us yet communication between us was sometimes at best difficult. Almost from day one when those shots were fired on San Juan Bridge miscommunication was common. And what I often heard was Filipino-English, which is Pilipino literally translated into English because most Filipinos think in Tagalog or Visayan when speaking English. I picked up what little Pilipino I knew by going to Philippine movies where I read subtitles while I listened to dialogue. The following will give you a taste of what I experienced at movies:
…and he plunged his knife into a pig’s throat. Then I immediately heard the most chilling squeal … a squeal from a terrified pig. It was pig on screen. Killing of a pig, horror of an upside-down pig gushing blood from a large hole in its neck, meant that I couldn’t eat pork for a week … but though it was hard to stomach it got my attention. It was meant to get my attention. What’s more they used a real pig. Yes, they showed killing a real pig on screen. And then I watched them plunge a whole carcass into boiling water to make it easier to shave off hairs. I watched the whole process. They showed the whole process. Or at least I closed my eyes and kept them closed throughout the first several scenes. And I identified with this pig. I sympathized. I sympathized and saw how I could suffer the same fate. I was brave though. Or rather, I tried to be brave. I tried not to grimace. As an American, used to Hollywood’s elaborate effects, I admit that it was a little much for me. As an American, I was raised on gore yet this scene horrified me. I failed to see the point … failed to see the point of using a real pig and killing it on screen. This spectacle seemed both cruel and pointless. a real pig hung upside down and stabbed in the neck and have it bleed to death and scalded … were we expected to find this entertaining? In defense of the director, he became one of the best, if not the best movie director in the Philippines, and if I failed to appreciate him then, I think it was my failure instead of his (how’s that for being Filipino?) I continued to sit there and watch the rest of the movie. And it took me a while to come to grips with what I saw. It seemed incredible that I witnessed a real death on screen, all be it a death of a pig. I held my hands up over my head at one point and said, “I give up. Take me,” and I’m sure people around me thought I was crazy…
Thinking of a bleeding pig and its squeal kept me awake that evening. In the middle of so much cruelty it meant nothing less to me then than the seeding of terrorism that would soon engulf the world. It also occurred to me then that maybe we could get along better if we spoke the same English. Subtitles helped but not enough. Students were then demonstrating every day on the campus of the University of the Philippines. I raised my hands above my head, which in translation meant, “I give up. Don’t shoot me. Make babies. Not war.” Why would I want to correct them? To my ear it may sound funny, but would it serve any purpose to say something?
I then said out loud, ” I’ve got to get out here.” But I continued to sit there, hopelessly trapped in my seat. (By then I wasn’t watching.) And something … perhaps since it hadn’t done any good before … told me that it would be rude for me to raise my hands above my head again. So I didn’t get up and leave but sat in the dark, feeling powerless. I sat powerless and alienated throughout the whole movie. From the first scene and the killing a real pig I was turned off. And low and behold, I wasn’t going to be given a pass because with the films very last frame I was introduced to a pig killer … elbow deep in blood … after he killed a real person. Again, it was enough for me to swear. I only vaguely remember the rest of the evening. Some people said that it was the director’s masterpiece. I didn’t know how to respond.
I can be crude. I’m crude when no one is looking. I don’t want anyone to know I’m crude. I admit it now, now that I was given permission by what I saw on screen. I know it was a long time ago. I now consider it a rare gold nugget and am influenced by critics. But I don’t think the director made the movie for money, no. I don’t care who made it, or if it was a rough-looking film and people in it speak Tagalog. I had to rely on subtitles. I was actually more bothered by a rape in the film than the slaughter of a real pig. Rape often leaves terrible and permanent scars. As a woman I am sensitive to rape and honestly didn’t think Insiang’s manipulation was far more serious than Dado’s crime of rape.
This was Manila, and Manila is a big city, so I always took precautions at night. I’d argue that it was no more dangerous than any other big city. I say it is no more dangerous than Chicago or New York City. But, as the movie showed, cities are dangerous places, and showed what happens to those who can’t defend themselves. I felt more vulnerable, much more so then, after seeing the movie, as I went home in a foreign country, where I couldn’t speak the language.
You can always catch a bus or a jeepny and go wherever you want having only to wait a few minutes. I hurried to catch the next bus. It was almost empty. There was hardly a soul on it. I went to the back. I remember the driver said something to me in English. He could tell I was an American, but not necessarily a rich American because I was riding his bus. The bus jerked forward as he shifted gears. He couldn’t keep the gears from grinding. It was something that I got use to, since I rode buses all the time.
Much the same as their shaky buses I got used to their English. I told myself many times that it wasn’t really English (though close) but a totally different language. And I resisted an urge to correct my Filipino friends. I resisted correcting them when they said they were “opening” a light rather than switching or turning one on. I argued (not at all fallaciously) that by not confronting and possibly embarrassing my Filipino friends that I was being very Filipino. I resisted embarrassing them. From this I gained confidence, though if I spoke more Filipino I’d have more to brag about.
I know that though Americans and Filipinos are tied together by almost a century of speaking the same language, we are nevertheless separated by the way we each handle English. It’s often difficult to understand, and it’s often difficult to understand the differences. Here is an example (phonetic spelling supplied): “Aba, Mister, hu ar yu to sey dat da Liberals ar korap? Yu ar di wan! Ol da taim! Basta kayo grap is impresidibol!” Thus I end up asking the person to repeat what he or she just said, or nod my head in agreement, though I didn’t understand what he or she said.
The bus jerked along, as the driver slapped the bus into gear. It stopped at each stop. It stopped for each passenger. He stopped almost in the middle of the street. “Pasay!” I yelled a few times. “Pasay,” he replied with a nod. Thankfully we didn’t have to communicate any more than that before we got off on Taft Boulevard “inside” Pasay. Incidentally Filipinos were speaking then more and more Filipino and less and less English.
It all started when I ran into a group of University of the Philippine students carrying a bunch of books by Ibsen, Miller, Albee, Joyce and other highly celebrated Western authors. I got to know them because of their interest in Ibsen, Miller, Albee, and Joyce, and because I was an American. I understand that these students were interest in books that were unrelated to their lives and that they were reading to broaden their horizons. All these students came from somewhere outside Manila. They also seemed to think that as an American I could help them further their lives. I doubted this. I knew a little bit about Filipino literature, particularly Filipino literature written in English. I looked into Filipino literature. Literature interest me, and I knew the poetry of Jose Rizal and Jose Garcia Villa. Villa may not be the best example here because he turned to writing after reading WINESBURG, OHIO by Sherwood Anderson. Sometimes I thought about what these students could achieve, and how I could be an influence. I imagined some of them going into national affairs. I imagined that someday they would become teachers and leaders of the nation. I imagined they would exert their leadership among their contemporaries. One might even become president … president of the Philippines. I thought of what I could do, the difference I could make, and how I could change their lives. I thought how my influence could encompass the present and the future and how in some way it involved destiny. And I thought that destiny brought me to the Philippines. I felt that there was no other explanation.
From thinking about future leaders I moved into an abject state. I asked myself, as someone who had only been in the Philippines for a very short time and who was certainly no expert … who was I to dismiss whatever seemed strange to me? I didn’t necessary believe that the American way was the best and only way. I wouldn’t have left America if I had been narrow-minded. I can also argue that I’m no dumbbell (if I were I wouldn’t have been a successful playwright). For this reason it’s not hard for me to reject the notion that what works in America will always work elsewhere. Forgive me for having this view, though it may help explain why I went to Manila. Call it destiny (or whatever) that I happened to wake up one morning in a country under martial law, without any idea what it would mean to me. And I’m a pretty perceptive woman. While I could’ve castigated Mr. Marcos for martial law. There were many reasons for castigating Mr. Marcos, I had personal reasons for doing so. Still I could’ve ended up looking pretty foolish because I could’ve easily left the country. It came quite suddenly, some say out of the blue. The road to it had been descending for over a year (after a bombing of the opposition party in Plaza Miranda) and ended in strong-arm tactics. Then … I was there at the right time to write about it. And a high-pitched cry was heard as the world digested what happened and what it meant, but it didn’t take long for it to recede in shifting wind. Leading up the proclamation I thought the situation was pretty much under control (after so much turmoil), and the fact that as an American I could come and go without being harassed said as much. But it didn’t matter what I thought. To me, however, communists in the Philippines weren’t strong enough to be a threat like they were in Vietnam. But it wasn’t my country (nor the stepchild we once thought it was). I expected some of my Philippine colleagues to be arrested though. That was how it worked, wasn’t it? Some things were pretty clear.
I woke the next morning not knowing what Marcos planned to do. I knew Marcos from what I read and from what friends said about him. And I saw Marcos through eyes of people I interviewed. I also saw what Marcos did in the past, but I still didn’t know what he planned to do. Nor did I know what action he had already taken. I however knew one thing. He ran the country. He was president and ran the Philippines, and he was a determined man.
I also knew that it didn’t matter to most people in the Philippines what Marcos did as long as he somehow put the country on the road modernization. Nothing else mattered to most people. It didn’t matter that he abused power. It didn’t matter that his tactics were raw. It didn’t matter that his tactics were brutal. It didn’t matter whether he did it in the open or not. Nothing else mattered to most people. For precisely this reason I caught a jeepney as usual and rode to Quiapo, where I caught a bus to the university … the University of the Philippines. I wouldn’t knock myself out. I just wanted to see what was going on.
Since major flooding of June and July of the previous year, there were a few signs that the country was moving forward again. Flooding was unusual for Manila, but flooding that year would be remember, and by the next year the national government had already repaired 867 bridges and roads and other parts of the country’s infrastructure. It was a tall order. It took a lot of resources … a lot of capital, and I could see why a lot of people were optimistic and behind Marcos. Maybe he even then was opening a door for Bagong Lipunan, or a new society (we could at least hope).
Then I woke up to an announcement … the country woke up to an announcement. Marcos spoke coolly and slowly, “If violence continues, if there should be massive sabotage, if there should be terrorism, if there is assassination, I will have no other alternative but to utilize the extraordinary powers granted me by our constitution. These powers are the power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus under which [suspension] any man can be arrested and detained any length of time; and power to declare any part or the whole of the Philippines under martial law. These powers I do not wish to utilize and it is for this reason I appeal to our people ….”
I didn’t mind his tone, but his words were intimidating.
“If there should be massive sabotage, if there should be terrorism, if there is assassination”…if…if…if!
I couldn’t sleep that night, as words “if this, if that, and things much more serious” stuck in my brain. And it wasn’t even my country.
“These powers I do not wish to utilize.” What powers? We soon found out.
Freedoms that I took for granted all my life were suddenly ”suspended.” Suspension? What did it mean? I came to the Philippines not expecting this. I heard Marcos’ words (or a translation of them) but without fully comprehending what he was saying. It was an impressive TV performance. I also recalled thinking, “What’s this? Martial law? Before then I had only experienced it through reading history: Lincoln imposed martial law during the civil war, but the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.
Jesus observed me with a smile. Jesus was, as I said, not very tall and for his size full of energy. He told us that we shouldn’t worry.
I went to the university without knowing Marcos shut it down. I was thrown off guard. I had never experience anything like it before. Shortly before then I made a snide remark about all of the uniformed security guards guarding buildings all over the city. Now that seemed trivial after I ran into armed solders blocking my entrance to the campus. What was happening? What happened to freedom?
“It’s astounding to me that Marcos would close universities,” I said when I saw Jesus again that afternoon. I thought about leaving the Philippines then. I thought about leaving because it looked like it could get ugly. It looked like Marcos meant business and put a damper on my plans to see more of the Philippines. It looked that way when he cancelled domestic flights. So why not leave the Philippines while I could? Why not! Hadn’t Marcos dealt me a blow? Why not; since he suspended liberties … liberties I enjoyed? Hadn’t Marcos rejected my cry for freedom and justice … freedom, justice and democracy, while he was getting rich … really, really rich? (Before he died, he stashed away billions in Swiss banks.) Then because of everything … with domestic flights cancelled … with the Sports Development Foundation winding up its fund drive (which started one and half years before then) … with the Cycling Association thinking about sending a delegation to compete in a Japanese bike race…I decided to stay in Manila. I decided to hunker down. I decided to keep a low profile. I decided to risk it and stay in Manila. I decided not take chances when there was so much uncertainty.
“We the residents of Matalahib Barrio, Quezon City (the University of the Philippines is located in Quezon City) hereby lodge a complaint.” I overheard a conversation about this during my bus ride. (I don’t know why they spoke in English.) In light of what just happened, it made no sense to me. In light of Marcos’ proclamation … in light of martial law, it made no sense. It seemed that their barrio council levied a P20 monthly tax on the well to do to create a security force complete with a fire-fighting unit, a motorcycle, fire extinguishers, and uniform garbage drums. To me P20 didn’t seem much for the well to do. It wasn’t like P10 a month levied on the middle class. And on the poor! How could they think of gouging the poor? Any amount was too much for poor people in Manila.
“This is why we’re caught between a rock and a hard place,” the guy sitting next to me said, while pointing to squatters who had taken over a street.
“A rock and a hard place!” I exclaimed. “Isn’t it minor considering everything else?”
“It’s nevertheless a dilemma,” he said. “While admittedly having a security force is a necessity and to the well to do P20 a month is nothing, it’s the middle class who’ll have to carry the burden, for poor people … well for them it could mean that they couldn’t feed their families. Well, for those who can’t feed their family … for those who are starving … it’s not hard to see who’s getting screwed.” (He talked like an American.) Then I heard the man say, “We can overdo even a good thing it seems.” And as if that weren’t enough, the Metrocom vowed to arrest scalpers at sports events … sporting events where more people wanted into stadiums than there were seats … some choice seats went for as much as five to seven times face value of the ticket. For this sports associations shouldn’t be let off the hook because scalpers were often sports association people. I wanted to go games, but I refused to pay more for something than it was worth. I made it a rule. They weren’t going to cheat me. I walked away first. I always walked away. i always bargained. I always cut an asking price in half. I never haggled after that. I walked away before I would. I always walked away. I never wanted people to think that they could take advantage of Americans.
Jesus was suspended. Jesus was suspended from his job. He was suspended eight or nine months before I met him. According to him he was suspended for petty and trumped up reasons, and the investigation went on and on. The matter should’ve been settled before I met him. Before I met him the investigation was completed, but investigators hadn’t bothered to file a report. And he claimed he complained to almost everyone. He complained and got nowhere fast. I saw his frustration. I saw it and didn’t understand. I understood Jesus’ frustration and like him didn’t understand why it took so long. I ask those of you who should know (not those who were directly involved) was this how a new society should work? Looking for answers, I thought then that it maybe more convenient to classify someone as undesirable than to go after real enemies.
Before jumping to conclusions on something that I couldn’t possibly have insight, I asked myself why I would write about Marcos and his New Society. I could think of no other reason than I lived in Manila when it started. I thought I had insight when I didn’t because I lived in Manila when it started. A beginning I remember vividly was softened by a promise of reform, reform and a memory that also was saddened by lost of friends. I don’t know how many friends I lost. I don’t know how many friends were killed, how many friends and students killed who opposed a dictator. I remembered too a night when I thought I was being followed. It was spooky. I was frightened, and it showed risks involved in associating with certain friends. I knew I had to be careful. I knew I had to watch what I said. I knew had to watch my back. Fear was transmitted by something in air, but none of it seemed to correspond, not even remotely, with how calmly most people in Manila still went about their business.
Each day in spite of terror I still rode buses and jeepnies; I ate in restaurants and shops. No matter how bad it got I still rode buses and jeepnies and ate in restaurants and shop. (Since streets were “safer” than ever before and tourism was encouraged, the number of Caucasians we saw on the streets increased.) I hesitate to concentrate or linger on the word “calm” when I think about how it really felt after so many people were rounded up and jail or newly released. Almost instantly, I got a message. I didn’t like the message yet I didn’t leave Manila.
Anyone (maybe not everyone) who openly opposed Marcos could expect a knock on his or her door. It was how dictators worked. A broad look at history tells us this. By then Marcos was a dictator.
In fictional works of the time … work designed to promote goals of the New Society, each time something was exaggerated. Yes, part of it was exaggerated, and part was left out. In the fiction of Marcos, he chose to present a happy face. He chose to convince people that he was right, that he was on the right course, and to a large extent he succeeded. Marcos convinced people, many people, diverse people who themselves profited. Here, then, was an explanation for contradictions that existed within the New Society.
Arturo, was young and outspoken, when three men came to his door. Arturo was determined to stay alive, when he opened his door. There were naturally several possible outcomes: Arturo could go with them without a struggle; he could put up a fight; they could question him there, they could warn him, they could work him over, and so forth. In Manila, all of these possibilities occurred over and over during the New Society, each one was designed to terrorize someone. Sometimes, victims showed great courage: for example, when three men arrived at Arturo’s house, he attempted to kill them, which may seem foolish but it sent a message. But then he was just one of many radicals. There were more and more radicals.
Arturo’s face, until it appeared in the Philippine Collegian (University of Philippines student newspaper), was lost in a crowd, but was unforgettable once it was enshrined. He listened carefully to Marcos on television. Marcos’s proclamation caught him by surprise, as it did most other radicals. Marcos didn’t surprise him, but his proclamation of martial law did. Despite warnings, few radicals expected it … few expected it so quickly and so swiftly. Horror of the moment and shadows that were created made them undervalue their lives, and some of them were willing to become martyrs. While the slogan “Digmaang Bayan, Sagot sa Martial Law” (People’s War is the Answer to Martial Law) made good propaganda, it was really never more than a slogan.
Many radicals then retreated to the countryside, where they continued their struggle. It seemed to them like the best way to fight. It seemed like the best way to win. It seemed like the best way to win victory. Arturo listened with contempt to Marcos, having then not decided to go full time. He would wait. He wasn’t ready yet. It was less admirable than committing himself to arm revolt, though in the end he turned out to be a fighter. I remember something Arturo wrote for the Collegian. “Thus we take a stand, calmly we proceed, violence may be the outcome, determined to be free or to die.”
From that moment on, Arturo was a target. No longer lost in a crowd, but an irritant and an agitation he had to be silenced. After more than 3,000 students didn’t return to school that year, Arturo wrote “I believe that martial law is nothing more than a paper tiger. I don’t consider it legitimate and don’t believe it will last long. It is now important for you to organize. It is important for you to organize faculty members, students, friends, and relatives into groups of 4 and 5 to join a just struggle against the Marcos fascists dictatorship.” For Arturo it was a dangerous thing to write. It was a dangerous thing for anyone to say or write. Arturo was a person with a political conscious, but he was also naïve to think that he could write something so inflammatory. He was naïve to think he could write such things without serious repercussions. Testimony of fellow students indicated … and their actions bore it out… many of them shared his views. But only a few would sign a manifesto like Arturo did. Most of them took other means. And it wouldn’t have been a problem for Arturo had he not signed it. But he wasn’t afraid. He wouldn’t have signed it if he were afraid. How else can you explain it?
I felt helpless. What could I do? It wasn’t my country. Jesus and I discussed it. Finally, he said: “Good for us may mean more necessary evils.”
“Good for us may mean necessary evils?” I thought for a moment and asked, “Necessary?”
“Precisely,” said Jesus, “Communists were about to take over. Isn’t your country fighting communists?” To blame communist, to use it as an excuse for detaining and killing students, was very distressing. It made it more difficult whenever after that I thought of Arturo. After I read his manifesto, saw his signature and after my conversation with Jesus I asked myself was Arturo a communist? I admit that I met Filipinos who openly claimed to be Maoists. I never met a Maoist before I came to the Philippines. And I have to assume that they were. Card-carrying Maoist fond of quoting from Mao’s LITTLE RED BOOK. They translated the entire work into Tagalog. It was clear to me that once they translated the entire work they were converted. In contrast Arturo’s rebellion came from an internal source. He didn’t believe in the ideology of the Chinese Communist party or believe like Mao imperialists were Paper Tigers.
Here’s where two points of view converged, and up until then I hadn’t made a connection between Arturo and Mao (there wasn’t one actually except Arturo opposed American imperialism), or I didn’t want to make one because once I did I had trouble disentangling my own connection as an American. We can not say that we didn’t have a huge presence in the Philippines, but most of the time I tried to remain a bystander, tried to say that it was your fight and not mine, but other times I got drawn in. I invited Arturo into my home, and we ate Chinese noodles together. He called my country imperialistic, Mao called us imperialistic too, an imperialistic Paper Tiger. Arturo called Marcos a Paper Tiger. That’s where two points of view converged. And I had no reason to question Arturo. We were friends. We remained friends, but it was getting a little confusing. I was grateful to have Arturo as a friend. I was also grateful for my neighbor Jesus who told me that Arturo’s death was one of those “necessary evils.”
“Necessary?” I asked with a worried look. But at that point who knew what would happen? “We’ll have to see,” I said. “There are those who think we are your enemy.”
Once again I felt like I didn’t belong, while I realized I wasn’t an innocent bystander. It seemed to me that I had a lot to do with what was happening in the New Society. Some students, who were considered radical, were then on the run. As I said, others weren’t so lucky and were detained and released, jailed or outright killed.
As I said, what could I’ve done? I closed my eyes and hoped when I opened them that the nightmare would be over. Then I ran across a story (a reprint of a Xerox from a batch kept by a Joyal Pinoy in his office to give away to doubting foreigners and pasisanos) that made me laugh.
“So there’s justice after all,” I replied, “but I’m speaking as a friend. Want to see the article?”
Jesus rose. Standing tall, he took the article from me, and I waited as he carefully read it. I anticipated his reaction. I didn’t know what he would say. I swear he laughed … as I had.
It seemed unreal that “dreaded general” PC Chief Fidel V. Ramos offered no resistance when bandits robbed him of his car, pistol, cash and valuables within shouting distance … of all places … of Camp Crame, his headquarters. “Ramos pleaded with the robbers to please leave him enough for bus fare.” By then we had reasons to laugh over this because the PC chief had been placed in charge of “cleaning up the city.” It was a No. 1 story and created a sensation, especially in San Francisco. I kept the clipping, after it appeared in the paper, and wondered if Ramos had something to do with Arturo’s murder, Arturo who was brave (or stupid enough) to sign a manifesto that appeared in the Collegian. Laughing did me good. I know my problem was that I stayed (through the turmoil) the next year in Manila, and that I found no way of getting out of my commitments. And no one knew (no one could’ve known) how bad I felt about what happened to some of my friends.
President Ferdinand E. Marcos October 5, 1973
Like all men and women in Manila, I have been troubled by recent events; like all, sickened by loss of life. Once a peasant, a warrior, and now a public servant I’ve been in your shoes. Look: I still bare scars from war. Men and women of Manila look into my heart and you’ll see how wrong my character assassins are. It is my beloved Imelda who gives me strength. She is an inspiration. It is my belief in God, on the darkest nights, that gives me power over other men, men who try to destroy me, but this aligns me with the majority of you. I am with you, the majority of you. I have cut the jugular veins of my enemies, most of who came from the elite. During this year, I have had to declare martial law. I had to, to save our republic and I wouldn’t have without support of the people. I have stopped The Communist New People’s Army, and they didn’t kill me like they planned. They didn’t kill Imelda like they planned. And I laughed in their faces. I laughed at them. I’m laughing. I laughed and said, “Do you know how many battles I have fought that were less tenable than Malacanang (the presidential palace)?
“I have behind me what they clearly don’t have, the people and the law. Now that I have taken steps to protect and insure peace, order and security, I now intend to reform social, economic and political institutions. And I do not need any additional powers than what was granted to me by the Constitution. There has not been a military takeover. Let me repeat: there has not been a military takeover.
I owe this unprecedented opportunity to a situation I didn’t create and which became increasingly dangerous. I had no choice. Communists were already on the steps of Malacanang. I knew that there would be wise men that would not agree with me. I know that there are those out there who question my motives and who are squirming because they think I’ve become a dictator, while there are others who for many years out of frustration have been calling for a benevolent dictator. I’m not a dictator. I hate to disappoint both groups, but I’m not a dictator or a savior. I have put my own ambitions aside and instead have concentrated on what I had to do to save the republic and build a new society. Now, as for Manila, you won’t see any tanks on the streets.
My parents pushed me. They pushed me to excel at everything…a matter pride for them, my winning…not only in my studies but in sports such as wrestling, boxing, and (my favorite) shooting. They were proud of me. I remember when they gave me my first rifle (I had toy one up until then), and my dad would not let me take it out by myself until he made sure I could aim it properly. In college, I became a member of the .22-caliber pistol team. By then I could shoot better than anyone and still have medals to prove it. For me it was elemental. For me excelling was elemental.
Naturally I put those skills to good use. To me defending oneself and one’s family is a virtue. It is not something that I take lightly or direct at any specific individual or groups, but I’ll defend our nation. I’ve always fought for it. I’ve always fought for our nation. And in the face of public scrutiny, I won’t say that I’m totally innocent, but I’ve consistently fought personal attacks. Some tried to smear my name: an unfortunate part of politics. Some still try. The results are often severe and too often call for counter measures … counter measures that are sometimes not very pleasant. This danger (for every happy contender there’s an unhappy one) is real, and as we’ve too often seen it turns into violence. But we have to throw ourselves into the game. Those who don’t … lose. Those who don’t are losers, but often losers pay a tremendous price. We (winners or losers as the case may be) have to take care of our supporters, those who stick by us through feast and famine. I learned this at a very early age. When I was still in my teens I was accused of murdering my father’s rival and was even convicted and sentenced to death for the crime. (I would chose jail and death rather than suffer indignity of dishonor.) My bravado now has as a source the omnipotence of the Supreme Court, which overturned my conviction.
While incarcerated I graduated cum laud. That indestructible spirit, which came from my parents, has served me well. It sustained me during war, during which I won the Medal of Valor. I was lucky. I survived the war. Urged on by sacrifice and valor of my men, I assembled 100 of them and we fortunately held off a Japanese force of 2000 men, delaying considerably the fall of Bataan.
Everyone knows that people of Manila are fond of heroes. It is logical then that I would succeed once I launched a political career. It is logical that unlucky ones would want to discredit me. Some moralists have reasoned that I was simply power-hungry. It’s not true, and if that were true I would’ve taken a more totalitarian approach by perverting power given to me by the Constitution. I would not have made a covenant with our people. I would not. I had/have a concern for all of society, as I make my own covenant with a New Society.
President Ferdinand E. Marcos October 5, 1973 (continued)
In the old society poorer classes paid the most and enjoyed few of the blessings. The elite prospered and held reigns of power; the poor (with reasonable and unavoidable envy) knew that they were excluded. Poor people were excluded from the political process but could do nothing about it. A desirable system in which rich and poor participated equally never materialized, while desire for such a system has always existed. Poor people always wanted to be included. The few people who recognized a need for change did not have political power or political will to bring it about, or they resorted to violence, which is totally unacceptable. Injuring and killing innocent people does not have a place in a just society. Our legal code fixes a penalty for those who hurt other people. Some communist argued that the cause justified the means when they set out to overthrow our democratic system; just as others argued that steps I have taken are just as Draconian. There were disturbances; there was lamentable loss of life, but the masses of Manila are safer tonight than they have been in a very long time. All people will benefit, as criminals and crooked politicians are rounded up. All people will benefit when criminals and crooked politicians are punished for their crimes. One of the first things I did, by executive order, was try to stop corruption. (Swift action was necessary, given the pervasiveness of the problem.) I took swift action. I took swift action to show that complacency was totally unacceptable. Too many politicians and leaders, judging from their speeches, were willing to accept the mess we found ourselves in. Once initiated martial law meant that I had to take steps that will impact everyone in the country.
I wish I could say that the consequences are calculable and that our enemies will throw up their hands. Unfortunately I’ve had to detain a few individuals that I wish we could’ve been sure that they would co-operate. Given stakes involved the imprisonment of our enemies was/is a necessity.
I know that the voice of privilege will try to re-assert itself. At times it may seem like they still have the upper hand, but let me assure you that Citizens Assemblies I have established all across the country will for the first time complete the circle of dialogue in participatory democracy. At first this new process may seem chaotic until people get used to it, but one must remember that change is rarely easy. To avoid conflict, I ask my fellow countrymen to accept a new Constitution (make needed adjustments), which reflects, where the old Constitution did not, our national aspirations. I’m counting on the Citizens Assemblies to play a major role in elucidating and disseminating to all Filipinos new constitutional ideas that are now governing our nation. Everyone is encouraged to participate. We need everyone. There will be, of course, impediments, but these will be quelled before they become insurmountable. Since our New Covenant is based on the equality of all citizens, whatever their station in life, the nature of their faith is, and the color of their political beliefs, we must approach political life as a means of promoting general welfare.
Incredibly, there have been complaints. Complaints are expected, and I can’t possibly answer all of them. In the simplest terms, let me again give notice to those officials and functionaries charged with conducting public business. They are not to engage in graft and corruption, fall into inefficiency and incompetence, or be involved in wrongdoing as put forth by law. The fact that more than 6,000 people have already lost their jobs or positions in government should put everyone on notice. It has been suggested that I’ve gone too far with purging and that I should’ve forgiven them and enjoined them not to do wrong again. I think not, if I mean business.
My actions have stopped communists. It also produced other effects, as I had hoped it would. It has deeply modified how our government does business. I don’t know what more I can possibly do. I can not at this time accept anything less than the most ruthless discipline. Those who work with me must work hard and observe the highest standards, and if the masses of Filipinos are still deprived and suffering, all of us must deprive ourselves and suffer with them. This is a basic tenant for a public servant in the New Society.
However unlikely it might seem, ordinary citizens now have a chance that they didn’t have before. Filipinos sooner or later will know by experience whether or not they have been lied to. Filipinos will soon know I mean what I say . They will soon know I’m telling the truth. Meanwhile they have space for freedom, and within that space they may behave as they please in pursuit of private happiness and they may order or disrupt their lives accordingly. But once they misuse this space of freedom, they will risk a revolution that may well impose on them a totalitarian regime. Right now ours is a constitutional authoritarian regime; it is not totalitarian.
President Ferdinand E. Marcos October 5, 1973 (continued)
Nevertheless, the martial law proclamation that I am responsible for has inspired many different reactions. I never expected it to make everyone happy. I can’t make everyone happy, but if martial law is going to work and lead to a New Society, as I hope, it will take everyone’s co-operation. I need everyone’s co-operation. And it will not happen over night. Martial Law is only the first stage, and some infusion of chaos may be necessary. It may be chaotic. Is it not ridiculous to think that change can happen all at once and without some disruption? It will only happen in stages. The vision of a New Society may be mine, but the final direction it takes, the final movement of our destiny comes from and depends on each and every Filipino. This is why I am asking you to make a covenant just as I have made one.
Let us acknowledge that with the September 21 Movement we have passed the Age of Innocence and entered the age of Responsibility. As we move into the next phase or stage, each of us must heed a warning issued by an acute observer of modern political affairs. According to Konrad Kellen (translator’s preface to Jacques Ellul’s THE POLITICAL ILLUSION), “with the increased polarization of all aspects of life,” as has occurred here in the Philippines, “three evils emerge: boundless inflation of the states size and power; increased dependence on it by the individual; and decreased control over it by the ‘people’ who think they control it, whereas in reality they have surrendered all their powers to it.” This is what we must guard against. In reality we must always be vigilant, while at the same time realize that we’re involved in a process. But no decision is final, all lead to others. Some well-meaning people suppose that real change isn’t possible without violence; actually that is not true. Violence only leads to more violence, which I abhor. Communists seem to want to terrorize us with the warped echo of gunfire. Starting with the ill-conceived Battle of Malacanang and unfortunate deaths of student demonstrators and culminating with the bombing in Plaza Miranda, where nine were killed and 98 others were injured, it has become clear that there are those out there who are not interested in participating in a democratic process and are all too willing to resort to violence to achieve their goals. It is permissible in this context to remember that the edifice of public life could crumble, like the walls of Jericho, at the first blast of the trumpet, if I hadn’t done what I did to prevent the next bomb blast.
There were also personal considerations, since there were those who were plotting to kill me. One decrees a preemptive strike in hopes of catching the culprits, and one hopes that opposition leaders can soon be released (once they agree to work with the government and not fight it). I know that the consequences may, at times, seem terrible.
The government, due to the seriousness of this crisis, must avoid publicity. It will not boast of its successes. It’s too explosive. The orders, which it issues out of necessity, will have to remain secret. Moreover, it is impossible to boast about something that’s a secret, so don’t expect me to report what we do to the nation. I know that this silence, comparable to how it would be in a more open society, gives rise to all sorts of conjectures. Unfortunately, we have to live with these abominable accusations for the time being and until martial law can be safely lifted. Earthly judges are not infallible. Only God in heaven, our eternal and omnipotent father, is in the position to judge.
Finally, government only has influence over tiny things; over construction of bridges and roads, over delivery of mail and over areas of our lives that we agree are essential and that we can’t take care of without help. Something else of no less importance is protection of those who have become odd men out. And one more thing that is much more sinister, that there are evil people out there who are eager to destroy us, so we have to respond not only to our people’s political requirements but also to crisis of democracy the world over.
Reading Marcos’ article troubled us. My impact in Manila could be easily and briefly ascertained. Unforgivable, therefore, are those who say that Americans abroad can be pigeonholed. We could see what was happening, and it was also a fallacious assumption that all of us leave home to make money, or are sent by our country or company to extract from the Philippines, or wherever, whatever they can. Those of us who were more idealistic who view this characterization with alarm and with sadness. It was true that the relationship of Americans abroad and Filipinos have been mixed, filled with contradictions, and was easy to criticize, but one has to understand that the relationship had been and will be irreplaceable. Then we have to accept the bitter and the sweet, or else we’re dishonest.
I am aware that it would be easy to dismiss my opinions. It would be easy to say I am just one person, and I only lived in Manila for two years. I hope, however, that I am not prohibited from examining my own conscience. I’m certainly not seeking anyone’s approval nor do I think I need it to proceed.
Luiz Nunez, one of the finest people I knew in the Philippines (and now of Vancouver, British Columbia following Marcos’ purge of radical faculty members at the University of Philippines and who was so mercilessly slandered, mercy! by those loyal to Marcos) chose to live in exile in Canada. He chose to live in Canada though he couldn’t bear for anyone to speak ill of his country. In an open letter published in THE SUNDAY TIMES MAGAZINE he expressed his sadness whenever he saw a Filipino flag. The flag is red-white-and-blue, and he only wanted to be a good nationalist.
I have said that the impact of this American in Manila could be easily ascertained. Having talked with Luis at length, I found that there were similarities between how he felt conflicted about his country and how I felt conflicted about mine. There was a flippancy that spilt over when we discussed the seriousness of it. Here are some of the things we talked about:
His contemporaries remember a stage show he presented at Fort Santiago that helped jumpstart the theatre of liberation movement and how he was imprisoned several times for his outspoken criticism of the Marcos regime.
Statements he made about “certain connections or affinities” that he had with Jose-Marie Sissons, one of the leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines (now living in exile in the Netherlands), may keep Luis from ever going home.
Statements he made ridiculing Imelda Marcos about her desire to be an acclaimed singer helped and hurt his standing at home.
Other directors and producers of plays were hauled off to prison.. “Looking back now, the incidents seem minor (a mere inconvenience),” said Luis, “though they were pretty harrowing at the time.” They seemed harrowing to me.
I have seen men who became very influential while in exile but who have no other desire than to end their days back home in a small barrio. Many of these men (and their families) at least once year are able to return to their country and regain strength through contact with a civilization that is their own. They still have businesses to run in exile, but they go back every year. For them it is necessary. They feel it is a necessity. Sometimes I’m beside myself and annoy my partner when I can’t open my mouth without saying: ”when we go back to Manila…. “ when we both know that it will probably never be safe for us to return.
Luckily there is a Philippine community here in Vancouver and I can buy Dutch Baby Condensada when I get a hankering for halo-halo. Sometimes we make halo-halo at home. Sometimes we buy Halo Halo at a Filipino grocery. Every drop of new Dutch Baby Sweetened Condensed Filled Milk is deliciously, nutritiously creamier in taste, color and texture. So why not buy Dutch Baby Condensada when you get a hankering for halo-halo?
An examination of the essential decrees Marcos made during the martial law period illustrate just how draconian they were. Whether you liked them or not depended on who you were.
Here’s wording of a half-page ad which appeared in THE SUNDAY ASIA TODAY MAGAZINE as part of a milk war: “you can get almost all kinds of milk in the Philippines: filled milk, recombined condensed milk, super-pasteurized milk, untested cow and carabao milk, but what everyone really wants is GOOD SAFE PURE MILK. You can get it anytime, anywhere: it comes in cans labeled “BEAR BRAND”. Bear Brand is pure, sterilized cow’s milk. Nothing added, nothing taken away. Bear Brand comes to you with vitamins and minerals as nature has given them. Bear Brand is whole cow’s milk, specially sterilized for longer-keeping quality. Milk is important for the health of your family and Bear Brand Natural Swiss Milk is your best and safest choice. Also available in POWDERED FORM-vacuum-packed in one pound reusable aluminum can for extra safety. Bear in mind BEAR BRAND is the best milk around!”
Here’s a catalogue of Marcos’ exploits during the war and the Japanese occupation, much of which the president admitted was exaggerated.
The work MARCOS OF THE PHILIPPINES, an official biography of the president by Hartzell Spense unequivocally has Marcos making “a heroic stand at Bataan that upset the Japanese timetable of conquest, giving the allies time to defend the South Pacific, and thus saved Australia and New Zealand.”
A thorough analysis of facts by Dr. Ricardo Trota Jose here shows that any action by Marcos couldn’t have delayed the Japanese for three months. He would’ve had to make his stand in January because Bataan fell in April, which wouldn’t have been possible.
Turning this fiction into fact occurred sometime around when Marcos entered politics. An invective against Marcos’ assertion however did not occur until after his death and when there was a push to bury him at Libingan ng mga Bayani or Heroes’ Cemetery. The question over whether or not President Marcos was or wasn’t a war hero, may have been put to rest when U.S. Secretary Weinberger presented him with a glass case containing the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, and a Purple Heart. “My father respected Marcos as a leader, but I wouldn’t say he was a crony. The lesson [to] be learned from the national trauma that was the rule of Marcos is, “kleptocracy cannot pay,” Sereno wrote. “A time may come when the legal impediment presented before the Court today is lifted. That could stem from newly discovered evidence or other justifiable reasons. The future may yet present an opportunity to revisit the ruling of this Court—and Philippine history may have a chance to be redeemed in part,” Sereno concluded hopefully.
These, then, were pieces that were related to the Nunez odyssey, in random order (with omissions that were inevitable with the passing of time and as memory fades). I’ll try now to put more of the puzzle together: show the hidden and the secret, and the heroic and the peerless. And why … while in exile in Canada … in his heart Luis never left his country. This examination, while perhaps not as organized as it could be, consists of many chapters and fragments as shown above. I know such a task may seem absurd: to justify: why he went into exile is one of the main reasons for this endeavor.
Again articles from THE SUNDAY ASIA TODAY MAGAZINE inspire this undertaking. One of them is entitled RETURN OF THE EXILE … instead of on Luis it focuses on the revolutionary general Artemio “Vibora” Ricarto.
Because he refused to take a loyalty oath to the United States Government, following his capture in July 1900, General Ricarto was banished to Guam and later sent to Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, Ricarto continued to be defiant … defiant against America. He continued to speak out. Like General Ricarte, Nunez wants to die on his native soil, but it’s doubtful that it will happen. It’s doubtful. Since Nunez lives in exile in Canada, it is doubtful. More interesting, though he was never convicted of subversion like General Ricarte, and in spite of his self-imposed exile, Nunez becomes misty-eyed every time he sees a Filipino flag. Most Filipinos do.
Those who have insinuated that Luis Nunez is a traitor don’t know him. They don’t know that on every 12 of June one can see Luis and his family down at the Philippine Consulate in downtown Vancouver, happy again to find themselves on Philippine soil, singing “ Bayang magiliw, Perlas ng Silanganan Alab ng puso, Sa Didbib mo’y buhay.” And all those who slander General Artemio “Viboro” Ricarto forget the debt Filipinos owe him. He was not only one of the bravest generals of the Revolution but was also one of the best tacticians. In the battle against the Spanish garrison in San Francisco de Malabon, he outmaneuvered the enemy and captured all the guards.
His intent wasn’t clear at first, General Ricarto admitted, wasn’t clear when he landed in a Japanese airplane. The final stage of a very long journey … physically, mentally, and spiritually…accomplished easily thanks to the Japanese. The only problem was that the Japanese occupied the country that he had fought so hard to free, and when he had resolved never to surrender again. In truth, while in exile, he surrendered to the Japanese.
I always had the intention of some day going to Japan, but I can’t imagine living half of my life there and what it would mean living it in exile, or imagine how much I would miss. One of the things General Ricarte missed most was Ilocano dishes. Although the general cooked pinakbet and other northern dishes in his karihan on Yokohama, he would’ve preferred Illocano dishes. “There’s nothing like cooking native dishes in your own country where you can get the best ingredients,” he would say.
He could speak Spanish well. He maintained his Catholic faith while he fought Spaniards and then Americans. Forget shame he felt for accepting perks from the Japanese because he fought for his country. Be General Artemio “Vibora” Ricarto as you visit old, old friends. I think he obtained the code name “Vibora” because he often struck with vengeance of a viper, but he knew at the time that Conqueror General Masahara Homma had taken up residence at the American High Comissioner’s residence on Dewey Blvd. “Impossible!” The general shuddered. Granted, but he accepted Japanese hospitality, and the Japanese accepted him. To be in the nineteenth century a katipunan general among the ranks of Messrs. Baldomero Aguinaldo, Mariano Trias, Lucas Camerino, Esteban San Juan, Pascual Alverez, and Wenceslao Diwa, and then to still be living in 1945 must’ve seemed incredible. To somehow still be “Vibora” on this final journey and it not hurt him to accept occupation, and consequently feel more shameful than when he called for his troops to lay down their arms at Biak-na-Bato. That day. The Viper made a little speech, and a chorus of sobs rose from the crowd … then to go on being Vibora and outmaneuver the Americans. (This conviction, we might say in passing, led to him being exiled in the first place and then drove him back into the Philippines in 1903 to organize an uprising. To do less for his people would’ve been inconceivable for Vibora, and it also meant that he was captured in a cockpit no less. Having surrendered once, he vowed that he would never do it again, and he never did.) “My undertaking was no less than what I expected of myself.” (I imagine that had he been younger he would’ve gone underground and joined the “Hukbo Ng Bayan Laban Sa Hapon.” People’s Army Against the Japanese, or Hukbalahap. Or he would’ve led it, as only Vibora could.) General Ricarte had an opportunity to go back to Japan before it was too late: he knew what could happen to him, if he stayed…but he said, “I can’t take refuge in Tokyo when my people are in distress.” This defiant stand came when he knew he was weak, and could soon die, and he wanted to die at home.
Members of the younger generation may ask, why precisely Vibora (the viper)? Such a question arises, in a Filipino, when one considers Vibora’s behavior during the occupational years. War can bring out the best in people and the worst in people. So it was, no doubt, Vibors’s faith in himself that gave him assurance and strength to do the things that earned him his code name and made him a general at such an early age. The way he stood up to Americans illuminates this point. Vibora was certainly the little general, though I have no idea how tall he was, but it does not seem to … how shall I say it…guarantee anything. How does Bovee put it? “Self-distrust is the cause of most of our failures. In assurance of strength, there is strength; and they are weakest, however strong, who have no faith in themselves or their powers.” Or without self-assurance and balls I can’t imagine Vibora. (I see here parallels between Vibora’s exile in Japan and Luis Nunez’s exile in Canada.) Luis Nunez’s is a contingent story, and so was Vibora’s. Luis’ story was contingent on the “Hukbo Ng Bayan Laban Sa Hapon,” or Hukbalahap of Central Luzon, while Vibora’s story was contingent on the katipunan uprising. I can make connections, I can connect them, without straying too far afield. Before I went to the Philippines, I knew nothing about the Filipino/American War and certainly hadn’t heard of Vibora. Since then I’ve become interested in the whole story, and not simply in the exploits of General Douglas MacArthur or Lt. Gen. Jonathan M. “Skinny” Wainwright. Of course, I visited Bataan and Corregidor. Naturally I walked through the ruins of Corregidor. (Corregidor, the American Alamo of the War and in the case of Bataan, I climbed Mount Samat), and as Marcos articulated, “in Bataan, we see something emerge within the nation which none of us had seen before in our four centuries of colonial subjugation. Yes, not even the revolution of 1896 gave us such a vision of ourselves as a nation.” Hah! HAH! VIBORA!
My general impression of how people feel about Marcos today, surprising in light of everything, can well be summed up by one word: positive. At one time his image (which no one could deny) was sullied. It is certain that many students still wouldn’t be convinced because many of them were directly involved. The only reason that I wasn’t more involved and why I stood on the sidelines was that I wasn’t a Filipina and I only lived in the Philippines for two years. Even so I have to assume responsibility for what I’ve reconstructed here and admit that I am biased.
My only duty is to tell the truth, which is more than I can say for Marcos. Amazingly it has given me tremendous leeway because truth is often hard to decipher. Truth is not always irrefutable. It’s even more so for a foreigner. On top of my observations, those of others … of a more personal nature … must be included. To start at the beginning of the war with Japan is a reasonable place to start. I’ve intentionally allowed all these years to go by to gain perspective and have waited until many of the people who were involved were dead. Among them, to mention only one, is Marcos.
In spite of attempts to demonize him, Marcos turned out to be more complicated than most critics claimed. Having lived while he was president, they were influenced by how much they were helped or harmed by him. And what a ride it was! Many of his critics couldn’t forgive him. For most of them there’s no middle ground. They either hated Marcos or loved him, or only saw the good or only the bad. Any disdain they showed may well have been deserved. Ironically any respect shown him was also earned.
Marcos’ rise to power was no less astounding because it seems to have been predicated on fiction. Take as an example the idea that he was a great, if not the greatest, resistance fighter. It is well known that Lieutenant Ferdinand E. Marcos risked his life and with Lieutenants Primitivo San Agustin, Jr and Vicente Raval (all three were veterans of Bataan) helped bring back needed war supplies from Mindanao and thus laid foundation for intelligence work in Luzon. But the truth about Marcos falling prey to greed even then didn’t really come to light until a year before he was overthrown … and then go from there to raiding his country’s treasury! Imelda Marcos was acquitted in New York of robbing the Philippines. “Mrs. Marcos, her lips trembling, looked to the ceiling, as the jury fore-woman announced, ‘not guilty,’ four times. With that Mrs. Marcos wept and a gallery of supporters from her homeland cried out and cheered in triumph.” This account (which I judge to be irrefutable) came from the New York Times News Service and shows how much the Marcoses were loved. The events leading up to Marcos’ downfall showed the exact opposite. (Let us recall once more how the Marcoses were evacuated out of Malacaniang Palace and whisked into exile. The Marcoses’ fate and Luis Nunez’s were certainly similar but the Marcoses were infinitely richer. And more ambiguous than their detractors claimed.
It is impossible to compare the Marcoses exile with that of anyone else. The Marcoses, for example, are said to have run to Hawaii “carrying suitcases containing jewels, 24 gold bricks and certificates for billions of dollars of gold bullion.” And there was no telling how many billions they stashed away in Swiss bank accounts.
Who knew the truth, when history was rewritten so often? To rewrite history the way Marcos obviously did was astounding. Marcos lied but it seems a great many people in Philippines forgave him for it. Historical fact didn’t matter as much as what happened afterward, and though the final verdict was still out, it seemed like history continued to be revised.
The contrast between the lifestyles of Luis Nunez and the Marcoses couldn’t be more extreme. There was no way, after all, that Luis could’ve have duplicated the grandiose and opulent lifestyle of the Marcoses. Not that he was interested in living that way.
There is no way of telling how history is going to treat an individual. Marcos was made out to be a crook, and there was little doubt that he was one, but it now seems like he’s being rehabilitated. This seems to be partially due to weaknesses of presidents that came after him. Marcos was above all shrewd. Shrewd, and now is time to toast him for it. Shrewd, he knew what he was doing, even when it seemed like he didn’t. There was nothing new about his excesses; what was extraordinary was his storytelling. He set his sights on the presidency way back when he was dodging Japanese patrol boats (or was he?) and from the very beginning set aside his scruples and built on lie after lie and told them often enough that people believed him.
No one saw Marcos disembark on an overcast night, no one saw his parau (sailboat) sink into the horizon, and he wasn’t missed. The truth was that the obscure man was presumed dead. People thought he was dead because he hadn’t returned from Bataan after it fell. Nauseous and bleeding Marcos somehow dragged himself to safety. He somehow survived malaria, heat, dehydration and dysentery, only to be captured by the Japanese and then somehow escaped the death march. He survived in spite of everything. He survived while most men he served with hadn’t escaped execution or hadn’t endured the harsh march or lived to tell of the harsh treatment those who made it received afterwards at Camp O’Donnell. Marcos escaped humiliation, torture, and hopelessness. As soon as he could, the escapee stretched out in the bottom of his stolen boat. He needed to sleep and heal now that he was free. The sun around noon awakened Marcos. He saw without astonishment that he already felt better and that his wounds had begun to close; he closed his eyes and slept some more, not out of exhaustion but because of determination. He knew he had to sleep, sleep as much as he could, so he shut his eyes and slept some more, trusting wind would take him where he hoped he’d find other men (and perhaps women) who refused to surrender. He had stolen the tiny boat knowing that it was what he needed for his invincible purpose. He knew that down south, in perhaps Mindanao or Cebu that he would find contacts he wanted to find, but he knew that his immediate obligation was to sleep. Towards midnight he was awakened again by extreme hunger. A pot of cold rice, a few mangos, and four or five jugs of fresh water were all the provisions he had. He knew this wasn’t enough. He knew it wasn’t enough to sustain him, so he planned to fish and catch rainwater and forage and solicit favors whenever and wherever he could, and when there was no rice he settled for camote, cassava, gabe and green leaves.
The passions that drove him were basic. They were basic, though not universally shared by everyone. Marcos wanted to be free; he wanted to be free and live a life based on integrity but under the Japanese he knew it wouldn’t be possible. The struggle to survive exhausted him and challenged him to his core. If someone were to ask him if he had a plan, he wouldn’t be able to answer them. The small confined world of the small boat surrounded by a vast, desolate ocean suited him. He felt safe in the boat. It offered a refuge, a safe haven, and a hiding place. The nearness of islands also suited him, for they provided him with the few necessities that he needed to survive. Once he had the sustenance that his body needed he planned to spend as much time as he could resting and sleeping in his tiny boat. And if he slept, he could also count on dreaming.
Each time he went ashore, he searched for something to eat or drink. Each time he faced reality; and since there was a paucity of food, of course, he didn’t want to take anything away from people who were already starving. Over time he learned how to convert buri trees into a meal. After heating slivers of buri by the heat of sun he would pound the wood to separate the dry sap from the hard, knotty vascular tissues, in hopes of producing a reddish looking flour, which when cooked along with slices of coconut flesh tasted like a million! The man, both asleep and awake, dreamed about food and was never very far from the horror of hunger. He also sought a state of mind that would allow him to go for a very long time without eating.
Consequently Marcos became extraordinarily weak. That was when he had no choice but to do one or two things. He would gathered seeds which he hadn’t known before were edible and cook them for food, or if he felt brave enough to enter an occupied town with a string of fish he would barter the fish for corn meal. In the best of times one’s appreciation of corn meal or buri flour may never rise to the level of love and affection, but to someone who can’t obtain anything else to eat, they (as it did for Marcos) quickly become delicacies. One afternoon (now his days and nights all ran together, now he was so weak that he remained awake for only a few hours each day) he saw an illusionary ship off on the horizon. Marcos then became afraid then that he had become too conspicuous and had attracted the attention of the enemy. So he hid below the gunwales of the parau. He tried to outflank it. Marcos emerged from sleep that day confused and couldn’t really be sure whether he had seen an enemy ship or not or whether he had simply dreamt it. All that night he suffered from insomnia. All that night he lay there afraid. All that night he thought he had been spotted, and he tried to exhaust himself, but scarcely managed a few snatches of sleep. He tried not to think about food and had scarcely had enough to eat all week, when he felt like jumping overboard and drowning himself. In this state his eyes burned from tears that ran down both his cheeks.
Marcos understood incomprehensible and dizziness and hallucinations associated with starvation, though he could’ve avoided it; worse for him was shame he felt. He knew that initial failure was inevitable. He knew agony of defeat. He would have to restore his strength. He would have to restore his strength if he expected to live and decided to sleep the rest of the day. He didn’t want to dream. He was afraid to dreaming. He hated nightmares. He hadn’t come to terms with the Occupation and didn’t know if he ever would. But to do anything, he would have to regain faith in himself. He would have to learn to trust himself, learn to trust in his abilities and intuition, and trust in his own strength again. By afternoon, he turned the corner. Almost immediately, he felt better.
Marcos didn’t have time for despair, time to waste, or time for wasted effort, but as of yet he couldn’t define what he had to do. He didn’t immediately come up with answers. He examined his options. He examined them in minute detail. He looked for clarity. He didn’t find clarity. He looked at his situation from as many different angles as he could and didn’t find clarity. He felt the pulmonary artery in his wrist in an attempt to feel his heart. He still had a pulse. Deliberately, Marcos hadn’t eaten, then he hallucinated, invoked the name of God, and set about surveying the rest of his body. Within a short time, he had turned into a skeleton.
In Manila, as the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity program was put into place, Togo and Pogo (on stage) mimicked Japanese soldiers and their greed for watches by strapping several watches on both of their arms. They ended up in a cell in Fort Santiago because of it.
One afternoon, Marcos almost destroyed his boat but somehow managed to keep from floundering. It might’ve been better for him if he had destroyed it. Then once he completed his prayers he turned himself over to the mercy of God, and asked for guidance. That evening he dreamt of the Black Nazarene. He dreamt of it as a living being and as such was no longer in the church in Quiapo. The Black Nazarene had defied Japanese conquerors, just as he planned to defy them, and the Black Nazarene was on the Philippine side. The dream revealed that Jesus Christ was nearby, there in his boat (and wherever he went), and that Marcos could expect a miracle and that the Black Nazarene would protect him from wind and fire, just as the wooden image had survived fires and earthquakes. The Black Nazarene ordered the young man to be brave and sent him to Manila, where people had no choice but to deal with the Japanese.
The young man carried out these orders. He infiltrated the city. He moved about quite freely despite checkpoints and frisking. He devoted a period of time (which comprised of several months) to hide and seek and gathering intelligence that would eventually prove useful to Allied forces in Australia. Marcos became a very useful and reliable agent. Inwardly, it pained him to see how his country had been taken over, but he also saw how self-reliant his countrymen had become, and how due to forced circumstances they had become resourceful and disciplined. Overnight they became industrious and ingenious. He saw how city folk had started raising pigs and chickens. How city folk planted camote along sidewalks. How they burned charcoal in trucks and in buses instead of gasoline. When he closed his eyes then, he thought, “Necessity, indeed, has become the mother of invention. Or, at least there are no people dying in the streets from hunger, as I expected there would be.” It was the miracle he was looking for. But at times, he was troubled by how easily they were adapting. In general he was adapting too.
Basically, Marcos accepted reality. Once he got use to seeing Japanese in control, Marcos made the best of it. And he learned that it could be invigorating. He understood with certain bitterness that help that they received from Americans had not always been helpful and was perhaps even crippling. That was when he embraced for the first time the idea that there might be something to the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity program. If only the Japanese would stick to their “sincere intentions!” Like they said, maybe they hadn’t come to despoil but to “help” Filipinos until the country was ready to stand on her own two feet … except then why were there bayonets on every street corner and arrogant Japanese soldiers barking “kura” to bowing Filipinos? Kura! It was inextricable. It was an inextricable image that would infuriate him. It instilled in him a hatred that he never overcame.
Marcos’s hatred was turned into action. Every day he fought back. He refused to surrender and did what he could. Early on he found someone with a transmitter, and at night around midnight he joined with others who were anxious to hear anything from the outside world. He listened with coolness until one night he heard “This broadcast is coming to you from the studios of station KGUI, San Francisco, California, the United States of America. We’re broadcasting from the Fairmont Hotel, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. MABUHAY! MABUHAY! MABUHAY! We are calling a radio station from somewhere in the Dutch East Indies. Now for the world news xxx.” When Marcos heard “MABUHAY! MABUHAY! MABUHAY!” his emotions soared, and he felt what he could only describe as ecstasy. The magical word was “MABUHAY!” With his reason for resisting thus confirmed, he was stunned with joy. (Thus was established the first radio contact after the Fall between GHQ in Australia and the Resistance in the Philippines.) They would listen each night at the same time around midnight, and over time they received many other messages. There was no television then, so they couldn’t read anyone’s faces, but they heard world news and through back channels urged MacArthur not to forget them.
Marcos never forgot to thank the Black Nazarene for this. He always felt that Jesus Christ was always nearby and that was because the Black Nazarene was something tangible that he could go and touch. This recollection soothed him, when otherwise he might’ve been spooked. Only he feared that his own timidity might someday give him away, so he discovered that some accommodation suited him better than total resistance. But to not stand up against forces of evil, to not be a man, to be projection of someone else, what a humiliation! All people are sometimes filled with self-doubt (they are permitted that), but it’s a problem when it leads to inaction. It was natural then that the young man should fear a future that was filled with so much uncertainty.
The end of his malaise was sudden, though it was something small that made the difference. First (after a long period of self-doubt) there was a rumor that some Filipinos were “eating apples” again; then he traveled all way to Panay to see for himself (before then the thought of guerrillas killing guerrillas added to his uneasiness); finally there surprisingly arrived brand new U.S. carbines and Thompson sub-machine guns. For what was happening was definitely a beginning. Thus began the first in a series of trips by submarines to occupied Philippines. But before he could feel reassured though Marcos had to have something inconspicuous to hang onto. For a while, he thought of surrendering, but by then he knew it would mean his death and the end to what he started. One day he walked into a sari-sari store not expecting to find much. But to his surprise he was handed a chocolate bar packaged in a “I Shall Return-MacArthur” wrapper. Then he understood why he had to continue.
Jose loved books. Books were his life. I will not debate the point, but one should not forget that Jose came from a squatter’s camp inside Malate. Jose loved books, and this speaks well of the Philippine education system. Americans created the Philippine education system. Jose loved books and this meant that he had to overcome certain limitations.
My first memory of Jose was enduring. I can still see Jose sitting behind his desk in early October of 1970. I had just arrived in the Philippines and, knowing very little about life outside the United States, was as green as could be. Jose helped us. Jose helped me in many ways. He didn’t need to help me.
I flew non-stop over the pole. I wasn’t used to long flights and lost a day that I never recovered. After sleeping for almost another day after my arrival in Manila, strange sounds of incessant honking woke me. It was my first impression of Manila. Everything up until then had been a blur until I woke up to honking of cars and trucks and buses. . I was afraid (I’m not sure why) but hopeful that everything would work out. I was running a race against what I felt was inevitable. I didn’t know how long I could stay in the Philippines. I was young and didn’t want to surrender. It suddenly became urgent. I felt that I had no choice. I had to write. Then I chose a certain path as if it were the only one. I remember when I told our parents. I remember their disbelief. I cried unexpectedly when I left. “When will I come back?” I said that I didn’t know.
I know that these details are not earth shattering and are only given to show my attachment to my family and home and that it would’ve been easier had I been indifferent.
I met Jose Mariano just after I arrived in Manila. Jose was known for certain peculiarities such as avoiding eye contact and never said everything that he had on his mind. Often he never gave a hint of what he was thinking. Jose proudly told me that he’d been to Hawaii. He told me he liked Hawaii. Who wouldn’t like Hawaii? He said when he was in Hawaii he was arrested for pissing in an alley. He said he didn’t know any better, which I found hard to believe. He lived with his mother, in the squatter area inside Malate.
I asked Jose what he thought of Vietnam. Since I soon found out he was neutral, I asked him what he thought. I asked though I knew that he would only give me half an answer. By then I knew that he never said more than half of what he was thinking and knew he would only give me half an answer. I remember how he explained it. We were having lunch in a place where we ate pancit (a favorite). We were rushing, slurping our food. I know this for a fact because we never had enough time to talk. He never left his books except to eat. We scheduled our lunches. I always suspected something else was going on. Jose maintained his routine to the point of absurdity. His routine, he maintained it to the point of absurdity, so I suspected something else was going on. I suspected it until I realized that like me he was running away from something. Let me emphasize here that I think his habits turned him into a prisoner.
Jose helped me when he explained how Filipinos were used to Americans, and because they were they would never confront me. I soon learned that Filipinos never confronted anyone. So Jose wasn’t about to tell me what he thought. It was something he wouldn’t do anyway. It was something he wouldn’t do anyway, though he made it clear how he felt about American imperialistic outposts in his country. They had to go. American bases had to be closed. He made himself clear, but I didn’t know then that he was only telling me half of what he was thinking. I didn’t know. I didn’t know him then and still didn’t know Filipinos. For one thing I hadn’t bothered to learn their language.
Jose promised to give me some clues. He promised to help me out, and I couldn’t expect anymore than that. I couldn’t expect anymore, since he never said more than half of what he was thinking, so that he would never get caught affirming or denying anything. Then when things didn’t turn out the way he thought they would, he could always conveniently deny what he had affirmed, and affirm what he denied. This idea, of course, didn’t originally come from him, but came from the satirical mind of the Chinese writer, Pre Sung-ling (1630-1750). At first I naturally didn’t take Jose seriously. I didn’t know that this was a peculiarity of his genius.” I didn’t know. I didn’t know if he might not be pulling my leg.
I felt compelled to go by Jose Mariano’s house in Malate. Jose’s mother opened the door,. She told me that Jose was on his way home and invited me in. She said he’d be back shortly. I followed her inside a relatively large house surrounded and crowded by hovels built in what was once her street and her yard. (I’m sure she saw these changes.) We entered a well-furnished sitting room, which seem complete to me, and I was offered something to drink. While she offered me sweet coffee, very sweet coffee, she spoke Spanish, which seemed strange. Her pronunciation (more Castilian than a dialect I heard in Texas) sounded pure to me. (I didn’t know then that Spanish was still the official language of the government of the Philippines and would remain so until a new constitution was ratified two years later … designated English and Pilipino as official languages.). That she spoke, with an accent perfectly pitched, still spoke a language that was spoken in the area for over three hundred years shouldn’t have surprised me, but Jose’s mother speaking it did. If it was the only language she spoke, I knew that I was in trouble. It however didn’t foretell in any way the long conversation we had.
Without the slightest change of voice, Jose’s mother switched to English. She was sitting in a chair across from me. I sat on a sofa, when she switched. It felt like I had gone back in time. I believe I recall the jest of our conversation. She said something about not being bamboozled by Marcos. Okay, I could see then where Jose’s radicalism came from.
Eventually I realized that here was a woman who not only clung to the past but was living in a garrison. This conversation (it is well the reader know it now) had no connection to why I had gone to see Jose. It had no connection at all, so I prefer to summarize the many things she told me. My reasoning may be weak because I know that some people would be interested in everything she had to say.
She began telling me, in English and Spanish, about when her house was first built: Malate wasn’t crowded then, and this was before the outbreak of war … before the war when so many people were displaced. Jose’s mother vividly remembered the war when “human gutter rats” scrounged what they could. (Those were her words.) And she said more than once that it was also a time when a great many Filipinos were magnanimous and helpful. With obvious pride, she talked about how her husband gave his own shoes to someone who needed them. She told me that before he made a lot of money buying and selling they were very poor and could only afford the house after the Japanese invaded the country. (This didn’t make sense to me.) He was a wise businessman while at the same time very generous. (I tried to reconcile in my mind how if he were so generous had he become so wealthy.) For three years it looked like he was blessed with the Midas touch, as everything came his way. Then he fell, which was something that Jose’s mother was less clear about. They lost everything except their house. She did say that they had a business somewhere along Divisoria, where people could buy almost anything. Later in the conversation, I learned that her husband was tortured and later executed at Fort Santiago. This fact greatly interested me. It was obviously that there was more to it than Jose’s mother was willing to say, or her memory could’ve been failing.
From what she said we can perceive that Manila was filled with hungry people then. Jose’s father would’ve seen this and in response given out rice. Maybe he shouldn’t have given out rich. He would’ve been in a position to give out rice, and if he had the Kempeital at the FEU would’ve interrogated him. They would have asked him, “Why you give rice to people?” His answer wouldn’t have satisfied them.
Her memories weren’t complete (like her son’s were never complete); each visual image left me wanting to know more, like why was Jose father taken to Fort Santiago. Why was he executed? Surely it wasn’t for handing out rice.
Two or three times she repeated herself. I didn’t know why she repeated herself. Was it because she had forgotten what she said. She never hesitated to praise her husband. She told me more than once, “He did more for people around here than anyone else did.” And again, “My husband helped people as much as he could.” And again, after I learned that he was executed, “My husband didn’t deserve what they did to him. He was a good man.” An enigma, questions never answered, why she even brought it up … it bothered me. Jose wouldn’t necessarily know what occurred. He was too young then to know. He didn’t know the whole story. She didn’t tell him everything. She wouldn’t tell him everything, and why his father’s presence could still be felt there in the room.
These things we never talked about; neither on that day nor did I later bring it up. Then people I knew were preoccupied with another war, so it seemed incredible that Jose’s mother was not. The truth was, perhaps, Jose and I both were more affected by World War II than we thought. Out of the darkness of the past we felt our way into the future.
She told me that by 1943 (the year I was born) they had gotten over how quickly the invaders moved to restore a semblance of civilian rule. They hadn’t expected it. They hadn’t expected it after the Japanese’s initial brutality. Their first stimulus was, I think, hardship they experienced. But when times became very difficult, and commodities very scarce, a few men became very rich by profiting off other people’s misery, particularly those in the “genuwine” and “buy and sell” business. That’s when they applied their energy in the right way and at the right time. Instead of resisting the Japanese, they went to work; and instead of becoming overwhelmed with despair, they worked for themselves. Jose’s father opened a small store somewhere along Divisoria. In place of Mickey Mouse money, he bartered whenever he could and usually came out on top. Everything had value, and everyone set a price for everything they owned.
For more than three year the Philippines occupation (Jose would disagree and say they resisted some form of occupation for more than three hundred years) was often untenable and filled with hazards. I tried to put myself in Jose’s position. I tried to understand … I couldn’t fully understand why he was so against America. Jose not only remembered every blow to his ego, perceived or imagined, but also felt all the humiliation “our little brown brothers” suffered during years of occupation … American occupation. He couldn’t be cured of this, anymore than I could be cured of my biases. Biases? Perhaps that was a poor choice of words.
The two wars I mentioned (with an infinite number of deaths) in my mind were senseless (I agreed with him here), but they betray a certain weakness, or else they would’ve been avoided. Unfortunately they give us a glimpse or infer the nature of humans. Imagine Jose’s father asking: “And MacArthur? Where is his ‘I shall return?’? They’ll say the war isn’t over yet. I tell you, when it comes to commitment, they always resort to all kinds for foot-dragging.” After the war Jose’s father could’ve continued to profit from corruption, decay and fatigue of war except he was executed. Or he might’ve been one of the first to say “As soon as this war is over, this jeepney will be banned, each of us will own a car, and we’ll never have transportation problems.” “Kura! Taksang-taksang dorobo, ha!” Or I could’ve been made to feel like a solitary (and perhaps not very bright) bystander.
During the same war Jose’s mother never let go. “Look at my foot, you bully! Because of your coal, I can’t push my cart anymore!” (Dialogue lifted from a cartoon called “Occupation Hazards” by Severino Marcelo.) Siagon, Manila, and Paris have been overrun. Weren’t they worth fighting for? No one in their right mind would say that they weren’t.
It took great effort for me to learn a little bit of Spanish. I suspect, however, I could’ve learned Tagalog had I tried. Now I was heading for Japan where the differences were greater. How can I forget differences when they’re staring me in the face? In the fast world we lived in then, there wasn’t time to digest everything.
The one time I walked through the gates of Fort Santiago, emotion made me spend a whole day there. I instantly sensed that I was missing something. I didn’t want to miss anything, so I tried to ingratiate myself with a tour guide. I resorted to telling her that my father helped liberate Manila. (I don’t know if it were true, but I said it with great passion and hoped she sensed my pride). I claimed my country then like I never claimed her before. The tour guide seemed to agree, though I imagine she was conditioned to agree. I was glad that I didn’t go with anyone and glad she took me for a tourist. By then I didn’t consider myself a tourist. Having said this, I realized that it was probably the only time that I wanted to be mistaken for a tourist.
After walking through dungeons, I sat on steps and looked at the sky. It seemed like I had been there before, but beyond that I couldn’t explain it. I couldn’t explain how I felt that is. I sat there for sometime, in silence, thinking … among other things about how my father on the battlefield somewhere in the Philippines worried about my mother and me.
I don’t know what time it was when I left Fort Santiago. I don’t know why I started thinking about my father while I was sitting there.
One afternoon that I’ll never forget, I ran into a young Filipino at the University of the Philippines. He looked scarcely old enough to be a college student. He had a baby face, and I couldn’t believe he was a college student. But why else was he there? Now I was there and not a college student, so why should it seem strange to me? Why then did he seem out of place?
This boy was short and, at the same time, he had a very high, soft voice. Only God knows where he got a copy of Mao’s THE LITTLE RED BOOK and why he memorize it … not just read it but memorized it.
Unfortunately this Filipino boy (remember he looked like a boy to me) used this dialectical material to put an end to any discussion that we might’ve had. I don’t know what he was trying to do. I wasn’t intimidated. But I understood. I understood reasons he had for hating me. He didn’t have to tell me. Tell me, as an American, there were many. He tried to intimidate me and would’ve succeeded had I let him.
Since classes were suspended for the day; I decided to go home. It wasn’t because of the boy, but when I tried to excuse myself, he followed me. We continued our disagreement in the hall, on the stairs, and in front of the building. Were we arguing? It was so un-Filipino. What he said impressed me less than his passion. He wasn’t interested in a discussion. He only wanted to express his views, which he did with scorn and anger. I repeat it was so un-Filipino.
When we came outside, a student demonstration was in full swing. (Either before it or afterwards buses stopped in front of the building.) As we moved down the sidewalk; a soldier, huge for a Filipino, stepped out of a guard shack. I quickened my pace; my companion stopped. When I turned around, I could see that he was frozen with fear. There was fear on his face. Why was he on campus in the first place? I then walked back to him; that was when he had the presence of mind to hand me Mao’s THE LITTLE RED BOOK and I had to presence of mind to stash it in my briefcase. I then took the hand of this boy for I didn’t know but it seemed like fear rendered him helpless. If fear had, it reinforced my impression of him; if it hadn’t, I’d misjudged him.
We then approached the soldier together. We gathered strength together. We gathered strength with each step. I hoped the soldier hadn’t seen me take the book. My guess was, because the boy had nothing in his hands and I was an American, we were allowed to pass unmolested. Once we were where we couldn’t be seen, my companion broke down and started sobbing. Once we were out of sight, he acted like an immature boy. As I comforted him, I felt like I was acting more Filipino than my Filipino friends often were.
During the winter of 1970 there was a bombing near my bus route. This bombing (which was blamed on New People Army agents) was carried out in January, but it wasn’t as significant as demonstrations that followed it. These demonstrations were about to turn violent, and violence made it worse than it should’ve been. Clashes grew until students were killed and it got out of control. But Marcos and his army usurped the moment. Marcos used the unrest and countermeasures dominated in some manner the news of the day. Moros from the south and Communist from the north, between them focused on Manila and that was where lines were drawn and the battle was initially fought. I was caught (without realizing it) in the middle of it. The boy, trembling (by now I was convinced that he really was a baby) murmured that he was picked up, questioned, and released. That made me stop and think that maybe I misjudged him. Maybe he wasn’t a boy. Maybe he was a man. Maybe they made a man of him. Had he been tortured? As I handed him back his book, he stammered:
“You know, you took a great risk. The soldier might’ve seen you.”
I told him that I thought that I could get away with it because I was an American. I don’t know if that was true or not, but saying it made me feel better. Besides my arrest wouldn’t made headlines.
By the next time I saw him the boy had recovered his poise. He looked for me until he found me. He knew where to look. Did he know Jose? He told me the first time we met he was looking for Jose. That was when I told him (truthfully) that the soldier scared me too. The checkpoint had only recently gone up, and I had gone through it a number of times without being challenged, so when the soldier stepped out of the guard shack, I had to stop myself from running. This was when I saw how frightened the boy was and I imaged he was a baby … it invoked in me courage to overcome my own fear. I grew up a coward. For that reason it wasn’t fair for me to call anyone else one. It was unfair for me to think the boy was a baby
Eight days later I was initially turned back by barricades at the entrance of the university. I had to see what was going on. I had to write about what I saw. Of what students achieved I would not write. I was more concerned about losses. For eight days I went back. Those eight days seemed like one day because each day I was afraid to go back. I was afraid to join the barricades. I would’ve been inappropriate for me to join. They were up for eight days. It escalated when soldiers entered dorms and searched rooms and students lost watches and wallets, but this didn’t compare to the loss of life and violence that followed. I saw violence. Violence shocked me.
I would slip out of my apartment before dawn, after raiding my pantry. Everyday I took a jeepney and a bus to the university, and the student that I called a baby was always waiting for me outside the barricades. There we made an exchange. He told me news, and I gave him canisters of food. I was happy to help. (During this period I didn’t see Jose) I remember him telling me that weapons that he preferred were molotov cocktails. I asked him his plans; he said he was staying 24 hours a day at the barricades and only left them to retrieve food and supplies. The baby faced boy became a gopher. Every time I saw him he also denounced Marcos and, dramatically and dogmatic, predicted that students would prevail. Would students prevail? I doubted it. Would we get caught? I hoped not. We were always careful, but were we careful enough? Showing that he was no longer a coward, he crossed the battle lines multiple times each day. This went on for seven days.
On the eighth day the barricades came down. They came down after an announcement by the “Provisional Directorate ng Demokratikong Komunidad ng Diliman.” Students took down the barricades then, and the Board of Regents granted two of seven student demands. Two out of seven wasn’t good, but it was something. They weren’t given everything, but now they had a voice. Students were given the 7 to 9 p.m. time slot on station DZUP from Tuesday to Saturday and students were allowed to use the facilities of the Printing Press at a charge lower than was usually charged. Now they had a voice, an affordable voice.
I didn’t have names of students that were killed. Their names weren’t released. To protect their families, their names weren’t released, so I didn’t attend their funerals. I should’ve attended them and should’ve written about them. I should’ve worked harder to get their names. I often returned to the campus after the barricades came down. I often ran into my contacts there. The student that I called a baby was sitting there waiting for me. He had been talking with Jose.. Then I heard my name and that I had been brave. They knew my name. Then they said something in Tagalog that I wish I could’ve understood. Now I know I wasn’t half as brave as students were. I didn’t risk everything like students did, but still it made me feel good to be recognized.
Knowing now what happened to Jose Mariano after I left the Philippines and that he didn’t survive, I wonder what part he played in the Diliman Commune. I knew very well that he was a Maoist. He told me he was a Maoist and showed me a copy of THE LITTLE RED BOOK. I assume he gave his copy of Maos’ book to Baby Face, who then gave it to me. I’m assuming. Here I have to stop. My hands are shaking.
“And the student?” I asked Jose later.
“They came looking for him, and he fled to the Sulus. They accused him of throwing improvised molotov cocktails.”
I wanted to know more and urged Jose on. He wouldn’t say more.
Then he stood up and walked toward where barricades once stood and said, “Makiisa Sa Maga Tsuper.” I asked him to translate “Makiisa Sa Maga Tsuper” for me. Whereupon he replied, “Don’t you see that some things don’t need to be translated? Then I asked him if he despised me because I was an American? I had asked him this before, so it showed how much I needed reassurance.
Under the influence of hubris (contriver of intrigue) and blaming communists for a wave of violence Marcos (then president of the Philippines), perhaps in his spare time, plotted a coup. He plotted this, which seemed justified to many people somehow. Details as to how he came to his decision are certainly lacking. I was not a CIA agent, hence not one of his palace counselors, when on September 21, 1972 he signed Proclamation 1081 placing the country under Martial Law.
This unprecedented move took place after an alleged assassination attempt of the then Minister of Defense Juan Ponce Enrile. I repeat alleged. (Or rather it took place one evening, when I didn’t know about it until we found myself wandering empty streets in downtown Manila after taking in a movie. Strangely buses and jeepnies weren’t running; and an armed soldier asked to see our identification. As an American I wasn’t carrying my passport. I had never been asked for my passport before in the Philippines. After I entered the country I never had to show it until that evening. I wasn’t unfortunately carrying my passport. I explained that I never carried it, never had to before, never carried it out of fear that it would get stolen, and just as I never carried my billfold in my back pocket. “I am the son of a heroic GI who helped liberate this city (and luckily survived) and who would be terrible upset if something untoward should happen to mr,” I told the soldier who stopped me.
Jose Mariano was supposedly a conspirator, a friend, a communist conspirator; who like the student with a baby face, perished in some prison without ever participating in the revolt he dreamt of. I’m not claiming he was innocent. The twenty-fifth anniversary of his death now is fast approaching. We don’t know what happened. We don’t know the circumstances, the circumstances surrounding his death. And we don’t know if documentation of it is buried in a file somewhere. According to a reliable source, the enigma continues. We have to assume Jose was murdered in prison; we don’t know when or how it happened, though there’s no doubt who is to blame, since it was probably the Constabulary who killed him.
Other things about his detention and murder disturbs me. They are personal, since we were friends, and since I knew him, I know he wasn’t violent. And as far as I know, he didn’t participate in the Diliman Commune or any of the other demonstrations on campus. Nor am I aware that any of his personal belongings, some of which incriminated him (just as some of my belongings would’ve incriminated me), were removed from his apartment and used as evidence against him. This observation suggests to me that there was treachery involved, or else he wouldn’t have been singled out. I was there when his family took his belongings. They seemed like ordinary people. They seemed ordinary and, given the circumstances, surprisingly calm. And that would be how I would’ve characterized Jose: cool and calm and introspective. He wasn’t your typical firebrand. He wasn’t your typical revolutionary, far from it, and I can’t imagine how someone could say that he was a traitor unless they took in account his political views. Comparison between him and me was uncanny in many respects, when you consider how often I badmouthed Richard Nixon. Take, as examples Nixon’s wars (in case you’ve forgotten, there were more than one). I think of him saying, before there were killing fields, “There are no American combat troops in Cambodia. There are no American combat advisors in Cambodia. We are not in Cambodia. There will be no American combat troops or advisors in Cambodia,” and yet Nixon’s doctrine led to horror of bombing and rise of the Khmer Rouge. But I was pardoned, while Jose was murdered. This brings me back to wondering who was culpable. Who snitched on Jose? Who snitched? We’ll probably never know. It had to have been someone who knew him, but not a family member. That history may never be known, and maybe that’s just as well. Exposure wouldn’t bring back Jose. Jose’s detention does not correspond with his mild nature.
Jose Mariano was murdered in prison, but the entire nation was disrupted as well, and the actors were familiar, and the drama would be extended over many years. It would be extended because of the hubris of one man.
On September 20, 1972, conspirators gathered in the Philippine White House. According to the conspirators. The Philippines was threatened with revolt; something, however, open to debate. Somewhere there was a list, and on that list was Jose Mariano.
Juan Ponce had the responsibility of rooting out the enemy, traitors all. Juan Ponce relished his assignment. He took it personally. He took it personally since he was a target of traitors. He would go after them all. He wouldn’t let them escape. He took as irrefutable proof bombings and an attempt on his life. Yes, and he was convinced that the president was also a target. Insurrection had to be crushed. It had to be crushed for the welfare of the state.
It was then that Ponce decided to go after the source of the trouble, the source those intellectuals on college campuses who already caused so much havoc: the most tenuous suspicion of his was that students like Jose inspired assassins. I’m not saying that Juan Ponce directly ordered the execution of my friend because the name of the person who actually killed him remains unknown. The name of the snitch is also unknown. But Ponce signed the order, for his detention, and for hundreds and maybe thousands more. As the government cracked down on all dissent, Ponce had his work cut out for him. He was definitely out for revenge, and this gave him a permanent seat at the president’s table. He would prove his worth.
Ponce urged on by the president’s proclamation was unable to foresee all the circumstances that would occur under his watch. It called for improvisation. Things he did required it too. His public and secret measures (and those under him) took place over many years. Condemned men and women entered prisons, where too many disappeared or were tortured before they were released, and for this tyranny, I think Marcos should be held accountable.
Most of the country fell instep and collaborated to some extent. Some peoples’ role was complicated; while others could afford to be complacent. Things they did or did not do endure today, in the collective memory of the Philippines. My friend Jose, swept along by events that were out of his control, sincerely believed in dogma he preached. Let us also not forget that he loved his country. His loving his country may seem absurd to many people. I wish I had his passion for what he believed in and for what he was willing to die for.
In Ponce’s work, we see opportunism and greed. I suspect that he was able to go home at night and sleep. I suspect he was able to sleep at night and hide truth from his family and friends. And he understood consequences if he didn’t. And he understood consequences of failure.
One of many problems that Marcos wrote that he wanted to address after he signed Proclamation 1081 was poverty. Shall we say that “the conquest of poverty” became an obsession, but it will never acquit him. It doesn’t acquit him of a series of bloody events that culminated with and included in my mind the murder of my friend Jose. Neither can we discount the importance of the issue, given that the majority of the people of the Philippines were poor, but Marcos seems to have been trying to put a good face on a very bad situation. And criminality that ran rampant throughout Manila before the proclamation had to be stamped out, but what about the criminality of Marcos? In spite of everything there was something of a pragmatist in him, and even a gambler.
“Bayan Ko, Kapit Sa Patalim.” Director Lino Brocka Story Jose L. Lacaba
A transportation strike paralyzed Manila. The strike occurred before martial law. A shootout followed the strike. The shootout took place in front of the gates of the Philippine White House. To those gates, (which quite glaringly kept the president safe and separated him from his people) students ran and filled a street called Mendola. That’s where a shootout took place on January 30, 1970. When smoke cleared, five people were confirmed dead. We shall never know how many were injured, or whether Marcos was pleased with himself. But we do know that he took it as a personal threat, and a bombing in Plaza Miranda (with nine dead) was the last straw for him. Most people in Manila accepted his explanations and believed he declared martial law with resignation. Whether this was true or not, it allowed him to remain in office for fourteen more years: fourteen more years of oppression and tyranny.
(Where’s Ruben Cuevas? Come on Ruben! Yeah, Ruben! Don’t give up the fight!” And as far as I know, he never did.)
Jose was given a cell in Camp Crame Stockade 4, in Quezon City, not far from the University of the Philippines, but not without being tortured by the military. His guards ate, postponed more torture until the following day, torture which became routine until they were sure that he had no more information to give. (Thus revealed a detention-mate who luckily survived.) After three months of the same routine, Jose didn’t respond when the guards came for him at 4:04 A. M. They always came for him at 4:04 A.M. When they came for him this time, he was lying facedown stripped down to his boxers. Jose died during the night. An hour or so later, Captain Juan Aguirre sat in the same cell calmly discussing the problem of how they were going to explain Jose’s death.
“We all know that he was a weakling,” Captain Aguirre said, as he went through Jose’s belongings. “We all know that the less we say the better. We don’t have to admit that he was ever here. But if there is ever an inquiry, he officially killed himself. How does that sound?”
“Feasible. He was a weakling,” Francisco answered. “You know that we don’t have to provide an explanation. Or admit that he was here. But the hypothesis that he was a weakling might not hold water. Here we have a dead radical; I would prefer a better explanation, not one that people who knew him could easily refute. They would know that he certainly wasn’t a weakling.”
Captain Aguirre countered rather harshly:
“I’m not interested in the truth. I’m only interested in protecting ourselves.”
“Then it’s better that we don’t say anything,” said Francisco. “Here’s what he’s been writing.” He handed Captain Aguirre a notebook. “There’s enough here to executed him. The same ol’ blah, blah, blah.”
“”My detention is a farce and totally unfair. I love my country. Mr. Marcos can never evade responsibility or wash his hands of my blood.’ It sounds like a suicide note. Doesn’t it to you? And here’s an admission of guilt, another treasonable admission of guilt. ‘As we stand firmly against the dictatorship, we are not backing down.”
The captain regarded these statements with disdain and utter repulsion. Then he laughed.
“More pakshet, fucking shit!” he said. “He deserved what he got! We don’t have any time to waste reading this shit. Our president did what he had to do.”
“Maybe the crime does rest with radicals like Mr. Mariano … filling the heads of our children with ideas,” murmured Francisco.
“Like communism,” the Captain added. The Captain was set in his ways, a soldier, and very patriotic. No one contradicted him. One of the other soldiers found Jose’s diary and gave it to the Captain. “More pakshet!”
“Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag” Director Lino Brocka Based on novel by Edgardo M. Reyes Screen play by Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr.
Julio isn’t smiling. Suddenly finding himself in Manila, he has come to the city to find his girl Ligaya, and while he’s hassled by his surroundings, he doesn’t give up hope. From time to time during his search he passes the corner of Ongpin and Misericordia and stares at a particular building, where he eventually catches the silhouette of a young woman by a lit window. He can’t believe it and immediately calls out to the figure, addressing her as Ligaya. Remembering virtues of the girl he loved back home and faced with terror of what she might’ve become since she was brought to the city, he doesn’t get a response and realizes that the window is already dark. By then Ligaya has become a prostitute and a symbol, that is to say that she is worth searching for in a civilized hell. To find her Julio has to be patient, while fat Mrs. Cruz (madam of the brothel where Ligaya works) becomes his cross and greedy Ah-Tek, atik, the corrupt Chinese businessman who runs the prostitution ring, has obviously become Julio’s foe.
When he came to Manila in search of his Ligaya, Jose, because he had a goal, wasn’t distracted so much by the city. Jose wanted to finish his education. He wanted to finish his education, and he preferred studying to playing politics. Playing politics … he considered it play. Jose wouldn’t have entered politics had he not come from Central Luzon. But Jose Mariano dedicated himself to searching for his Ligaya during a time when China was Red and the world was divided. Mariano, accustomed to the simplifications of this divided world, didn’t become indignant over communism nor was he one of those enterprising activists who would one day suddenly discover a cause.
The defining moment for him occurred before it occurred for most other radical students. The defining moment for him came when an American GI raped and murdered a young Filipina and the American was tried by general court-martial rather than in a Filipino court. On R&R, this American GI approached a beautiful, young Filipina standing on the corner of Ongpin and Misericordia. Her soft features masked crudeness. Her crudeness happily surprised the drunken soldier. He didn’t know a word of Tagalog, but he understood what she meant when she offered him a blow-job at an inflated price. They crossed the street, entered a building and wound up on the third floor where the GI with the young woman stumbled into a brothel. What happened after that doesn’t need to be spelled out.
Later an American military judge and an American Embassy representative went to the scene of the crime. To get his side of the story they had already talked to the GI. The GI was arrested on the spot. By the time they arrived at the brothel, rose-colored walls had been painted over and mattresses that had been on the floor had been removed and only Mrs. Cruz was still tidying up. The dead woman’s body had also been removed. The dead woman was a probinciana, someone’s Ligaya, who had been promised a great opportunity and a very high salary if she came to work in Manila. She came to Manila and accepted the work in order to help her family live a better life. (Though tragic, nothing about her death seemed extraordinary to the Americans except that a GI committed the crime and this meant it was their problem. They didn’t look forward to facing it. They could already see the headlines:
AMERICAN JURISPRUDENCE TRUMPS PHILIPPINE LEGAL SYSTEM
A second incident also led to Jose’s radicalization. It occurred on the island of Corregidor. Yes, Corregidor. A sole survivor by the name of Jubin Arula told a story of a massacre. Marcos tried to cover it up; he wanted to wash his hands of it, but how could he wash his hands of it? How could he when there was a survivor and still a free press?
When the story broke it caught the president unprepared. He never expected a counterblast (albeit delayed), a discordant reaction that drowned out his denial (with repercussions that continue to this day). That was when demonstrations started in earnest. Without them rejecting a possibility of a hoax (after all there was only one survivor), a group of Moro students held a weeklong vigil in front of the presidential palace. This caught the attention of the press. The students had with them an empty coffin marked “Jabidah”. This certainly caught Jose’s attention too. “Jabidah” (a name of a beautiful Moro woman) was the name given to the unit of trainees. Members of this elite unit (a recruitment of nearly 200 Tausug and Sama Muslims aged 18 to 30 from Sulu and Tawi-Tawi in the Sulus) were initially trained in Sulu and 14 days later were brought to Corregidor. Part of their training consisted of studying maps of Sabah and all of Malaysia. They however weren’t told that they would be taking part in a government clandestine mission called Oplan Merdeka (Bahasa for “freedom”). They weren’t told that they were being trained to invade Sabah (on Borneo) so when they found out … so when they would be fighting their Muslim brothers, and possibly killing their own relatives, they turned mutinous.
Arula later said, “If Malaysia filed a formal complaint before the United Nations, the government was to deny us. It (government) would claim that we were members of the private army of Sultan Kiram (of the Sultanate of Sulu).” Before then trainees were already complaining about food and women their officers brought to camp. “We were promised P50 allowance per month, but we received not a centavo. We were fed dried fish, and for coffee, we would use rice leftovers. Commanders were living in luxury while we were living with almost nothing.”
Arula also related the following: on the night in question: around 4:00 am, a truck took him and 11 others, including his uncle to Malinta Tunnel. There he heard the magazine of a Carbine fall. Arula even helped a soldier look for it. And his uncle told him in Tausug that maybe the soldiers were really up to something because the soldier “accidentally pulled the safety pin instead of the trigger.” Arula remembered that they had already been disarmed. When they arrived at Kindley airstrip, that was when the massacre began.
With a barrage of bullets, they one by one fell. They were shot at night in batches of twelve. The trainees were led out of their Corregidor barracks and taken to nearby Kindley airstrip where Arula remembered hearing a series of shots and seeing several of his Moro buddies fall. He heard them cry for their mothers and scream Allah’s name before they died. Shot in the left leg Arula ran for his life and barely escaped by falling off a cliff into the sea. Somehow he survived. Somehow he swam and fought currents for four hours. Somehow he found driftwood to hang onto. Several times he almost gave up. Several times he almost drowned. Dozing in and out of consciousness, he doesn’t know how he hung on. He doesn’t remember being pulled out of the bay. By that time a fishermen said he was virtually dead. Luckily we’re talking about the tropics.
But Jose Mariano wouldn’t have reacted the way he did if it weren’t for his childhood experiences. From an early age he viewed the world through that window.
Throughout Central Luzon there was a rebellion that started right after the war. In barrio after barrio (whenever repression let up enough for them to feel sufficiently free) peasants joined the HUKS … ”to fight for justice and the rights of the masses.” Jose experienced indignation first hand and saw how Americans foiled the movement (something we tried to replicate in Vietnam). But before we did the HUK movement flourished and definitely dominated politics. There came a point when the HUKs couldn’t be ignored. And in the halls of the Philippine White House, while President Roxas talked about land reform, he worried about the HUKS overthrowing the government.
Jose Mariano always smiled when he thought about his father. He smiled and, with gravity when he thought about his father being charged with bigamy. (Jose’s mother was his father’s second wife.) The Philippine Constabulary likewise harassed him because of his political connections with communists. Consequently, Jose frequently heard his father lash out at the government and often heard him say “Kung walang corrupt walang mahirap”.
“This meant,” Jose explained, “my father thought it was high time that untouchables went to jail.”
Don’t you see the irony of this, since his father never served time for bigamy?
“So this was why you became a Maoist?”
“Yes and no.”
“Because your father was charged with bigamy?”
“No. It was because of his connections, and he wanted me to go to the university.”
Jose was proud when he recalled how his father was arrested several times, at one time arrested twice in one week and detained for almost a year (which contrasted with Jose’s own detention, short in comparison, and Jose’s subsequent murder). Jose remembered how his father always talked about his cellmates and the intolerable delays in the justice system. The Philippine justice system always took its time, or it seemed … it seemed when deciding someone’s fate. (I’ve rejected the hypothesis that Jose’s father was a communist, even though he obviously had direct ties to them. The top commander of the guerrillas, Benjamin Cunanan, sometimes stayed in their home, and Jose listened to many conversations about the miseries of poor Filipinos.)
One day in the 50s Jose saw President Magsaysay himself. He said, as a boy he was impressed with Magsaysay. By then the HUKS had expanded their areas of control to include all of Central Luzon and large parts of Southern Luzon. How he (Magasaysay) managed to travel in Luzon outside of Manila at all shows how popular he was or how his policies were working. Jose said he mourned with the rest of the country when Magasaysay died in a plane crash in March of 1957. It was a sad day. It was a sad day for all Filipinos. It was a sad day for all Filipinos including the entire Mariano household. A Chinese soothsayer, when once visiting with Magasaysay, predicted that the president’s death would be as dramatic as his rise to power. “Meteoric!” Jose read all he could about Magasaysay and eventually realized that his death was as much a lost for the US as it was for the Philippines … which made him ask “whose side was Magasaysay really on.”
Jose studied history and read every book he could put his hands on. Clark Air Base was located not far where he grew up. The base was not far from where he and his family lived. Planes flew over their farm. American planes flew over their farm, and one of Jose’s brothers worked on the base. At one point Jose dreamed of learning to fly. It seemed then that he’d completely lost his compass. He smiled when he talked to me about it.
Jose said, “My father insisted that I get an education. He insisted that I attend UP (the University of the Philippines). He however never intended for me to become an armchair revolutionary.”
“Then your father didn’t want you to become a Maoist?”
“Precisely because of what he had seen.”
While Jose Mariano may have been a RED BOOK-carrying revolutionary, his bookcase contained works by Brecht, Mann, Plekhanov, and Gorki, all of which he read. Because of this I knew that I ‘d like him. It was also easy to see why he was arrested.
The extreme side of him not only assured the he would be against Marcos and for the closing of American military bases (for him principally Clark Air Base) but that he’d also became outspoken. He knew Jose Maria Sison. Jose Mariano considered joining Jose Maria Sison in the field. He would’ve except it wasn’t Jose. Jose wasn’t a firebrand. Jose may have been a radical, but he wasn’t a firebrand. And he almost joined the Communist Party. But joining anything hardly interested him then. He wanted to travel. He wanted to go to Hawaii. In 1966 he got his chance.
Jose died in Camp Crame for a cause he believed in. The Philippine Constabulary took Jose Mariano into custody. He was arrested without a warrant and suffered tortured from the hands of his captors. He was a defiant hero and disappeared in the middle of the night. Someone had raided his home. Souvenirs he brought home from Hawaii turned up missing.
His murder occurred on the ides of June. It was, as depicted, unnecessary. Jose had become an armchair revolutionary and as such wasn’t going to build a bomb or kill anyone. One can only imagine what he endured for an interminable month, as they tried to squeeze information out of him. The torture was unsuccessful. He didn’t have information they wanted. He died in his cell from an unspecified cause though his injuries revealed that he’d been repeatedly tortured. Somehow the public learned of it. I, nevertheless, didn’t learn of it until many years later. Who the enemy was seemed cleared to me then. I missed my friend. Understand that Pontius Pilate, in his palace, perceived a threat: a portent at the university, others in Central Luzon and far to the south, suggested riot. His retainers, in buri hats, umbrellas and scarves, taking care to give their better side to the camera, were made up of relatives. Harlequins were everywhere. But where were traitors? In Pilate’s play book almost anyone could’ve been a traitor. And while names and lists were compiled, without a doubt Jose ended up on one. (I foresaw that he would.) One would’ve thought that he would’ve been clearly warned … although he was not in the forefront, not much of an activist, but instead he was rather bookish. That brings up the question why he had to die.
All right, but didn’t they also beat up girls?
Jose avoided his torturers’ eyes. He looked up at a bare ceiling or down at a wet floor. By then Jose was very weak. Torture had taken everything out of him. He could hardly stand and felt sad too, weak and sad. It was already a month since he was taken from his apartment in Ermita to Camp Crame. He had never been inside Camp Crame before then, though Camp Crame wasn’t far from the University of the Philippines.
Jose attempted a hunger strike. Failing, he considered there was problem with his heroism. “In detention there weren’t many options,” former detainees said, “I know some prisoners have survived solitary confinement without going mad. Some prisoners have survived solitary confinement for years, but many prisoners simply can’t take it.” When I think of Jose, it’s clear to me that, even without torture, detention would’ve taken a toll on him. And a hunger strike seems in character, and before another incarnation he might’ve joined the communist party and Jose Maria Sison in his fight against repression and fascism, but I can’t picture him ever considering himself a hero. They left marks on his body, which were identified as burns from electrocution.
“The next time I kill you,” Pilate said, “I won’t leave any marks.”
Each time they killed one of the activists, they moved a step forward. Then, very patiently, they waited. They hoped their actions would be affective.
“Pnoy’s action of going after all corrupt government officials is in line with his saying that he wanted to prosecute corrupt government officials so that they will no longer be emulated by coming generations of public servants. It is high time untouchables were sent to jail so that Pnoy’s government can truly address the root cause of Philippine poverty, which is corruption.’ And we can’t fight graft and corruption by simply delivering wang-wang speeches!”
ORAPRONOBIS Directed by Lino Brocka Screenplay by Jose F. Lacaba
On the night of April 16, 1985, in the obscure town of Dolores, Father Anthony Hill, of St. Joachin Parish (originally from Post, Texas), dreamed a dream that bothered him. Father Hill had just given last rites to an alleged rebel, and in his dream he exchanged places with the deceased man …he was shot in the chest. The deceased man was shot in the chest. And no one knew what the stakes were or why he was shot. Stakes for the country, however, were enormous. With an attempted assassination of the Pope and the EDSA revolt, they were enormous, and Father Anthony (in his dream) was cut down in his prime. The priest liked to dig in his garden and the assassin knew it, which provided him the opportunity he needed. The dreamer also rode horses and punched cattle as a boy, and was unable to do the same thing in the Philippines, and wasn’t sure whether he was in Texas or the Philippines in his dream. It was the clangor of rain that woke him up and not his dream. The Orapronobis, a local cult, had executed the rebel, and what Father Hill didn’t know was that they were after him too. It was dawn, and the cult leader, Kumander Kontra (Roco) was entering Dolores, looking for the priest.
On that morning authorities received word that Major Kontra was in town; on that same morning Father Hill was shot in the head. Father Hill was working in his garden, a small plot in the courtyard behind the church. Remember the name Major Kontra. Major Kontra was the leader of the Orapronobis, murderers of a rebel who was thought to have been a Satanist and a communist. In 1974 this rebel had been all for Marcos. His zeal then put him in the center of those who placed their faith in Maros’ New Society and at odds with the very people he would later be accused of joining. There was not a person who knew for sure what Major Kontra stood for, or why he was considered important enough to be placed on a hit list. The hit was professionally done but was somehow blotched. Father Hill gave him his last rites. This blunder (which sealed the priest’s fate) embarrassed authorities and caused them to put more pressure on the Orapronobis.
Father Hill’s first reaction was sadness. He was sad and hated tyranny in any form, especially vigilantism, vigilantism that had sanctioned the Orapronobis. In vain he tried to convince himself that communists represented the real threat. In vain he tried to justify vigilantism and that communists were the real threat and not those who were killing them. He never stopped thinking about how his own country attempted to contain communism or stop thinking of senseless killing elsewhere in Southeast Asia. He rightly anticipated that he’d somehow get caught up in it.
Before his own murder, he died hundreds of times and in hundreds of ways: by bombs, machine guns, and machetes, by lone assailants and gangs, from a distance and at close range. He faced these imaginary scenarios as bravely as he could but each time a little less so. When he heard about Major Kontra and how he led the Orapronobis, Father Hill somehow knew who would kill him. Then he told himself that reality doesn’t often coincide with what actually happens and logically concluded that he needed to do everything possible to protect himself. Still he knew that it wouldn’t be enough.
Relying on faith, Father asked to die of natural causes and thus avoid a gruesome end. Finally, he tossed the whole notion that he had become a target. Still he couldn’t sleep at night. He couldn’t sleep, and he tried to find some way to ease his mind. He knew that he didn’t have much time. He reasoned aloud, “Regardless how long I have, I am not ready to die. I am vulnerable and mortal.” And nights that he couldn’t sleep seemed interminably long. There were moments when he longed for a rifle shot that would set him free, but for better or worse, he wasn’t prepared for it. When he woke on the morning Major Kontra came looking for him, he followed his usual routine. He practiced penance and prayed, after which he dug in his garden.
Father Hill was well into his sixties. Aside from a few friendships and his obligations (which never seemed like a chore to him), he had few interests outside of his gardening. Like all priests, he measured his success by the size of his flock, while asking his flock to measure him by his service. All the years he spent in the Philippines now to him seemed worth it. They seemed worth it for complex reasons that he never explained. He never explained why he became a priest either. His reasons for becoming a priest, for serving in the Philippines and sacrificing so much were obscured by his alleged involvement in revolution. Father Hill never intended to get involved. He never intended to and the reasons he had were also complex. It was also perplexing. After the Second Vatican Council Father Hill became interested in liberation theology and began reading theologians such as Gustavo Gutiérrez, Leonardo Boff, Juan Luis Segundo, and Hugo Assmann, and that was just as the Catholic church aspired to become “the church of the poor.” Unfortunately the practice of liberation theology in the Philippines was risky. It was risky, and unfortunately Father Hill got labeled a communist. But Father Hill wasn’t a communist. He made a habit of emphasizing that he wasn’t and that there was an absolute clash between the Catholic Church and Marxist dogma, which meant that he couldn’t have been a communist. Father Hill also believed that there were no absolutes when it came to facts. To the priest’s chagrin facts were clear: like thunder and storm, heat and cold everyone understood them. From the pulpit, Father Hill made the mistake of calling for justice, peace, equity, land reform, and citizen participation. But in spite of an unequivocal and inspired stance, he thought because he was an American he’d be given a pass. Father Hill felt that liberation theology was essential after Marcos declared martial law because it gave poor people a voice, something the president was advocating anyway.
The execution was as dramatic as the director could make it. The scene was set in Doloras, a rugged mountain town, with unpaved streets. In the background, one hears the Internationale, and as a backdrop we have the church. It is the first scene of the movie, Lino’s Brocka s movie, and we have men carrying rifles in search of enemies and thinking every man they meet is a rebel that should be quickly eliminated. (Church bells were pealing six times and suns rays glorified windows inside the church, since they were stained glass.) The Orapronobis are following orders. Major Kontra hasn’t met Father Hill. Yet he thinks Father Hill is a communist, but he has an uncomfortable feeling because he hasn’t killed a priest before.
They barge in on him, but it’s apparent- though the priest doesn’t recognize them, he has the uncomfortable feeling that he has seen them before. Major Kontra has just burned his scooter and succeeds with his men in getting inside the garden where the assassination occurs. Remember the revolution is over. The revolution is over, but the fight has just begun. Here’s where the movie credits begin to roll. And soon a certain Jimmy Cordero emerges. Cordero is a former priest and a former rebel who was imprisoned by Marcos. Upon his release and after the People Power Revolution he marries a human rights activist. With the new president in power, Jimmy Cordero intends to settle down and becomes complacent. Meanwhile lines have become blurred, and violence increases. The Orapronobis (still led by Major Kontra) continues its butchery, except now their status has changed and they have become defenders of democracy. In spite of this Cordero remains unmoved until he’s touched directly by violence.
When he revisits the remote village where he used to fight, Cordero sees that things haven’t changed. This is when he finally realizes that quiet resistance and diplomacy won’t work within a system that is corrupt to the core. The picture becomes clear. It becomes clear that ordinary citizens are not safe. They are being shot and harassed. Ambushes are frequently, and finally Jimmy Cordero and an ex-sweetheart become victims. Towards the end of the movie, after it has discredited the myth the People Power Revolution has embraced, vigilantes kill his son, and there’s a dramatic scene of him carrying the body as he marches with it to the church. Nobody can not be moved, or miss the (symbolic) significance. When Jimmy goes home after this he sees his sleeping wife and newly born baby, and finally retrieves a former comrade’s gun and telephone number.
Cordero had never asked himself whether Corazon Aquino was strong enough to control the cultic vigilantes that she used. Cordero didn’t worry when she said she wasn’t a politician. He didn’t react until he was directly affected. Cordero felt that violence that I have mentioned was not as significant as it was and that the restoration of democracy was more important. He believed Aquino when she declared, “We’re finally free. The long agony is over.” Cordero had finished the first act of his life as a priest and a rebel. The sacrifices involved made it possible for him to feel like he had paid his dues, changing him in ways that he hadn’t expected. He thought with most of his life ahead of him that he wanted to become a family man. Cordero found a wife who was an activist and thought: “If in some fashion I can be useful and am able to make my voice heard, I’ll have more influence than I had before. I’ll go on the radio and television, which will justify why I don’t join my comrades. Grant me these days of happiness with my wife.” This was before he returned to the remote village where he used to fight.
Before he returned to this remote village he didn’t think about his old sweetheart and the possibility that he had a son back there. His wife even asked him, “Why do you want to go back?” Cordero answered: “I’m looking for something I’ve lost.” His wife said to him: “Go if you must go, but remember you’re no longer a priest. People will recognize you and react accordingly.” He looked at himself in a mirror, and Cordero saw a matured man. He shook his head and said, “The priest they knew was not a very good one.” And he saw the rebel he became as if he were in the distance. Suddenly sure of himself, he hugged his wife and, in a God-like voice, tried to reassure her. “I’ll be back before our baby is born.” At this point she couldn’t stop him.
Cordero saw that God was not impassive. Rather his God was dynamically involved in lives of the oppressed and exploited. Once he reached the village he knew that he would be reminded again of Jesus’ example of struggling for the poor and the outcast.
From afar, Cordero envisaged a village filled with people who were at last free of tyranny. The reality was the opposite, the opposite of what he had hoped for. This was because the Orapronobis were on a killing spree. Several soldiers…all in uniform…were stopping everyone at a checkpoint before they entered the village. They went through the bus that Cordero was on. They looked over everyone’s papers. The bus had to wait until everyone was cleared. Cordero, more insignificant than he once was, never knew who they were looking for. He tried to avoid looking directly at the soldiers. To seem unconcerned, he stared off into space. Cordero didn’t say anything. He relinquished his papers as calmly as he could and somehow kept his hands from shaking. He didn’t know what was going on, or why it mattered, but wouldn’t have been surprised if someone had told him that they were looking for communists. Vainly he tried to convince himself that all of this was necessary when they had the Orapronobis working for them.
The work of the director came to a halt. More moviegoers would’ve known the ending of the ORAPRONOBIS had it not been banned. At the time there were vigilantes roaming the countryside and incidents of violence resulted in deaths. Cordero, therefore, could’ve easily lost his life. Like the movie star Jess Lapid, who was fast with his fist, Jimmy Cordero could’ve also died by a gun, but unlike Lapid, let’s make him immortal like Jose Rizal.
The Remingtons formed a firing squad and stood at attention. The poet, standing facing the bay, waited. Somebody pointed out that it was a clear day, and that he could probably see as far as Susong Dalaga, where the mountain formed a silhouette of a naked woman. Somebody also had the forethought to take a photograph of the execution. Rizal refused the customary blindfold and wanted to face the firing squad. Denying the request, the captain raised his saber in the air and yelled in rapid succession, “Preparen! Apunten! Fuego!” While the poet shouted the last two words of the crucified Christ: “Consummatum est!”
Guns were also pointed at Jimmy Cordero, but he wouldn’t die during a quarrel over a girl. He wouldn’t be shot without any ado or provocation. After Lapid was shot the bit player’s barang tagalong was torn, and he was all bloody in the front. Lapid was then rushed to a hospital but was dead on arrival. Lapid was shot at Lanai nightclub, while celebrating the birthday of actress-singer Vilma Valera, and somehow an actor and future president was implicated. There were rumors circulating that Joseph Estrada had been involved in a quarrel with Lapid over the girl, but police cleared Estrada. Shot in a nightclub in Quezon City, during a quarrel over a girl! Hardly heroic! While in the Rizal’s case, he shouted the last two words of the crucified Christ. Jimmy Cordero could well have equaled this. And Lino Brocka’s hero did attempt to cry out when he was shot. When he realized that he was still alive, he tried to move his mouth and not a sound came out. He thought: “The Orapronobis can’t kill me now. I am dead.” He thought: “I’ve passed over.” He thought: “I’m immortal.” Then he reasoned that if that were true, he would’ve stopped breathing. He wanted to test this and dared them to shoot him again.
Lino Brocka’s sequel that he never made. Jimmy Cordero imagined that majority of Filipino people shared his anger and found courage to stand up to dictatorship and violence. He longed for that day. It astonished Cordero that he was still alive and that he was not even bleeding. After a while he woke up. He hadn’t realized that he had fallen asleep. Now the world seemed to be floating by him. A tear still clung to his cheek. He wasn’t in a hospital and was glad that he had made it known that he wouldn’t run away from a fight.
Cordero asked for more time to finish his work. It seems like he was granted that. He was shot and hadn’t felt pain. The Orapronobis were still out to kill him, but in his mind he was invincible. To develop his physique, he learned how to box and wrestle, and twirl a pistol.
Cordero had no credentials except what he lived through. Training he acquired came directly from months he spent in prison and was tempered by years he served as a priest. He wasn’t totally out to get revenge, or even looking for justice, though he hated rampant violence that resulted in so many deaths. Secretly, he cherished his silver bullet. Lino Brocka would’ve turned him into a superhero. I would’ve eliminated some of his bluster and wouldn’t have given Joseph Estrada the part. Nothing would spook my character. As he had bravely stood against Marcos, he would oppose vigilantism. In certain instances, my hero might use a gun. (It wouldn’t be in self-defense because he had a silver bullet.) I have developed a deep affection for Jimmy Cordero, as I’ve envisioned his transformation and modified his character, much in the same way as I’m drawn to the Lone Ranger. Jimmy Cordero would eventually discover the wearying repetition of violence, which hasn’t stopped and considers it a weakness that he hasn’t been able to stop. The day they buried Jess Lapid “was like a holiday in Guagua.” He had all the top actors as pallbearers: Ronnie Poe, Joseph Estrada, Tony Ferrer, Romano Castelivi, and Lou What’sHisName. I’m not sure Lino Brocka attended. Jess Lapid was no matinee idol until he died. Hit in the arm, Lapid had time to stand up and draw his own gun. Another gunman, however, stopped him with two bullets in the back. Lapid twisted for a shot at the other gunman but the one in front of him shot him again in the stomach. Lapid was buried with his boots on, and it was hard to determine who went to the funeral to mourn.
All across Asia and as far south as Bali, during the Vietnam war, but during a period when it was still relatively safe for women to travel alone, I was driven by a singular passion. Michener, when he met me, recognized me as a writer but also called me, perhaps, a beginner. My name would extend the list of traveling authors, along with Isabella Bird and Lady Calderon de La Barca, who all happen to be women. I embellished when I could. I embellished and survived so I could continue to write but in time, my work perished because I never achieved greatness. Instead God granted me an opportunity to travel. While abroad, I worked on a play set in the Philippines, and it might’ve interested Lino Brocka, the Philippines’ greatest movie director. The first draft I sent to agents.
Before proceeding, it is necessary to explain that I was a hippie, a literary hippie. In the library at Barnard College one would find my thesis. This thesis, though well written, would be considered a frivolous exercise had I not earned a degree from it. For me, it was never worth it. It was never worth the time I put into it. To me it was a waste of time. A misfit, I never sought to be the best-dressed woman on campus, or the most refined, and never wanted to be there. I didn’t want to go to Barnard. I had no desire to be a perfect girl, and it would’ve “wrecked” my life had it not given me access to New York City. Even then I had an undeniable infatuation for adventure. What I did after I graduated, and my renunciation of Barnard’s cloistered life, was proof of it. I didn’t fit in at Barnard. I never didn’t fit in. Who could blame me for not wanting to be something that I wasn’t?
INTEVIEW WITH JAMES MICHENER appeared in the MIRROR, when Elizabeth was in the Philippines, and the article described how Michener was a successful author, an honored teacher, a sometime politician, and an unrepentant traveler. Michener told me about his latest book. “IBERIA delves into the history of Spain.” Preceded by such works as TALES OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC and HAWAII, Michener said he “happily” spent 7 years researching his new book and 2 ½ years writing it and thus emphasized that writing for him was hard work. I admired this soft-spoken man. I mostly admired him for his honesty.
Let me tell how we met over two glasses of fruit punch in the new Aruba-Sheraton Hotel. I observed (as did Michener) that he hadn’t written anything that was definitive, though his aim, according to him, was perfection. This, nevertheless, didn’t mean that he didn’t have a great deal to say. He said he didn’t have to be perfect and to suppose that he was ever inaccurate would’ve been untrue. No less an inaccuracy would be the charge that he ever wrote about a place that he hadn’t been to and didn’t know inside out. Ergo, as a world traveler, he was an inspiration to me. It was then preordained that we got along. I told people: “Having achieved fame as a writer Michener still remains enthusiastic and says that he always likes to be around young writers. He explains, ‘particularly beginners. American writers don’t see enough of each other. They also don’t see enough of the world.’” James Michener went on to explain that he was disturbed that American writers weren’t more like English and French writers. Michener thought American writers should hold a greater position in our society and have more influence than they do. Take the influence of French writers. Take the influence of French writers during the Algerian crisis: Michener said he couldn’t imagine it being that way in America. Ironically, he held himself up as an exception for he wrote a history of the Strategic Air Command. This history was subsequently used by the American government for the purpose of advising other nations of the great power of America’s Air Shield. Hence we may survive the Cold War, the arms race, and the threat of mass destruction. Thus James Michener became a mentor and a model for me.
My travels would take me to Moscow, Tokyo, Hong Kong after Manila. My mother accused me of being unaware of what it was doing to my family, or forgetting that I was a graduate of Barnard. My mother actually knew very little about what went on at Barnard.
My disgust for the little things women were suppose to do came out in various ways. This was partially the reason I took off the way I did. I traveled on a shoestring. I lived on a shoestring. I never spent a lot of money and whenever I could set out without an itinerary. I also admitted that she didn’t have any plans other than write a great play. That was how she refuted those who tried to discourage me. Those who tried to discourage me said something terrible would happen to me. I told people that I didn’t need a man … didn’t need a man to protect me and tried to reassure my parents. But I wasn’t stupid. Sometimes I used men. I always wore an amethyst crystal pendant around my neck and knew to trust my gut. Then to attribute her passion for travel to simply wanderlust (as some have done) would’ve been a huge mistake. Like I’ve said I had a play in mind to write.
I never said what I wanted to do. I never told people I had a play in mind. I avoided hysterics, hated pretension, and took copious notes. A journalist, a journalist at heart, in search of truth, I vilified hypocrisy. I could spot it a mile away. I could spot hypocrisy a mile away. I renounced all trappings of my upbringing, makeup and fancy clothes, just as others less fortunate than I was over did it. With great lucidity, I usually told it like it was. My honesty was brutal.
Maybe indeed it was simply a stage in my life. Yes, and maybe I was having the time of her life. And in my behavior and dress; in my attitude and views, a certain freedom was enviable. I took time to listen to people. I chose to dress a certain way, but to judge me by what I wore would’ve been a mistake: a wanderer I didn’t betray her principles. Yes, I always acted with humility and tried to always see good in other people. Yes, I listened. (In some ways I was too perfect.) Yet I wasn’t a goody two shoes either. Above all I sought freedom, because I couldn’t see myself placed in a box. Finally I thought that life without peril was boring.
Thousands of Americans, even tens of thousands, had by then rejected all the crap that they didn’t really want anyway such as refrigerators, TV sets, and cars and thought that the system of work, production, consumption, work, production, consumption was a perversion. By 1968 I had simplified my life. I simplified her life to the extent that I could carry everything I owned in a rucksack. By then I had learned how to make the most out of the worst-God-awful situation and I had spent almost two years on the road.
I was in “a zone” and “being in a zone” meant she wrote over a hundred pages in a week on a borrowed typewriter. Had it been produced it would’ve been an epic. (She didn’t realize epics were rarely produced.) The general argument for producing it wouldn’t have been complex, though she had trouble coming up with an ending. I freed myself. She freed myself so that I could hold up in a cheap hotel instead of seeing the splendor of an ultimate destination. I stayed in my hotel room and wrote.
MANILA, OPEN CITY was scripted and directed by Eddie Romero. Set during Occupation, the film depicts what happens to Filipinos who collaborated with the Japanese. It was shot in glorious Cinemascope.
Eddie Romero, in a movie unknown to me, showed that for Oscal Roncal (Judas) shifting his allegiance to win favor with the Americans didn’t keep him from being punished for collaborating with the Japanese. The older Filipino moviegoer would remember how lines were often blurred. They would remember how allegiances shifted during the war and would relate to Romero’s character. In search for an ending for my play, I thought of the tumultuous days when Manila was an open city and asked myself if the atrocities on both sides could be forgiven. In Romero’s movie an American was bewildered by the murder of Oscal (or Judas) by Philippine guerillas. In a subplot, a Japanese officer was shot and killed by an American soldier as he tried to rescue a nun and her wards who are trapped in a convent. I could then see that the betrayal by Judas has been repeated over and over again and asked if he weren’t forgiven where would we all be. So Judas continues to be on the take and because of it people continue to be shot and killed, and I wondered if he was any less guilty than those who placed the noose around his neck.
After I got to Manila, I found inspiration from the Lenten passion play known as the senakulo and from watching Filipino melodramas in which Judas was the inspiration of villains … villains who start out as a friend of the hero but who eventually betray him.
Every year in the vicinity Makati’s financial district the senakulo is presented to the public. It’s a marvel that people can sit through all of it, since it starts with the creation on the eve of Palm Sunday and goes for a whole week until midnight of Easter Sunday with Christ’s resurrection. I just happened to go the night of the passion and saw how the actor playing Judas spellbound the audience (amid catcalls and shouts of joy). Though I couldn’t understand a word of the dialogue, I saw Judas’ betrayal as an almost miraculous transformation. Remembered Judas was Jesus’ friend. Remember God ordained his betrayal. God was in charge and a divine malediction converged upon Judas. He didn’t have a choice. Judas didn’t have a choice.
Jesus also realized the significance of the kiss and understood that the hour had arrived. Before then Jesus knew Judas would betray him. Judas’ kiss, therefore, may have been a deceitful and treacherous act disguised as an act of friendship, but for the audience it was a defining moment. As I saw it, one whose glory fills the earth uses a friend to reach Calvary, and that was when something clicked, and I had the ending of my play.
Aguinaldo, whose centennial was that year, Aguinaldo Bonifacio, whether he was shot or stabbed or hacked to death, and Mabini, whether he was “the brains of the Philippine revolution” or “the Dark Chamber of the President” … then too weren’t they all betrayed? But wouldn’t most Americans, (history that Filipinos would never forget) consider this blasphemy? Failure! Defeat! Poverty! Nostalgia! Haven’t most American forgotten … forgotten the American/Philippine war. So they hated each other! Would this not also be blasphemy too? Groups of embittered envious old men dying without ever achieving their dream of independence. What punishment then did they deserve for seeking what the Americans had for themselves?
LARAWAN Directed by Cicile Guidote Translation of Nick Joaquin’s PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS FILIPINO
Those who saw LARAWAN at Rajah Solayman Theater in Fort Santiago saw a Tagalog version of Nick Joaquin’s PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS FILIPINO and saw Rita Gomez and Lolita Rodriques play the Marasigan sisters, but they ignored, or didn’t know the original play was written in English. English was a barrier then; though English was the medium of instruction in schools. English and not Filipino united the islands. I had already seen the senakulo and had been in Manila long enough to pick up a little Tagalog. I hadn’t learned much. I didn’t have a knack for learning languages. If I’m not wrong, the same was true of many other Americans living in the Philippines. Wasn’t English (along with Filipino) the official language, which everyone knew was not the language most Filipinos themselves spoke? As I watched the play LARAWAN without understanding most of the dialogue, I didn’t realize that to get to my seat I walked through ruins of the fort where Jose Rizal spent the last night before his execution.
Nick Joaquin, in THE PORTRAIT, had a character say, “Oh, I can almost see them.”
In dusty bookstores and run-down tenements “they would gather … those bitter old men…to curse the present… And, of course, with adoration, they talked about their General.”
By then (1940) their General (General Eon Emillio Aguinaldo) had long been ignored and was also a bitter old man. Aside from them also being embittered and old these men and their General had little in common. The old men were all veterans. These veterans had been members of the Katipunan and some had even fought along side Bonifacio during his failed uprising in Manila. And they came from all walks of life.
They had been doctors, engineers, laborers and plumbers. Most of them had gone to normal schools, where they had to learn English. They had to learn English. It was required. And most of them practiced their professions and trades with success. The old men constituted a certain physical type and spoke, or used to speak, with authority. The old men were not to be confused with men like the General who had been bypassed by the times and the proof lay in that they had been successful. They however were old and patriotic and also striking in their uniforms, insignias, and epaulettes. Red pants were for Aguinaldo’s guard, blue pants for dreaded Tiradores dela Muerte or Shooters of Death, composed of excellent Filipino snipers. White, on the other hand, was for officers for special occasions. Then we have Eon Emillio, who had been formally installed as the President of the Republic in 1899, but Eon Emillio became, during the time in the play, essentially pathetic.
Aguinaldo was rejected at the polls when he ran for President of the Commonwealth. He ran and lost, and thus all his accomplishments as a revolutionary were not sufficient to correct a common error. Inevitably, Aguinaldo became a symbol and an anachronism, an anachronism for all those who retreated into the past. And people more or less forgot him except for a few old men who still wore their old uniforms on special occasions. They were sensitive men. They were proud men. And they now came in frequent contact with each other in dusty bookstores and run-down tenements, and the affinity they had with their General showed, if nothing else and more than nostalgia, a need for heroes.
Fast forward now to January, 1968 and the beginning of a year-long centenary celebration of Aguinaldo, and sitting in the theater at Fort Santiago I had to concur, “Oh, I could almost see them … those pitiful old men.” Having walked through the ruins of the fort where Jose Rizal spent his last night before he was executed, I watched the play unfolding against the walls of the fortress, actually a setting out of the past, and as advertised, “for the Filipino, the theater within the fort recreates a setting of his past, a site comparable only to the Greek theater of Dionysus..”
I said too, “Oh, I can almost see them.” This was true, but since there was no record of what they actually said to each other (the old men in dusty bookstores and run-down tenements) no record that I know of, it was also true that there was no way to challenge the playwright’s accuracy.
Within the old walls and down under ground they were held in cells. They were held in cells considerably below water in the river, the Pasig River. It offered little hope. They lost all hope, and it often ended with them drowning. By and large without a record of who they were, without trials or public executions, locked away and out of sight, from diverse walks of life, one thing alone … ruins of a fort … stand as a reminder … a reminder of them until the end of time. Now it has been turned into a park, complete with clipped grass, mercury vapor lamps, benches, a fountain and recorded music. It was turned into a public park while names of men, women, and children who died there have been forgotten. There are only obscure reminders of their fate. There are few accounts of deprivation and torture. Obscurity was important. We have been scarcely given a glimpse. Today what happened to them would be considered cruel and inhumane. It was cruel and inhumane then.
Then how did I come to collate accounts by prisoners? Then how did I find out what happened to prisoners in Fort Santiago? I have my sources. They are reliable sourcess I can testify that I didn’t make any of it up, and for me the task was more than an exercise. My play, as I have already indicated, lacked an ending, but I didn’t have to wait long for inspiration. Now that there was a theater in the fort and that initiation into that world was easy for me, I didn’t have to wait long.
This theater served as a stage for directors, composers, writers, and movie stars. Here one also came in direct contact with history. One could walk through dungeons. One could touch walls and sit on steps. So much history. Over three hundred years of history. The act in itself, as long as you watched your head, was pleasant and required little effort. In dungeons, thanks to a local columnist, the Drew Pearson of the Philippines, there were now electric lights, a concrete walkway, and no hint of stench. In place of mud, there was sand. There were no plaques there then celebrating lives of those who died, but certain steps, a small entrance made the ruins themselves, though sanitized, disquieting. The fort was a mausoleum, except bodies have been removed (removed long ago). So much of it had been ghastly and shadowy and people didn’t like to talk about it. There was no way to describe horrors that took place there, but people knew what was going on, and would inevitably allude to it, and thus a few people kept some kind of tally.
In the theater near the dungeons there were plays produced with movie stars whose normal subject was based on memory, or a collective memory of a nation. I’ve heard said, “produced where memory gathers moss.” I’m not sure this is true … Memory, written in books and called history. A kind of sacred pledge prevailed, and it was very simple: they vowed to tell the truth. And considerable credit was due to those who deliberately defied Marcos. Many of these brave souls paid a high price.
From the moment that I first walked through the rugged gates, the fort captured my imagination. I wasn’t just another tourist. Even though I could’ve been a tourist, I easily made friends with the people who worked there. Among them were other writers. Among them were actors. Actors and writers, but they could never bring themselves to admit that a foreigner could have insight to write about what she did. What was odd was that secrets of the fort were never lost. I found those secrets. In spite of the vicissitudes of Spanish, Americans, and Japanese conquerors, in spite of wars and destruction of the Pearl of the Orient, these ruins reached into the past, and people working in theater hadn’t hesitated to affirm it.
In Manila, in the latter half of January 1968 I bought from an antique dealer in Malate a box of original documents. Among them I found scribbling of Captain Manuel Estacio Venagas, Secretary to Governor General Diego Fajardo. Venegas died on March 7, 1660, a prisoner at Fort Santiago. I exchanged few words with the dealer. He never explained how he got his hands on the box. The dealer wasn’t very helpful and seemed very furtive about it. He could however express himself fluently in English, though he didn’t completely make sense. I almost immediately learned that Captain Manuel Venegas abused his rank. He abused his rank and deserved his fate. Captain Venegas’ residence was confiscated and became the Palace of Governors until an earthquake destroyed it on June 3, 1863. I found a marker that showed the exact location of the residence (not far from the fort on General Luna Street). Erected in 1936 by the Historical Research and Markers Committee, the marker survived the war.
The original was written in Spanish and I needed to get it translated. It was difficult to decipher.
“As far as I can recall, my dilemma began when I bought an old box from an antique dealer in Malate and realized what I had. I decided (after struggling) to keep it and tried to do something with it. It was obviously very old, and considering the historical value of the papers I knew that I should turn the box over to a museum. It would’ve been the magnanimous and the right thing to do. Remember Manuel Estacio De Venegas’s stately residence became the Palace of the Governors of the Philippine Islands. Venegas once ran the colony and through the use of bribery and coercion became a very rich and powerful man. Once I realized what I had (it took a while to get the papers translated) I vainly tried to convince myself that though I bought them the papers didn’t belong to me. The realization pained me but didn’t pain me enough to give up my treasure.
My labors began, as I related, in a cheap hotel. Between then and now, I’ve struggled. I’ve lost sleep over it and because something was wrong with my script. I spent time in Fort Santiago, went through dungeons several times, and became friends with the people working there. The fort made the same impression on me each time I went. Back then I only had a glimpse of what I wanted to do. I wasn’t sure. It would take a while. I sat on the steps and stood on the walls. A faint voice out of the past asked me in Spanish the name of the river that once flooded the dungeons. I answered that it was the Pasig, the black, polluted Pasig, fed by monsoons and tides. “Sadly,” he replied, “it was also a river of death. There were prisoners in the dungeons when they flooded after a heavy rain.” He told me that his homeland was a tiny island in the south and that he had come to the fort on a pilgrimage. He added that he’d come to “even the score.” He told me that he planned to cross the river and hold a vigil at Malacanang Palace, the presidential residence and a bastion of power. I don’t know what happened to him, but after that I was determined to explore the city and its river. I wanted to learn as much about the city and river as I could.
Interrogated by their executioner, some American and Filipino prisoners died horribly when their cells were flooded. Some others starved to death while some survived. One afternoon, in the fort, I talked with a survivor who said to extend one’s life under such conditions was to extend one’s agony and he died many times before he was freed. I don’t know if I believed him then. I don’t know if I believed him and went about my business. It would take a while to connect the dots. Meanwhile I tried to find out as much as I could about Manuel Estacio De Venegas. I also felt glad that Fort Santiago hadn’t been left in utter neglect and that someone had made an effort to clean it up.
Later events have caused me to feel differently, but why I should care is even more troubling. Citizens of Manila were infuriated over how Venegas exploited them but they wouldn’t do anything out of fear of what he would do to them. On mere suspicion they could be thrown inside the dungeons and die while waiting for a decision from Mexico or Madrid. It took months for communication to crisscross the vast oceans, and by then it was often too late. Communication took time then. It was always a long wait. There is no way for us to know what it was like, when a prisoner had to wait for what was more than likely his demise. So it was no surprise that citizens gave into Venegas. From afar he seemed formidable, just as the walled city with its thick walls and moat appeared formidable enough to repel any attack. Inside houses were stately, two-storied structures with many windows and balconies, and there was San Agustin Church that survives to this day. It was a pleasant place then. It is a pleasant place today. Manila then was a pleasant place, overseen by a corrupt official who gained power and wealth through bribery, coercion, and murder. A colony had been given to a monster by a man of God. That this a turbulent region, where nations fought each other out of greed, could have such a pearl within it may have seemed inconceivable to all of those who hadn’t been to the famous city, particularly Europeans. Europeans continued plundering riches of the orient that fueled the competition between England and Spain, and Portugal and Holland.
“A few foolhardy men set out on their own. They burned with ambition and were often savage. But we’re talking about the tropics where according to the British “only fools and dogs brave the noonday sun.” Then in their heavy armor they’d begin to drop like flies. Faced with either madness or death, they dropped like flies. For the benefit of my play, I didn’t hesitate to exaggerate. I stretched the truth here and there, but sedition among revolutionaries was real enough (Filipinos felt betrayed by Americans), and fighting went on to the grim end. I found myself taking sides. I actually lost my objectivity before I arrived in Manila and before I fell for a Filipino movie star. (As far as I was concerned, it was more than a schoolgirl crush.) I wandered for several months without finding my bearings, or one might say I became distracted. I should’ve known better. Submerging myself in history of a place I didn’t know very well became easier than writing about something that I really knew little about. Intolerably, I fixated on the old fort and the dungeons there, and nearby were ruins of a chapel where a national hero spent his last hours, and where a stage director used a real horse in a play. I could sit on the steps and stand on the walls, and I could almost see actual events.
Long before they brought me clean clothes, a towel, and soap and took me to running water, I found myself lying in mud with boils and open sores. I had lost track of time. I had no way of keeping track of time. After seventy-eight days of interrogation and starvation, I sat in one of the dark dungeons of Fort Santiago. It was cold for the tropics. I expected it to be damp because it was always damp down there. It never dried out, and I always had a cough. My chest throbbed. It made me want to die. Since I had no water … since they didn’t give me water, I could only make a feeble sound when I cried out, “Oh God, in heaven, if you’re still there, give me courage to die.” With me there were other Americans who had been taken from the Santa Tomas interment camp and most had survived brutality elsewhere only to end up in this hell. By summer of 1942 prisoners weighed an average of 70 to a 100 pounds (this was also the norm for prisoners who survived Bataan and the Long March and were held in Camp O’Donnel and then moved on to POW camp Cabanatuan #1.) I couldn’t see the arch, the bars, and the walls that confined me. A narrow passageway, analogous to a mine, connected cells and at the end of it there was the wall of the fort and an infamous grate that could be opened and shut depending on the caprice of an executioner. There was always the possibility of drowning, and in my case it would’ve been merciful. I didn’t think I would survive, but from this hole naked, sick, starving, beaded I eventually emerged. By then those who knew me didn’t recognize me, and I had been relegated to a footnote. I was surprised when I was given clean clothes, a towel, and soap.
My desperation made me reckless. I thought no one could hear me. I thought no one cared. I threw myself on the mercy of God, with my eyes closed, my voice weak, and my back broken. I let God have it before I buried my face in mud. I wanted to die, suffocate by choking in mud. Before losing consciousness again, I understandably cursed God.
I don’t know how many days and nights I was held down there. I lost track of time. I couldn’t see the sun or the moon to keep track of time. The Spanish completed the fort in 1561 and from then until the Americans captured it and turned it into a tourist attraction in 1898, it had been used in the same way that the Japanese used it in the summer of 1942. The Japanese, in their barbarism, didn’t care whether I lived or died. So I begged the Japs to kill me. One day I thought I’d gotten my wish when I stood before a Kempe Tai officer and he said, “Your execution for espionage against the Japanese government…” He then hesitated to clear his throat before he commuted my death sentence to life imprisonment with hard labor. Then he sent me to the dungeons.
My desire to see Christ was thus denied. As if they conspired to keep me alive, neither did the Japanese give me enough food to survive indefinitely. By then they became indifferent. By then they were losing the war and had become indifferent to suffering. They became indifferent to suffering because they saw too much of it. The Japs obviously wanted me to die a slow death. I wasn’t given any options and was returned to a dungeon just as many people in Manila watched the sun set. I prayed for once, now not as a supplication for divine favor but more as a sedative. I had crossed a divide and didn’t care anymore. Like so many people then, I didn’t care anymore. Now there were many more men in my predicament, so they had to put more of them in my cell, many more, so many that there was hardly room to breathe. They were (like others of their nationality) short (thank goodness). They didn’t threaten me but rather did what they could to help me. I found a corner, which was a blessing. . Confused by kindness that I had thought was impossible in the setting, I sat with my back resting on a wall. I could sleep stranding up, though I preferred sleeping sitting down. By then the novelty of the horror had worn off. I don’t remember waking up. I was glad for company. I closed my eyes and waited with nothing else to do but wait.
I have said that the fort was built on a riverbank. I thought about how nice it would be to go for a boat ride on the river. In vain I tried to tire myself out by rowing. Lack of light hadn’t kept me from working my brain. My confinement forced me to seek refuge in it (my brain). I thought of my girl, about my girl who I hadn’t seen since before the war and thinking of her became a pleasant exercise. I went home; skipping the long march into oblivion that had brought me to Fort Santiago. I reached her doorstep where she greeted me with a kiss. I am only twelve steps away from light (I’ve counted them), and twelve steps to oblivion. I didn’t know how many men who were incarcerated there, or where they’d been or where they were going. All I knew was that I wanted to go home. Blackness was hostile until I closed my eyes and saw her standing there. Then when I opened my eyes I unfortunately returned to this dreadful world, so I tried to keep my eyes closed. Horribly I’d become habituated to this dreadful world. I found it incredibly hard to imagine that there could be anything left for me outside this dungeon. I didn’t know how long I’d have stay beneath the ground. I know that I often confused, out of nostalgia, mud there with sand and cold with the sun and night with an afternoon with my girl.
Deep within the dungeons unseen grates opened and water rushed in. The tide was high then. I looked up and then down fearing my fate. I heard water coming. Was it really too late? Then in the depths of my confused mind I saw a faint ray of hope. If I could only climb up and find a pocket of air, maybe… I was weak, but I used the wall. I knew that some things were irreversible (such as death) or that even if the water stopped coming in the chances were slim that all of it would drain out. Thus the river and the Japs would win.
Manila was then in our hands (Americans) except for dungeons and tunnels where I was held. I didn’t know this. A few snipers were still stubbornly firing from the ruins of the fort. Without knowing any of this, I hoped I hadn’t been forgotten. By then I was held prisoner more by my own fear than anything else, and I was certain that I’d be killed either by Japs or by my liberators. Certain of death (though it was less certain than I thought) seemed in keeping with what I was sure the Japs wanted to do to me. (Later I learned that a few Japs that were left refused an offer to surrender made in their own language by a Japanese/American, but thankfully a few of them were taken prisoner anyway.) “This hell was a fabrication of the theirs,” I thought. I had explored the exterior and interior of it (this hell) and hadn’t found a way to escape. “Japs who created it were killed, and I lived.” I noted the irony and said, “Japs who created it were mad men.” I said it and meant it after I found out that more than 3,000 men, women, and children were burned to death after they were enticed into the fort with an offer of protection. It was impossible to justify this horror while I knew the fear that they must’ve felt. I could go on. Others could fill in the blanks and verify the interminable, the atrocious, and the senselessness. At first cautiously, later indifferently, and finally desperately, I crawled toward the grate hoping that I could open it. To the grate! To freedom or death! My dungeon was a structure that also served as a bomb shelter; its was solidly built of earth and stone and as solid as a vault. In the dungeon I crawled, knowing about the tide and the grate. It was dark and dank, as I felt my way to the end of the corridor and passed other cells or pits, incredibly open like mine was. I became a blinded centipede while large numbers were being murdered in other parts of the city. Other prisoners, who had clung to life for so long, died without making the effort I did. I wanted to live. But I don’t know how much of it was real. I know that for many years it got mixed up in my mind, and I’m no longer able to separate truth from fiction or sleep through the night. It has kept me from being strong or happy. It was so horrible that it contaminated my future and jeopardized everything. I don’t want to talk about cries of tortured souls, of bleeding children and of women hanging naked from bars of cells, crimes committed by Lieut-Colonel Seichi Ohta.
I emerged after having tasted the ravages of war and more bitterly after having experienced the torture chamber known as Fort Santiago. I don’t remember stages I went through, or time I had to give up to regain my sanity. I only know that the affects never left me. Often I wake up with cold sweats, and I can think of nothing else. This nightmare, now so much a part of me, could’ve been avoided had I given up. My imprisonment in Fort Santiago was so horrible that I feel that I won’t be fazed by anything else in future. Let’s hope that’s true.
Those who saw devastation of Malate know how it rose from embers of war. When I walked along Dakota estero, which usually flooded after a heavy rain, I was reminded that the area used to be a swamp. Yes, it used to be a swamp. It’s hard to believe now that it was once a swamp. Of course, I rely on accounts of others and what I read to learn about how my neighborhood was rebuilt many times after earthquakes, fires, floods, and wars. Malate’s people as a whole have always been God-fearing … a trait that helped them remain hopeful and courageous and rebuild after each catastrophe. At first I thought it had something to do with a devout faith in their saint, Nuestra Senora de los Romedios of Our Lady of the Healing Powers; then I saw that there was more to it than that. You can never remove the human factor. It takes more than ceremony. It takes more than persistence. Attesting to this was how hard people worked. Or how much they sacrificed.
Take the pain mothers suffered for their sick children. How much pain they suffered when they walked on their knees from the front of Malate church to the altar while reciting the rosary. Suddenly, expecting a miracle, they felt better. They always felt better. This was a miracle in itself. And often their children got better. Regardless whether they experienced a miracle or not, so great was the relief which overwhelmed them (and so great was their worry) that I suppose they had every reason to believe that God cared. The swamp dried out. Sreets were laid out, later avenues and boulevards appeared, Herran to the north, Taft to the east, Vito Cruz to the south and Roxas to the west.
Conviction and devotion of penitents brought home to me that people had been worshipping at the Malate Catholic Church since1591. Manuel Estacio De Venagas and Governor General Diego Fajardo sat in those pews. And here we were in 1970 and people still asked help from the statue of the Virgen de los Remedios, which was brought from Spain by Fr. Juan de Guevara, OSA, in 1624. The statue survived the Chinese invasion of 1662, British occupation of the church in 1762, the Great Earthquake of 1863 and the destruction of the church in February 1945. Then let’s leap forward to1948. The war was over, and people were picking up pieces of their lives. I tried to imagine what it was like. I tried to imagine what it was like and why they were rebuilding the church and not the old walled city. It didn’t seem that long ago. Rebuilt as strong as ever the church had been the scene of many historical events, including occupation by British in September 1762. It had also been under the successive administrations of the Augustinians, the Secular clergy the Redemptories and the Columbans. I recalled praying in the church myself during a deadly storm, though I’m not a God-fearing person. I knew then that I was onto something. Until then I attributed other people’s devotion to God to superstition and fear, and I thought that I operated in a different universe than they did. I thought though we lived on the same planet, in the same country and even in the same neighborhood, we looked at the world differently. I felt sure that there wasn’t anything in the church for me. I felt that way while I watched with interest people pray to a very beautiful, small (two foot) statue of a virgin that people relied on when times got tough. I didn’t knock it, really. Still until I went to the church for safety she (the stature) hadn’t made much of an impression on me. I had only gone into the church one time before then and though I lived just around the corner from it going inside it again never crossed my mind until the storm. I was a newcomer, a foreigner, and an outsider. I was an outsider without really a memory of the place and was far away from home. Not from there, I also didn’t know the language (and since everyone spoke English I didn’t think I needed to learn it). What history of Manila and the Philippines I knew came from what I picked up on my excursions and from reading historical plaques.
“May lakan diyan,” they would say among themselves and from this remark the Rocha house with its magnificent baths and garden got its name. Over time Rocha was forced to sell the place for $1,100. For the next 22 years, Malacanang was neglected and forgotten until it was sold to the government on January 2, 1825 for $5, 100. Still it remained abandoned until a royal order on August 27, 1847 made it the official residence of the Governor General. General Aguinaldo, though he was installed as President of the Republic, never got to live there and by 1940 had long been ignored and was a bitter old man. The Marcos family moved into the palace in 1965 and still live there.
The bridge can easily be missed, but it will always be remembered. The bridge is on Mendiola Street, and I crossed it when I went to see the presidential palace. It was right in front of Malacanang, and I went to pay my respects to students who died there. I wasn’t the only one there. I had to stand on the bridge that separated the palace from the heart of downtown and where a battle between police and students and other demonstrators raged on through the night. It was bloody. I missed it because I was too timid to go and because I didn’t think it was my fight. If I had been Filipina I would’ve been there.
As I stood there in the rain, memory hadn’t quite faded. Beneath the gray clouds, traffic over the bridge had returned to normal, but memory of the battle hadn’t quite faded. It seemed like heavy traffic was in itself symbolic of blood that flowed through the veins of students. Traffic never stopped just as blood was sadly spilled. So regardless who was in power life-blood of the city continued to flow, like torrents of rain that ran through gutters and mixed with tears that ran down my face … tears that ran down my face. Mendiola, I cried, Mendiola!
Then with sadness and admiration, as if I was discovering something that I shared with those students, I stammered the name of the bridge again: “Mendiola, Mendiola.” Yet I never bothered to learn names of the young men who died there.
Nick Joaquin, in a famous play, has a character say, “Oh, I can almost see them.” In dusty bookstores and run-down tenements “they gathered … Aside from this sort of nostalgia they had very little in common. These men were literate and illiterate and were of gentry and serfs. But all these men constituted a certain physical type and spoke, or used to speak, the same language. They were confused in the same way, and proof was in how they told the same stories.”
I could almost see what happened on the bridge. I would almost see the battle. I asked a tourist what he knew about the battle, but the exercise meant nothing to him. I repeated my question. He gave me the same puzzled look. All I can say is that it might as well have happened, instead of 1970, during the time of Wesley Merritt, the first American governor-general of the islands.
Everything became clear for me that day. Struggle had been almost continuous; against Spaniards, against Americans, against Japanese, now against Marcos. As for the city whose infrastructure hadn’t been able to keep up with its growth, it had been some four centuries since it was founded on June 24, 1571 … four centuries by three conquistadors: Martín de Goiti, Juan de Salcedo and Miguel López. With ruins of the walls still standing, there formed in my mind, as I crisscrossed a decaying city, a kind of tapestry, or a smattering of drama that had taken place in the city since it was founded. Malacanang Palace and Mendiola Bridge were the last pieces I needed for my play. They formed stages, like Fort Santiago and Malate Church (judging that I couldn’t include every important place) that couldn’t be improved upon. Set designers erect their sets knowing that after the production their work will probably be forgotten. Set designers know their work will be torn down. Absorbed in the here and now, they hardly think about building something that will last.
These things I thought about as I struggled with how to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. I also related to a play that I saw at the Rajah Solayman Theater in Fort Santiago and was moved by the performances of movie stars. After the show I walked through the dungeons and saw where so many prisoners died. (After it was cleaned up, tourists were allowed to stroll through it.) It shouldn’t surprise us that it’s a popular tourist destination. It‘s as if people are attracted to horror and gore. Again, I thought I was onto something.
To be outraged is commonplace; except for radical outrage it isn’t usually turned into action, and radicals aren’t usually thinking about dying when they jump into something. What is terrible and incomprehensible is for them to see their own insignificance (if it’s true). I have noted that regardless what it seems like what they’re doing is rarely a total loss, and martyrs and patriots are rarely totally forgotten. Most of the time, without them thinking about it, they’re destined for immortality, but I’m not sure if the reward ever matches the punishment. Only in hindsight does sacrifice seem reasonable, and each loss is a personal one and usually brings grief to someone.
Indoctrinated over centuries, the nation ultimately appreciates its heroes and often maintains shrines to them. (Hence we have the play LRAWAN or PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS FILIPINO in Pilipino, which I saw at Fort Santiago. It was staged for the Aguinaldo Centennial and not far away was the shrine to Jose Rizal.) We know with certainty that within a finite period that we’ll all die. Because of our past, we’ll each be judged by how we lived, by our goodness or our perversity, and to an extent how we die. However Manuel Estacio De Venegas’s death in the dungeons of Fort Santiago doesn’t seem to have cancelled out evil he did during his lifetime. Seen in this way the way in which we live matters more than the way we die. Because of his infamy Manuel De Venegas died in dungeons and had his property confiscated by the colonial Spanish government. So clearly he wasn’t a patriot. But if by odd chance you were an American soldier stationed in Manila when the Japanese occupied the city you could’ve easily ended up in the same dungeons without having done anything wrong. Let’s suppose someone composed an American Machiavellian tragedy and set its last scene in the dungeons of Fort Santiago. If we based this drama on actually events, we’d have to use actual names of men who died there, at least in the program. No one is any more immortal than these men, even though their names may have been erased from records. Then like Jesse Webb of Pocatella Idaho I never intended to spend any time in the dungeons of Fort Santiago, and I’m certainly not a hero, and I doubt that Jesse considered himself one.
It was a disquieting image seeing the discarded General … the discarded Aguinaldo of the 1940’s … that the audience became aware of when they went to see LARAWAN. In the first place, they had to have known that he was their George Washington. I have to mention here that he was the first president of the Philippines, and the youngest one (becoming president at age 29); a man who fought long and hard for independence of his country. He couldn’t help himself and died a hero but instead near the end of his life was accused of collaborating with the Japanese and briefly jailed. Neither would they have been interested in details as to why the adoration for the man faded. The play, for most of them, was a revelation and it was suffice to final give Aguinaldo his due, give him his due and the standing he deserved and give another sigh perhaps for the past. Let us not forget that there were those in the audience who also cursed the Present. There is no pleasure more satisfying than making connections and finding them for my play. For instance, connections between Manuel Estacio De Venegas, Aguinaldo, and Jesse Webb of Pocatella Idaho and an old fort, Malacanan, and a battle on a bridge called Mendiola. These connections are made quite rarely, and all patriots can’t be recognized, and I remember one whom I met: a little woman who stood up to Mrs. Marcos.
Among the corollaries of my work which along with the pictures of the sets is a high-quality production poster which is part of the permanent collection from The Aguinaldo Centennial now on display in the Bulacan Museum in Malolos City. It’s an artist representation of the Filipino people’s revolutionary struggle that spans 400 years. The theme of social justice is illustrated by the choice of faces on the poster: Aguinaldo, the old Conquistador who stood his ground against Manuel Estacio De Venegas; Captain Jesse Webb of Pacatella Idaho; and the four youths who died on Mendiola bridge. Not many copies of the poster survived, so to have a copy in the Bulacan Museum is a great honor. The play itself caused quite a stir, particularly in Malacanan.
The deaths on Mendiola Bridge (or the reaction to them) also fueled a storm. Events developed quite quickly afterwards. While youths took the initiative, there wasn’t one face connected with the “First Quarter Storm” that can be immortalized. Once set in motion everything that happened became irretrievable. One thing led to another. One thing led to another until Marcos declared martial law, and (for at least the youths) a reign of terror continued. Marcos spoke truth when he said that there was “an element of coercion” involved in his action and didn’t when he said it only affected “those who clung to or those who wished to revive the privileged treatment of the privileged few of the old society.” In some ways the majority may have been better off since they were poor and were in constant danger of being exploited, or that was what the faithful of the Marcos regime would have people believe. According to Marcos there wasn’t anything that wasn’t possible in a society in which its members enjoy social equality. But there’s no perfection on this planet, and nothing is precisely what it seems. Unfortunately “an element of coercion” for some people meant that they were separated and even eliminated from society. At a time when tourists were still granted access to the dungeons of Fort Santiago, youths were taking the initiative of speaking out against (and fighting) a dictator and were being punished for it. Many of them disappeared without being given a chance to say goodbye.
On a back page of today’s paper I saw the following:
SANTIAGO, Oct. 6 (Reuter)- Sixteen more leftwing extremists were executed by firing squad after being sentenced by courts martial in three Chilian cities, the ruling military junta announced Friday night.
And whether the report was intended as a warning in the Philippines or not it served as one.
As a young man I traveled from Spain to the New World, then to these islands. In the fateful year of 1595 I fought Venegas’ men in the Cathedral, where I fled with my men. I don’t recall whether Venegas actually fought or not. I don’t recall, but it wasn’t long before he found out his fate, or whether he considered fighting worth fighting over a mortar and a pestle. Venegas was one of the ruthless men who took advantage of the hapless … the hapless and the helpless. We took over this kingdom in the sixteenth century and a bit more, and a little later the world was divided between Portugal and us. I now live a stone’s throw from the Cathedral (it’s not clear whether he was talking about the Malate Church or not). Once inside the Cathedral we found allies …people who were abused, cheated and there also were those whose relatives were killed by Venegas. All Venegas’ men were slain, and as for Venegas, before the end of the day he was placed under arrest. Then in 1898 I was near Moralya (near the present-day Philippine Naval Patrol Headquarters on Roxas Blvd.) when Americans first raised their flag and sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” In Malolos, the next year, I was there when President Aguinaldo stood up, took a paper out of his pocket, and told people of the newly formed republic so they could forget three centuries of oppression. And I was there when the U.S. destroyed the Malolos Republic.
I still ask why President William McKinley forcibly annexed the Philippines. I know that American military officers who served in the Philippines and personally knew Filipinos who spoke in favor of giving them their independence. And at first America never intended to keep the Philippines. In the beginning they never intended to. Then in the early part of June 1898 I read in English papers about how the British had become alarmed over the prospect of a republic being set up in the Orient. The British! Come on! They were afraid that it would set a bad example for their subjects in Borneo, Hong Kong, Singapore, and East India. In November 1898, a narrow gauge train that was taking me to Malolos passed through the lines of Filipino insurgency and I knew that it wouldn’t be long. I got down; and I recall that there were half dozen or more Filipinos soldiers on patrol. They were strutting up and down the platform. They were on guard and were looking at me suspiciously. It reminded me of when I first arrived in the Philippines, after having braved the New World and perils of a long voyage. I landed in the middle of a conspiracy against us. That was in 1588.
I was amazed by how popular General Aguinaldo was. He was fighting the United States, into whose hands the islands fell. When I came up to his house, a sentry stopped me and asked me for my pass. He seemed to take his time as he looked at it. Incredulous but happy, and as I stood there waiting, I thought of all the men who were willing to take a stand and, if need be, die for a cause. Once again, I was part of a struggle. That night I slept well knowing that people were willing to die for a cause.
But years later it was disquieting that the struggle hadn’t ended. I’m certain it will continue like it has over the centuries, but in the first chapters, and even when the Japanese were here, the trenches were more clearly defined than they are today. Today I perceive something different. That’s because the country is clearly divided. I think everyone sees a need for a change yet can’t agree on what needs to be done. I believe, however, that we’re all sickened by Failure! Defeat! Poverty! Nostalgia! We’re all sick.
The story I’ve been a part of may seem disconnected because it spans so much time. First we have the conspiracy of the Maharllikas when I first arrived in 1588. Noblemen or datus of Manila who swore to revolt by anointing their necks with split eggs plotted then against the government and lost. It was only one of several revolts. None of them amounted to much. None of them lasted long because the majority of the native population sided with the government, but that would change over time.
In the second chapter (or was it the third or the fourth?), an exile, who dabbled in many things, became famous after he wrote a couple of novels. These novels were inflammatory and have inspired people every since. Later, in his last goodbye, he spoke of “our Eden lost,” and that with gladness he gave his life. These words belonged to a man named Rizal. That man became a national hero. That man inspired a revolution. If there hadn’t been a breakdown there wouldn’t have been a martyred Rizal, just as if there hadn’t been a breakdown in 1970 there wouldn’t have been martyrs on Mendiola Bridge.
Unfortunately such anomalies seem to be reoccurring, and since I’ve lived through so many of them let me help you discover the truth. Here we are living through the latest chapter. Like alleged I was part of the commotion on the bridge in front of Mendiola gate, just as I was also there back then when the Maharllikas anointed their necks with cracked eggs. I conspired against the government then and I’m conspiring against the government now. One reads how students marched from the Congress building, after demonstrating there, and as they approached J. P. Laurel Street, they heard what sounded like firecrackers going off. It sounded like firecrackers. I can testify that this wasn’t false, and what was significant was that students weren’t deterred. They continued their march. Then when the crowd got to Malacanang, all hell broke loose.
It was dark by then, and lights on the gates weren’t turned on. There were shouts of “Sindihan ang ilaw! Sindihan ang ilaw!” Then lights were turned on, and then everyone started throwing stones and sticks, and one by one lights were knocked out. This act of defiance, though warlike, had to have seemed insignificant, and was insignificant compared to an earlier demonstration in front of the congress building. That all changed when a commandeered fire truck breached the Mendiola gate and more daring demonstrators surged through the breach. They surged into the yard of Philippine White House itself. A dark element then stoked my curiosity. It stoked my curiosity as I followed the battle closely. As rebels lobbed molotovs and pillboxes inside the grounds and a battle raged through the night. Japanese they were not. Nor were they Americans. Instead they were Filipino students. It was noteworthy that they went down a path in the latter half of the twentieth century of Aguinaldo, and earlier struggles, and though they didn’t settle anything (immortalized and yet not settle anything), they were willing to die for a cause. As for the cost, four dead and almost 300 demonstrators and bystanders were arrested; most of them were detained at Camp Crame since the dungeons of Fort Santiago had been sanitized and opened for tourist.
When dawn came and smoke cleared, there was no longer any doubt that it was only the beginning of another chapter. To insurrectionary elements, he gave warning: “Any attempt at the forcible overthrow of the government will be put down immediately. I will not tolerate nor will I allow Communists to take over.” By then the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines had been placed on alert.
It was not strange that weapons had changed and that people could’ve been confused about which century they lived in. I’d lived through it all, and the audience must’ve been surprised to see an old conquistador like me on a modern stage when I should’ve been dead like Aguinaldo, Rizal, and all the rest of them. Maybe eventually, like all men, my time will come.
Postscript (1987)- On January 22, 1987, 17000 peasants, workers and students marched across Mendiola Bridge when police opened fire on them. It led to the deaths of thirteen marchers and the wounding of 100 of them. The event speaks of how the struggle continues and how it doesn’t seem to matter who is in power. The day after the massacre, President Corazon Aquino created the Citizens’s Mendiola Commission to investigate the event. Since then no one has been charged with a crime and families of the victims haven’t received compensation.
As soon as smoke cleared and the fire truck was removed and gates fixed birds returned to Malacanang, while Marcos still sat on his throne. It was a pleasant place then. At the turn of the century the palace had a throne room and has one today though it might be called a library. It’s a library filled with codices and books dating back to the days of Don Luis Rocha, a darling then of the cosmopolitan crowd. His stone mansion enclosed by high stone walls was a gathering place. It was a gathering place and a place for aristocrats just as it is today. It is in a small area surrounded by water in the heart of Manila. A small place in a huge city, and it is only significant because it’s where the palace and the seat of the Philippine government are located. Otherwise it has its share of garbage, filthy streets, clogged drainage, and noise. The area also has a name (San Miguel). It has a hospice, a church, and an orphanage, and those looking for the hospice will find it on an island.
Today Malacanang is prone to flooding. A century earlier, nearby, on the shores of the Pasig, at Tanduay, near the San Miguel boundary, there were native sugar refineries, buildings of which are still there and stand out because of a tall chimney. So there were better places to live than San Miguel, such as Malate, Malate which in early 1900’s was considered a prize residential district with first class apartments and hotels, parks, and the Rizal Memorial Stadium which was built in 1934. Rizal Memorial Stadium was a handsome stadium where stars such as Babe Ruth, Lefty Gomez, and Jimmy Fox once played and was used by the United States and Philippine Armies as an arsenal and a storehouse. The Japanese army converted it into its headquarters where sentries were placed at every gate and where passers-bys who failed to bow, salute or doff their hats were severely punished.
Nuns deplored this and particularly atrocities and destruction that followed as trapped Japaneses frantically fought for their lives. “Once nuns were dead to the world, but now it was different,” as they experienced horrors of liberation like everyone else did. This was when some of the most inhuman acts against civilians (guilty or not-women, children, and religious) were committed, and their church was burned to the ground. It was very difficult, very astonishing, for risks even for nuns were real. (Desecration we should fear, when the long medieval habit, starched wimple and stiff headdress covering shaven heads weren’t respected. You should never touch a nun!) The Japanese intrusion pained them. The Japanese intrusion pained them as much as anything. It pained them more than it embarrassed them. Then nuns were cloistered. It was like they could remain isolated when the death knell was sounded. One night, the Canillas family of Leveriza was tortured, and all of them killed at Harrison Park. The lawyer’s five daughters were raped and then killed by Japanese soldiers. The discovery reached nuns in their convent and that was when they could anticipate their own fate.
There were those who sought refuge when there was no escape. There was no escaped, and afterwards there was no way to forget. Nuns, in similar fashion, wanted to forget in order to be rid of resentment. For a while they tried to forget by adhering to a strict regimen that governed their whole day. They tried to forget by continuing their rituals. Tempered by diligence and by a strict routine from morning to night, but could they ever forget? Could they really remove rancor from their hearts? Yes, they tried. And they tried. And they rebuilt their convent, as their church was rebuilt, and as they tried, they once again retreated from the world. They also tried by erecting walls of silence and through prayer (and covered themselves with black shrouds). And they didn’t foresee the day when things would change. But most of all they wanted to remain faithful to Jesus Christ and not make a mockery of their vows.
As far as they were concerned, Jesus was the path that would save them from themselves. So they spoke only at certain times; their letters were censored; they weren’t allowed to read newspapers or magazines, watch television or go to movies; they were put on rations and ate only when it was time to eat. And at no time could they complain. They couldn’t complain because they weren’t allowed to have opinions of their own. This was what life was like in these communities, every facet of life regimented.
Like all those who took the same vows, before the Vatican Council II changed everything, they were all supposed to be the same, when of course they were individuals. Thus when reform came as early as 1964, the most obvious change began with a change of dress. First, the skirt was shortened. It was first shortened to mid-calf, then to just below the knees … although now it is much shorter because of current fashion. After that the headdress was modified to reveal the ears, then the neck, and now part of the hair is shown. Then heavens forbid, they could choose what clothes to wear, and many of them chose to wear everyday dresses, or “lay clothes.” “But we’re not changing for the sake of change,” Sister Romona Mendiola stressed. Instead they wanted to be human. Before then there were so many restrictions that they were ignorant of the realities outside convent walls.
But for some nuns it was too big a leap. For some it was too big a leap to make. For them change seemed drastic, and they approached it at first with disdain and then fear. It was said that Jesus was very accepting since a prostitute was one of his most devoted and important disciples, but it seemed like some of nuns in Sister Mendiola’s convent forgot this. When it finally came down to it, it was hard for them to accept that they were human and it was hard for them to act human as long as they were cloistered. Still most of them chose to wear pastel dresses, flesh-colored nylon stockings and mod shoes … and at night set their almost shoulder-length hair, which showed that they were indeed human. I would even go as far to say that no two of them were alike and that it didn’t matter to Jesus because the vilest sinner was precious to Him. It didn’t matter to Him because one sinner’s soul (He affirmed) was worth more than all Pharisees put together. Time does not alter Jesus’ teachings; they will be the same an eternity for now. And these changes were revolutionary, though not universal. And it seemed to have come directly from the Pope. Even then they were getting ready for the Pope’s visit to Manila. Little did they know what his visit would bring.
The old conquistador felt embarrassed for them. He had lived a very long time. He lived a long time and had seen many changes in his lifetime. Years later, when the Pope did come to Manila, the poor garbage pickers of Tondo remembered how 90, 000 people, nearly half of them Catholic, filled Dan Pan Street near the Port of Manila to receive the Pope’s blessing, and most of them tried to forget that he was almost assassinated. The Pope was almost assassinated “This could never happen in Manila.” “Oh, yes it could,” said the old conquistador. He would say anything to incite a crowd and say it again to keep them going. “And if all fires that I have started were to ignite at once they would engulf the earth, and we’d have a hell right here.” Then he cried out, because flames had already begun to engulf the republic.
By 10 a.m., Metrocom soldiers surrounded the campus, but Jose Mariano and the students continued to fight. They all expressed solidarity. They expressed solidarity with those who died on Mendiola Bridge. And they fought the same foe and risked their lives. The old conquistador stood by as students, male and female, came forward as combatants ready to defend the university. Their strength came from within, if one was to believe reports, since they were outnumbered and the military had more firepower. (Over the years countless had martyred themselves in this fashion.) A regime that had just begun to flex its muscles had begun to arrest and persecute those who opposed it, many of them students and faculty members of the university. These students and faculty members had courage of their conviction and would remember Pastor Mesina who unfortunately died during the struggle. Initially in support of the demands of jeepney drivers for a rollback of gasoline prices and fueled to a larger extent by an invasion of the campus by the military, the standoff lasted for almost a week. They stayed at the barricades 24 hours a day sustained by food brought in by neighborhoods around them. They were ecstatic when they repelled Airforce helicopters. But morale slumped whenever a student was shot.
History remembers them because they refused to give in, but they’ll be remembered most for their courage. It is well to note that they had to improvise since they had no weapons. There was no time to build up a cache. What they did was more or less spontaneous. Soldiers entered their dorms and entered their rooms and took their wallets and watches. Similar things happened to students all over campus. This angered them. They were frustrated and angry. They weren’t about to take it, and there was no stopping them once they got started. Many of them, with other students and faculty members, converged on the Faculty Center and set up barricades. Chemistry students created flame-throwers from huge LBG tanks and these and self-igniting molotovs created by Physics professors were used for defense. They blocked the street and used rooftops as launching pads for their homemade missiles. It was a wonder that they were tolerated.
All were set against Marcos; they cursed and ridiculed not only the president (for singing “Pamulinawen” to Dovie Beams, an American starlet who he was rumored to be having an affair) and the president’s wife. Marcos was already planning to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus when the bombing of the Liberal Party proclamation rally in Plaza Miranda occurred in August of that year. Marcos may have contrived it. He may have. Who knows? Though he restored the writ of habeas corpus a year later, bombs continued to go off throughout the country, including the bombing of the United States Embassy and when pillbox explosives where hurled at the gate of Malacanang. Once again Mendiola Bridge was the scene of an assault, but Marcos would claim that his reaction to it all, which he privately called “the September 21 movement” (to mark the date he enforced Proclamation 1081), entailed much more than saving the Philippine Republic. He claimed that he needed to stamp out the social inequities and old habits that made military action necessary.
In terms of affecting lives of Filipinos, The September 21 Movement (martial law) impacted the whole country. It was in effect a ploy but it affected everyone and established authoritarian rule of President and First Lady. The Marcoses extended their power by using a perversion of ideals. And they presented those ideas to the public. And the president directed Secretary of National Defense to arrest individuals named on a list and other persons who may have committed crimes and held them until he said they could be released. Jose Mariano was one of those. Jose Mariano was among those professors who were subsequently picked up because he never kept his political biases secret. They also imagined that he was one of the agitators responsible for the Commune, and if he was a true Moist then he couldn’t have been a patriot, and if a communist, he was then an enemy.
When bombs started exploding, finger pointing began. They looked for someone to blame. (Some echo of this thinking persists.) Other leaders (particularly those of the United States) reasoned that the dominos would fall. They reasoned if communists won an inch of territory the whole region would fall so there was support in the international community for Marcos. This deadly game was also played in other countries in Southeast Asia, as long as the world was divided into two camps. Some of these countries, like Vietnam, would almost bleed to death. They would bleed to death before attaining their liberation, but for the most part dominos didn’t fall.
Since there was no way of knowing what happened to Jose at Camp Crane, I won’t let my imagination run wild and equate what happened to him to what happened to prisoners held in dungeons of Fort Santiago. It would be a stretch. But like prisoners in the dungeons, Jose knew that he wasn’t likely going to be released. He would pay for his political convictions. He would pay and knew that he could die for them. And anyone who knew him knew that there wasn’t a mean bone in his body. Many divergent people opposed Marcos (particularly after there seemed to be no end to his dictatorship): some considered him a devil, others merely a thief. Eventually almost everyone felt that he should go. And for nearly fourteen years America gave refuge to many of those who opposed the president. Marcos may have been able to deceive the world, but he didn’t get very far with these people.
The nuns of Sister Mendiola’s order were among those who were the most visible, but weren’t the most militant. But this didn’t keep them from irritating to authorities and a plainclothesman from asking Sister Mendiola why she went to rallies. She told him that it was essential … essential for her salvation. By then she had empowered herself and said that she answered to a “higher authority.” Sister Mendiola was referring to the prelate who was coming to Manila. Everyone knew the Pope’s visit was important, and most everyone was excited about it. The Pope would draw huge crowds. Even those who were hostile to him would come to see him. Sister Mendiola expressed her ideas about living the Gospel, which included standing up against injustice, defending human rights and engaging in effective action. She was fond of saying, “You can’t expect to see human transformation in an oppressed society.” She didn’t expect the plainclothesman to understand. She didn’t expect him to understand her when she tried to explain her thesis about complete salvation. They didn’t connect. Sister Mendiola and the plainclothesman couldn’t connect. She couldn’t find the necessary words, and he couldn’t touch her. (Are you concerned about your soul? About death, sin, and hell? Do you want to hear what you don’t see? Listen to the human cry? Do you want to touch hands of God? Then reach out to the poor. Verily I say, there’s no salvation without human justice.” He couldn’t afford being too affected. Suddenly, twenty reasons why he shouldn’t listen came to mind. His mind was closed, sadly. Immediately afterward, he was faced with arresting more people. The next time that he ran into Sister Mendiola he was even less receptive. And he was tormented by what she said. But he knew that if he changed that he would be out of a job. If he openly opposed Marcos he knew that he could be the one arrested … and be among those he abhorred, and if he did he could be placed on an enemies list. It would’ve taken divine intervention for him to change his mind.
With the stroke of a pen, Marcos closed Congress. He closed Congress and assumed its responsibilities. Almost 30,000 people were detained. Miraculously Sister Mendiola wasn’t one of them. Still she openly opposed one man rule. In an open letter to Marcos, she complained, “The problem with what you have embarked on now is that a government by decree amounts to one man rule, and I don’t think you’ve considered the immorality involved.” Then a dreaded and inevitable thing happened: intelligence officers searched Sister Mendiola’s convent, an act considered a sacrilege.
A month later, the government put a nun in detention and placed her along with an American priest in Camp Crame. They did this before transferring her to Army headquarters for rehabilitation. Colleagues of the American priest claimed that the government had no grounds for taking action against him. Other priests left the country. He stayed. We don’t know why he stayed. But horror engendered by the arrests never dampened Sister Mendiola’s enthusiasm. She never retracted what she wrote. She continued to express her views. She continued to express her outrage. She continued to be outspoken. She never relented, never softened, and never understood why she wasn’t also arrested. Still with a great naivete, she sallied forth with zeal that surprised everyone. She argued with men on whose judgement her fate depended but did it in a way that rarely offended them. She continued to complain. She complained about distortion of truth, and for freedom of expression she was willing to die.
The old conquistador watched the execution, one of many he witnessed through the years. The killing took place in an open field, surrounded and hidden by trees. There wasn’t a trial. Under the cover of darkness, Jose Mariano was dragged to this place after he refused to cooperate. Before then he was shot while trying to escape, recaptured alive, taken to a military camp and interrogated. Jose underwent torture while under interrogation. The brutality would’ve shocked the world. It rained the night before. It rained, and the field was muddy. Jose prayed before they shot him. It was a request he made. He made this request along with wanting to face his executioner. They granted him that much. It reminded them of someone else, someone that they all recognized as a national hero. They shot Jose in the heart, and he died instantly.
There was no one there to weep for his death. The old conquistador certainly didn’t, but it became part of his story. In Fort Santiago, during the trial and martyrdom at Bagumbayan, and during the forced march north from Bataan, the old conquistador also tried to divorce himself from what was going on around him. Looked for a moral justification for such killing and didn’t find one. In a cell at Fort Santiago with water rising and people dying, he thought of accusations that were brought against him and tried to make sense of them. It was impossible. It was impossible to make sense of them for he never considered himself a traitor. Then he prayed to Our Lady of the Abandoned, as if he had been on his knees in Santa Ana Church, “In pale token of my deepest gratitude and my unequalled love for thee I pray.” Then in Mololos, he watched President Emilio Aguinaldo and his cabinet pass in carriages under a triumphal arch and over a stone bridge. He remembered a day in Hong Kong when this same president made a pact with Americans and agreed to help them fight the Spanish, but would later set up a provisional dictatorship. Now Aguinaldo had come to Mololos to draft a constitution for a new nation.
There is no telling if there will ever be a satisfactory ending. There is no telling if this story will ever end when there is narcissism involved. It’d be correct to say, since he has lived through more of it than anyone else, the old conquistador can speak with authority. Listening to him it’s easy to tell that he has very little interest in who happens to hold political power at any given time. This would imply that he’s oblivious to what’s at stake. He doesn’t seem to care. Maybe he’s too old. Maybe he’s seen too much. It would be more correct to say that he’s more aware of it than most of us since he hasn’t forgotten history and lived through much of it. Over the years he has come to expect the unfathomable and knows what happens when there is a retreat from morality. And he learned that the reason for it is irrational, though he can’t tell us why.
By the time the doors closed to the exhibition at Manila’s historic Fort Santiago, almost a million Filipinos had seen GIFT OF THE SEA. Almost a million people saw a collection of relics recovered by a team of divers. I understand why a large coral-encrusted anchor and an old, Spanish cannon had special significance. I understand why they had significance for the old conquistador. It brought back memories of the Spanish galleon that in 1565 brought him to Manila from Acapulco. He came to the walled city in hopes of becoming rich off trade of ivory and jade bric-a-brac, carved boxes, jars, porcelain, gold and silverware, Oriental drugs, chocolate, gold bullion, and even slaves. His success allowed him to live a life of luxury and leisure. But of course, sometimes a galleon was lost along with its rich cargo. Such a loss wrecked havoc on everyone, including the old conquistador.
Such was the beginning of the story of the old conquistador, who was born in Extremadura. I don’t know what year. I don’t know if he knew Cortes or Pizarro. Both men came from the same place he did. In earlier times, the world, which had just been discovered to be round, was divided between Portugal and Spain by the Pope. Then men had a difficult time tracing a demarcation line, so with Portugal laying claim to the spice-rich Moluccas and Spain claiming the Philippines it’s hard to say which country got the better deal.
Let’s imagine the old conquistador, who no doubt was unique and unbelievably lived for so many years, had heard stories of Megellan from survivors of the voyage around the globe and caught the travel bug that would infect so many of us. In spite of danger and his limited knowledge of geography he chose to sail across two oceans to the Philippines, and perhaps he didn’t know that he would end up staying there and surely he didn’t know British would attack the galleon he sailed in. Perhaps he was a religious man. This wouldn’t have been surprising, but not all conquistadors were Christians. The old conquistador left home because there was no other way out of poverty. He was dark-skinned, energetic, innocent, cruel, loved a good fight, but obviously wasn’t careless. Dreams brought him to Manila, and once there he saw opportunity and cashed in. He saw the future, and it looked better than the past. He saw far into the future, a future of disorder and saw a metropolis of more than three million people; though of substance of the Orient it thrives today in the shadow of western-style skyscrapers, hotels, and offices. A fun city for some, a troubled city for others.
None of these buildings (I know) impressed him. None of them were beautiful to him, as he was touched instead by edifices like churches in Malate, Santa Anna, and Quiapo, by Fort Santiago, Malacanan Palace, Paco Cemetery, and the walls of Intramuros, all of which were built within in his lifetime. Looking at a ruin took him back in time. He could instantly travel back and forth and often did, while at the same time questioning why he lived so long. Every time he knew what he was in for or what he’d be when went back to Spain. He knew that he could be viewed as a dog or a very naive young man and could well be misunderstood. But he also knew his worth and knew what he gained from all the experience. He sadly knew what a difference it would make if they only listened to him. The old conquistador left behind all other conquistadors and, whenever he got the chance, he fought for his adopted country. He doesn’t die and has the effrontery to choose sides and seems to get it right.
The old conquistador was never a traitor (traitors seldom inspire us). He’ll be remembered as a bold man and a convert. At each turning point, he showed exceptional courage and each time he rode the tide. He watched as the Spaniards capitulated to the Americans; he stood with Aguinaldo; he somehow knew that Japanese would be defeated, and perhaps knew that sooner of later Americans would do what they said they would do. Many conjectures would apply to Americans, perhaps too many. If it were not true, they wouldn’t still be here.
When I read the story of this student leader from Ateneo de Manila, it made me think of Jose Mariano and his untimely death. I read how he had been a pillar of the student movement in the late sixties and early seventies. I read how he had been the president of his class and had courage to confront and ask President Marcos to promise not to seek a third term. He asked Marcos to put it in writing.. Marcos gave him a tongue-lashing. Instead of a promise, Marcos gave him a tongue-lashing, which didn’t surprise me. It also didn’t surprise me that this idealistic Filipino youth faced realities of his day. He knew what he was doing and gave it his all, so like Jose gave his life for his country.
In 1872, Father Jose Apolonio Burgos y Garcia was convicted of mutiny and summarily garroted in the middle of Bagumbayan field (now Luneta Park). He was a mestizo, a mestizo secular priest; beyond that, he was a victim of a mock trial. His death along with two other clergymen inspired Jose Razil to write his novels. Father Burgos’ fate as a Philippine martyr was sealed by a real mutineer, a sergeant by the name of Bonifacio Octavo, who claimed that a man named Zaldua recruited him for the Cavite Mutiny. Octavo testified that this man said that Father Burgos was not only one of them, but he received his orders from the priest. During cross-examination Octavo however gave inconsistent statements. He was inconsistent, which called into question the validity of his testimony. At the time, Father Burgos was a parish priest of the Manila Cathedral, or St. Peter’s Cathedral. That made him the curate of St. Peter and as such people worshiped him. But this didn’t keep him (and others) from being implicated. Those who implicated him agreed that they heard Fr. Burgos, Marcelo H. del Pilar, Regidor, Rafael Labra, Antonio Rojas and others speak of “wars, insurrections and rebellions at secret meetings.” Then in her tiny voice, which without amplification was barely heard, Fr. Burgos’s landlady testified as a character witness. She vouched for him, like the priest knew she would. She vouched with her hands clasped in her lap. She said her tenant was a “peaceful man, devout to the virgin, and didn’t like gossip,” and whereas the others might talk of mutiny and cry “Fuera oficiales, canallas, envidiosos, malvados! or Viva Fiipinas libre, independiente!”, Fr. Burgos wouldn’t. Instead, according to her, he advised them to seek reforms without spilling blood.
Needless to say the outcome would’ve been different had the Governor General accepted Fr. Burgos’ counsel’s motion to dismiss the case for lack of evidence: his life would’ve been spared. Jose Rizal (like he said) probably would’ve become a priest. And Rizal never forgot the fate of the three martyrs and how they were set up. For throughout two novels he made allusions to martyrdom and Filipino people easily related. But it took twenty-five years for details of the trial to come out, and by then Rizal himself was living in exile and had become a member of the Propaganda Movement, a group of Filipino émigrés who settled in Europe. Composed of exiled liberals and university students, the organization aimed to simply increase Spanish awareness of the colony and to foster a closer ties between the Philippines and Spain. They had a list of aims, none of which should’ve been considered seditious: they wanted among other things representation in the Spanish parliament, legalization of Spanish and Filipino equality, a guarantee of basic freedoms, recognition of the Philippines as a province of Spain, and the recognition of human rights. They never advocated Philippine independence, though the defects of Spanish rule were evident to them.
The Spanish never gave them what they wanted. This failure spurred the Katipunan (KKK) onto revolt. So they tore up their cedulas (identification cards), which symbolized colonial oppression, and in Pugad Lawin started a revolution. They started a revolution with a pen. Three months later the Spanish executed Rizal in the same field that they garroted Fr. Burgos, and perhaps by then the government knew that it would take more than a few executions to stop Filipinos.
On the same day every year, a tiny lady with a small voice left fresh flowers or lit candles in the middle of Bagumbayan field (now Luneta Park) in memory of Fr. Burgos (and later also in memory of Jose Rizal). Whenever she went she never talked to anyone. Whenever she went she went alone. She however was observed and had to be careful. She therefore went at different times of the day. To be totally ignored would’ve been impossible. Each time she prayed.
After three hundred and thirty-three years and with two oceans between them colony and mother country were no more closely tied together than they had ever been and the differences between them became irreconcilable. The figure of the Supremo along with two friends … that is the figure of Bonifacio led a charge that may have seemed insignificant at the time because they were betrayed before they hardly started. And yet they rekindled a fire. They rekindled a fire that had been smoldering for over three hundred years, a spark that couldn’t be doused, and this fire grew into a full-blown revolution. And they wouldn’t have known how to sustain this revolution had it not already been fueled. Perhaps it’s still going on. If true, flame and keepers of the flame and winds are the same.
Returning home from Fort Santiago and rehearsal Isabel Lopez found on the floor inside her door a letter from America. The letter informed her that her father was killed. She recognized the handwriting. She recognized the handwriting at once. It was from her father’s second wife. Isabel had never met her father’s second wife.. In recent years it had been this woman who’d communicated to her and not her father. Isabel read that Mr. Vernon was killed in an automobile accident and buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The woman who signed the letter expressed no sympathy for Isabel in her short note. She never had. She never expressed sympathy for her. She simply informed Isabel of her father’s death.
Isabel kept the note. Her first reaction to the news wasn’t strong. She knew her father would die sometime, and most probably he would die in the United States. It would hit her later. It seemed unreal, that she had two fathers, that her real father had two wives and her mother, two husbands and that there hadn’t been a divorce. Life had gone on without a divorce, and this unreality was mixed in her mind with a certain amount of coldness and fear, coldness and fear that had always been there. She finally placed the note in a shoebox containing other pieces of mail from America, memorandum of a life that she could’ve had had she chosen it. Instantly she knew that she couldn’t have abandoned her mother. She knew she couldn’t abandoned her mother and forsaken her homeland though her father urged her to come when she became old enough to decide for herself. And she had already begun the grieving process by then.
In the middle of the night, Isabel finally wept for a man who she knew was her father and who sent her and her mother money when she was young but who never returned to the Philippines. She remembered him slightly. She remembered him vaguely, remembered trying to remember him and didn’t know whether she actually remembered him or not or only remembered him through his letters and what her mother told her about him. She remembered his short letters. She remembered his incomplete sentences and poor spelling, and she couldn’t believe how poorly he wrote. Her English was better than his. She remembered (and this she never forgot) that her father never forgot her birthday. He always sent her something. He always sent her something for her birthday, and this made her wonder why he left her and her mother. Since 1948 he was absent from her life. He hadn’t been around. He wasn’t around as she matured. He didn’t see how beautiful she became. Pictures never did her justice. Pictures never brought out her light skin (a rose by any other name is a rose, di ba?) and he wasn’t there to see how hard she worked to become a movies star … a popular movie star. And perhaps she was running away from doubt. Perhaps she believed that her success was due to her light skin.
Isabel couldn’t sleep that night and knew in the morning that she had to speak to her mother. She still had to work. She still had to make a rehearsal, maintain her professionalism, though she knew that her mind would be elsewhere. Isabel would have to put off seeing her mother and at the same time wondered if her mother knew about Mr. Vernon’s death. Had she loved Mr. Vernon? Her mother always referred to her father as Mr. Vernon.
At the theater there were rumors that the First Lady was coming to opening night. This meant the show wouldn’t start on time. The First Lady never arrived on time. Time was now of the essence, but Isabel couldn’t approach her mother on the telephone; given the circumstances she couldn’t. After rehearsal, with another rehearsal in the evening, she drove herself over to her mother’s home in Forbes Park. She drove without paying attention to traffic and somehow avoided an accident. They hugged each other. They hugged each other at the door; and she couldn’t tell if her mother knew of her father’s death or knew and didn’t care, or what. Then she had to respond and blurted out the news. With Mr. Lopez at work and alone the two women sat around the swimming pool and cried while they wondered what their lives would’ve been like had Mr. Vernon taken them with him to America.
Then they talked about her father, and her mother did most of the talking. As far as her mother was concerned it had been a long seventeen years. Then having returned home with still time before the evening’s rehearsal, Isabel reheated a big bowl of beef shank soup and thought about what her mother told her.
When they met her mother and father were very young … very young. Young they may have been, but not immature, given that they both had just survived a bloody war. No longer did she fear men. No longer did she fear them because she learned to live with fear. MacArthur had returned like he said he would. MacArthur rescued the city though most of the city was destroyed. Isabel phoned Ms. Guidote, insinuating that she didn’t feel well and did something that she’d never done before: she asked if she could be excused from the evening’s rehearsal and then promised that she wouldn’t miss another one. On the telephone Isabel didn’t sound like herself; tremor in her voice was something that she couldn’t control. It surprised her because she usually controlled everything.
If there was one thing more than anything else that Isabel prided herself on it was her professionalism, so missing a rehearsal bothered her tremendously. She lay down after her phone call and thought of her father’s death and how he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Had she known of it in time she might’ve gone to his memorial service. She realized that going to this final tribute would’ve been easier for her than going to see him while he was still alive. This realization got her to thinking. At least she had contact with her American father. At least she knew who he was. At least he never forgot her. That was more than many Amerirasians could say. And money wasn’t a problem for her. Suddenly alarmed she jumped out of bed and retrieved the shoe box that contained the note about her dad’s death. She opened it and reread the note. She knew that she could’ve had a better relationship with her father and no one would’ve stopped her.
To beat herself up over why she didn’t make an effort to see her father when she had been to America a number of times would’ve been counterproductive and now pointless. He would’ve loved to have seen her, but she wasn’t sure how she felt about him. One huddle she never overcame was anger … a huddle that seemed allied to how he mistreated her mother. But maybe it was more complicated than she thought. Things are always more complicated than they seem on the surface. Why couldn’t she let go of it when her mother had and when she scarcely believed in the institution of marriage? And why, when her mother and father had reconciled their differences? Her mother had remarried. Her father had remarried. They had moved on. Why hadn’t Isabel?
Isabel lived in Malate, on Jorge Bocobo Street: she couldn’t be certain why after disguising herself she walked from there to the Bay. Perhaps while looking at the sunset, and with busy Roxas Boulevard behind her, she finally came to grips with confusion she felt and her repudiation of her father. It wasn’t like he totally repudiated her, but this obviously didn’t erase everything.
Isabel had been to one or two bars in Ologagpo, where she saw Philippine women crawling over American men. She disguised herself, or else she wouldn’t have gone there alone. She would’ve had to disguise herself. Inside one of them, she came across a group of men from the Yorktown. All seemed quite young and quite crude, and none of them would’ve known who she was. Their amorous activities seemed outside of time, like the past was connected with the present and she had taken on the role of her mother. (Remember Isabel was an actress.) One of the men flirted with her, and she flirted back when she spotted someone who could’ve well been her father (her imagination was vivid enough to imagine it and while her horror was unmitigated). Had she walked in her mother’s shoes she would’ve allowed the young man to lead her through a door and then allow him to marry her for five days (three separate times) and then legally marry her after she became pregnant. For both of them it was a form of redemption.
“During that time, which was perplexing, disordered, disconnected, and atrocious, did Mr. Vernon ever think of the consequences of his actions?” Isabel wondered as she watched the sunset and thought about her old man. She believed that he did. She believed he was a good man, or else he would’ve totally disavowed her. At that moment she forgave him.
Isabel had thought (she was unable not to think it) that her father had done a hideous thing. She considered him a weak person, in comparison with her mother, a weak person. She considered him a weak person because of his actions and found solace in this picture. Her father didn’t speak Tagalog or write a complete English sentence. He didn’t seem very smart. But her mother was also to blame. He used her mother, as she used him. She gave him pleasure, while she dreamed of security in America.
When she got back to her house, Isabel took off her sunshades. On her night table was the note she received from America. Isabel placed it back in the shoe box with all the other memorandum of a life that she could’ve had had she chosen it. An act of sadness and on that day pride, for after all her father was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Isabel forgot her anger when she thought of her father’s memorial service with pride. She grieved with her mother as if she had been there and vowed to someday go see his grave. Finally Isabel slept, and slept, and if she dreamed she wasn’t aware of it. The next morning Isabel got up slowly and felt happier than she felt in a very long time. She would get her mother to give her a picture of her dad. She didn’t know why she didn’t have one. Isabel backed out of her compound and shut the gate without anyone seeing her, which was unusual since she was a celebrity. She again negotiated traffic of Manila without thinking about it. She selected her route, and in keeping with her plan for day she drove to the American National Cemetery in Makati. She had time before her rehearsal to pay her respects. She wanted to pay her respects. She had to pay her respects. Perhaps it wasn’t the same thing as seeing her father’s grave but walking through graves of Americans helped her appreciate why her father came to the Philippines, and what he did to her and her mother didn’t diminish it. She read names of some of the men and never found a Vernon. She also looked at large mosaic maps of battles in the Pacific, China, India and Burma, trying to picture her father’s involvement, but she could only imagine him as his mother described him. Her mother spoke of him in his uniform and not in his battle fatigues. Paradoxically Isabel didn’t remember what he looked like and thus had to rely on her mother, and perhaps this concealed the real person from her.
Alan Vernon was basically a good kid who went awry. To his friends he was honorable. He lived a lie but no one knew it except his wives (both wives and a child he left behind in the Philippines). From a small town Alan Vernon fear exposure; yet he could’ve done something about it and tried when he offered Isabel a home. He mourned about the gravity of his mistake … getting married when he was already married…but he wasn’t man enough to return to the Philippines. With embarrassment, he instead sent money. He sent Isabel money. He sent Isabel’s money for his daughter’s support. He became very religious; he believed in the saintly of marriage and didn’t believe in divorce, and yet he had a family secret that was contrary to his beliefs. Partially bald, tall, wearing a wedding ring, with a silly grin and a ready song, he could’ve gone into show business like Isabel did.
Alan Vernon thought of Isabel and the wife he left behind and from time to time wrote them notes (and again sent them money). He saw Isabel make something of herself, but it hurt him when she refused his help. He knew that she didn’t need his help, but it still hurt him. It was something that bothered him until the day he died.
Things didn’t turn out the way Alan Vernon expected. As he aged and he and his wife were forced to live on Social Security, he could’ve used Isabel’s help; swallowing his pride (as it were) proved too difficult because it would’ve forced him to face what he did and expose a side of himself that he didn’t like. (Thinking he’d suffered enough, he didn’t want to endure any more embarrassment.) Then he suddenly was killed in an automobile accident. But it didn’t matter how he died, Isabel still wanted to do something in his memory.
In memory of her father, more than in memory of a stranger named Alan Vernon, Isabel felt a need to send his widow money. She was unable to restrain herself and sent a large sum. (Before accusing her of theatrics, remember Isabel was an actress, though she didn’t need to have excuses made for her). Having the privilege of being wealthy, perhaps she felt obligated (much in the same way a Godmother would have had their roles were reversed). She had taken her stepfather’s name instead of her father’s and in over twenty years rarely referred to him but now had to acknowledge her indebtedness. She never told her mother that she sent money. She managed to have money sent anonymously, and it was enough to buy a house, or make some other big purchase. When the recipient, utterly confused but thankful, opened the moneygram addressed to her she almost fainted. She thought of sending it back because she guessed where it came from. By then the pretending had stopped. It stopped, and lies were no longer significant, roles were reversed, a stepchild came to her rescue, and she didn’t know how to say thanks in Tagalog. She couldn’t now take back hateful words she had spoken, when the person she said them to was no longer alive. Now she had enough money to put a new roof on her home and if she were frugal she had more than enough to live on for the rest of her life. She could now forget that Isabel had been the accusation that she had so often used and could think of her in a different light. “I may want to go to the Philippines and there’s nothing to stop me now.” She however never went because she didn’t have anyone to go with her. Mr. Vernon died on her, and it was something that she never understood.
The upcoming production reminded Isabel that she couldn’t just take off. It reminded her that she couldn’t go to America just then. And now that her father was dead there was no urgency. Then she picked up the telephone and called her mother and said something that surprised her: “Something incredible happened last night. I must’ve dreamt of Mr. Vernon. It seemed like he was in my room, and I called out to him.”
Actually, the story wasn’t true, but it impressed her mother, but it could’ve been true. He honestly was her father, she honestly never wanted to claim him, but now, she honestly stopped hating him. Over the years she wanted to spit on him; only she had to be honest and admit that she wouldn’t have enjoyed the success she had had it not been for him.
And with her hair perfectly done up and her skin radiant, the queen bee had to make sure she looked glamorous all the time.
“I know that they accuse me (as well as my husband) of many things. I know they accuse me of arrogance and certainly abuse of power. I know what many people think. Such accusations (which are half-truths created by a biased media) are overblown, if not ridiculous. They’re ridiculous. It is true that I never leave the palace without first making sure that my hair is perfect (which only takes me about 20 minutes), but it’s also true that people demand it. I think I have to set an example. There are those who say that I suffer from a shoe fetish but that’s simply not true. Shoes are a necessity. Even my detractors admit that I have to look my best when I meet a King, the Pope, or a VIP, but it is the people of slums that I have to really look my best for. Another ridiculous half-truth has it that my husband and I are “well-heeled,” whereas many perks we enjoy are mere trappings of our posts. Shall I repeat that we’re not lining our pockets. We are not lining our pockets and shall I add that we don’t have tons of gold hid away in Swiss banks. It’s not what we’re about; if we live what seems like a lavish lifestyle, we do so because the public demands it. They need stars to light up darkness that fill their lives. The public needs stars. That’s why there are movie stars. I shine because of the public, while at the same time I enslave myself so that everyone shines. People see me as their star and if that’s arrogance, so be it! People understand, they also understand imperatives that face our nation. As long as our enemies gather stones, we’re threatened. Some of them are plotting, as we speak. My husband didn’t declare martial law because he wanted to. He had to, and it can not be confused with treason we faced, though there are those who oppose us who say that what my husband did was treason.
The fact is I am adored. I have a husband who adores me, and I’m not interested in what other people think. But when other people say that they adore me, I’m flattered, and I can’t believe it. I however think that nothing is more subjective than beauty. Yet Filipino people want it. While something as bothersome and trivial as beauty has no place in politics, I try to give people what they want. Sometimes, though, I deplore adoration. I never forget my humble roots. A part of me won’t let me forget. Remember I’ve never run for office, but here I am. Like I said, sometimes I deplore this, because it’s hard to always be adored.
Of course, life in the palace is not always what is cracked up to be. Like a mother hen, I always have to be on top of things. I always have to be on my toes so as not to offend someone like say … the Pope. There are traps. There are things I have to avoid … traps … and that I sometimes fall into and that are hard to avoid. At any time I can be called upon to step outside the role of First Lady and simply offer friendship to such people as Muammar al-Gaddafi, Brooke Shields, or George Hamilton. Rarely can I can let my hair down and really have a good time. Rarely can I be myself without any pomp and circumstance. But of all games I’ve been force to play, I prefer to play ones I played as a girl when I still had all my childhood dreams intact. When I pretended that I could sing and entered a beauty contest. That was all. I had my voice: relatives said I had a sweet singing voice. With great reverence, I approached my singing and went out on a stage and sang my heart out. Then when Ferdinand spied me for the first time (across the hall of the Senate) and turned to a friend, he asked, “Who is that beautiful young woman?” He later told me that he knew right then that I was the one … he knew I was the right one for him. Now we should remain grounded and remember that walls of the palace are made of marble and that chandeliers weigh half a ton. And I’d argue that it’s our White House, and our people expect it to look magnificent.
Not only have I imagined what my life would’ve been like had Ferdinand not spied me on that fateful day in the hall of the Senate, I have also considered what it would’ve been like touring this house without having ever lived here. Remember Malacanang is the Palace of the People. I wouldn’t be used to luxury or having a boat tied up to my back porch. I would’ve stood in awe of the woodcarvings or the crystal chandeliers, which if you walk up the grand staircase you have to strain your neck to see. I wouldn’t have had access to five libraries with a vast collection of books, or had a canopied bed with a crown on top, or even, maybe, an actual working toilet. And every Christmas, we have a Christmas tree in our front yard. Luckily the president spied me, and now this house is mine, and if I’d allowed it, it could’ve become my world. By the grace of God, however, I have my family and with proper security precautions I can get out of here and in that way stay in touch with people. I didn’t understand this when we first moved here. And how many years has it been now? I’m afraid I’ve lost count … but of course I know. But my point is that in some ways everything seems the same to me, while things change all the time. Things change all the time, but there are two things that never change: the two things are my love for my family and my love for my people. That’s why we never turn the lights out in the palace and why I try to look my best all the time. .
During the student battle in front of the palace I prayed that we might be delivered from this evil. I heard shouting and shooting in our front yard and saw where they crashed through the front gate with a fire truck. It lasted too long. Thank God I didn’t have to bloody my hands. Now damage has been repaired, and peace has been restored. We all know who was behind it (bombings, violence, and an attempt to overthrow our government) and know that my husband had to do something. Now I feel safer. I feel safer, and there’s less crime. I know that God was on our side and that was why we prevailed. I see a bright future. I see a world free of communism. Still no one has seriously suggested that we have all the answers. And no one has suggested people shouldn’t pay their fair share. We’ll always have poor people, and poor people seem to contribute less … monetarily but not in terms of labor. It’s the contributions of poor people, however, that sustains society. Then what is asked from us? Asked of me? Then the question remains: will we remain strong, or will we break?
The truth is I hate poverty. Tell me, who wants to be surrounded by garbage? Beauty is love made real and spirit of love is God. Only a crazy man wants to be surrounded by garbage, and I’m not crazy just yet.
Though they slay me, my spirit lives on.
My name is Abdullah Gumbay. Many of my ancestors were killed on Mount Bud Dajo. My maternal great-grandfather was among those who were in the crater and among those killed by U.S. marines. My father distinguished himself during the Battle of Bataan and more recently I had brothers who died on March 18, 1968 during the Jabidah Massacre. (It is significant that Abdullah has omitted the names of his brothers who were shot on Corregidor, those forgotten Moro boys who were mercilessly slaughtered at Kindley Field, perhaps because it brought our nation shame.) As for me, I’ll be executed, as a young student activist and a ranking leader of the revolutionary movement. I never had a trial, for from the first day of my arrest I was considered guilty. Like I said, tomorrow I’ll be summarily executed. It is natural that I think now of those who went before me and died as martyrs. “Lakbay Balik-Kasaysayan para sa Katarungan at Kapayapaan!” I am ready, and I expect to have a pleasant journey.
Fortunately there was no trial, and it’s gone quickly. It will be over soon. I won’t feel anything. Shot in the heart I won’t feel anything. The least radical response would’ve been for me to have a kicking, screaming fit, but that seems like a cowardly way to react. Now that I know my fate I’m at peace with myself, and on the eve of my execution I can speak without rancor. I don’t need help except from Allah. I don’t need any help from anyone else, but I’d like to be remembered. Tomorrow I’ll join my ancestors who died on Mount Bud Daja, my father who died on Bataan, and my brothers who died on Corregidor and like them inspire future generations.
I was born on Jolo in 1941, in March before the Japanese landed in December. Rather than running amuck, my father joined the Philippine Constabulary and became a scout for the U.S. Army, but instead of using him in the Sulus (where he would’ve been more useful) they sent him to Bataan. I don’t know how my mother got through those unhappy years, without really knowing whether my father was alive or dead, while suspecting he died like so many had. I was too young to remember much about it, but there are two things that I’ll never forget, the gun-dagger warriors who never really surrendered and the Moro swordsmen who kept the Japanese off guard. Much to my chagrin I became known as a “grocer’s son” when it was my grandmother who owned a store. When I chose to study poetry and Shakespeare at the Ateneo de Manila it may have seemed like I turned my back on the juramentado tradition, if it were so, then I was brought home by the massacre on Corregidor. I wonder where I would be now if that hadn’t occurred.
Jun and Nur Misuari came into my life in 1970. I wish I could claim that my political feelings came from an internal source, but that would be dishonest. It took Jun and Nur, both of whom I pay homage, to convince me to join the National Union of Students. The Jabidah massacre had just come to light, and we saw how young students showed exceptional courage in front of the presidential palace.
I don’t have much to say about my early years as a moderate. Those were the years when I stood on the sidelines. Although I didn’t lack courage, I was turned off by violence. I understood, however, that violence was sometimes necessary, but then on the other hand I was a great admirer of Gandhi. I still thought then that we could reason with Marcos. I was naïve. Initially Jun and Nur were too radical for me; in vain I tried to convince them that we could sit down and negotiate with Marcos. I thought we didn’t have anything to lose, so why not negotiate?
We believe that God is paying attention to us. Why wouldn’t God pay attention to us and that when we die we’ll be judged? We believed that and depending on what we’ve done we’ll either enter a garden of paradise or a pit of hell. No one, I say, would chose hell, no one would. No one would consciously reject a garden of paradise. But each man and woman has a choice. Now I wait for the unalterable moment that will prove that I’ve been a faithful follower. I’m waiting. It’s enough to know that I’ll become a Moro martyr. On September 20th I was captured during a military raid in Davao City. My capture was not mentioned in any newspaper. No one seemed to notice, though word got out. I was shot in the leg, and the wound is serious. I could lose my leg, not that it matters now. It doesn’t matter now that I’ve refused to co-operate … refused to have it operated on. Now as I wait my execution, I sit quietly, trying to forget myself and eagerly wait for angels of mercy. I won’t have a long wait.
The QUR’AN says that we’re commissioned by God to live a certain way and that we’re supposed to bring those values to the world through jihad (holy war). Thus, we can’t expect it to be easy. God never said it would be easy. We have to obey God’s laws by following Five Pillars of faith. I always … or almost always … prayed five times a day, paid taxes, fasted … I’ve been to Mecca … thank God I’ve been to Mecca and professed my faith. There is no greater calling than shahada, our profession of faith. It’s the reason I’m calm now. It’s the reason why I’ve fought so long and hard. It’s the reason I’m not afraid. Surely it wasn’t because of anything else. Surely it wasn’t because of anything more profound. I’m not unique. I’m not special. It something I had to do. To die for jihad is easier than living, though I cherish life and am not suicidal. To fight for Bangsamoro (a free Moro state) is not a difficult decision (thousands of obscure martyrs have made the choice before me); one act remains more important. Shahada! Shahada! War and glory then becomes incidental and Shahado more rallying than Bud Dajo or Jibidah. In 1979 I was tortured during interrogation. I was tortured, and I won’t claim that it didn’t have an affect on me, but it too was incidental.
I’ve had to do many unpleasant things, but I never wavered. A coward shows who he or she is while under fire. The martyr seeks fire and knows that there is a bullet somewhere with his or her name on it. I don’t think I am a coward. Essentially, Marcos is a criminal, and his day of reckoning will someday come. Hopefully, amidst the clamor for his neck, the transition will be non-violent (we can always hope), though I doubt that he’ll go peacefully (it was how I tried to be during torture before angels of mercy descended on me). We can only hope that Marcos finds what my Christian friends call grace. Not in vain have I prayed for strength, for Allah is merciful, even while I was being severely tortured.
He was only 16 when became a Prime Minister of Sultan Badarud Din II. Continuing his families legacy, a legacy of a very distinguished family, he was born in Jolo in 1865 (he quickly mastered the QUR’AN and Arabic Law). I think my father met him before Hadji Buta Abdul Baqui died in 1936. I don’t know for sure. But I do know that Abdul Baqui was known as a peacemaker; consequently some people loved him and some people hated him. Here’s where it gets complicated. It was sometimes hard to figure him out. Sometimes it was hard to tell which side he was on because, though he never betrayed the Bangsamoro cause, he was never afraid to compromise. Let’s remember his accomplishments. Let’s remember how he resisted the Spanish, brokered a lasting peace between Amirul Kiram and Sultan Harum, and how subsequently the Sultan agreed to rule the province by following the tenets of Islamic law. Abdul Baqui was a master of diplomacy who made American authorities respect Islamic religion and customs of the Tausog. It was because of him that the Tausog were respected. I’ve been critical of him, while I’ve always admired his tenaciousness. I thought that he compromised. I thought he compromised too much when he shouldn’t have. I’ve had to learn to understand that getting something was better than coming up empty-handed and that there aren’t many things worse on earth than all out war. Wouldn’t anyone who thought otherwise be mad? Who wants all out war? Thus one man armed with a barang (a broad-bladed sword) could often do more good … harm … both Americans and Filipinos feared the Juramentado … more harm/good than a whole army. We’ve decided to use a variation of these tactics today, and … So by the time I was arrested in 1979 we’d formed a very strong anti-dictatorship network that extended from central Luzon to the Sulus. And tomorrow I’ll be executed because of it.
I don’t know whether my mother will hear of my death, or hear how I’ll die; it was the same initially with my dad’s death. In my eyes he’ll always be a martyr, and it doesn’t matter that he fought along side Americans. How things have changed. And hopefully it’ll change again. It’s something I’ve agonized over … something I’m willing to die for … at least I say I’m willing …but I won’t know how I really feel until tomorrow. Can I say that I don’t know?
Meanwhile I revel in successes we’ve had. At this very moment there are young Juramentados ready to carry on the fight. It doesn’t matter how many of us they kill. Their hearts beat with exaltation as they prepare for it. Their hearts beat with exaltation as they prepare to die. “Allah Akbar! Allah Akbar!” But though we seem unbending, will it ever be enough?
We were so naïve. (I, perhaps, was never entirely sure. But Marcos made it easy for me.) All people basically want the same things. We all want to be happy, and we want to live a full life. Now I’m afraid I’m going to be cheated out of those two things … at least here on earth … because I’m still young.
On April 9, 1942 my father died from a mosquito bite on Bataan. It has taken me a long time to admit to anyone that my father was a Filipino Scout, a Moro Filipino Scout, and died from a mosquito bite rather than as a Juramentado. We have been unable to find his name on any monument. We have been unable to find his grave. Nor is his name ever mentioned in connection with the Filipino Scouts … and they weren’t Boy Scouts, and many of them died along side Americans on Bataan and Corregidor. Then how do we know that he died from a mosquito bite on Bataan? My mother somehow knew. They all knew he was ill. Nevertheless, I do believe that he died a hero, though I’m sure he was too sick to fight. Many Americans and Filipinos gallantly fought on Bataan and Corregidor and (I repeat) lost their lives. I have no idea how many of them died as the result of mosquito bites. Regardless how my father died, even though we’re Moros, our family has always celebrated Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor) and honored my father for he died on April 9th.
Months earlier the Japanese Imperial Army occupied our town without resistance. Without anyone running amok. No Juramentado died that day. I’m told everyone kept waiting for someone to do something. Nothing happened. Everything stayed calm. And the Japanese left puppets in charge, men my family knew, so life seemed peaceful enough.
Then something happened, which I don’t even pretend to understand. My mother somehow knew that Bataan and Corregidor fell, and she hoped then that my father would soon be coming home. I don’t know exactly when my mother knew that he died from a mosquito bite. She and everyone else in Jolo thought of the Japanese as liberators, which as it turned out was a terrible mistake, and she has said that she felt unexpected happiness when she learned of the fall of Bataan. She thought: “I am pleased with defeat because it means the end of killing and pleased because I see how the Japanese haven’t hurt anyone here.” She thought: “I’m please with defeat because it means the end of Christian domination; it’s why we fought Americans for so long and hard … and before that the Spanish ….” Her explanation plagues me to this day.
It has been said that every Moro male is born a Juramentado. This is the same as saying that every Moro male is potentially a martyr, so here I’m set to be executed tomorrow morning, tomorrow morning when my name and face will be added to the role of martyrs. I think I’m ready to follow the path of God. My father would’ve been proud to have a son die this way … even without my being given benefits of parang sabbil or properly prepared for the afterlife he would still be proud.
Gumgay Sinsat killed by a Marcos bullet in 1982. Marcos believes that he is doing what he does for the sake of the nation, but he fights anyone who opposes him regardless of what he or she stands for. It doesn’t matter that they might stand for the same things he says he’s for. He and the elite who rule this country will never relent and release their stranglehold, and as long as they’re in power conditions for most Filipinos (Moros and Christian alike) will never change. Nothing will change. Nothing will change without Jihad (if nothing else than Jihad of the heart). And it is much more than a Holy war. Unfortunately it will take more violence.
We must have faith that violence will work … faith in violence and faith in the sword. I’m afraid the sword is the only weapon we have now that will make a difference, and we’re comparable to all of juramentados of the past, all those who blackened their teeth and bound their penises and, before they were martyred, killed as many American and Spanish people as possible. Now I’m one of them. Many things will have to be destroyed. Many things will have to be destroyed before things will change, really change now that we know Marcos … now that we know that Marcos is not benevolent. We have given him more than our lives and have allowed him to control everything. While there may be those who’ll curse and weep, I rejoice in the fact that I’ve sacrificed myself.
Jihad is now spreading around the world. We’ve forced it here and there and it’s spreading like wildfire. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about the Philippines or Timbuktu, regardless, where we can we must take advantage of Christian timidity. Let us bask in the struggle though we face death and live in Hell.
I spend these last hours on earth trying to discern how I’ll hold up when I face death in the morning. Will I act like a true Juramentado? Will I act like a true Juramentado or a timid Christian? I want to make my father proud. Praise be to God. I have full satisfaction that God is my witness. Allah Akbar.
Julio Nalundasan killed by a Marcos bullet.
Jose Mariano killed by a Marcos bullet.
Lisa Balando killed by a Marcos bullet.
Edjop killed by a Marcos bullet.
Abdulla Gumbay killed by a Marcos bullet.
Ninoy Aquino killed by a Marcos bullet.
Mahasari Padukka Mawlana as-Sultan Mohammed Jamalul A’lam bin al-Marhum Mahasari Padukka as-Sultan Pulalun (there may not seem to be a connection between the person with this long name and Marcos but there is) was the Sultan of Sulu in 1878 when he ceded Sulu possessions in Borneo to the British North Borneo Company. He was paid $5,000 a year in Mexican currency for this hunk of territory. In exchange for money, Mohammed Jamalul A’lam granted Baron Von Overbeck and the English merchant Mr. Alfred Dent ownership of the territory that would later become known as Sabah. The area we’re talking about has a coastline of over 300 miles and consists of over 30, 000 square miles. Something in Dent drove him to seek from the British Parliament a charter for the British North Borneo Company and obtain sovereign authority over Northern Borneo, which included land he acquired from Mohammed Jamalul A’lam. The Sulus were united at the time and formed one entity and were loyal to the Sultan. But over them was Spain, who claimed that Mohammed Jamalul A’lam as a Spanish vassal couldn’t dispose of any of his territory without her consent. Then too, as in every instance, there was more than one way of looking at it.
The Sultan’s pen moved across the page as he wrote, “we” …he always used the royal “we” when he referred to himself … “irrefutably have nominated and appointed the said Baron Von Overbeck supreme and independent ruler of the above-named territories, with the title of Datu Bandahara and Rajah of Sandakan, with absolute power over life and death of the inhabitants of the country, with all of the absolute rights of property over the soil of the country vested in us and the rights to dispose of same over the production of the country, whether mineral, vegetable or animal, with the rights of making laws, coining money, creating an army and navy, levying custom dues on home and foreign trade, and shipping and other dues and taxes on the inhabitants as to him may seem good or expedient.” Thus the Sultan bestowed upon the baron more power than he ever dreamed of having. Separate interpretations of this move would bring the Philippines and Malaysia to the brink of war. There were few things Marcos ever did that were more pathetic than beating this drum and a subsequent massacre of Moro youth. To this atrocity we should add many others, but it was this massacre on Corregidor that radicalized so many future Jihadist. What could’ve halted Marcos? No one knows. It was definitely a tragedy. He was following a pattern that was established years before when he murdered his first man (Julio Nalundasan), but no one in the whole world could’ve conjured up what it would lead to. In vain he tried to stop the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. In vain others have also tried.
It’s hard to know what Mohammed Jamalul A’lam thought when he put down his pen. A Moro through and through he had every reason to hate and fear Spanish domination and by selling a portion of his territory to a British company maybe he hoped that he could strengthen his hand. It is ridiculous to think that he needed money. He had more money than he could ever spend … while those who knew him knew that he was a bold tactician. Then too maybe money distracted him because he later accepted almost an equal amount from the Spanish in their attempt to buy peace. He could look out of his lattice-work window and as far as he could see knowing that he had dominion over all he could see (except the garrison and maybe the town). Standing on top of his walls he could see even further and knew with certainly that he was lord of the sea. He considered the Spanish garrison merely an intrusion and resented the invasion from the start. He didn’t believe that there would be peace until the Spanish were driven out. All of his subjects wanted them gone, none of them wanted what the Spanish had to offer. The Sultan listened to his people’s complaints. He remained opened to them and considered becoming a Juramentado and a martyr himself. There was no way of knowing what would’ve happened if he had. As it was common people didn’t wait for word from him to pick up their krises or barongs and hurl themselves at Spanish soldiers wherever they ran into them. And always did this in the name of Allah. And Mohammed Jamalul A’lam encouraged this and for years resisted attempts to bring peace to the Sulus while his detractors, with the peculiar logic that peace was workable, urged him to sign a treaty with the Spanish.
The conversation between Mahasari Padukka Mawlana as-Sultan Mohammed Jamalul A’lam and Datu Ilarun ar-Rashid passed from resistance to submission. Over time the Datu convinced the Sultan that a treaty with the Spanish was in their best interest. Mohammed Jamalul A’lam, who fought for so long, finally realized that peace and loyalty to Spain were preferable to continued hostility, which would’ve meant ruin. Jamalul A’lam wouldn’t accept bribes and wouldn’t have capitulated were he not concerned for his people. He observed that his foe only gained the advantage after they acquired fast steamboats and improved military equipment, but what he didn’t know was that the Spanish were more interested in protecting themselves from the British than conquest. He on the other hand didn’t want to lose his power. Datu ar-Rashid assured him that he wouldn’t. If he brought peace and security to the Sulus, he’d always be held in high esteem. Whereas if he were defeated and suffered ignominy, he’d be looked upon as a weakling. He therefore elected to sign a peace treaty. At the same time others pushed for personal jihad, fi sabil Allah, and encouraged suicidal mujahideen. After signing the peace treaty Jamalul A’lam lived an honorable life and “kept one wife only for the greater part of time.” And a peace treaty allowed them (the Sultan and the Spanish) to accomplish many things.
“Jamalul A’lam’s favorite wife valued peace less than he did.”
“So you knew her?” asked Abdulla Gumbay.
“Yes, I knew them both,” recalled the old conquistador. “Inchi Jamila took advantage of the opportunity that arose when her husband’s health started to decline. Through trickery she divided the state in two. It’s less painful for me to believe that she loved him.”
“People’s true colors“ said Abdulla, “seem to come out when given such an opportunity.”
“Besides, it’s human nature for a mother to favor a son and you’d expect her to try to secure a sultanate for him. This made Inchi Jamila meddle in the affairs of state even more than she otherwise would.”
The old conquistador also spoke with Edjob, who would become a victim of Marcos like Abdulla Gumbay was. Edjop turned to radical politics before 1972 when martial law was imposed. He became a wanted man, with a P180, 000.00 bounty on his head. And he was hunted like an animal; yet as the head of the National Democratic Front Preparatory Commission he worked with church people and members of the middle class. Remember, as a grocer’s son, Edjop had the balls to confront Marcos and Marcos gave him a tongue-lashing for “his sheer effrontery.” Edjob could’ve chosen a career abroad that would’ve made him a rich man, but instead he chose to become an activist. . The old conquistador remembered Edjob from his student days and says he was a good son, brother, friend, comrade, husband, and father, an inspiration to everyone. He became a symbol to many Filipino young people, who gave their all, including their lives for democracy and justice.
People who knew of Edjob wanted to know everything the old conquistador knew about the young idealist. They wanted to know everything. Then as now the country was in a mess; the well intended were corrupted just as easily as the despicable, and those who would do anything for power. The old conquistador’s memory was as sharp as ever, and over the ages he saw dictators and despots come and go. So what can we learn from him? Is there anything we’ve missed? And are we doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past? But perhaps there are things that are incommunicable, things we have to learn for ourselves. The old conquistador hesitated; then he spoke.
“In each age,” he proclaimed, “there are many things worth treasuring. In Edjop we have a young man worth remembering. Remember he refused to cooperate before he was summarily executed.”
Abdulla Gumbay asked what happened to the peace after Jamalul Ailam. Did it die with him?
“As the old man’s health failed, disorder increased and conditions bordering on anarchy prevailed. Then a force of Moros attacked the gates of Jolo, but they were repulsed and most of them were killed. The front of the plaza became a battlefield, and several attacks were made on the town. The situation became so bad that the Spanish asked the Governor-General for reinforcements and permission to take the field. This wouldn’t have happened had the Sultan lived, and it shows that sometimes one person can make a difference.”
It can be a trip to the moon, a trip to the moon or a new invention. It can be a painting, or a play, or a piece of music. It can be any piece of art. It can be a proverb by Damiana L. Eugenio or Menchit performing on the stage of the Folk Arts Center. It was also when Menchit found out that she was accepted and burst out in tears. Yes, tears. Most successful people deny that there is any such thing in the world as luck and that such and such couldn’t happen without hard work. I’m not suggesting that luck played a part in Menchit’s success but she wouldn’t have gotten there without hard work. I applauded her. I applaud her … applauded like everyone else did, and I hoped that she felt that her sacrifices were well worth it.
But strain took its toll. The next day after qualifying for the international troupe she didn’t feel like practicing. She passed three tests … perfected a highland dance, a Spanish-influence dance and Filipino Muslim dance … and danced faultlessly. She danced perfectly. Still she needed practice, but she was distracted by success. She didn’t go to the studio that morning, or call in sick. She just didn’t show up.
She took a bus to Makati and in Makati went shopping for some new clothes from Hong Kong. She tried on a floating printed organza tunic. Without intending to, she bought an outfit, which made her look like a model. She normally wouldn’t have shopped in Makati City. She normally wouldn’t shop there because she liked to make her money stretch. She half-forgot that she was missing practice. She half-forgot who she was.
She didn’t know that her selection wasn’t made on her dancing ability alone. Menchit was chosen also because of her Malay-type beauty and her poise and personality. Dancers of the Bayanihan Dance Company are ambassadors of the nation and as such must look beautiful on and off stage. (That was why Menchit wanted to invest in beautiful clothes.) Because of her dark hair, almond-shaped eyes, olive-colored skin, and pleasing features, she possessed the look the company wanted; but this wasn’t her greatest attribute, for more than anything else she needed to be stable. She could expect to be on tour for more than a year. She could expect it to be stressful. She not only needed to be physically fit but would have to get along with her companions and hold up under tension that would inevitably crop up because of a rigorous schedule, performing in strange countries, and chronic lack of sleep. Dancers were bound to get on each other nerves. To guard against this the company had a strict de-selection process. Dancers not only had to dedicate their lives to the show, they were also scrutinized day and night. Soon, perhaps too soon, Menchit’s star began to fade, and it began to fade until it was extinguished forever. It started when she decided to do other things rather than practice. In a dynamic increasing more complex world she didn’t make the best choices. Later she said that she didn’t want success enough. In the end she understood that she, and only she, was to blame. She could’ve been one of best dancers in the company but didn’t want it enough.
I have to say Menchit was devastated. We both were (over the way both of our careers sputtered.) Salamat po, Mrs. Marcos! We were both given a chance, and there were times when we thought that we had it figured out.
I have said that the composition of my play (into which I put my heart and soul) gave me a chance to forget who I am. And I forgot who I was. There were periods when I felt sure that I knew I was right about something, only to find out that I was wrong because my perception was eschewed by who I am. So it helped to forget who I was. I would always be a foreigner in the Philippines, but the problem is I also felt like a foreigner at home. I’m certain I overdid it. It was easy to start but difficult to wrap my brain around it. It was crazy to think that I had the perspective to remain neutral, when sides were already chosen for me. Attracted to so-called radical young people, who opposed Marcos, I tried to think like the other side did, but I couldn’t. I remember, too, trying to get inside Marcos’ head and how I put words in his mouth. I didn’t get very far. I never went inside the Philippine White House, so how could I get inside the president’s brain. I tried to put it all under a microscope and study it, but my field of vision was too broad. I looked at many different people, how they lived and died. But I’m not sure of the results. Perhaps I’m too result oriented.
In September I decided to drop the project. This was ridiculous because the decision was made for me (Salamat po, Mrs. Marcos!). I should’ve felt lucky that I wasn’t deported. Friends of mine disappeared and others (like the director of the theater) were driven into exile … let’s say my own situation seemed precarious. And it wouldn’t be long before I’d be on my way.
Problems here were clearly evident, but we shouldn’t forget Filipinos are friendly people. Hospitality is a way of life for them. Mabuhay in Tagalog means “long live” and is used as a universal greeting. (It’s also the name of a hotel that I took refuge in. I felt I had to take refuge somewhere. I didn’t feel safe). Mabuhay! Live! Laugh! Love! Okay, but there hadn’t been much to laugh about. This was unusual, and many people I relied on were no longer around. My time in the Philippines had been unforgettable, and I made many friends. The first irrefutable testimony of friendship in the Philippines is a friend’s willingness to do anything for you. I had them loan me their cars and their clothes, but now in those uncertain times, when a friend of mine was a target of the First Lady, I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure I could count on anyone, particularly after Philippine Immigration gave me 48 hours to leave the country. 48 hours wasn’t much time. The notice lacked details. It didn’t give a reason for my expulsion, but it was clear: I had to leave.
There was no way of getting around a 1:00 a.m. curfew without risks. There was no one on streets after 1:00 a.m. There were no exceptions, unless specifically altered through public announcements, so friends often got around it by spending the night with each other. For me to have walked home then would’ve been madness, though I could’ve called the Metrocom for a ride to a hotel. But could I trust the police? I wasn’t sure. Now, I didn’t want to disparage the police, but the simple truth was that the reputation of the police by then had reached an all time low (or at least with people I knew.) Were police only doing their job? And with my immigration status in question, I couldn’t risk it. I didn’t want to end up in jail. Thinking about the experience years later, I remember how I spent that night talking to a friend. He stayed up with me. He stayed up with me because he knew that I was about to leave Manila. We talked about many things and laughed … yes, laughed … about such myths as “Manila traffic isn’t that chaotic!” and “our water is safe.” The Department of Tourism put out this propaganda, and I guess it was accurate up to a point. I didn’t die from drinking Manila water, and I had lived in places where I didn’t trust water and had to either boil it or use halazone pills. Indeed I felt relatively safe drinking Manila water.
Lino told the story of Sarimanok. Sarimanok was chosen to symbolize the Miss Universe Contest that had just been held in Manila, but most people didn’t know where Sarimonok came from. Lino said Sarmonok evolved from a mythical rooster, the Darangen, a legendary character found in Muslim folklore. There are several different versions of the tale. One legend has it that Sultans used birds to carry messages of love to women who caught their fancy. There was also a certain Sultan of Lanao who gave a party for his daughter Sari, and while the party was going on, a multi-colored rooster appeared out of nowhere, snatched the princess, and disappeared with her. Lino and I laughed when he said that he wasn’t sure that it bold well for Miss Universe.
I read the expulsion papers … read them and reread them. I hardly needed to express my feelings. I didn’t need to express my feelings because my face showed how I felt. I remember feeling angry and sad. But there was also sheer relief. I felt relieved because I had my mind made up for me. I wasn’t left with a choice, and I was thankful for finality. Queer how it relieved my anxiety, but leaving behind friends made me feel sad and angry. I was free to go but wasn’t free to stay. It made me realize how much I had taken for granted. Lino told me that he was willing to drive me home, but fearing the consequences I told him no. I didn’t know je was going to be a great movie director. I’m surprise that I didn’t see it. He was already working in television.
Time … there wasn’t enough of it. We talked until morning, but there still wasn’t enough time. There was a time even a day or two before then when we wouldn’t have talked all night. But now it didn’t seem like we had enough time to say everything.
Perhaps we somehow knew that we’d never see each other again. Time flew. Neither one of us looked at our watches. Whatever we said now comes to me fragmentarily, as if an ocean already separated us. Lino reminded me that he once lived in Hawaii. Okay, so we could meet half way, maybe. I’ve always been a realist and perhaps knew that this would be our last chance. What I was looking for was elusive. And wherever or whatever the answer was, it wasn’t in the Philippines. And I feel sure now that whatever it was for Lino, he wouldn’t have found it in Hawaii. But neither one of us had a crystal ball. So I told him maybe. Maybe we’ll see each other again … in Hawaii. Or New York City. But this was before we knew how huge the universe was, or how big a distance there was between us.
By August I wore out my welcome, and they hunted me and almost caught me. They? I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure of anything. I didn’t know what day it was. I didn’t know who I was. To call this a nightmare was a fallacy, for it was not a dream. It was real. It was what my life had become. I was frantic and didn’t know what to do. Words like “live” and “dream” no longer had meaning for me. My options shrunk, as I waited for money. I wrote home for money, but there was a telegraph strike in America. Accordingly I shouldn’t have been too proud to borrow money from friends. There are also those who’ll say that I should’ve gone to the American Embassy, but I really didn’t think the embassy could or would help me. I dreamed of home. I became obsessed with home, as I waited. I thought of turning myself self in. The thought, however, terrified me.
I still had my legs and used them to walk through the streets of Manila. Dawn surprised me in the Luneta, while I was thinking, or trying to think my way out of my situation. I walked with my head down. I walked with my head down and lost my way, though I’d walked down those sidewalks before. I was lost in a city I knew. I looked for something to cling to. I looked for something to cling to and found it in my pocket. It was a homemade card signed by Ricky Dizon, Jaun Millan, Lily, Alfong Santiago, Carrole Ispoco, Ben Viado, Cecile, Yaey (Drug) Blanco, Franklin L. Osorio, Joy E. Soler, Eddie Pescafor, and Kage Rivera, and the card simply said (as if I could forget them), “Please remember.” Those were my friends. Yes, I had friends in Manila. And I knew they would help me, but there was a problem. I’m a proud fool. I’m a damn fool and am more likely to ask a stranger for help than a friend. So I kept walking and telling myself that it wasn’t the end of the world. It felt like the end of the world.
A cab picked me up on Jorge Bocobo Street in the center of Manila. I wasn’t thinking. If I were thinking, I would’ve been more frugal. The driver must’ve thought that I was another rich American because I hired him for the day. It was still early in the morning, and I hired him for the day. I wanted to see as much of Manila … friendly, hospitable, welcoming Manila … as I could. I couldn’t possibly cover it all in a day, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to. There was so much (familiar and foreign) to see. I thought of going to specific places, (and some arbitrarily selected), but I spent most of the day having the driver drive behind me and wait as I walked. The man must’ve thought that I was crazy. The way I felt it was better that I walk. It made a more lasting impression that way.
From his seat the driver pointed things out to me, though I didn’t need him to. The driver would point with his finger and tell me, “This is…” such and such. The pasos I spent to hire him I saved for an emergency. The driver gave me change. With it we ate. It felt like my last meal, and if God willed it, it would’ve been. In the Philippines, thankfully food didn’t cost very much, thankfully for me it wasn’t very much. For a few pesos we could still get something good to eat. By then I learned how to make my money stretch.
Led by the driver, I went to places that I’d been to before. Most of the places thankfully didn’t have an entrance fee. The cathedral was free, the fort was free (I would go back to the fort), and the park was free. I preferred the quiet places to glitzy ones. I wished that I had the opportunity to tell Imelda that. A map of Manila would show where we went. The tour wasn’t as intense as it could’ve been because I wanted to walk and take it all in. I only went where doors were open to me. It was necessary because I couldn’t afford entrance fees. The driver approved of everything, and whenever someone asked me my name I gave him or her my real one. Then when they asked me if I were married I had to say no. They always asked me if I had children and my answers were always the same because they couldn’t believe that I wasn’t married and didn’t have children. And I’m glad to say that by then Manila was no longer a challenge for me. I was no longer seduced by it. In the short time I was there it became my home.
I didn’t want to leave my apartment. After all the time that it took me to find one I didn’t want to leave it. I had the driver drop me off three blocks away. He never knew that I went back for one last look. I didn’t care what he thought, and why should I have cared? He would’ve seen how disoriented I was, no doubt disoriented, as I grappled with my situation. Distinguishing between fiction and reality had always been hard for me, so maybe that was why I made such a big production out of my leaving.
No letter from my friends ever arrived for me, but I kept hoping. Most afternoons I waited for the postman with my eyes fixed on the mailbox. Years of waiting however taught me not to expect too much, when I can remember when I expected to become rich and famous. While back in the Philippines there were friends of mine who made it on the world scene, and for me it was no surprise … unless you count when the internet brought me the news of Lino’s death. It was also possible that others died. This possibility disturbed me because I could never understand why they had to go. Telling myself that it was an absurd question helped. In distant days, less distant because of the passage of time, I desired many things and was driven with passion to achieve them. This drove me to write a play with a thousands scenes, which tried to encompass all of Philippine history, and as I envisioned it, it would last all night (like other Asian epics) and would never come to an end. It may have been messy, but I almost got a production out of it.
There was a hitch, of course, and it had nothing to do with my limitations. I am not a Filipina. I spoke a little Tagalog, and only a few words remain with me to this day. And some people said I acted more Filipino than most Filipinos do, but I was still an alien, and it wasn’t my battle. For a while I fooled myself and thought it didn’t matter as much as it obviously did. For that reason I wouldn’t work in the Philippines. For that reason I couldn’t work in the Philippines. For that reason I wouldn’t want to work in the Philippines. As it was I got out of there by the skin of my teeth. In times like that, I was tested to my limit.
The whole experience dislodged me. I was desperate. I didn’t want to leave yet, but I knew I had to. The horrible feeling of being stranded in a foreign country was new to me, and then it recurred over and over again. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I had no money left and couldn’t send for any. Then I went and spend my emergency money on a cab. It didn’t make sense. At least I still had a roof over my head. But I imagined throughout the ordeal that I was no more cowardly than anyone else would’ve been under the same circumstances.
Another day or two, what difference would it make, or so I thought, because I had overstayed my welcome. With anger, with indignation, without knowing what to do, I felt desperate. I cursed. It was unfair. Unfair. Unhinged, I cursed. I was tall for a woman, and with fair skin and blond hair I was obviously not a Filipina. This meant that I couldn’t hide. And immigration officials knew exactly where I lived. Nevertheless, four or five days went by before I ventured out of my apartment.
Among books on my shelf was a catalogue from the University of the Philipines/Diliman, and on its cover was a photograph of the Oblation , a sculpture by Guillermo Tolentino. I admired this stature of a naked man based on the second verse of Rizal’s “Mi Ultimo Adios;”
In fields of battle, deliriously fighting,
Others give you their lives, without doubt, without regret;
Where there’s cypress, laurel or lily,
On a plank or open field, in combat or cruel martyrdom,
If the home or country asks, it’s all the same–it matters not.
Rizal would be executed in the morning and knew it when he wrote his poem. He didn’t bemoan punishment of death, but wrote “My Ultimate Goodbye” to say that he was “glad” to give his life for his countrymen after “a gloomy night.”
The Oblation, now standing in front of a campus building seemed destined to become a sacred place, just as Quiapo Church was sacred, but Mr. Tolentino couldn’t have foreseen rallies of the First Quarter Storm or the Diliman Commune. On the day he was executed Rizal would dream a dream whose substance was the same as those students who rallied around the Oblation. The Oblation, a sculpture of a nude young man with outstretched arms and open hands … measuring 3.5 meters high and symbolizing 350 years of Spanish rule … remains standing there today, with tilted head, closed eyes and parted lips murmuring a prayer, and across town in a church named after a water plant called “apon”, there is the icon of the Nazarene, which will also endure just as the nation will. In the end a dictator will fall, and no matter how many people he kills the dream will live on. As Tolentino planned it, “The statue stands on a rustic base, a stylized rugged shape of the Philippine archipelago, lined with big and small hard rocks, each of which represents an island. The “katakataka” (wonder plant) whose roots are tightly implanted on Philippine soil, is a link that binds the symbolized figure to the allegorical Philippine Group. “Katakataka” is really a wonder plant. It is called siempre vivo (always alive) in Spanish. A leaf or a piece of it thrown anywhere will sprout into a young plant. “
With a P180, 000.00 bounty on his head, making him one of the most wanted persons in the country, Edjop simply carried on his work in Mindanao. By then a legend and a ranking leader of the revolutionary movement, he spent much of his time sharing memories with his comrades and ordinary people who surrounded him. He knew the risks. He had been arrested and knew the risks. He had undergone torture, so when he was captured during a military raid in Davao City, he tried to escape. Did he do it knowing they would shoot him? Did he refuse to co-operate knowing that they would execute him the following day? He was only 24 years old and became a symbol like Razil did … while the murderers have been forgotten. Had Edjop been born at the time, Tolentino could’ve used Edjop as a model for the Oblation.
The dungeons … I walked through them many times, so I had no trouble visualizing what it was like …
The dungeons are underground and lined with stone, and though the ceiling forms a perfect arch, the floor is dirt, a fact which was always aggravated when the cells were flooded with river water. A walkway divides the cells down the middle, and one has to bend over to get into the vault (I say “vault” because the dungeons are sealed like one at night.) And in one of these cells I stayed, while memories of the Battle of Mendiola were still vivid. With no windows, a dirt floor (mud when flooded with river water), I’m in chains rather than behind bars. Three times a day a jailer checks on me and brings me food and water, but it’s light when he opens the vault that I wait for.
I have lost count of the days that I’ve been in here, whether it’s three or four or five or six. I am young and have my whole life ahead of me, but now it’s been disrupted by MARTIAL LAW (September 21, 1972), which has enshrined the slogan “Sa ikauunlad ng Bayan, disiplina ang Kailanga..” So human rights violations are being taken for granted, and here I sit.
Our voices have been muted, so there are those among us who wish that they’d never gotten involved. Our cause is truly valid and acceptable, but we’ve felt betrayed by people and I’ve had to endure the torment of silence. They scoured our ranks, interrogated and tortured us and I now sit in this prison.
Disheartened by my prospects, of having nothing but time on my hands, I said to myself, “How could this happen?” I think I know. It’s the damn dictator’s wife’s fault.
Feeling at a loss as to what to do next, I tried, in the darkness to recall everything that led up to this moment. I was out of options, which encouraged me. I wasn’t filled with pity. I didn’t allow myself that luxury. I would leave the country. I devoted more than a year to a project that wasn’t mine. Then I lost my way. Perhaps I was already lost. And I lost out. I won’t go into how it happened. More than once I got sidetracked. More than once I started over. I labored without encouragement. I was incarcerated for my effort. We become confused, unless we accept our destiny. That is why I have decided to write my parents.
Post Restante, Manila. Mom and dad. I am alone in Manila. I’ve survived thus far but suspect I’ll go on living. Alone. No sounds. I haven’t gone out the entire day and lost track of the time. The same as it was yesterday, and maybe the day before. And my neighbors think I have left. It is for me an opportunity to disappear again. Unless? I am leaving here on a jet plane. Wake up! It is time to move on. Or is it only a start? My play never got off the ground. With a cast of thousands. I am your daughter, still your daughter, so you named me, so I’m telling you that I only temporarily changed my name. You did so worry. I was so bad. But there is still time because there is still a playwright in me. There are those here who know that I am one. So I haven’t given up. But I’m tired and discouraged and want to come home. Thanks to you I haven’t lost hope because you instilled hope in me. Hope for the hopeless is everything. Here is notice that I’m sending you a box filled with memories about the Philippines. Some newspaper clippings. Magazine articles. A number of photos. And a map or two. Also a photo of me with some Filipino friends. Ricky Dizon, Jaun Millan, Lily, Alfong Santiago, Carrole Ispoco, Ben Viado, Cecile, Yaey (Drug) Blanco, Franklin L. Osorio, Joy E. Soler, Eddie Pescafor, and Kage Rivera. And in it is also a souvenir for each of you. And don’t worry! Right. I want to see you as soon as I get back to the States. With happy smiles on your faces. And we’ll have a long talk and get caught up. Dad! I know that I haven’t written as often as I should. When you’re as involved as I have been. Getting involved in as much as you can. Staying out of trouble. With what occurred still fresh in the hearts and minds of every Filipino! I know, I know you can say that I’m not a Filipino! You may think of the American I once was. And remember those I met who have died, the gallant and the young. And the students who crashed the palace gates. Now I’m sounding like I was in danger when I never was. Revolution, the question is, was it a real one? I’m thankful, thankful for you. You always let me. And go abroad. Even though I was your girl. Though you must’ve known that you couldn’t stop me. The times have changed since you were my age. There is no safe place now anymore, but it’s safer over here than over there. You worry, I know, but I have to tell you that I worry about you to. It doesn’t matter where you are, there’s trouble, and travel can be a hassle. How could I have known that there would be a telegraph strike? At exactly the time I needed it. I’ve had it tight before. And made it. Time and time again I made it. And each time I made it I got stronger, so now I’m very strong. No peace for the wicked. Maybe it’s the you in me mom, just kidding, of course. Strange. I feel less able this time. Maybe it’s because I’ve been gone so long. And then when I get really tired I ask myself was it really worth it. From Asia to Europe and? How would it have been different had I gone the other way? For one thing I wouldn’t have lost a day, a day I wouldn’t have recovered, but there’s no need for me to worry about the day now it. And dad, you never shared with us your war exploits. But I thought of you when I went to Bataan and Corregador, and I thought of you when I walk ashore at Leyte. And after all, you never said you wanted to go back. You could’ve asked me to do something for you, and I would’ve done it. What I would’ve given to have you there with me. And lo, I spent the night in the dungeons where the Japanese held Americans. Got to know how it felt. I was locked up too. But I’m no worse for wear. Experience is a teacher, and there were many experiences that I’m glad I had. I am as happy as I could be because I’m sure the telegraph strike will soon be over. I’ll wait. And I’ll wait, and if all goes well, I’m out of here soon. What will be will be, and we’ll have to see. But you don’t have to worry. I’m not as restless as I once was. I’m looking forward to seeing you as soon as I get back to the States. If you bake me a cake I’ll stick around long enough to eat it. Just kidding, of course. Will not disturb your sleep with my coming and going. Let bygones be bygones. It’s New York, dears. And I’ll plan to stay until I figure out what I’m doing. I’m assuming you’ll pick me up. You won’t let me down. Since the book is closed, I hope. Close on all the times I’ve disappointed you. Let’s enjoy ourselves. Yes. We’ve got some catching up to do. Send my regards to all of my old friends. As we make our amends. I hope we can be adults. Let me warn you. I have changed. And with me not truly the same. Only except I’ve kept my hair the same. When you next go to the market will you buy me something? Soda! Stock up on soda! They’re all saying I need it since it’ll calm me down. You know what calms me down. So get the spare bedroom ready. Count on having your insensitive daughter back. The daughter you loved, and we’ll plan to have a good time. We will. But please don’t be too critical.
Your little girl. And you were doting parents. Before the British invasion, and I turned weird. And by Jove, you tried to understand. And I could’ve turned out to be like most everyone else. And find someone who would’ve given me the keys to his heart. And you could’ve expected grandchildren. Oh my! Only, no, I had to run off and see the world. And you thought it would never end. And can it be the day has come? I wish. I truly do, but I make no promises. But you’re getting older, and I’m getting older, as I’m sure you’ll remind me. I can act my age, and you may insist that I’m not getting any younger. But am I smarter? Smarter, yes, and I’ve changed and you’ve changed. Yes, I know we’ve changed. And I coming home. Not with my tail between my legs. I may have suffered a set back, but I’m not defeated. I look forward to being in my old bedroom, to sleeping in my old bed. I know that I could stay there as long as I want. And let you set limits now. That’s all right with me. It’s up to you. We’ll have to see. Anyway, let me know. No hard feelings. And the world. How small it all is. And me loving you as always. Your pumkin. For all our faults, we have it pretty good. I have known loneliness. I know you’ve missed me. The same as I’ve missed you. I just need a place to lay my head for a while. To give me a place to rest as I decide what I’m doing.
I won’t bother you with how lost I felt, but it didn’t kill me … have no fear. A woman becomes confused, gradually over time, when she lets someone else decide things for her