HOUSE BUILT ON A ROCK
DAYBREAK depicted a picture of another gloomy day. At five o’clock in the morning when ordinarily you could already see a touch of brilliance in the sky, the hour that Wednesday had the surroundings wrapped in a mist of gray. The foliage, consisting of hardwood and fruit trees which together with bamboo groves made up the landscape around the house, was virtually just silhouettes, unlike in summer when even at dawn the house already struck up some nice picture framed by green scallops etched in blue sky and accented by fire trees whose orange blossoms served to crown the steeply-inclined house roof.
Ka Mao was up and about that early, doing his regular chore of sprucing up the surroundings, cutting grass that had begun to thicken in the lawn with the onset of the rainy season.
That had been his routine daily on schooldays, since by eight o’clock he should start attending to Gia, cooking her breakfast, then ironing her school uniform. Gia would get up from bed at this time, but she took too much time toying with her stuffed toys in bed. Only about past nine o’clock would she take breakfast and then start her toilet routine which, including her bath, would be done with a few minutes past ten. Good thing Assumption was just a walk away, and she would make it to the school still with plenty of time to spare before the bell.
A gust of breeze swept by, causing Ka Mao to cringe slightly. He tightened the faded denim jacket he wore around his body. He was shivering but was controlling it. He looked up to the sky to see if it was going to rain, spreading his palm to check any raindrops.
No sign of rain, Ka Mao thought.
He checked his foot for a while. It had grown some swelling. Pressing a finger on the swollen top, he betrayed pain. He fixed the bandage around the wound, then as he was about to resume his work, he paused at sight of the house getting illumined by the increasing sunlight.
The otherwise austere triangular roof made of galvanized iron sheets toping the main section of the house was made prominent by its very flatness in green and its steep inclination which approximated those of Swiss houses. That roofing style served similar functions: for the Swiss, to prevent the gathering of snow on rooftops; Ka Mao’s design, to prevent the gathering of leaves which created rust on the galvanized iron sheet. At the same time, the roof design gave space for an attic.
Where the roof inclination ended, it touched the tops of the triangular canopies of the three-division promontory on the second floor. From inside, the promontory served as a view room where one could watch the surroundings through the grilled French windows; both grills and windows were painted white. This room, having the amenities for reading hours and coffee time, served those functions for the main bedroom which belonged to Ogie.
To the right of the promontory rose from the level of the attic a single-section turret. This section, which served as Gia’s powder room, broke the otherwise bare look of that extremity of the house on the front elevation. A single window done in the style of that of Ogie’s reading room served to accent this section, which Gia loved to call her Castle Room.
Opposite the powder room is the attic bathroom, featuring a bathtub improvised in concrete and done with enamel finish. The shower valve hung on the rafters of the pyramid-shaped roof, with water from it dropping at the center of the tub. In-between the powder room and the bathroom was a lanai-like section roofed with trellis covered with fiber glass. .
Below the turret was a structure which adjoined the promontory, with its roof being a continuous flow of the main roof inclination. This section, a continuity of the main house on the ground floor, was the guest room. Ka Mao expected to occupy this room when he got too old to climb to the attic which he now shared with Gia, because she insisted in sleeping with him. To the left of the promontory was the music room adjoining the living room and with high-rise rounded walls done French-window-style, roofed with concrete which at the same time served as open balcony for the attic living room above it.
Below the promontory were the two large posts holding it up, decorated with pre-cast Gothic design and, together with the concrete railings done with similar pre-cast decorations and filling the spaces between the posts and the structures on either side, serving as frame for the wooden main door with elegant antique-style carvings. In-between the posts at the center and leading to the porch by the main door were the four-step stairs from the lawn.
Further to the left, beyond the rounded music room was a square room with wide windows done in bronze-colored aluminum and glass. This used to be Ka Mao’s library but was now Maoie’s bedroom. The top of the this section was a roof of galvanized iron sheets which, however, was covered from view by the gutter wall all around it.
Ka Mao envisioned on this spot a deck with wooden railing and trellis on which clang flowering vines, like yellow bells, cadena de amor and sampaguita. Similarly, Ka Mao saw the rising of a rounded structure whose roof in the shape of a cone went even higher than the steep overall roof of the house. But an exquisite pain, like caused by minute blades slicing through his flesh, cut off this thought abruptly: crow bars tearing at roof sheets, sledge hammers pounding on concrete walls, wooden poles shattering glass walks and doors… Ka Mao shook his head, eyes betraying his seizure by a sudden fury. He did not want to remember.
He smiled to himself consolingly. For all which he thought was his material failure, he was able to build such a house after all. This was legacy enough to leave to his family, particularly Gia.
Ka Mao had made use of by far the best knowledge he had gone to in his studies of civil engineering in building the house. He had learned somewhere in those studies that the best way to build a house was to put it under one roof. In his case, however, he found it too tall an order to put under a single roof the L-shaped floor plan that even had a T on top of the L leg, which made the whole design look more of a swastika than an L.
The plan, spread over a land area of some 300 square meters, would have required an enormous single roof which in turn would require enormous expenses. For lack of funds, he was constrained to do construction one section at a time, accordingly as money came in -- but with such section already livable as a home everytime. This way, what finally came up was a sprawling house comprised of two storeys, and sitting on sloping ground, made room for basements laid out, as determined by the topography, in the shape of, too, a swastika.
As to the roofing problem, Ka Mao necessarily solved it one at a time as well. What came about as a consequence was an interplay of designs reminiscent of steeply-inclined Alpine roofs, Arabian turrets, Japanese trellises, Mayan pyramids, Venetian balconies, and French canopies.
Of himself, Ka Mao was a very austere man. When he first settled on the Antipolo property, he put up a simple hut made of bamboo and nipa. That was in the mid-sixties, when he began frequenting the place during weekends. Even then, he was already feeling the itch to let things out of his mind by writing them, and the rural atmosphere in the property augured well for this hankering. He loved to scribble ideas on his notepad while he sat on a boulder with his feet getting caressed by the gentle current of the creek.
When he got involved in the strike movement, the Antipolo property served another purpose. While being venue for underground meetings and martial arts training from time to time, it became a steady source of materials needed in strikes, like bamboo poles and wooden clubs for combating strike breakers with.
And when, obviously because of his continuous questioning of the Sisonite conduct of the revolution, he was isolated by comrades upon the declaration of martial law, his own recourse for countryside retreat was the Antipolo property; it was dangerous to stay put in the city where you would never know when your turn was for getting arrested.
This was when his occupation of the property began on a more permanent basis, subsisting most of the time on rootcrops like cassava and camote and fruits like banana. When the hankering for rice meal became unbearable, he would sneak into the city and get a good fill of it in Manay Consoling’s house.
For a long time in the early years of martial law, the hut remained as it was when Ka Mao built it. If there were any changes at all, they were mainly repairs or replacements of bamboo components eaten up by termites.
But perfectly in accord with a popular Mao Tse Tung dictum, martial law was a bad thing which he, albeit unwittingly, turned into a good thing. The increasing desire to write and the curtailment of press freedom became as stimulants for him to pursue creative writing. In this field of endeavor, he got all the freedom to write unfettered by state repression of the press.
He had tried writing a screenplay once in the past, “Tag-Araw” for direction by Jun Gallardo, but it was an assignment given to him more as a concession to his influence as Entertainment Editor of Makabayan publications at the time. This time, if he was to make a real go at film scriptwriting, he must really sharpen his skill at the craft.
For the purpose, Ka Mao stayed at the M. Hizon apartment of Manay Consoling, doing household chores in exchange for his board and lodging. In the Philippine vernacular, it is termed “alilang kanin”, literally translating to “servant paid with rice.” That’s a lot lower in rung than that of an average household servant who is paid, in addition to food and shelter, regular salary. But Ka Mao would not put himself in the category of “alilang kanin”. It was with pure goodwill that Manay Consoling took him into her fold, giving him food and shelter, and he saw no way of putting a price on that act.
After his chores were done the first half of the day, he would walk the distance from that place to the Thomas Jefferson Library on the corner of Pureza Street and Ramon Magsaysay Boulevard in Sta. Mesa and there browse all afternoon on every material he could lay his hands on in learning screenwriting. In the evenings he worked on manuscripts of screenplays based on what he thought were good story concepts. He did the manuscripts long-hand on yellow pad, for he had no typewriter yet at the time.
Ka Mao had not delved any on the market consideration of filmmaking, so his works in this learning period were expressions of what he believed were good concepts, like a child contending with the impossibility of his conception, hence, the title “Genesis To The Minus Infinity”; or an untitled screenplay which he had intended to be his contribution to the development of film art, creating what he conceived to be visual music, a concept whereby without sound he depicted the musical structure through sheer editing technique intrinsic in the cinema. About this last concept, he was strictly adhering to the school that held cinema was pure visual medium and that sound movies, institutionalized by Hollywood, constituted a bastardization of film art.
Ka Mao paused in his work, smiling to himself. He remembered that when he finally got the opportunity to go hands-on in film scriptwriting, he did it a hundred percent the Hollywood way.
THE SUN glared in his eyes as Ka Mao looked up to see what time of the day it must be; he still had not gotten used to wearing a watch. The sun was at about sixty degrees upward from the horizon.
“Must be ten o:clock,” he murmured to himself.
Then he turned toward the gate of the subdivision which he would be entering. The gate security guard hailed him.
“Where to?” asked the guard.
“Celso Ad Castillo,” Ka Mao answered
“It’s far from here,” said the guard. “You should take a taxi going there.”
“It’s okay. Walking is good for our health.”
“Not for your shoes,” said the guard, pointing to the ones Ka Mao was wearing.
Indeed, the walk to Celso’s residence would be grueling enough for Ka Mao’s Swatch. It was evident he was doing his gait in such a way that he didn’t drag his feet but were lifting them so as not to ruin the soles of his shoes.
The daily grind in the two months of Ka Mao’s journeys to the Jefferson Library did not see Ka Mao’s indefatigable Swatch shoes figuring in. It would have been ravaged by now, with no prospect of being replaced by a new pair immediately. Suffering the ravagement in those trips was a pair of cheap rubber sandals. Ka Mao’s Swatch had remained under the landing of the apartment stairway where Ka Mao had given it a special shelter, to be taken out only on special occasions.
The trip he made that morning was one such special occasion. Ka Mao had decided he had learned enough film scriptwriting to present his work to Celso.
But Celso lived in Moonwalk Subdivision, a middle class housing site in Parañaque City, where you needed a taxi to get to your destination. Manay Consoling had given Ka Mao just enough for jeepney fare and no more, and Celso’s house was a good many blocks away from the gate. His Swatch bore the grunt of the journey just the same, though it might be special.
Ka Mao felt very bullish about his meeting with Celso. He had developed enough camaraderie with the director, having covered his film shootings frequently in the past and given him and his films more than enough mileage in the publications he edited. Asking Celso to give him a break in film scriptwriting should not be a problem.
“Oh, Mao,” greeted Celso as he stepped out into the porch where a maid had asked Ka Mao to wait after letting him into the compound. He joined Ka Mao at the white-painted, wrought iron porch set, nearly squeezing himself between the arms of the iron chair.
Clad in sleep slacks and sando, Celso was evidently fresh from bed, but he nonetheless struck up the flamboyance characteristic of his comportment. About the guy was a way of giving himself an air of superiority over the rest. And as he stroked his protruding belly while he sat, Ka Mao thought if Celso was not doing a Buddha in the Hindu God’s own heyday.
Celso did look like Buddha in many a physical respect. He was robust-framed, with bulging tummy, excess flesh here and there on the arms and torso, and with his five-foot-five height tended to contract into a veritable ball as he slouched between the arms of the iron chair. Above all, when he grinned, which made his eyes even more chinky, and his mouth like the slit of a coconut shell coin bank, he was almost everything Buddha come alive.
Celso had all the reason to be vain. After making “Nympha”, which boldly, courageously and with exquisite guts cast a nameless housemaid in the lead role of a nymphomaniac, he gave signal that he was the film director to beat after the era of Gerry de Leon and Lamberto V. Avellana. Franklin Cabaluna had put it quite succinctly: “Celso Ad Castillo is the Lamberto V. Avellana of today.” The reference, of course, was to flair and conceit.
For a time, the showbiz media had been dubbing him the Philippine version of Enfant Terrible, a distinction attributed to Roman Polanski. But though he loved the comparison, Celso preferred to have his own showbiz moniker, The Kid, to embody all that was young, and new and ingenious about him as the personification of the new breed of Philippine film directors.
“How are you, Cels?”
Celso was a man of few words. His flamboyance in most instances was play-act and in instances where he needed to verbalize his braggadocio, the words almost always came out as theatrics.
Celso nodded, smiling “I’m okay” while stroking his protruding belly with his palms.
Ka Mao made himself coffee, rather fumbling with the spoon.
Celso eyed him with his characteristic probing stare. He had had a period of enough familiarization with Ka Mao’s mannerism to see what could be wrong with him now. There were tremors in his hands as Ka Mao scooped powdered coffee from the tin server, creating a thin, tingling sound as the spoon struck the lid of the porcelain cup.
“You’re trembling,” Celso quipped.
Sure, Ka Mao had jitters about how to start the topic with Celso. But he realized his hands trembling was actually a particularity about him: he should take rice for breakfast otherwise his nerves got shaky towards noon. Having had to start early in his travel to Celso, he had no time taking a heavy rice breakfast. He knew his tremors now, as it had always been, were an alarm that it was time he took his lunch. He would be very embarrassed to say this to Celso.
“What you get when you have the habit of washing your hands after much typing,” came Ka Mao’s alibi. “I’d say writer’s syndrome.”
“I’ve had that syndrome once,” Celso said, actually alluding to the time he was struggling to make a name in the creative field by writing novels for comics publications.
“Oh, yes?” asked Ka Mao.
“Empty stomach,” said Celso, flashing his enigmatic smile.
Ka Mao felt squeamish, embarrassed after all that Celso knew he was hungry.
Celso spoke to the maid.
“Set the table for lunch.”
“I want to get busy writing again,” Ka Mao quipped, side-stepping the idea of hunger.
“You’re not editing any magazines now?” Celso asked, lighting a fresh stick of Marlboro with the one he was smoking before crushing the butt into the ashtray.
“No point fighting press repression with empty words,” Ka Mao said, betraying inner bitterness.
“You want to get busy writing,” said Celso.
“That’s why I see you.”
Celso waited for Ka Mao to say his next word.
“If I write scripts…,” Ka Mao paused, sizing up Celso’s reaction.
Celso took a puff at his cigarette.
“I may not necessarily be subject to press repression,” Ka Mao finished his words.
“We have the board of censors,” Celso warned impliedly
“Gimo De Vega is a man of letters.”
“We’re both alumni of the MLQ,” Celso informed, in a way echoing the air of many a renowned writer priding in their alma mater, the Manuel L. Quezon University.
“So I heard. And he’s got high respects for your works,” said Ka Mao, remembering a piece he had read in the past in which Gimo praised Celso for his “Asedillo,” a true-to-life film on the fabled rebel hero of Laguna. Ka Mao had been enthralled by one particular high moment of the movie wherein Fernando Poe, Jr., as Asedillo, rides into town alone on horseback and rouses up the folks with his award-winning incantation: “Mga mamamayan ng San Antonio, kayo ang ilog, ako ang isda. Kung wala kayo, saan ako lalangoy? Papaano ako mabubuhay? (People of San Antonio. You are the river, I am the fish. Without you, where will I swim? How can I live?)”
Ka Mao recalled the lines to Celso, then said with a shade of boasting, “That’s Mao Tse Tung.”
With his characteristic ambiguous grin and a touch of mischief in his stare making his eyes even more chinky, Celso stood, turned inside the house with a quip.
“A minute Mao.”
Ka Mao trailed Celso’s steps toward the house with a remark, “Many writers in the forefront of the anti-dictatorship movement are not just Gimo’s contemporaries. They are also brothers in craft. With Gimo as Chairman of the Board of Censors, I expect minimal restraint in getting progressive ideas across to an audience.”
The maid stepped out and told Ka Mao, “Please get inside, Sir.”
From inside came Celso’s voice. “Come, Mao.”
Ka Mao rose and got himself led by the maid to the dining table inside the house. Celso was taking the seat at the head of the table; Ka Mao took the seat at the side next to Celso, who handed him a tiny red book.
Ka Mao gaped in amazement.
“Red Book by Mao Tse Tung!”
For the purpose for which he came to Celso that day, the revelation was particularly elating for Ka Mao. It assured him that, if only in matters of proletarian revolutionary politics, Celso was in the same wavelength as he was. So Celso was sympathetic to the revolution. Ka Mao felt early on that he wouldn’t have much problem inserting revolutionary ideas in the scripts he would be doing for the director if ever.
Though he knew he had been abandoned by comrades, Ka Mao had not even for once forsaken the cause of the working class.
Celso began having the meal, gesturing to Ka Mao to do the same.
He said, “You were saying…”
“If I wrote movie scripts, I need not worry so much about having my ideas reach the masses,” declared Ka Mao. He took his first bite of pork adobo.
LONG lean days normally precede the heyday of one’s career in filmmaking. Particularly for a screenwriter whose work value is contingent not upon the merit of his job but on the star value of the cast of a film project, it entails untold hardship even just to do a take-off.
At the start of Ka Mao’s screenwriting career, tt was not uncommon to find quite a number of screenwriters, many of them already boasting of credentials in the craft, hanging around on the corner of T. Pinpin and Escolta streets in Binondo where film production companies had their offices. Each of these guys, invariably clipping in their arms folders of either finished scripts, sequence treatments or story synopses of film project proposals, would be there as early as eight o’clock in the morning to vend their works, their faces pale from having missed breakfast and getting paler as the minutes would drag on toward noon and no prospect of lunch ever coming. Hence what rejoicing would the hopefuls break into once any of them rushed out of a building, brandishing a check in his hand as he announced it to be the down payment for a script he had just sold. The lucky guy would rush to the barber shop nearby where a financier was ever around to encash the check for a rediscounted amount, say less three percent if the check was dated on the day or ten percent if post-dated for a week; the longer the post-dating, the bigger the percentage of rediscount. And then the guy, who himself had felt the pinch of missing meals for eons in the past, would hail his colleagues to a blowout at the small coffee shop on a side street where one would have his first taste of food for the day topped by a possible slot as co-writer of the guy in the film assignment he had just gotten.
If at all, what the difficulty suffered generally by screenwriters in the Philippines brought to fore was a pure, sincere concern one had for the other fellow.
Early on in his attempt to make a breakthrough in screenwriting, Ka Mao found himself associating with Robustiano Lu. Morota and Jerry O. Tirazona, former colleagues in the movie press and who were staying together in an apartment in Sta. Cruz, Manila. The two continued to be engaged in movie journalism, while Tirazona was gaining the prestige of being a real quick draw in screenwriting: one finished script overnight. Ka Mao had then not yet gotten over his underground existence and was testing the waters, so to speak, of resuming legal status. He needed to do this testing in a place apart from the residence of his family or any of his relatives, and Morota and Jerry were only too glad to accommodate him in their apartment – for which, as in his eventual stay in Manay Consoling’s apartment on M. Hizon, he had given nothing in return but eternal debt of gratitude.
Quite in contrast to the experience of many a screen writer, starting a filmmaking career for Ka Mao had been most auspicious. It was instantly a heyday. This was mainly because he was riding on the crest of Celso’s popularity which had made The Kid the most sought-after director in Philippine cinema in the Seventies. So as loaded as Celso was with film directorial assignments, Ka Mao was with film script jobs. After only a short while, Celso would admit to Ka Mao that he had completely become dependent on Ka Mao’s script. One of his films which became a grand FAMAS Award winner was under the credit of two other screenwriters, but Celso had required him to be on the set of the shooting of the film, making him do the lines which eventually turned out to be the award-winning moments of the film.
So Ka Mao was spared the agony of having to peddle his works. Ka Mao had all script assignments for the taking.
His first collaboration with Celso was “Ang Madugong Daigdig Ni Salvacion,” a sex-spiced drama set in the rustic island of Tulay Buhangin (Sand Bridge) in Quezon Province. Its cast – Pilar Pilapil, Ricky Belmonte, Johnee Gamboa, Vic Diaz, Robert Talabis and a newcomer sex nymphette, Leila Hermosa – were not exactly the kind that would impress one as super duper in terms of star value. But the chemistry of Celso as the New Messiah of Philippine movies with media-hyped superb performers, a grandiose seascape for a setting, and a pretentious theme that purported to be an allegory of the political tyranny obtaining at the time, succeeded in creating an image of a big film production.
Even before “Ang Madugong Daigdig Ni Salvacion” was half-way through shooting, two offers came Celso’s way, one for a Vilma Santos-Christopher de Leon starrer, and the other for any idea Celso would come up with. To the first offer, Ka Mao showed Celso a script of a film adaptation of his first-ever published fiction, “Forests Of The Heart”, which as filmed Celso titled “Tag-Ulan Sa Tag-Araw”, and to the second offer, Celso responded with a concept of a young woman forced into striptease act in order to sustain medication for her ailing father. Celso had a title for the concept, “Burlesk Queen”, and a germ of the story which Ka Mao would develop through his screenplay accordingly as the shooting progressed. For the young striptease dancer, Celso had in mind the then up-and-coming starlet, Lorna Tolentino, who had all the needed attributes: youth, charm and allure, and a fresh undefiled body. On top of all these, she had the acting prowess and terpsichorean skill.
The choice of Lorna was perfect, so it looked. And she was willing to do the part, something rather controversial for her age of sixteen. But her mother insisted on a fee which the producer, Romy Ching of Ian Films, Inc., was not inclined to give. So the part went to Vilma Santos finally.
But definitely, not that Vilma Santos was a poor second choice. As it turned out, she was the best choice for the role, which in the subsequent 1977 Metro Manila Film Festival won for her the Best Actress Award – along with the Best Actor Award for Rolly Quizon, Best Supporting Actor Award for Joonee Gamboa, and Best Supporting Actress Award for Rosemarie Gil. All in all. “Burlesk Queen” won all but one of twelve awards in that festival, including the Best Picture Award, the Best Director Award for Celso and the Best Screenplay for Ka Mao.
In accepting the award – a huge bronze medallion which award presentor Eddie Garcia took fancy in taking time hanging on a ribbon around Ka Mao’s neck – Ka Mao declared: “I did want to say something with ‘Burlesk Queen’. And it is that art rises or falls accordingly as those in control of political power allows it to rise or fall.” He ended his acceptance speech by enjoining his listeners to “transform art from being an instrument for personal gain to being an instrument for social good.”
Uttered at a time when the martial law rule was about only just beginning its upsurge, the short speech elicited good reaction. A group, evidently activism-friendly, clapped their hands hard, stomped their feet on the floor, while letting out a challenging hoot.
If, indeed, there’s a feeling of being made, this is it, Ka Mao told himself as he tarried onstage acknowledging the mild audience cheers.
Reactions to Ka Mao’s speech continued days after the occasion.
Franklin Cabaluna congratulated him but did not fail to mention negative comments from some quarters that the speech was rehearsed, memorized. Ka Mao had had enough doses of grain of salt in the past to be affected. Franklin also told of a criticism by a film cineaste from Europe that “Burlesk Queen” was in the most part “nitty gritty”, whatever that meant.
Most serious was the remark from Pete Lacaba, who had just been released from months of incarceration at Camp Crame.
“Take care,” said Pete when they met a period after the event.
Curt as it was, Pete’s caution spoke of all that must be felt by someone who had had a good dash of state fascism.
Strangely enough, Ka Mao felt elated by the warning. It meant he was being minded, it meant he mattered. He knew too well that the saddest thing for a writer – for any artist at that – is to realize that no one is paying attention to him.
Now it seemed everybody was cuddling up to him.
One producer, a lady, implored him: “Your ‘The Relationship’, do let it be mine.” A gay line producer, speaking for his boss, reminded him with virtual plea, “Remember, your “Kabaret”, you offered it to us first. The two were speaking of film projects Ka Mao had early on vended to them but elicited hardly no attention. A fellow scriptwriter, desperate for some monetary commission by which to spend in the horse racetracks, rummaged through his folders of film manuscripts and singled out “Pag-ibig… Magkano Ka?”, exclaiming: “Yes! This is it. The title alone is a sure money-maker. I’ll bring this to Leroy, he is intending to start a film company.” The guy named Tommy was referring to Leroy Salvador of the famed show business Salvador clan. Shortly after, Leroy established Showbiz, Inc., with that Ka Mao’s screenplay as its initial venture.
Still a bachelor at the time, Ka Mao was staying on a monthly basis at Regency Hotel on Avenida Rizal owned by Mother Lily Monteverde of Regal Films. Such stay, a very costly one by any standard, was precisely the leverage Ka Mao got for assurance of film assignments from the outfit: the company had better given him jobs or he wouldn’t be able to pay his hotel bills.
Ka Mao was really not that kind of writer who cranked out scripts overnight. One time, he observed the late Jerry Tirazona pounding the typewriter all night long and by dawn wrote 30 to the screenplay he was to deliver to a producer first hour in the morning. How Ka Mao chuckled at the feat. He cringed to himself, “I just can’t do it that way.”
Ka Mao took time writing a film script. The gestation alone consumed eternities, so it would seem to him. How was he then able to cope with the swamp of offers that came his way after hitting it big with Celso?
For one thing, he had had eternities, too, of doing nothing but read and write after dropping out of college, during spare times and at nights in that period of doing household chores in Manay Consoling’s apartment. Anything that came to his mind and he found worth enough turning into a story, he wrote. And when he began systematically transforming those stories into the cinematic form by way of concretizing the self-learning he acquired from his trips to the Thomas Jefferson Library, he was actually creating a deep pool of screenplays that would come in handy now that producers were queuing up to him.
But for the most part, he was in the late thirties, much grown from the twelve year-old-elementary-graduate who ventured into Manila to search for the proverbial pot of gold but was immediately confronted with the stench and squalor of the city and at the same time with sights and sounds of ceaseless glitter and merrymaking. This irony that to Ka Mao best described Manila provided a rich source of substance for many a tale which by some irresistible urge Ka Mao just found himself committing to writing on whatever surface he could lay his hands on: a vacant page of old used notebooks, on smoothened crumpled pads and bond paper, on yellow pads whenever he could afford to buy one.
One good thing about that kind of writing, Ka Mao was doing it not for a price and so produced true mirrors of life. When turned into films, that writing had a built-in universal appeal, i.e., commercial success.
Prior to the judging for awards in the 1977 Metro Manila Film Festival, Ricky Lee, who hadn’t quite started on his binge of promoting himself as the country’s top screenwriter, barged into Ka Mao’s hotel suite, asking to see a copy of the script of “Burlesk Queen”. What Ka Mao was able to show were scribblings on yellow pad on a clipboard.
“Burlesk Queen” was not written on a typewriter. It was written on the set, with a ballpen on a yellow pad clipped on a board, conforming to the requirements of the scenes scheduled for shooting. Celso discusses the sequence with Ka Mao, then proceeds to block the actors, direct the camera movements, including lighting effects, then without any warning, turns to Ka Mao: “Mao, dialogue.”
The first time Celso did that to Ka Mao in the shooting of “Salvacion”, Ka Mao was literally dumbfounded: Celso had not discussed with him about lines to speak in the scene. So very discreetly, Ka Mao sidled up to Celso and whispered, “Cels, we have not talked about it.” But the actors had been blocked, camera work directed, and the rehearsals that had been set up inevitably had to proceed, and Celso was quick to Ka Mao’s rescue. He took Joonee Gamboa’s placement, “Masakit ito sa kalooban ko. (“This is against my will.)”, then moved over to Ricky Belmonte’s position, countering, “Kalooban? Kalooban mo rin ba na anakan ang ina ko – at ako ang maging anak! (“Your will? Was it also your will to impregnate my mother with a child – and I to be that child!)” Joonee Gamboa was playing the role of a priest, who only during the shooting of that particular scene, was revealed to be Ricky Belmonte’s father in the story.
With Celso, no script was ever final until it was shot – no, not ever final until the shot scene had been thoroughly edited and the strips of cut film spliced together to make a final whole – no, not yet, not ever final until the edited whole had gone through the gamut of dubbing, music and effects lay-in, sound mixing and, at long last, the negatives had been copied into positive prints – when it was no longer practical to introduce any further changes in the creative process.
It was very enlightening for Ka Mao to observe that Celso had a firm hand on film creation every step along the way – from gestation, to writing, to production and post-production – no, not yet, all the way to devising marketing slants like catchlines in publicity materials.
Much much later in the progress of Ka Mao’s film career, he had some little verbal tussle with Alicia Alonso, mother of now current Star Cinema talent, Maja Salvador, over the direction in the script of “Walang Panginoon,” one of the more serious films he did for Seiko Films. She must have had motivated herself into a heavy crying scene so that she felt shortchanged when in executing the scene, Ka Mao directed her to do her lines with melancholy, all right, but not with tears.
Alicia flashed before Ka Mao’s face the page of the script which directed the actress to do the scene in stereotype tear-drenched melodrama.
“See?,” she said complainingly. “The script says I should cry. It’s your script. You wrote it.”
“No need to cry,” Ka Mao insisted. And he ordered, “Take.”
What the actress failed to realize was that Ka Mao was doing a Celso. That Ka Mao did not find it necessary to explain it to her, was another doing of a Celso.
What Celso never found time to expound to Ka Mao but which Ka Mao imbibed through sheer observation of The Kid’s mannerism, style and method, was that a director has all the prerogative of doing whatever he pleases to do with the film assigned to him to be done. Ka Mao had come to realize that when a producer asked him to do a film, implicit in the offer was an assurance from him that that film would make fair returns on the producer’s investment. Assurance of such returns were no one else’s obligation but his and so it behooved him and no one else all sorts of prerogatives in crafting the film, from rewriting the story, to overhauling the entire script, to getting a firm hand on all aspects of the film production process, including editing, laying in of music and effects, introducing in every step along the way any change necessary to ensure that the film made money when finally shown.
So by Ka Mao’s criterion, no right-minded actor must dare get the gall to tell a director what to do. Mainly for this reason, Ka Mao was averse to directing superstars who in every case actually themselves direct their scenes in a movie. In time, he would be known as a star-builder because he preferred to direct complete unknowns like what Celso did with the house helper Rizza in “Nympha”. In many a time during the shooting of the film, Celso himself would act out the way Rizza should do a scene and in just as many a time, the girl, due to sheer inexperience, would fail to do it the way Celso wanted. In most of those many times, Celso found himself wanting to blow his top. But he never did. He coached the young hopeful patiently, devotedly, in fact, until she struck the right acting he wanted. Aside from turning out to be a box-office hit, “Nympha” earned for the sultry Chabacana housemaid the distinction o being among the BEST FIVE ACTRESSES in the subsequent FAMAS Awards night.
Quite many of Ka Mao’s movies were launching pads for newcomers: Stella Strada in “Kirot”, his script and subsequently in “Angkinin Mo Ako,” his direction, too; Rey PJ Abellana and Leni Santos in “Iiyak Ka Rin” together with Julie Vega; Lani Mercado in “Sa Ngalan ng Anak”; Jestoni Alarcon and Rita Avila in “Huwag Mong Buhayin Ang Bangkay,” third Best Picture in the 1987 Metro Manila Film Festival; Maita Soriano in “Gatas”; Ruffa Guttierez in, first, “Huwag Kang Hahalik Sa Diablo” together with similar neophytes Jean Garcia, Cristina Paner and Isabel Granada, then “Isang Gabi, Tatlong Babae”; Sunshine Cruz in “First Time Like A Virgin”; Cristina Gonzales in “Bad Girl”; Klaudia Koronel in “Kesong Puti”; Aila Marie in “May Gatas Pa Sa Labi”; Ramona Rivilla in “Sambahin Ang Puri Ko”; Rosita Rosal in “Hayop Sa Ganda”; Cesar Montano in “Machete”; Rossana Roces in “Machete II”; Priscilla Almeda in “Halimuyak ng Babae”; Natasha Ledesma in “Kiliti”; Nini Jacinto in “Talong”; Brigitte de Joya in “Kangkong”; oh, the list is long.
All these films were blockbusters, and this pointed to one incontrovertible fact: stars don’t make movie hits. What, then? Ka Mao would get crystallized on in due time.
For the time being, what mattered to Ka Mao was to get across to people that in the matter of film direction , his authority must be absolute. Not even the producer was to meddle in his job. The film flops at the box-office, the director gets the flak, that’s why in ensuring that his films made money, Ka Mao had resolved that he alone must be responsible.
By the time “Burlesk Queen” was underway, Ka Mao had grown accustomed to Celso’s style and provided the lines, though written on the set, perfectly as demanded by Celso. As mentioned already, “Burlesk Queen” won all but one of twelve awards in the 1977 Metro Manila Film Festival, including the Best Screenplay for Ka Mao.
When Ricky Lee went barging into Ka Mao’s hotel suite, asking for a copy of the script of “Burlesk Queen”, what he did not realize was that Ka Mao was not writing that script according to norms Ricky Lee must have garnered from the academe but according to principles Ka Mao himself had firmed up in his self-study of the craft, i.e., that nobody writes things he hasn’t himself lived. Consequently, any writing in violation of this principle is unrealistic and achieves only pretentiousness.
Ka Mao had no difficulty writing “Burlesk Queen” on the set. He only needed to think back on that long period of stay with Mamay Oliva in that P. Gomez, Quiapo apartment to be able to turn out a realistic and poignant piece of reminiscences: when he scrimped on his measly daily school allowance so that with the savings he could steal a weekend view of the burlesque show at Inday Theater just a block away on Aroceros Street. Those reminiscences combined with social insights Ka Mao gained in his subsequent struggles in the city to be molded, in Celso’s impeccable grasp of film art, into a great film masterpiece.
Celso did not produce “Burlesk Queen”; Romy Ching of Ian Films did. But when the Best Picture Award was received by Celso for the company during that awards night, he was receiving it for himself forever. Up until he died three years ago, he held on to the Best Picture trophy – never letting it go.
“Kabaret,” produced by Showbiz, Inc. and directed by Leroy Salvador, was a similar case. It only took Ka Mao to recall his gallivanting days, or nights, in the cabarets – actually cheap flesh spots – on Fifth Avenue in Caloocan to come up with a meaningful movie on the theme of prostitution. In a most subtle way, Ka Mao actually intended the project to be an allegory of the virtual prostitution the martial law regime had immersed Philippine society. For obvious reasons, Ka Mao could only do so much in delivering the message, and that the message was not grasped at all on a mass scale, Ka Mao thought it was a failure attributable to the limitations of figure of speech.
You want to agitate the masses into action, do it straightforward. People don’t go rebelling on the strength of poetry and metaphors. The late Felixberto Olalia, on the eve of the declaration of martial law when he was heading the May Day Revolutionary Committee, pointed out that the Russian Revolution broke out not on any intellectualized, pretentious advocacy as the struggle against imperialism or the establishment of a national democracy but on the simple, sincere, literal call for “Bread! Bread!”
That call galvanized the Russian masses into the first bloodless People Power revolt in history to overthrow the centuries-old dynasty of the Romanovs, paving the way for the establishment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
Such an uprising in the Philippine setting would be a nice material for a movie Ka Mao would much like to do.
Ka Mao hardly realized that the circumstances for such a movie were already in the making.
CELSO AD CASTILLO AND ASSOCIATES was suddenly the talk of the town in the film industry. With a grand blessing of its offices on the top floor of a building in the corner of Avenida Rizal and Carriedo Street in Sta. Cruz, Manila, the film company which Celso established in the aftermath of the “Burlesk Queen” windfall served serious notice that The Kid was living true to claims that he was the Messiah long-awaited to revive a film industry widely chastised for its affliction with base commercialism and mediocrity. And Celso had had enough prestige to command support from the entertainment media in hyping this theme effectively.
All of a sudden, Celso was already the producer to reckon with in Philippine cinema. At first glance, this was a plus factor. But coming down to brass tasks, he had nothing so far to back up this claim.
He had a title, all right: “Daluyong At Habagat”. Good enough to evoke something grand and tumultuous, an epic turbulence. The cast was, as in “Salvacion”, a defiance of the current formula of casting superstars in lead roles. Actually this defiance was functional in Celso’s case, i.e., to highlight the one single star of the project, the Director. Its concession to the star-value system was apparently the topbilling of the cast by known performers Vic Vargas and Pinky de Leon, plus the inclusion of what then was being hyped as the newest sex kitten, Alma Moreno, who was introduced in “Tag-Ulan sa Tag-araw”. To play pivotal roles were, again, Ricky Belmonte and Joonee Gamboa together with Lito Anzures, Best Supporting Actor awardee for his brilliant performance in the Miss Universe Gloria Diaz-starrer “Ang Pinakamagandang Hayop Sa Balat ng Lupa”, which triggered Celso’s soar to fame.
He already had, too, even a catchline already boasting of what a great movie the first venture of Celso Ad Castillo and Associates would be: A NEW BREED OF PERFORMERS IN A GIANT OF A MOTION PICTURE!.
Only question was, what is the story about. That one single lack, Ka Mao evidently had to fill in.
Celso had in mind the great Hollywood movie “The Godfather” when he sat down with Ka Mao to discuss the concept: a poor guy who through gangsterism rises to be the kingpin of the underworld. The story was set in the days immediately following the liberation of the Philippines by American forces from Japanese occupation in 1945.
As in all cases, Ka Mao just nodded to Celso’s ideas. He had grown used to Celso agreeing to his own ideas which he would eventually contribute when he finally got the screenplay written. It would even appear that Celso put out ideas as deliberate baits for Ka Mao to modify or improve on, knowing that Ka Mao would not agree to anything wrong by his own standard.
By his own standard, a copycat of “The Godfather” was a no-no for Ka Mao. He was too self-respecting to be caught copying somebody else’s thoughts. Concept-wise, Celso’s idea was good; ganglordism is a universal phenomenon and a film may not be accused of plagiarizing “The Godfather” by tackling the same theme.
Ka Mao identified the problem: how to do a “The Godfather”-like movie without being an imitation of it. He did not have to wring his brain so much.
Just go by your own writing principle, he told himself.
Ka Mao saw the opportunity of depicting in a movie what until then was dearest to his heart: the great proletarian revolution.
A poor boy rising to the top of gangland, Ka Mao took that hook, line and sinker. But the whys and the wherefores were entirely his handiwork, which gladly sat well with Celso. Reporting to the shooting set in famous ruins of San Juan, Celso proudly boasted to staff, crew and cast: “You people realize what we’re making? We’re doing a great proletarian movie.” And he flashed to everyone the poster he was carrying to be integrated with the production design: a large portrait of Karl Marx.
How proletarian was “Daluyong At Habagat”?
The finished product speaks for itself. At the start, vignettes of poor folks’ life in the slums of Intramuros, the Walled City center of Spanish Colonial Philippines. In the aftermath of America’s ravagement of Manila in the guise of liberation, Intramuros had been transformed into a despicable, albeit grand, showcase of post-war squalor. Flesh trade in dingy alleys. Cheap entertainment in rowdy honky-tonks. Workers slaving in factories. Old and young scavenging in a scrap yard. A sixtyish man sawing an unexploded bombshell to cut it into pieces of scrap. The shell explodes, shattering the man into smithereens. Thus starts the shift of the otherwise straight-living son of the bomb blast victim into the path of crime to rise in social status. This development is paralleled by workers threading the path of revolutionary social upheaval to achieve liberation from poverty. The son rises to the zenith of gangland supremacy, but being individual, his rise is met with opposition as is characteristic of gangland rivalry. He ends up getting massacred with his men in an explosive ambush, while in the streets of Manila erupts a thousands-strong uprising of workers defiantly rending the air with a stirring mass rendition of the “Internationale.” As the militant workers leader puts in, “We cannot hope to rise above poverty without first destroying the rotten system of society.”
University of the Philippines professor and respected critic, Petronilo Bn. Daroy, in an article in the Daily Express, had this to say of the movie: “Daluyong at Habagat” is today what “El Filibusterismo” was during the Spanish colonial regime.”
Celso could not have had a better timing for his initial work as a producer.
Martial Law was into its sixth year at the time and did not appear to be anywhere ending in the foreseeable future. Though the armed struggle of the so-called National Democratic Front seemed to be attaining sizeable headway in the countryside, in the main arena which were the cities, the Marcos dictatorship had things well under control, so to speak.
The exchange rate stood at P7.36 to 1$, which, compared to the current rate of more or less P50 to a dollar, indicated a healthy society on the economic front.
On the political front, Ninoy Aquino, though remaining in prison, dared lead the opposition to Martial Law in contending for the seats in the Interim Batasan Pambansa. The entire opposition ticket was trashed into oblivion with a dismal score of O. Besting them was the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) ticket headed by First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos.
To Ka Mao, what became a barometer for whether or not the revolution would succeed was the establishment of the SM City North. If, as the Communist Party of the Philippines predicted, the revolution would succeed in establishing socialism in the country, was it not stupid of the SM entrepreneurs to start building a capitalistic empire in what could shortly become a hub of socialism and communism? But SM had been well on track over the current decade. From a small shoe store beside the old Ideal Theater on Avenida Rizal, it grew into a full-blown department store, built on the very spot in Araneta Center which had become the Waterloo of the strike by KAMAO against the Makabayan Publishing Corporation. In that respect, then, the KAMAO defeat was a foreboding of a truly gargantuan disaster of the working class struggle in the Philippines in inverse proportion to the upswing of SM malls the country over. Today, as SM malls dominate the Philippine retail industry, consequently transforming Henry Sy into the country’s richest man, the national democratic revolution and its instrumentalities Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People’s Army (NPA) had been reduced to where it was before the KAMAO strike began.
So it was great wonder that SM did not commit any stupidity of building a capitalistic empire in the midst of what appeared to be widespread socialistic uprising.
What proved to be stupid was the reverse: building a socialistic armed revolution in the midst of a burgeoning capitalism. As, they say, you cannot argue against success – which translates to, you cannot argue against the success of Henry Sy – so you cannot argue against failure – which translates to, you cannot argue against the failure of the national democratic revolution. These two givens just speak for themselves.
So did the failure of the KAMAO strike speak for itself: it was stupid to believe that one local strike, no matter how courageous and militant, could bring about the liberation of the proletariat. In many a moment when Ka Mao indulged in self-searching, he would find himself fancying that had he not been stupid to launch that inutile strike, he would have remained in the good graces of the Aranetas and would have had some nice placement in the bureaucracy of the Aranetas’ own empire, which had become formidable, too, in its own right.
And yet, and yet…When the opportunity to promote proletarian revolutionary politics in his movies came, he grabbed it like he was gobbling it for the first time. The heck if Pete had warned him, “Take care.” It was as if he was willing to go through it all over again: the skirmishes with police and security guards, the rendezvous with bullets, pill box bombs, Molotov cocktails and grenades, the daring-do of getting his body threateningly run over by tires of strike-breaking trucks.
Ah, the deathless romance of the First Quarter Storm.
No, there was no stupidity in the whole exhilarating exercise. That vested capitalistic interests might be pulling the strings behind the revolutionary movement was beside the point. What mattered was that Ka Mao and one whole generation of idealistic youth were getting baptized into the fire and fury of proletarian revolution and everyone did his part sincerely and well.
In the final analysis, albeit without Ka Mao realizing it, when he took “Daluyong at Habagat” as an opportunity for renewing his espousal of the proletarian struggle, he was not taking it as an argument against the failure of the national democratic revolution. He was taking it as an agreement with destiny, success or failure regardless.
It was a matter of course that elements from the national democratic movement began gravitating around him in that period. He was not only slanting his screenplays toward the workers struggle; he was actually engaging again in revolutionary organizing, this time in the industry he now belonged in, the movies.
Together with Pete, he took the initiative of forming the Screenwriters Guild of the Philippines. Ricky Lee, increasingly identifying himself as a screenwriter, was contributing his own share in the endeavor. During one consultation with Ka Mao, he suggested that Pete, though a renowned journalist, had not yet done much screenwriting to be head of the group.
With all due respect though, Pete would turn out a number of screenplays that would be rated as among the truly significant condemnations of the martial law regime, to wit, “Jaguar”, “Kapit Sa Patalim”, and “Ora Pronobis.” All films were directed by Lino Brocka, who endeavored to generate international attention for these, Pete’s works..
Though Pete was the interim president of the screenwriters guild, the SGP, in the elections held at the Caloocan residence of Marina Feleo Gonzales, Tony Mortel, then editor of People’s Journal, was elected president. It was a wide consensus among guild members that Tony was in the best position to gain benefits for the screenwriting profession.
At any rate, Ka Mao’s organizing effort was again catching the Party’s attention. This became evident to him when during a chance meeting with writer and stage director Behn Cervantes in the house of actress Rita Gomez, he was asked by Behn how the union was progressing. Behn was referring to the screenwriters guild. Behn’s interest betrayed he was in on Ka Mao;s initiative as a Party element; an information Ka Mao had gotten revealed Behn was a responsible element of the Party cultural bureau, so Behn asked the question as somebody asserting superiority over him.
It was farthest from Ka Mao’s mind, however, of doing union work in the ranks of artists. As Bayani had cautioned him a number of times, artists are the hardest sector to organize. This is because, artists are so individualistic that not one artist will admit he is inferior to the other. Ka Mao observed one time a fellow director shouting to everyone on the set before taking a scene, “Nobody makes suggestions.”
Ka Mao’s idea of a screenwriters union is one honed on the principles of the working class: fearless, dedicated, selfless. Sure, the objective was for an upping of economic benefits of screenwriters, but the method was political.
For that reason, during one meeting, Ka Mao did the rigors of political economy to determine the minimum fee for a screenplay, in much the same way he would compute the minimum wage for a factory worker. He hadn’t quite gotten over Marxist doctrine on capitalistic exploitation of the proletariat which summed up into the theory of surplus value. Pete cut him short.
“Let’s be brief about this. How much?”
Ka Mao appeared stupefied for a moment. How could he ever be brief about the matter? By Marxist reckoning, what a capitalist can be entitled to in the value created in the commodity are portions of that value corresponding to the amount of raw materials and machine used for producing the commodity. Such value does not vary in any phase of the production process and so contributes nothing to the value created once the raw materials are turned into commodity. The source of the created value – the surplus value – cannot but be the labor power infused by the workers in the commodity. Determining surplus value along this reckoning in the case of filmmaking requires a more complicated process, since the categories of labor involved in doing a movie are as varied as the elements comprising the finished product: story, script, music, editing, production design, sound engineering, special effects, dubbing, direction, acting of the performers, and, finally, labor of the production and post-production crew.
Ka Mao just found himself silently asking: How can I be brief about such multi-faceted complication?
When somebody suggested, “Let’s peg it at fifteen thousand,” it got carried. And since then, the minimum screenplay fee, at the time running at seven thousand pesos, was upped to and standardized at P15,000.
Ka Mao felt it was too low. But he kept his feeling to himself. Realizing early on how difficult, as Bayani had often advised him, it was to get film artists agree on anything, he decided to himself that a screenwriter’s fee is a matter of individual artist outlook; he had his own outlook which he thought he’d get done through his own private means.
The best way, he resolved to himself, is to direct his movies. That way he could package the fee for the screenplay with that for direction. Because directors enjoy a high degree of prerogative in determining who and how much to pay for those to involve in filming a movie, chances were good that if he could direct his own movies, he could command a price for his screenplays that he could consider right: ten times over.
The package price he got for one of the last films Ka Mao had directed, “Bakit Kailangan ng Ibon and Pakpak?”, was P550,000.00, P400,000.00 for direction – P150,000.00 for screenplay. As Ka Mao had reckoned early on, ten times over.
Meantime, he had to make do with the P15,000.00 that had been agreed in the meeting. Of course the consensus reached did not bar anyone from charging more than fifteen thousand pesos for a script; the intention was to set a ceiling below which no guild member could go. But screenwriting being a highly-competitive field – worse even, its importance in the industry is much subsumed to that of the obtaining star system in which the commercial value of movies was ascribed more to the stars than anything else – you price your work too high, you price yourself out of competition.
In Ka Mao’s particular case, a new imperative served to determine his actions during the period. He realized he wasn’t getting any younger and he felt he could no longer contain himself to seeking momentary pleasures with bar girls and cabaret dancers whenever the urge for sex seized him. He wanted more permanent happiness, not much really like having a partner with whom to have personal pleasures but rather more like having own kids to raise and look after and work a good life for.
SWEET was how Ka Mao began to call the girl colleague Felix Dalay brought before him for audition one afternoon. She was Betchay, a seventeen-year-old third-high-schooler who fancied herself becoming a movie star and quite excitedly agreed when Felix, who had met her in a shooting set, offered to introduce her to Ka Mao.
Much, much later in the story, during a session of the Marriage Encounter movement under the auspices of the Cactholic Light in the Spirit Seminar, when Ka Mao was asked what attracted him most to the girl, he said, “Her hips.”
That was how it was that afternoon Felix brought Betchay to the hotel suite which until then Ka Mao continued to occupy. It was physical, all right. What her hips evoked were imageries of shapely statues of goddesses, of girls romping around in bikinis on beaches, or of belly dancers doing erotic performances.
One other thing which the Priest Moderator in the Marriage Encounter session did not ask about but which sealed Ka Mao’s decision to take Betchay for a wife was her status in life. He visited her at last in her home and just found himself melting in pity.
There in the yard of a typical hoveler’s shack in rubbish-ridden surroundings on the edge of an unattended, abandoned fish pond, the girl, rather slim for her age, was munching a sugar cane stem like it was to sate the hunger evident in her face; the cane was freshly cut from a bunch grown in the yard.
“Why are you here?” she asked, almost with a snub, a pout in her mouth but a glint of ache in her eyes. Maybe it embarrassed her to be found by Ka Mao in that condition and she had to play act something for a defense mechanism.
Enthused by the presence of Ka Mao were Betchay’s youngest siblings, two adolescent girls and a nine-year-old boy. They giggle to one another, their gestures teasingly insinuating sweet, nice relationship between Ka Mao and Betchay.
“Won’t you be gone,” growled Betchay at the kids.
“Your siblings?” asked Ka Mao.
“I’m Maricar,” said the elder of the two girls.
“I’m Eva,” said the younger one.
“Bobong,” said the boy, cutting in.
“So you’re four kids in the family?” asked Ka Mao.
“No, we’re seven,” informed Maricar.
“Where are the others?” asked Ka Mao.
“Kuya Victor and Kuya Jonathan, roaming around,” said Bobong.
“Ate Bebe is in school,” said Maricar.
“How about you three, why are you not in school?” queried Ka Mao.
Betchay quickly butted in, not wanting to hear what the kids were to answer, “Won’t you just be gone. Go, go…”
Bobong was quick at replying. He said, “We’ve got no allowance.”
“Ate Betchay, too. She has no allowance so she is absent today,” continued Bobong.
Ka Mao faced Betchay, “Where are your parernts? Why didn’t they give you your allowances?”
“Papa is a jeepney driver but hasn’t had trips the past days. He had no money to give us when he left to work today,” said Maricar.
“How about your mother?” asked Ka Mao.
“Mama is a dressmaker,” said Betchay, firmly gritting her jaws. “She attends to our needs. She had to leave early and did not expect that Papa wouldn’t be able to give our allowance. This does not happen everyday.”
Ka Mao took a split-second to decide on something. He fished three hundred-peso bills from his pocket and give one each to the two girls and the boy.
“There’s time to catch up with your classes. Go,” said Ka Mao.
Betchay could only stare at Ka Mao, who took care not to look at her lest he got her embarrassed.
Ka Mao gladly trailed Betchay’s sisters and brother with his eyes as they hurried inside the shack to get dressed for school. Then he was distracted by Betchay’s continuing to stare at him almost defiantly.
“Anything wrong I did?” Ka Mao asked.
Betchay managed a pain-laden, self-consoling smile. She said, “This is my life. So what’s it to you.”
“Look. Let me take you to school so you may catch up with your classes. Then afterward, I can treat you to a movie,” Ka Mao was pretty prudent with the way he said the words.
That Betchay welcomed Ka Mao’s offer after all was betrayed by her words as she turned into the house, “I’ll only be a minute.”
That date in Odeon Theater was the beginning. The many afternoons afterward were the interludes, when she would proceed to Ka Mao’s hotel suite after school, there to do her homework and then enjoy ubiquitous chopsuey rice dinner with him before going home. And that evening she could no longer refuse his urgings and opened herself up to him completely was the beautiful finale.
With voice aching as she clung to his shoulders, she said, almost pleading, “Don’t forsake me.”
Betchay actually had Ka Mao all to herself.
Ka Mao had never lain any girl in love for a fling. The greatest myth about him ever told was that because for a period he had been known as a bold director, he had had a heyday bedding bold stars. None of it. He had flatly rejected quite a few offers from sex stars to sleep with him. From as far back as his youth, his outlook on sexual union outside of prostitution is that it is an act meant for a lasting relationship. Sure he had had many a lay with other girls before, but all those were for a price and in Ka Mao’s view, he only got his money’s worth for doing it. No need to feel any guilt about it nor qualms of any kind.
In the case of Lala, Ka Mao did not abandon her; she did him.
What Ka Mao never told Betchay – for it was a matter of a deep ideological resolve – was that – no matter, too, the deep naivette inherent in his resolve – in order to be consistent with his proletarian revolutionary conviction, he must have for a wife somebody from the despised, wretched sector of society called squatters. Ka Mao utterly failed to consider that it is not to be a squatter to qualify as proletarian but rather for anyone, regardless of station in life, to embrace proletarian class standpoint, viewpoint and method.
Ka Mao was doing it perfectly right when on at least two occasions, he attempted to strike up amorous relationship with girl comrades in the KASAMA Party Group. With Ka Openg, from the Propaganda Bureau, the attempt was frustrated when Ka Erning, another member of the Educational Department, became more aggressive in winning her, ultimately marrying her in Party ceremonies conducted by no less than Banero, head of the NTUB.
With Ka Didith, from the cultural group Panday Sining, who was a constant visitor in the KASAMA headquarters, the attempt, punctuated by what Ka Mao thought was a wrong he did but which he wanted to set right by marrying her, was aborted by her sudden deployment to the Visayas, there to do her party task. She had been unheard of by Ka Mao eversince.
With Betchay, the paramount revolutionary criteria for choosing a mate was completely lost to Ka Mao. Here was a girl, no less proletarian than any of the workers whose liberation from oppression and exploitation he had vowed to work for. Didn’t she deserve just as much devotion from him as he had for any of those in the working class?
Ka Mao had resolved to stand by his responsibility to Betchay that very same night she gave all of her to him.
When one evening Ka Mao arrived home in the hotel suite and found a forty-year-old woman waiting, he immediately surmised what was up.
Betchay was attending to the woman. She spoke with a mixture of jitters and put-on lightheartedness.
“My mama,” Betchay introduced the woman.
“Oh, how do you do?” said Ka Mao, not quite knowing how to make himself sound, whether evasive, apologetic, or apprehensive. He was expecting some harsh response, as all telenovelas go.
But none of it when the woman spoke. With no trace of animosity whatsoever, she spoke quite calmly, even meekly.
“So how is this to be now?” she said, clearly trying not to sound offensive.
Ka Mao understood what the woman meant.
“I will marry her,” he said, eyeing Betchay.
Betchay had never been showy of her inner feelings. But there was a coy smile on her lips, a girlish glint in her eyes.
ALTHOUGH Ka Mao’s Antipolo lot had a very wide frontage on Sumulong Highway, he chose the spot at the back beside the creek on which to build his house. The spot was shaded by a large century-old mango tree on a side, a grove of bamboo trees on the opposite side, on a lower level of the slope, and an enormous acacia tree with a wide spread of large branches on the other side of the creek. In this position, hardly was there any hour of the day when the house wouldn’t be shaded from the sun, except in the early morning, when sun rays would shoot through bushes from the eastern horizon.
It pained Ka Mao somehow that he had to destroy a large patch of yellow ginger in flattening the area on which to build the house. He always took care that he did not hurt any vegetation in doing any endeavor. But the area had to be flattened on which to lay out the cement floor, and so the ginger must go.
It was a simple square house that Ka Mao put up: average-size square post each on the four corners, two layers of hollow blocks wall joining them on the ground, with wooden beams on the tops on which were fastened the wooden trusses; wooden purlins held the trusses in place and on which were nailed the bamboo slats for tying the nipa roofing on. The walls were consisted of webbed bamboo barks which similarly wall the frames of the window covers; the windows had bamboo slats for grills. The main door, also made of bamboo slats , was facing the area shaded by a huge low-lying branch of the century old mango tree. A porch was set up on the side facing the highway, serving as a side-entrance to the house, through the kitchen. Adjoining the kitchen is a beddings storage room. All sidings of the porch, kitchen and beddings storage room, like those of the house proper, were done in webbed bamboo barks.
Bert Putol, so-called because of his deformed left hand which had all four fingers joined together and their tips joined up with the thumb, was, for all his infirmity, a skilled mason-carpenter but whom Ka Mao paid a pittance for erecting the house.
“Someday I’ll have a house just like this,” said Bert Putol by way of admiring his finished work.
“Ah…,” Ka Mao wanted to wax poetry. “House where no sun can burn with heat nor water stop from flowing like hope that springs eternal.”
“That’s true,” said Bert Putol. “Springs in this area never dry up even in the hottest of summer,”
According to Bert Putol, the creek joined up with bigger streams of water downhill to form the legendary falls called Hinulugang Taktak.
Ka Mao observed that the creek ran through the adjacent 11-hectare lot called Valdez Farm at the time, being owned by Ambassador Carlos Valdez.
“Ambassador Valdez must be an environmentalist,” Ka Mao commented. “Water flowing from his property carries no garbage at all as it outs into mine. That’s why I wanted our house built here. Water is so clean we can use it for all our water needs.”
“Except for drinking, of course,” said Bert Putol.
“Still no problem,” quickly retorted Ka Mao. “Plenty of springs.”
Ka Mao walked over to one gush of water on the creekside, scoops some with his hand and drank it.
“This has always been my drinking water here,” he said. “Only problem is, we’ve built on sloping ground. What if the soil erodes?”
“Never,” said Bert Putol. “Soil erosion happens when the underside of the ground gives for lack of strong foundation. Earth in this area is held fast by solid rock foundation. It will never give.”
Bert Putol had occupied as overseer the lot adjacent to Ka Mao’s property. He should know whereof he spoke.
He explained, pointing to the flowing water at the bottom of the slope, “That water we call creek is actually a collection of seepages from different spring sources all around this area. The water streams down the open crevices of one solid rock foundation. The foundation of your house is a portion of this one solid rock which is the size of one whole mountain.”
Ka Mao gaped in disbelief.
“Your house is built on a rock,” declared Bert Putol.
Betchay, all along just listening to the conversation of the two while busy sprucing up the newly-finished house and starting to put their belongings in place, was pleased to hear the words. It meant a lot of things to her. A home to last, at long last, she said to herself. No more going back to the squalor that had been her world during the long first seventeen years of her life. No matter how modest, the house was good enough a start, to improve on and keep strong each time.
Bert Putol grabbed his paraphernalia. “Be going.”
“Thank you, friend.”
Ka Mao turned toward the house just as Betchay felt a stirring in her belly. She caressed it with her hand, eyeing him as he approached..
“Anything wrong?” asked Ka Mao.
She smiled by way of assuring him that nothing was wrong, while she spoke, “For many times that you did me nice things, I never bothered to say thank you. I think maybe I had better say it now.”
“Thank you for what?”
“For giving me a home to last.”
Ka Mao stares wonderingly.
“No house built on a rock can crash,” Betchay said, like uttering an oath.
Betchay was visibly pregnant and Ka Mao worried that something might be ailing her.
“You’re sure you’re okay?” insisted Ka Mao
“Never been more okay in my life,” Betchay said as she exerted effort to settle the bed in a corner.
Ka Mao quickly stopped Betchay.
“That’s too heavy for you. Tell you what, you had better rested. I can do this chore.”
Betchay instead minded fixing the linen on the bed as soon as Ka Mao was done with it and he shifted to the kitchen where he moved the refrigerator to put it in place.
Along with the bed, the refrigerator was the first item Ka Mao purchased as a way of starting to establish home furnishings. He bought it when first he and Betchay settled with his folks in Mamay Oliva’s Cavite Street apartment, then took it along when Betchay wished they would instead join her folks in Malabon. After having a house built for Bethay’s folks on the edge of the abandoned fish pond and staying with them for a time, Ka Mao made his mind up to establish permanent settlement in the Antipolo property. Still, the bed and the refrigerator stuck with him and Betchay.
A thought crossed Ka Mao’s mind and he smiled while he continued his business with the ref..
“What’s funny?” asked Betchay.
“Can’t figure why we had to carry this heavy thing all the way from Malabon when we can’t make use of it here,” Ka Mao said, not quite sure whether he had done right with the refrigerator placement.
“It’s not been a year since you bought it. It’s in good condition,” said Betchay.
“I mean,” said Ka Mao, “Friend Bert just told me that the electricity running on the highway lines is high voltage. No way to have a line tapped to our house.”
“Oh, dear…,” said Betchay. “Can’t even watch TV. But, wait a minute. Valdez Farm has got electric lights.”
“They’ve got their own transformer.”
“That’s what you need to reduce the high voltage of the main Meralco line to 220 volts allowable for home consumption.”
“So we put up our own transformer then, like Valdez Farm.”
“We need hundred fifty thousand pesos .”
Ka Mao spoke as coolly as he could.
Betchay gaped as in horror.
Ka Mao returned Betchay’s horrified gaze with a look that indicated he was grappling with an agony in his mind: at P15,000 per screenplay, he would have to write 10 scripts to raise the P150,000 needed to put up his own electric transformer – and that was granting he and Betchay and their baby who was shortly to come wouldn’t require any nourishment in the meantime. At his average of two months writing per screenplay, he would require one year and eight months to finish the ten screenplays. But that’s a reckoning by sheer averaging. Actually the most number of scripts he had so far accomplished in a year was four, which meant, granting he had all four scripts for the asking in a year, he needed more or less two years to raise a hundred fifty grand and get a supply of electricity in the newly-built house.
At Betchay’s helpless stare, Ka Mao said assuringly, “We’ll make do.”
In the evenings thereafter, contending with the chirping of crickets and the croaking of frogs in the creekside surroundings were the furious cliticlacks of typewriter keys coming from inside the house.
It was Ka Mao, all right, furiously pounding at his second-hand Olivetti, while his face variably grew taut or tender, furious or pitiful, accordingly as the emotion evoked by the particular scene he was writing. Eyes getting moist with angry tears, his fingers pummeled the typewriter keys with the fury that had seized him and with which he wrote out the dialogue of resistance by the leading character in the scene he was doing: “Hindi ninyo ako naiintindihan. Si Neneng Magtanggol ay hindi simpleng preso sa bilangguan. Siya ay isang sagisag. Larawan ng isang lumang lipunan na nagbubuntis ng bago. Ang kanyang pagpupunyaging makalaya mula sa pagkabilanggo ay salamin lamang ng marubdob na adhikain ng uring manggagawa na wasakin ang tanikalang gumagapos sa kanila sa walang habas na pang-aapi’t pagsasamantala ng uring kapitalista. Ano ang makapagluluwal sa ipinagbubuntis ni Neneng Magtanggol? Puwersa ang komadrona ng bawat lumang lipunang nagbubuntis ng bago! (You don’t understand me. Neneng Magtanggol is not a simple prison inmate. She is a symbol. A picture of an old society pregnant with a new one. Her struggle to liberate herself from imprisonment mirrors the intense aspiration of the working class to break their chains of oppression and exploitation by the capitalist class. What can deliver the child Neneng Magtanggol is pregnant of? Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one!”)
The hour was deep into the night. Betchay was fast asleep in bed. Ka Mao pounded the typewriter so hard at the end of the line which he loudly vocalized that it awakened Betchay. The pounding caused the typewriter cover to get unlatched and nearly flip over. Ka Mao moved in time to catch the typewriter cover and put it back in place. He did it rather gingerly, for actually fastened with electrical tape to the top of the cover was a kerosene lamp improvised from an average-size powdered coffee glass container, the cotton wick inserted into a rolled strip of thin tin sheet punched into the middle of the plastic cover of the coffee container.
That was the lamp that since the couple moved into the Antipolo property Ka Mao had been using to light his writing. Of course, in the day, light was no problem. He would just move the collapsible writing table under the century-old mango tree and there pound the typewriter till not enough sunlight could filter any longer through the bamboo grove on the west side. Still, it was cause enough for big problem, since Ka Mao’s writing voracity was in the evenings when he would pound his typewriter endlessly until the last crowing of the cocks at daybreak.
Initially, Robbie Tan of Seiko Films had the kindness to buy him what appeared to be a much better light source, a petromax. It was a kerosene-powered gadget that operated exactly along the principle of kerosene burners popularly used for cooking in the fifties all the way to the sixties. Ka Mao immediately welcomed the brilliance, but early on he realized its overriding impracticableness as far as writing was concerned: it needed pumping of air into the fuel chamber every fifteen minutes to maintain its brilliance. At first, Ka Mao bore with his annoyance over having to pause from writing every once so often to do the pumping of air, but in due time he got fed up.
“Manufacturers of petromax don’t realize one idiosyncracy of writers,” Ka Mao found himself reviling. “You don’t disturb their flow of thought. Once you do, you throw them back into the agony of endless gestations. Don’t they know how hard it is to recover a writer’s muse once lost? That’s what petromax did to him, throw him into agonies, endlessly piling on top of one another, of having to recoup lost inspirations due to unwanted pauses in thought flow.”
So Ka Mao devised his own method: improvise that lamp fashioned from used powdered coffee glass container. It worked wonders. The light stayed constant all night long, his muse stuck to his mind, and his thought flow remained undisturbed but by the first crowing of cocks at dawn – which after all was signal for him to stop and rest.
“Who are you fighting?” Betchay asked as she attempted to rise.
“No problem. I’m just acting out a line. You sleep.”
Ka Mao minded Betchay no more. He fastened the kerosene lamp back in place on the typewriter cover, then resumed his writing.
Betchay made herself snug under a blanket but stayed awake for a moment. It pleased her, the way Ka Mao wrote. She had grown so accustomed to his method and style that she was aware how he would never stop rewriting his lines until he was himself vocalizing to himself loudly how a line was to be delivered in the scene: madly, for evocation of anger and violence; tearfully, for sorrow and pain; tenderly, for love and pity; gleefully for joy and excitement, and so on and so forth.
A…, Betchay sighed to herself, what intricate webbing of emotions Ka Mao was capable of.
NIÑOS INOCENTES, or “Innocent Infant Boys” as translated from Spanish, is a Catholic feast day so-called because it commemorates the day King Herod of Judea ordered infant boys up to two years old killed. As the Biblical account has it, certain wise men came to King Herod asking for the whereabouts of the new-born Infant Jesus who had been prophesied to be King of Israel, King Herod became so insecure of his throne that then and there he ordered all boys up to two years old killed to make sure the infant Jesus was finished off. According to the story, an angel warned Joseph and Mary of the danger and instructed them to hie off to Egypt with their new-born child and there stay until it was safe to return.
Over time, the significance of the event had been so diluted as to connote escape from one’s obligations or responsibilities committed on the Feast Day of Niños Inocentes, traditionally set on December 28 yearly. So on this day, people go borrowing money at will and then afterward invoke, in order not to pay the debt, the spirit of escape from obligations as connoted by the celebration of the feast day of Niños Inocentes. The lender, by virtue of the tradition, just finds himself condoning the debt. What he gains is the lesson that you don’t lend money on the feast day of Niños Inocentes or you will never get paid. On the whole, it has been generally observed among Catholics that contracts of obligations on the day of Ninos Innocentes are null and void – of course, all in the spirit of fun.
On December 28, 1979, Ka Mao and Betchay were wed. Along the spirit of Niños Innocentes, their marriage contract must be null and void. It had been Ka Mao’s wont to point this out to Betchay each time he felt like kidding her on his obligation to her. Betchay, however, always had a ready retort: Niños Innocentes is a tradition of the Catholic church; theirs was a civil marriage, legal in every aspect, just he try breaking it.
When asked by Mayor Nemesio Yabut of Makati, who officiated the very simple wedding rites in his municipal office, why Ka Mao and Betchay were getting wed only then when they had been living together for more than a year, Ka Mao answered, “We had a child only now.”
True to Ka Mao’s resolve, having a wife was not so much for want of a partner in life as for having kids to raise and build a good life for. Marrying her would have come earlier had not their first child, which was a girl, had not been lost to a miscarriage. That sad event happened in a resort in Laguna where Celso had them billeted during the shooting in Majayjay of “Pagputi ng Uwak, Pag-itim ng Tagak.” The film was among Celso’s great works and eventually became a grand FAMAS Award Winner. It was not Ka Mao’s assignment though, but Celso insisted that Ka Mao be present on the set as script consultant or some such, translate that to, writer of critical lines. As The Kid would admit, “You’ve made me too dependent on your scripts.”
Ir rook another season of seed planting, with much advice from Manay Consoling for Betchay not to stand after coitus but to continue lying, her legs propped up. This was to facilitate the merging of egg and sperm cells.
On July 9, 1979, a healthy baby boy, for whom Ka Mao coined the nickname Maoie, was delivered by Betchay caesarian section for being a breech. In subsequent baptismal rites at the Antipolo Cathedral, the boy was named Mauro Gia Samonte II, with a formidable array of sponsors representing, by Ka Mao’s deliberate design, the main spectrum of social classes, Pete Lacaba, Diego Cagahastian, Bayani Abadilla for the proletarian side, Franklin Cabaluna, Tony Mortel, Bella Salvador, wife of Leroy Salvador, and Gloria Sevilla, wife of Amado Cortes, for, at least a semblance of, the bourgeoisie. Each of the sponsors, in any case, stood in the baptismal rites not really consciously representing a social class but as individuals drawn together on the basis of the more universal and humane consideration of friendship with Ka Mao. On the occasion, Ka Mao made sure that Dr. Angel Juliano, the obgynecologist who delivered Maoie, was a special guest.
To Ka Mao’s mind, Maoie’s coming completed the trinity a family ought to be: a father, a mother and a child. So Ka Mao decided it was high time he made that family sacred by marrying Betchay at long last. This decision was not without substantial prodding from Manay Consoling, who saw Betchay could be a good partner in life for Ka Mao.
Now, the question was, why do it on December 28 and run the risk of instantly getting annulled by the tradition of Niños Inocentes?
The choice of the date was very deliberate and quite practical. December 28 happened to be the birthday of Leroy Salvador, who was to be their wedding sponsor; one lady sponsor would fail to come. That day, then, being his birthday, Leroy would surely be having some celebration in his house and Ka Mao thought he and Betchay could just share in the celebration with Maoie in tow, and make of the celebration as though it were their own wedding reception. And that was what happened. Ka Mao and Betchay got wed not only on the day the killing of innocent infant boys was being erroneously observed but also with a wedding reception that was not their own.
Let alone the fact that Ka Mao just didn’t have the money to spend even for a simple get-together with friends and relatives in a cheap restaurant, proletarian simple living had become his way of life so much so that he wouldn’t be caught indulging in luxury or ostentation of any sort. What appeared for a time as avarice in his interlude of residence in a hotel was really a pragmatic approach to his calling. It made him quite accessible to producers who needed only to walk a block or two to reach him. In the case of Regal Films, which owned the hotel, Ka Mao enjoyed assurance of film assignments if only so he could pay his bills. He could still have opted for continued stay in the hotel and enjoyed the same assurance when he settled down with Betchay but that this time around, he not only needed to continue getting assignments but raise a family, too, in proper surroundings. The Antipolo house perfectly filled in the latter need.
When Ka Mao came home with Betchay and Maoie that evening, he seemed to glow with inner contentment. Living in the house from then on would be living entirely under the blessing of the holy matrimony, he oathed to himself.
“Now I feel complete,” Ka Mao told Betchay as he lit the kerosene lamp fastened on the the cover of the typewriter on the collapsible table by the bed.
Betchay lost no time taking off the dress she wore in the wedding rites and rather peskily dumped it into the laundry basket by the foot of the bed. She changed into house clothes and quickly attended to Maoie, who was squirming from his wet diapers.
“What do you mean complete?” she asked.
“What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder,” he intoned.
“That’s true for church weddings,” she retorted, removing Maoie’s diapers. She proceeded to give the boy a quick sponge bath, wipe him dry, powder him around the groins and torso, then dress him with fresh cotton linen for diapers, which she fastened in place with stainless pins, and then garb him in fresh sleep attire.
Ka Mao went tongue-tied for a long while, just observing what Betchay was doing.
Done with clothing the boy, Betchay settled him in his crib. She then mixed the boy’s formula in a bottle and fed it to him as he snuggled in his pillow. She prepared the bed for sleeping.
“You don’t mean God is not present in civil marriages, do you?” he told her.
“Maybe yes, maybe no. How will we know?” she asked as she lay in bed, throwing a blanket over her body.
Ka Mao realized Betchay was having a bad temper and he thought he knew why. He spoke consolingly.
“Of course, I understand that most every girl wants to walk down the aisles and be given away as a bride to her groom.”
Betchay covered herself with the blanket all over.
Continuing to observe Betchay’s mannerism, Ka Mao sat on the bed as he removed his shoes. Betchay inched herself away from touch of his butt. He went on to undress, throwing into the laundry basket the pieces of garment he took off. His pants stayed as he patted her thigh; she was lying on her side, facing the wall, away from him. She tapped his hand away, while inching closer still to the wall.
“It’s our wedding day,” he said, caressing the blanket over her thighs.
“I was so humbled,” she said, her voice indicated she was weeping.
“What?” he asked, rather surprised.
She thrust her hand from under the blanket, showing the ring on her finger.
“It’s okay with me that this is practically just imitation gold. It’s what we can afford, what else can we do?”
Ka Mao was amused by the remark.
“So that’s what you’re fretting about,” he remarked.
“No,” she growled.
“Don’t you worry, when I get my next script assignment, I’ll replace this with a 24-karat gold ring,” he said, taking her hand and kissing the ring finger.
She yanked at her hand and brought it back under the blanket.
“I said, No!”
“What’s with you anyway?”
“The clothes you insisted I wear.”
“It was not I who insisted. It was Godmother Belle. She wanted you to wear a dress, not the denim jeans and T-shirt you had on.”
Betchay now threw the blanket off her face. She was in tears and she spoke with voice quivering achefully.
“So what if I wore faded jeans and T-shirt? It’s me,” she said then leaped off the bed.
She snatched from the laundry basket the dress she had worn in the wedding rites, and flashed it before Ka Mao’s face.
“But an old hand-me-down for my wedding dress… I’ve been so poor all my life, at least I expect something nicer on my wedding day. But no…”
She madly threw the dress aside,
“Oh, how so even poorer everything made me feel. That reception. Ah, you were so busy rubbing elbows with guests that you never noticed I didn’t eat a bit of any of the servings in your reception. Your reception!”
She shifted to the kitchen where she grabbed a a tin pot, scrounged with her hand left-over rice in it which she ate voraciously.
“Why did we have to pretend? If left-over food is all we can afford for our wedding reception meal, so be it. It’s all we have. What’s disgusting is for us to feast on something that is not ours.”
She swallowed the last lump of rice she had chewed, scooped water from the earthen jar set up in one corner, and drank.
All the while Ka Mao just stood watching Betchay’s tantrums. He wanted to explain but wouldn’t. What Betchay was mad about because it humbled her immensely was to Ka Mao precisely the act of pure goodwill she should partake of in all humility and pure satisfaction. To reject that goodwill could only be an act of arrogance, of self-righteousness, which ultimately could amount to pretending what you are not. Ka Mao saw the matter just the way it was: he and Betchay were the ones in the position of receivers and the Salvador couple, of givers. Were they to receive or reject the goodwill being given?
It would be down long, long time when Ka Mao would feel crystallized on the question. During the recent visit to the country of Pope Francis, he bequeathed to his multitudes of followers a number of gems of thought. One such gem were the words spoken to a youthful inventor of electrical gadgets who, albeit braggingly, recited a litany of assistance given to poor folks of the country and elsewhere in the world. After commending the youthful scientist for his enumerated acts of giving, Pope Francis said, “The only thing you lack now is how to learn to receive.” So though Jesus might have unequivocally declared that it is better to give than to receive, what Pope Francis implied was that between giving and receiving, the harder to do is receiving. For while it is easier, therefore better, an act of self-renunciation to part with, indeed give, something which you have, it is far more self-destructive to receive what in your arrogance and conceit you don’t want to accept.
Perforce triggered by Betchay’s tantrums now, a recollection flashed in Ka Mao’s mind: that first visit with Betchay in her shack by the abandoned fish pond in Malabon. That air of arrogance she exuded was what singularly struck Ka Mao then about her. How she seemed to pride even in her desolateness!
Now Ka Mao thought, Betchay was never humbled in the wedding event. She was made consistently proud and arrogant. But did he have the heart to tell this to her now? He lightly shook his head. He just eyed her as she walked back to the bed, passing him and then throwing herself there again under the blanket. But just as soon, her hand with the wedding ring thrust toward Ka Mao and firmly grasped his hand with the wedding ring, too. She uncovered her face, now grown mellow with what warm feelings. At Ka Mao’s inquiring glance, she spoke.
“It’s our honeymoon.”
With that, Betchay stretched herself to blow out the light of the improvised kerosene lamp on top of the typewriter on the writing table close by.
And the house was thrown into pitch darkness.
INTO THE 80s, the nation was throbbing with rumblings on the political front. The Mindanao secessionist movement spearheaded by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was gaining sizeable headway, mainly due to its backing by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Marcos was bragging in the media about how effectively he was handling the Mindanao situation by talking direct to what he termed “Party in interest.” That period saw First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos visiting Libya and using her charm on Libya strongman Moammar Kadhaffy in his desert headquarters. Out of that visit emerged the Tripoli Agreement which detailed the terms for ending the MNLF rebellion.
Meantime, the socdems had begun the Light A Fire Movement. a terrorist bombing spree conceived to be nationwide in scope but in practice concentrated in the National Capital Region or Metro Manila and suburbs. It was big wonder though that what would be apprehended as suspects in the explosions that took place in the region were Muslims. A confessed participant in the movement would clarify it much later: indeed they were Muslims, because the movement had entered into an arrangement with the MNLF whereby in order to confuse the enemy, meaning Marcos forces, MNLF elements would do the bombings in Metro Manila and the Light A Fire Movement in Mindanao. In a way, this clarification was confirmed by Ninoy Aquino when in his so-called memorable speech in Los Angeles, California in 1981, he admitted having traveled with his physician to Saudi Arabia to talk with Muslim elements on intensifying the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship.
Ninoy, convicted of what he called trumped-up charges, had gone on a hunger strike in his prison cell the year before as one more means to draw popular support for his obsession to topple Marcos. But as Ninoy, again in his California speech, admitted, “the Filipino people would not listen.” The hunger strike merited though the intercession, read that coercion, by the United States which pressured Marcos to let Ninoy go to America, there to have his heart operation.
Thus did Ninoy get himself free from martial law incarceration.
Thereafter he went on a binge of lambasting Marcos every chance he got in America – in speaking engagements and in television interviews. He went as far as offering to be a part of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Paralleling this Ninoy binge in America was what would amount to a worsening of Marcos-US relationship. From the time Marcos sat as President in 1965, he had been imposing rentals on US military installations all over the country, particularly Clark Airbase in Pampanga, naval bases in Subic Bay in Zambales and in Poro Point in La Union, Camp John Hay in Baguio, etc. Early on those rentals amounted to millions of dollars annually, all of which, according to stories, went direct to Marcos’ pocket, just like the huge overprice on the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.
The rentals imposed on US military sites were not a one-time application but ongoing through the years, worse, subject to renegotiations every five years. The next expected renegotiation of those rentals was in 1985 or thereabouts.
Another upping of those rentals was taken as a matter of course. The question really was, could US swallow some more?
What appeared to be on the periphery of the issue was the increasing ties Marcos was building up with communist powers Russia and China. Actually those ties could serve as arm twisters for Marcos in the next rentals negotiation. Certainly as to whether or not Russia and China would serve that purpose could only be up for speculation, given the dearth of information anyone might have on the matter. Nevertheless real developments are determined by laws made manifest in unmistakable phenomena. These phenomena, once subjected to incisive analysis, betray developments with amazing accuracy.
On the revolutionary front, the CPP-NPA was said to have ballooned into 25,000 regulars, all in company formations, on top of a 500,000-strong militia force and an undetermined number of armed propaganda units.
By that figure, the Communist rebellion had greatly surpassed the ratio of 10:1 for the revolutionary forces viz the enemy, the condition for a successful guerilla warfare. Government forces at that time were placed at 150,000.
In fact, the national situationer released by the Party for the period placed the Communist rebellion at heading fast toward the strategic counter offensive (SCO) in the balance of forces with the enemy. The SCO was said to be the advanced sub-stage of the strategic stalemate from where to advance to the strategic offensive.
These were, then. the givens in the political situation obtaining in that period when, after a meeting of the SGP, Pete discreetly requested, in behalf of a revolutionary study group, the use of Ka Mao’s house. Before that, Pete had visited the place a couple of times to discuss with him the mechanics of screenwriting. This time around, Pete made it implicit that the requested use of the house was for a far more serious and delicate purpose. If in many instances it needed only for somebody to identify himself as part of the progressive movement to get into Ka Mao’s good graces, all the easier would Ka Mao accommodate a revolutionary request coming from Pete.
The group Pete brought to the house a few days after was introduced by him as IL, which, as the group’s leader Joey, actually a lady, explained was the “most powerful Party organ next only to the NPA.”
IL, Joey explained, stood for “international liaison”, whatever that meant. Ka Mao, by practice, never inquired into the meaning of things in the revolutionary movement not volunteered for him to know. Head of the group’s Educational Department, of which Pete was a member, was Nimfa. Heading the Organizational Department was Sandra, with Donna, a school teacher, and Vince, a photo journalist, as members. No Finance Department element was introduced and Ka Mao did not bother to ask. At any rate, there were two other girls in the group, Jett and Tess, whose tasks in the group Ka Mao was not informed about.
With the group was a lean, short, fair-skinned fellow, who walked on steel crutches. A polio victim, Ka Bryan, as he was called, immediately reminded Ka Mao of Apolinario Mabini, who had been titled in history as the Sublime Paralytic, being the famed brains of the Philippine revolution against Spain and, eventually, against America. When told that the guy was from the HO (for “higher organ”, meaning an agency directly under the Central Committee, if not the CC itself), Ka Mao chuckled to himself, “Wow, paralytics can be great revolutionaries indeed!”
From Ka Bryan’s account of himself, Ka Mao gathered a few things about his person. He happened to be in Paris when the anti-dictatorship movement intensified in the early seventies and he was recruited into the movement by a group engaged in generating logistical support on the international front. Ka Mao could only surmise to himself that the group Ka Bryan spoke about was the core leadership of the National Democratic Front (NDF), the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which had based its international liaison work in Netherlands.
Ka Bryan was the political officer assigned by the HO to handle the political education of the group, To Ka Mao, this was a big plus factor for the Party, entrusting such a huge task to someone who initially impressed him as no better than that deformed creature who walked on all fours, whom Celso had taken pains to search in order to be made the objective correlative of his message for “Burlesk Queen”. Viewers of the film amused heartily as Rosemarie Gil, the dethroned star burlesque dancer, after painfully glancing over the façade of the burlesque theater now ordered closed by the court, walked away blurting out like crazy her laughter over the irony of it all. Beside her was the boy who walked on all fours, now on his legs curved much like bows so that his gaits looked much like steps in a cha-cha, now on his arms which made him look like doing the cha-cha up-side down in mid-air, and then would be back to walking on all fours which made it difficult for one to determine if he was aping a mule or, indeed, an ape. That must have really drove home Celso’s message in “Burlesk Queen” which clinched for it the Best Picutre Award in the 1977 Metro Manila Film Festival.
Ka Bryan turned out to be Joey’s husband. It became a great source of inspiration for Ka Mao to observe Ka Bryan doing his task religiously and Joey attending to his personal needs as the need arose, including toilet chores and giving him bath at the small pool in the creek every morning, before start of day-long study sessions.
The study course took one whole week. At the end of each day’s session, the group crammed themselves in spaces allotted to them. The girls took the bed which Ka Mao and Betchay volunteered for them to use; the boys, shared a common mat on the cement floor padded with flattened cardboard boxes; Ka Bryan, the aluminum folding chair Ka Mao used for resting; Ka Mao and Betchay, together with Maoie, what little privacy they could have from the small room used for keeping beddings in and the clothes closets.
If, contrary to Mao Tse Tung’s dictum, revolution were a picnic, what took place that week in Ka Mao’s house was just it: a picnic.
During breaks in the study, the group took much pleasure from savoring the rustic atmosphere, harvesting rootcrops like cassava and sweet potato along with other food crops like banana, and then picking the fruits of the mango, santol, lanka and macopa trees for desserts in meals which they ate with bare hands in common servings on one whole banana leaf laid out on the bamboo dining table.
All this, in between absorbing lessons on protracted people’s war.
At the end of the week, everybody was satisfied and insinuated that they would want to repeat the experience in the house on and on.
It was pleasing to Ka Mao anyway, a tendency built-in in his character to do anything he could for the revolution. And so, at the insinuation that the house would be used further for revolutionary purposes over and over again, Ka Mao already envisioned an enlarged house that could accommodate in comfort such Party group as the IL that might come his way anytime.
It did help a lot that in that period, Leroy Salvador had made some nice score at the tills with “Pag-ibig… Magkano Ka?”, enabling his outfit to go full blast in producing follow-up films. Ka Mao consequently got film assignments which gave him the money to embark on expanding his virtually one-room affair into something a lot bigger.
To the eastside was added a section, about five meters wide and with the same length as that side of the original house. Since the roof of this extension area would flow from the original inclination of the initial roof, the extension area would be left with little headroom. So Ka Mao had the ground in this area dug in order to make the roof comfortably high. That made the original house rise five steps from the extension and turned the expanded structure into some kind of a split-level bungalow.
The porch facing the highway was maintained but made to step down accordingly to the extension through an opening which now became the new entrance to the house, with the extension area now serving as the receiving room. This way, the original one-room affair became a solo bedroom, with the amenities of a dressing room, a conversion of the original room for clothes closets and beddings, a function moved over to the spot originally occupied by the kitchen which outed to the porch; this spot was now entirely walled, serving only as an adjunct of the bedroom. The kitchen, at the same time, was moved to the west end of the extension, with an opening that outed toward the creek. The mid-section of the extension opened with a door facing the yard where stood the century-old mango tree, whose long, low-lying branch flowed down almost to the level of the wide window of the extension. The original comfort room made adjacent to the house on the creekside was retained as it was and so now rose, as the original house did, five steps high from the extension area.
Coming home from the shooting in Baguio of “Ang Dalagang Pinagtaksilan ng Panahon,” Ka Mao was greeted by the sight of Betchay needing only to stretch herself a little to pick a fruit at the tip of the low-hanging mango tree branch. But he was elated by how the house looked now..
The walls around the extension area were done in concrete up to the level of the window sill, the rest up to the rafters, in webbed bamboo barks fastened on wooden frames. The wide windows to either side of the door at the mid-section were grilled with slim bamboo tips and covered with steel screen.
Maoie, now two years old, noticed Ka Mao first.
:”Tatay!” the boy rejoiced and rushed to him. He leaped to his arms and pressed a kiss to his cheeks. Ka Mao kissed him back and then put him down. He took out of a plastic bag packs of strawberry and gave them to the boy.
“Strawberry! Yummy!” said the boy.
Betraying great appetite for the green mango she had picked, Betchay indicated her delight at Ka Mao’s arrival. She walked to him. Maoie gave to her one of the packs of strawberry while beginning to eat some from the pack he had opened.
“Tatay brought you a present,” Maoie said.
Betchay took the strawberry pack, immediately opened it and munched at the red fruit.
“Strawberries… I like,” Betchay said. “Sweet but a little sour. I feel like eating all sour things.”
Maoie rummaged through the other contents of the plastic bag.
“Bring that inside, Son,” said Ka Mao, and the boy did.
Then after a silent exchange of gazes with Betchay, Ka Mao dropped to his knees and gently hugged her around the hips, pressing his face to her bulging tummy.
“How’s the shooting?” Betchay asked, delighted by Ka Mao’s hug.
“Done,” said Ka Mao, continuing to savor the feel of Betchay’s belly on his face.
“Any prospect of another assignment.?”
Ka Mao appeared surprised by the question. He rose, silently asking with a gaze why Betchay asked the question.
“I consulted with Dr. Juliano yesterday,” she said.
“He said I need to be operated on soon. Possibly no later than middle of next month.”
Ka Mao stayed silent for a moment, then walked over to the foot of the mango tree and sat there, staring at the house.
Betchay just stood there, anticipating his words.
“He said that’s the way it should go.”
“I was hoping you can deliver our next baby normal.”
“He said once a woman starts delivering on cs, that’s it, it’s caesarian section for the succeeding babies.”
“As things are, just to get our house finished, I have advanced from Ninong Leroy my fee for whatever next project he would assign to me. I don’t expect to get further advance from him.”
Betchay found no words to say.
That night Ka Mao pounded his typewriter furiously, wanting to crank out a piece which he could peddle around immediately. The family’s upkeep wasn’t much problem for him. At certain times when he needed stop-gap means for the family’s survival, he would just go over to his folks and plead for assistance. His mother never failed him in this regard, even for Maoie’s medicine whenever he got sick and Ka Mao didn’t have money to spend. But cs operation for Betchay was not stop-gap; it was the life of their next child at stake.
The caesarian section done for the delivery of Maoie cost P17,000.00. Though Ka Mao did not expect it, it came at the heyday start of his screenwriting career, he had saved a substantial amount, and the simple living he practiced with Betchay in the Antipolo home would not use it up.
Now, how could he ever produce P17,000.00 in so short a time?
The question riveted in his mind with each strike of his fingers on the typewriter keys deep into the night.
Betchay, lying in bed and feeling the stirrings inside her belly, could feel the desperation seizing Ka Mao as he worked. How she wished she could help, “But how?” she asked herself.
What can a high school senior do to help her husband earn a living? Even high school graduates were good only for low-paying menial work, like house helper or store attendant.
When Maoie turned two years old, Betchay exerted effort to graduate from the Antipolo National High School through the accreditation program of the Department of Edication. By that program, high school juniors who had reached the age of maturity, especially married individuals, were given examination in order to accredit them for graduation. Ka Mao needed to pawn their television set to raise money for Betchay’s travel to Laguna where to take the exams. With much assistance from Mrs. Elfa, Betchay’s adviser in the ANHS, Betchay passed the exam and thus, though in third year at the time, was allowed to graduate.
Not one gifted with the ability of verbiage, Betchay could not say how she truly felt that afternoon she received her high school diploma, but she had it in her heart to turn herself into something risen above her poor beginnings. So it must really be paining her deeply inside to just watch helplessly while Ka Mao worked so hard all night long under the bare glimmer of the now ubiquitous improvised kerosene lamp fastened to the typewriter cover.
Ka Mao was working out a story concept germinated by an incident which happened in the farm in the intense heat of summer. Betchay was taking time doing her market chores, Ka Mao was busy washing Maoie’s clothes and diapers in the small pool in the creek, taking advantage of the hour when the boy Maoie, not yet one year old, was asleep in bed.
Suddenly thick smoke swept into the house and awakened the boy who, evidently getting some degree of suffocation, squirmed around in bed and ultimately fell off. That was when Ka Mao was astounded by the loud cry of Maoie. He rushed up the slope and then barged into the house where he gaped in horror at the empty bed, smoke swirling around. But Maoie’s cry continued to resonate, and tracing its source, Ka Mao saw the boy crawling out through the side door just beyond which was a huge fire eating up the patch of cogon that rounded the house.
Ka Mao snatched the boy off the floor and felt relieved to see no signs of injury in him. But what instantly gripped him with terror was the fire threateningly advancing toward the house. He quickly made the boy secure in a crib, which he placed under the mango tree to insure the boy was safe from the fire just in case, meantime that he worked to put it out.
He grabbed a bamboo pole, one of a few resting upright on the mango tree, by which he began sweeping the fire off, at least divert it away from the house. Made mostly from bamboo and nipa, the house already much heated up could catch flames instantly at touch of a spark.
“God, no!” he yelled continuously, seeing that his effort was getting futile. A number of times he looked up, as though there, indeed, was somebody up there to hear his plea.
As for the immediate surroundings, no neighbor whatsoever was around to help.
Wherever he stood striking at the flames, the fire would be contained. But beyond his reach, the fire spread on.
Then he was horrified to catch in the corner of his eyes a trail of flames heading toward the bamboo grove at the back of the house. The fire could not reach the house through the ground because that area was shaded, preventing the growth of combustible shrubs and grasses. But the danger lay in the bamboo trees, for whenever swayed by the wind, their tips whip the rooftop of the house. The minute the dry leaves which were lumped around the foot of the bamboo trees caught fire, that would set the entire bamboo grove aflame and torch the house.
Ka Mao decided to attend to the bamboo grove first. And in just a while, he was done securing that area from the spread of fire.
But in the meantime, the flames on the opposite area were ominously heading for the spot where stood the mango tree under which lay the crib wherein Maoie continuously cried. Seeing this, Ka Mao rushed back to the main body of the fire, sweeping the bamboo pole through the flames in seemingly wild abandon – no matter that he got burned here and there on the body, on his hands, arms and legs. With each swing of the pole, the cracking of his voice outing his desperate cry.
“God! God! God!”
Nobody was around to hear Ka Mao, nor to witness what was happening. It was a very private communion between him and whoever it was whom in all faith and submission he called “God”. And at the last cracking of his voice, as he felt himself too exhausted to contend with the conflagration any further, he wobbled on his legs then dropped to the ground much like melting jelly.
In that moment, Ka Mao found himself resolving: this is it. In the face of adversity, you can only do so much with your human strength. Ka Mao wondered afterward if he could have minded it ever had the flames proceeded to eat up his flesh. He felt he would even not have felt pain at all. He was ready for anything – except that the shrill sound of a baby’s cry, Maoie’s, stuck to his consciousness.
Two years later, that incident would form one of the highlights of Ka Mao’s first directorial assignment, “Isla Sto. Niño” by Seiko Films. Out of that incident, Ka Mao had woven a photoplay that drew heavily in content from the historic Balanggiga Massacre in Samar during the American aggression of the Philippines in the 1900s. According to historical accounts, the entire troops of an American contingent were annihilated by Balangiga resistance fighters. In retaliation for the massacre, the US military commander, Jacob Smith, issued his infamous exhortation to his men: “I don’t want anything alive. I want you to kill. The more you kill, the better you will please me!” And with that, as history had recorded it, the American aggressors embarked on a killing spree, butchering people and animals, destroying crops and plantations, while torching the whole town of Balangiga to the ground..
As Ka Mao would put it in his story, Fredo, played by Lito Lapid, and his band of rebels organize a retreat aimed at saving from the American carnage the babies of Sto. Niño, a fictitious island off Samar. With their ward of some one hundred babies, the rebels are cornered in an encampment at the foot of the hills which the American soldiers set on fire, using flaming arrows.
But in the movie, just as Fredo and his men are rendered helpless against the flames that are encircling the camp and their only recourse is to shield the babies with their bodies, divine intervention takes place: a sudden heavy rain falls from heaven, instantly dousing the fire.
In Ka Mao’s private battle with the bushfire flames, there was no such artifice. It was pure human will and sheer grit to overcome the adversity which impelled him to continue the battle no matter that he had already fallen.
Struggling to get back on his feet, he grabbed the bamboo pole once more with which to continue combating the fire. His eyes gaped. No more flame was in sight.
Ka Mao suddenly realized how ardently he had been calling out to God. Had God listened to him then? How would he know? There was no medium of any sort of heavenly intervention as the suddenly falling rain that would be dramatized to douse the fire in “Isla Sto. Niño.” There were only the smoldering embers of stumps of cogon, of bushes and twigs, embers no longer capable of spreading flames around.
“Isla Sto. Niño”, which put back on track Lito Lapid’s journey to super stardom and ultimately to the high echelons of the government bureaucracy, would be a product of Ka Mao’s artistic vent; the bushfire episode, a real fight.
And of the two, Ka Mao would eventually realize, the fundamental difference is: films are made great by men’s artifice, life by man’s mortal strength to triumph over adversity.
Did Ka Mao conquer the bushfire flames?
No, he did not. The flames died the minute Ka Mao was left with no more strength to put it out.
In any case, that struggle with the bushfire inspired Ka Mao to embark on writing a photoplay which he initially titled “Green Inferno.” As early as then, he was contemplating to do a movie that could be released worldwide. Thus the English title.
That evening, Ka Mao pounded his typewriter all night long. He hoped to finish writing the script as fast as possible and transact it with any producer, even with Leroy again. With his presentation of a new script, it would not be embarrassing for him to ask his godfather for another advance payment.
But as Ka Mao had never been steeped in finishing scripts overnight, writing the bushfire-inspired photoplay went his normal pace. So his desperation that night after he came home from the Baguio shooting would be replicated so many times that before he realized it, Betchay’s hour was at hand but the money needed for her cs delivery was not.
It was the house that came into play at this crucial period. The IL group came again in that period for another study session. Ka Mao thought the revolution must be intensifying such that its cadres had to engage in political work increasingly. Learning of the couple’s predicament, the IL group, particularly Nimfa, worked on an obgyne of the Philippine General Hospital, Dr. Talens, from the medical sector of the NDF. The benign medic did the job on Betchay on Valentines Day of 1981.
Dr. Talens himself had chosen the Manila Lying-In Clinic on Taft Avenue in which to perform the operation. It would not be too costly doing it there. On top of that, his professional fee would be reduced to the minimum and on a pay-when-able basis.
“A boy,” casually announced Dr. Talens to Ka Mao as he walked out of the operation room after the cs was done..
Rather premature, the boy was placed in an incubator, with Ka Mao viewing him lovingly through the glass wall of the nursery.
Two nurses came to the spot, one excitedly pulling at the other.
“Come,” said the one pulling. “See how pogi (handsome) this Baby Samonte is.”
Ka Mao delighted at the compliment. He talked to the nurses, rather raising his chin,
“I’m his father,” he declared.
The nurses stared at Ka Mao, glanced him over, then stared at him again, nearly gawking, “Huh?”
Ka Mao understood the reaction. It didn’t really look like the baby could be a child of a dark-skinned, Malayan-looking guy that Ka Mao was. The baby was fair-skinned, with facial features that, indeed, were handsome, evidently occidental.
But Ka Mao thought this was not time to lecture the nurses on Mendel’s genetics, which after all, they, being medical people, should know, that is, that parental traits get manifested by offsprings generations away. In time, the baby would grow up, manifesting physical characteristics not even either of Ka Mao’s parents, Tatay Simo and Nanay Puping, but that of Tay Celso, Nanay Puping’s father, who was tall and handsome, with evident Castillan descent.
For the time being, Ka Mao reacted to the nurses’ insulting gaze with a wry smile.
The three were distracted by cheers coming from the street. The nurses knew what was happening and they hurried to the balcony overlooking the avenue that was brimming with folks who were cheering, waving their hands at somebody approaching. The nurses immediately waved their hands, too, at the approaching figure: a frail, old man garbed in white robe, a white cap on his head, riding in a specially-designed vehicle with glass walls around so people could see him through from all angles as he continuously gestured his hand to them in blessing.. The vehicle had been played up in the media as Pope Mobile, with bullet-proof glass-walled chamber specially built for the man riding it, Pope Paul II. This was the Pope’s first visit to the Philippines and that ride in the Pope Mobile was his travel from his arrival at the Manila International Airport to the Vatican Nunciature, where he would be homed a few blocks away from the hospital.
Ka Mao mused to himself, “As the throngs of people who welcome Pope Paul II down Taft Avenue feel blessed by his passage, so in the same sense must be the birth of my second son.”
Moreover, who willed it that because Ka Mao was so hard-pressed with cash that a Party element must seek a doctor to perform cs on Betchay for a pittance and for that doctor, out of brotherly kindness, to chose a hospital in which to perform that operation just as the Pope was en route to the vicinity there to spread his blessings?
If, as Ka Mao had learned in his study of Marxist dialectical materialism, social phenomena happen not independently of, but rather in their interrelationship to, one another, then there must a relevance of the Pope’s passing the hospital, showering people with spiritual blessing at the very moment Betchay’s baby was being born.
Somebody distracted Ka Mao from his thoughts, a nurse who spoke, “Your wife wants you in her recovery room.”
When Ka Mao entered the recovery room, a nurse was interviewing Betchay as she lay in bed. She had barely recovered from the operation she had undergone for the delivery of the baby.
“They want to know what the name of our baby will be,” Betchay said to Ka Mao.
Ka Mao looked to the nurse inquiringly.
“We need to enter his name in the birth certificate,” said the nurse then asked as she prepared to write on the birth certificate form the name Ka Mao would say, “What will you call your baby, Sir?”
Ka Mao found himself thinking back on the scene just past before his eyes out on the street: throngs of believers in a great outpouring of affection and reverence for Pope Paul II.
Almost dreamily, Ka Mao answered, ”Paulo.”
A DAY AFTER Paulo was born, Ninoy delivered his much-touted memorable speech before hundreds of listeners in Wilshire Ebell Theater, Los Angeles, California. He was walking on steel crutches and to Ka Mao, he did strike up a semblance of Ka Bryan, the HO Political Officer for the IL Group. But though all throughout the speech Ninoy appeared in the pink of health, exuding his characteristic flamboyant air, when, after being introduced by the emcee, he ambled to the microphone in midstage to begin his speech, he pathetically limped on those steel crutches and by that got the audience hooked.
But Ka Mao could not have failed to notice that after just a couple of steps, Ninoy was doing it exactly as Julie Vega did in doing a scene in his movie “Iiyak Ka Rin”, one of the many box office hits he directed for Seiko Films. The scene required the smart teen superstar to walk on crutches in entering a hospital. But too much an imp for her age, the girl thought of testing Ka Mao’s direction by virtually just walking, just acting out a limp, with the crutches just getting carried by her hands, hardly touching the ground. Of course, she expected a retake. But Ka Mao, keenly sensing the deliberate misbehavior, got back by allowing the take to stand as the spoiled brat did it.
Who would suffer from the bad acting? Not him but the actress, Ka Mao told himself and shouted, “Pack up.”
Ah…, Ka Mao sighed as he watched on video Ninoy doing his thing at the very start of his speech. Unmatched by Julie Vega in that particular situation, Ninoy appeared to be perfecting the artifice, the genius to evoke mass illusion of his heroism through vivid pictures of injuries sustained in battle. Ka Mao began seeing that genius in Ninoy as he walked down the stairs of Hilton Hotel that night of August 21, 1971, when the entire senatorial ticket of the Liberal Party got blasted by two grenades. A cocked .45 pistol gripped in his hand, he strode down the stairs ready to do battle. He got no injuries though, since he was miraculously away from the party political rally on Plaza Miranda, but his party mates lay onstage all terribly maimed along with wounded and killed bystanders, and with Ninoy’s courageous stride with the .45 juxtaposed on these grim images, he certainly etched in people’s mind on a mass scale the figure of a warrior savior.
In similar grim circumstances, that figure would shine on: street demonstrations in the increasing Marcos curtailment of civil liberties, arrest and incarceration of Ninoy and other top opposition leaders upon the declaration of martial law, his solitary confinement, the hunger strike embarked on in continued defiance of the Marcos dictatorship, the near-death he sustained as a consequence which prompted the government to confine him in a hospital, onward to his veritable furlough in the United States, there to continue fighting Marcos under atmospheres endemic in the land of the free.
Even his failed attempt to get elected to the Interim Batasang Pambansa, Ka Mao thought now, could not have been conceived to win. How could a political genius that Ninoy was have failed to realize that he could never hope to win in an election under martial law. The LABAN ticket he headed was pitted against a slate of the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) with no less than First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos at the helm. No way Ninoy and company could win. And they did lose with a dismal score of O.
Chances were that Imelda and her group did win in an honest way. There were no indications of any irregularities in the conduct of the election. The counting of votes was open to public view, very transparent, and the final count put KBL team winning 21 to nothing for Metro Manila.
Could Ninoy give a damn? Not at all. He ran not to win but to get another trouncing in the hands of Marcos and thereby get martyred on and on to the point of sanctification,
And what better testimony to this would there be than Ninoy’s mystery-shrouded homecoming on August 21, 1983. A single bullet, shot through his skull as he was being led by AVSECOM soldiers down the stairs of the China Airlines that had taken him to the Manila International Airport, sent Ninoy dropping to the tarmac.
That picture of Ninoy lying dead face down on the pavement finally accomplished the sanctification.
And maintaining Ninoy in exactly his same physical condition in death, i.e., the face made ugly by the bullet wound, and uglier still by the blood that had been splattered on it, allowed to dry and entirely unwashed, just like the similar bloodstains on his immaculate clothes, there to stay all the way to his entombment – what did all this do but make the sanctification eternal!
From then on, Ninoy would be god. Because of him, Cory would be president. Because of him, Noynoy would be president. Because of him, what generations descending from, or claiming rights under, him would take turns ruling the Philippines after Noynoy?
But going back to his February 15, 1981 speech, Ninoy related that as he stepped out of his car to come to a speaking engagement in Ohio State University, he must have tripped on the gutter, causing what he said as his Achilles heel tendon to tear up.
Just his luck, one might say. But no matter, it gave him the excuse to come to the Wilshire Ebell Theater Freedom Rally in crutches. All the better for imparting to an enthralled audience the image of somebody getting injured in battle but getting back up on his feet and fighting on and on.
It was a wonderful speech, deserving of what it had come to be known: Ninoy’s memorable speech. Interspersing it with his characteristic humor, he got the hundreds awake through his two-hour long litany of accusations against Marcos and self-adulations of his virtues.
Ninoy had one single message for Marcos: step down and return democracy to the Filipino people or throw the country in chaos.
To the cheers of the throng in attendance, Ninoy intoned, “Though I have vowed never to enter the political arena again, I will dedicate the last drop of my blood for the dismantlement of your dictatorship.”
And Ninoy did that day he returned to drop dead on the airport tarmac.
The nation – or, anyway, Metro Manila and select sites in Luzon, Visayas and Mindano – threw in worrying disturbances: street demos here, confetti prostest showers there, symposia in campuses, and noise barrages, all sorts of mass actions condemning Marcos.
The economy was suddenly on the downtrend, with the peso dropping to 22 to 1 dollar. The increasing turbulence, mainly from the middle class but with strong participation from the workers, was beginning to drive investors away.
But as if in contrast, Ka Mao’s private economy experienced an upswing.
1981 was the year Betchay began conceiving their third child. Into the next year, Ka Mao again began to worry where to get money for Betchay’s next cs operation.
On the way home from a visit with his folks in Manila, Ka Mao was walking across Araneta Center heading for the terminal for jeepneys going to Antipolo, Maoie in his arms. Now in getting to the terminal, they would have to pass Jollibee unavoidably and Maoie would pester him on and on until he took him into the store for a yumburger and French fries. In times when he got money, Ka Mao would even delight at Maoie’s throwing in tantrums before bringing him in the store for a snack. This time, however, he had no money to spare for that purpose and the Jollibee signage ahead struck Ka Mao’s eyes like a sudden terror. Ka Mao made a sharp detour into the Farmers Market. That way they would be skirting Jollibee and cross another street to get to the jeepney terminal.
But Maoie had grown used to the surroundings and he knew they were not going the right way. And he fretted, indicating to Ka Mao where they should go instead – the Jollibee way. The boy would have gone on squirming in Ka Mao’s arms had he not been distracted by Ka Mao being greeted by Efren Piñon and Conrad Poe.
The two were close buddies. They had stood as sponsors in Paulo’s baptism. When not making movies, they engaged in dealing tuna which they got from Cotabato. The fish variety was abundant in the province and heads of the fish were virtually cast aside as trash in tuna canning factories. These fish heads were prime items in beer joints where they were grilled for pulutan or dish for munching on while drinking brew.
That afternoon, Efren and Conrad were at the market, transacting with fish vendors.
“Just right time, Mao,” said Efren. “I got an assignment from Seiko Films.”
Ka Mao had worked with Efren on “Nang Umapoy ang Karagatan”, a big project which Efren directed for Showbiz, Inc. A known action movie director, Efren was offered by Seiko to direct a comics epic, “Boy Condenado” by Carlo Caparas.
“Are you free?” asked Efren. “You can do the script.”
“Am I free!” exclaimed Ka Mao. “I am.”
“Boy Condenado” was significant to Ka Mao in a number of “firsts”. It was his first movie for Seiko Films. It was his first time working with Laarni Enriquez, the charming, amiable and adorable Tondo beauty queen who shortly after would be Ka Mao’s leading lady in his first directorial job, “Isla Sto. Niño”; six years after, Laarni would be First Lady of the Land in her own right, being love partner to President Joseph Ejercito Estrada. And it was the first time Ka Mao had a hand directing a scene in a movie.
Efren, who years after would betray his spiritual depth in directing video presentations of the El Shaddai Movement, had the good graces to make Ka Mao direct a highlight of the movie, with himself confining to handling one of three cameras needed for the scene. It was a truly big scene involving men and equipment, fire trucks, police patrol cars, and stunts as crowd panicked in a neighborhood-wide fire.
Ka Mao did his damn best and pulled off the job with, as the cliché goes, flying colors.
What he did not realize was that Robbie Tan, the executive producer of Seiko, was around all the while, keenly observing. After “Boy Condenado,” Seiko’s next project would be “Isla Sto. Niño”, with who else as the director but Ka Mao.
THE SUCCESS of “Boy Condenado” at the box office, Ka Mao credited solely to Robbie Tan whose marketing expertise Ka Mao would rate superb. Sure, the movie had a superstar for the leading man, Rudy Fernandez, playing the title role; a known author of movie hits, Carlo Caparas; and a reputed action movie director, Efren Piñon. All these and more would form plus factors which by conventional reckoning ensured fans would go and see the movie.
But Robbie, a young graduate of the Asian Institute of Management, had the daring to defy conventions. For one thing, in the hierarchy of values he had come up with to determine whether or not a movie would make money, the cast, meaning star value, fell only on the third rung, with marketing on the second. At the topmost level was concept.
Concept translates to, what is the movie all about?
So what was “Boy Condenado” all about? Was it about that good-boy-gone-astray stereotype as harped on in the comics serialization of the material? Robbie wouldn’t buy that stuff. The only reason he got the comics story was, it was a novel by Carlo Caparas, who was getting to have a captive audience.
Before the shooting of the movie began, Robbie, having much doubt about the project, even had a meeting with Carlo in which he expressed his preferrence to have another material from him to shoot, or else he would just return “Boy Condenado”. This was another way of saying, “return the money already paid for it.”
Carlo was evidently offended but kept his cool. Trying hard to be polite, Carlo spoke, “No, Robbie. That’s yours. I can’t take it anymore.”
So the filming of Carlo’s novel went ahead.
In due time, the production phase was completely done. While work proceeded to the post-production phase, Robbie began minding how to sell the movie. That night, Ka Mao had a brainstorming with him and his brother Edward. They needed to have a catchline for marketing purposes, in newspaper ad placements and in other publicity formats as lobby displays, posters and billboards.
After much exchange of ideas, Edward nonchalantly spoke the phrase: “The story of a boy from Malabon.” Ka Mao took it as too commonplace. Edward himself, not pretending to any literary skill, didn’t attach any deep significance to what he said.
It was Robbie who instantly looked like having hit gold.
At that time, a very hot issue was Ben Tumbling, the underworld character who had been involved in a number of high crimes. The legendary criminal was recently gunned down in an encounter with law enforcers, prompting movie producers to beat one another in getting the film rights for his story. But the martial law dispensation saw it fit to ban the filming of the Ben Tumbling story for obvious reasons: nothing against the establishment was to be allowed.
With Robbie, the government restriction offered no problem. He did not have to film a Ben Tumbling story. He only needed to impress upon film audiences – indeed, marketing – that “Boy Condenado” was the real-life story of Ben Tumbling. But precisely because of the government restriction, he could not pass on, even for marketing purposes, “Boy Condenado” as a film on Ben Tumbling. The catchline austerely thought of by Edward would do the trick.
It was known to all and sundry that Ben Tumbling was to Malabon as Asiong Salonga was to Tondo or Narding Putik to Cavite. It only needed to play up Edward’s idea to make people believe that “Boy Condenado,” “The story of a boy from Malabon” was the story of Ben Tumbling.
And the people believed.
All of a sudden, “Boy Condenado” was the talk of the town, on sidewalks, in barbershops, in many a tete-a-tete in slums neighborhoods, and even among students in campuses.
That “Boy Condenado” would score big at the tills became a foregone conclusion. That would be the good product of that brain storming in the Malabon office of Seiko Wallet.
The bad thing was for Ka Mao. Because of the sensational marketing Robbie did, the Board of Censors got so strict about the movie that they deleted most anything which in their perception had a semblance of Ben Tumbling’s exploits.
The result was a badly-mutilated photoplay that found Ka Mao reeling from attacks from all self-righteous critics lambasting him for bad writing.
From that experience, Ka Mao swore never to do a movie again unless he would direct it himself. This was the only assurance he could have that his scripts would stay faithful to his intentions.
Before that, known drama director Armando de Guzman, recognizing Ka Mao’s talent to write, advised him: “If you want to get your break in directing movies, write a good script then offer it to a producer on the condition that you will direct.”
And so it was that as Betchay was infanticipating on their third child, Ka Mao worked on his initial drafts of the “Green Inferno”. In a short period, he finished the script, this time titling it “Isla Sto. Niño.”
When he presented the synopsis to Robbie, his eyes glistened with dollar signs, evoked by imageries of a hundred babies getting subjected to every ordeal in the forest: fire, raging rapids, the elements. All this, while avoiding canon shells from American forces rendered intransigent in their objective to annihilate everyone, rebel or baby.
That was the concept and Robbie nodded, smiling..
The proposal sheet Ka Mao presented already had a catchline to carry: “God, save the babies!”
“I’ll do it,” Robbie said.
Ka Mao fixed his eyes on Robbie as a take-off for his next words.
“I must direct,” Ka Mao said, indicating grit and resolve.
Robbie understood, smiled, then said, “Ok.”
That was a day after July 17, 1982, when Dr. Juliano came out from the operation room of the Tiongson Hospital in Taytay, Rizal, done with the cs operation on Betchay for the delivery of their third child.
“Kengkay,” Dr. Juliano told Ka Mao, gleaming. The term actually alluded to the female genitalia.
Ka Mao gleamed, too. He already had two boys and had wished for a girl. His wish was granted.
With the deal clinched on “Isla Sto. Niño,” Ka Mao did not have a hard time requesting Robbie for down payment from which to draw the amount needed for Keng’s delivery. Dr. Juliano’s given nickname for the girl as a jest stuck: “Kengkay.” But in formal baptism, she was named Maripaz, the first half of which derived from the first half of Betchay’s full name “Maribeth” and the second half, “Paz”, after the full name of Ka Mao’s grandmother, Nay Paz.
THE BIRTH of Maripaz appeared to signal the start of a good life for Ka Mao and his family. Food and other provisions for day-to-day subsistence were getting increasingly plentiful. Indulgence in little luxuries became affordable. Weekends saw Ka Mao taking Betchay and the kids to some form of diversion or the other..
As for the house, Ka Mao now wanted a concrete one. But without much planning, he leveled down the whole original one-room affair and exactly on the same spot on which it stood, he immediately embarked on constructing a replacement, already erecting columns on two sides, three on each side. Once done with five columns, three on one side and two on the other, he realized the ultimate budget for the intended house would be too enormous for his present capacity. He decided to halve the structure, with two columns on each of two sides. And that’s how the house turned out, only one half of what had originally been meant.
The problem was that the completed half was the one consisting of the bedroom, the kitchen and the bathroom. The non-done half was the one meant for the living room. Once walled around with concrete, the resulting structure looked more like a series of solitary confinement cells joined together by a hallway at the entrance and a narrow corridor that was the gap between the bedroom and the kitchen. The hallway was that gap between the solid cement wall of the front of the house that rose all the way to the rafters and the solid wall of the kitchen.
At the right end of this hallway was the comfort room and at the left, the landing of the steps to the sunken extension area on the one hand, and on the other hand, the stairs to the attic, again made of bamboo. The trusses were fastened to the top of the walls, both the one above the entrance and the one at the back. The openings through the trusses were fitted with iron grills.
Clinging on to his apparent fetish for all things native, Ka Mao still used nipa for the roof of the new house and made it high so as to accommodate an attic, a feature which Ka Mao added in order to compensate for the lack of a living room. The kitchen wall facing that of the main entrance was made to rise such that its top served as a railing from where one on the attic might look down on the hallway to, say, check who was getting inside the house. The floor of the attic consisted of bamboo slats nailed on the wooden beams with little spaces in between. Ka Mao had this done deliberately for purposes of ventilation. That might be good for airiness in the attic atmosphere but on questions of privacy, it was highly inadvisable. One on the attic got to see the activity on the groundfloor and vice versa. But this was how the family house was back in his childhood days and Ka Mao just could not overcome the nostalgia. For that matter, one reason why Ka Mao prohibited his family from cutting bamboo shoots for viand was because he wanted the bamboo trees to flourish and provide steady supply of bamboo anytime he needed it. Had he tolerated Betchay in her own fetish of eating bamboo shoots, no more bamboo trees in the property would be standing by now.
Such an eyesore was the unused column that now stood like a Meralco post gone astray. Tearing down the column would readily cure the sore, but Ka Mao would have none of it. The column had cost much and he would not want to waste that money. He cranked his skull and soon hit the idea. Around the column, he put up four wooden posts, four inches by four inches in diameter and set in a square formation five meters apart from one another. The top of the posts which were six feet six inches high, he fitted with two inches by four inches wooden beams joined end to end. Then rafters two inches by four inches in diameter were fitted from the tip of the concrete column to a corresponding tip of the wooden posts where the beams were joined up as well as to corresponding points above the midsections of the beams. These rafters were then rounded with purlins so that the whole set up had the look of a spider web. On this setup of rafters and purlins would be fastened nipa roofing to complete the structure of a pergola. Completed wih bamboo railing that connected the posts to each other below, with one such section left open to serve as entrance, the resulting structure was a pretty, quaint architecture that would serve both as receiving room and dining room for guests. Ka Mao ordered a rattan six-seater round dining table with matching rattan sala set as furnishings for the pergola. At the foot of the concrete column were stacked modest-sized boulders plastered with cement to one another, on top of one side of which was placed a native earthen jar for holding drinking water to complete the amenities of native dining. The other top of the boulders was fitted with a lavatory for washing hands.
Anyway, Ka Mao intended the attic to be his library. writing room and conference room all rolled up into one.
Now, since he wrote all throughout most of the night, it was in the attic that sleepiness almost always overtook him and there he would lay out a mat for him to sleep on.. And since the kids always loved to sleep with him, it was on the attic that they almost always got themselves overtaken by sleepiness, too, and there would sleep with him. Besides, it was on the attic that Ka Mao guided the kids in doing their school assignments, so that almost always after the study sessions, they would be too sleepy to get down to the bedroom where Betchay could now be snoring all by her lonesome.
In many such a moment, Ka Mao would pause from his writing and get amused at the kids doing various funny positions in their sleep. How nice to be just kids, he would muse. To be worry-free and letting daddies bother about all the cares in the world. Ka Mao felt he had not much to worry about at the moment anyway. He was not lacking in film assignments, with Seiko having vaulted to the top third spot among the leading film producers, the first two being Viva Films and Regal Films.
The only thing Ka Mao could not seem to give to his children until now was the luxury of electricity. Light was remediable, because they could have similar amount of it from petroleum lamps; in his case, from his goodie ole improvised kerosene lamp fastened with electrical tape to the top of his typewriter when he wrote.
Electricity meant a lot more of things: radio, television, cassette recorder and player, educational and entertainment gadgets, and, yes, the refrigerator that remained unoperated. Above all things at the moment was their need for clean water. The creek was getting dirtier and dirtier due to wastes dumped in it by settlements on the higher planes. There was no more way to distinguish the creek water from the spring water with which it unavoidably got mixed up. If he could have electricity, he could dig a deep well and then pump water from it, using the jack pump Leroy Salvador gifted him with sometime ago.
Ka Mao could manage now to raise some hundred fifty thousand pesos to have his own transformer installed in order to lower the voltage of the high-tension wire that passed his place. But that’s not the only item he needed to spend money for. The kids’ schooling was top priority, and when money was put into that priority, what was left was the budget for the family’s subsistence.
Checking with Meralco again for a possible remedy, he was informed that he could buy stocks of the company and use those shares as back-up for the transformer that would be put in place for his use. Ka Mao lit up. The amount of shares he needed to buy was very affordable. Before long, he was applying for a certificate of electrical inspection with the Municipal Engineer’s office. Through the help of one Alegre, a very amiable and accommodating fellow, Ka Mao was issued the certificate plus another one, a certificate of occupancy, a most fundamental requisite for occupying a house.
Alegre came to him that morning announcing as he brandished the documents in his hand, “Approved without looking.”
At the same time, Ka Mao put up an entrance post with all engineering specifications for such a facility, complete with electrical plan for causing the electric wires to pass underground rather than above, for optimum safety.
So in less than a year after Maripaz was born, the family got its one remaining single lack: electricity.
The family rejoiced. Ka Mao wanted to shout out something grand. But he could not. It would take more than two decades thence when – due to unpaid bills the electric connection so dearly gained was permanently cut up and Ka Mao’s reapplication for the same was denied on account of an encumbrance by the Epira Law that applicants for Meralco electric connection must submit a title to the land on which the connection was to be made and Ka Mao could not show one, but he argued his case vehemently nonetheless and Meralco, through the kind intercession of Vice President for Communications Joe Zaldarriaga, acquiesced in the end – Ka Mao, in a text message to Joe, finally worded his joy: “’Tis no hypherbole. After eons of darkness, Meralco is the next best thing to life.”
In due time, Robbie would sell to Ka Mao his Toyota Land Cruiser at a very friendly price. With the vehicle, the family completed the normal standard for gaining the status of well-to-do: a house-and-lot and a car, with children going to good schools. When she came of school age, Maripaz joined Maoie and Paulo at the Montessori, and when things got even better, all three transferred to Assumption. At the time, boys were accepted in the school but only up to Grade 4, so early on Ka Mao wondered if he could afford to send Maoie and Paulo to Ateneo.
During a meeting of the Assumption Family Council Ka Mao voiced out this concern to one parent, who right away remarked, “If you can afford Assumption, you can afford Ateneo.”
That was how very attentive and meticulous was Ka Mao about the education of his kids. Poverty had not allowed him to finish his engineering course and he did not wish to see his children meeting with the same fate. With his film career progressing all throughout the 80s, it looked like the education of his children would take on a happy course.
Meantime Ka Mao’s bank account was getting fatter everyday. Particularly for Betchay, this was source of much secure feeling. Though it was not in her name, she kept the bank book and thereby held power over the purse.
Betchay was making sure she got to achieve her own agenda. She wanted to finish college and pursue a profession of her own. As all the kids were now in school, she found enough time to mind her own studies. Ka Mao was quite heartened by her desire for college education and supported her enrollment at the Philippine School of Business Administration for accounting studies. A new vehicle was added to the family’s modest motor pool, a Ford Laser, and this became Betchay’s personal car in going to and from school. She had endeavored to study driving without Ka Mao knowing it, but he was glad to know she could drive, because it meant she could be his personal driver. Ka Mao himself knew how to drive, but he got this habit of conceiving stories while in travel and he rightly deemed it dangerous to be doing so while driving on his own.
And so, at the same time that Betchay got the nice feeling of being admired by the crowd in the PSBA campus as a car-owning student, she also did the good job of driving Ka Mao through many journeys into creating stories.
Taking the side route through Binalonan, Pangasinan during a travel from Baguio, they passed a large plantatation of eggplants and the sight of that vegetable variety being grown on a large scale stirred Ka Mao’s mind into creating “Talong”, the movie that launched Nini Jacinto and Leonardo Litton to stardom and turned out to be a big moneymaker. Ka Mao observed Ricky Lee and his same-sex company stepping out of a theater, enthusing at the movie, particularly that scene where Nini, in giving a drunk Leonardo a sponge bath, gleefully toyed with his genitals.
“Kangkong”, which, for all its earthy celebration of sex, drew a heartening commendation from the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines and made a star out of a poor slums denizen, Brigitte de Joya , was a product of a similar journey. Betchay was driving down a Morong, Rizal highway which skirted the Laguna de Bay when Ka Mao noticed that the shores of the famous lake were teeming with ponds growing the favorite vegetable for sinigang, an exotic dish of either fish or meat boiled in tamarind juice with a rich mixture of spices, serving both as viand and soup in meals.
“Halimuyak ng Babae”, originally titled by Ka Mao as “Sa Daigdig ng mga Toro”, was inspired by a sprawling cow ranch in Baao, Camarines Sur which on a travel to Catanduanes struck Ka Mao as a lovely landscape, with Mayon Volcano majestically pictured in the background. In all instances before that, Ka Mao had been traveling the same route but on public transport and always at nights. There was no way he could see the herd of cattle grazing on the meadow. With Betchay driving this time, the travel was in broad daylight and then and there got him gestating the story of a girl given away as prize in a rodeo festival; the movie made more money for Seiko and turned the otherwise unheralded starlet Abby Viduya into the sex superstar Priscilla Almeda.
A journey to Pagsanjan Falls had Ka Mao and Betchay passing Lumban, Quezon, a town proclaiming as its prime cottage industry the production of cheese from carabao milk. Ka Mao revisited the town at dawn to witness the production of such delicacy and there completed his concept of the movie “Kesong Puti,” a super hit which made Klaudia Koronel a star overnight.
And travelling through a deserted highway in Mauban, Quezon, Ka Mao witnessed the large-scale cutting of coconut trees for turning into coco lumber and it got him so mad he thought of a story to advocate a stop to such despoliation of nature, and the result was “Bad Girl,” which picked up a struggling starlet from the doldrums and catapulted her to superstardom, Cristina Gonzales, who in 1991 would beat them all with a whopping score of fifteen movies in a year, all casting her in the lead role: “Katawan ni Sofia”, “Maiinit na Puso”, “Akin ang Asawa Mo”, etc., the rest of the fifteen being works of other directors.
Kring-Kring became the most sought-after star after “Bad Girl”.
In brief, during trips, Ka Mao must have complete freedom to let all his thoughts bloom. Gestating stories and driving at the same time could invite disaster.
One time Ka Mao was driving, Betchay comfortably seated beside him, and was into his usual indulgence in creative thinking, when a truck laden with pigs suddenly sped out of the gates of a piggery. Ka Mao realized he was already face to face with the driver of the truck who exchanged terrified stares with him. Ka Mao was ready to take a terrible smash-up. But his foot stepped on the brakes nonetheless while his hands spun the wheel furiously to the right, causing his Mitsubishi van to spin 180 degrees, avoiding by an inch the truck which in fright, the driver drove on, quickly shifting to high gear.
Ka Mao leaned back on his seat, heaving a sigh. It was a long stretch of empty highway they were on anyway and he had all the time to just sit there and wait till his nerves leveled up. But Betchay took no time taking over the wheels, turning the car back to its original direction, resuming the travel.
They were on the way to Puerto Azul for Ka Mao to do a double-check of a location for “May Gatas Pa Sa Labi”, an idea of a man and an adolescent girl washed ashore on a deserted island from a sea mishap. Ka Mao had traveled to the place one time during a location hunting and that area in Cay Labne, Tanza, Cavite had the distinct feature of a forest adjacent to the sea, with a river flowing down into it. It germinated in Ka Mao’s mind a Robinson Crusoe type of adventure, and when he offered the idea to Kara Films which had sought him out for a film project, the good-natured executive producer, Roger Leonardo, said, “Your call, Direk.”
So all systems went for the project, The production staff and crew were organized, and to play the role of the adolescent sea mishap victim opposite top star Tonton Gutierez was a Vir Mateo talent whom Ka Mao discovered while she was doing a tryout for a role in a theater play in the Ninoy Aquino Park and Wildlife.
Ka Mao did not have to think twice when he came face to face with the girl. She was thirteen, petite and pretty, her big round eyes, glowing doll-like, mirrored girlish innocence, but her French mestiza allure already exuded some pleasant sultriness – Aila Marie, the name she would retain in the billing.
Invariably, that was how Ka Mao judged his stars. The looks came first. Acting, a period of workshop would solve it. Above all, Aila was new, so very new, completely malleable so as to be made submissive to his direction.
And invariably as well, the approach worked.
But Ka Mao was not so sure about the location. His particular requirement was a stream flowing from falls in a forest so that without having to cut a shot, you trail the flow of water with a camera pan and capture the stream outing into a panorama of the ocean, its blue waters reflecting the color of the sky, with a clouds-rimmed horizon yonder.
Much to his dismay, Ka Mao realized Cay Labne, though having inspired the concept, did not fit into the shooting requirement.
Thus did that near-crash with the pig delivery truck go for naught.
Ka Mao would finally find the perfect site in his native town of Calolbon, now San Andres, Catanduanes. And “May Gatas Pa Sa Labi” made so much money when shown that not long after, Kara Films, hitherto relatively unknown, was being reckoned with.
“It’s me you’re getting popular with this, Direk,” said Roger of his venture.
In any case, as if by tradition, Aila Mare was signed up for exclusive contract by Regal Films.That had been Regal’s way of keeping bankable talents in the industry completely under its control.
Ka Mao nearly fell into it, too, that day Mother Lily invited him to her office where without much ceremony she instructed Ate Luz, the ever loyal and devoted secretary-cashier of the Regal matriarch, to prepare pronto the advance payment for making Ka Mao exclusive for the company. In a little while, the lady Man Friday was done with a thick wad of checks which Mother Lily eagerly signed for issuing to Ka Mao.
“This is three hundred thousand, Direk,” said the First Lady of Philippine movies as she signed the checks. “Just down payment for ten movies. The balance per movie, you get everytime you shoot.”
Ka Mao found it extremely hard to refuse the offer from somebody whose winsome way of dealing with people, albeit play-act, was simply irresistible. But Betchay kept elbowing his side, nearly gnashing her teeth as she counseled him, “Don’t sign.”
Only when Mother Lily was done signing the checks did Ka Mao get to say, “Sorry, Mother. No need for this contract. Just you hire me anytime you wish”.
Ka Mao didn’t know why he listened to Betchay. Mother Lily had been so nice to him that it indeed made him sincerely sorry to have rejected her. The lady eyed him, looking deeply hurt inside.
He remembered the first time he saw that look in her eyes. That noon at Jade Vine Restaurant in Greenhills Shopping Mart. She had invited him for lunch along with Ishmael Bernal for discussions on film projects. But the hours wore on and it was now nearing two and still Mother Lily was nowhere in sight. Ka Mao was taking it good-naturedly, having grown used to her habits, tantrums and everything. But Bernal, the super director that he was, was visibly irked, though he kept his thoughts to himself.
Finally, at ten minutes to two, Mother Lily arrived, beaming even as she was profuse with apologies to her guests. They must have waited for nearly three hours, for to a lunch invitation by someone as important as Mother Lily, you are expected to arrive as early as eleven o’clock.
The minute Mother Lily took a seat at the table, Bernal rose abruptly, and without looking at her nor saying a word to her, he turned away and got lost. That clearly was the snub he had deliberately designed to get back at the lady for having made him, a very important person, suffer the agony of a three-hour-waiting.
Mother Lily was left gaping, appearing like having been hit by a blow. She made no adverse reaction of any sort, just that look of hurt in her eyes with which she trailed Bernal’s oh, too proud strides in going away.
Now, at Ka Mao’s rejection of Mother Lily’s offer, he just found himself wondering if he was not doing a Bernal. And that made him feel guilty. Mother Lily had been so good to him to deserve his snub. And so unavoidably, as Mother Lily casually tore the checks intended for him, Ka Mao just found himself suddenly reminiscing on some nice times he had had with the lady, like that midnight trip to Pangasinan to which she had wanted him and Betchay around when she paid homage to the Virgin of Manaoag.
People were wont to engage in ill talk on the lady’s frequent tantrums, growling at employees and throwing things at them, like ash trays and telephone sets, whatever she could grab in her moments of bad temper. What was hardly talked about was her regular visits to the Virgin of Manaoag in whose miracles she manifested deep faith. At the entrance of the Valencia Street office of Regal Films, an interesting amalgam greeted every visitor before entering: the Virgin of Manaoag richly garlanded with sampaguita side by side with a Buddha figurine surrounded by burning incense.
Ka Mao would have some spiritual union with Mother Lily in the Life in the Spirit Seminar conducted in the Regal office in 1991. Along with a number of Regal celebrities, Ka Mao underwent the seminar for a week. From that seminar, Ka Mao got a copy of the Good News Bible, which had since then become his ready reference for Gospel guidance; the one Manay Consoling gifted him with stayed kept in the shelves.
Why Ka Mao heeded Betchay’s counsel for him not to sign the exclusive contract, he couldn’t say. Chances were that Mother Lily had sincerely wished to keep him for keeps. The fact was that even with his refusal to sign, Ka Mao continued to enjoy the good graces of Mother Lily.
Into the 90s, Ka Mao was getting to be a topnotch director in number of films made; in 1991 he scored six for the year alone. Four of those six were for Regal films.
Ka Mao would realize that goodwill is not sourced from worldly trappings of legal contracts but from a sincere covenant with God to do good.
SOCIETY threw in tumult in the aftermath of the Ninoy Aquino assassination that August 21, 1983. Like most anybody else, Ka Mao’s impulse was to call it a handiwork of Marcos. But after a period of putting two and two together, Ka Mao advanced the opinion that Marcos was no fool to make a hero out of a dead man walking.
In his admitted sojourns to various places outside of the United States to strike up formal alliances against Marcos, sticking always to his side was Dr. Solis, the surgeon who performed triple heart by-pass operation on him in Dallas, Texas. The doctor had become so dear a friend to Ninoy that, as he admitted in an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, he “would take Ninoy’s secret to his grave.”
Ninoy was a terminal case, no doubt about that. That was why he needed Dr. Solis to travel along with him in those numerous trips to meet up with allies and supporters. But on that particular journey for homecoming in 1981 when he should need medical attention most, Dr. Solis was prominently missing. Ninoy appeared a pathetic lonesome as he moved from one plane to another in the circuitous trip back home,
The question, then, is unavoidably asked: When does a patient no longer need a doctor? The answer is simple: When there’s no more hope of cure.
As a finale to a lengthy essay on Ninoy which Ka Mao posted in his blog KAMAO in 2010, he cited a passage from a video documentary entitled Beyond Conspiracy: 25 Years After. The presentation was hosted by Tina Munzon Palma, who, as a clincher, declared: “In the end, Ninoy won his political chess game with Marcos by doing the unthinkable: he sacrificed the King.” And Ka Mao, after citing the consequent rise to power of what the media had hyped to be apolitical, Ninoy’s widow Cory, made his own fearless pronouncement: “That was a good death, translation of the Greek word euthanasia.”
So much given to metaphors in his writing, Ka Mao was alluding to the medical practice of physicians finally ordering the detachment of various life supports from a patient to facilitate his passage from life. Mercy killing, that’s how it is generally known. But the gory manner by which Ninoy got killed and depicted in the video presentation prompted Ka Mao to recall a scene in a cowboy movie in which a horse with broken legs, thus with no more hope of living further, was shot by its very owner, thereby, with that single bullet through its skull, making its death easy.
Sure, Ninoy got death good and easy.
But for the nation, that drama on the tarmac ushered in terribly difficult times. Cory, suddenly grown political, led ceaseless disturbances all riding on the single cry: “Sobra na! Tama na! Alisin na! (Too much! Enough! Remove!)” Foreign capital held back on its investments, creating an abrupt drop of the economy, ultimately leading to mass poverty.
Ka Mao was intrigued by the phenomenon. He would wonder if people were made to be like that, enjoying pleasure from getting hurt. Despite getting whacks on the head with police sticks, they would brawl with state troopers even more. So if the turbulence from the assassination of Ninoy was creating hard times on their livelihood, suits people fine; they had it coming. It was their mindless accommodation of the Cory call that made them poorer in the first place.
People’s protests all over the nation provided the crest for Cory to ride on in a clear intention to get Ninoy’s oath, declared with resolve in his memorable speech, done once and for all: “I will dedicate the last drop of my blood for the dismantlement of your dictatorship.”
How the people loved to repeat after Cory on and on and on: “Tama na! Sobra na! Alisin na!”
For the armed CPP-NPA rebellion, the disturbances just augured well for pushing the revolution ahead. This was the time the rebel leadership assessed its so-called people’s war to have attained the strategic counter offensive (SCO) sub-stage from which to spring to the strategic offensive.
For the US, the situation would not be good. American overriding concern at the time was to get Marcos done with for purposes of achieving their intentions in the forthcoming renegotiation of the American bases rentals. If, initially the communist movement helped US interests in its program of demonizing Marcos as a springboard for his ouster, this time around, that movement was poised to take over in the event of a rebel overthrow of Marcos.
The Sisonite strategy of a protracted people’s war sat quite well with the US. That strategy was only aimed at protracting on and on, with no timeline for victory. Simply because the strategy was designed not to win, the imperialist enemy would not lose.
But into the 80s, a shift from the conventional strategy of surrounding the cities from the countryside was becoming evident. Urban guerilla warfare was intensifying in Metro Manila as witnessed by the assassination of General Tomas Karingal, Chief of the Police Northern Sector Command, and Col. James Rowe, JUSMAG Commander.
Meantime, policemen became a most scared lot, not knowing who among them would fall next from assassination by city guerillas in their ceaseless conduct of agaw armas, a binge of killing policemen for the simple reason of snatching their service weapons. That was how, invoking the principle of self-reliance, urban armed city partisans (ACP) were able to arm themselves.
This shift in revolutionary strategy should be cause for worry for the US. Its experience in its own backyard had shown that armed city uprisings were the modern-day effective method of toppling tyrants. Fidel Castro did it in Cuba and the Sadinistas, in Panama.
Ka Jun, or Rolly Kintanar, as NPA Chief was into perfecting the blueprint for such a Sadinista-approach uprising in the Philippines, and though it was not openly advanced, the transpirations obtaining in Metro Manila spoke for themselves: a city-based insurrection was in the making.
For that reason, a Marcos overthrow through popular uprising must be nipped in the bad as far as US intentions were concerned. The communist rebels could sneak into the fray and before anybody knew it, they were at the helm of the new dispensation that would come about.
Rather, a democratic election – or, at least, an election made to appear to the people as one aimed at restoring democracy – was the best US option.
So alongside militant rebellion-inspired mass protests, were sudden cries for democratic elections wherein the Marcos presidency was at stake. In due time, as from some strings having been pulled behind the scenes, Marcos agreed to the holding of snap presidential elections where he, in tandem with Senator Arturo Tolentino, would run against the tandem of Salvador Laurel, for Vice President – and Cory Aquino for President.
Political pundits viewed this as a Marcos error in judgment. It was not. If Marcos was cocksure he would win in the snap polls, it was because he rightly saw the balance of forces between him and Cory. As then Singapore President Lee Kwan Yu would remark on the matter afterward, “There is no comparison.” The favor was on Marcos’ side.
If at all, the Cory bandwagon was good only in Metro Manila, Cebu, select areas in the Visayas, but overall surveys showed Marcos would win. And as the counting of votes at the Philippine International Convention Center immediately showed, Marcos was far ahead.
But, alas, the team of vote counters, which curiously was composed of ladies, staged a walkout and before the international media – intriguingly having been organized perhaps precisely to cover the grandstand act – denounced the counting as a hoax.
That denouncement was the alibi Cory held on to in claiming the presidency through a self-serving victory count conducted by National Movement for Free Election (NAMFREL). .
Thus, at the same time that Marcos was being proclaimed winner in the Batasang Pambansa count, Cory was proclaimed victorious by NAMFREL. And to Marcos’ intransigence in holding on to his post, Cory countered with a civil disobedience campaign that already threatened to explode into a bloody situation.
In desperation, Marcos sent a trusted lieutenant, Labor Secretary Blas Ople to Washington to get the final say of US on the hostilities. That was when US President Ronald Reagan, though a good friend of Marcos, sent him the curt final message: “Cut and cut clean.”
Shortly after came the repeat of a cliché: and the rest is history.
Into his retirement years, Ka Mao became so appalled by the Syrian civil war, particularly the brutalities it was heaping upon innocent children and babies, that he wrote a piece and got it posted in blog site Get Real Post, which had been introduced to him by Twitter friend Ilda.
The article went:
The Syrian Civil War:
MARCOS IN RETROSPECT
By Mauro Gia Samonte
Looking back now, I ask if it was not to the country’s fortune that Marcos did not have that much intransigence. The nation saw on television how then Defense Secretary (an oversight; should have read “AFP Chief of Staff”) Fabian Ver was urging President Marcos to have tanks moving in and disperse the thousands that had already massed on EDSA -- certainly implying firepower. But President Marcos cut him short, ordering instead to use water hoses or any somesuch method, but never guns.
And thus did the EDSA uprising of 1986 go down in history as a peaceful people power revolt. It would be the height of political naivette to believe so.
The EDSA rising turned peaceful because Marcos refused to use guns.
If Assad were in his place, he would insist that those in EDSA – granting they did count a couple of millions – constituted a very slim minority of the Filipino people who at the time were counting 83 million. Assad would have insisted that the majority of the people were in the middle, “to be precise, not against him.”
It was just that the event was perfectly hyped in the media so that what was actually a happening in a very small section of Metro Manila was projected as a nationwide phenomenon. And Marcos, instead of defying Reagan’s order (how do you put this in diplomatic terms?) to “Cut. And cut clean,” did not resist when flown to Hawaii by United States operatives.
In Assad’s case, when asked for reaction to a demand by US President Obama for him to step down because he had lost legitimacy to rule, he said he will not listen to anybody, never mind if that anybody is President of the greatest nation on earth, outside of Syria. Assad, by his assertion, would listen only to the Syrian people, and again he would insist that the majority of Syrians are in the middle, “not against me.”
During the EDSA crisis, Marcos definitely had the numbers and add to this the “majority” who, by Assad’s reckoning, must be in the middle and were not anti-Marcos, he enjoyed enough public support to stay in power. Unlike Assad, however, Marcos, though not really acceding to the Reagan direction, did not choose to defy the US wish for him to step down and allowed himself to be “kidnapped” for bringing to exile.
Had Marcos did an Assad, he would surely have thrown the nation into a conflagration such as what’s happened to Syria, decimating the population by tens of thousands and bringing the country to utter ruins. But by not doing an Assad, had not Marcos exemplified the height of magnanimity and benevolence, care and concern, and love a leader should reach for the people he leads?
The EDSA rising propelled the plain housewife Cory to the pinnacle of political power. She got the whole world enthralled. In speeches before the United Nations and the US Congress, she gloated in the glory of the “bloodless revolution”.
And Cory called that bloodlessness her feat!
Almost just as soon as Cory took over the presidency, she declared: “Now I know why people would kill for this position.”
The bloodiest event that ever took place on Mendiola was the Mendiola Massacre on January 22, 1987 – very early on in the Cory administration. And the bloodiest massacre that ever took place in Concepcion, Tarlac was the Hacienda Luisita Massacre on November 16, 2004 – when Cory could have prevented it but did not.
If the EDSA revolt turned out bloodless, it was because Marcos just refused to make it bloody.
Years ago, I came across a passage from a speech by Senator Bongbong Marcos about how to treat his father. He implored his listeners, “Look beyond the man.”
It takes the grim reality of Syria to view the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos in the correct perspective.
The short article generated scores of comments, many of them evidently coming from Cory loyalists. The propaganda slant intrinsic in the anti-Marcos comments prompted Ka Mao to write a follow-up article, also posted in the same blog site. Those who made comments went by aliases.
Here was the article:
TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCE
By Mauro Gia Samonte
Apropos the stream of comments generated by my article SYRIAN WAR: MARCOS IN RETROSPECT, I’m prompted to think back on RASHOMON, that movie by Akira Kurosawa which won the Best Picture Award in the 1950 Berlin Film Festival onward to winning a similar honor in the Cannes Film Festival.
RASHOMON tells the story of a murdered samurai viewed from different angles. Each of these angles claims to be the truth, to be more precise told during the trial by a number of people claiming to be witnesses to the crime. The testimonies contradict one another, making for the difficulty of telling which is true and which is false. This dilemma constituting RASHOMON’S theme is what I believe stares us in the face in the current discussion.
Which of the contradictory comments that poured into GRP on account of my article is true and which is false. Each of the comments is not wanting in historical proof.
jcc goes to such great lengths, thank you, citing someone’s account of the EDSA event (I promise to read up on this to get me less ill-informed) to show that orders to shoot the EDSA crowd were given out but that the field commanders refused to carry out those orders.
On the other hand, Andrew reports on a conversation he heard between General Arturo Enrile and somebody in a London Times’ correspondent’s bash in 1995 in which the general, said to be leading the armored column in EDSA, admitted that they were ordered to stop and being the army, they obeyed.
Twenty six years after, therefore, the question continues to hang: Did or did not Marcos order shooting the EDSA crowd?
jcc, again, calls it being “ill-informed” to believe the exchange between AFP Chief Ver and President Marcos was one for real. Johnny Saint agrees, calling it odd that Ver and Marcos should be talking that way on television. “The whole event,” Johnny says, “seems contrivcd – a scripted melodrama, and a bad one at that.”
For her part, sendonggirl, whom Amir Al Bahrs alludes to as “lockness monster” and whom Johnny Derp would rather liken to a “mewling quim” (whatever that means), points out impropriety in comparing a leader to Assad. “Such a low bar hehehehe,” she comments, hardly realizing that “such a low bar” in fact was what people in the 70s – at least Ninoy Aquino and his ilk – were measuring Marcos against already: “Marcos! Hitler! Diktador! Tuta!” So okay with sendonggirl for Ninoy to go low, low to Hitler but never low enough to Assad? And for a final challenge, she prescribes, “compare him to lincoln so we can see.”
So okay, sendonggirl. You asked for it..
Lincoln did self-study of law. Marcos reviewed for bar while in prison. Even Stevens.
Lincoln passed the bar. Marcos topped the bar. Marcos up.
Lincoln lost a number of attempts at winning lower political posts. Marcos never lost an election. Marcos up.
Lincoln went turncoat from Whig Party to Republican Party and won US presidency. Marcos went turncoat from Liberal Party to Nacionalista Party and won Philippine presidency. Even Stevens.
Lincoln was captain of volunteers during the Black Hawk War but, as one account says, saw no combat save for “a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitoes.” Marcos actually fought in battle as a combat intelligence officer for the allied forces in the Philippines during World War 2. Marcos up.
Seven states seceded from the United States during Lincoln’s term. No portion of the nation seceded from the Republic of the Philippines during Marcos’ term. Marcos up. (P.S. Such secession is being contemplated by the current PNoy administration for Mindanao through the Framework of Agreement. History will assign score to PNoy for this.)
The American Civil War broke out during Lincoln’s term. No civil war broke out in Marcos’ term. Marcos up.
Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus and arrested suspected Confederates sympathizers without warrant. Marcos suspended writ of habeas corpus and arrested suspected communists without warrant. Even Stevens.
Lincoln said, “Hold your friends close and your enemies closer.” (Sun Tzu said this first.) Marcos said, “There are no permanent enemies. There are only temporary allies.” Even Stevens enough.
Lincoln said, “A house divided cannot stand.” Marcos said, “This nation can be great again.” Marcos sounds better, or don’t you agree?
Lincoln served for a little more than four years. Marcos served 20 years. Marcos far, far ahead.
So now, sendonggirl, see for yourself how Lincoln and Marcos compare There is only one area in which Lincoln does one over Marcos. Lincoln was so hated in America that a popular actor assassinated him on April 14, 1865. Marcos was only exiled.
Why is that the case, that is, why exile Marcos? “Because,” says Hayden Toro, “Marcos was against the bases agreement to be extended. Enrile, Ramos and Honasan were just front men of the Americans….”
I’m inclined to believe Hayden. The US military bases agreement was subject to review every five years. When Marcos came into power, he began imposing rental on these installations, the first president ever do so. By 1985, when another review was in the offing, the US must have had enough. Marcos had to go.
In this regard, Teddy Boy Locsin, reacting on Twitter to this same article, contributes a very helpful insight. He cites a meeting between Cory and Philip Habib, special envoy sent by Reagan to intervene in the crisis gripping the nation as a consequence of the presidential snap election. According to Teddy Boy, Cory rejected Habib’s proposal for her to share power with Marcos and declared that if that happened, she would tear the nation. At which, narrates Teddy Boy, Habib stood and told Cory that she will (apropos the comment of Jack, tense is Teddy Boy’s original) win. And as the cliché goes, the rest is history. With EDSA, Cory won.
Now, see how we have meandered through a labyrinth of views which we seem to find a hard time getting out of. In much the same way, RASHOMON treats our consciousness to endless juxtapositions of current and past scenes seemingly able to achieve only a grand display of incoherence.
In the opening sequence of RASHOMON, a priest and a man (later to be identified as the woodcutter who, by his own testimony, discovers the murdered samurai) are under the ruined gate of Rashomon outside Kyoto, lamenting something which they say they cannot understand. An intruder rushes to the scene, taking shelter from the rain that is pouring hard. He is told of the two’s lament.
Says the priest, “War, earthquake, winds, fire, famine, the plague. Year after year it’s been nothing but disasters. And bandits descend upon us every night. I’ve seen so many men getting killed like insects. But evcn I have never heard such a story as horrible as this. Yes, so horrible. This time I may finally lose my faith in the human soul.”
What’s more horrible than war, earthquake, winds, fire, famine, the plague? The question prompts you to view the movie on. For all the disasters that had visited the Philippines, the country hasn’t quite had enough?
In the finale, you get the answer: lies.
Cries the woodcutter at the intruder who accuses him of having stolen the precious pearl-inlaid dagger that went missing from the chest of the slain samurai.
“Damn it! Everyone is selfish and dishonest. Making excuses. The bandit, the woman, the man and you!”
Thus the film delivers its powerful message: that nothing is true in the world and that what truth is to people are consequences of things that work to their favor.
RASHOMON’S impact precisely lies in its shattering of the hitherto held western belief of the universality of truth – which obviously is what comments in the GRP stream without exception smack of.
We, all of us, always pretend to nobility in our words. But always we betray a gleam, if a tiny one, by which our listeners can look beyond our façades.
What is mine in this instance? An ache wrought by the babies and children getting brutalized in the Syrian civil war. It’s a pain a lot more fundamental than striking up a brave political braggadocio or priding in grammatical perfection.
It’s really just a plain, simple cry: “Please stop the Syrian civil war. Save the babies and children.”
Discussions in RASHOMON abruptly stop as an infant’s cry rends the air. The discussants look and discover an abandoned baby, wrapped in an expensive kimono with an amulet left by the baby’s parents obviously to protect it from harm. The three proceed to do each respective concern, The greedy intruder snatches the kimono off the baby then growls at the woodcutter as the latter tries to stop him.
“You selfish…” says the woodcutter.
“What’s wrong with that? Dogs are better off in this world. If you are not selfish, you can’t survive.”
The priest cradles the continuously-crying baby in his arms as the intruder hies off. The woodcutter asks to have the baby.
“I have six kids of my own. Another one wouldn’t make a difference.”
The priest hands the baby to the woodcutter, whereupon it stops crying. The rain has stopped.
Manifesting a cleansing of spirit inside him, the priest says, “I think I can keep my faith in man.”
And when, clearly smarting from having been rebuked, the Cory loyalists again posted their angry reaction, this time diverting from the original issue raised by Ka Mao on Marcos holding back fire in the EDSA crisis. Instead they focused on some little lapses in Ka Mao’s copyreading of his article and made mountains out of certain minor shortcomings. Ka Mao realized that the Cory loyalists were a coterie of cowards who hid in their aliases in firing away insults at their adversaries. This smacked of neophyte tactics to which Ka Mao would not stoop down.
And so in order to finally settle the issue, Ka Mao wrote an account on Kirk as a way of telling those detractors that Ka Mao knew whereof he spoke.
This was Ka Mao’s final say:
MEMORIES OF A CIVIL WAR
By Mauro Gia Samonte
Kirk was already in late-twenties when he got into the mainstream of the so-called national democratic movement initiated by Jose Maria Sison. From the ranks of mass activists, he was elevated to candidate membership in the Communist Party of the Philippines and after a few months in that status became full-fledged party member. The chaos within the party resulting from the sudden declaration of martial law on September 22, 1972 saw him getting separated from his party unit, but he went on organizing among workers on a self-style basis in which he advocated a review of the Sison strategy of protracted people’s war, which he saw inappropriate to the concrete Philippine condition. Forced to surface from his underground revolutionary work, he pursued his writing craft and became successful at screenwriting, subsequently at film direction. Beginning 1977 when he won a best screenplay award in the Metro Manila Film Festival, old acquaintances in the revolutionary movement began gravitating around him, which would shortly siphon him back into the fight, so to speak. He found himself sitting with a group that called itself IL (for International Liaison) which the polio-stricken political officer heading it loved to call “the most powerful commission in the Party central committee, next to the military commission”. Eventually a former co-member in a party group in the workers sector led him to then sitting Chairman of the CPP, Rodolfo Salas alias Kumander Bilog, also the head of the Military Commission. After a while of performing tasks under the N2 (Intelligence) of the General Command of the New People’s Army, he was appointed head of the Special Intelligence Unit subordinate only to the General Command and directly responsible to it. He was in that position when the EDSA crisis erupted. The following are his recollections of those circumstances.
The days into February 1986 were a period of chaos among responsible cadres of the Communist Party of the Philippines – to be precise, of the lower-level cadres. Compartmentalization in the Party made it impossible for a member of a unit to know what’s going in the other units, much more in the higher organs. Party directives were disseminated through policy papers and the Party organ, Ang Bayan. Once these directives were passed down to the mass level, that’s when matters were discussed on a mass scale. The issue during that period was: Would the movement participate in the coming snap presidential election.
Back in December, through much of the initiative of Jaime Cardinal Sin, the tandem of Corazon Aquino and Salvador P. Laurel was hastily formed to beat the deadline for filing certificate of candidacy. And the country, mainly in Metro Manila, was thrown into the frenzy of the political campaigns by both sides. In many aspects, rallies and demonstrations and teach-ins were reminiscent of the days immediately preceding the declaration of martial law in 1972. The demonizing of Marcos then had reached its flaming zenith.
But conspicuously absent from the crowd of Cory campaigners were the natdems (acronym for national democrats), those in the national democratic movement. Opposed to the natdems were the socdems (for social democrats), now carrying solo the banner of the Cory cry: “Tama na. Sobra na. Palitan na. Alis dyan!” Of course, along with the new slogan was the ubiquitous trademark of the Marcos hate campaign: “Marcos Hitler! Diktador! Tuta!”
Certainly the natdems were side by side with the socdems, but their cry was different: “Boycott! Boycott! Boycott!”
It had been the position of the Party, as reached in a meeting of the KTKS (Komiteng Tagapagpagganap ng Komite Sentral), not to participate in the election, which it deemed another maneuver of the US to further entrench Marcos in power.
It is impossible to tell for someone outside the KTKS how each member of the committee voted on the issue. So it was difficult for me to determine who among them to express my view of the situation. Though the principle of democratic centralism, by which any member may express his views on any issue, was preached among party members, still one needed extreme caution in expressing his ideas lest he be branded anti-party, an offense punishable by death. But being head of a unit directly responsible to the General Command, I developed intimacy with GC leading elements, particularly Ka Jun (alias of Rolando Kintanar, NPA chief of staff). I believed with Ka Jun, I did not stand to be sanctioned for expressing an honest belief.
The snap election struck me as a grand US show. A US congressional observer team had been dispatched to the Philippines to monitor the conduct of the election. This was odd. The election was exclusively the country’s affair and no other country had business interfering in it. But the US was making sure it had business to do in the event.
Moreover, a large contingent of international media people had been mobilized to cover the election, something which to me was overkill. So Marcos was staking his position ahead of the expiration of his term, was that so big a deal as to warrant such a huge army of international media men? Either way the election would go, they could well cover it through the wires. But they chose to go get the big news, whatever which would come about, first-hand. Again, this was a US handiwork.
And on top of everything, the US Seventh Fleet was just offshore in Manila Bay. The fleet had been US’s greatest arm-twisting instrument in the Asia Pacific. What did it have to do with the Philippine snap presidential election? There must be a war somehow which the US needed to confront just in case. Marcos by then had been, in a manner of saying, hobnobbing with Russia and China, something the US didn’t like. From the time of the American aggression in the 1900s, the Philippines had always been an exclusive US enclave, but Marcos, with martial law, had been increasingly veering the country away from such exclusivity.
So I talked to Ka Jun during a break in his meeting with the General Staff and mustered enough guts to propose that we strike up an alliance with Marcos under the current circumstances. I said it was Marcos who the US was intending to get out of power through the snap election and so it was he who we should ally with inasmuch as we were anti-US imperialism.
At my proposal, Ka Jun spoke no words. He fixed a stare at me, a piercing stare that betrayed a deep inner thing in him, like some kind of soul searching done to accommodate my idea. Ka Charlie, intelligence head of the General Command, overheard the talk on striking up alliances in the crisis and butted in, “That’s a good idea.”
“He is proposing alliance with Marcos,” cut in Ka Jun, clarifying the issue.
“Impossible,” Ka Charlie snapped.
“Marcos is the one the US wants out,” I insisted.
“Marcos is still the US boy in this fight,” Ka Charlie insisted in turn, his voice stern but his lips lined with a grin that indicated he was more entertained than anything else by my idea.
I had hoped that if I could convince Ka Jun on my idea, then he could talk the KTKS into reversing the boycott policy to one of participation – of course, participation in favor of Marcos. I was thinking of the Bolsheviks in 1917. They were together with the Mensheviks in toppling the czarist regime of Nicholas II. Instead of forming a government of their own as a result of the Czar’s downfall, Lenin insisted in joining up with the Kerensky government that had been installed. Once entrenched in that government, the Bolsheviks arrested the entire Kerensky cabinet and with that proclaimed the famous: “All power to the soviets.” Thus was born the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the fruit of a truly bloodless revolution.
What would have happened if Ka Jun had listened to my proposal, carried it to the KTKS, which would then have reversed the boycott policy to one of participation – participation for Marcos? Surely it would have created furor and outrage, frustration and disillusionment among the great masses of the national democratic movement conditioned to yelling “Marcos Hitler! Diktador! Tuta!” This was admitted – but for one single reason: that they believed Marcos was the US boy. If we explained that Cory was the new stooge being groomed in the whole exercise, that in fact the US had organized the international media coverage of the event, coupled with the Congressional monitoring team and the awesome firepower of the US Seventh Fleet, wouldn’t the masses of the revolutionaries have understood that such a reversal was all for advancing the struggle against US imperialism?
In the 1930s, when the Chinese Communist Party had not quite grown big yet, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union convinced it to get absorbed within the Kuomintang Party of Chiang Kai-Sheik, which the Soviet party actually supported with military training, arms and logistical and technical support in the resistance against Japanese aggression. The CCP acquiesced and for a time took its command from the Kuomintang. And as history would eventually prove it, that decision was correct. At an appropriate time, the CCP broke away from the Kuomintang, took over China’s countryside and from there engaged the Kuomintang in one of the bloodiest civil wars in history, culminating in the CCP takeover of the entire China mainland, with the Kuomintang pushed back to the small province of Formosa, now Taiwan.
What would have happened if Ka Jun had listened to my proposal?
The question really no longer mattered at the time. It was too late in the day. As we say, don’t change horses in midstream. Sun Tzu puts it in his own way: Don’t engage an enemy while crossing a river. Everything in the US machination had been set to full throttle and there was no stopping the events from reaching their destined finale: the walk out by canvassers when the Comelec count was showing a Marcos win, the Namfrel showing the discrepancy between the Comelec count and its own which showed Cory winning, the Batasan proclamation of Marcos as winner, the Cory civil disobedience campaign, outrage by US Senator Lugar over what he termed as rampant disenfranchisement of up to 40% of the voters, and the pressure from US senators on Reagan to withdraw support from Marcos.
When Reagan sent Philip Habib to talk to both Marcos and Cory ostensibly to find a middle ground in their conflict, it was actually to ascertain who of the two deserved to be put in place, that is, for US interest. Cory refused to share power with Marcos, so went the reports. But no intimate contents of Habib’s meeting with Cory would naturally find print in the press. Whatever, what was reported was that when Habib stood from the meeting, he told Cory she will win.
That was Friday, February 21. The following day, February 22, Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile made big waves of his holing up in Camp Aquinaldo together with AFP Vice Chief of Staff Fidel V. Ramos and RAM leader Col. Gregorio Honasan, announcing his resignation from the Marcos administration – a resignation that already the day before was carried in two US newspapers. And finally, with Cardinal Sin issuing the call for support from the populace for Enrile et al, the crowd poured into EDSA – protecting the very implementers of martial law which they had despised for a decade and a half.
All of a sudden the Party and the national democratic movement which it led found themselves utterly left out in the cold. The boycott policy had left them floating in limbo. What rode on the Cory takeover were the socdems who, save for Edgar Jopson and quite a few others, never really got to reconcile with the revolution.
Now, does it still matter to ask if things would have turned out differently had Marcos decided to fire at the EDSA crowd?
At the time, I thought Marcos would. He had not been depicted as Hitler if he wasn’t capable of gassing 6 million Jews. And I’d welcome it if he did. Marcos firing at the EDSA crowd would have a way of correcting the error of the boycott policy. It would surely enrage the populace and, as Cory told Habib, tear the nation in a widespread bloody confrontation.
As the vociferous firebrand Bal Pinguel of Kabataang Makabayan used to agitate his listeners in the 70s, no nation in history has ever developed without passing through a bloody revolution, citing the American Civil War, the Spanish Civil War and the Chinese Civil War, among others.
So even as my comrade Ka Dave and I were squeezing with the crowd some meters away from the Camp Aquinaldo gate, one being a lookout for the other, we were cautious about the possibility of a sudden rapid firing of armalites or bursts from grenade launchers.
A favorite quote from Mao Tse Tung crossed my mind: “A single spark can start a prairie fire.” This is it, I was urging Marcos to myself, “Strike the matchstick.”
But that Saturday wore on with no one striking a matchstick save for cigarette vendors enjoying a heyday, as did others vending sago gulaman, balut, cheap sandwiches, what have you, selling to the multitudes. It was everything that, again, Mao Tse Tung wouldn’t want a revolution to be: a picnic.
And so as I watched the news program that Monday evening, I suddenly found myself melting in the fire of streaming memories: the bravado of strikers at the Makabayan Publishing Corporation where they barricaded a strike-breaking truck with their bare bodies; the May Day Massacre in Congress in 1971 that killed union organizer Liza Balando and maimed countless others; the Caloocan Massacre that same year which peppered union leader Fred Tibar with bullets so terribly one slug got embedded in his thumb; the infamous Plaza Miranda bombing which killed an innocent girl cigarette vendor and two others and seriously injured the entire LP Senatorial ticket in the 1971 mid-term election – save for one single lucky guy who just happened not to be there when the blasts took place, Ninoy Aquino.
In a video I would watch many years after, Cory declares, “As we all know, Ninoy really wanted to be president. Everything was just planned for 1973.”
But as we all know, too, for the presidency, 1973 never came to Ninoy. Marcos declared martial law in 1972. Seven years and seven months of military detention under the martial law regime, three years of sojourn in the United States for treatment of heart ailment, and come 1983, Ninoy made the greatest political magic of his life. Against the advice of Imelda Marcos, Ninoy came home from the United States. A slug fired by an assassin from a .45 pierced through his skull as he was being led by Avsecom soldiers down the stairs of the China Airlines that brought him into the Manila International Airport. He dropped dead on the tarmac.
The whole nation mourned. Millions brought Ninoy to his final resting place. Above all, Cory got inscrutably ingrained in the consciousness of multitudes who can’t quite outgrow a yearning for gods and heroes. By 1985, the iconization of Cory was complete. She was ready to square off with Marcos.
So this was the realization I had upon viewing that news program on television. Cory was being sworn into office as President of the Republic of the Philippines.
How then could EDSA have blown up into a civil war when the events that led up to it had from the very beginning been crafted only to advance one man’s magnificent obsession with the presidency! With the objective having been achieved, why push the conflict further?
Of course, Ninoy died not getting to that post. Precisely. He should know he could no longer get there. Having undergone triple heart bypass operation, he should be a terminal case. He should have only two choices left, come home dead or come home a hero. Thus did it happen that what Ninoy failed to do in more than two decades of political skirmish with Marcos, he did in one grand act. By getting himself killed, he performed the greatest sleight of hand that ever took place right under the noses of a sadly gullible nation.
Soon after Cory took over the presidency, among her first acts, aside from the return of Meralco and ABS-CBN to the Lopezes, was the release from detention of Jose Maria Sison and Bernabe Buscayno alias Kumander Dante.
Expectedly, Sison began flexing muscles again, so to speak. That is, continue his movement, this time aiming it against the Cory government. At which, Cory issued a reprimand for him not to try it on her.
“You know what I mean,” she said.
Could Cory be referring to that day in 1968 when she served coffee to Ninoy and his guests, a professor from the Universsity of the Philippines and the leader of a breakaway group from the Hukbalahap, Jose Maria Sison and Bernabe Buscayno alias Kumander Dante? With the help of Tarlac Governor Apin Yap, Ninoy had brokered the meeting of the two for a purpose only they knew. At any rate, subsequent to that meeting came the establishment of the Communist Party of the Philippines on December 26, 1968, later followed by the founding of the New People’s Army on March 29, 1969.
Accordingly as the Ninoy-Marcos rivalry intensified, so did the Sisonite national democratic movement. Before EDSA, the New People’s Army had grown to a size of 25,000 regulars, all in company formation. This on top of 500,000 militia spread across the archipelago plus a large army of armed propaganda units the exact number of which I could no longer recall. Suffice it to say that by conventional military reckoning of 1:10 (1 rebel to 10 government troops) as an ideal ratio for engaging the enemy in guerilla warfare, the NPA had come to a high ground. The Philippine armed forces at the time numbered some 150,000, and this number should require only 15,000 of the NPA to be at par with the ratio. In fact, the national situationer issued by the Party during the period already spoke of a so-called strategic counter offensive (SCO) substage at which actions may be launched for achieving strategic stalemate. This is the stage where there is a clear division of territories between the protagonists in the war, each respective armed forces exercising control over them, and people have taken sides in the conflict – the stage of civil war. Once the strategic stalemate is reached, it becomes relatively easy for the rebellion to push on – the strategic offensive – and defeat the enemy.
In 1987, with Cory’s government still a revolutionary one, hence unstable, I had another casual conversation with Ka Jun in which I suggested that the strategy of the rebellion should be to prevent the holding of the next presidential election. The reason I gave was that if the next president would be elected through a democratic process, it would consolidate the political power of the Philippine bourgeoisie thereby weakening the armed struggle, if not rendering it inutile altogether.
“When would be the next presidential election?” Ka Jun asked.
“1992,” I replied.
“We shall have won by then,” Ka Jun said quite confidently.
It exhilarated me no end.
But then came Sison’s Reaffirm in 1991. (Kumander Bilog had been captured by the government earlier and leadership of the Party passed on to Benito Tiamzon, a Sison loyalist implementing the latter’s directives from the Netherlands. Ka Jun’s leadership of the New People’s Army was being contested by Buscayno.) In sum, Reaffirm subjected the boycott policy to severe criticism and proposed re-education for all those guilty of the error.
Particular emphasis was placed on what was regarded as military adventurism of Ka Jun, who was embarking on a strategy opposed to the protracted struggle program of Sison. Ka Jun’s program called for a Sandinista type of uprising that had proven successful in Panama. Groundwork for this strategy had already begun and at the time of EDSA was set to unfold. As I had been critical of the Sison line from the very start, seeing it as a shameless copy cat of the Mao Tse Tung strategy in China in the 1930s, Ka Jun’s line appealed to me as the more realistic, pragmatic, feasible strategy.
Now, in Party parlance, re-education simply means demotion for those guilty of the offense. Or worse yet, expulsion from the Party. Negative reaction to the Sison paper was widespread. Faced with the prospect of being meted punishment, many leading Party elements, including several who were members of the Party Central Committee and who had been critical of the overall Sison strategy of protracted struggle, chose to form their own factions, each faction having its own armed group and pursuing its own line of pushing the revolution.
Reaffirm smashed the Party into splinters. So did it the NPA, which broke up into guerilla units once again – as in the beginning.
Though Ninoy did not make it to the presidency, his widow did. It’s all the same. No need to make use further of the rebellion for which Ninoy had brokered the first meeting of Sison and Buscayno in 1968. Time to tear that rebellion apart. How do you do it?
Reaffirm did the trick.
Popoy Lagman, former Secretary General of the CPP Manila-Rizal Regional Party Committee who organized the much dreaded Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB) and wrote a number of books criticizing the Sison line of protracted struggle, was gunned down by two assassins inside the UP campus on February 7, 2001.
Next to fall was Ka Jun, Rolando Kintanar, shot and killed on January 23,2003 by reportedly 4 assassins while having meal at a restaurant in the Quezon City Circle. Gregorio Rosal, NPA head in Southern Luzon, owned up to the killing.
Arturo Tabara, Secretary General of the CPP Visayas Commission was assassinated in Quezon City in 2004.
Civil war anyone?
THE TUMULT in the aftermath of the Ninoy killing in 1983 was the background of a third renovation of the house Ka Mao built in that quiet, idyllic nook of Antipolo on Sumulong Highway.
At the time, Betchay just found herself conceiving their fourth child. This, much to her chagrin. She did not wish to have another one. She was only into her second semester at the PSBA and having another child would surely frustrate her intention of finishing a college course.
During the period, Ka Mao noticed that Betchay was curiously exerting herself so much: clearing bushes-covered patches of ground, hoeing at the earth for planting sweet potato, cassava and several varieties of vegetable in, and then fetching pails upon pails of water from the creek for watering those she planted. She would endlessly hack again at the bushes which she cut into firewood. Finally, she would invariably end up scrubbing the floor with a coconut husk while she punched her belly on and on, grit on her face.
Ka Mao caught Betchay doing it even as it was getting dark and so he confronted her.
“Stop it,” he said, holding her still.
Bctchay threw herself on a seat, wiping the heavy perspiration on her face. She was catching her breath.
“What’s getting you anyway?” Ka Mao asked.
Betchay nearly cried, saying, “I don’t want to abort this child.”
“God, what you’re doing can get you a miscarriage,” Ka Mao countered.
“If I bleed, I won’t be doing it,” Betchay said.
“Who will?” he asked.
“Will God let me bleed if he wished this child to live?” Betchay asked in turn.
Ka Mao was tongue-tied. Betchay’s logic awed him.
Twenty nine years after, that child, grown into a man, would take his girlfriend Rhea down the aisles of the Antipolo Cathedral, insisting in a church wedding by which to lead his own married life. He would not take after Maoie, who would content himself with simply living in with his partner, Jen; nor after Paulo, who would be happy with on-and-off relationships with various girlfriends; nor less after Keng, who, in his speech during the wedding reception, Ka Mao referred to as his unica hija but would turn out to be an otro hijo.
Ka Mao had just gone through a stroke at the time and as he ambled to the microphone on a cane to respond to the Emcee’s calling him to deliver “words of wisdom”, he was thinking back on that Valentine occasion in a Calamba night club when Ka Mao and Betchay, taking a break from shooting just sat at a table, watching the merrymaking of lovers on the dance floor. A lady approached the couple and asked, “Are you husband-and-wife?” And they said, “Yes.” And finally the lady said, “That’s why you’re not enjoying.” That was why though it had been three years then since Keng was born, Ka Mao and Betchay thought giving it one more try to act not just husband-and-wife but two people caring and sharing as lovers do on that night of love. Ka Mao would have loved to recall that nine months after that Valentine night, came the stork carrying on its beak wrapped in linen the baby Ogie. But reminiscences would unavoidably touch on that period when that baby was a most unwanted child. Surely, that would have turned his speech into a tearjerker – and thus spoil the fun. Even so, Ka Mao’s voice, prompted by his private recollection of that moment Betchay wanted to get rid of Ogie, came out almost squeaking from a deep-set pain. The pain, he tried to suppress by shifting to the poetry uttered by the Bishop of Canterbury in the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Dianne. Ka Mao said how nice for a father to see his son insisting in going through the “stuff of which fairy tales are made.”
The birth of Ogie appeared to be Ka Mao’s motivation in expanding the family house further still. Actually, that was the period when the Party began using the house as its headquarters and Ka Mao felt it was too small for the purpose and so had to be enlarged.
Ka Mao was enjoying that moment, feeding the infant Ogie with porridge, when he delighted at the arrival of guests among whom was one he immediately recognized and rushed to excitedly.
“Ka Choleng,” said Ka Mao, gripping the woman’s hand.
Ka Choleng was the same Deputy OD head of the KASAMA Party Group from whom Ka Mao had been separated upon the imposition of martial law. Ka Mao was just so happy to see her again.
“How are you?” he asked.
“ I’m fine,” she said.
“Where’s the unit?”
“They found their own new groups.”
“How is Ka Teng?”
“He is still around. He is okay.”
“He is her husband,” Sandra informed Ka Mao.
“Oh!” exclaimed Ka Mao. “I’m glad to hear that.”
Ka Choleng let out a coy smile.
Ka Mao then acknowledged with a smile the fortyish, fair-skinned, boyish-looking, clean-shaven, good-looking guy who was with the two women.
“This is Ka Erning,” said Ka Choleng, introducing the man, who shook hands with Ka Mao.
Nothing was spoken of what position the man held in the movement, but it must be so high as to make him have that authority to speak when he told Sandra, “From now on, the IL will no longer use this house.”
Sandra eyed Ka Erning inquiringly.
“This house,” Ka Erning said, “shall be the house of the KS.”
As what his wont was, Ka Mao did not ask any questions. But “KS” was a term used by party elements even at the lowest level to refer to the Central Committee of the CPP which in the vernacular was “Komite Sentral”, hence the abbreviation “KS”.
Pride, all right, was part of the emotion Ka Mao felt instantly at what Ka Erning was making of the house. In bourgeois reckoning, it was a great honor for Ka Mao to have been entrusted with housing the highest leadership of the Party and of the revolution. But more than pride, the trust the Party leadership had in him made Ka Mao feel exceedingly assured that he, at long last, mattered in the revolution. In the long period that he had been separated from the Party, Ka Mao bore the silent agony of having been abandoned, like he had been thrown aside for trash. From that time on, Ka Mao’s consuming obsession was to be restored to the Party.
With Ka Erning’s declaration now, Ka Mao felt he had been redeemed. It somehow became obvious to him that Ka Choleng was there only to attest to what Ka Mao had been in the Party. And Ka Erning needed somebody who had been in Ka Mao’s confidence to do their introduction to each other. After that occasion, Ka Choleng did not show up in the house anymore.
Then a period of vigorous renovation conducted by Ka Mao on the house followed.
The attic that still consisted of bamboo and nipa was completely torn down to give way to a full-blown second floor encompassing that area, walled in concrete, with TNG for flooring and corrugated galvanized iron sheets for roof; the beams, trusses and furlins were in wood. The windows were grilled and fitted with plant boxes done in concrete. With corrugated galvanized iron sheet used as form for containing the fresh cement mix of the plant boxes, they imparted a finish approximating gothic design. The stairs to the second floor was in wood, with the landing on the ground floor in concrete. Just one room was made on the second floor for use of the entire family together. Maripaz and Ogie shared the bed with Ka Mao and Betchay, while Maoie and Paulo slept on a mat on the floor. Outside the room was constructed a bathroom. Another comfort room was constructed on the ground floor, correspondingly below that on the second floor. This was situated on the corner to the right of the main entrance. The bedroom and the kitchen on the ground floor were completely torn down also so as to make of that entire floor a living room and a dining room combine. An extension limited to the ground floor level toward the creekside now served as the kitchen.
With Party VIPs coming on their individual cars during meetings, the place must have parking accommodations for a number of vehicles at a time and on a spot quie proximate to the house so that those VIPs needed not to walk long after alighting from their cars. Moreover the car park must be on a level hidden from view from the highway. Under this requirement, the pergola, on the sunken frontage of house, which had been serving as the reception and dining area had to go, the area now to be used for parking the VIPs’s cars. The driveway from the highway down to the slope where the house had been built was done five inches thick to make it durable over time.
There would be three other times when Ka Erning would visit the house again.
First of these was when he brought to the place Ka Jun, Ka Charlie and Ka Arman together with Ka Jess, who kept some distance from the three, indicating he was not in their league as the three talked to Ka Mao.. Later it would be confided to Ka Mao that the group Ka Erning brought was the NPA General Command or GC. Ka Jun was Chief, Ka Charlie, Vice Chief, and Ka Arman, N2 (Intelligence) Head, Ka Jess, Ka Arman’s deputy. Another member of GC who would be brought to the house later was Ka Ding, N3 (Personnel) Head.
The second time was when Ka Erning presided in what struck Ka Mao as an emergency meeting of the GC called just before the EDSA revolt. There was frenzy in their talk and behavior, like some urgent developments were in the offing. In that meeting, who should startle Ka Mao but Ka Nap, his colleague in the KASAMA with whom he had some heated discussion regarding Marcos’ real role in the Plaza Miranda bombing.
“Ka Nap!” Ka Mao exclaimed as he intruded into the meeting as soon as he got home that day and learned from Betchay that Ka Erning and company were huddled in the extension area.
Ka Nap quickly placed his forefinger over his lips as a gesture for Ka Mao not to tell on him. In the Party, one’s legal status was supposed to be kept secret. Anyway, everybody amused at Ka Mao’s excitement.
Indeed, it was quite inspiring for Ka Mao to discover that a colleague of his had risen to the top echelon of the NPA leadership.
“I just wanted to say hello,” Ka Mao said, rather apologetically.
Ka Erning nodded ok, smiling.
“Proceed with your business,” Ka Mao said and turned away.
The third and final time was after the EDSA revolt, when he drove his sedan into the compound and with a forlorn look in his eyes, stepped out of the car and, as Ka Mao reached him in a rush to welcome him, handed to him the car key. Ka Erning spoke no word and in his wonderment, Ka Mao could neither say anything. Having given the key to Ka Mao, Ka Erning then hurried over to board another car waiting on the highway.
Ka Arman, who later would come to claim the car, would explain to Ka Mao that Ka Erning was en route to a meeting of the Central Committee elsewhere.
The next time Ka Mao would see Ka Erning was in photographs that morning when all newspapers carried him on the front pages, sleek like a senator in immaculate barong, his photo captioned: “Kumander Bilog.” Kumander Bilog, as everybody knew then, was the Chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines. The news story was about his capture by the government after more than a decade of leading the revolution.
THE SIU (for Special Intelligence Unit) was some kind of an elite group of intelligence operatives created by the NPA General Command to perform specific special tasks. When Ka Arman first told Ka Mao that he was being designated to head the group, he had not quite gotten into his system any notion of a professional revolutionary apart from those he had fought together with in the working class movement. And so, when told further that he was to fill in the group with his own people, Ka Mao immediately thought of comrades whom he had organized under BRASO. It had pained him much that he had not been able to bring his self-initiative to any significant level of struggle due to sheer lack of logistics. Now that he was being given the discretion to form his own unit using his own men, his BRASO forces would surely savor the feel of being at last part of the people’s army. That’s why it disheartened Ka Mao exceedingly when told by Ka Arman that none of the BRASO forces, not even its Secetariat, would qualify for the SIU. Ka Arman would rather pass the BRASO for training under the N3. That was consolation enough for Ka Mao.
BRASO was into the mainstream after all, he told himself.
As conceived, the SIU had to be just that, a special unit. It was to be consisted of people who, like Ka Mao, enjoyed well-placed social status. Ka Arman recommended a young business entrepreneur from Bulacan, engaged in a lucrative lending enterprise and in fisheries. He was Ka Jake. For his part, Ka Mao got a long-time colleague in the journalistic craft who, he would learn later, was a top KKD member during the First Quarter Storm. He was Ka Dave, who over the years had risen to a highly respectable placement in the Editorial Staff of a leading newspaper. With their status in society, all three had easy access to vital facilities, be they government, non-government or otherwise.
There being three finally composing a team, the SIU was officially created with the swearing in of Ka Mao, Ka Dave and Ka Jake into the Party by Ka Arman. In due time, the unit would have a sizeable Support Group composed of Bayani, a poet and a professor at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, who had been Ka Mao’s reliable buddy in the organization and conduct of the KAMAO strike; Liza, a pretty news reporter with assignment in Malacanang; and Tala, who ran a shop dealing in antique-style furniture crafted by her husband, Ray, out of scrap but sturdy mahogany railtrack foundation of the Philippine National Railway. Other support groups contributing in the tasks of SIU were two male newspaper editors and one lady foreign correspondent named Cookie, another lady media person named Ruby, and friends and relatives of Ka Jake. These support groups were an excited lot, enthused by the fact that they were doing something for the NPA. They performed aspects of SIU tasks that could be entrusted to them.
The first business of the day was much too loaded for a start. Dubbed the Magic 8, it consisted of intelligence work for five punitive actions against two members of the judiciary, three members of the military, and big operations for the takeover of the Manila International Airport and the Batasang Pambansa, and assault upon the Clark Airbase.
Of the eight targets, priority was placed on the three big operations codenamed San Mig, for the Batasan, Blue Print for Clark, and Eagle’s Nest for the airport.
Ka Mao coordinated with an Angeles City-based NPA intelligence officer in tackling Blue Print. The job mainly consisted of studying the mannerisms of American soldiers in their moments of pleasures in the airfield club house. They drank beer by the poolside where soldiers had raucous dips into the water with bikinied girl partners in-between gulps at their beverages and torrid smooching. In an instance such as this, Ka Mao would recall the fun American soldiers were indulging in when Japanese bombers made their historic devastating surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
The NPA was into a similar making of history.
For San Mig, Ka Mao had Betchay and all their kids in tow except Ogie, making it look like a family look-see as they made the rounds of all nooks of the legislature, with Ka Mao measuring the dimensions of the floor areas and the stairways of the vast two-winged structure through his footsteps; the dimensions of the walls, Ka Mao estimated by using his height as standard. Ka Dave made his own rounds of the legislature, also mobilizing his support groups in the endeavor.
At the same time, Ka Dave and Ka Jake partnered in casing Eagles Nest.
All three worked together in crafting a wooden scale model of San Mig, with emphasis on passageways to the session hall. For this purpose, Ka Mao saw it fit to do the pyramid-shaped roof of the main hall building collapsible style so all one needed to do was to remove the four sections of the pyramid in order to get a good overview of the session hall.
Of the three SIU members, only Ka Mao had had a hand at carpentry, which was his vocational course back in the elementary grades. But they had to make-do with what little skills they had for the job, for getting it done by somebody else would cause a leakage of the military action for which the scale model was being made.
“What will happen in San Mig is a hundredfold bigger than what Lenin did in taking over Russia,” Ka Mao remarked as he punched with a chisel a square hole on the baseboard of the scale model.
Ka Dave and Ka Jake were doing their own holes with their own chisels. It was obvious that the holes they were making were for something to fit into.
“Thousands gathered in Petrograd and elsewhere to bring down Czar Nicholas II,” Ka Dave said with a scholarly tone.
“I am not talking about the people power revolt of the Soviets. I think we have to read back on the actual happenings. What brought down Czar Nicholas II was not a bloody uprising as many would like to think,” Ka Mao said.
Ka Jake, a very amiable guy who always spoke with a wide happy grin in his mouth and a brilliant glint in his eyes, butted in.
“I am one of those many, Ka Kirk. The massacre on Odessa steps. That was gory and bloody, wasn’t it?”
“That was in 1905. The Romanovs held on to their dynasty despite the revolution. Czar Nicholas II fell out of power in the revolution of 1917.”
“Was not 1917 the handiwork of Lenin?” asked Dave.
“That was a job of the Russian bourgeoisie led by Kerensky. Lenin’s job at the time was to combat the idea of the Mensheviks to form their own government and instead insist in participating in the Duma – the parliament – established by the Kerensky government.”
“It was Lenin who arrested the entire Kerensky cabinet,” insisted Ka Dave.
“Precisely,” said Ka Mao. “What he did was arrest just a handful of cabinet men and presto all Russia was in his hand.”
With his characteristic snicker, Ka Jake said, “That easy!”
“That’s why I say San Mig is a hundredfold bigger than what Lenin did. We will be arresting more than two hundred members of the Marcos parliament.”
Done with the holes on the baseboard, the three proceeded to set the scale model walls already fashioned with pegs at the bottom to fit into the holes meantime that similar pegs on the sides of one wall were latched to the adjoining wall through similar holes on its sides.
The team could have worked out the scale model a lot easier had they instead used Styrofoam for material. But one utility of the scale model was transportability and the capacity to withstand the rigors of mountain travel. Combatants who will carry out the San Mig assault were necessarily based in the countryside to where the scale model would have to be brought for their study. Ka Mao thought that with its wooden material, the scale model could be dismantled, its pieces to be put in a thin, flat pack for easy carrying; and the repetitive dismantling, and then putting back again, of the pieces over and over again accordingly as the number of combatants who needed to look at it at various times and in various places would not suffer much in terms of wear and tear.
The film director that he was with a richly creative mind, Ka Mao already visualized a scenario of the San Mig assault.
“While the session is in progress, NPA combatants masquerading as San Mig personnel garbed in polo barong and escorting into the session hall an Imee Marcos look-alike would quietly disarm parliament security men at the normal entrances to the session hall. This is necessary in order to avoid violent shootout that can harm innocent civilians. With the entrances secure, the main attack force brandishing awesome firepower will barge into the hall through this secret entrance, actually a collapsible section of the hall wall adjacent to the north end of the parliament stand. Ordinarily, you don’t notice this side entrance, which is why Ka Dave’s support group, making their own rounds of San Mig, once observed that there is this corridor that leads to a blank wall. Surely the sudden entrance of the main attack force will create panic by the people in the hall, members of the parliament and the gallery crowd alike. But with the whole session hall under rebel control, so must be the government rendered helpless by the rebel hostage-taking of its parliament. Similar hostage-taking of Americsan servicemen at Clark Field would serve a strong notice to US not to medle or risk another Vietnam debacle. Strong contingent of rebel forces seize control of the international airport and vital communications facilities, including Voice of America in Tarlac. At the same time, riding on the bandwagon of rebel victory, multitudes spill out into the streets, culminating in a siege of Malacanang Palace. By this time, political work in the Armed Forces of the Philippine should have achieved enough progress to initiate a breakaway, at least by a portion of it, and join in the uprising against the Marcos regime. Back in San Mig, the grand proclamation, as Lenin did after the arrest of the Kerensky cabinet, is made: ‘All power to the proletariat!’”
“No, Joma won’t like it that way,” jested Ka Jake. “He’d say, ‘All power to the natdems.’”
The jest grew serious worry in Ka Mao. He suddenly thought of Noli Collantes, nom de guerre Banero, who, as head of the National Trade Union Bureau of the Communist Party of the Philippines, was a most powerful figure in the revolution. But his proletarian stand got him into trouble with Sison, eventually getting himself sanctioned heavily for it. The last time Ka Mao saw Banero was that night before the Plaza Miranda bombing in 1971, when he drove Ruben Guevarra to a meeting with Sison in a Pasay City UG house, there to discuss a certain bombing the Party would carry out in a political rally on the following night. Banero had confided to Ka Mao that the NTUB was being subsumed to the Regional Party Committee instead of being at par with it, being the highest Party organ in the workers sector. He said he would appeal the matter. Ka Mao had not had any communication again with Banero since then and so had never gotten to know whether or not the appeal he was talking about was given due course. The next time he heard about Banero was in 1983 when in a rather austere news story he read about the assassination by unidentified gunmen while on the way to his classes at the University of Santo Tomas of one Noli Collantes. So Banero had gotten out of the Party and had resumed his college studies. As far as Ka Mao knew, that fate was where Banero’s proletarian stand got him into.
So now, Ka Mao concluded to himself that Ka Jake’s was no joke at all.
That day was rather humid when Ka Charlie brought a lady to the house for presentation to her by Ka Mao of the San Mig scale model. And it was too early in the day for anybody to wish to take a nap. But all throughout the presentation, the lady paid lukewarm attention and didn’t even bother to stand and take a look when Ka Mao peeled off the pyramid roofing to show the session hall features. Toward the end of the presentation, Ka Mao was so slighted to notice the lady was unabashedly dozing off.
“So how is it, Julie?” Ka Charlie asked as he tapped the lady on the arm.
The lady shook awake, “Oh, yes… Well, okay… Let’s see.”
Ka Mao understood it quite well, the lady’s attitude. She was nicknamed De Lima, wife of the Party Sovereign rotting in incarceration. It became obvious to Ka Mao that the San Mig operation being in contravention of Sison’s copy cat protracted people’s war, any job connected with it would be in the same category of contravention and hence deserved no scant notice from the Sovereign’s espouse.
Julie’s visit to Ka Mao’s house that day to view SIU’s masterpiece of an intelligence work struck Ka Mao as no more than a hypocritical concession to the principle of democratic centralism, which the Party avowed to observed. She came there with a mind set to rejecting it. But this was a matter for Reaffirm to settle come 1991.
For the time being, it was all-systems-go for Operation San Mig. Ka Arman would confirm much later - after Reaffirm succeeded in tearing the Party irreparably, throwing the people’s army into rubbles and the people’s struggle into eternal protraction – that he and Ka Jun had gotten assurance from Libyan strongman Moammar Kadhaffy of whatever amount of arms necessary for the operation, had acquired a fleet of sea vessels for carrying men and material for the purpose.
But then suddenly came that one unexpected single hitch: Marcos agreed to US pressure of holding the presidential snap polls of 1985. A nation otherwise steeped in a resolute struggle for a bloody, violent overthrow of Marcos was now faced with an easy alternative: vote Cory into power.
When one got to look at the matter level-headedly, the boycott policy was the correct revolutionary line. No genuine anti-imperialist revolutionary would participate in an election that would be rigged in favor of an imperialist stooge. Had the boycott call by the revolutionary movement caught on the masses on the premise that the election would be rigged by the Americans in favor of a brand new American stooge, then it would have pictured Cory right off as the new US puppet thereby rationalizing the continuation of the revolution despite the downfall of Marcos.
What Ka Mao saw as erroneous in the boycott policy was that it neglected to point out to the masses that Cory was the new US BOY in the making. The Party insisted that the snap polls were a grand US show aimed at maintaining Marcos in power. This was not the case. It was a grand US show, all right. But the intention was to replace Marcos with a brand new US lapdog.
In a meeting by SIU, the boycott policy was part of the agenda and Ka Mao clarified his stand.
“The US is not stupid to let us cash in on a Cory win against Marcos. Rather my idea is – and I had made it known to Ka Jun and Ka Charlie – for us to strike up an alliance with Marcos.”
“Marcos is the enemy,” said Ka Jake, nearly protesting but wearing his ubiquitous snicker.
“No, US is. And they want Marcos out now,” insisted Ka Mao. He was drawing lesson from the Viet Minh experience toward the end of the Second World War. Ho Chi Minh talked to the Japanese forces who were on the run. “Hey, fellas,” Ka Mao related how the Viet Minh put it across to the Japanese troops, “you are not winning anyway. Just give us your arms and we will fight the Americans for you. And the Japanese did and that’s how the Viet Minh forces got arms for fighting the Americans with – and eventually winning in the end.”
The opportunity in the Philippine situation was ripe for doing a reprise of the Viet Minh gambit. But who was Ka Mao anyway to figure seriously in formulating the Party’s strategy and tactics? Surely he realized this. It was just that he had the naivette to believe principles guided the Party’s actions, and he thought democratic centralism made it mandatory for Party high commands to listen to voices from the lowest ranks.
Ka Jun was serious enough when he stared at Ka Mao after hearing the idea from him. But Ka Charlie beamed like he heard a joke.
Yet when Cory came out the victor in the snap polls, Ka Mao would not find any reason to have the last laugh. Rather a most acute sense of having been rendered worthless seized him as he watched Cory fumbling in her presidential salute of newly-designated Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief-Of-Staff Fidel V. Ramos during her inaugural at Club Filipino as the new President of the Republic of the Philippines.
Was that all there was to it? he asked himself. Sit back on the periphery while Cory gloated in the gloss of her spectacular mediocrity.
The fact that Marcos fell showed the revolution winning. But the fact that a representative of the country’s ruling class came into power must prove that the multitudes of oppressed and exploited lost the fight. And what grimmer proof of this was there than the Mendiola massacre in January 1987 which Cory ordered against demonstrating farmers on the approach to Malacanang. Among those killed in that massacre were farmers from Cory’s very own Hacienda Luisita.
What gain, then, did the workers, the farmers, and the millions upon millions of social scums who had pinned their hopes of salvation from poverty on the success of the revolution?
Not a bit.
If SIU had any consolation at all, it was that despite the debacle brought about by the boycott policy, the unit remained intact and was instructed to persevere in its assigned tasks.
THE PERIOD beginning from the installation of Cory as Philippine president in 1986 all the way to the democratically-elected presidency of Fidel V. Ramos in 1992 was a most fruitful one for the SIU. It saw elements otherwise limited to providing logistical support such as housing, food and funds for combatants now performing tasks right in the vortex of the armed struggle. In this kind of work, though they might not be engaged in exchanging firepower with the enemy, they put not only their lives on the line of fire but also those of the members of their families.
A case in point was the successful escape worked out back in 1985 by the unit for Satur Ocampo, then a member of the Politburo who had been captured by the government. The job of the SIU was to photograph several angles of the venue, the social hall on the fourth floor of the National Press Club building. These photographs were then passed on to the SOC of GC who would take Satur away in the escape.
The plan was for Satur to spring out of imprisonment through the National Press Club election in May of that year. NPC President Tony Nieva had successfully gotten Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile to grant his request to let Satur vote in that election.
Now, by tradition, the election was held in the NPC social hall, the Bulwagang Plaridel, which was on the topmost floor. In going up to the hall, NPC members used either the stairway that spiraled around the elevator shaft or the elevator itself. By practice after voting, the members took a spiral staircase at the westend of the building in going to the dining hall on the third floor to dine, drink or have coffee. This staircase actually went all the way down to the ground, leading to an exit at the back facing the Pasig River. The military escorts who brought Satur to the occasion had no reason to suspect anything when after voting, Satur went to that end of the hall in the pretext of using the comfort room there. Once out of sight of the unsuspecting security escorts, Satur rushed down the spiral staircase, out through the back exit, and into the waiting escape vehicle aboard which the SOC operatives spirited him away.
As it was taking rather too long for Satur to get back from the comfort room, the security escorts finally decided to find out why. Only then did they know there was that secret passageway leading out from the fourth floor.
They did not have to check any further to realize Satur had escaped.
So all’s well that ends well it seemed for Operation Satur.
Except that not so long after came what in the revolutionary movement would come to be known as the Project 7 Encounter. The UG house of the SOC that got Satur out of captivity in the National Press Club affair had been disclosed to AFP intelligence and was raided by government soldiers numbering 200. The SOC numbered 3. But the rebels put up with the state troopers in a terrific battle that ended up with the soldiers sustaining many casualties and the SOC 3, just 1, its head Villanueva. The other two, Limjoco and Archie, a new import from Davao, escaped scaling rooftops in the neighborhood while firing away at the attackers. Among the things they left behind in their escape were the photographs taken by Ka Dave of the NPC Bulweagang Plaridel.
Learning of the Project 7 encounter, Ka Dave immediately panicked. He packed a few clothes and got lost aboard his old yellow Volkswagen. He left instructions to his wife what to tell Ka Mao where to find him.
Ka Mao saw Ka Dave in Ka Jake’s house in Bulacan and there learned of Ka Dave;s predicament.
“The columns in the social hall were done with mirror finish. So when you take pictures of the place, you naturally photograph yourself doing it through your reflection on the mirrors all around.”
Ka Dave was sullen faced as he spoke, though he let his word out with a smile minutely quivering on his lips.
“Are you sure?” asked Ka Jake, minus his snicker, obviously deferring to Ka Dave’s state of emotions.
“There’s no way to take photos of the NPC social hall without taking photos of yourself too precisely because of the mirrors. With those pictures in enemy hands, I know I’m a marked man.”
After thoroughly assessing the situation, the SIU decided that Ka Dave stay in the house of Ka Jake while they felt out the atmosphere in Ka Dave’s residence as well as in his office for possible enemy movements there.
A month or so passed without Ka Dave getting any of his feared repercussion from the enemy. Then came an assurance from Ka Arman that in none of the pictures seized by the soldiers in the Project 7 encounter was Ka Dave visibly identified at all.
“The Project 7 boys are sure the enemy won’t be able to tell who the guy taking the pictures was. As reflected in the mirror, Ka Dave was in a long shot from his camera. Besides, the camera and his hands holding it completely covered his face,” Ka Arman said.
Sure, Ka Dave got back to normal legal life afterward. But the point here was not that. Rather it was that he was already preparing himself for the hard life ahead, as was the case of many like him who although enjoying the good life – a lucrative journalistic career and a movie career, too, for he was getting to be the house scriptwriter of Joseph Estrada, then deposed, like Marcos, as Mayor of San Juan but later to emerge in the top five of the 1987 senatorial polls winners – was willing to give it all up for the revolution.
Eventually Satur was among a large group that met in Ka Mao’s house. Ka Mao gathered that it was a meeting of the CPP Politburo. But he was intrigued to see a chubby fellow among the group who had been left out alone downstairs, not participating in what struck Ka Mao as a closed-door conference in the bedroom upstairs.
The guy, tan and whiskered and with a tummy reminiscent of Celso Ad Castillo, just sat on the stairs, thinking hard. Ka Mao tried to strike up a conversation with the lonesome revolutionary.
“Hi,” said Ka Mao.
The guy nodded, faintly smiling.
“You’re not joining in their talk?”
The guy shook his head. There was a clear glint of sorrow in his eyes. At that, Ka Mao could no longer find anything else to say.
The guy then flicked off an armalite bullet from a magazine and casually handed it to Ka Mao, who stared inquiringly.
“Remembrance from me.”
How nice of the guy to offer him a souvenir, so Ka Mao felt. Anything given out of pure heart, Ka Mao took with much endearment.
Over time, Ka Arman would reveal to Ka Mao that that fellow who gave him a bullet for a souvenir was Jose “Pepe” Luneta, a long-time member of the CPP Central Committee and Politburo who was purged from the Party for allegedly being responsible for the infamous Operation Ahos which killed in mass number suspected government agents in the revolutionary movement.
The meeting Satur and the other Politburo members held in Ka Mao’s house that night Luneta gifted him with the armalite bullet was the very session called for meting Luneta with the punishment of expulsion from the Party.
So, Ka Mao found himself speculating, SIU helped facilitate that Satur’s escape so he could expel Luneta. That was one outstanding characteristic of Ka Mao. He easily felt guilty about the ill effect of his act. It was beyond him to say whether or not Luneta did commit the mass killing of suspected government infiltrators in the revolution, or if he did, was it justified to mete him expulsion from the Party? Ka Mao was certainly thinking back on his own virtual ewxpulsion from the Party whose entire Party Group under the National Trade Union Bureau left him to fend for himself in the city while they, following HO advice, withdrew to the countryside upon the declaration of Martial Law. Ka Mao knew then he did not commit any offense for him to deserve such treatment.
If at all, what Ka Mao could be sure of in the Luneta episode was a most fearsome evil endemic in the structure of the Party bureaucracy by which those in power can accomplish the very decimation of its membership. Five years later, Sison would issue his own infamy, the Reaffrim of 1991, which threw Party members on mass scales pursuing their own lines of political work, in effect splintering the Party and the revolution into inutility.
But the SIU was never privy to the developments that were taking place leading to this veritable party demise. What Ka Dave and Ka Mao would deduce on one occasion was a hint, if it was a hint at all, of what developed in the Party right as soon as Cory took over the presidency.
The occasion was the interview the two had with Bernabe Buscayno, nom de guerre Kumander Dante, soon after his release from prison; the release of Dante together with Sison was among the first acts of Cory upon assuming power. It looked odd, to prioritize the release of top communists, just as it was indeed odd that while Marcos had made the top public utilities corporation Manila Electric Company (MERALCO) publicly-owned, Cory’s top priority was to release the power outfit back to private ownership by the oligarchs Lopezes.
In any case, Dante was a hot item and a number of movie producers became immediately interested in filming his life story. A common friend of Ka Mao and Ka Dave, the late film screenwriter and film director Felix Dalay, sought the intercession of the two in getting the film rights of the Dante material. In turn, Ka Mao and Ka Dave sought the assistance of Ka Charlie in getting Dante to sit down with them in an interview for purposes of writing a screenplay of his life story.
The interview in the pavilion of a friendly farm resort took off on a very cordial note. Ka Mao and Ka Dave reminisced on a escape plan the SIU devised to get Dante out of Camp Crame. Dante was liberally allowed to have daily morning exposure to sunshine, which he did by jogging around the camp compound. This routine would afford him quite many a chance to seek shelter in a nook, quickly don a respectable attire consisting of dark slacks, black shiny leather shoes, topped by a barong tagalog to make him look like one of the many respectable visitors to the camp. Completing the masquerade was a grey toupee and similar grey moustache ordered by Ka Mao from his favorite special effects artist so as to camouflage Dante’s identity. Once this put-on character was done, all Dante needed to do was walk to a waiting vehicle at the car park, board it, and ride to freedom.
The cool-mannered, unassuming guerilla leader, who had been glorified in the media much beyond his modest, austere physical attributes, was amused by the idea.
“It would have worked,” he said.
Just SIU’s luck that the EDSA revolt would come about to frustrate the escape plan thereby snatching from the intelligence unit what would have been a bigger feather in its cap. Certainly Dante was a grander figure than Satur, for which reason, in fact it seemed, Dante sought a Senate seat in the 1987 senatorial polls while Satur, a partylist seat at the House of the Representatives much later in his day.
At one point of the interview, Ka Mao touched on the question of leadership in the Party and in the Army.
“The rule,” Ka Mao recalled, “is that leadership is automatically relinquished to those that remain free by those that get captured by the enemy.”
“No,” Dante said in a calm voice, though his face looked perturbed. “We still lead.”
Ka Mao discussed the matter with Ka Jun sometime after the interview.
”Dante said that?” Ka Jun asked as though in disbelief.
“Yes,” I said,
Ka Jun spent a while just staring at Ka Mao, who could not quite make out that look in his eyes. It was sad, sullen, bewildered and raging all at once.
“Is it true?” Ka Mao asked.
“From what I understand, we’re supposed to lead the revolution now?”
“Now,” Ka Mao found himself uttering a very private worry, “that can spell trouble.”
THE CALM before the Sison storm of 1991 was itself rather protracted like his people’s war.
It was to the credit of party members that they held on to the Party unity despite the debacle it suffered from the boycott policy. The natsit (for national situationer) which the Party issued for that period spoke of undiminished strength of the party organizationally, politically and ideologically. In brief, it was as though there had not been any change in the profile of the enemy to effect a substantial tilt in the balance of forces in its favor in the continuing people’s war.
In fact, it was during that period when the people’s army began promoting the idea of the strategic counter offensive (SCO) as an advance sub-stage of the strategic stalemate. What only transpired was that Marcos fell and Cory sat in his place, but as far as the revolution was concerned nothing had changed, or at least that was how SIU sensed it.
The Magic 8 was still on track, with the Operations San Mig, Blue Print and Eagle’s Nest continuing to be the top priorities. Why would the SIU be instructed to persevere in these truly big war undertakings if the revolution was experiencing a slump. This was how the SIU assessed the revolutionary situation.
What Ka Arman took up with him that day in August 1987 enthused Ka Mao exceedingly. It served to confirm SIU’s view of the war footing and that moreover the revolution was escalating. According to Ka Arman, the top three priorities in the Magic 8 had been sufficiently cased and were ready for implementation.
“What’s holding us back?” asked Ka Mao.
“Money,” said Ka Arman. “Or the lack of it.”
Ka Arman stared at Ka Mao, indicating he had something really serious to discuss with him. As Ka Arman stayed speechless, Ka Mao fidgeted slightly.
“Can you help out in this?” Ka Arman said.
“How much is needed?” asked Ka Mao.
Ka Mao choked on his voice, “My God. Where will SIU get thirty million?”
“You will help us produce it,” said Ka Arman.
Ka Arman explained the scenario for raising such an enormous sum. As had been always the case in all tasks given to him by the Party, Ka Mao never asked questions as to the whys and wherefores of the operation which he was being tasked to carry out. It was enough that the task to do was clear to him for him to do it well.
Ka Mao’s task consisted of two aspects.
First, provide quarters for an elite team of the NPA Special Operations Command (SOC). Members of the team carried aliases the meanings of which were the opposite of their physical attributes, hence Pandak (Ka Dak), meaning dwarf, referred to the team leader, who was tall; Tangkad (Ka Kad), meaning tall, to the team member who was short; Speed (Ka Speed), to the team member who was a slowfoot; and Negro (Ka Negs), to the team member who was oriental white. The team had in its custody a precious cargo intended for transacting with an European national who would be in town shortly. When they moved into the house that afternoon, they immediately stashed their cargo in a store room hastily put up by Ka Mao at one end of the extension area, with the space at the opposite serving as the team’s quarters.
The second aspect of Ka Mao’s task was to carry out the transaction with the European national, incognito of course. In making the transaction, Ka Mao strictly went by instructions prepared by Ka Arman, conveyed to the European national through the telephone.
Ka Mao’s specific caution from Ka Jun was to spend no more than two minutes in making telephone talks otherwise, through sheer triangulation, he would be betraying his location to any unfriendly element who just might intercept the call, particularly the police some elements of which had reportedly been tipped off on the million-dollar transaction. So for, say, a ten-minute talk on the phone, Ka Mao would be hopping from one point to another in the whole Metro Manila: from Cubao to Alabang then to Makati, Monumento and Quiapo in Manila.
What took long to settle in the transaction was the final amount to be paid in exchange for the cargo Finally, after a few months, the issue was settled at an amount only Ka Arman knew, that amount having been conveyed to him direct by the European national, using a classified ad plaeement for the purpose.
One big difficulty arose on how the final exchange would be carried out. The European was insisting to do it face to face. This was a no-no for all of Ka Jun, Ka Arman and Ka Mao. That would compromise Ka Mao’s work in the SIU, let alone his legal placement. So there was no way the exchange could take place except by Ka Mao insisting that the European deliver first.
“How do I know that you won’t run away with my money after you get it?” asked the European.
“You got my word for it,” Ka Mao declared. “My word is better than a written contract.”
“Words, like promises, are meant to be broken,” said the European, laughing.
“For invertebrates, yes,” Ka Mao said, then intoned “You’re talking to a people’s army!”
“Oh, well…,” said the European. “We know who your comrades are in Europe anyway.”
Ka Mao laid down the final arrangement. The European to deliver the amount agreed upon; Ka Mao, the precious cargo days after.
The European agreed. Ka Mao thought the guy was using his mind. A crooked dealer would promise heaven to get what he wanted. By insisting on a one-week timeline for him to deliver his part of the bargain, Ka Mao impressed upon the European that he was a straight guy.
Regarding the negotiation for the delivery of the money, Ka Mao did not have a say at all in terms of policy, mechanics and method.
The few months that the negotiations got stalled had been particularly dangerous in the sense that part of maintaining the legal well-placement of the house was a free access to it by anybody who wished to pay the family a visit. There was not even a sturdy fence around the whole lot but for minimal amount of barbed wire held by bamboo posts. From time to time, folks from the surrounding neighborhood would sneak through this light barrier to gather firewood or fallen fruits, like mango, santol and guava. In any case, all this added up to the overall innocent look of the area. As for the movements of people in the house, these were never evident to outsiders, the house being on a spot away from the highway, and on sloping ground at that. In fact, on New Year Eve 1987, the SOC team sought release of their boredom by firing their long arms into the air, yelling “Long live the revolution!” They were not being adventurous though. They just were sure that no matter how strong, the yell could not get above the din of celebration at the strike of twelve.
Nonetheless, on at least three occasions, incidents happened as though to punctuate the otherwise boring episode with some high degree of suspense.
One incident happened one early evening. Ka Arman and Ka Dak were the only ones around in the house to guard the cargo; the other SOC team members were off on some sort of a furlough for one week.
After government troops in full battle gear leaped out of a six-by-six in the neighboring squatters settlement, a solitary soldier in similar apparel and gear walked into the compound of the driveway.
Spotting the soldier, Ka Arman grabbed his M-16 and took position behind a post, while Ka Dak walked toward the approaching soldier.
Ka Arman was the most prone to shoot it out, his finger nearly pressing already on the trigger of his armalite while beads of perspiration trickled down his face.
But Ka Dak proved to be the more level-headed. No combatant would go striding into enemy territory like walking under the moonlight, as indeed the bright moon had risen sufficiently high in the sky.
But making sure nevertheless, he cocked his .45, tucked it into his front waist and walked toward the soldier casually.
“Good evening,” greeted Ka Dak.
“Is this where there is a movie shooting?” asked the soldier.
“Oh, shooting,” said Ka Dak, nearly blurting out.
“We’re shooting a war movie but I got separated from my group. They said the set is in the squatters area on Sumulong Highway.”
Ka Dak secretly sighed with relief.
“This is no squatters area. The adjacent neighborhood is. There’s where the shooting is.”
Ka Dak noticed something about the armalite the soldier was carrying. He rather cautiously reached out a hand to touch it. The soldier was amused. He handed the long weapon to Ka Dak, who felt it so light.
“Props,“ said the guy.
Ka Dak let out a hearty laughter.
“You’re no soldier,” he said.
Ka Dak laughed louder.
Where he was ready to shoot, Ka Arman squinted his eyes, wondering at the sound of laughter.
Another occasion was on a lazy afternoon. Ka Speed and Ka Kad were as usual engrossed in a game of chess. Ka Dak is cleaning the parts of his disassembled pistol. Ka Negs was having a nap in the SOC team’s quarters.
All of Ka Mao’s kids were at home, that being a weekend. They were having fun playing hide-and-seek. Maoie, the tag, had his eyes closed while resting his face on his arm pressed against the wall.
“When I start counting ten, find your place of hiding,” Maoie intoned, then began counting, “One… two… three…”
Ogie, a one year and a half tot, was mimicking Maoie’s antic.
Paulo and Maripaz made a quick decision to go hiding in the restricted room where the precious cargo was kept. They gaped upon seeing what was inside the room then turn to rush back. Ka Negs awakened at this point.
“Hey,” said Ka Negs, half-shouting. He leaped to his feet and held the kids. “What did you do inside the room?”
“We’re playing hide and seek,” replied Maripaz.
“What did you see?” asked Ka Negs.
Maripaz was about to tell, but Paulo beat him to it.
“Nothing. We did not see anything.”
“Are you sure?” Ka Negs insisted to know.
At that point, Maoie rushed into the spot, startling everyone.
“Pong Paulo. Pong Paz,” Maoie blurted out, then hurried to the tag spot.
All the while, Ogie kept mimicking Maoie’s moves.
Paulo pulled Maripaz in getting away, completely ignoring Ka Negs.
“Okay, come. I’ll be tag,” Paulo said.
Ka Negs eyed the two deeply as they went. Then he turned to the room and saw everything was in place.
He thought it over real hard.
He told himself, “Well, they said they didn’t see anything. That’s it. They didn’t see anything.”
For days on after that, Ka Negs observed Paulo and Maripaz, in moments of leisure, when the kids go away to school and when they come home from classes. Each time Ka Negs made it obvious to the two that he was observing them. He hoped that by doing this, he could make the two feel guilty and admit they saw the precious cargo. But in none of these moments did neither Maripaz nor Paulo betray any signs Ka Negs hoped to see in them.
Finally, Ka Negs assured himself, “They really didn’t see anything.”
But just what intelligence Paulo had in this regard would find a repeat long after the precious cargo episode was over.
At the time, Benny Tiamzon, with whom Ka Mao had had some verbal tussle over the pursuit of the proletarian cause, had been named the new Chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines, replacing the captured Kumander Bilog. Tiamzon was with the KTKS in the house, meeting to tackle certain urgent agenda, which, as always, Ka Mao did not find fit to ask about. The group was having a lunch break downstairs when they were astounded by the deafening sound of a .45 bullet bursting.
They all rushed upstairs and into the room where they had been meeting. They found nobody in the room. Everything was in place. Ka Jun checked the .45 of Tiamzon that was in place in its holster under the low center table – apparently untouched where it had been kept. But Ka Jun smelled the barrel of the gun.
“It’s just been fired,” he said, eyeing the group.
At that precise point, what would rather startle the group but the sound of a young voice coming from just behind them.
“What was that I heard?”
Paulo, stepping out of the bathroom adjacent to the meeting room, asked the question.
The group eyed one another, then indicated their amusement at realizing what had happened: the boy, not quite seven, fired the .45 obviously through the open window, then put the pistol back in its holster in place under the center table, rushed inside the bathroom outside of the meeting room, making himself scant just in time for the group to miss him when they rushed up to check.
With a light, chiding shake of his tilted head, Ka Jun eyed Tiamzon smilingly, like saying, “Rule number one in war. Never separate your gun from yourself.”
After the meeting, Ka Jun had an advice to tell Ka Mao: “Take care of Paulo. He is a very intelligent child.”
Back now to the hide-and-seek episode in the quarters of the SOC team. That night Ka Mao came home from work, Paulo confided to him.
“Tatay, we’ve got something in our house.”
“ What?” asked Ka Mao.
“There’s something in that room.”
Ka Mao was pretty sure Paulo had discovered what was in that room..
“Paulo, be a good boy. Don’t go in where you are not allowed to enter.”
“We’re just playing hide-and-seek.”
“That room is not for games children play.”
Ka Mao’s voice, though soft, was stern. Paulo quieted down.
In all the incidents during the safe-keeping of the precious cargo, Ka Mao and Betchay were out shooting a movie. Betchay had begun learning the works of an assistant to a director and so she stuck to him whenever and wherever he worked. For the present project they were busy in, Betchay had taken the job as caterer, for Ka Mao was involved only as a scriptwriter. Since it was out of the question that a house helper be in place in the house to look after the kids when the couple were at work, the SOC team minded this task, like cooking their meals and seeing them off on a service vehicle ride to the school. At nights though, once back home from shooting, Betchay would find time preparing the things the kids would need for school the following day, like ironing their clothes and readying what Ka Speed would cook for the kids for breakfast and for lunch packs to bring to school.
But that afternoon the SOC team were caught unawares by two Assumption nuns was a different case. Ka Mao was not out shooting but was delivering an urgent message prepared by Ka Arman for the European national. . He was taking long discussing on the phone the matter of the final amount the European would deliver, the discussion being chopped into durations of two minutes only and at quite long intervals, because done at various points in Metro Manila far away from one another
The nuns just seemed to pop into view through the open door. Ka Speed and Ka Kad paused in their chess game, not bothering to rise, though they looked surprised by the nuns’ appearance. It was Ka Dak who was alarmed, for at the time, he was busy fitting a silencer into the nozzle of his .45. He quickly placed the weapon and gadgets under the center table he was working at and approached the nuns.
“Good afternoon,” greeted Ka Dak.
“We wish to talk to Mr. Samonte,” said one nun.
“Mr. Samonte is in Laguna shooting,” said Ka Dak for an alibi; he knew Ka Mao was out doing his task in the operation.
“How about Mrs. Samonte?” asked the other nun.
“She is with Mr. Samonte shooting,” said Ka Dak.
“I’m Mr. Samonte’s cousin. May I help you? Come in please,” said Ka Dak.
“No, we have to hurry up. Your nephew Mauro The Second has had an accident in the school. We have just brought him to a hospital in the town. But he must be brought to the Orthopedic hospital in Quezon City for proper treatment. ”
It turned out the boy Maoie, then in grade two in Assumption, was playfully sliding with other boys down the inclined siding at the entrance of the multipurpose hall when he got a bad fall to the pavement and broke his arm. Ka Dak relayed this to Ka Mao through the latter’s beeper.
Ka Mao read the message on his beeper just as he was finishing his phone talk with the European.
“Okay, my friend. We’re not done yet. You wait. I’ll call later,” Ka Mao said. He pressed the button of the phone, then dialed a number.
“Easy call, may I help you?” said the operator at the other end of the line.
Ka Mao dictated to the operator a message for sending to Ka Dak through the latter’s beeper.
Ka Dak read the message: “Any of you, please attend to Maoie. I’m not done with my work yet.”
Ka Dak then assigned Ka Speed to accompany Maoie to the Philippine Orthopedic Hospital.
It was nearly sundown when Ka Mao finished his job with the European that afternoon. But much as he wanted to go to Maoie at the orthopedic hospital immediately, he could not because he must first attend a meeting Ka Arman called in the house in the evening.
With Ka Jun also in the meeting, Ka Arman now gave Ka Mao the final instructions for delivery to the European the following day.
“One point five,” said Ka Mao, “is too little. From our discussion this afternoon I sensed that I could press the European some more for a higher amount, even up to five m.”
Ka Jun was inclined to consider Ka Mao’s idea of negotiating further.
“You think you can increase that amount?” he asked.
“Let me call again,” Ka Mao advised.
Ka Arman cut in.
“No need for that anymore. It’s settled. His final offer, we call. There is so much we can do with that amount. Besides, the boys are getting exhausted by all this waiting.”
And so at long last, Ka Mao’s last task in the operation was to instruct the European national on how to deliver the money. Time was of the essence. Another combat team was all set to pick-up the money. After giving the instructions to the European, Ka Mao dialed another number on the phone. The fellow waiting at the other end of the line picked up the phone – Ka Dave.
“Hello,” said Ka Dave.
“Ka Dave, Kirk here,” Ka Mao said from his end.
“Yes, Ka Kirk,” said Ka Dave.
“Go,” came Ka Mao’s final word and he hanged up.
Ka Dave enthused to himself exceedingly. That one single word said it all. The money was on the way for pick up by another combat team. The head of this team would call him any moment now to get the go signal for their action.
Ka Dave monitored his wrist watch. The seconds seemed to tick away so slowly. Then as the hour hand reached ten, the phone rang. He excitedly picked it up. The smile on his lips indicated it was the call he was awaiting.
“Yes,” Ka Dave said. “Go.”
And with that, Ka Dave made his one single word in the whole operation. But it was the only word that counted now. It was the word that set into motion the tracking by the pick-up team of the sedan carrying the money. Ka Mao had gotten the plate number of that car from the European, then passed it on to Ka Arman, who finally relayed it to the pick-up team.
As in a symphony, Ka Mao had done his coda. What transpired next was nothing but the denouement. As Ka Arman would put it later, picking up the money was as easy as picking apples.
JUST RIGHT time, Ka Mao sighed to himself as he hugged Maoie in order to keep him pressed down in bed. The orthopedic doctor was doing the operation for putting the boy’s broken arm bone back in place and the boy was terribly squirming from what terrible pain it was he was suffering. The doctor was twisting Maoie’s arm to and fro, mercilessly it seemed.
Oh, how so painfully the boy cried. Ka Mao wondered if he himself could have borne the pain if he were in his son’s place.
And yet… And yet… If finishing his job in the transaction just past had taken all the way to this point, he would have still gladly given his full attention to the work. That was more than twenty four hours after Maoie had the fall in school. Betchay, who was doing an errand for the film production when the accident happened, gave Maoie company at the hospital when evening came, there to await the operation scheduled the next day.
What kind of a father was he, willing and ready to abandon his son even at this his hour of agony!
That’s why Ka Mao thanked God, indeed, he found himself thanking God profusely, for getting the transaction over with, not because it succeeded in getting the money it had intended to get, but because it made him available to his son just as when the boy needed him most.
The fingers of his free hand burrowing into Ka Mao’s shoulder for support, the boy struggled to speak. It looked to Ka Mao that the boy was beginning to gasp for breath.
“Tatay… I can’t take it anymore.”
A terror crossed Ka Mao’s mind. God, could Maoie have gone through it all if he were not around to give him support. His eyes moistened as he cast a pleading stare at the doctor, imploring him with that stare to be quick with it, please. But as most doctors are, the doctor looked disaffected, wearing a stoic mien in his face as he went about with his job. One final twist of Maoie’s arm and the boy yelled in pain so acute it sounded like it were his last. He choked on his crying and appeared to be catching his breath.
Ka Mao cast a terrified stare at the doctor.
“He will be okay,” the doctor assured Ka Mao, continuing to wear that stoic mien in his face. Like nonchalantly, he then began treating Maoie’s injured arm with plaster cast.
Only then did Ka Mao feel like giving vent to all his feelings of grief, joy and relief all at once. He pressed his face on the pillow beside Maoie’s face, pretending to comfort him. Actually he did it as a way of hiding his tears.
RECOVERY was another agony for Maoie.
In order to keep his injured arm bone in place while in the period of healing, his arm had to be kept stretched by a rope tied to his wrist, slung on a pulley above his bed and held down by a weight load that dangled on the other end. For this reason, while he was supposed to rest in bed, he was in extreme discomfort. Since his injured arm had to be held up day in and day out, he maintained the same position in bed twenty four hours a day.
Aside from feeding the boy with his food, Ka Mao helped him do his toilet chores as well as gave him his sponge baths.
The boy’s discomfort was bearable in any case. After a month, Maoie’s arm was finally freed from the weight load, its plaster cast replaced with a longer-lasting one and his arm held on a sling around his neck.
By the advent of summer, Maoie was ready for release. That day Ka Arman came for a visit at the hospital together with Ka Ding.
“Advice by the GC, you are not to proceed to the house from the hospital,” Ka Arman told him.
“Why, any problem?” Ka Mao asked.
“Not exactly,” said Ka Arman. “It’s standard procedure. After being used for such a hot operation, we have to ascertain the security of your house. For your own safety and that of your family, too.”
Ka Ding handed Ka Mao a large brown envelope bulging with something.
“Here you are,” Ka Ding said in his characteristic brevity of words.
“What’s this?” asked Ka Mao as he opened the envelope unsuspectingly.
“You can have a vacation with the whole family in Baguio,” said Ka Arman..
Ka Mao gaped when he got a good view of the what the envelope contained: wads of money bills.
“That’s fifty thousand,” said Ka Ding.
“More than enough for a month vacation,” said Ka Arman. “By that time, we shall have ascertained whether or not your house is safe for you and your family to return to.”
As an added safety precaution, Ka Mao did not join Betchay and the kids in the trip to Baguio. He traveled a day later, meeting up with them on an appointed spot in Burnham Park upon arrival in the city in the morning of the next day. He made sure to shave his beard and moustache before joining the family. The kids were amazed at his clean-shaven face topped by a neat haircut. So was Betchay.
At her inquiring stare, Ka Mao said, “Ka Arman suggested I needed to put on a new look,”
“Tatay pogi (How so good-looking father is),” remarked Ogie.
They got a good laugh.
SUMMER was a good respite for folks who had just overcome one of the most perilous involvements one whole family experienced in the revolution. By its nature, the transaction with the European national was fit only in the countryside, the so-called red areas where the rebel forces had things in control. But in the white areas, which were enemy territories and which Ka Mao’s house was in, conducting the operation there was unimaginable. And yet the family went through it all successfully.
The kids didn’t realize it, of course, and so they went about indulging in their little shenanigans all the while that the precious cargo was being kept in the house. Betchay could sense it but took care not to ask anything about it. She had been conditioned never to ask questions about Ka Mao’s activities in the movement. It was Ka Mao alone who bore all the tension for the family in that long transaction period.
Now, a real quality time was transpiring for the family, enjoying happy togetherness as they savored the characteristic delights of the Summer Capial: boat ride in the Burnham Park lagoon, horseback riding at the Wainright Park, viewing the canyons at the Mines View Park, strolling among strawberry plants red with fruits in La Trinidad Valley. They did have moments like these in the past, but always, only on weekends and when Ka Mao was free from his work. This time, merrymaking was their daily grind, from break of day till the setting of the sun and well into the night, when they would dine out in plush eateries, then in their rented house enjoy sing-along ditties before finally repairing to bed.
Ka Mao had an added pleasure for himself when toward the end of this vacation, an exposure in an NPA territory was arranged for him by the local command of the NPA. Lugging his ubiquitous camera and with a few clothes in a backpack, he was picked up by a guide in the market area. They took a jeepney which traversed the narrow highway carved out of a mountainside, at every inch of which one looked down to deep ravines. Quite a few vehicles had fallen off the cliffs in the past, with none of the passengers surviving the accidents.
But the greater danger in that travel was that a military officer kept eyeing Ka Mao’s guide, who is a leader of an NPA combat squad. The military officer was ascertaining to himself if Ka Mao’s guide was indeed one of those he and his men had had an encounter once. Ka Mao’s guide knew he was being marked. He secretly instructed Ka Mao who to contact when he reached the appointed destination, then as the jeepney slowed down at a narrow bend, Ka Mao’s guide suddenly leaped out of the jeepney.
The military officer gave chase, warning the guy to stop or he will shoot. He aimed his rifle. Ka Mao’s guide drew his pistol, firing as he rolled over down the slope into the ravine. The military officer was grazed by a bullet on his side and threw to the ground, firing his rifle. Ka Mao’s guide avoided the hail of bullets and disappeared into the woods down the ravine. Through that terrain, no lone military officer would dare engage an NPA combatant on a one-on-one basis.
A man in mid-twenties among the passengers prodded the jeepney driver to go on lest they be caught in the crossfire. The driver obliged and stepped on the gas.
It was nearly sundown when the jeepney reached its destination. The place was Sagada, an Ifugao municipality in Bontoc Province. Ka Mao was tentative as he moved around after getting off the jeepney.
“The guy gave me a name to contact but didn’t say where to contact,” Ka Mao uttered to himself.
A young man walked past him, saying in near-whisper, “Follow me.”
Making a double-look, Ka Mao recognized the young man. He was the twentyish fellow who had prodded the jeepney driver to drive on.
Ka Mao gaped in amazement when told by the man that he was the back-up guide assigned to ensure Ka Mao’s safe journey to NPA territory deep in the jungles of the Cordillera mountain range.
“The NPA knows its business,” Ka Mao told himself with surprised delight.
The young man led him to a house where he was processed, the term used for verification of information about Ka Mao earlier passed on to the NPA command in the area. His hosts also made sure that Ka Mao had necessary clothing for his stay in the NPA camp. He got two jackets all right, a woolen sweatshirt, several t-shirts, a pair of jogging pants, and a number of thick woolen socks.
“It’s too cold up there,” said the leader of the squad sent to fetch Ka Mao and bring him to the NPA mountain camp.
“Oh, yes?” remarked Ka Mao. “How cold? Fifteen… Ten… Five degrees centigrade?”
“You’ll see,” said the squad leader.
There was enough amount of sunlight as Ka Mao began the trek to the mountain camp, and so he got a clear, good view of the terrain.
“Magnificent,” Ka Mao gasped to himself.
They snaked up a trail upward that cut through terraces, partitioned in patches which all teemed with green palay plants. Ka Mao thought it was comparable in grandeur to the famed Banaue Rice Terraces, considered one of the seven wonders of the world.
The legend had it that once upon a time, a great flood gobbled up the lowlands, destroying crops and killing many inhabitants. The natives took it as the Great Wrath of God Kabunyan for their wrongdoings. When the flood receded, the natives labored to build a stairway to heaven by which to climb to the sky and seek Kabunyan’s blessing.
Past the terraces, Ka Mao and his entourage now traversed a thick forest of pine trees many of which would require three men to encompass with their hands joined together. A few fallen ones just stayed lying on the ground, with nobody minding them. In Real and Infanta, Quezon, this would be unthinkable. Dos por lapad folks, the term for men doing illegal lumbering in the forests of Sierra Madre, would be cutting these fallen giant pines up into two-by-four-inch slabs in a hurry.
Ka Mao remembered log cabins in western journals and he thought it would be nice building one for himself in that area, using those fallen pines.
“Can I build a log cabin here?” he asked.
“Chose your wild,” said the squad leader.
“Whom do I ask permission from?” Ka Mao asked.
“Permission granted,” said the squad leader.
They were trekking upward a mountain peak which according to the squad leader is the third highest in the Philippines. Ka Mao knew Mount Apo in Davao was the highest, he didn’t know what the second highest was. In any case, even with its lower height, this peak Ka Mao was climbing was almost a literal depiction of the Tagalog saying: “Abot-kamay ang langit (Heaven is just within reach).” As he gazed up the top of the slope they were climbing, it did seem that once he got there, he could touch the sky.
“How much farther are we going to climb?” Ka Mao asked.
“One food for your thought,” said the squad leader.
“Oh, yes?” said Ka Mao.
“When you walk up a mountain, never look where you are heading to.”
“You’ll get tired quickly.”
“Is that so?”
“Just watch your steps. Before you realize it, you’re there.”
Ka Mao really had to watch his steps. Before long, it was dark and their journey was lit only by the moonlight filtering through the trees. And into the final stage of their travel, they must negotiate a narrow footpath carved out of a mountain side. One misstep and he would be plunging down the deep ravine to his right. For this reason, Ka Mao kept inclining to his left as he walked so that just in case he made that misstep, he would be falling to the ground.
Seeing Ka Mao’s difficulty, the squad leader took his backpack.
“Let me carry it for you,” said the squad leader.
“You’re loaded with your own things,” Ka Mao said.
“This is nothing,” said the squad leader.
Free of his load but for his camera, Ka Mao had a little easier time minding his steps.
Then suddenly, a gunshot rang, echoing through the trees.
Ka Mao was alarmed.
The squad leader got excited, so were his companions.
When a short while after they finally reached the camp, the rebels were excited as they came upon a crowd gathered around by the bonfire in the middle of the encampment, butchering a deer.
The squad leader approached the group.
“I thought correctly when I heard that shot. You slew a deer,” said the squad leader.
“It could have been a firefight,” said Ka Mao.
“No gunbattle takes place with just on shot being fired,” said the squad leader.
One of the men butchering the deer spoke to Ka Mao.
“It’s routine for us here. We chase a deer through the woods just to get it exhausted. When night falls, the animal would go out of hiding to drink at the river. That’s when we shoot it.”
“Why not while you’re chasing it?” asked Ka Mao.
The squad leader cuts in.
“You’re not sure to hit. That would be a lot of wasted bullets otherwise better off used for killing fascist dogs. While drinking at the river, the deer is a sitting duck.”
Ka Mao smiled. He said, “I think you guys are teaching me lessons early.”
The squad leader introduced Ka Mao to his men, who included two amazons from a tribe distinct for their fair skin,with pretty features on their pinkish faces.
“Comrades, this is Ka Mao. He was sent by the General Command to spend time with us, you know.Just like the others who had been sent before him.”
Everybody shook hands with Ka Mao as they gave him words of welcome. Generally, they said, “Feel at home.”
His first experience of feeling at home with the group was the veritable feast they had over the deer meat soup prepared for supper. Ka Mao could almost vomit at tasting it. It was tart, fishy, pungent, or whatever it was, a taste he would not take. The meat was cooked, all right, but simply boiled in water with no salt or any seasoning whatsoever, neither with any vegetable additives to improve its tangy taste. But apparently, the rebels had been so used to such a serving of meat and so took it with gusto. Otherwise they would be content with simple boiled cabbage for viand.
Ka Mao forced himself to make like the rest in eating the dish. Actually he took too much time finishing one slice of the meat so he would not be forced to eat more. As for the soup, he could not refuse the urging of one guy for him to drink from the common bowl. He did press the bowl lid into his mouth, pretending to take it, but kept his teeth pressed, too, to allow only a very minimal amount of the liquid into his mouth.
But the feel of the liquid in his mouth brought him nausea which he could not control anymore. He begged leave from the group, pretending to piss behind bushes. There he let it all out.
Gasping for air afterward, a thought crossed his mind. In no instance in the whole transaction with the European national had he experienced taking what he had just eaten.. And yet, here it was staple food for the comrades. Who suffered the more difficulty?
That night was terribly cold. He had put on both his jogging pants on, one on top of the other, donned three layers of t-shirts, topped further by a long-sleeved polo shirt, then by the thick woolen sweatshirt, over which finally was his jacket.
Ka Mao mused to himself. Never in all its operation did the SIU suffer such biting cold. Who suffered the more difficulty?
Ka Mao proceeded to join the rebels heating themselves up by the flames of the bonfire.
“Real cold out here,” Ka Mao remarked to the squad leader.
“I told you. Now you see,” said the squad leader.
“I suppose this is below 5 degrees,” said Ka Mao.
“No. Below zero,” said the squad leader.
“You don’t say.”
“See if it doesn’t rain ice tomorrow.”
“It’s always the case. If it is this cold tonight, ice will fall in the morning.”
Mid-morning the following day, a heavy downpour fell. Along with the rather large beads of raindrops were marble-size, sharp-edged ice peebles which, according to Newton’s law on free-falling objects, could puncture your head as they did the plastic roof of the rebels’ tents.
Ka Mao would learn later that the rebels were getting discouraged by their leaders from using plastic tents, as they were prone to getting devastated by the frequent ice rains. Ka Mao amused at the thought of city folks cavorting in the streets whenever it rained. Here they hurried inside their tents lest they get wounded by the shrapnels from heaven. Who suffered the more difficulty?
After only a short while, Ka Mao had such a good taste of rebel life in the mountain that he finally got the full impact of the view that joining the NPA is the pinnacle of serving the people. The feeling exhilarates. An exposure guest inevitably ended up not wanting to go back to the city anymore. Many of those who actually tasted battle with the enemy had opted to stay in the mountain for good.
Although the NPA had a standing policy of securing the safety of its guests, meaning keep them away from the line of fire, in the event of an engagement with the enemy, Ka Mao would have insisted in joining in the fray, be at the front line even. But much to his regret, the unit in the camp had no military engagements during his entire stay. In this respect, he felt no better than Abraham Lincoln who, though having had war experience against the Confederates, never tasted combat except, according to one accout, “for insignificant bouts with mosquitoes.” In his case, Ka Mao had bouts in the evenings with limatiks, tiny leeches that would creep up inside his pants and go on to suck blood from his very genitals. The creature is so small nobody notices it creeping up his leg, nor when it sucks your groin. Only when the spot being sucked begins to itch would one impulsively scratch it and discover the blood glutton so bloated with his blood it could no longer move. It would amuse Ka Mao exceedingly to see a fearless rebel leaping out of the toilet in utter fright from his aborted bowel movement while gingerly trying to flick off with his hands the tiny devil stuck to his buttocks. Ka Mao was almost victimized similarly but that the rascal had the nerve to attack him frontally as he squatted there. So, seeing the attack, which he, too, admitted was so eerie indeed as to terrify you out of your wits, he grabbed a stick and pummeled the leech into bits.
And thus did Ka Mao have a battle to rise above in pronto.
The rebel unit issued Ka Mao an M-16 for hm to use just in case. But aside from learning how to disassemble its parts and then putting them back in place, the only use he had of the weapon was that it made him look like a true blue NPA whenever they did drills in a clearing in the morning. Jogging around the area, he shouted along with the other rebels after the squad leader chanting the goodie ole revolutionary slogans: “Down with imperialism!” “Down with feudalism!” “Down with bureaucrat capitalism!”
Who are we addressing the chant to anyway, to the trees? Ka Mao found himself asking quietly. If faith can move mountains, so revolutionary passion might also.
To make up for lack of action, Ka Mao engaged the unit in study sessions, using a syllabus he had devised for the SIU’s use. The syllabus consisted of three main parts. Part One dealt on Philippine history. Philippine social development was presented according to the principles of dialectical and historical materialism, with focus on what, based on his research, actually happened in the Revolution of 1896. Part Two was an exhaustive presentation of the theory of surplus value, the core of capitalist exploitation of wage labor. The text for this study was improvised by Ka Mao from his study of Das Capital by Karl Marx. And Part Three was a simplification of the theories contained in Lenin’s State and Revolution for easy understanding of the concepts of socialism and communism.
Ka Mao could sense that the rebels, all hailing from the masses, were hungering for deeper insights into the guiding principles of the revolution. And they found the syllabus quite delectable.
After going through the syllabus, Ka Mao discussed the current developments in the people’s struggle. The Party had by then issued the latest natsit (national situationer) which elaborated on how the revolution stood at the time. The paper prepared by the Party spoke of the people’s war already at the stage of the strategic counter-offensive (SCO), described as an advance substage of the strategic stalemate. A distinct feature of the SCO was widespread insurrection in the urban centers.
It was with this insurrectionary character of the revolution that Ka Victor expressed displeasure. The comrade was a high-ranking officer of the Cordillera District Party Committee who visited the camp for an important discussion with Ka Wakad, the diminutive Ifugao native who was Provincial Commander of the NPA in Bontoc. Both listened to Ka Mao’s discussion of the natsit.
“Well if that’s how the Party sees it in the overall...,” Ka Victor commented. “But as far as we are concerned, that cannot be done here.”
Ka Mao was astounded by the comment. Ka Victor’s statement struck Ka Mao as a declaration of defiance. Were not all party members expected to obey an official Party policy? It alarmed Ka Mao to realize that one whole district party committee should express deviation from that policy – or at least, one from the committee did. Certainly it indicated a serious sectionalism in the Party. How many other district party committees were of the same opinion as Ka Victor sounded to stand pat on?
Already then Ka Mao sensed a foreboding of graver things to come.
AS LATE AS the advent of the 90s, nothing indicated to Ka Mao that his fears felt beginning that sojourn in the Cordillera NPA camp were justified. Meetings in the house by the KTKS, the Politburo and the NPA General Command were getting frequent, indicating to Ka Mao the contrary: the Party and the Army were getting even more and more vigorous. Nothing was changed of directives earlier given nor of plans earlier approved.
And that went true, too, for the SIU tasks.
In fact, the increasing number of uses of the house and of the elements using it prompted Ka Mao to enlarge it even further. The entire dimensions of the original extension area were replicated on an upper floor, making for a complete two-story structure. The whole second floor was now for the exclusive use of the Party’s and Army’s meetings and quartering, but for the original room of Maripaz into which now were compressed Ka Mao and his family during sleep time.
Both guests and hosts shared the ground floor during fellowship hours.
And yet, this was not enough. Come 1991, Ka Mao had a discussion with Ka Charlie about the intensifying revolutionary situation. Cory was not only exposed as an economic nincompoop, unable to stem the rise of mass poverty, but was also a political weakling whose only credentials to the presidency was her absolute tutelage to US interests. She had personally led a scanty crowd of her loyalists in a rally to pressure the Senate not to abrogate the US-RP Military Bases Agreement. The Senate refused to be cowed and declared all US military facilities in the country ended.
According to Charlie, all of the plans of the people’s army were on track and the time was ripe for their implementation. But those plans needed to be approved by the Party congress, which had long been delayed.
“Can you host the congress?” asked Ka Charlie.
Ka Mao was speechless for a moment. Did he hear right?, he asked himself. He thought Ka Charlie was kidding.
“I’m not kidding,” said Ka Charlie. “The Party congress can be called anytime now. All we need is a venue.”
Soon after that discussion, Ka Mao embarked on what in his category could be considered a grand house expansion. To the north end of the already complete L-shaped structure was added one whole house in itself, rectangular in shape such that it completed the overall design less as an L than a Swastika.
“This is so big,” commented one carpenter. “What do you have need for this?”
“Guest house,” said Ka Mao curtly.
The guest house so-called consisted of a ground floor, an attic and a basement to make for three floors in all. The ground floor level was a one-room affair. Half of the area, the section adjoining the dining room, was walled in large glass panes framed with wood. This half had two swing doors done in glass panes framed with wood that opened into the terrace overlooking the creek and the bamboo grove close by. The other half had solid walls done in concrete. The end of this other half had a solid concrete divider to conceal the staircase that led down to the basement. The basement was walled with concrete all around and was fitted at the creekside with escape tunnel that secretly led to the scarcely-fenced section of the Valdez Farm where the enemy was not expected to make any pursuit.
The original living room was expanded westward to give way for a ground-level dining area with skylight roofing done in fiber glass. Since people in the house tended to gravitate in the dining area, what was once a living room became almost just a foyer from the main entrance at the east side of the structure.
Adjacent to the dining room was the kitchen with no divider separating it from the dining area but for a half-octagon-shaped kitchen island. A room was at the back of this kitchen, with almost the same dimension as it had, intended for storing kitchen what-nots. The floor of the storage room had an opening for stairs leading to the basement-level dirty kitchen for wood-fueled cooking. This storage room had a door that led to the garage. Also to the garage side of the kitchen was an elevated breakfast area with a view window done in glass and in the shape of an octagon. To the west side of the kitchen was the glass sliding door of the guest house.
So if one went in through the main entrance, he would step into the foyer and there be faced with three directions. To the right, the living room leading to the dining room, the kitchen, the breakfast area and the guest house. Straight ahead, the stairway to the second floor where he would find Maripaz’s bedroom, the comfort room adjoining it outside, the corridor leading to it being walled in solid glass, the door on this wall leading out to the terrace that had been added above the main entrance, the other end of the corridor leading to the family hall and the adjoining masters bedroom.
Back at the foyer, he would find to the left, the whole undivided area of the ground floor, with exits leading to the library to the left and to the stairway to the south end basement which was joined up by a tunnel to the north end basement (the basement of the guest house). This way all occupants of the house, upon alarm, could go rushing through the labyrinth of tunnels and out into the Valdez Farm. Through the farm where the caretakers were quite friendly to Ka Mao and very cooperative, any escaping elements from Ka Mao’s house could rush unnoticed by the enemy as they made way through the wide orchard there and out into the barangay road behind it. From there their vehicles would rush them to safety.
From his discussion with Ka Charlie, Ka Mao gathered that the Party had grown into five commissions. He estimated that at a minimum of ten delegates per commission, the Party Congress should have at least 50 delegates. The way he had renovated the house, he apportioned the sections thus: The Vizayas-Mindanao, the Central Luzon and the Northern Luzon Commisions, to the Guest House; the Southern Tagalog-Bicol Commission, to the Library and South End Basement; and the National Capital Region Commission, to the Second Floor Family Hall and Masters Bedroom. Ka Mao and his family would be happy lumped together in Maripaz’s bedroom.
But where would the session hall be?
The whole undivided ground floor of the initial expansion area! Ka Mao exclaimed to himself.
So to Ka Charlie’s question, “Can you host the congress?” came Ka Mao’s answer, “Yes, I can.”
Ka Mao was just passionate about the whole thing. The Party Congress, delayed for so long, would formalize a number of important and urgent policies, particularly the SCO. It would give the go signal for the planned takeover of the legislature and other vital public facilities. It would fill the streets with militant mass actions. It would bring the people’s army’s firepower from the countryside to the cities. It would send the flames of revolution exploding the country over. And then the strategic stalemate. It had been a lesson from all revolutions that the strategic offensive to follow was virtually just ceremonial – as it was in China when after Chiang Kai Sheik was driven to Formosa, the People’s Liberation Army just marched into Shianghai to take over the seat of Kuomintang political power.
Would Ninoy allow that to happen to his widow?
So was it any wonder that Sison acted in his stead?
Evidently out of desperation, he issued the Reaffirm Our Basic Principles. The ostensible motive was to launch a thorough Party-wide rectification movement aimed at correcting errors done, not the least of which being the error of the boycott policy. But motives are proven not by assertive words but by cause-and-effect doctrine. The result of the Sison-instigated rectification movement told it all. It splintered the Party into fragments, tore the otherwise formidable people’s army, and threw the revolution back to the dark ages.
It was a most sentimental moment Ka Mao had when he talked to Ka Jun about the matter. Ka Jun was playing the piano at the time. Ka Mao had learned that the NPA Chief was a gifted pianist and so he bought a Weinstein Piano so he could hear him play it whenever he visited the house. Ka Mao was a piano enthusiast himself and loved much to listen to classical piano selections. Ka Jun was into an inspired rendition of La Vie En Rose when Ka Mao opened the topic.
“You have the army under your command, Why not combat Sison’s divisive policy?”
Ka Jun shook his head.
“I assure you it will be very bloody,” he said.
Ka Jun struck the keys as though he wished to just play on and on, like providing the counterpoint in the symphony of the crumbling of the Party and the people’s army.
In Northern Luzon, the Party initiatives had increasingly been taken over by the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army.
In Central Luzon, the Magpantay couple were heading their own faction which boasted of its own armed group able to shoot it out with that of the Tiamzon couple.
Nilo de la Cruz and Popoy Lagman banded together in Metro Manila to form a composite, the Revolutionary People’s Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB). This combined force soon joined up with that of Arturo Tabara in the Visayas,
COME the presidential elections of 1992, Ka Mao gave it all up. No revolution in history won against a democratic government. According to his perception, once Fidel V. Ramos was elected president, that was the signal that thenceforth any political reform could only take place within the system of a bourgeois democratic government. At best, then, what the rejectionists of the Sison Reaffirm manifested with their defiance were nothing but the last spasms of a dying monster. The irony in this view was that activists had derisively ascribed this to violent state fascism. This time, it described the degeneration the Party had gone into.
So Ka Mao found himself making a private resolve: to pursue the proletarian cause in the arena of bourgeois politics; he did not have the presumptuousness to try to influence any overall Party policy in this regard. Besides, as he rightly perceived it, the Reaffirm had been precisely designed to get rid of all non-Sisonites in the Party, and he, being a long-time opponent of the Sison copy-cat people’s war strategy, had to go. In that event, as he was intransigent in pushing the struggle of the working class, he had to go the way he did in organizing BRASO, with the difference now that instead of armed struggle, he would pursue it through elections.
He organized the Kilusang Bagong Barangay (KBB), a political party advocating what he perceived as pro-worker elements in the Local Government Code. He particularly saw the power of eminent domain, as contained in the code, as a most potent provision which he could invoke to enable the great masses of squatters to own the lands they had built their houses on. This was a major advocacy he carried when he ran for Mayor of Antipolo in the local elections of 1995.
The political line caught fire among Antipolo residents of whom sixty percent were non-land-owning. Volunteers came forward, organizing chapters of KBB and conducting study sessions among voters which sought to enlighten them on what a true pro-worker government should be. He even advocated the equalizing of the salary of the mayor to that of an ordinary factory worker, as did the communards in the Paris Commune of 1871.
None of his candidates for councilors had bourgeois traces, all of them being workers. Two were heads of big labor unions; three, leaders of widely-known mass organizations; two, community organizers; and a lady, a vociferous former radio announcer who headed a large group of informal settlers.
Ka Mao’s campaign was creating much noise. The Red Shirts, as his campaigners were known because of the red shirts they wore, were in all nooks of the town, including far-flung mountain communities.
It heartened Ka Mao exceedingly when while he was shaking hands with folks along a narrow alley of a slums neighborhood, a blind woman groped her way out of a shanty, offering her hand tentatively, saying, “Samonte… Samonte…” Ka Mao shook the woman’s hand, saying,
“Samonte at your service.” The woman gripped his hand tight and tenderly, “Ikaw si Samonte (You’re Samonte)!”
The woman had only been told stories about him and now that she was face to face with the “savior”, she was shouting “Halleluiah!” It was no hyperbole that at that moment, Ka Mao did feel having the salvation of all oppressed humanity on his shoulders.
Adding no mean weight to his campaign was the presence of showbiz personalities. During his proclamation rally at the Sumulong Park, onstage were, together with Seiko Films Producer Robbie Tan, comediennes Evelyn Vargas and Beverly Salviejo, leading actress Lovely Rivero, and the stars of the then recent blockbuster, Machete II, Gardo Versoza and Rossana Roces.
In a surprise incident, actress Liza Lorena went around the Antipolo market shaking hands wih folks and distributing leaflets of Ka Mao. That got throngs crowding the entire marketplace and surroundings.
In a succeeding rally, the audience went shrieking at the appearance of Jestoni Alarcon, whose speaking prowess beguiled Ka Mao. It did look like Jestoni was campaigning for himself. Indeed, he must be. In subsequent local elections, Jestoni would emerge No. 1 among the winning councilors, the stepping stone for his being Vice Governor of Rizal the next elections around.
All of the above features, on top of the popular band The Blinkers of Joegrad La Torre who were the mainstay attraction of Ka Mao’s political rallies, which were in the format of musical concerts. The style was so effective it led one disgruntled follower of Ka Mao’s political opponent to declare: “We will vote for the band.”
During the high school graduation of Maoie from the Academe School of Antipolo, Ka Mao was congratulated by former Antipolo Mayor Jose “Peping” Oliveros for his impressive campaign.
“You think it’s okay?” asked Ka Mao.
“You had a very good start. Very impressive,” said Mayor Oliveros.
A very likable guy who was among the first bigwigs of Antipolo whom Ka Mao had befriended, Mayor Oliveros made his comment in a most mild and gentlemanly manner. Otherwise, he would have warned Ka Mao, “Don’t rest on laurels. It’s too early.”
It was Robbie’s characteristic candor which laid it down straight to Ka Mao from the very start: “How do you expect me to support you when you and your men shout “Down with capitalism!”?
For Ka Mao, though making true his resolve to pursue the working class struggle through bourgeois politics, was consistent in condemning capitalist oppression and exploitation of workers. It was just like putting a round hole into a square peg or vice versa. The two wouldn’t fit.
In one real grand rally which Ka Mao timed for the celebration of Labor Day, he borrowed a ten-wheeler open truck, parked it across MLQ Avenue near the corner of the Circumferential Road, completely closing it to vehicular traffic. With a number of organized labor unions in attendance, the whole area all the way to the next block northward was filled with people. The incumbent mayor, Daniel Garcia, whom Ka Mao was contending against in the elections, was early on madly ordering the Police Chief to disperse the rally. But before they could do anything about it, the Blinkers belted out a Bon Jovie ditty which instantly got the crowd shaking and wiggling and cheering. The Police Chief nonetheless implored Ka Mao to remove his people out of the street because they were creating disorder.
“See that crowd?” Ka Mao said. “Remove them, we’re in trouble.”
The Police Chief did look and see how impossible it was to disturb the rally without antagonizing such so huge a mass of humanity. Shaking his head with chagrin, the police officer walked away with no more words for Ka Mao. The rally proceeded peacefully all throughout till midnight without any untoward incident happening – proving the Police Chief’s tolerance to be the wiser move really.
But for winning votes for Ka Mao, that must be disastrous. Disgruntled pedestrians, commuters, car and tricycle drivers, and even simple observing bystanders had a common reaction: “He’s not even mayor yet, but look…”
What did not immediately occur to Ka Mao was that that rally was a highpoint not of any design of his but of somebody else’s agenda.
Popoy Lagman was making good his defiance of the Sison Reaffirm and was making sure the NCR, which included Rizal, remained his turf, while expanding elsewhere through alliances with other rejectionists the country over. On the legal front, he organized the Sanlakas, a mass organization of his followers which served as base of the political party he formed, the Partido Manggagawa.
Now once Ka Mao was into serious run for the mayorship of Antipolo, as evidenced by his organization of the KBB which served as his machinery, a Popoy Lagman man talked to him, suggesting that he run for a lower post.
“I cannot be vice,” declared Ka Mao.
“It is not even vice that comrades want you to run for,” said the man, not realizing that he had gotten Ka Mao experiencing a bad temper. The idea of lowering himself to vice mayor candidacy was degrading enough for him, all the more did it rile him to be told to run even lower.
“What do they want?” Ka Mao asked, just to get the discussion going.
“Actually, just councilor,” said the Popoy man, making himself sound apologetic, realizing Ka Mao was getting piqued.
“Look,” Ka Mao flared up. “We’ve got loads of laws. We haven’t need for more. What we need is to implement those laws. That’s why I need executive power to implement those laws correctly.”
Next to meet Ka Mao was a high-profile business entrepreneur from Pasig who operated a nightclub-casino combine in Antipolo. He hosted a dinner in the club for Ka Mao and in that dinner were present the son of the incumbent mayor and a lady doctor whom Ka Mao was expecting to be his running mate. The lady had been very tentative about Ka Mao’s offer and asked for time to consider it.
“It’s hard to run without a machinery,” said the host. “But if you run for councilor, you can even be number one.”
“Mayor or nothing,” said Ka Mao. “Bet your bottom peso.”
The host smiled. It was the kind of smile one sees in the faces of ganglords smarting from having been challenged by an inferior opponent.
On the other hand, Ka Mao’s was not an empty boast. His political rallies were continuing to be hits with the crowd. And his campaign song, composed by the same guy who donated the sound system and other stage gadgets used in those rallies, was getting hordes and hordes of folks hooked, particularly children who broke into the tune wherever his campaign entourage pass. (Many years later, exactly the melody of that song would be the signature advertising song for a popular college assurance plan. Ka Mao felt grateful that somehow somebody had paid the composer the kind of money he had not been able to pay.)
Soon Ka Mao got inspired even more when one whole group claiming to be the provincial Party committee came forward, offering their services as Ka Mao’s campaign secretariat. Ka Mao grabbed the offer and then and there quartered the group in the house as he did many a party bigwig before them. One among them, Carlo, acted as the campaign manager. Ka Mao had no discussions whatsoever about compensation for the group’s services. He took the offer as absolute volunteerism, done on pure principles, not monetary or any material consideration. Though the group enjoyed, in addition to quartering, free food in the house, their daily mobilization expenses were funded from their budget as Party elements.
Before long, that Party machinery was calling all the shots in the campaign, relegating the previous volunteers in Ka Mao campaigns to actions in their specific localities. Ka Mao’s concern was now limited to scheduling rallies and other campaign sorties.
Into the next schoolyear within the campaign period, Ka Mao got a modest apartment in Baguio City where he moved all the kids for their schooling: Maoie, Paulo and Maripaz at the University of Baguio and Ogie at the St. Louis University. Ka Mao’s mother-in-law, Mama Sepa, looked after the kids, with Ka Mao and Betchay visiting them whenever free from the campaign activities.
One big problem Ka Mao never got to overcome was the problem of getting a running mate. As the deadline for filing certificates of candidacy was nearing, he got word that the lady doctor was withdrawing from her intention of running at all in the coming elections. All the while, the Party machinery had been impressing upon Ka Mao that the lady was completely subservient to their wishes and she would be his running mate. Now that she had finally backed out, Ka Mao was just desperate. Choosing a running mate is not an overnight job; it is worked over time and needs quite a long period of building goodwill and personal camaraderie with.
Only then did Ka Mao realize that choosing a running mate is the most expensive item cent for cent for an aspirant to mayorship. This is because the vice mayoral candidate must be such that his vote-getting power can carry the mayoral candidate, not vice versa. This was particularly true for Ka Mao, who was a complete neophyte in politics, with the following he was banking on having been only recently and hastily organized and could shatter instantly at the advances of seasoned politicians. What would a winnable vice mayoral candidate carry a novato running mate for if not some big material consideration – big money to be precise?
That’s one great shortcoming of Ka Mao. He did not have the money to buy a running mate.
And the lead time is too little.
Who could Ka Mao turn to in so short a time – and, too, just for the love of serving the people?
Ka Mao noticed that none of the secretariat could seem to care less. Carlo, as ever, was into shooting birds in the orchard with his air rifle.
It was Ka Mulong, the president of the Yupangco Textile Mills labor union who came up with an idea: a well-known lawyer and scion of a taal, meaning endemic, Antipolo family, and above all, a recognized sympathizer of the working class.
Ka Mao himself at once saw how attractive would be that chemistry: a famous film director, whose sexy stars promised that if he got elected as mayor, they would stand at the lobby of the municipal building to kiss every man that entered; and a brilliant lawyer sworn to carry out the pro-worker, pro-poor agenda of his mayor.
In his present dilemma, Ka Mao had the distinct advantage of having a popularity that made him welcome to any potential running mate. But he had, too, the distinct disadvantage of impressing upon potential running mates that he was rich and could afford their price. Ka Mao, by bourgeois political reckoning was poor. His guts in aspiring for the mayorship of Antipolo really stemmed from a pure desire to pursue on the legal front what the revolutionary armed struggle could no longer accomplish. If he succeeded in this endeavor, then that would blaze the trail for others similarly motivated to pursue in their own turfs, thereby making the proletarian revolution tread a new path for attaining socialism and communism the country over.
Believing that Ka Mulong had the moral ascendancy over the lawyer, he paid the prospect a visit early evening of that day the filing of certificate of candidacy would lapse, more specifically at midnight. It was a desperation visit in any case.
Ka Mulong vaguely put the matter to the lawyer, who entertained them in the living room of the house together with his wife. Though it might be already late in the day, still it was not too late for them to hurry to the Comelec office just two blocks away and file the certificate of candidacy for vice mayor a couple of hours to closing time.
Ka Mao had expected that after being briefed by Ka Mulong of the purpose of their vistt, the lawyer would give his reply: yes or no. And pronto, at that, for the hour was nearing. But the discussions meandered into various concerns: labor problems, land problems, squatters and squalor, sanitation, economics, corruption in government, etc. Once he realized it, the hour was half-past eleven.
Anyway, Ka Mao credited the lawyer’s wife for her exquisite gift of forbearance, sitting it out with the group, serving everyone coffee all the while, or otherwise contributing her piece in the talk.
Finally, one last glance at the wall clock told Ka Mao it was quarter to 12 midnight. Swallowing some lump in his throat, Ka Mao stretched his torso, thanked the lawyer for his insights, the wife for the coffee, and bidding the couple good night, he rose to go. No more mention whatsoever was made of the purpose of the visit which Ka Mulong had briefed the lawyer about. It was obvious that the lawyer was all the while waiting for Ka Mao to open up on what was supposed to be standard material considerations in such arrangements as pairing up for the two topmost posts in local elections. Logic would say the lawyer was expecting that matter from Ka Mao, otherwise did he bear sitting out there for three hours for nothing but hospitality in entertaining guests? But since Ka Mao had not opened up on that aspect to the very last quarter of the most crucial deadline, that look of frustration on the lawyer’s face was unavoidable. There was no need to talk about it anymore really. The walk from the house to the Comelec office would consume what little time was left and so the office would be just closing by the time they got there. The lawyer managed to smile vaguely as he gave Ka Mao a lame handshake before seeing him out with Ka Mulong through the door.
Inexperience. Amateurism. Whatever one might call it, what Ka Mao did could only be stupid. So that if eventually, Ka Mao lost the elections, he had it coming.
“I’m not blaming you guys,” Ka Mao told his listeners in a caucus organized by the secretariat in the aftermath of his defeat. “I’m blaming myself for the stupidity of listening to you.”
Indeed he listened when the secretariat came forward, offering their services in his campaign. He listened when they brought to him one mass leader after another who all had huge following among Antipolo’s poor thereby assuring him votes come election time. He listened when they made him believe the crowds in his rallies, in neighborhood caucuses, in teach-inss and discussion groups, were his forces determined to give him victory.
He finally believed he was going to win, what with that massive show of force the secretariat delivered in that May Day rally on MLQ Avenue, when that entire stretch was filled with defiant workers, a phenomenon hitherto unknown in the political history of Antipolo.
Ka Mao himself gaped unbelievingly at the throngs. With clenched fists raised in the air, they sang, as in the goodie ole days of the strike movement, the stirring strains of the “Internationale”.
“Are these my people?” Ka Mao asked himself. “Am I that strong? Oh, so very strong.”
The Sccretariat must be doing a splendid job. He had not been spending much really by way of ensuring such attendance in his rallies. One reason was that he believed the secretariat and the leaders it had organized did their jobs on the basis of principle, and on the same motivation throngs filled his rallies.
Another reason, and this was the overriding one, he really did not have that much money. He didn’t have posters, leaflets and similar campaign materials. He relied mainly on word-of-mouth dissemination of his campaign, which was done by his followers religiously everyday, house-to-house, man-to-man,
As the election time was approaching nearer, he resorted to soliciting help from personal friends and sympathizers, an effort that generated minimal result.
It was in that period that Ka Mao thought of seeing Popoy Lagman. He had had a good amount of familiarity with the robust-framed, curly-haired, bully-looking urban guerilla leader to believe he would merit fraternal reception by him.
During one period, Popoy had used the house for a week-long meet with a group that included Sonny Rivera, Renato Constantino, his wife Peng and the widow of a slain NPA head in the Visayas. At another time, he asked Ka Mao to intercede for him in getting a huddle with Robbie Tan over the labor concern in the latter’s wallet factory. And through Ka Charlie, he checked on the possibility of Ka Mao doing a fund-raising job for him as he did in the dollar transaction episode.
Ka Mao was not sold much on the idea, simply because it came from Popoy. Ka Mao wasn’t so sure yet about the validity of his anti-Reaffirm position as contained in his book titled Counterthesis. Ka Mao saw the book as nothing more than a menu for savoring liberal dashes of Lenin quotes. To Ka Mao, the correctness of an analysis of the Philippine revolutionary situation was best measured not according to theories proven true in some other past and alien social setting but by its present, precise and pragmatic perception of the concrete social conditions of the country.
Ka Mao was part of that meeting Popoy presided in in the house wherein he obviously intended to convince what had remained of the NPA general command to join his ranks in the confrontation with Sison. He discussed the salient points of his book. But as far as Ka Arman and Ka Ding were concerned, they wanted out of any belligerent relationship with Sison; evidently Ka Charlie was already in on the Popoy line.
In any case, Ka Mao had all reasons to expect Popoy would not fail him in his purpose for making that visit to the Sanlakas headquarters that day. He was encountering financial difficulties in his campaign and would Popoy lend him some fifty thousand pesos which he urgently needed, to be paid as soon as he got his next film assignment.
To Ka Mao’s surprise, Popoy betrayed that he was keeping abreast with the developments in his political fight. It finally dawned on Ka Mao that the people who had volunteered to be his machinery and had since then directed the compass of his political campaign were all Popoy’s men.
“Mao,” Popoy said bluntly. “After all you’re not going to win, let’s just sell your candidacy.”
It was sad enough that Popoy declined his request for loan. The sadder part of that visit was Popoy’s proposal for him to sell his candidacy.
“The gall,” Ka Mao cussed to himself as he walked out of the building on Shaw Boulevard in Pasig which housed the office of Sanlakas. “How dare he to say I won’t win. Just let him see the crowds at my rallies. And how could he sell a candidacy that was not his but mine?”
Then a month or so before election day, Ka Mao’s campaign seemed to lose all vigor. The usual large crowds in his rallies abruptly thinned and the daily flow of supporters to Ka Maa’s house completely stopped. The last to visit the house was a small guy who used to regularly drop by in the house in the morning, have breakfast and then go on a chore of house-to-house campaigning for Ka Mao.
After finishing his meager breakfast that last morning, the fellow said, “We cannot go on eating principle.”
Carlo and the secretariat did continue staying in the house, appearing to perform their jobs. But a close look would reveal that they were mainly busy doing Party political tasks.
Things indicated the fight had already been lost. Alarmed by the development, Ka Mao sat down just with Carlo one evening.
He asked, “Why the sudden slump in our campaign?”
“Your campaign had only been good for a councilor,” said Carlo in a manner reminiscent of the blunt advice Ka Mao got from Popoy Lagman that day he told him he will not win. “The most votes you will get is 2,000 or thereabout.”
Ka Mao gaped unbelievingly, asking himself: Where are those thousands upon thousands that had made his rallies the most crowded ever in the political history of Antipolo?
A week before the election, Ka Mao got the worst insult in the whole exercise: a letter from the incumbent mayor inviting him to join in the celebration of his victory. This was the same guy who practically moved hell just to get that May Day rally on MLQ Avenue dispersed. In the subsequent election, Ka Mao got measly 2000-plus votes – to the last digit, as Carlo put it a month before.
Long after the smoke of battle faded out, so speak, Ka Mao ultimately put two and two together. That MLQ Avenue May Day Rally was really not his. It was to Popoy as to a salesman the glossing over of his commodity to make it sellable – the commodity in this case being his expertise at running someone else’s political campaign. Marcos had another term for it: talk to the party-in-interest.
Who was the party-in-interest in Ka Mao’s political fight with the incumbent mayor in the election of 1995 was a question reducible to: Who told Ka Mao to sell his candidacy?
Anyway, it had already turned into an institution whereby a group of smooth operators in the electoral process push a poor man’s candidacy vigorously just to make their services sellable to the poor candidate’s rich opponent ultimately.
Two days before the election, Ka Mao managed to salvage a little newsprint for printing his sample ballots on. The printing of the sample ballots would be done on credit by Ka Mao’s printier friend, Malou. So Ka Mao was confident, he would have that last form of hand-out to voters on election day. The morning after the election, Ka Mao flared up like crazy upon discovering that the printed sample ballots had remained stacked in a sack that he found dumped among bushes by the driveway,
The evidence clearly pointed to a sabotage – indeed, a sellout of his candidacy.
Again, who proposed to sell it in the first place?
It was a good lesson though. And Ka Mao thought it not bad all, considering that he really did not spend much for that campaign. His political expenditures, as contained in his report to the Comelec, amounted to less than half a million pesos.
For learning the dirty tricks of elections, that was a fairly justified price. He would know better the next time around.
Indeed, Ka Mao would run again for the same post come next election, the general elections of 1998. He intended to correct the many mistakes he had committed in his first attempt thereby placing himself on a really winning position.
First of those mistakes, or so that was how Ka Mao saw it, was his running without a political party: KBB was not such a party and therefore was not entitled to any rights under the law, like the right to have election watchers. So he decided to join, not just a political party, but a political party in power, the LAKAS-NUCD (National Union of Christian Democrats) Party.
A newspaper editor who had Party roots and thus was friendly to Ka Mao introduced him to a petite fellow whose boasts belied his size or vice versa. This was Rolly Francia, who belonged to the Malacañang press corps. He facilitated Ka Mao’s entry into LAKAS.
For a start, he got Ka Mao invited to the affair at the Rembrandt Hotel held for proclaiming House Speaker Jose de Venecia as LAKAS standard bearer. His name was announced as among the distinguished guests on the occasion. Hearing his name, a lady evidently in the close circle of the Speaker gaped in surprise and seeing Ka Mao as he acknowledged the introduction, the lady threw her arms in joyful surprise.
“Mao!” exclaimed the lady as she went over to Ka Mao for a hug.
“Didi!” exclaimed Ka Mao in turn, giving her the hug.
Didi was the same indefatigable Secretary General of the KASAMA Party Group when Ka Mao first got into the CPP in 1971. It was under her watch that Ka Mao underwent the initial process for membership in the Party, the Basic Party Course. Once Ka Mao got through that course, he was appointed staff member of the Education Department (ED), which was headed by Didi’s husband, Rolly. It was after Didi and Rolly were taken out (“fired out” would be a harsh bourgeois term) of the group as disciplinary action for an offense, which had never been disclosed, that a revamp in the leadership of the Party Group took place. Ka Erning, who was Organization Department head, took over as Gensec, Ka Choleng, a true blue proletarian leader, took his place as OD head, while Ka Edwin, a scholarly-looking, bespectacled youthful mestizo, moved up from being ED staff member to ED head, with Ka Mao now joining Ka Openg as ED staff members.
Didi first surprised Ka Mao when he read in the news that she was appointed Immigration Bureau Chief in the cabinet of President Fidel V. Ramos. She occurred to Ka Mao as typifying those high-profile revolutionaries ending up top-level bureaucrats in the bourgeois dispensation. Coming face to face with her now, Ka Mao wondered if he was not into treading the same path she had gone into. In any case, it turned out Didi was overall Man Friday to Speaker De Venecia. That made Ka Mao conclude he was in good hands as far as getting into the good graces of LAKAS was concerned.
At the advent of 1997, Ka Mao began undoing what he considered his second big mistake in the election of 1995: his scrimping on election spending. He feted Speaker De Vencia with a two-thousand strong gathering attended by top leaders and members of mass organizations in Antipolo at the plush Jamesville Resort in the town. The resort was owned by Angelito C. Gatlabayan, the guy who was then yet unknown in Antipolo politics but who much later in the election period would surface as Ka Mao’s strongest opponent for the post.
That time being not yet into the period allowed by law for election campaigns, the gathering was passed on as the launching of a cooperative-building movement to be spread by Ka Mao all over Antipolo. On the occasion, Speaker De Venecia was guest of honor. Since the speaker had to come to the affair direct from an engagement in Davao, he flew in aboard his private helicopter and Betchay fetched him from the landing site with the family’s newly-acquired Mitsubishi van, which she drove.
The event had all the trimmings fit for a presidential aspirant. Two lovely actresses of Ka Mao, Rosita Rosal and Sabrina M, lent glamour, which appeared to sit quite well with the speaker, let alone the crowd all susceptible to showbiz attraction.
There, too, was the media, led by Loren Banag, who would front-page it in his tabloid, Bagong Tiktik the following day.
To Ka Mao’s surprise, former Congressman Manny Sanchez suddenly appeared with a few companions who were aspiring for elective positions in Antipolo’s neighbor town Angono. Ka Mao just didn’t relish the group’s appearance.
True, it was with Sanchez that Ka Mao had arranged for De Venecia’s attendance as guest of honor. But nothing had been said about him and his group being themselves guests as well. So while good manners dictated on Ka Mao not to be rude on the group and did not object when they sat with the guests onstage, he did not give them any part in the program.
What’s more, Ka Mao sensed that Sanchez seemed to be impressing upon the Speaker that the affair was his handiwork, so lest the former solon was into some shenanigans, like asking the speaker for monetary consideration for expenses incurred for the occasion, Ka Mao saw to it that in his introductory speech for Speaker De Venecia, he pointed out that “the affair was a labor of love.” He meant clearly he was not charging the speaker any cent for it.
For, indeed, Ka Mao shouldered all by himself the expenses for the event, which amounted to a quarter of a million pesos.
Ka Mao observed that the statement did not please both Sanchez and Didi. And Speaker De Venecia appeared surprised.
Anyway Speaker De Venecia proceeded to enthrall the audience with his tale of a pitiable father who had a family to feed but who could not find a job, and so he came to him one day, looking frail and hungry, and asked for help in finding one, and he got the father hired as a construction worker in Saudi Arabia. The speaker told the crowd that he was the originator of the idea of overseas employment for jobless Filipinos. That got him a good applause. Then going on with his tale, the Speaker related that after a time, the man came to him again, no longer looking hungry but healthy and vigorous, saying he was on vacation to join his family for the holidays, and he came to thank him for having helped him find a job, and with that thank you the man presented him a basketful of cashew and mango - for he was from Antipolo.
That was the catch. And that got the crowd swooning, “Oh!”, while breaking in a resounding applause.
After the speech, Sanchez took the initiative of calling the photo op, with him and Ka Mao raising arms with the Speaker, as everybody else on stage did the same with them.
“Let this be your baptism of fire,” Sanchez told Ka Mao.
“Be careful about this,” admonished the Speaker. “Let’s not make it appear as a Party proclamation already.”
That pose found print the following day on a number of tabloids plus a small slot on the Manila Bulletin, thanks to his kumpare Diego Cagahastian. Ka Mao was quite satisfied.
“Proclamation or no proclamation, serves the same purpose,” Ka Mao told himself. He felt he was now the LAKAS boy in Antipolo.
Actually, the Jamesville Resort affair was a negative one for purposes of getting himself officially proclaimed as LAKAS mayoralty candidate in the town. The top LAKAS Man in Antipolo was Vic Sumulong, who was not on good terms with Manny Sanchez, whom Vic’s uncle, Komong Sumulong, had successfully unseated from Congress for being an American national. As far as Sanchez was concerned, inviting Vic to the Jamesville Resort affair was out of the question. Having been thus snubbed, Vic must rage from the slight, a reaction that went true, too, toward Ka Mao.
Without him realizing it, Ka Mao was getting into ill terms with Vic Sumulong. Until that time, he remained ignorant of the finer points of politics, neglecting, for instance, that protocol alone should have prompted him to defer first to Vic, who was the LAKAS chairman for Rizal. So he should have taken pains to invite him to the affair at Jamesville Resort.
Speaker De Venecia subtly indicated this fault to Ka Mao one time he dropped by his office at the Batasang Pambansa.
“You should support Vic so Vic would support you,” said Speaker De Venecia, indicating his full sympathy for Ka Mao.
Following De Venecia’s advice, Ka Mao saw Vic Sumulong one morning in his residence in his sprawling farm on the outskirts of the Antipolo town proper.
Indicating no animosity whatsoever toward Ka Mao, the declared aspirant for congressman of the lone district of Antipolo sat with Ka Mao at the sala and had coffee with him.
“Actually this is Sanchez’s fault,” said the soft spoken Vic after Ka Mao had opened the topic of his LAKAS candidacy. “He is meddling in this matter.”
“I’m sorry,” Ka Mao said, “but honestly, I didn’t know I had to talk to you. It was Didi Domingto who advised me to arrange that Jamesville affair with Manny Sanchez.”
“The party has rules,” Vic explained. “The equity of the incumbent makes the highest incumbent municipal official from the party as the party chairman. The party municipal chairman has the prerogative to be official LAKAS candidate for mayor.?
“Who is the party chairman?” asked Ka Mao.
“Councilor Esting Gatlabayan.”
“Is he running for mayor?”
“He is sticking to councilor?”
“Then there’s no hindrance for me,” said Ka Mao, betraying a feeling of relief.
Vic took a little while eyeing Ka Mao studiously. Then he answered.
“Councilor Esting is the chairman. It’s his say.”
Ka Mao felt sagging inside. He got the message. Vic just didn’t like him. He was not in his league. Before that he had one occasion on which he and Vic got invited together as guests in a political rally organized by a couple who happened to be Ka Mao’s provincemates. Vic minded more the star he had brought along, Ramona Rivilla, but hardly him. Then came that interview he, Danny Tan and Lito Gatlabayan had with a panel of media reporters on cable television.
Ka Mao sat between the two, prompting him to comment when asked how he felt contending against two economic giants on the rise: “I feel like Jesus Christ while he was nailed on the cross.”
Danny, the better-witted of the other two candidates, immediately got the aside and gave Ka Mao a friendly punch on the arm, laughing as he volunteered the line: “Between two thieves! Naughty you.”
But the truly relevant question was, do they think cheating will be a factor in the coming elections. Danny and Lito agreed that generally cheating figured in all elections. Ka Mao dissented.
“Not in Antipolo,” he firmly declared. “If cheating had been going on in the town’s elections, how come the Sumulongs keep losing?”
The implication was that the Sumulongs were the ones capable of cheating in elections, but since they have been losing, then cheating had not been taking place in Antipolo elections. But the graver implication was simply that the Sumulongs were cheats, period.
Ka Mao was referring to the losses suffered by Komong Sumulong in his congressional tiff with Manny Sanchez, Myrna Hallare, a Sumulong, against Daniel Garcia in the last mayoral elections, and King Sumulong’s failed bid for the Chairmanship of Barangay de la Paz.
A close aide of Vic would confide to Ka Mao during a chance meeting much much later that that pronouncement of Ka Mao really got Vic so mad. It was a matter of course that when Ka Mao attended the caucus Vic called among LAKAS members after that cable television interview, he would be getting the flak from Vic.
“To those pretending to be mayor, what right have you?”
At any rate, Ka Mao persevered in his bid. Rolly Francia held on to him, or so it seemed, with his consistent assurance that he, Ka Mao, was near the kitchen and so was sure of abundant food. Rolly meant Malacañang. And Ka Mao believed.
Indeed, the group he belonged in, the Malacañang Press Corps, was on an elbow-rubbing closeness with President Ramos. So while he was increasisngly getting snubbed by Vic Sumulong, Ka Mao was increasingly as well getting enamored by the Malacañang press. He felt extremely privileged when the Malacañang press corps invited him to its Christmas party 1997 in which his presence was announced second to President Ramos and ahead of Congressman Teves and the other guests in the event. To that party Ka Mao brought pretty, seductive actress Gem Castillo whom President Ramos found so irresistible that at her introduction to him and she moved for the customary beso-beso he unabashedly kissed her, his lips smack on her cheek like a snail’s tusks. A Philippine Star photographer captured that precise moment of a presidential passion and was a smash hit when featured prominently in the center of the newspaper’s front page the following morning. No mention though was made that that moment was courtesy of Ka Mao, but a picture of him and President Ramos doing the thumbs-up sign saw print, too, in another leading newspaper, appropriately captioned as taken in the same event Ka Mao thought that was a good splurge in his favor after all. Rarely did an ordinary mayoral candidate get such a lavish attention from the highest official of the land.
True enough, Antipolo politicians were tending to salaam to Ka Mao as a result of the publicity on the Malacañang affair. Councilors saluted him one Monday he dropped by the municipal quadrangle to attend the flag ceremony. They knew no ordinary politicians could get that kind of photo op with President Ramos – or with any president for that matter.
In fact, President Ramos had agreed to that thumbs-up photo upon intercession by the President of the Malacañsng Press Corps and Bobby Dacer, a very close friend of President Ramos. Rolly, typical of a smooth operator, kept to the sidelines during the entire evening making sure only that Ka Mao fulfilled his promise of giving Christmas presents to the press people, which Ka Mao did by issuing five-thousand-peso checks to those concerned.
And when Vic Sumulong organized an event in which President Ramos would proclaim the hitherto watershed area of Boso-Boso as finally alienable and disposable, Ka Mao made sure he made his own show by conducting right across the street from the proclamation event a medical-dental mission, announcing in a large streamer the occasion as a project of the FVR-MGS (Friends and Volunteers for Maximum Government Service – a ride-on for “Fidel V. Ramos-Mauro Gia Samonte”.
At the turn from the Marcos Highway to Boso-Boso which President Ramos must take in coming to the Vic Sumulong event, Ka Mao made sure he hung his own welcoming streamer for the president. And as soon as President Ramos stepped out of the presidential car, Ka Mao walked up to him first and led him by the shoulders toward the program site while pointing to him the ongoing medical-dental mission.
“That’s a project of the FVR-MGS, Sir.”
“FVR-MGS?” asked the President.
“Friends and Volunteers for Reform and Maximum Government Service.” Ka Mao answered.
President Ramos was amused.
“Keep it up,” he told Ka Mao.
Presidential Security Commander Calimlim, who had become familiar with Ka Mao at the Malacañang Christmas party, found no alarm in Ka Mao’s hugging the president by the shoulders as they walked but he saw the inappropriateness, if not the disrespect, of it to the president’s person, and very discreetly he tapped Ka Mao’s arm that was on the president’s shoulders and gave Ka Mao an eye signal for him to let go of the president’s shoulder. Ka Mao understood the signal and let go of the president as Vic - who had only been keeping a distance from the president, evidently deferring to protocol – finally led him to the stage.
Ka Mao tarried on the ground, waiting for anybody to invite him to come up the stage.With no such invitation coming, Ka Mao stayed with the audience and from there followed the proceedings in the program. He knew Vic would never do such invitation, but he had hoped the president would, and once he did, Ka Mao would have leaped at the opportunity. But as it became very evident that no such invitation would be forthcoming anymore, Ka Mao finally realized how stupid he must have been in doing all that posturing.
Ka Mao stayed at the sidelines when President Ramos walked down the stage after the ceremonies and proceeded to the presidential car. He wondered if the president would still think about him at all. Not a bit, he realized, as the presidential entourage went off.
Into the official onset of the campaign period for the 1998 elections, the LAKAS-NUCD was openly carrying the candidacy of Lito Gatlabayan.
During one caucus called by a subdivision dwellers association, Danny Tan was rather surprised to see Ka Mao still on in the fight.
“Are you pushing on?” he asked.
“To the very end,” Ka Mao declared.
Danny could not help that trace of derision in his smile, something people normally regard foolish people with. At the same time his eyes betrayed amazement at the grit on Ka Mao’s face, depicting an intense resolve to push the fight on no matter what.
“In fact,” Ka Mao continued, “for your information, I have taken over the basketball tournament you had organized but had abandoned in Barangay Sta. Cruz. Don’t I deserve a thank you for that from you.”
Danny laughed and tapped Ka Mao on the shoulder, saying, “Thank you.”
KA MAO forged on in his campaign trails, mainly in the alleys of squatters communities and among hills people who had formed settlements in disparate slopes of Sierra Madre. As to the town proper and other urbanized sections, he realized it was futile exercise to bother about them for the time being. As a store owner pointedly told him, “Don’t waste your time campaigning here. There’s no vote you can get.” Ka Mao envisioned a scenario whereby having solidified his hold on the poor folks, he would use the forces so organized to launch a mammoth rally at a critical period before the election which would create a bandwagon for the throngs of undecided voters to finally ride on.
It inspired Ka Mao no end that groups of his believers would on their own go into sorties in settlements that could only be reached by foot and would take days to fully cover. In which case, they would need to bring provisions, like food and packs of clothing. The mountain folks were a most hospitable lot in any case and they would gladly share with Ka Mao’s campaigners what little provisions they had in their abodes.
Every now and then, Ka Mao would find time to accompany his volunteers in those sorties, and himself experiencing the difficulties his supporters suffered, he grew even more and more determined to carry the fight through to the end.
Ka Mao undertook two major steps in this period.
One, seeing finally that the LAKAS accommodation of him was all for show, he joined the Aksyon Demokraticko, the political party of Senator Raul Rocco, who was running for president under the slogan: “The most qualified candidate.”
Ka Mao sincerely believed the slogan, but this was not the interesting point in his joining Aksyon now. Back in 1996, he and senator Roco were squaring off on television and in print over the senator’s criticism of Ka Mao’s film, “Halimuyak ng Babae”, which he found to be derogatory to Bicolanas. In the Kris Aquino-hosted program, “Startalk,” on Channel 7, Ka Mao got back at the senator for his attack against his movie.
“The problem with the senator is that he sees one black dot on a white wall and he calls the whole wall black. That element about a girl being made the prize in a rodeo game was just a small part of the story. And that story develops. How the story develops is what the senator should see in my movie. But no, he calls the whole movie bad, an insult to Bicolano women. I am a Bicolano myself. Why would I destroy my own people?”
At Kris Aquino’s questioning, Senator Rocco admitted he had not seen the movie and had only been told about it by his men. That got Ka Mao wondering if this noise Senator Roco was doing now was not part of a grand publicity stunt to start projecting a hero image for him. As early as then, talks in the grapevine were rife that he would be running for president come 1998.
The naughty Kris dangled a bait for Ka Mao after he said, “I thank the senator for making me in league with senators.”
“Did you vote for him?” Kris asked. A positive answer from Ka Mao would have the effect of shattering his credibility in what was turning out to be a brilliant stand against the senator.
“No,” came Ka Mao’s curt resort.
Kris betrayed the feeling of having been personally repulsed. The glint in her eyes indicated she was quick to find a follow-up bait.
“Will you vote for him now?” asked Kris.
Still refusing to bite, Ka Mao asked in turn, “For what? For president?”
Ka Mao would have added, “I will vote for him if he made me his running mate.” That was what television talk shows wanted in Ka Mao, his short, witty repartees. But that last answer he made already got the audience laughing. Ka Mao did not find it necessary to add some more.
Now Ka Mao amused to himself as he signed the application papers for membership in the Aksyon Demokratiko Party. That unworded answer would have been prophetic. Ka Mao was now running mate of Senator Roco – on the municipal level.
In any case, Ka Mao lived up to a Marcos dictum: “In politics, there are no permanent enemies. There are only temporary allies.”
The second major step Ka Mao undertook was his seeking support from the Iglesia ni Kristo (INC). This, again, was a reversal of a previous stand Ka Mao had taken.
In the elections of 1995, Ka Mao steadfastly held on to his resolve never to ask the INC for support of his candidacy. He just detested the very idea of churches involving in elections in order to determine their outcome. He believed churches were meant to attend to the spiritual concerns of people.
By involving themselves in politics, were not churches responsible, too, for the corruption the elected officials would eventually feast on in the government? Ka Mao had asked this question and found himself answering: “Yes.”
But the imperatives of winning was foremost now in Ka Mao’s mind. And as he saw it in Rizal, the INC had consistently decided the question of winnability in election. He was determined to go for it this time.
Now, during this period Ka Mao got acquainted with a guy named Cris, a huge fellow who if you put on him the proper costume would be a perfect image of Santa Claus, albeit dark skinned. His expertise was to have lands titled, and with the Party debacle in 1991 crystallizing to Ka Mao the urgent need of having his land titled at long last, he got the guy’s services. Cris happened to be a member of INC, an influential one at that. He presented Ka Mao to Ka Art who pronto got Ka Mao attended to in his desire to get the church’s endorsement of his candidacy.
Soon Ka Mao was getting enthused by word going around that he was the INC candidate for mayor of Antipolo. That Ka Mao had indeed gotten into the good graces of the church was attested to by various occasions on which INC members confided to Ka Mao that they had been consulted by their pastors about Ka Mao’s candidacy.
Somebody who had the surname Samonte told Ka Mao that she admitted to her pastor thus, “True, Samonte is a relative. But the church has the say.”
But as what happened in 1995, into the last two months of the campaign period, Ka Mao’s resources were dwindling. His former comrades in the KASAMA Party Group did make some effort to raise money for his campaign with little success.
Ka Mao got summoned by the businessman whom Ka Art had assigned to attend to Ka Mao’s concerns. The businessman, evidently a top man in the INC hierarchy, received Ka Mao in the garden of his house. He laid it down squarely to Ka Mao.
“You are not doing good in our survey.”
“I realize that,” said Ka Mao. “Surveys are done in areas where my campaign has been minimal. I am strong among mountain folks who are not Iglesia.”
“Anyway, we feel we had better do something,” said the businessman.
“Yes?” said Ka Mao. “What can we do?”
“We gather that you’ve got a land.”
“Oh, the land. Yes, What about it?”
“Are you not planning to donate part of that?”
“Donate?” asked Ka Mao. “To whom?”
The businessman kept silent. He just gave a probing stare to Ka Mao, who could not make it out.
Finally, slightly sighing, the businessman said as he abruptly showed Ka Mao out through the gate, “We’ll find out.”
Find out what? Where? When? How? Nothing was spoken about anything anymore after that.
Ka Mao ultimately went through the routine of queuing up for the blessing of INC that day at the church offices in Tatay, Rizal. But he realized even then that it was a futile exercise. Nothing concrete had materialized about the land the businessman had expressed interest on.
With the Iglesia being out of the question now, Ka Mao expected the worst. Aksyon Demokratiko had not been much help, perhaps as it had not been much help to Senator Roco, who lost his presidential bid to Joseph Estrada.
When his watchers started bringing in the results of the counting and clearly indicated a sure trend toward defeat, Ka Mao did not bother anymore about how he finally figured in the race. You lose small, you lose big, you lose just the same, he told himself.
And so all told, Ka Mao lost again.
But there was this big difference. In this Ka Mao’s second losing, he realized that all along, he had been fighting it the wrong way. He fought it wrongly when he organized the Makabayan Pulblishing workers union and thereafter launched the KAMAO strike. He fought it wrongly when he immersed himself completely into the national democratic revolution and contributed whatever he could for what he thought was the liberation of the working class – from that active participation in the workers strike movement, to his self-initiative organizing of BRASO after being abandoned by the KASAMA Party Group, to his re-integration with the Party and his performance of tasks as intelligence officer of the NPA. He fought it wrongly when he made his own adjustment of the struggle by engaging in bourgeois politics for the continued promotion of the liberation of the proletariat.
In all those fights, Ka Mao realized now, he was not fighting for himself. He was fighting for the advancement of interests of other people.
A question stared Ka Mao in the face. Would he have succeeded had all those fights he had made had been fights for his own selfish interests?
He would not have organized the KAMAO in the first place, not have joined the revolution, could have just concentrated on building a future on the fruits of a lucrative film career when the opportunity came, and if he did want to be mayor of Antipolo, he would have agreed to the proposal to start running as a councilor first, which had been the common pattern for all successful mayoralty aspirants.
But Ka Mao would not engage in any hypothetical argumentation. What did not happen could never be proven. For him, the fact was that he fought not for himself but for others and lost.
And that was food for thought enough in whatever fights he would still embark on from hereon.
KA JUN played the piano on and on that afternoon. It was like he was pouring out all his joys as well as all his aches in it. It looked as though he was playing it for the last time – as indeed it was the last time he played that piano – and so he must play it on until eternity.
“Are we then just to sit back while Sison tears the Party?”
“Let’s hope we can just talk things over,” Ka Jun said.
Quite intriguingly, Ka Jun was not going the way of his colleagues in the leadership of the revolution. After another period of incarceration resultting from his capture in 1996, he was released from prison, enjoying a clean slate from the government. He proceeded to put up a security agency by way of pursuing legal livelihood.
By the time Ka Mao was campaigning for the 1998 elections, Ka Jun was sworn into the LAKAS Party by House Speaker Jose de Venecia. Ka Mao welcomed the development. He thought Ka Jun could help in his candidacy.
But Ka Charlie took it otherwise. In a talk with Ka Mao, he expressed his disgust at Ka Ka Jun’s action..
“Tell him, he is a sonnavabitch,” said Ka Charlie of Ka Jun.
It deeply saddened Ka Mao. Here were comrades, steeled and virtually welded to each other in the practical struggle of the proletariat and doubtlessly steeped in the spirit of serving the people, but now coming at odds with each other all for differing on a question of tactics.
For all we know, Ka Mao argued to himself, Ka Jun was accommodating himself into the enemy as dictated by the new dispensation. Sun Tzu said after all, “Let your plans be as dark as the night and impenetrable, and once you move strike like sudden thunder.”
Between the NPA and Ka Jun’s security agency, the only difference was that the former was shouting out loud “Down with imperialism!” while the latter was keeping quiet about it. But other than this, both groups were armed, and to Ka Mao this was all that mattered under the concrete condition of the times. As Ka Mao had opined to Ka Jun back in 1989, the tactics for the revolution should be for frustrating the bouregeois elections of 1992, for if it took place that would consolidate the otherwise shaky bourgeois political power under the Cory government.
But Reaffirm, by shattering the mechanism already in place for crushing the Cory government, effectively set the stage for precisely such consolidation of bourgeois political power. Fidel V. Ramos was elected president in the 1992 elections, and since then the bourgeoisie got stronger and stronger to continuously lord it over Philippine society.
In inverse proportion, the revolution plummeted down irretrievably. What particulary horrified Ka Mao was the fact that revolutionary leaders who were able to maintain armies of their own fell one after another – not from government bullets but from bullets of assassination squads sent out by the Reaffirm sovereign. Who fell from Sison’s bullets? Popoy Lagman already did. Rolando Kintanar (Ka Jun) would soon follow and Arturo Tabara next. These were. leaders who had arms to effectively combat the government at the right time. Ka Charlie, though himself staunchly rejecting the Reaffirm, was spared his life. He didn’t have the guns. He died of a liver ailment.
So Ka Mao found himself struck by the terrifying question: “Who, then, in the guise of standing by the principles of “Marxism, Leninism and Mao Tse Tung Thought”, was Sison serving?”
Not the people but their enemies! Ka Mao raged inside.
FOR KA JUN, talking things over with Sison came about on January 23, 2003. He was having a business lunch with someone at a Japanese restaurant in the Quezon City Circle when he spotted the advance of a gunman obviously intending to shoot him in front. He quickly drew his .45 and could have beaten that assailant to the fire but that another gunman firing from behind got him first with a slug to his body. He threw at the bullet impact, releasing his gun to the floor. Even so he struggled to reach for the gun, but this time around the gunman in front rushed forward and finished him off.
Diego Cagahastian, who must have had fraternal relations with the NPA chief, was the very first to lay a wreath beside the coffin of Ka Jun as it was put in place in a chapel of the Loyola Memorial Homes on Araneta Avenue in Quezon City; the wreath from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo only came in second.
Ka Mao completely forgot about sending a wreath of his own; he didn’t have the habit. It was a deep sense of loss that Ka Mao found himself being torn apart with upon being informed by Ka Ding that Ka Jun had been shot dead.
Ka Jun to Ka Mao had not been the NPA Chief. Not the revolutionary icon that people would make of him. Nor any of his heroic attributes which comrades would bask in by way of sharing in his glory.
To Ka Mao, Ka Jun was a dear friend. The occasions had not been too many when he needed support from him, but whenever he needed him most, he was there to lend a hand.
That time, for instance, when the Weinstein Piano representative came threatening to pull out the piano due to unpaid bills, he relayed to Ka Jun through Ka Charlie his need for financial -help, and right away came his instruction to Ka Charlie: Please help. Another instance was when after Henry Sy killed the movie industry and Ka Mao was having a hard time earning income, Ka Jun on his own got him appointed as a TESDA Testing Officer for Overseas Performing Artists; Ka Jun was then Consultant to TESDA Director General Fr. Ed de la Torre. Still another instance was when Ka Pete was demanding from Ka Mao payment for a debt and Ka Mao did not have the money to pay, Ka Jun told Ka Pete: “I guarantee you Ka Mao will pay.” Ka Pete never bothered Ka Mao about the matter since then – nor did Ka Mao pay him any money at all. Ka Jun had redeemed Ka Mao from his debt.
Ka Mao remembered the movie “Schindler’s List”. It was about a German officer during World War II who was redeeming prisoner Jews with his money until he was left with no more cash to continue his act of redemption. So he began parting with his material possessions in order to continue buying the freedom of the Jews.
Ka Mao likened Ka Jun to that German officer one time he had an urgent need for financial help and Ka Jun just didn’t have the money to give. “You can have my guns,” Ka Jun offered, It was not important that Ka Mao had the heart to decline the offer and sought financing elsewhere. What was important was that Ka Jun was willing to do a Schindler, as in the song The Impossible Dream: “to be willing to give when there’s no more to give.”
At the necrological services for Ka Jun, Ka Mao was asked to speak. But what would he tell the crowd? The untold anecdotes that proved the rebel to be so human after all? Like that time the KTKS was meeting in the house and Ka Mao had allowed Seiko Films to have shooting in the place so it would serve as alibi for the flow of underground elements into the place. Ka Jun looked out of the window of the meeting room and gaped upon Cesar Montano and Gabby Conception urinating against the wall just below. Ka Jun snickered like a tot and told it to the other KTKS members. Or could Ka Mao have spoken about that moment the sexy bomb shell Rachelle (Z Boom) Lobangco went up to use the comfort room on the second floor? Ka Jun sat on the sofa in the family room to gaze much like a smitten young man as the actress went out of the comfort room. Ka Jun exchanged smiles with Z Boom, who eyed him teasingly even as she proceeded downstairs. For fear of compromising the security of the rebel guests, Ka Mao refrained from introducing the two, though he sensed that Ka Jun would have loved it. He must be missing his wife, Joy, immensely.
Too many things about Ka Jun were better left unspoken. But Ka Mao would have told those things had he opted to talk in the ceremonies. So quite politely, he declined the invitation of the emcee for him to come forward and speak.
Ka Arman filled in the slot of the next speaker. Ka Mao did not follow much what Ka Arman was saying because what he was following was the flow of his own thoughts of Ka Jun. From the time Kumander Bilog brought him to the house together with elements of the NPA General Command, the person of Ka Jun had unfolded to Ka Mao in bits and pieces, like a painted portrait which you don’t complete in just one sitting but over time and done in exquisite touches so that you don’t miss out on any detail of the subject’s features.
Ka Jun was human, much so human that he always gave first place to the other fellow in every respect. One time he and a few comrades met in the house on short notice to Ka Mao, Betchay had no time cooking much food for lunch. Ka Jun took just a little of what had been prepared so there would be enough for the others.
Ka Jun did not have the air and flamboyance as are characteristics of persons in authority but rather the calm and magnanimity of a leader ever condescending to his comrades. While Ka Charlie rather chidingly reacted to Ka Mao’s idea of striking up an alliance with Marcos in the crisis of 1986, Ka Jun gave it a serious thought. And when told by Ka Mao of Kumander Dante’s assertion of leadership of the NPA upon his release by Cory, Ka Jun did not take it with belligerence but with cool expression of dissent: “From what I know, we are (the current leaders).
For all his seeming lack of intellectual braggadocio, Ka Jun was a broadminded guy. One time he took Ka Mao on a trip to Cubao to see what was supposed to be a big rally. Ka Mao saw the crowd marching as too neglible: “You cannot even count 5O of the rallyists.” Ka Jun countered: “Be considerate. Count also those on the sidewalks.” That made Ka Mao feel like the frog caught in a well in a Chinese parable which said: “The sky is as big as the mouth of the well.” Ka Jun would have told the frog: “Look beyond the mouth of the well. That’s one whole grand immeasurable sky.”
As he was that considerate to comrades, so was Ka Jun to the revolution at large. Though he might recognize its shortcomings, he had absolute faith that it would overcome. When in 1989 Ka Mao proposed to him the idea of frustrating the next presidential election in order to prevent the bourgeoisie from consolidating, Ka Jun asserted: “We shall have won by then.” And one time he told comrades to buy land on a 25-years-to-pay basis, for since the revolution would be winning in a short while, they would then be owning the lots for a pittance.
Ka Jun was a most gentle guy. One morning, Ka Mao awoke to find his little daughter Maripaz cuddling up to Ka Jun in sleep in bed. Obviously, the girl had fallen to sleep while telling stories with him the night before. How it touched Ka Mao to see Ka Jun hugging Maripaz gingerly, much like a hen sheltering its chick.
Ka Jun must be missing his own kids, Ka Mao told himself then. For a period indeed, Ka Jun had his son Mark stay in Ka Mao’s house so he could steal moments of togetherness with the boy.
How could anybody have the heart to slay such a gentle comrade? Ka Mao ached inside him. Ka Jun was for maintaining the unity of the Party. If he refused to combat the Sison maneuver in the Reaffirm, it was for the sole purpose of not tearing the Party.
“We’re not small,” he told Ka Mao. “We’re big.”
He meant he had the numbers to contend with those of Sison. But as he realized any such confrontation would be very bloody, as what happened between the Magpantays and the Tiamzons in Central Luzon, he chose the wise course of consultation.
Now Ka Mao thought, just Ka Jun’s luck that Sison chose not to be wise.
One afternoon, Ka Tex, the diminutive Armed City Partisan (ACP) combatant credited with the assassination of JUSMAG Commander Col. James Rowe, came to the house to give Ka Mao a warning: “Please tell RK (Ka Jun) that I won’t ever do the job of killing him.” The implication was that orders were out to get Ka Jun and that Ka Tex, being the top Party hit man expected to do the job, felt he might be the target of any preemptive action from Ka Jun.
In the necrological services, Ka Arman was ending his talk when Ka Mao began tracing in his mind the notes of a melody inspired in him by Ka Jun. Here was a man, Ka Mao told himself when he began composing the song, not wanting in the comforts of life, hailing as he did from one of the rich clans of Cebu, yet forsaking wealth and affluence in order to take up the supreme challenge of serving the people:
Reach for the apex of great proletarian service
Rise up in arms and ever without fear struggle
The rights and liberties of massive oppressed classes
Foreign oppressors crush with force savage and ruthless
There’s nothing whatsoever that is had by the people
If they’ve got neither you nor me
A dedicated, faithful, steeped in struggle, fighting, serving
New People’s Army
Imperialism, bring it down
Feudalism, bring it down
Bureaucrat capitalism and all else that impede socialism
Bring them down!
My life gladly I’d sacrifice
On altar of the people’s war
If victory indeed is prize
Then death to me is Heaven’s wise
Reach for the optimum of proletarian service
Hold on to arms and with resolve swear to defend
The gains the people won in so dear their struggle
No exploiters shall by their greed take ‘way again
The aim of social growth and final class liberation
Pushed on and on until
Reached is the peak of socialism
Our most cherished dream
Rise up in arms and ever without fear struggle
The rights and liberties of massive oppressed classes
Foreign oppressors crush with force savage and ruthless
There’s nothing whatsoever that is had by the people
If they’ve got neither you nor me
A dedicated, faithful, steeped in struggle, fighting, serving
New People’s Army
Imperialism, bring it down
Feudalism, bring it down
Bureaucrat capitalism and all else that impede socialism
Bring them down!
My life gladly I’d sacrifice
On altar of the people’s war
If victory indeed is prize
Then death to me is Heaven’s wise
Reach for the optimum of proletarian service
Hold on to arms and with resolve swear to defend
The gains the people won in so dear their struggle
No exploiters shall by their greed take ‘way again
The aim of social growth and final class liberation
Pushed on and on until
Reached is the peak of socialism
Our most cherished dream
THE YEAR Ka Jun was shot dead was also the year one Imelda Rivera had made good her obstinate determination to get Ka Mao and his family out of their property. That was the year she won the ejectment case which she filed against Ka Mao back in 2001. A very astute woman with an astounding capacity to weave lies, she caused, through bastardization of legal processes, the issuance of a title in her name over the property and then used that title to institute ejectment proceedings against Ka Mao for forcible entry.
Ka Mao’s house was somewhere around the middle of the more or less 5,000-square- meter lot. Obviously, Rivera believed that by ejecting Ka Mao from his position on the lot, she would be ejecting him from the entirety of the land. So she had the lot subdivided into three, each of the three perpendicular to Sumulong Highway. It was from the middle lot that she was ejecting Ka Mao. This way, she expected to take possessession of the two other lots on which there was no house of Ka Mao, without having to wait for the ejectment case to be resolved.
But Ka Mao had papers in his possession proving his occupation of the entire lot, not just the middle part of it. And he proceeded to successfully repel all efforts of Rivera to occupy the other two lots early on.
Moreover, those papers proved Ka Mao had been occupying the property in the concept of an owner since way before the First Quarter Storm and so Rivera’s forcible entry charge against him would not prosper. As first judge-on-the-case Rosa Samson-Tatad put it: “The issue is whether or not the plaintiff had the right to eject defendant for forcible entry.”
To Ka Mao’s misfortune, Judge Samson-Tatad was just a temporary judge on the case and when she was replaced with a permanent one, the judge who took over, Judge Antonio Olivete, proved to be a most unscrupulous one who upon Rivera’s machination and in complete violation of due process unilaterally changed the designation of the case from “For forcible entry” to “For unlawful detainer”. Under this changed designation, the judge made it appear that Ka Mao was in occupation of the property by virtue of Rivera’s tolerance, thus giving her the right to eject Ka Mao and his family. That’s what the law says.
Ka Mao appealed the decision and it was assigned to the sala of Judge Francisco Querubin, who eventually upheld Olivete’s decision, ultimately issuing an order for the demolition of Ka Mao’s house.
Ka Mao stood pat on his position that there had been no showing at all that Rivera’s title pertained to his property. And so after a series of judicial notices for the implementation of the demolition order, he defiantly faced up to Deputy Sheriff Rolando Leyva.
“No, you cannot implement that order in my property,” said Ka Mao to the short, physically unimpressive fellow whose guts to enforce a legal order seemed to derive more from his coterie of goons and bullies than from a conviction on the righteousness of his action.
“This is a court order,” said the sheriff.
“Yes, and I’m not questioning that,” countered Ka Mao. “What I am questioning is your wrongful implementation of that order.”
“ The order says demolish your house,” insisted the sheriff.
“The order says,” declared Ka Mao, reading the words in the court document, “demolish my house on the property of Imelda Rivera. This is not the property of Imelda Rivera. This is my property. Moreover, the order puts the location of the alleged property of Imelda Rivera in Sitio Malanim. My property is in Sitio Upper Lucban. You implement that order on my property, I’ll hail you to court.”
With that declaration by Ka Mao, the sheriff withdrew.
The next thing that happened was, the sheriff got an order from the court for the relocation survey of the plan described in the title of Rivera. The order just delighted Ka Mao. That precisely was his strategy: to get the court ordering such survey. By provision of the Manual of Survey in the Philippines, the authenticity of the Rivera title had to be ascertained first for the survey to materialize. And Ka Mao had a wealth of research data proving that title to be spurious: from its Decree No. 4708, which the Land Registration Authority (LRA) certified as non-existent in its files; to its Record No. 5989, which the Official Gazette, as certified by the Microfilm Division of the University of the Philippines Library, had published on May 4, 1910 as having been given to an application for land registration of a property with technical descriptions written in English while the purported mother decree issued as a result of that application had technical descriptions written in Spanish; Presidential Decree 1529, or the Land Registration Act, provides that the Dccree of Registration must be a faithful reproduction of the original application for land registration; the LRA had no record of an Original Certificate of Title (OCT) No. 518, which was entered in the Rivera title as its mother title; and the survey plan of the title from which the Rivera title was purported to have derived had the subdivision plan number PSD 8662, which was certified by the Bureau of Lands as situated in Caloocan City, not Antipolo City.
These research data, along with several others, were more than enough to prompt an honest geodetic engineer to question its veracity and thereby deem himself barred by law to make a relocation survey of the same.
Without seeking authority from his superiors, the geodetic engineer of the Antipolo Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO), Daniel de los Santos, arrogated to himself the authority to implement the court survey order. Then after sending notice to Ka Mao that a relocation survey would be conducted of the property, he coursed to Ka Mao through a common friend his desire to have some night out; De los Santos was sort of addicted to sing-along sessions. This would entail some big expense but Ka Mao wouldn’t mind, It indicated a show of friendliness from the geodetic engineer, and Ka Mao thought, “All the better for my case.”
And so that night at the Classmate, a popular high-class nightclub on Quezon Avenue in Quezon City, De los Santos had a grand time belting out ditties along with minus-one accompaniments on the video player, with not one but two scantily-clad hospitality girls pressing him with their breasts from both sides. In attendance was their common friend, Adrian, a former CENRO and now a private practicing geodetic engineer, who with Ka Mao’s kumpare, Diego Cagahastian, had arranged the affair; the Chief, Surveys Division of the DENR Region IV-CALABARZON; and Ka Mao’s counsel Atty. Ed Galvez. It turned out, De los Santos was expecting an offer of a monetary consideration – lagay in the vernacular, meaning grease money, or stated pointblank, bribe – in exchange for an action from him favorable to Ka Mao. But as the night was wearing on and no such offer appeared forthcoming from Ka Mao very shortly, De los Santos took advantage of one moment Ka Mao stepped out of the sing-along suite and lay his card on the table, so to speak.
“Mao,” said the guy, whose tipsiness contributed to his character of being virtually a stand-in for the Joker in “Batman”, “your rival Rivera is very rich. She is offering me a million.”
“So there’s where the rub is,” Ka Mao told himself.
De los Santos immediately sensed that Ka Mao was not biting into his bait.
“Anyway, my needs are modest,” De los Santos somewhat toned down. “A Ford Fiera is what I need so I don’t have to take so many public rides in going from my home in Balintawak to my office in Antipolo.”
In a voice that indicated he didn’t mean to engage in shenanigans, Ka Mao said, “Let’s just do things according to the law.”
The Joker-look-alike kept mum, his face betraying deep frustration.
And that day De los Santos and his team came to Ka Mao’s property, he began doing what to him was according to the law. He made Ka Mao sign on a blank yellow pad sheet, obviously meant to be the attendance sheet for the activity that immediately took place.
“Where’s the title?” asked Ka Mao.
“What title?” asked De los Santos.
“The title that’s supposed to be the basis for this relocation survey,” said Ka Mao.
“We’re not making any survey yet,” said De los Santos. “We’re only getting reference points.”
Had De los Santos admitted that he was doing the survey as ordered by the court, Ka Mao would have required him to comply with the rules as mandated in the Manual of Survey in the Philippines – meaning ascertain first the veracity of the Rivera title.
But De los Santos lied that he was not making such survey yet so Ka Mao had no cause for pressing the matter of ascertaining the veracity of the Rivera title yet. And so after a quick look-see of the surroundings using their survey instruments, De los Santos and his team ended their chore in the place, whatever it was.
What astounded Ka Mao after a time was a notice of a hearing on the Technical Report submitted by De los Santos to the court. He realized he had been done in. His signature on the blank yellow pad sheet proved his attendance in what De los Santos reported to the court as the survey conducted in compliance with its order. He submitted a Technical Report, allegedly based on that survey, delineating what was termed as the “metes and bounds” of the property supposed to be covered by the court demolition order. What De los Santos actually did was a table survey, which had become a notorious practice of unscrupulous geodetic engineers in plotting the technical descriptions of a title on the drawing table not on the site of the property being surveyed. This practice had made it very easy for landgrabbers to snatch some other people’s lands, for in this manner they were able to work out the title over the land being grabbed without encountering physical opposition from settlers on that land.
In any case, Ka Mao immediately saw wide loopholes in the De los Santos Technical Report. The purported attendance sheet did not contain any entries other than names of those who were present on the occasion. It proved those people were there but did not prove anything as to why or what they were there for.
In another respect, what De los Santos reported as having been surveyed by him was a subdivision LRA PSD 371576 which he attested to as having been furnished him by Rivera – not the subdivision plan ordered by the court to be surveyed, which was PSI 3715.
Moreover, De los Santos conducted his supposed survey not upon proper authority by the DENR but upon his own decision, and Ka Mao saw this as a usurpation of DENR authority. The order was addressed to the DENR, which could have delegated the function to anybody it pleased, not just De los Santos.
Came the day of the hearing. Ka Mao and Atty. Galvez arrived early at the court. But they were told by the Clerk of Court that the counsel for Rivera, one Former Judge Patajo, had just died and no replacement for him had yet been designated. In that event, the hearing was expected to be cancelled. The law mandated that. The parties in a case were required to inform each other in cases of change of counsels. Ka Mao and his counsel were made to sign the attendance sheet, with instruction from the clerk of court that they would be informed, as was the practice, about the schedule of the next hearing.
But in due time, what Ka Mao received was not a notice of schedule of the next hearing but a Fourth Notice – described as the final one – on the implementation of the demolition order. It turned out that after Ka Mao and his counsel left the court the last time out, believing the hearing scheduled that day would be reset, Rivera produced an impromptu counsel and in the absence of the defendant caused a unilateral conduct of the hearing resulting to that final order for the implementation of the writ of demolition.
The order specifically instructed the sheriff to strictly abide by the guidance of Geodetic Engineer Daniel de los Santos in its implementation, particularly the demolition of Ka Mao’s house. But precisely because the purported relocation survey as contained in his Technical Report was a complete prevarication, De los Santos bungled his job once he applied it on the ground. The coordinates of the area in which to implement the order were such that they put practically the whole house of Ka Mao outside of that area. For that reason, while De los Santos started the whole operation of implementing the order on Ka Mao’s property, before long he was nowhere to be found on the site. Left with no guidance by De Los Santos, Sheriff Leyva had no other recourse but to suspend the demolition operation abruptly.
Ka Mao sighed with relief. He thought the house had been spared from destruction completely. He had reason to believe so. In a talk with Barangay Captain Gabuna, who till then was quite friendly to him, Ka Mao got the information that implementation of demolition orders could only be carried out once, not on a rainy day, and must be complete by four o’clock in the afternoon.
So Ka Mao found himself deducing, since the implementation of the court demolition order had been begun, it could no longer continue beyond the law-mandated timeline for its implementation.
Up to old age, that had been Ka Mao’s indulgence: too much optimism to the point of being an incurable affliction. It stemmed from his character. Because he had pure human goodwill in his heart, he expected all others had the same. He was not claiming that he was not capable of doing evil. He knew that was part of his humanism. But he knew, too, he was much more good than evil and he believed all others were also. If, therefore, man by his very humanness is good, how could the world in any of its aspects be bad at all? In this sense, Ka Mao could be a most formidable antidote to pessimism. Not once in his life, even in the face of the harshest adversities, had he ever lost hope. Nothing bad that ever happened to him remained bad. It always found a way of turning itself into good.
Now, on the question of the demolition of his house, he tended to believe that those put in charge to carry it out were also men of goodwill and could take refuge under the legal technicalities pointed out by the Barangay executive in not resuming the demolition operation any longer, thereby saving the house from destruction forever.
“This property is under the custody of the sheriff,” declared Sheriff Leyva after announcing the suspension of the demolition operation and then walking out of the compound together with all the demolition personnel.
But aside from that declaration, Ka Mao noticed no other action at all by Sheriff Leyva indicating that he meant what he said. And for the whole of October and well into the following November, the conditions in the property of Ka Mao were back to normal
Particularly the eatery, it went on enjoying its modest success, what with the continued patronage by the employees of Meralco Management Learning and Development Center (MMLDC), the Hizon Laboratories, the Solar Enterprises, and a daily steady flow of walk-in customers.
The eatery must be so good that even the owners of at least two leading Antipolo restaurants would drop by and partake of its native dishes, like laing, ginataang biya, sinigang na kandule, inihaw na manok and liempo, and bulalo.
But into the last week of November, Ka Mao, while doing marketing, chanced upon Sheriff Leyva, who told him that he was soon proceeding with the demolition operation.
“We’re only waiting for Rivera to release the budget for the operation,” Sheriff Leyva said. “She does not expect me to spend for this, does she?”
“What about De los Santos?” Ka Mao asked.
“He had been paid his due. He will do his job. Just you wait,” said Sheriff Leyva and walked away.
All of a sudden, Ka Mao was desperate. He really had attributed goodwill to Sheriff Leyva and De los Santos, completely forgetting that part of the humanism of the two was greed, which Ka Mao had not much of, if at all, and so he tended not to see it in others. For that reason, he never anticipated that this time would come when, with their greed sated, the two would come rampaging again as they did in that aborted demolition operation in September. This time, as Sheriff Leyva put it, “Only a TRO can stop us.”
But no, a Temporary Restraining Order, which Sheriff Leyva referred to, was out of the question for Ka Mao. It would be good only for three days after which a Permanent Injunction must be put in place in order to stop the demolition for a relatively permanent period, during which the merits of the case would be elevated to the Court of Appeal and then to the Supreme Court for final resolution. Atty. Galvez realized Ka Mao did not have the money to sustain such a costly fight and so was suggesting alternative remedies, like having the Rivera title investigated by the LRA in the hope that in the event the LRA favorably took up Ka Mao’s cause, he could use its ruling to stop the court from enforcing its demolition order.
So that night, Ka Mao formalized the complaint, addressed to the LRA Administrator.
The following day, the lady secretary in the office Ka Mao entered in the LRA building recognized his name immediately when he presented the complaint to her. Her face lit up and she excitedly guided Ka Mao to the suite of her boss..
“You can discuss this with the Administrator,” she said as she led her through a corridor. “He is easy to talk to.”
How nice of the Administrator, Ka Mao told himself.
“Sir, this is Director Mauro Gia Samonte,” the secretary said, introducing Ka Mao to the LRA Official as she led him into his suite. “He is a very popular film director.”
The LRA Official gladly shook Ka Mao’s hand.
“How are you director?”
“Fine, thank you,” said Ka Mao.
“He has a problem, Sir,” the secretary said.
“What problem?” asked the LRA Official..
“This is his letter-complaint,” said the secretary as she handed to the official the folder containing the letter-complaint, already opening it up.
The official took a glance at the letter and then keeping it in his hand, he took Ka Mao by the shoulder, leading him to a sofa where they sat.
The secretary walked away, glancing back at the official, saying, “He is a very popular director, Sir.”
“Yes, I know,” said the official, beaming at Ka Mao. “How are your movies doing, Director?”
“Oh, I have not been doing any movies these past five years. My last movie was in 2000,” said Ka Mao.
“I see… But of course, you must have set aside a fortune You’re a very popular director.”
“I did save some amount but I squandered it all when I ran for mayor of Antipolo.”
“You ran for mayor!”
“Yes. Twice. In 1995 and 1998.”
“How much did you spend?”
“Roughly five million.”
“Can you win with five million?”
“I thought I could. Anyway, that was all I got. And lost it all.”
“Oh, you lost it all,” said the LRA official, appearing to lose the enthusiasm he showed when the secretary introduced Ka Mao to him.
“What are we going to do with this letter…”
“It’s about our land. It’s our family’s one remaining possession and it is being landgrabbed. If you could investigate the title of the landgrabber and find it anomalous, then I could use your finding to stop the court from demolishing our house.”
The LRA official cast a rather enigmatic stare at Ka Mao, one that conveyed surprise at what he heard and at the same time resentment for making him hear it.
“Okay, bring this to the lady who brought you here. She will know what to do.”
The official handed the folder to Ka Mao then walked into his inner office where he picked up the receiver of the intercom. Ka Mao walked out of the suite, wondering to himself why the mood of the LRA official suddenly changed.
The secretary was speaking on the intercom when Ka Mao walked into her office.
“Sorry, Sir... Really… I should not have wasted your time. I didn’t know he’s not a blue blood anymore. He was so popular everybody thought he was rich.”
Ka Mao was standing before her when the secretary put the phone down.
“I was told by your boss to bring this back to you,” Ka Mao said as he handed the folder to the secretary.
Ka Mao noticed that the secretary, too, had completely changed her mood. She was unsmiling and somewhat wore a sour face.
“Bring that to the records section and have it received there,” said the secretary and minded him no more.
Ka Mao stepped out of the room and walked down the corridor leading to the records section. He entertained no question whatsoever as to whether what he was doing had any value at all. He had faith that it had and went on to have copies of his letter-complaint marked “Received” by the clerk at the receiving window.
In the evening, Ka Mao showed the copies to Atty. Galvez, who after perusing the letter-complaint, stated, “This is okay. They would be too daring if they pushed on with the demolition despite having been informed about this complaint.”
Atty. Galvez firmly believed that the sheriff would not dare demolish. And Ka Mao believed so, too.
But on November 23, Ka Mao got a Fifth – and final – Notice of implementation of the writ of demolition, ordering Ka Mao and his family to vacate the subject property so-called. He relayed this to Atty. Galvez, who advised him to get certification from the LRA that a case involving the subject property in the demolition order was being deliberated at the agency, and then furnish Sheriff Leyva and the court with copies of that certification.
Atty. Galvez still clung to the hope that the sheriff would not dare demolish Ka Mao’s house with full knowledge of the LRA case.
November 24, Ka Mao was early at the LRA to get the certification needed. But the LRA investigator, Joel Bigornia, who had been assigned to handle the case was out on an errand the whole morning, arriving only at his office way after lunch. The amiable investigation officer readily issued the certification Ka Mao requested, but the trip back to Antipolo took so long that by the time Ka Mao reached the court, it was already closed.
How so pathetic Ka Mao appeared that morning of November 25, 2005. He made sure he was at the office of the Clerk of Court once it opened so he could have copies of the certification furnished to Sheriff Rolando Leyva and the court. While waiting for the Clerk of Court to receive the copies of the certification, Ka Mao happened to look out of the balcony of the building. He saw Sheriff Leyva on the street below, aboard his motorcycle, which he had stopped as he gestured a go-signal to somebody up on the balcony. With the signal having been given, Sheriff Leyva then sped away..
It somewhat intrigued Ka Mao. Sheriff Leyva seemed to be moving in a frenzy.
“What was the sheriff seemed so frantic about? What was that signal for?” Ka Mao asked himself.
Rushing home aboard a tricycle after finishing his business at the court, Ka Mao saw a big crowd of men brandishing a variety of construction implements, massing at the corner of Sumulong Highway and the Circumferential Road, right outside the Pedro Cojuangco farm popularly referred to as Rancho.
“What were those men massing for?” he said to himself. “They seem to be bracing for a fight.”
Arriving home finally, Ka Mao noticed at a distance a group of policemen and men in civilian attires seeming to be huddling seriously on the highway side.
Ka Mao was appalled to recognize among these men the guy he most feared at the moment: Sheriff Rolando Leyva.
As he crossed the highway, he realized the eatery had been closed. Betchay hurried to meet him.
“Mao, they’re going to demolish our house now,” said Betchay, showing signs of nervous breakdown.
“No trespassing,” a sympathizer suggested.. “Put up a sign, ‘No trespassing’.”
“Kapit sa patalim,” so goes a saying in the vernacular which translates to “hang on to a blade.” Ka Mao appeared much like doing just as a man would grab at even a blade if only to keep himself from falling off a cliff. He hurried to find a piece of plywood, a can of white paint and a brush by which he wrote out the words “No trespassing”, then hung the sign on the gate of the property, facing the highway.
Then followed the longest moment of tension Ka Mao felt in all his life. The tension was none like any of those he felt in the past: in the skirmishes with the policemen and security guards of the Makabayan Publishing Corporation in the strike of KAMAO; in the confrontation between government troopers and workers protesters in the May Day Massacre of 1971; in the standoff between policemen and activists in the American embassy rally in which Ka Mao was tasked to explode a grenade, a task he would have accomplished but for one moment of sanity which prompted him to stand by his sense of righteousness.
In none of those moments and in many others still did Ka Mao ever feel fear. He was young, not yet thirty, single and not needing to worry about compromising any loved one in his actions, Above all, he had full confidence in his human strength.
But now, against the sheriff and his forces, Ka Mao had one whole family to be concerned about, and he felt so weak, void of any of the bravado characteristic of his revolting days. And he felt fear as he had never felt before. And so he prayed, yes, indeed, he prayed, “Lord, spare us from this destruction.”
He prayed on and on as he and his sons Paulo and Ogie, with the help of a few sympathizing neighbors, frantically moved furniture, furnishings, fixtures, utensils, what have you, stocking everything in the undivided ground floor which he had intended for use for the CPP Congress. From the sketch plan which De los Santos had submitted to the court to show the area of the demolition, Ka Mao surmised that this spot on the ground floor would not be affected.
Particularly difficult to move was the Ray Contreras solid mahogany antique-style dining table which took no less than ten men to carry. As to the glass panes and panels on the walls and windows of the dining room, the guest house and the breakfast area, Ka Mao just sadly stared at them, there being no more time to remove them.
Finally, the forces of Sherrif Leyva marched toward the property: the demolition crew, from the corner of the Circumferential Road; the contingent of policemen, court personnel and bullies, from the vicinity of the abandoned Citadel Subdivision in the north.
“Everybody stay put in the carinderia (eatery),” ordered Ka Mao. Betchay obliged, sticking close to Gia, barely three months old, crying as she wriggled her legs in a crib. Paulo and Ogie stuck with friends on the periphery of the demolition area in case of any eventuality. (Maripaz was at work and Maoie in Novaliches where he, his wife and two kids stayed temporarily with his in-laws.)
All by himself, Ka Mao, armed with a camera, stood at the interior end of the driveway, directly opposite the gate where he expected the action to begin. Ka Mao could think of no other way to combat the demolition but with that camera by which to record in photographs whatever would take place. He intended to use the pictures so taken as evidences in whatever legal action he would take eventually.
In order to determine the exact area of the house that would be demolished, De los Santos used his bare eyesight to fix a point on the highway and another on the creek edge behind the house. And then using a straw with one end tied to that point on the highway, he fastened a stone to the other end and threw the stone above the house in order to bring that other end of the straw to the creek edge beyond for tying to the other point that had been determined on that spot. Thus was the house split into two, with the one to the north to be demolished and the one to the south to stay intact; similarly the comfort room of the eatery which was along the highway was diagonally halved.
As a consequence of the demolition, Ka Mao filed a complaint in the office of DENR Secretary Angelo T. Reyes against Geodetic Engineer Daniel de los Santos for his wrongful deeds in connection with the demolition.
In photo attachments to the complaint, Ka Mao described the events that unfolded in chronological sequence, titling the presentation: “THE DEMOLITION OF NOVEMBER 25, 2005.” The first page of three, he titled “QUIET BEFORE THE STORM”.
A photo of the “No Trespassing” sign he had hung on the gate, he captioned:”A hastily-prepared crude sign stands as the only defensive weapon against the impending disaster – at best a travesty of the institution of private property for the powerless.”
A full shot of Sheriff Leyva and his demolition contingent waiting out just outside the iron fence of Ka Mao’s property, Ka Mao captioned: “Deputy Sheriff Rolando Leyva and his demolition contingent could not move without Engineer Daniel de los Santos first determining the scope of demolition to be done.”
The next four photos that followed were described thus: “(Below, bottom left) Engr. De los Santos, using nothing but bare eyesight and a measuring tape, determines a point on a mark scratched on the iron fence with a stone; note highly-collapsible nature of iron fence. (Below left and middle photo) CENRO man identified only as Jess helps out Engr. De los Santos in the measurements; arrow mark on the fence was done September 30, 2005 during the first demolition attempt. (Below right) Claimant Imelda Rivera and Deputy Sheriff Leyva supervise the demolition.”
A final photo on the page was a full view of exactly the same spot in the second cited photo, this time showing the iron fence completely fallen and the demolition crew beginning to move into the driveway of the compound. It was captioned: “ (Bottom right) In a move swifter than camera operation, the demolition crew tear down the barrier at the driveway.”
The second page of the photo attachments was titled: “THE ONSLAUGHT” It consisted of a close shot of the demolition crew advancing, captioned: “The crew rush to carry out the devastation of my house all over.” The next three photos showed the destruction from various angles, the front, back and the northside. The view from the back was particularly gruesome because it was on that spot where every piece of the ravaged materials was dumped, depicting what was once a pretty domicile turned into rubble. And the final photo of the page showed Rivera being guided by a man through the debris. It was captioned: “(Bottom right) The turn over of possession was received by claimant Rivera 3:45 PM but here, escorted by a court aide, already asserts possessory control of the property as early as 2:26 PM.
The third page of the presentation was a collage done by a sympathizing photographer who happened to pass by at the time of the demolition. He took shots of the destruction that took place and laid them out together with shots of intimate moments Ka Mao and his family were busy in as the devastation was ongoing, achieving a composite which prompted Ka Mao to compose a poignant, if pathetic, caption: “A collage of the pathos that ensued, as documented by a sympathizer. Having prevailed over so many storms in my life, I seem to be content just knowing that my three-year-old granddaughter is safe in my arms and my wife still manages to prepare food at the improvised kitchen. But that infant cry must sound our unwordable aching for justice.” For at the center of the collage - surrounded by graphic shots of crushed concrete walls, crumpled corrugated iron sheets, scattered broken pieces of wooden beams, twisted iron grills, shattered glass walls, and many other tell-tale signs of a catastrophe – was a lone picture of Baby Gia wailing in her crib .
The guy who did the collage gave it the title: “Family seek justice in unlawful house demolition & land grabbing incident last November 5, 2005”
At the height of the demolition operation, Ellen called Ka Mao on the cellphone. She wanted to know what had happened. She had worked as a medical tehnologist in the state hospital of Kuwait for over thirty years, had remained unmarried and had been Ka Mao’s source of material assistance in times of need. Ka Mao had sent her an urgent message two days ago, asking for financial help. He was already thinking of finally going the TRO way just to have a breathing space; he would worry about the bigger amount that would be entailed by the permanent injunction to come about after three days. But though Ellen never failed Ka Mao in all his pleas for help, she just didn’t have the money to send him at the moment. And so she called, worrying.
“What happened, Manoy Mauro?” she asked.
“Listen,” said Ka Mao, and he beamed his cellphone toward the ongoing activity. “Hear that noise. The iron roof being yanked off, the thuds of sledge hammers on the concrete walls, and the crash of glass walls, windows and doors. They’re tearing my house just right now.”
Ka Mao said his words with a put-on delight so that Ellen must have taken them as a sarcasm and she broke into tears.
“But, Manoy Mauro. There’s nothing I can do now. I just don’t have any money to send, If only you had given me some lead time,” she cried.
“No, Ellen,” Ka Mao said, seeking to calm her down. “I’m not blaming you. No. I just want to make things light out of this terrible misery.”
Actually a thought had crossed his mind at that instance, making him feel like crying, too, so that he must quickly bid Ellen goodbye and hang up.
At Ellen’s crying, Ka Mao could not help remembering that as the teams of demolition personnel began wrecking the house, he had sent a common message to a number of Party comrades through the cellphone: “Which part of my house have I built for me and my family alone and so me and my family alone must defend? And which part have I built for the Party and so the Party must defend it with me and my family?”
Nobody cared to answer.