To climb for 3 hours, in the deep mountains of Cebu.
That was our mission in order to get the remains of two fallen former rebels who were suspected of being enemy spies twenty-one years ago.
(In the 1980’s there was the scare of Deep Penetration Agents (DPA) that was like the Russian and Maoist revolution. A lot was purged and were tortured vehemently in the Philippines, an estimated three thousand fell victims to such in the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing the New Peoples Army (CPP-NPA). But while the CPP-NPA recognized all of the victims as martyrs of the revolution, not one of their remains were given back to their families as well as no real reason behind their disappearance was given, while the perpetrators roam free up to this day. This is an unwritten part of our history where only a select few know about.)
We traversed the uneven path, sometimes stirring sideward or upwards, with the gloom of looking at the heavens with a silent prayer for God to hold the rains before everything else becomes hell.
That was what I remember aside from the usual pangs of heavy breathing and hunger.
The water wasn’t a problem. I could feel it all over me anyway and the one I was holding though quenching my thirst disappeared completely as the bottle passed from mouth to mouth…
It was told to us by our informant that they were invited to a meeting.
That they brought their three year old kid with them, but chose to leave him that night when they were fetched by their comrade.
It was another problem to deal with we thought… “Where were we going to look for the kid? We had no picture of him and it’s been twenty-one years since they disappeared.”
The throbbing in our heads welcomed the tune of forest birds and swaying trees.
Sometimes we wished for the wind, and we wished for the sun to just hide for a while.
Bushes ripped our skin and our feet became swollen as we try to follow the path the victims took before falling in their graves, as if reliving the entire episode, before the final execution.
Faint smiles were exchanged in between breaks, nobody spoke.
Perhaps it was also the solemnity of the march that prompted such.
Nobody really knew if they were spies, they were killed even before they were tried. They were tortured, maimed for days and months by the same organization they dearly loved.
Upon arriving in camp we looked at the vast expanse of cornfields shared by banana trees and the ground I stepped on became a slide (literally), its angle was really comparable to a kiddy slide and only God knows how many of my colleagues were taken aback by the view not knowing the subtle joke that the terrain offered when you stepped forward.
With us were the two sisters of the female victim, they were in their fifties.
Aling Cion, a street sweeper, used to look for her missing sister for years; she had gone back and forth to Cebu asking people about her sister. The problem was she had no photograph of her sister. In the days of Martial Law it was better for comrades to burn their pictures to conceal their identities from the military. It was like looking for a needle in a stack of hay only that there’s no needle to compare it with.
Aling Cion looked more like her fallen sister.
Aling Lita, the other sister, silently took in the pain of not seeing her sister for years. She and her fallen sister weren’t that much friendly to each other, in fact she admits they fought more than anyone else in their family, than the other siblings she has. This meeting meant more to her than all the other times she wished she would’ve spent with her sister. She looked outward to the fields searching with clear tiredness in her eyes.
As for me I had to hurry up and set up my tent, it was getting darker by the minute and the bidding of rain became more formidable as clouds loom darker on the horizon.
The night settled and consumed us eventually, I never felt so tired in my entire life. It was so cold I had to wear a bonnet over my whole head just so I would stop myself from having a runny nose.
The owner of the land, an old lady told us that sometimes when it’s raining she could hear a horrifying scream of a woman that she swears could go up to heaven. Or sometimes when she tends her cornfields a woman’s voice would call out “Mama, mama” but she couldn’t find anyone around.
I’ve had my share that night when I heard footsteps walking around our tent as if studying us intently. And I swear somebody poked my head and feet outside the tent that I ended up sleeping clutching my knees to my stomach and in the middle of the tent.
It took two days before we were able to exhume the bodies of the couple; both were tied with nylon ropes on their hands and feet.
The woman was facing down on the earth while at least eighteen kilos of boulder crushed the left side of her face. The boulder occupied almost half of her entire body and the forensic doctors explained that the rock was repeatedly thrown down on the pit to ensure her death. This was aside from the gunshot wounds and the stab on her chest.
The man was lying face up, his chest and half of his face was crushed by a boulder of the same weight as the woman. He also suffered gunshot wounds and was also stabbed.
There was anguish that day… nobody smiled. Aling Lita and Aling Cion screamed their hearts out in agony. All I could do was hold and hug them, I cried just a little yet a certain sadness and heaviness was left in my heart since that day. Things are never the same when you see these kinds of things. Sometimes you get to question the power of idealism over humanity, the question of what use is it to change a society if no justice is given to a certain few. Of how much power there is behind the one holding the gun…
Finding the victim’s child and the nephew of Aling Lita and Aling Cion became the next priority; we were able to find the kid only to find out that he was killed last March 2005, from fraternity violence. He was shot in daylight on a crowded street in the downtown area of the city. He was supposed to graduate that year and his girlfriend was also pregnant around that time. He survived only through his son and wife.
This was history that happened twenty-one years ago… Nobody speak much about it while others don’t want to dwell on it saying it already happened, might as well learn from it. Others think it is better to keep it within the party for it might mire the revolution and the Government might use it against the radicals.
As for me, I think it is just unfair. I think when an organization had tortured and murdered its members, but had proven them innocent afterwards, they should give those victims what is due. Ironically, it is in their rules and obligations to never torture an enemy.
The kid could’ve been at the same age as mine; we could’ve talked about life, love and about the revolution that failed in our country time and time again. The kid could’ve been me.
Was it a mistake that killed him and his parents? What about the survivors of the massive purging? What happened to them? How many more bodies should we exhume until we realize how important life is?
We went back home… Aling Cion and Aling Lita teary eyed bade goodbye to Cebu clutching the picture of their nephew and all that’s left of his memory. As the airplane flew up I said a silent prayer for the souls of the couple and their child and hoped that in the near future they will be given the justice they deserve.