From the depths of human misery

Chapter 4: Teresa

Home / For Upgraded Members Only / Chapter 4: Teresa

Teresa is one of the five children of Paāg and Minda, his wife, who make a living from farming in Bukāran, a forested barrio in faraway Biringan, Isparatli Island. A high-ranking government official happens to operate a commercial logging company in Isparatli and deploys government troopers to secure the company from protesters who consider its activities as a threat to the environment. One day a team of government military men led by Lieutenant Reg Makatigbas reaches Bukāran. The visitors initially engage the hosts nicely (Makatigbas even flirted with Pamela, elder sister of Teresa), but the hosts would soon find the visitors to be abusive. Paāg turns to armed rebels for support and days later leads a rag-tag team in an ambush of government troopers. Soldiers retaliate and shoot everyone on sight in Bukāran. Teresa and her siblings scamper to safety, leaving their parents behind. Days later, Teresa and Waday, another sister, arrive in La Profesa City, some 100 kilometers west of Biringan, where relatives offer them temporary refuge. They next travel Cerrito, Manila, where an uncle of the mother side welcomes them. They soon find jobs as guest attendants in a nearby beer joint. Here they meet a rich customer named Mr. Dayamante, with whom they both separately dated eventually. Mr. Dayamante’s wife gets wind of his fling with Teresa and Waday; she initiates a catfight inside the beer joint that leads her husband to hastily leave and pins to death a scavenger’s infant daughter as he maneuvers his car away from the scene. The wife accuses Waday as the cause of the infant’s death and successfully sends her to jail. The incident also forces Teresa to abandon her job in Cerrito. She needs another means of livelihood to support herself and the unborn child she carries. She finds one as a balut vendor in Aparición, under the care of another uncle.

Yago’s dream of a chance encounter with his family turned to a replay of a nightmare that happened two years ago. He saw Gidaben’s cohorts at the opposite end of Plaza Roma, toward Paterno Street. He discreetly studied their agitation and was convinced they were moving in his direction.

Then he heard one of them drum-rolling his companions in a loud voice.

“There he is. Our three-million-reward… for this kidnapper!”

“Break his bones but catch him alive!” chanted another.

Yago remembered that exactly two years ago, their gangmate Gidaben pointed an accusing finger at him and his Bodabil friends that led to their arrest and eventually the murder of three of them. He felt lucky then to have survived the treachery. Being in prison was rank injustice to him; the only consolation he could offer himself was the thought that he was safe from the same killers that ended the life of his friends, hunting innocent people.

Yago decided to flee for his life at whatever cost he could imagine with his rattled mind. Unknown to him, his fellow prisoners also felt threatened by Gidaben’s mob. As Yago scanned his surroundings for escape holes, the two other prisoners sprung from their work areas and ran away toward Mediatrix. Two prison guards armed with shotguns started to pursue them just when Yago himself scurried away.

One of the guards committed himself to pursue the two prisoners while he motioned for his fellow guard to go after Yago, who ran toward SM Shoemart near Padre Pio.

FRANCO, FLANKED BY A FIVE-MAN ESCORT designated by Sir Dikomo to secure the child, had just left the rectory. They were about to board the waiting patrol car that would take them to the police station via Mediatrix Street. But when the escorts saw groups of bystanders milling around the Mediatrix side of Aguinaldo Underpass, they stopped. The escorts could not quite figure out what was going on, and so they decided to proceed on foot, heading the other way, toward Legnica.

About three minutes later, as Franco and his escorts walked toward Legnica, an onrushing mob about some fifty meters away startled them. Thinking the mob was out to snatch Franco, one of the escorts grabbed Franco and wrapped him in his arms. He instructed his fellow escorts to cover him as he and two of his companions darted toward the Underpass.

Two of the escorts thought they could not just run away without knowing what was happening. With weapons drawn, they waited for the mob to come closer. However, one of their companions yelled at them.

“That’s not our mission. We need to bring this kid to the station now!” Sir Dikomo had explicit instructions to deliver Franco in less than twenty minutes. The subordinates sensed nothing unusual in the superior’s directive; all policemen, after all, had been trained to carry out time-bound tasks.

The two escorts rushed to join the three who had custody of Franco, who now entered the tunnel leading toward the Aguinaldo Underpass.

ABOUT TEN MINUTES AGO, YAGO turned right upon reaching SM Shoemart near Padre Pio. The prison guard and Gidaben’s mob—about seven or eight of them—were on his tail. At Padre Pio, more people joined the chase. He sprinted across the street and proceeded to Sales Street, hoping he could hide somewhere in its dimly lit sidewalk. The pursuers appeared to have been scattered when dogs started barking at him.   

He re-emerged and tried to walk casually. He was heading toward Sta. Cruz via Ronquillo when a few members of Gidaben’s mob spotted him. They seemed to have been waiting for him to somehow show up, ready to snare him in an ambush. Yago saw the mob; he turned right, moving quickly. Then the prison guard suddenly appeared at Paterno Gomez Street, furiously aiming his shotgun but not being able to fire due to the presence of other people in the vicinity.

Yago again picked up his pace. Then he ran. The mob gave chase.

Outside of Sta. Cruz and Quiapo, Yago did not feel as confident as he once was with the alleys in the Tepeyac and Iztapalapa areas. It had been a long time since his bag-snatching days in Tepeyac. He decided to head for Legnica. His pursuers were at full strength again. The prison guard was trying to catch his breath, which made him more enraged. The mob also appeared primed for aggression. At the corner of Legnica and Lanciano Boulevard, Yago took hurried glances at his pursuers. Some of them brandished what appeared to be bladed weapons. Others waved at Yago with sticks. And they were closing in.

The prison guard felt he was losing steam. He fired warning shots in the air in the hope that the prisoner would realize his attempt to flee was futile. This momentarily stopped the mob. Yago was certain the other side of Lanciano Boulevard offered him better odds at success in a mad dash for freedom. There were three ways to get there. First was to jaywalk, which was risky given that traffic moved fast after the rush hour. The second way was over the Legnica footbridge, which was within the line of sight of his pursuers. And the third was Aguinaldo Underpass, where people walking along the Lanciano Boulevard sidewalk offered cover and camouflage. He went for Aguinaldo Underpass.

The mob at the corner of Legnica and the commotion among onlookers was the sight that greeted Franco’s security a couple of minutes earlier when they were heading for the footbridge.

ONE AFTER THE OTHER—FRANCO AND HIS ESCORTS, then Yago, the prison guard, and the mob, in that order—stepped inside Aguinaldo Underpass. Franco and his security needed to cross toward Guevarra Street, the shortest distance toward the police station where Sir Dikomo had set up his press conference, as fast as they could; all the others needed to move as fast as they could to nab Yago. One more interested party—the OXD guys who now operated as freelancers—waited in ambush to snatch Franco away from Sir Dikomo’s grip.

Benjo could be heard talking in a low voice to his radio.

“OX2 and OX3, this is OX1. Get ready to intercept subject, over.”

“OX1, this is OX3. Copy, over!”

“OX1 this is OX2. Copy, over!”

The one who led the mob, clueless that one member of the chasing party was a prison guard, and convinced that the prison guard was a competitor for the bounty on Yago’s head, tried to trip the prison guard at the steps of the Underpass. The prison guard in turn understood this to mean that the mob lead was himself trying to abduct Yago. To the prison guard, either prospect of Yago escaping by himself or at the hands of abductors was not acceptable. Furious and panting, he saw Yago being slowed down by the usual crowd inside the underpass. He took aim and fired his shotgun at the prisoner.

Yago dropped to the marble flooring of the underpass, blood squirting from his neck. At least three more bystanders were hit. Bedlam ensued. People scampered away in all directions, running and jumping for safety. Security men guarding a bank on night shift were roused from sleep; one of them sprang toward the main switch and cut all lighting, thinking a ploy for a bank heist had been activated.

There was pandemonium as horror gripped everyone inside the Underpass. There was yelling and crying; there was a stampede as people shoved each other, frantically trying to break themselves free for the nearest exits.

When order was restored half an hour later, Yago was being lifted to an ambulance. He was fighting for his life, whispering the names of Katalina and Junie while medics tried to stop the flow of blood from a wound in his neck. The bullet that hit him must have punched a hole in a secondary artery. At the public hospital to which he was rushed, the administrative process needed to withdraw blood from the blood bank was taking too long to get done in relation to the immediate need of the patient. Yago needed a blood donor from whom an equal amount of blood would be extracted to replenish the stock. But no one came forward to offer blood in time on his behalf. After a couple of hours more, he succumbed to exsanguination. He had lost too much blood before he could be given a transfusion.

Back at the Aguinaldo Underpass, the two others hit by stray bullets were lucky they escaped major injuries. One was hit in the head and was also bleeding profusely. But the bullet glanced off the skull, and medics were able to contain the hemorrhage without need for transporting the victim to the hospital. The third one had her left leg bandaged; nothing there but a one-inch scratch.

The two prison guards could be seen in a huddle. Two policemen later joined them.

Both prison guards risked administrative sanctions for losing their subjects. Fortunately for them, the fortuitous events at the Aguinaldo Underpass offered basis for squashing any liability on their part. The one guarding Yago could be subjected to more complicated administrative and legal proceedings in the event somebody brought him to court on homicide, or even murder, charges.

Apart from the kibitzers, the onlookers, and members of the Quiapo community in general, joined later by a few newshounds, two restless groups converged at either side of Lanciano Boulevard. One, the group associated with Gidaben, was at Plaza Roma. They lost Yago—to them he was one gold that turned to stone—but could not find answers to explain why things ended the way they did.

At the other side were Sir Dikomo’s men. They lost Franco—to Sir Dikomo’s inner circle, he was likewise one solid gold that turned to stone—and for Sir Dikomo, it was hard to believe the OXD project, or at least the trio of Benjo, Punzi and Ivanho, may have had a hand in what he could think of as an orchestrated mob attack to snatch Franco. If it was, he could forget everything like nothing happened. He could distance himself away from it all unscathed. It was no longer in his hands. Questions could shift to Reg Makatigbas.

At the same time, Sir Dikomo, having considered himself to be the man who always had a plan, was now besieged with questions for which he didn’t have answers. On the other hand, he could console himself. He thought that his not having informed Judge Vida about Franco being under their custody was a masterstroke.

Also empty-handed, away from the glare of neon and streetlights, were OXD’s loose sparrows. Benjo, Punzi, and Ivanho lost a treasure in Franco just like Sir Dikomo did and were flabbergasted to realize months of work on this mission had yet again gone to waste.

ON BOARD A JD BUS BOUND for Aparición, Lanciano City, were Teresa and her three-year-old daughter named Luzie. When the bus conductor asked Teresa for the fare of two, she protested, saying she should be paying only for one, since Luzie was in her lap.

“How about him?” asked the conductor. He was referring to Franco, whom at first Teresa did not notice was sitting beside her.

Teresa did not know what to say. She looked at the toddler. She—still shaking—was impressed by Franco’s immunity from shock. The three of them had just gone through a horrifying stampede at the Aguinaldo Underpass and here he was, throwing side glances at her like he was telling her to sit back and relax.

“He’s a kid,” Teresa bargained with the conductor. “Shouldn’t he be entitled to a free ride as well?”

The conductor took a look at Franco and maybe he also found him cool. He did not press her further for his fare.

About thirty minutes ago, Teresa left Quiapo Church, like she always did when in Quiapo. She traveled with Luzie from Noveliches to Quiapo every Quiapo day, which was either a Friday or a Sunday. They would leave their Aparición home early, normally arriving at Quiapo for the morning mass at seven.

Luzie had a rare congenital deformity called hydrocephalus. She had an overly large head; it had not stopped growing and, at three, it looked like her head weighed at least five kilos. On the other hand, the rest of her body parts had not started the process of physical development. She could not talk or stand up by herself. She was always in Teresa’s arms whenever they left home, which often meant being in Quiapo.

Inside the church, they picked their usual place at the back, facing the altar. Sometimes throngs of devotees thinned out in this area of the church, like almost anywhere else, during breaks between masses. During those breaks, Teresa had a good sight of the altar and the people waiting for the next mass to start, which happened every hour, starting at four o’clock a.m. until noon, then starting again at four o’clock p.m. until eight o’clock p.m. She also watched with empathy as people at the back of the church, in front of her, apparently afflicted by various kinds of ailment, lined up to wipe with their hankies the foot of elevated life-size statues of saints, and that of Mama Mary or that of the Lord himself, Jesus Christ. Most times the line passed in front of her and Luzie; it was almost impossible for anyone seeing Luzie not to have pity on the child’s physical condition. Teresa got most of the donations for Luzie during these in-between mass breaks.

As a mother, Teresa probably prayed as hard as Saint Monica for a miracle that would free Luzie from what appeared to be a hopeless affliction. Saint Monica, of course, had been known for a prayerful life dedicated to the reformation of her wayward and lazy son, who went on to become one of the pillars of the Catholic Church. Not only was her son reformed; he became a bishop. After he died, the church canonized him. His name: Saint Augustine.

It was also possible Teresa came to Quiapo primarily for the alms she and Luzie collected. In that sense, it did not matter that Luzie, in effect, was the one earning a living for the family, which included Teresa’s relatives. What was important for Teresa was that despite Luzie’s condition, she never once thought of abandoning her, attending to her daughter’s daily needs instead with inner peace and commitment. Sometimes she sincerely thought that the Black Nazarene was giving her the strength to carry on. Like Saint Monica, she wept almost every night, resigned to whichever fate may lead them. She realized that her limitless capacity to endure the pain every mother felt at seeing her child in such a desolate state would not have been possible if her human strength was all there was to depend on.

She would have preferred calling it a day at eight o’clock p.m., which was the last mass of the day, to sort of not leave a few coins on the table. But public transportation was always difficult, especially during Quiapo days. And so, it was always prudent to give themselves time and leave at seven.

For years now, the Aparición–Quiapo–Aparición routine had not changed. When it was time to head for home, Teresa, with Luzie cuddled in her arms, would go through the Aguinaldo Underpass after leaving Quiapo Church.

But this time something went terribly wrong. As they were heading for the exit toward Guevarra, they heard hysterical shouting inside the underpass. Teresa thought a bomb had gone off. She could tell that everyone was rushing to get out as some of them, especially young adults, had outpaced them as they went up the stairs.

When she looked back, everything went dark inside. The underpass turned into a madhouse. She turned around and never looked back again.

She did not see it, but more people were scrambling out. From the pile of human rubble, a burly man with a toddler in his arms dashed for the exit. But suddenly a man in police uniform tackled him from behind. The burly man lost his grip of the child; he turned back, then threw a wild kick at the policeman but missed. Both able-bodied men were soon locked in a scuffle, and the child had some kind of instinctive presence of mind to slip away.

By now, chaos had spilled all over the place within the vicinity of Aguinaldo Underpass. The commuters among them could be seen jumping onto jeepney landing boards. Also just in time, a JD Bus had careened to a halt at the nearest bus stop. People sprinted toward it; Teresa, moving not fast enough due to a bag hanging from her shoulder in addition to Luzie, whom she carried in her arms, had to frantically wave at the bus conductor as some kind of a distress signal: a crying plea not to leave them behind.

The conductor saw Teresa and was moved by her body language. He alighted from the bus. He rushed to meet her halfway, taking the bag from one of her shoulders. On board the bus, he gave the bag back to Teresa as she took her seat. Before taking off, he leapt from the landing board. He sprinted back to the street, thinking she had left her toddler son behind. The conductor grabbed Franco bodily then tossed him inside the bus. The child found himself seated next to Teresa, although she did not notice his presence at first, most likely because she was still in shock from what she had just gone through.  

The bus ride from Quiapo to Aparición took one hour on a good day. During bad days, such as when streets were flooded, travel time could last for as long as two to three hours. Sundays were usually good days, but either the massing of vehicles near cockpits or being caught in religious processions along the way sometimes slowed down travel when commuting.

A few times Teresa tried to talk to Franco. However, either he showed no interest in a conversation, or he simply was deaf, mute, or he had yet to develop a facility for speech. She asked him questions but did not get any reply. Nonetheless, she thought he could communicate, judging from the way he smiled at some of the things she said.

After about ten kilometers on the road, Franco was asleep. Teresa felt sleepy as well, but she resisted the urge. She knew Luzie was now hungry but could be fed only when she asked for her bottle of milk with an esoteric facial expression. To keep herself awake, the rosary beads in her bag had always been helpful. She just rolled them in between her fingers, even when she was not inclined to pray. After all, by this time she would have finished praying the rosary at least three times already inside the Quiapo Church.

On reaching Aparición, she decided she could not leave Franco, who was still asleep, behind. Before deboarding, she roused him from sleep. It was nine in the evening, and Franco saw his new family for the first time.

AT 47, TERESA BIRADAYON Y Maca-andog had survived every storm that could sink the mightiest of sea crafts. She was born on August 28, 1943, the death anniversary and feast day of St. Augustine, in Ilihan, a remote upland component barrio of Biringan in Ispratly.

Biringan happened to be one of the few places in the Philippines whose inhabitants defied the Spanish Governor General’s decree in 1849 that required the natives to adopt standard Spanish names as their family names.  

Teresa’s family, which included two older sisters and three younger brothers, struggled financially from day one. Her father, Paāg, now fifty-four, occasionally earned income for the family from various construction work contractors that employed manual laborers. Otherwise, he, along with his wife and children, were equally hard at work in a parcel of land on which they grew a variety of survival crops. Whenever the family had nothing with which to buy food, which was often, Paāg checked on their plants, like banana or gabi, to see if something could be harvested for their meal.

The land they tilled, which they inherited from the matriarch’s family, had in no small measure helped them get by. Then something happened to Minda, the matriarch. She experienced excruciating abdominal pain and had to be hand-carried, using a hammock and with the help of neighbors, to the nearest government community hospital. It turned out she had a ruptured appendix. She needed emergency surgery, or else she would soon die from complications resulting from infection of the blood or other vital parts of her body.

The government hospital could not perform the emergency procedure for many reasons: it had run out of surgical supplies; the power-generating set was not working and for a long time had needed repair; and, most critical of all, the surgeon was on leave.

Minda had to be bodily lifted again, this time to a private hospital. She survived. But the cost staggered the family. They could not pay the hospital bills unless they sold their only valuable possession: the farmland.

From their Ilihan home they had to move farther to the north, toward the interior of the vast forested areas of Ispratly Island, in search of a more stable supply of food that kaingin farming offered. Although technically squatting on government land, they were de facto owners of the land they tilled. It was a frontier for those who were willing to take risks and put in the work to survive.

The Biradayons lived abundantly in their new settlement. Fertile land allowed them to plant a variety of root crops (gabi, camote, cassava, among other staples), upland rice, vegetables, legumes, and fruit-bearing trees. They could harvest any kind of food they wanted at any given time. And they stocked up for the rainy days, as it were.

There were just a handful of households in the new settlement when the Biradayons arrived. Sometimes five, at most ten, depending on the fiesta calendar. Sometimes whole families would be away for weeks when dates of fiesta celebration in neighboring barrios were close to each other.

Nearby creeks teemed with wild shrimp, some variety of fish species, and eel. Wild pigs roamed the area; when somebody got to catch one, often with a trap, all households got a share of the bounty. All told, the community thrived. Its members benefited from a self-sustaining farm-based means of livelihood.

News of the relatively good life in the new settlement spread across Biringan, facilitated mostly by storytelling that was made lively during fiesta celebrations. The Biradayons were themselves messengers of hope as they made it a practice to share their food surplus with relatives in the lowlands.

It took less than a year for the new settlement to grow in terms of population. Somebody suggested a name by which the place might be called, and they eventually agreed on Bukāran. The word was in a dialect, which in English roughly meant “flowers in bloom.” By 1950, Bukāran already had almost a hundred inhabitants, consisting of twenty-two households.

Except for the difficult trail leading to the area, all elements of a good life could be found in Bukāran. People were short of luxury that was known to urban dwellers, but they were endowed with a clean environment. They led healthy, almost stress-free, lifestyles.

Staff members of Tangdayan Association, a nongovernment organization operating in the Eastern Visayas for the promotion of sustainable agriculture, visited Bukāran in 1960. They immersed themselves in the area for a couple of months. The Biradayons were not illiterate, as most of them had completed elementary education at Ilihan. But many community members were unlettered. So Tangdayan Association personnel had to start teaching literacy (basic language and communication) skills to both children and adults. When the adults gained some level of reading proficiency, they next went through lessons in agroforestry and watershed management, under an imposing balete three.

Three years later, in 1963, army troopers showed up in Bukāran. It seemed they had been scraping the forests for nearby settlements in search of something to eat. Men in full battle gear were starving, and the families in Bukāran were hospitable enough to feed them. A young lieutenant, fresh from the military academy, led the troopers. His name was Regidor Makatigbas. It seemed he requested his superiors to let him lead this mission. He was born and raised in Manila, but his paternal grandparents had their roots in Biringan.

It turned out the troopers were part of a reconnaissance team that surveyed the hinterlands for the construction of a feeder road that supposedly aimed to connect the interior barangays to the coastal barangays in Biringan. All Bukāran folks were excited to hear the troopers’ story.

Hospitality reached new levels when Makatigbas laid his eyes on, then flirted with, Osang, Teresa’s older sister, to which Osang responded with peeps of encouragement. Days later, Makatigbas and Osang could be found huddled together, sometimes inside vacant huts, sometimes in the open field.

Three months later, it was clear to all who were familiar in the ways of women that Osang was conceiving. To her grief, however, she never saw Makatigbas again. The troopers that replaced his team appeared to be imported from a neighboring region, judging from the dialect they spoke.     

Within weeks, heavy equipment was bulldozing the uneven terrain close to where Bukāran farmers tilled the fields. With a road barely opened, more heavy equipment followed, this time cutting the large trees left untouched by the kaingin farmers.     

More clearing of trees followed, and the road sliced deeper into the forestlands. Now the Bukāran folks understood that the feeder road was meant not so much to help them as to facilitate the transport of timber from their settlements to the ports in Biringan.

Controversy began to hound the farming communities not only in Bukāran but throughout Biringan. The Catholic dioceses in Ispratly warned against the heavy toll on the environment that the commercial logging operations would impose on the ability of the upcoming generations to make a living from farming. Priests preached to mobilize resistance against the assault on the forests. People responded by mounting protest actions against the logging company, which was owned by a powerful government official.

The government responded to the protests, which were sometimes violent, by sending more troops. The reinforcements were obviously poorly trained. They lacked discipline. Soon, when it became clear to them that the government had sacrificed the well-being of local communities to enrich favored cronies and the signs of forest degradation had started to manifest, such as topsoil erosion that led to recurring flash floods and diminished crop yields, some academicians, students, and even priests joined the local communist guerillas in the resistance movement.

The farmers of Bukāran initially did not find the logging operations to be in conflict with their livelihood. In fact, they felt indebted, regardless of how things unraveled to them, to the outsiders for the road the latter paved. It made their life easier as they moved around; the trek, which always used to be on foot, could now be done with the help of a carabao carriage.

Tensions started when visits by government soldiers to Bukāran became more frequent. They always demanded to be served food. From the troopers’ perspective, this was easy to understand. They hiked for hours as part of their duty to secure the logging operations. Because the troops were poorly paid, free meals always helped. But from the community members’ perspective, the army men had become parasites. They could not deny them, however; no one had to tell them that the firearms they carried eloquently spoke for the intruders with the message that refusal of the troopers’ demands would not be accepted.

More—and worse—sources of irritants and mistrust were yet to come. Whenever the platoons of army troopers decided to spend a night or two in the community, accommodation had to be provided. They disturbed what used to be a quiet Bukāran with their raucousness. Sometimes they brought liquor with them, which was always a recipe for unmitigated noise, followed by heated arguments. Instead of getting some restful sleep, local folks had to stay awake so they could flee at the first sign of violent hostility among the drunk guests.

In one such rowdy evening, the unhinged soldiers asked Paāg to have a hen cooked for them as pulutan. Paāg politely refused, saying the hen was about to incubate her eggs. Feeling scorned, one trooper aimed his Armalite at a rooster perched on a low branch of a nearby tree. He hit nothing but air. A few more chickens leaped from their favored branches, frantically flapping their wings in search of something to hop on to.

Embarrassed and enraged by the heckling he got from fellow troopers, he fired several shots at one of the chickens that flew over them and landed on the windowpane of Paag’s house. One bullet apparently hit the petrol-fueled lamp hoisted inside the house because everything suddenly turned dark. Complete silence followed, except for a gentle stomping of feet on the elevated wooden floor.

After a few more minutes, the soldiers with their flashlights on decided to leave. One of them was overheard suggesting looking for pulutan and more alcoholic drinks at the neighboring barrio.

Assured that the intruders had left for good, Paāg reignited the lamp and found to his horror that Osang was bleeding from her neck, her head bent forward and motionless. She was nursing her child; cries of unbearable pain reverberated from the Paāg household as the child could be seen sucking her mother’s milk mixed with blood.

Even when sober, the army men had many ways of offending their hosts. Their condescending disposition was a way to tell people that they got what they wanted. Time came when they did not bother to hide their sexual advances among the women and girls, including Teresa and her sisters. One fateful night, Teresa tried to resist an army man, and she got raped instead, in the sense that his testicle-fueled aggression, propped by a weapon that screamed implied threats without being pointed at her, overpowered her will.

Whatever prompted the people of Ayunguin, also in Ispratly, to resist their overbearing American annexation forces in 1901, the meek folks of Bukāran had about the same urge to complain against.

Paāg, among many others, did complain when the Tangdayan people came over for their regular quarterly follow-through visit. The latter compiled their report, produced several copies of it, then sent by registered mail one copy to each member of a network of international government organizations to which Tangdayan was affiliated.

Soon, military atrocities in Bukāran were quoted in global news dispatches. Embarrassed, the military hierarchy pulled out the assigned regimen in Biringan. Noisy members of the scattered political opposition wanted more corrective action; they demanded a congressional investigation.

Even as government officials, through state-controlled media, denied that abuses were being committed by the military in Bukāran, and instead blamed the local inhabitants for being either communists or sympathizers of communists, Paāg and his fellow Bukāranons felt immediate relief. For the next couple of months, they had nothing to worry about except addressing the urgent need for them to regroup. Platoons from the Biringan battalion continued to patrol the areas covered by the logging operation, which eventually encroached on territories that belonged to eastern Ispratly in the east and northern Ispratly in the north. But hardly did Paāg and his neighbors realize that over the longer term, the noise they generated created more problems for them.

Spotting opportunities to help the poor in distress, or to expand their constituency, whatever the agenda was, the communist guerillas were quick to touch base with Bukāran and its surrounding settlements, which had sprouted in recent years. 

The pioneering core of communist partisans that landed in Bukāran did not speak the dialect. They preached their view of the world mostly in Tagalog, sometimes in Ilonggo or Cubacabano. Their initial attempt at indoctrination took two days. It was enough to win Paāg and one of his sons, seventeen-year-old Tapiskig, over to the communists’ side. In Bukāran alone, at least nine males (seven grown-ups and two minors), and two females, had committed parts of their waking hours to the armed cause of the communists.

For the time being, the Bukāran partisans had to be organized as a “cell.” Each one had to adopt an alias which no one else knew except themselves and two to three “uplines” who would be the ones exclusively authorized to coordinate with them.

A raid of a police station in Bolibar and an ambush in Cubacabana yielded firearms and ordnance that soon found their way to the Bukāran cell. The new guerillas lost no time in getting their hands to try on the war equipment and in honing up their capacity to handle life-and-death situations.

Consumed by rage over what happened to his daughters, Paāg would soon lead half of his cell in an ambush, about four kilometers away from Bukāran, of what to them were randomly alternating platoons from the Biringan battalion. The government troopers suffered three casualties. One in Paāg’s ragtag team was wounded.

The Biringan battalion responded to the communist atrocity by sending troops, practically in full force, to the ambush site. Tracing a trail by the blood from the wounded rebel, the army men reached Bukāran. They demanded from the startled inhabitants, many of whom were not aware that an ambush had happened and therefore did not see the need to flee, to give the killers away.

Failure to comply within minutes meant ten innocent people, regardless of gender or age, would be sacrificed for each ranger that died in the ambush. At least thirty folks risked losing their lives on the spot.

No amount of begging for mercy, or of profession of innocence, could stop the infuriated military men. Soon, the commanding officer ordered his men to fire.

The soldiers shot everyone within their sight, starting with those who tried to escape. Then they strafed the houses without aiming at anything in particular. Birds that had settled at their favorite branches for their daybreak had to scamper back in the air, forming clouds of feathers and wings, frightened and disoriented, flapping furiously in random directions. Daylight was getting scarce, but there was still enough of it for those who were still alive to witness the bloodshed in Bukāran. What used to be quiet sunsets in this heavenly refuge had become moments of death, of anguish, and of horrible pain. The deafening, nonstop staccato noise generated by bursts of gunfire could not drown the cries of women and children.

When the massacre finally ended, the commanding officer counted the dead: thirty-six. At least five others were mortally wounded. None of the casualties knew anything about the ambush. But they had to perish anyway, in the name of justice known to the madness of anger and violence.

He gathered those who survived at the open field (which served as the barrio’s plaza) to deliver a stern message. He told his audience, a little over a dozen and still trembling with fear, that his troops would retaliate with greater force for any single death of his men.

“I will barbeque you alive and take your innards for pulutan!” he warned. 

When the soldiers left, the Bukāran survivors, after having buried their dead, hurriedly left for yet unknown places, braving the eerie darkness of the night.

On that day, September 28, 1963—exactly 63 years after the Ayunguin incident happened—Bukāran became a no-man’s land.

A week later, armed men which later were identified as members of the military raided the satellite office of Tangdayan in Biringan. They abducted two staff members who never came back, believed to be summarily executed. 

TERESA AND TWO OF HER SIBLINGS (one sister and one brother, the youngest), had hiked through the old trail toward Ilihan hours before her father led the ambush. Paāg had wanted everyone except himself and his fellow guerilla-son to leave for Ilihan, where some of the family’s relatives were still residing. But Minda, his wife, and the eldest son insisted on remaining in Bukāran, saying they had to be around in the event Paāg and his comrades would later need them.

At dawn on the next day, Teresa and her siblings left for La Profesa City, by way of Ilihan, aboard a passenger motorboat. Their relatives in La Profesa were not by any means better off than the Biradayons. Displaced by a series of typhoons in the 1950s, these relatives by Minda’s side squatted along the seacoast at San Jose. They derived their livelihood from mangrove fishing, collecting edible shells which they sold at the La Profesa public market.

The relatives in La Profesa offered the same advice given by their relatives at Ilihan. The farther they were from the reach of possible military reprisal, the better it would be for their well-being. Being a complete stranger to city life, the proposal that they try to go to Manila was highly risky, but it was about the only option they had under the circumstances. Relatives then tried to borrow money needed for the travel to Manila from acquaintances at the La Profesa market, on assurances by Teresa and her siblings that they would send money as soon as it was possible for them to do so. Unfortunately for them, the money they were able to pool together was not enough for the three. 

On October 3, 1963, Teresa and her sister, Waday, boarded a Compañia Maritima cargo and passenger vessel bound for Manila. Temporarily left at their San Jose fisherfolk relatives was their youngest brother. The ship arrived at the pier in Manila early in the morning on October 5, and they proceeded to look for another set of distant relatives, this time from their father’s side, somewhere in the slums of Cerrito.   

After nearly a whole day of effort, Teresa and Waday were able to track the address they were looking for. The kins’ home was already crowded with balut vendors, but like true blood relations in Philippine culture, their hosts welcomed them. At twenty-four, Teresa understood that they were under pressure to hunt for anything to make ends meet, so to speak, not only because she and her sister could not possibly add to the burden of their accommodating but financially hard-up relatives, but more urgently because they needed to send some money back to La Profesa by which to repay a loan.  

A neighbor, on the lookout for new recruits, was kind enough to offer opportunities for Teresa and her sister. Would they like to be waitresses or attendants in a beer joint? Salary was not guaranteed, but they could earn more from commissions than what minimum-wage earners were making. The more their customers got drunk, the more commissions they would earn.

No worries, the recruiter assured them: they would undergo basic training on how to make customers comfortable so that they kept on buying drinks. It also helped that the place where they would be working was just a jeepney ride away from where they lived.

Barely a week in their job as attendants and the Biradayon sisters had already made more money than their family back in Ilihan could ever make in a year. This was the heyday for beer houses in Manila and the suburbs. It was not so much because the local economy was booming, which anywhere could stimulate demand for booze, among other leisure goods or services, but because over the last few years, government had created at least 220 corporations with nothing much to do but to reward partisan supporters with extra income that made happy hours in watering holes truly happy for all. The headquarters of one of these corporations—employing thousands—was located four hundred meters away from the beer joint.  

The Biradayon sisters did not have stunning looks, but they had body curves and bosoms that caused testosterone fluids to boil. But the most enticing come-on of all was that they were new in the hospitality industry; customers knew that being inexperienced was a winning qualification in that kind of work, and they did not have to be told who the newbies were; they knew one whenever they saw one—by the way they talked, the way they hopped from one customer to the other, their awkwardness especially when asked with personal questions, etc. More than all the obvious selling points, the recruiter, who worked as floor manager for the beer joint, hyped the sisters up as “never been touched.”

Customers at “La Casta” tripped among themselves trying to get the Biradayon sisters to attend to them. It was easy to tell who among them were affluent, or at least who among them had the bluster to make themselves appear affluent. They out tipped everyone else so that either Teresa or Waday, or both, would dedicate their attention to them. The truly show-off ones did more than just part generously with tips. They practically hired the waitresses or attendants of their choice as their personal assistants whenever they were around La Casta.

One such a customer was Mr. Dayamante, whose appointment as Executive Vice President of the government corporation was made possible by his being a brother-in-law of an influential crony. His being a VIP, owing to the amount of revenues his patronizing circle of friends had delivered to the establishment, required the floor manager to offer him the best service and customer experience possible before she could attend to the needs of other customers. Some nights, especially during Mondays and Fridays when Mr. Dayamante would be expected to show up, both Teresa and Waday were deemed “taken.” They were expected to be at the beck and call of the favored client. They were also expected to receive relatively larger amounts of tips, commissions, and fees for the night’s work than what they normally would get during the other days of the week, which by themselves were hefty by wage earners’ standards.

It had been looking good so far for the Biradayon sisters. They had enough money by which to rent their own apartment, but their uncle, second cousin of their father, who welcomed them despite his family’s constricted house in Cerrito, asked that they stay with his family. If it looked awkward for family to allow their kind to pack for another place, it was equally awkward for family to ignore a gesture of kindness from their own. But the one thing they did without much talking and delay was to send money to La Profesa, in an amount that doubled what was borrowed for their travel to Manila, on top of some amount intended for the youngest brother and the other members of the family whose whereabouts were still unknown to them.

Before long, Mr. Dayamante was dating separately both Teresa and Waday. Usually, it would be Monday for Teresa and Friday for Waday. Most times during those occasions, both Teresa and Waday would end up in bed with him, even for just a couple of hours. 

One late evening on a Friday, on 2 December 1966, at La Casta, a woman rushed inside to find Waday on the lap of Mr. Dayamante. She was Mrs. Dayamante, the legal wife. She was the kind of wife that believed the opposite of what one saw in dreams was the truth, but was inconsolable when she dreamed of her husband leaving her for another woman.

A catfight erupted, and soon kitchen wares, personal effects, even light fixtures, flew into the air.

Embarrassed and irked, the husband hastily gathered himself and dashed for the exit, leaving the wife behind. He went straight to the parking lot, looking for his Toyota Land Cruiser. He found it and took the wheel, unmindful of the fact that the government-issued vehicle he was using was bundled with a dedicated driver and security detail.

He whipped the gear up for reverse traction almost at the same time he turned the key to fire the ignition. He stepped on the gas pedal as soon as the engine roared to life. The Land Cruiser accelerated backward in ways no one expected. It overran a wooden cart that served as a mobile home for a family of scavengers, pinning to death an infant who was sleeping inside the cart at that time.

Mr. Dayamante alighted and instructed his staff to clean up his mess. He then hailed a taxi like nothing had happened.

Mrs. Dayamante, still fuming, was in the middle of the commotion as policemen arrived at the crime scene. Earlier, she made it clear with the management of La Casta who the real power was behind the façade of overflowing wealth erected by her husband.

Mrs. Dayamante was one of the sisters of a cabinet secretary that commanded enormous respect from the Philippine president himself. In many creative ways she had courted and won the attention of her husband. He was, in his college days, a varsity basketball player and, being coveted by not a few women and girls, had earned breeding rights not accorded to his peers. She competed for his love, and she won.

But after fifteen years of marriage, the Dayamantes remained childless. And as years passed, the man had never been as determined to redeem an ego severely battered by a dubious reputation for having failed to send his genes to the next generation. He told his wife that he normally had long days in the office during Mondays to prepare his company for the work that needed to be completed within the week, and during Fridays to evaluate how his people had carried out the tasks they were asked to perform within the week. The wife also knew, from his brother who created the golden cage for his husband, that Mr. Dayamante was supposed to earn big from discretionary funds made available to him by the company. The wife suspected that her husband was hiding a big portion of his earnings from her. She then launched a discreet probe, with the help of sympathetic staff within his office. She learned where to go to see the proof, and when to strike. 

Dropping names, Mrs. Dayamante explained to the police that the real culprit for her husband’s transgression was Waday. She said her husband got angry when he discovered that Waday was stealing money from his wallet—a story that she made up—which caused him to lose control of the vehicle. The police arrested and indefinitely detained Waday. Fortunately for Teresa, she was spared of trumped-up charges.

The scavengers grieved almost uncontrollably for the death of their second child. They could not believe how their child could die in the way he did, like nothing more than a stray dog. During the day, they moved around Cerrito looking for scraps which they then sold at junk shops. But they always made it a point to park their wooden cart at one end of La Casta’s parking lot during nighttime. They waited for the beer joint to close at around dawn, during which time they collected leftovers that they recycled for their own meal. In return, they helped the janitors at La Casta collect the litter that its customers had accumulated for the day.

The La Casta management tried to console them and, with offers of help for the burial of their son, they somehow succeeded. Life was cheap, made cheaper when one was dirt poor. In the meantime, the criminal, Mr. Dayamante, was beyond the reach of the law.

As Waday, in detention, was full of the same belligerent thoughts that forced her father and one brother to the corner, Teresa had to relocate by force of circumstance. Her uncle had a brother in Aparición that similarly made a living for his family from buying in bulk balut eggs in Pateros, Rizal, cooking them, and retailing them with the help of foot vendors. The house in Aparición was less cramped compared to the one in Cerrito, because most of the Cerrito salesmen were new hires from Ispratly themselves, and therefore in need of temporary accommodation.

Teresa went to Aparición the following day, accompanied by her uncle from Cerrito. There was no point in exposing herself to the wrath of the well-connected Mrs. Dayamante.      

But Mr. Dayamante would be tied forever to the lives of the Biradayon sisters. Before his wife got wind of his cheating, he dated Waday more frequently than he did with Teresa. He promised Waday he would buy her an apartment as soon as she got pregnant with his child; on the other hand, he advised Teresa to take pills whenever they went on a date. The sisters had no idea why Mr. Dayamante favored Waday except for the fact that between the two of them, it was Waday who truly had never been touched.

As it turned out, it was Teresa who got pregnant. She dated somebody else aside from Dayamante, and from the beginning she doubted if he could have been the father of her child. She went through a harrowing pregnancy without Waday by her side, in the company of unfamiliar relatives, and in totally new, strange surroundings. When she delivered the child, she almost passed out from exhaustion and pain. Mothers, it had often been said, go through unbearable pain during childbirth, but also experience inexplicable joy at the first sight of the child she gives life to. In Teresa’s case, she endured the pain, but had to shed a tear at seeing her child with a deformity. Her daughter had a swollen, oversized head.

The twenty-five-year-old mother was doing the dishes and attending to other household chores three days after she gave birth to Luzie. Her La Casta savings had been depleted several months after she relocated to Aparición. Unlike her Cerrito relatives, her kin in Aparición did not show much effort to assure her of their support and sympathy. She had to show that she and her baby need not be a burden to them. But at the end of each day, not knowing how Waday, the rest of her siblings, and her parents were coping, she felt the two of them—mother and child—were alone.

During the months that she and Waday made good money at La Casta, she had opportunities to ask the balut vendors who stationed themselves close to its entrance how they managed to sell anything without moving around the neighborhood, like what the balut vendors retailing for her uncle did. 

The balut vending business was a refuge for many migrants from Ispratly who had been displaced by poverty, typhoons, and, of late, peace and order problems. A balut was a duck egg. Duck farmers usually incubated the eggs until the desired size of the embryo was developed. They then sold them to bulk buyers, like Teresa’s uncles in Cerrito and Aparición. The bulk buyers boiled the eggs until cooked. Then the foot vendors took action from there. Over the years, the balut had earned the reputation as one of the most sought-after exotic street foods in the Philippines, among other countries in Southeast Asia.

The vendors sold the cooked eggs at twice the live gate price; they remitted half of their sales to their bosses (that was how bulk buyers were often referred to) right after getting back from work. The income earned by foot vendors, especially if they sold an average of at least fifty pieces of balut a night, was enough to support those who were starting a family, by modest poor man’s standards. Yet stories after stories of migrants from Ispratly who took up balut vending as a livelihood doodled a temporary launch pad for bigger dreams. There were those who sold balut to earn college degrees, others saved their earnings to become bulk buyers themselves, and there were even more who supported themselves to acquire vocational skills that qualified them to land job contracts abroad. Back in Ilihan, the well-off families, except those who worked for the government and the Filipino Chinese merchants, consisted mostly of those who benefitted from remittances sent by family members who for years had been away as overseas contract workers.

For the next twenty-two years, Teresa sold balut not as an itinerant vendor, but as a stationary saleswoman. She claimed a spot close to the entrance of a beer house in Aparición, a kilometer away from her uncle’s house. The customers around here were indigents by La Casta’s standards, but they loved balut just the same. Teresa was more than equal to the new wave of challenges life presented to her, and she knew she had bigger dreams for herself and her Luzie.