Randy Ford Author- I’M NOT DEAD YET


by Randy Ford

Chapter One
I’m not dead yet, and to reassure people I occasionally write. I’m one who has never settled down, but I also like to think I’m rooted in America, where I was born and raised. But you can’t tell where I’m from by my accent. I like to keep people guessing, and I’m often successful at it. I began this game early on, before we left the States, and it seemed to work for me.

One whole year I worked beside my future wife before I saw her. It worked for me too. You see I became her mystery man, and she said I was weird and still says it about me sometimes. Her ol’ man. I guess she likes weirdness. I mumbled and was unintelligible, and she was warned to keep away from unintelligible men because life was too short to spend time with dullards. Now we both know I’m not a dullard. I just mumbled, and I was unintelligible, and we’re both glad that she took a long view. But her parents were right when they told her that life was too short to spend time with dullards.

What I think of myself shouldn’t be based on what someone else thinks about me. I’m not surprised Susan’s parents opposed our marriage, not the least surprised considering how different Susan and I were, and I can understand why they were horrified because I still mumbled. I was different. I didn’t plan and still don’t, and I guess it scared them more than anything else did. It didn’t make sense to them: my not having a plan or a direction in life. And if for over a year they endorsed their daughter’s rejection of me, then it was understandable why it took them so long to turn a page and accept me as a son-in-law.

I didn’t have a philosophy of life. I didn’t know the meaning of existentialism and how it related to anything. I didn’t give a rats-ass about it, and my use of “rat’s ass” should give a clue about where I’m from. But college, if I got nothing else from it, opened doors for me, which was exactly what mom was afraid of. Now I recall covering all religions of the world … all of them. There were more of them than I can recall. We covered them in two or three sessions, and the major four are Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam (I’ve listed them in alphabetical order to keep from being called biased). And I’ve since encountered all four. Buddhism in Thailand, Christianity in the Philippines, Hinduism in Bali, and Islam in Pakistan. Here’s where I have to be careful. I don’t want to give too much away. The notion that Christ possibly or even probably traveled to India fascinated me, so much so that I’ve challenged my Baptist friends with the idea. Since then I haven’t heard much from them.

Oh, well, you can’t win. But potshots never stopped. When I think of existentialism I think of THE FLIES. I also think of “The Waste Land.” Sartre! Sartre, and despair. Despair. Wrong! Wrong! My favorite has always been Nietzsche, ECCE HOMO. Homo. Excuse me. No wonder my folks never understood me.

So potshots never stopped. Out of step with my classmates, I can look back with satisfaction because few of them have seen the world. The first time Susan and I flew over the Pacific we lost a day forever. Naysayers would say that we’d live to regret it and had we used the day we might’ve accomplished something great, might’ve scored a point or two during all the time we spent on a plane, but I doubt it. There was a sob letter from my parents, in which they took the better-than-thou road. “In this time of war,” my mom wrote, “to abandon, to flee, even to renounce your country is …is …”she couldn’t put her disappointment into words. She was a patriotic soul. But I’m confident that my mom didn’t write it. I was delighted that my dad didn’t either. They couldn’t have written it. My dad’s involvement was limited to his signature at the bottom of the page; naturally my mother insisted that a good letter should never be longer than a page.

Their letter was waiting for us the day we landed in Manila. We didn’t deserve it, and it didn’t deserve a reply; still I replied, “Don’t accuse me of being unpatriotic.” What to write didn’t occur to me just once, but a hundred times, even maybe a thousand. See my mom attacked my integrity and my decision-making and not just mine, but also my wife’s … as if Susan had anything to do with it … poor Susan … and after I dragged her half way around the world. Forgive me, we were still alive, and what right did my mom have to write what she did? Maybe we were making a mistake, but it was our mistake. There! “Don’t accuse me of being unpatriotic.” Now that I got it out of my system, but it still baffled me. She wasn’t thinking. That was it. She wasn’t thinking. But to attack my integrity, my decision-making and not just mine. She wasn’t thinking. I felt sorry for mom and superior and sorry to see her resort to lambasting her son and his poor wife. Baffling. Baffled and pissed. I still wonder who got to her. Susan shared my disappointment, privately and openly, and whenever she had a forum.

Susan always defended me. Defended me against ridicule. Ridiculed by mom and anyone else but I found mom less guilty than other people because I knew she loved me. Straight from her heart she no doubt remembered how World War II took my father away and how he never was the same after he came back … maybe she was thinking of his bravery in Europe, Omaha Beach, and then to have a son runaway from Vietnam. However, I think my dad agreed with me … after what he went through … and maybe that was why he stayed out of it.

After Hong Kong and Singapore, the Philippines was our third choice. During the first week there Susan and I went back and forth over whether we made the right decision. To be fair, it had nothing to do with the Philippines. We had to land somewhere. We jumped maybe when we shouldn’t have and lost a day, and to be fair to the Philippines we didn’t know what we were doing and weren’t sure of anything. We landed … that much we knew. And we knew who we were. We carried American passports and what we could carry in our luggage. And we had a little money. We weren’t broke, married, and had each other and knew as Americans we could work in the Philippines. That wasn’t an option in Hong Kong or Singapore. So out of all places in the world we chose the Philippines. It may have been a long way from home, but there was something American about the place. It was foreign, yet halo- halo (a Philippine desert), or mix-mix … and it suited us. Or for the time being it did, or so we thought.
Chapter Two
Despite having lived in and around huge cities all my life, this time it felt different. Manila. It was foreign, yet familiar, a throw back to when America wasn’t so tame. We weren’t sure. I stepped in an open sewer first thing, and man, was I pissed. I was wearing shoes, and the shoes were ruined as far as I was concerned. And traffic … man, the traffic! I wasn’t looking, stepped in an open sewer, ruined a pair of shoes, and almost got run over all at the same time, and I wasn’t dead yet. Shock! I wasn’t dead. So surely it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. Sure, our impressions weren’t fair … were distortions. Instead of open prairies with sagebrush and mesquite, there were open sewers and everywhere we looked we saw forts with broken glass on top of walls and buildings guarded by men with rifles. And there were guns everywhere. It was like the Wild West, and we felt sure we’d get caught in the crossfire. My!

The day after we arrived I stepped into an open sewer and Susan fell silent for most of a day. The peace wasn’t broken until we got back to our hotel and she started bawling. What had I done? Why had she agreed to give up safety and security of home? Why had she chosen to hookup with someone who’d never settle down? Why? “Why,” she asked herself. I tried to comfort her. I reassured her as much as I could. We weren’t dead yet. I may have ruined a decent pair of shoes, but it wasn’t the end of the world, and we had each other. I had her, and she had me. At that point, Susan had little else, when she sat on the edge of a bed in a strange country half way around the world from everything she ever knew. And I tried to reassure her by pointing out all things we saw in Manila that were the same as home, like signs in English and brands like Colgate and billboards advertising this or that. I wasn’t sure she was listening. I didn’t know if she heard me when I told her I thought she’d grow from the experience while mom’s letter more than suggested that we were idiots to give up what we had at home. Home wherever it was, and I felt the suggestion was biased. To receive such a letter hardly helped, but the next day … a workday … I got mom out of my system by tackling Manila.

I spent days walking up and down sidewalks packed with people … jamed with people. I walked with them, against them, and in places it was impossible to get through them. I was lost, but I knew where I was. And traffic! It was every man for himself, and a showdown at a traffic circle: imagine a traffic jam caused by everyone grabbing the right away at the same time. You had to learn assertiveness and patience or crash.

Then I got a hankering for stuff I missed: “stuff?” “enough?” “more than enough?” “plenty?” “starving?” plenty of starving people. There weren’t many starving people in America, really. Like starving people in the Philippines. We had panhandlers back home, but were they really starving? Now I saw women with children begging especially around churches. “God Bless America,” banana split, milkshake, and booze! Butt off! I wasn’t going to let it bother me.

Weeks later, after thinking about a letter I tried to write about hankering for stuff and starving women with children I saw around churches. About “God bless America,” and how lucky Americans were. And how we substituted halo-halo for milkshakes, and we didn’t know which we liked better. By then, Manila had grabbed hold of us, and I filled the letter I sent with as many impressions of the city as I could.

Under a heading of survival, for example, I wrote, “Susan plans to earn a little bread by teaching English.” After thirty-nine years this seems silly because a majority of people we met in Manila spoke pretty good English. Three years later Susan and I both taught English as a second language in Bangkok. To put my parents at ease, I lied about Susan seeking employment in Manila (how we planned to survive was a question I knew they’d ask), as a rule I didn’t lie. Yet we had a plan. I planned to become a newspaperman, so I went to English newspapers, the Manila Times and the Free Press, thinking it was a good place to start. I knew I had to start before we ran out of money. Thanks to the relationship of the peso with the dollar we still had a small fortune, but we knew it wouldn’t last forever, so I knocked on a few doors. While I wasn’t worried. I knew … I knew we’d survive. For me survival wasn’t a battle…and victory was easy. I figured we could live on almost nothing. But as with anything else, there were a few rules; and rule number one was, don’t run out of money, so I knocked on a few doors.

After a few months, an eternity to us, I established a routine, which I rarely varied. Susan knew what I did each day. No one else, however, could’ve kept up with me. By then no one would’ve guessed that I was relatively new to Manila, having established a beat, thinking a good free-lance newspaperman had to have one. I had to have one even though the Manila Times or the Free Press didn’t hire me. So I kept busy, and rather than be idle and bored Susan looked for a niche of her own. Without connections, there for a while we didn’t know if Manila would work out for us. Connections? I first looked for connections at the University of the Philippines and the American Embassy where I could asked hard questions without being afraid of getting shot. I was looking for a scoop, any scoop. Something that would find its way into print. And I wasn’t afraid to invade someone’s privacy, gain someone’s confidence, and bamboozle my way into places. I knew I could be cagey, and even subversive, if I had to be.

I looked through the papers to see who was in them the most and saw that President Ferdinand E. Marcos was in them all the time. I knew something about him and pegged him as an ambitious character. I didn’t fault him for his ambition because I felt it was what the Philippines needed. And I was prepared to give him credit for public works projects before I knew much about him. Let’s concede that he was probably a crook. I heard he murdered someone, a political rival of his father. But having conceded this, remember the beautiful woman he married. Ah, Imelda! So I decided to pick on Imelda.

The best way for a politician to survive is to crouch behind a woman and let her charm the world for him. It didn’t take me long. It didn’t take long for me to zero in on the former beauty queen and follow her as close as I could from afar. My piece was about what Imelda said to the Pope. “God is love. I have love. Therefore, I will go to heaven.” The important issue here wasn’t Imelda’s sincerity or whether what she said was true or not, but that she was being political. Say what you will about Imelda, but you can’t say she wasn’t political. Now I knew that there would be people for one reason or another who would dismiss me … dismiss me for being a foreigner, or someone who had only been in the country for a short while, but I wouldn’t let it bother me unless I was totally dismissed. I expected attacks. My reply was direct. I wrote, “The last I knew the Philippines was a free country, but Marcos may have undermined this.” It was not simply because I poked fun at the First Lady that attacks came my way. (I welcomed attacks then. I wasn’t dead yet and needed to be noticed.) People were most upset about what I wrote about Imelda because, according to critics, I “demeaned her.”

It was quite possible that I got carried away and that the piece didn’t deserve attention it got. But to argue with me took focus away from Imelda and obscured the point of the piece. It wasn’t so much that she was hypocritical, but that she was funny even when she was trying to be serious. To her, to use her own words, “Life was so beautiful” and “life was so prosperous and life was so full of potential that really one shouldn’t have to sleep.” The piece earned me a few dollars, which I quickly turned into pesos, and I added a clipping of the article to my portfolio. The piece was short and as informative as I could make it. If my critics want to crucify me, let them! If it’s not in print, it won’t hurt me, and a little controversy never hurts either. I was ahead of the game, regardless what they said.
Chapter Three
Susan and I often didn’t agree. She often took positions opposite of mine, but I had to agree with her when she said the First Lady wasn’t a bimbo. I was sticking to my opinions about Imelda, though I didn’t think she was a bimbo. After my article I wanted to find a good Imelda, a nice Imelda, and a smiling Imelda and took a look at projects she launched. And I was determined to get back into print.

“I have a million energy, no longer 1,000.” I wondered, looking for clues. First, what was wrong with what Imelda said about God? Second, should what she said be held against her; nah, why should it be? I’m talking about her saying, “God is love.” How could I criticize her for it? Hadn’t I heard mom say the same thing? And Imelda also said that she believed in heaven; so there you have it. She believed in heaven.

And the Pope’s response: “how childlike.” Wonderful. But this was as far as I would go. As far as I could go and I hadn’t come close to depicting the Imelda everyone loved. Yes, she was idolized. Yet I didn’t give her any slack and presented an opposing view. So I pulled out my Nietzsche and used his declaration “God is dead.” Oh, my! And the “feminine” virtues of Christianity; and at the same time we have Imelda saying, “God is love.” God is love while God is dead. And to have Marcos claim he saved the Pope’s life. Will the Pope then make him a saint? And to have Imelda say, “God is love” while sharing the same stage with the Pope and then have her husband save his life. This was no coincidence. I wonder. Then I had to wonder if there was a story there. Was it worth reporting? Who gave a rat’s ass, really? As a journalist, I believed in giving the public what it wanted. And any editor who believed that they would get balanced reporting and fairness from me was an idiot. To be honest I knew there weren’t many people who read and understood Nietzsche, or gave a rat’s ass. We have to be honest: not very many people read Nietzsche or understand him. And his saying “God is dead” hasn’t helped his reputation either. What about my reputation?

Getting into print gave me confidence enough to go back to the Times and talk to the Drew Pearson of the Philippines. Roberto Concepcion wrote a daily column and I read as many of them about the First Lady as I could, but it didn’t mean that he’d be helpful. Often Roberto Concepcion acted as Imelda’s mouthpiece, when I thought he should be more critical. But who was I to question him? Wasn’t he one of the most powerful men in the Philippines? Didn’t he push through many of her pet projects (literally with a walkie-talkie in hand)? He could get things done when other people couldn’t. With a phone call, over his walkie-talkie, in person or from afar, he was a force to be reckoned with, and I intended to take him on.

I didn’t trust the man. I didn’t trust Concepcion. He used his position and the First Lady’s name everyday to push through his agenda and then wrote columns about her: now wasn’t that a conflict of interest? For that reason I didn’t trust him. Then why would I go to him, if I didn’t … didn’t trust him?

I gave it a lot of thought. What could I get from him? More to the point … what could he get from me? What could I give him? Who could scoop whom? He had access, and I didn’t. He worked for the Times, and I didn’t. He paid his dues … paid his dues, and I hadn’t. Then what would impress him? By my not being intimidated. He was used to intimidating people, so the last thing I wanted was to appear intimidated. When other people bowed down to him, I was determined to get in the door, hold my ground, and stay on my feet. But if he couldn’t help me, he couldn’t help me, while the tone of our conversation was friendly enough.

He was less than helpful. He was polite, soft-spoken, and non-committal, and very much on the side of the First Lady. What did I expect? I was an American. He didn’t know me. I was new in the country … had no credentials. Yet he was polite. Here sat the Drew Pearson of the Philippines, and my portfolio consisted of one short article … and a less than favorable one … about the First Lady, and yet he was polite to me. He gave me thirty minutes, and was polite. He could’ve been rude … or cold. We didn’t talk about his columns, or Imelda. We didn’t get that far in thirty minutes. Of course, I didn’t tell him what I thought about his columns … about how they left me cold because I thought they were full of fluff, especially when it came to Imelda. Now I wasn’t Imelda’s harshest critic, but I wasn’t compromised like I thought Mr. Concepcion was. Here I was an American with balls enough to be sitting in the office of the Drew Pearson of the Philippines and dumb enough to tell him about the article I had just written about his First Lady. I’m not sure where the thirty minutes he allotted me went.
Chapter Four
A few days later, I found myself on the campus of the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman. That’s in Quezon City, the official capital of the country. I had a lead and a name or two and made inquiries before I knew my way around. But I didn’t have many leads and didn’t know where I’d end up. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain and didn’t have a deadline. That was dangerous. I had no idea then how dangerous.

I had never been there before. I found my way by taking a bus from Quiapo, approximately an hour’s ride through part of the city I hadn’t seen before … a jerky ride because of how the driver shifted gears. I was lucky to get a seat. I got preferential treatment because of who I was. Traffic was heavy as always, but luckily it moved along, but it wouldn’t have mattered to me if there were delays. Manila! I tried to take it all in.

I approached the first students I came upon. They pointed me to the administration building. I was actually looking for the student union. I assumed all colleges had a student union and didn’t ask for a specific building by name because I didn’t know the names of buildings. I walked around because I wanted to get the lay of the campus before I talked to anyone. It was important for me to act like I knew what I was doing and where I was going. But I had no idea what I was about to get myself into.

I decided to pretend to be a student … a new student … a foreign exchange student from the U.S. of A, so I carried a satchel full of books. I knew I could talk a good game … always could. Thought I could talk my way in and out of anything. I brought along books I was interest in … Nietzsche’s ECCE HOMO, of course, but some that weren’t so highbrow such as hot off the press COFFE, TEA, AND ME. I thought my reading it would attract interest, and I had already underlined the sexiest parts.

I asked directions to the library. I wasn’t interested in studying, but in an attempt to blend in, I spent a good deal of time in the library. I wanted to be recognized as a student. It was important for me to come across as a student so that I could get a feel for the place. I’m not sure why I felt it was important to get a feel for the place, but I did. And to kill time … because I didn’t have classes … I pulled books randomly off the shelves and read parts of them, and now on a mission, I chose books that would give me information about the Philippines.

I was sure at some point I’d get caught and planned for the eventuality. I knew I’d get caught so I played it cool and never told anyone I was a student … but let them make assumptions. I acted like a student but didn’t really know what I’d say if I were asked about it. I didn’t have student ID, so yes I was taking a chance. And I was cocky enough to think I would get away with it. There was fine line I was walking, and unwilling to cross, and didn’t want to get caught in a labyrinth of lies. So I was determined not to lie. And above all I didn’t want to be mistaken for the CIA. The last thing I wanted was to be associated in any way with the CIA.

But, ah, I couldn’t disguise that I was an American. Like most Americans I was literate in only one language, English, which greatly limited me. My light completion, blue eyes, blond hair also gave me away. I could’ve been European except for my American accent. Otherwise I was indistinguishable from almost any student. Then since I didn’t speak one of the native languages, I could never be sure what people were saying about me, and it bothered me. And I knew that it would be long time before I could joke in one of the languages and knew until I could I would be handicapped. I knew what I was looking for and that was someone who was anxious to meet me. I’m not sure which of us spotted the other first.

As an undergraduate, Nick Santos studied economics and political science, and he said he never considered himself a political animal. Instead he spent most of his time studying and preparing for exams. “My political orientation came straight from parents” (like mine did) “and since I grew up around HUKs in Central Luzon” (my parents were Democrats because of what Roosevelt did for them). “I worked in rice fields with my parents,” Nick went on to explain. ”For a peasant like me to attend a university then …”

I never bought the idea that Nick came from peasant stock. It never jived somehow, and the more I knew him the more I was convinced of it. He was too sophisticated, sly, smart. Sly, smart, idealistic, and naïve. He could be sly, but naïve, and perhaps if he hadn’t been so naïve he might be alive today. But a peasant! I didn’t buy it.

He talked a good game like I did. From day one he accepted me. And here I was an American, and he was anti-America, and we became best friends. He didn’t need me, and I didn’t need him, yet we became best friends. He was a Maoist, and I was brought up in a world that feared, fought, and hated communism, and somehow we became best friends. From day one he talked about Mao. He carried with him Mao’s LITTLE RED BOOK like some people carried around the Bible. On day one he told me about going to China, Red China, during the Cultural Revolution. It didn’t make sense to me that he had been to China, but that was what he told me. And why would he tell me on day one? I still don’t know. And he carried with him the LITTLE RED BOOK and was so open about going to China, but how in the world did he get in and out of China? China was Red. Who lost China? It didn’t make sense to me, yet we became best friends. He was anti-America, and yet we became best friends. I suspect he even suspected that I was CIA, and yet we became best friends. But he never once asked me what I was doing on campus because, I assumed, he assumed I was a foreign exchange student working for the CIA.

On day one Nick told me that he read mostly books on political systems, because, as he said, “without systems nothing worked.” I thought he was pulling my leg. I said to myself, “Who was this guy trying to impress?” I could’ve pulled ECCE HOMO out of my satchel, or better yet COFFE, TEA, AND ME with the sexy parts underlined, but I thought better of it. . For me Nietzsche, and for him Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and Mao. Weren’t they pretty much in the same league, Nietzshe, Marx, and Engels? (I didn’t know about Mao). I had read ECCE HOMO but not THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO. He said he worked through THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO several times, taking notes. I still didn’t pull out my copy of ECCE HOMO. “I’ve never been very interested in individual players or politicians,” he explained.

Then while sitting on the edge of his bed, with a Chinese communist flag hanging on the wall behind him, he tried to impress me with his knowledge of THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, and THE CONSTITUTION and THE BILL OF RIGHTS. He admitted that he read only 50 or so of the 85 essays that make up the FEDERALIST PAPERS and skimmed the rest. No! Come on! Read 50 essays from the FEDERALIST PAPERS? And on day one too, and the way it was going with Nick I wasn’t sure if there would be a day two because I was already tired of him. And yet we became best friends.

All consuming; yet where was the scoop I was looking for? Before going to the campus, I read about the anti-American demonstrations that occurred there almost every day and I assumed that they were all communist inspired.
Chapter Five
Nick tried to convince me that he wasn’t a political animal. He told me more than once that he was more interested in his studies than politics. He said he left demonstrating to other students, but after what I heard next I wasn’t quite sure what to think. “More concerned about securing his future,” was what he said with a smirk on his face, but … but from day one he made sure I knew he was a Maoist. On day one he showed me a copy of THE LITTLE RED BOOK he carried with him and we sat under a Chinese … a red Chinese flag and talked. And he said he wasn’t a political animal?

He said he didn’t have time. Time for what? Politics and demonstrating. Yet he had definite opinions about politics, about Marcos, and from day one claimed he was a Maoist. He said he was thinking about his future. His future? What future did a Maoist have in the Philippines? I wondered. He said he wanted to be a professor … a political science professor … a Maoist political science professor. What future did a Maoist professor have in the Philippines? And he wasn’t a political animal and yet he wanted to teach and gain tenure in the political science department.

I wondered about his trip to China. I don’t know how he swung it … a trip to China … how he got in and out … what lengths he had to go to. Remember China, Red China was considered an eastern piranha then and that the Philippines was aligned with the United States. Rather than be non-aligned or unaligned the Philippines was aligned with the United States and that was one of the main reasons for the demonstrations on UP campus. And somehow smuggled THE LITTLE RED BOOK and a Red Chinese flag back into the country. A Maoist professor on UP campus. A Maoist UP professor who wasn’t a political animal and who went to China as a student. What was with this guy? When professors tended to be conservative he thought he could be a Maoist professor! It didn’t make sense to me.

“Yeah,” he began, recalling his China trip, “they rolled out the red carpet.” I asked him if he had his picture taken with Mao. “No, it would’ve been too risky.”

“Did you meet him?”



“No. I didn’t even get close.”

“That’s too bad, a shame.”

“It was.”

“It all seems risky to me.”

“It was certainly risky considering how Marcos was consorting with the United States … suckering them all the time he was lining his pockets.”

And that was how I found out what Nick thought about Marcos. And he claimed he wasn’t a political animal. But it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that it didn’t make sense to me. I had my contact, and I made friends with him. From day one were friends.

And what I eventually realized was that it didn’t matter to me that he was a communist. It mattered to a lot of people, but it didn’t matter to me. It would’ve mattered to my folks, and I hadn’t forgotten that we were fighting to stop communism, and it was the second war we fought to stop communism. As an American it should’ve mattered … given all the blood that was lost … all the American blood that was lost it should’ve mattered. But here was a self-proclaimed Maoist, and we became friends.

Now if anyone were to ask me about it I would’ve told him or her the truth. I would’ve told them that I was following leads for a story. And what kind of story? An unbiased one because I hate propaganda. Nick may have been a communist, but he was my friend. And I needed Nick. And I used him. And we remained friends … remained friends … remained friends to the end. And if indeed Nick were a communist … a Maoist like he said … would it make what he told me any less reliable? I was a grown man. I could take it … accuse me of being a sympathizer and un-American, I can take it. I hated propaganda then, and I hate it now. I think I was grownup enough then to recognize propaganda and not let it get to me. And I’m not dead yet, which says I wasn’t on the wrong side. Yet I missed a hell of lot, but in reality I wouldn’t have gotten a complete picture anyway. As an American, I couldn’t have gotten anymore.

But to pursue this: let’s say I found out that Nick was indeed a communist, a Maoist, and we became best friends, then didn’t it make me a communist sympathizer? I was an American, and I loved my country. I had to get away from my country for a while, but I loved my country. I didn’t approve of everything my country did, but I loved my country. And I know that Nick didn’t approved of everything his country did, but he loved his country. I’ve heard people say “love or leave it,” but don’t assume because I left I didn’t love my country. Nick was a Maoist, a communist, but he loved the Philippines. And this was something I often thought about …now I wonder. Um! Well, yes, a close friend of mine was a communist, a Maoist. And he told me on day one.

I don’t know if I believed him. Okay. There was no reason for me not to believe him. This wasn’t America. Where I knew how the majority of people felt about communism. About the Iron Curtain. About freedom. How we were fighting communism. Fighting our second war against communism. How I could’ve been in Vietnam. How I could’ve been in Vietnam fighting communism. How I should’ve been in Vietnam. How I should’ve been in Vietnam fighting communism, and I became best friends with a communist, a Maoist. And I’m not dead yet.

But Nick told me on day one that he wasn’t a political animal, and I wanted to believe him. I had to believe him. And it baffled me when they came after me with “you should’ve known.” I should’ve known. But it wasn’t simple. Suppose you’re accused of being a communist because of your association with someone and you end up on a black list … just suppose. It could be worse. Yes, no and as much as you denied it people didn’t believe you. At least you’re not dead yet. Then you came under scrutiny after you wrote your piece, and they said, “Well, since you’re a communist, we can’t accept it.” You put your heart and soul into it and they wouldn’t accept it. You were blackballed when you were not a communist or a communist sympathizer, but you were a friend … best friend of a communist, a Maoist, and you’re not dead yet “Well, since you’re a communist or a communist sympathizer (when you were not), we can’t accept this.” You’re still lucky. You could’ve been dead. “But please don’t burn the piece because you don’t like the source.” And then in turn you could say, “I’m not a communist” as often as you like and leave it at that, or “don’t burn the piece because you don’t like the source.”

We each ate noodle soup, and afterward he insisted that we go to his room. He agreed to talk to me even after he found out that I wasn’t a student. He hesitated but agreed to talk. Right off he told me that he didn’t particularly care for Americans. I appreciated his honesty. I told him I appreciated his honesty and said I could see how he might feel that way. He didn’t particularly care for Americans and said I made him nervous. He invited me to his room, yet I made him nervous and he didn’t like Americans. He didn’t trust Americans … at least he said he didn’t, and still we became best friends. He told me that I made him nervous … on day one … in his room … he told me I made him nervous because I could darn well be … no damn well be working for the CIA. He said I could be working for the CIA and he shouldn’t trust me. Why should he trust me? I was an American and could’ve been working for the CIA. And from his hesitation I got the impression that he didn’t like Americans.

After he invited me to sit down on the edge of his bed … under a communist Chinese flag and he put on some Chinese martial music on his record player … “Freedom on campus is something I cherish,” he said. Funny how I didn’t feel trapped. I have a nose for a story, and I felt like I was getting somewhere. “Academic freedom translates into personal freedom and yet in another sense freedom calls for restraint.” I was trying to take all this in when he said this. And he said I made him nervous. He didn’t like Americans. We were talking. He was talking to an American. He invited me into his room, and we were talking. And he talked about the university being a microcosm of society, and I kept wishing I could take notes but was afraid to because I didn’t want to spook him.

Then as I sat there I got the feeling that he could see through me … that he knew that I was something other than what I was pretending to be. He could see through me, and I became nervous. And although he didn’t come out and say it, he from day one knew that I wasn’t a student. That was when he told me I should stay away from the university. And that was when I felt I had to tell him I was journalist and when he agreed to introduce me to a few of his friends. … like the Student Government president and the editor of the student newspaper; the Kabataanng Makabayan and various other activists. I was in heaven then because I achieved one of my objectives.

Chapter Six
Nick appeared to be downplaying his role in a drama on campus. I didn’t believe him. I was sure he was involved. How could he not have been involved? No, it didn’t make sense to me, just as his claiming he wasn’t a political animal didn’t. But how was I to know?

I refused to let him get away with it. I asked him about growing up. Where he was born … that sort of thing. He looked at me suspiciously. We were still sitting on the edge of his bed, and he volunteered information about going to China, Red China, and there was martial music and a flag and a copy of Mao’s book he carried with him, and he was suspicious when I asked him a simple question like where was he born. Huklandia. I had read about the HUKs and knew that Huklandia was Central Luzon. Tarlac in Central Luzon was Huklandia. And for some reason Nick wanted me to know that he was a Maoist and that he’d been to China, Red China, but didn’t want me to know that he was from Huklandia.

“HUKs were branded communist,” he explained.

“Were they? And were they?”

“No. Not the ones I knew.” And to my direct question, “Were you ever involved with the HUKs?” he said “no” again, and then said, “In tangible ways we saw quality of our lives deteriorate as violence increased. The government had to have someone to blame, so the HUKs got the blame. Blame, blame, blame … shame, shame.”

I saw how uncomfortable he was, so I asked, “What’s the possibility of solidarity in a pluralistic society?”

“What? You’re joking. You have to be joking.”

“Do you believe in democracy?”

“You’re putting me on.”

“Of course, I am. And you’re English is surprisingly good.”

“Solidarity in a pluralistic society, hell!” To which we burst out laughing. “Hell, then, let’s get out of this room.”

“Away from music.”

“You don’t like music. You don’t like my music.”

“It’s not music.”

“Do you believe in democracy? You’re pulling my leg. You see I know my idioms … speak good English, no? Let’s get out of here and exercise our freedom. Do I believe in democracy?”

“Well, I don’t see you out there demonstrating.”

“I’ve demonstrated.”

“And you don’t care for Americans.”

Then we burst out laughing again as we left his room. Exercising our freedom meant something to him and something different to me. But to get my story I was willing to play along. And I could tell that to a certain degree he wanted to keep me guessing … divulge a little here and divulge a little there … this tidbit for that tidbit … just enough to string me along. I could tell that he wanted something … things … things from me just as I wanted something … things from him. And keep me guessing. But why? Why would he tell me on day one that he was a Maoist? Unless … unless he wasn’t one.

Mao Zedong. When I think of Mao Zedong, I always think of the question, who lost China? Who lost Red China? Now that China was Red people were asking, who lost China? The big question was then was who lost China? Mao Zedong. Nick said political scientists dealt with ideas and theories and could say whatever they wanted under the guise of academic freedom. “Scholars are considered valuable because of their ideas and theories and can be revolutionary without firing a shot.” Mao Zedong. What if Nick had his picture taken with Mao?

Nick told me that they learned quite a bit from Mao. Mao Zedong. He obviously liked Mao Zedong and liked saying Mao Zedong’s name … liked the way the Z and the D exploded when he said Zedong-Zedong. Like I liked asking, “Ba ba ba, ca ba?.” while I never knew whether I was asking “going up or going doing down?” And as a political science major Nick also liked to spout off theories while he emphasized that theories were simply theories until they were put to use. And as far as anticipated battles, Mao’s theories would prove useful. Nick kept going back to Mao and his ideas … ideas about revolution … about how a small revolutionary group could take on a large, well-equipped army and win. About how Marcos had a surprise coming. “Marcos has a surprise coming.” I wondered what he meant when he said, “Marcos has a surprise coming.”

And he talked about our military bases … an easy target … and Vietnam … and I knew we wouldn’t do anything about our military bases until we got out of Vietnam, and all this seemed to me like a repeat of what I would’ve heard had I gone on any college campus back in the States.

“When we think of America, instead of conjuring up images of peace, we see war and wonder what it’s all about …about big guys imposing their will on the small fries. The first thing big guys might say is. ‘This is right.’ While the small friespoints to the ground and says, ‘This is home.”

“I hear you.”

“Do we know who would win? A large, well-equipped army pitted against a straw army, who would win? Actually, right now, it’s a tossup. We’ll have to wait and see; but I predict… The fact is that none of it squares with logic.”

Mao again! I’d heard enough. Time for a cool one … a cool San Miquel. It was on me. I didn’t trust the water.
Chapter Seven
Both of us more or less enjoyed each other’ company. I was curious about him, and he was curious about me. Nick wanted to know all about me and why I came to the Philippines. And when I admitted that I was married, he wanted to know how many children I had. When I told him that we didn’t have any children he wanted to know why. These were questions I expected. I should’ve had ready-made answers. Most of my answers didn’t satisfy him. I don’t know what he expected.

I listened to his discourse about Mao, war, politics, and history, and he listened to mine about my family. I bought him a beer. It pleased him, just as I was pleased with one of the best beers in world. It was one thing we shared that was safe, and it relaxed him. He asked again what brought me to the Philippines. And why I was married and didn’t have children.

“Ever want to see what’s out there … what’s beyond the horizon?” I asked. “I want t to be frank. I didn’t want to get caught like so many of my friends did. I wanted to see the world before it was too late … before we had children and were tired down.”

“How are your parents? What do they think?”

“They’re alive and kicking. My father doesn’t think I’ll amount to much. My mother tends to believe in everyone. My father is a skeptic. I’m more like my father than my mother. I also tend to be naïve. So you tell me. What brought me to the Philippines?”


“You right! And smart.”

He then said he’d like to hear more about America.

”Discovery of America was a mistake,” I began. “Yes, a big mistake. And do you know why discovery of America was mistake? Christopher Columbus. Yes, Christopher made the mistake of thinking that he’d reached the Philippines. But he hadn’t. He was mistaken. So the discovery of America was a big mistake.”

“He thought he discovered the Philippines?”

“Yes. Yes, sort of. Yes, Columbus was mistaken about a number of things. You and I know he discovered America and how he knew the world was round because Columbus was no fool.”

“Yet he made a few mistakes.”

“Yep, a few mistakes. He couldn’t distinguish one palm tree from another and underestimated the circumference of the world. And he didn’t have a television. If he had a television he would’ve known these things.”

“And Columbus thought he’d discovered the Philippines. What about the other Spaniard?”

“Nick … never mind.”

“And then America discovered the Philippines, and we haven’t been the same since.”

“Don’t blame me.”

“Who’s blaming you for America’s sins? I’m certainly not.”

“Thank you. Thank you very much.”

“A lot of people here still look up to Americans.”

“But you’re not one of them. You don’t particularly care for us. But I hope we can be friends.”



“Okay. We can be friends.”


“We’ll remain friends as long as it’s in our best interest. Friends, as long as we give you preferential treatment! Do you know what our word for toothpaste is? Colgate. Smile.”

Nick was now late for class. We lost track of time, enjoyed our beers, and exhausted each other. We said goodbye without saying we’d meet again.

The next week I kept hoping I’d run into Nick. I spent most of the time in the library questioning myself over why we were in the Philippines and trying to work through my feelings about my country. Was I negative or positive? Was I pro-American or anti-American? I went back and forth and couldn’t decide. While I knew Nick’s perspective had been more or less negative. Was I mistaken about America? Was my discovery of the Philippines a mistake?

In 1970, after leaving the United States where I lived all of my life, I said … I have to be honest; I … had been out of the country for several months and said I have to be honest and ask, “Can I be objective?” I have trouble being objective. I am egocentric and have trouble being objective. I tended to be egocentric when my ideas were no better than the next guy’s and most people didn’t give a rat’s ass what I thought. The most notable difference between the next guy and me was our experiences. It all boiled down to experiences and choices and the biggest choice so far was Susan’s and my choice of the Philippines. Did we choose the Philippines or did the Philippines choose us? Or did we choose to Philippines because it was an English speaking country. And was the discovery of the Philippines by America a mistake? It wasn’t a mistake as for as I was concern because most people in the Philippines speak English … thanks to America. So the discovery of the Philippines couldn’t have been a mistake.

I had come a long way from thinking the discovery of America was a mistake to thinking of America’s discovery of the Philippines. I should say we came a long way. Sitting in the library I started thinking about how we came a long way. And I started thinking about home.

I thought back to a house and a street, to 2112 on top of a hill and found myself in a middle-class neighborhood where lots were large enough to require a power mower. To kids and neighborhood friends playing in the backyard under a horse-apple tree; to boys pitching knives, and girls doing something more civilized. A man was standing on the front porch, ringing the doorbell. It was Mr. Spam. ”Come in, Mr. Spam. Have you come to collect?” mother asked. Mr. Spam (a man in his early fifties and a chain smoker) was always correct with his change and proper in his manner. His hands were cutup and toughened from rolling papers with wires, and he had a business proposition to discuss. Mom invited him in, and he waved off an attempt to pay him. He was reluctant to talk to her during the day while dad was at work. He came in the evening and we learned that he wanted me to roll papers for him, a first job for me and I had just entered Jr. high school. It would work out because it was an afternoon paper.

When he went to work, dad drove twenty-five miles in an old second-hand pickup. “This Ford clunker gets 35 miles to the gallon,” he bragged, “and that’s pretty damn good considering and thanks to Ford I don’t have to worry about getting to work.” He spoke with the authority of someone who had only driven Fords.

He said to mom, “I was going through the Sears & Roebuck catalogue … Well, I just got a raise and thought since we have money to spend why don’t we spend it on a mixer.” And as far as mom was concerned, all modern-day appliances from Sears & Roebuck were reliable, since Kenmore and Maytag made them. “American quality,” dad said, “was a misnomer, since everything was made to breakdown and wear out, rather than last,” but he didn’t care. Instead of buying out a catalogue, as a rule, they bought from a store and bought it from a store so that they could have it immediately. They had to have it immediately. There were many things they wanted and had to have immediately and could afford because of credit that they started building on the day they were married. And credit, everyone knew, was ultimately good for everyone, and the philosophy behind our greatness, America’s greatness. It was important then not to get too weird over money; and it had to be said, and said often, credit was a good thing, and the country wouldn’t run without it. So any job after school was good for me because it taught me how to work. And my dad said, “You can’t be choosy.” And to make the point, he said when he started working he worked for seventy-five cents a day, and Mr. Spam was going to pay me a dollar an hour. I couldn’t be choosy even though I was only making a dollar an hour rolling papers after school. And the reason why our country was so great was because we weren’t afraid of work. We found meaning in work, work was an expression of who we were. It was why we got up in the morning. We were nothing without it and losing a job was like dying. And having a job at the same place for thirty years usually meant benefits, insurance and a pension.

“Out of all the people I knew,” I confessed, “I disliked myself most, which wasn’t surprising because I knew myself best. I easily got down on myself, endlessly pick at things about myself. I would browbeat myself; it was a kind of masochism. Besides what I did to myself, kids made fun of me and bullied me. They intimidated me with superior athletic ability; like a klutz, I couldn’t dance, catch a ball, or get a date. So during my junior and senior years in high school I picked myself up and dusted myself off, and said to hell with them. That’s when I became editor of the school newspaper. By then I had the experience of rolling papers by me. I started from the bottom and worked my way up to becoming a newspaperman. I had smell ink my veins, and though it me sick I loved it. After I became editor of the newspaper my confidence grew to match the star quarterback’s, or rather, the mascot’s, a guy running around in a rooster outfit.
Chapter Eight
Susan found a job teaching English lit at the American School, just as it became known as the International School of Manila, a more accurate name since the American expatriate population was shrinking. A job wasn’t hard to find because of parity and because the American expatriate population was shrinking. It was a good time for an American woman to be looking for a job, but a bad time for taking a job at the American School. Susan’s timing was bad because almost immediately there was a teacher’s strike, a strike for higher rages, which was a good thing. The teachers argued, “How can we live on a salary of 450 pesos a month?” 450 pesos a month wasn’t a lot of money. 560 pesos a month wasn’t much better. And just how nasty did it get? 560 pesos a month certainly wouldn’t have broken the bank.

While the administration said, “Women we hire don’t have to rely on their salary because their husbands make good money.” But what if their husbands were like me and didn’t get a regular paycheck? What if they were widowed? Single? Had a bunch of kids? For after all this was a Catholic country. But the American school hired mostly women … mostly married women … mostly wives of expatriates even after it became the International School. They made it a practice to hire married women … mostly expatriates … with husbands who were either in the military or the diplomatic corps, and whose husbands made good money. But we didn’t fit the profile.

It looked as if it were going to be a bitter struggle. Teachers formed a union. Susan wasn’t sure if that was a mistake or not. The teachers formed a union and voted to go on strike. Susan didn’t know if a strike was such a good idea. She hadn’t been there long enough to know, and besides we needed money, and Susan thought students would suffer. The administration struck back, initiated a lockout and wouldn’t budge. Eventually the teachers finally caved. They settled for 600 pesos a month. They loved teaching or else they wouldn’t have done it.

Some days I went with Susan to Makati. We would take a bus to Ayala Boulevard and get off in front of the old, grand Rizal Theater. She would walk from there to the school at Bel-Air Village. I rode noisy buses to Makati to get in touch with what I left at home. I had to have my fix more or less once or twice a week and often spent the afternoon watching a movie or a polo match. I hadn’t been fan of polo before we came to the Philippines. That was when I got my Big 20 Hamburgers and stocked up on Tootsie Rolls.

More than once I went to the American Cemetery (out of respect for the fallen) and observed American tourists with cameras, taking pictures of each other among rows of crosses and tried to guess where they came from. I kept hoping to run into someone I knew. Maybe someone from Texas, even north Texas, so that we could swap stories about Big Tex. I thought I could spot Texans by their swagger.

By then I considered myself an expatriate and would never carry a camera or admit that I was from Texas. Now I don’t have anything against Texas or Texans. How could I have anything against Texans since I’m from Texas? Texas born and bred, but I worked hard to get rid of my Texas accent, and wouldn’t be caught dead with a camera. I didn’t want to be considered a tourist, wouldn’t be caught dead with a camera, and had definite views about war, war in Vietnam, wars, wars in general, good ones and bad ones. My dad fought in a good one, a good war, but I wasn’t sure about Vietnam … at least not yet.

I wasn’t a deep thinker … at least not yet. I wasn’t affected by war, or so I thought. Fuzzyheaded … I hadn’t given it much thought. At one point I was definitely for the war, and then I changed, changed my mind about it. Does that make me fuzzyheaded? Nick and I became friends. What does that make me? To the left? Left of where I’d been? I definitely felt I didn’t fit in Texas any more. Some people would call me a fuzzyheaded liberal. I can accept it. Especially after I met Nick and an education I got from him … considerably more radical and left leaning than any schooled liberal thanks to the Philippines. And yet I went to Makaki at least once week to eat a hamburger, watch a movie or a polo match and to get away from the Philippines … as far away as possible … at least for a little while.

Susan would let me have a few pesos. That seemed generous since she made only 600 pesos a month and after rent and food took so much. I regretted that she didn’t get to go to the movies with me during the week and had to wait until the weekend when we went to the movies downtown, which were cheaper and where we could hear Tagalog with English subtitles.

Some days I liked to just walk around Makaki and take in the Wall Street of the Philippines. There I could operate elevators by myself and instantly recognized businesses like Bank of America, IBM, and Hotel Inter-Continental. I liked to walk through the lobby of Hotel Inter-Continental and go into boutique shops … not to buy anything but to look around. When I wanted to cash a traveler’s check I went into Chase Manhattan Bank, where I knew I always had a friend. “Howdy,” a teller looked very smart. Goodness, she was from Texas! I could tell she was from Texas from her accent. With her mouth full of teeth, perfectly straight and white, she could’ve been a paid spokesperson for the bank and Texas.

I remember handing her a cashier’s check sent to us by my dad back in Texas. It was a small check, as good as any but was issued by a different bank. Now remember that the slogan for Chase Manhattan was “You always have a friend at Chase Manhattan.” Well, she wasn’t very friendly, not very friendly at first. And she wasn’t going to cash my check. She wasn’t going to cash my check at first. With her mouth full of teeth, and perfectly straight and white, she wasn’t very friendly. ”Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, handing it back to me, “But we can’t cash this. You’ll have to take it down the street.” I started to put it back into the billfold I kept in my front pocket. It was unsafe to carry it in my back pocket. It contained my ID, more than my ID and was fat and bulky. A friend, huh! She was basically ignoring me, as she waited for me to leave, and put my billfold in my front pocket, which was what I was about to do when I decided to give it another shot. Now we needed money because of the strike, so I saddled up to her and reminded her … “what happened to ‘You Always Have a Friend at Chase Manhattan.’” And by George, it worked. And from then on she was my friend, my Texas friend.

Chapter Nine
During this time I hadn’t forgotten my mission in life. And I knew that I had to be at the right place at the right time, but I had no intentions of becoming part of the story. Instead I wanted to remain on the sideline and like a good reporter be objective. And only as a bystander could I be objective yet I was looking for an angle … something, looking for something, I didn’t know what. Like all reporters, I was looking for a scoop … something. I didn’t know where to start, so I started by hanging out at the university with my ear to ground. I always thought I had a nose for news … with ink in my veins and a nose for news I wanted to get an inside scoop without becoming part of the story. So I was drawn to the University of the Philippines where students were demonstrating almost every day.

I could’ve focused instead on the International School, where I had an in. Susan certainly came home with an ear full. First with teacher’s complaints, a strike and then defiant students, it seemed as if dissent and unrest was catching in Manila … in other universities and schools in Manila … just as dissent and unrest was catching in the United States and around the world. But were students at the International School just as revolutionary as students at universities? I didn’t know, but the International School didn’t erupt like the University of the Philippines did. And I couldn’t have hung around a high school like I did the university. .

I kept running into Nick. It wouldn’t have happened had we not been looking for each other. At first it just sort of happened; then we made it happen.

I pumped Nick for details about his life, about why in the world he became a communist, a Maoist … why he would want to become a Maoist when everyone knew Mao was an evil man and after what he did to his country. Of course, Nick didn’t think Mao was evil or that he messed up China. While he accepted as a fact that Mao had taken drastic steps, Nick said drastic steps were necessary during drastic times. Drastic didn’t seem like the right word to me to describe what he meant, but I let it slide. He said, “It shouldn’t matter that I am a Maoist. What matters more is my nationalism.” I understood why he would be a nationalist, but I still didn’t understand why he openly admitted he was a Maoist … a Maoist during the Cultural Revolutions and when China was its reddest. I couldn’t have gotten into China then. Let me just say the reporter in me was curious. But I wasn’t about to make him the story because he became my source, and I protected sources.

Nick told me that he had always been for a Philippines free of foreign interference. “And it’s always been a struggle. More than Mao it has been what has motivated me. I grew up in Central Luzon among HUKs. My father was one of the first HUKs. I simply followed his lead, so it was logical for me to go to China, and it’s just as logical for me to be here now. I’m where I’m suppose to be.”

I asked him if he ever thought of going somewhere else.

“Take what’s happening here now … no. No, I wouldn’t want to be anyplace else. Take what’s happening here now … it’s a good sign that in the future our country will be in good hands … our future leaders go to school here. Take what’s happening here now and pare it down to its essence, ideology is no longer necessary. Take what’s happening here … the thing to remember is that we’re all nationalists. So I never thought of going anywhere else. They welcome all stripes here. It is called academic freedom. So I can be a communist. It isn’t news. I can be a communist. I am a communist. I can be anything I like. After China, I came home all fired up and can say now it isn’t news. And it shouldn’t be surprising given that my father was a HUK. I have respect for HUKs. I have respect for academic freedom. I have respect for the president of the university for giving us academic freedom and standing up to Marcos.”

Then you can imagine my surprise when I found out that Nick had an American girlfriend. Elaine was very passionate, he said, and he wanted to tell me about her before I saw them together. It made sense to me that he wanted to tell me about her and made more sense than a Maoist having an American girlfriend did. Having an American girlfriend caused him problems, but he said she was worth it. It didn’t surprise me that Nick had girlfriend, but that she was an American … that was something else. He said they were real close. He, however, wouldn’t be seen on campus with her.. “When I first met Elaine,” he said, sipping jasmine tea, “I didn’t know how to handle my lust for her, but she helped me with it. She still excites me, imagine it.” (I could.) “Her father runs the American Navel Base on Cavite …” (Imagine a Maoist dating the daughter of the commander of an American Navel Base!) “… and they live in Forbes Park as in Makati.” Imagine. “When I found this out, I became conflicted and thoroughly pissed. I had to overlook certain things. She saw that I was having a problem with it, and being Elaine she said, ‘Nick, it could be just as embarrassing for me.’ And it has been, believe me.”

After our conversation, Nick arranged for me to meet Elaine. I told them then that I’d like for them to meet my wife. If they couldn’t handle it, it was okay. “I’m glad you two met. Maybe I shouldn’t care. It’s what makes life interesting, don’t you think?”

Now it was time for the four of us to take in a movie. The movie was my idea, and we went to the old Rizal Theater in Makati. Susan met us there after school. Nick was overly polite, Elaine was equally so, and Susan got along with them both. Susan was generally agreeable, and we all agreed that we were hungry for hamburgers. And Nick suggested eating at the Tropical Hut. We saw BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID in English. Elaine and Susan loved Newman and Redford while Nick and I loved action. When we went in, we stocked up on Choc-nuts and R.C. Colas and headed for the balcony. Nick led the way from the beginning, from when we met Susan on a street corner, and said, “We prefer the balcony so that we can neck. It’s a better view … what do you think? If we sat on the front row we’d have to crane our necks.” Nick looked pleased with himself, and though we could’ve been in America, almost anywhere in America, it seemed to suit him, Nick in his loose-fitting polo shirt. After ushering us up a grand stairway to the balcony, Nick led us down to the front row, where we could slouch and prop our feet up on the railing. He seemed extremely relaxed. We whispered and were extremely courteous, as we found our seats. Before the show started, we all stood and sung the Philippine National Anthem in Tagalog. Susan and I had to follow words as they ran across the bottom of the screen, and in that way we soon learned The Philippine National Anthem..

At the Tropical Hut, Elaine had her first chance to really talk. “I live near here…it’s the principle reason we do…because of convenience … conveniences,” Elaine said at one point. “I listen to my mother when she talks about conveniences. I personally don’t care, because I think it’s sad… sad and a shame to live in a foreign country with all these American conveniences and never get out and really see the country … the Philippines. You can live here without ever feeling like you’ve left the United States. I may be exaggerating, but not much. Susan, since you teach at the International School, you know what I mean. I take in quite a bit more than my mother does, or else I wouldn’t have met Nick. I keep hoping I can get Nick and my parents together. Get him to come to my house. And to go out to dinner together … it would be nice sometime. My parents never go out, but when they do, they never leave Makati. There’s not much I can do about it though. There are security concerns, I suppose. But by the time dad flies in from Cavite every evening, and drives home from the Embassy…as anyone would be…he’s pretty pooped, and so far he hasn’t convinced mom to live in Cavite. And, of course, I’m thankful, but it’s pretty clear to me why my mother doesn’t want to live in Cavite. Comparing the two places, Cavite and Makati, it’s easy to understand, especially for someone who has been a Navy widow for most her life, all of this is not as superficial as it may seem. So I can’t blame her. Just to let you know, I wasn’t around when dad convinced mom to come with him to the Philippines.”

After we finished our hamburgers, Susan and I weren’t sure where Elaine and Nick went. We didn’t follow them; that was for sure. I assumed they went to Nick’s place.
Chapter Ten
Yes, by then, Susan and I had our own apartment, and it wasn’t anywhere near Makati, or as upscale as houses in Forbes Park were. We didn’t have a swimming pool. We didn’t have a backyard. It was small, a small apartment, but in Manila small was relative. But it was all we could afford on Susan’s teacher’s salary. None of the teachers who relied on their salary lived in Makati, and most expatriates like us couldn’t afford it either. Instead they lived on Taft or in Ermita or someplace else where they could live relatively cheaply. They’d eventually move when they made more money and send their children to the International School when they could also afford it.

I thought that we had best live within our means and that the best way was to live and eat like Filipinos did. Except … there were always exceptions to everything … except for an occasional hamburger … except for an occasional American movie and hamburger … except for a weekly hamburger and a trip to the supermarket, and the only supermarket in the country was located in Makati. So it was hard for us to avoid Makati, more so for Susan than me since her school was located there.

I didn’t mind putting up with a few inconveniences. Inconveniences were expected. If we weren’t willing to put up with a few inconveniences we would’ve stayed home. Inconveniences such as having no water pressure. We had no water pressure in our apartment, so we invested in a pump. All over Manila there was no water pressure, and it was a major problem. It was easy for us to be critical when it came down to something as personal as not having water pressure. It was easy to point fingers, especially when not having water pressure led to major fires that left thousands homeless.

Nick and I never talked about the lack of water pressure. We talked about many things but not about the lack of water pressure. We talked about fires, but not the lack of water pressure. About displaced people, loss of property, and oss of life, but not lack of water pressure. We talked about many things.

One of his favorite topics was imperialism. I hadn’t thought much about imperialism until he started talking about it. I don’t remember studying imperialism. Of course, I knew what it was, or I thought I knew what it was until Nick started talking about it. Imperialism … I didn’t have to look it up in a dictionary. Yet I was to learn that the American idea of imperialism was different from the Philippine one.

I learned what Mark Twain thought about the Philippines … from him … from Nick. I really didn’t care what Mark Twain thought about the Philippines, but Nick seemed to think that I should care. About McKinley and Taft … we lived on Taft Avenue. And Nick said that many attitudes remained the same as when President McKinley searched for the Philippines on a map and said, “they need America’s help in order to be free.” But Filipinos said back then, “We told you, we don’t want your help. But did you listen? The offer of help, whether direct or implied, which came with you when you came over here, wasn’t given without a cost to us.”

Then Nick went on to explain, “This means that if you do something for me, then I’m obligated to you and it makes me feel little; and I’ve committed myself to you and deserve to be called your little brown brother.”

“Little brown brother?”

“Yes, little brown brother. And I’m bound and feel obligated.”

“Bound and feel obligated”

“Yes, just as you’re blond, white, and tall, I have black hair, am brown, and short. It shouldn’t make a difference, but it does.”

I wasn’t sure what he was talking about, but it made me feel uneasy and unsure of our relationship..

We also talked about Elaine and the relationship he had with her. He said he sometimes thought it was wrong and that he should go back home and take a forest bride. In an attempt to explain, he said, “Sex, love, and revolution. A forest bride is the revolutionary solution to the sex problem. You see … I know that Elaine’s and my relationship will end. It won’t work out in the end. And I should tell her now. But maybe she knows it. I know it’s inconsistent. It’s what makes us humans. Our inconsistencies make us human. But I wouldn’t hurt her for anything in the world. And that’s part of a problem. I wouldn’t hurt her. Then too why should I give up a good thing? She has no sympathy for me and doesn’t attempt to help me out of my dilemma, which excites me.”

Was it possible to be a Filipino revolutionary and love a white American woman?

Nick pointed out that the relationship between a male guerrilla and his forest bride was never meant to last forever. And it was acceptable for married men to take forest brides, as long as legal wives and forest brides were aware of the arrangement, and if they all knew it was temporary. “If you want to know the rationale behind it, you’ve got to look at what it does to men to be away from their wives for a very long time. Taking a forest bride is a sensible way of solving the problem. Elaine is very mature, and between us we’ll be able to work it out. I know that some of my revolutionary friends frown on our relationship, and that’s hard to accept. They take a hard line and call it betrayal. She and I try to downplay the emotional part … to soften the blow when it comes perhaps. I know we love each other. That’s all that counts. It’s a struggle for me. Sometimes I think too much about loving someone. To be a revolutionary, you almost have to forget about having a life. That’s why I’m not a very good one … not very good revolutionary.”

Chapter Eleven
We talked too long, and he said he was late for a class. We’d have to continue some other time, so we said goodbye, as he gave me a copy of LITTLE BROWN BROTHER. LITTLE BROWN BROTHER … I knew nothing about the book. I thank him and felt as if I sat through a lecture. Was it what he intended? Imperialism: imperial, royal, regal, monarchical. I had to return to a dictionary. Imperialism or manifest destiny … imperialism, manifest destiny or white supremacy. I didn’t like the implications. Nick bared his soul. I wondered why, and why we were suspicious of each other.

Not long afterwards I ran into Sonja Hernandez. She, Roberto Concepcion, and Alfred Bruno made up the core of a fledgling television industry; and they were somehow connected with Nick. Ms. Hernandez was by reputation a dynamo and had few enemies. Sonja was one of those people who could do two or three things at the same time, which gave an impression that she also could be in two places at once, and this impression came from her ability to live and work in two worlds … television and politics…both of which she tackled running. Sonja never stopped running. She easily outran most everyone else because she didn’t stop running and didn’t run on Filipino time. She set her watch ahead to be on time, and for that reason she stayed ahead.

Everyone knew or suspected that she was getting ready to challenge Marcos. That was when people could challenge him (if it were ever possible). She was an independent person, independent and not affiliated with any party. Sonja wouldn’t have gotten where she was if she hadn’t been independent. I read about her before I met her; and I was surprised how easily I got into her studio (which was in Makat), and how quickly she accepted me. She let me in and captivated me. It wasn’t long before I became a regular. She was clearly in charge, very much in charge and in control of everything…a position she earned in spite of her gender, which was quite an accomplishment.

I wrangled an interview through Nick and asked her about her work. She said, ”I grew up in the television business, since my father was a pioneer here. He would’ve been proud of me … how far I’ve come … what I’ve been able to achieve. But I’m here because of my edginess … and because I have balls.” With this she started laughing. “I know … I know … you’d never expect a woman to say what I just said, would you? A Filipina, no less! That’s why I’m here. Why I’m respected. Feared. And I haven’t been shot at recently. They wouldn’t dare. Yes, I find time for politics. No, I won’t run for president, though I think it’s time we had a woman president. The one thing I’m not is I’m not for sale. Realize that there can’t be a direct link between a television producer and a specific candidate. Still I’m involved. I’m told I’m too involved. Perhaps I’ll find a way to bring the two together … my work as a producer and politics.”

She ran into Nick at the university like I did. Give one to the university for attracting the best minds. She met Nick at the University of the Philippines and liked him, but unlike him, she wasn’t left-leaning. Her business sense steered her in the opposite direction, but still they were friends … just like Nick and Elaine were lovers.

Sonja showed me around the studio. She still had time before the start of a run-through. As she made time for me, she took care of small details, as we walked around a set. She didn’t seem rushed as the two of us entered the control room, where there were people who seemed very, very rushed. They were faced with the realities of live television. She told me that she never got tired of pressure. ”It’s in my blood. See, as a little girl, my father used to bring me here.” To her, though, she had a ways to go.

And what about her politics? She explained, “I’ve always believed in capitalism. I still believe in capitalism … and democracy … capitalism and democracy go together in spite of … in spite of flaws in the system. Maybe we need to reinvent the system. Your capitalistic and democratic system is different from our system … though you gave it to us. They being different proves that they can be reinvented.”

In response, I said, “You do have balls lady.”

She laughed and said, “Here we’re passionate about our politics.”

“Enough said.”

“Perhaps too much. Besides friendship, Nick and I have something else we share. We oppose Marcos.”

I then asked if she knew Marcos personally.

“Yes. He’s handsome,” she replied with a smile. ”Rather wiry and very, very intelligent, though you’d think it was his wife who had the brains…shrewd, ruthless, intense and with an unpredictable mean streak. You need to understand that I never said any of this. As long as you’re in the Philippines I can make or break you. That much I have common with Marcos.”

Her directness impressed me. Yes, she had balls … while it unnerved me. Had balls and broke the stereotypical image I had of Philippine women. I only hoped she didn’t have horns. I could see her standing up to Marcos. But there wasn’t any harshness about her though, so I wondered if she was ruthless enough to stand up to Marcos. Tough, tough-minded, but was she tough enough? I would get to know her well, but I wasn’t sure why she allowed it. In a country where smooth interpersonal relationships were so important, I quickly learned she broke the mold.

Chapter Twelve
I also met Vincente at the studio. Vincente became a legendary director of Philippine movies. His movies were distributed internationally and were presumed to have lasting value, though his career was cut short. Alfred became a close friend of Susan and mine, and he took care of us more than Nick and Sonja did. He was very kind, and we often wondered where his kindness came from. It was small things. It was just the way he was, though I knew he wasn’t a saint. It was small things that attracted him to us.

Vincente often appeared at our door with some small thing. Out of the blue he’d appear with something to cook … a bag of bean sprouts or a chicken. He liked to cook so much that to this day I associate him with a ladle and a pot. Once he brought us a puppy and another time two chicks. He always brought with him a smile. Yes, he was very generous, but he didn’t have much money in those days. He didn’t have much money, but he shared what he had. It didn’t make any different to him (or to us) that he didn’t have money.

He was short and stocky, a miniature of his favorite director Alfred Hitchcock. Notice that they shared the same first name, and their faces were similar too, except our friend was a Filipino with Malay features. We went to see every Hitchcock film that came to town, and I know that he saw them over and over again.

Vincente’s voice was high-pitched but not effeminate. No one would question his masculinity, and like most Filipinos he used Tagalog and English interchangeably. It seemed strange that he did so since we didn’t speak Tagalog well. He came from Cebu.

The day I met him I tagged along as he searched for a right face or the right face for a television show. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t hold auditions. I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand what he was doing. An actor wouldn’t do. He drove, and I held onto my seat. He drove around town without regard for traffic … that he had great confidence was easy to see. He seemed to know what he was doing. He seemed to know what he was looking for … a right face. He said he was looking for the one person who fit the part, as if there weren’t many people who could play the part well, and as if someone off the street could play it better than a professional actor could. He seemed to think that he’d find the face, though I couldn’t get inside his brain.

We combed Quiapo … the church in the plaza and the market under the bridge. He found an old man under the bridge, out of all people at the church and in the market an old man with the right face. “Why that particular man?” I asked, when I got the chance. ”His face. There was a story there. Out of millions of faces millions of stories, but it came down to one thing. I liked his face.” And Vincente added with a smile, “He won’t cost me much.” He lectured me then about the need for authenticity, authenticity at any cost, cost in terms of time because time was money. This was Vincente’s way. It was what made him great. Other directors wouldn’t have taken time he did to look for a right face. I saw him do this time and time again, driving around, looking, thinking, observing … never overlooking anything while other directors would’ve said it wasn’t worth it. This became part of lore…legend…lore and legend surrounding Vincente, and for me it was his obsession with detail that made him great. In the long run, it paid off for Vincente, and among those he discovered was Susan … yes, Susan, my wife.

Susan played Lady Liberty for him. To him Lady Liberty had to be an American lady, and Vincente thought Susan was perfect for the part. Again it was her face. Her pure, white face. A brown face wouldn’t do.

When I arrived at the studio, I found Susan already in costume and looking not only very nervous but also very beautiful. She looked much younger than her age and wore no makeup on her long, slender face. No makeup, Vincente insisted. In spite of blemishes, no makeup. And a torch … there was nothing wrong with the torch. (It had a light bulb in it, and it burned brightly.) But the crown was tarnished and tilted. Everything looked perfect except for the crown, which was tarnished and sat crooked on Susan’s head. Vincente insisted on it. I saw his point. It wasn’t hard to miss. His point wasn’t hard to miss. Holding still was the hardest part for Susan. It would’ve been hard for anyone. After the hour was over, the cast gathered around Susan and gave her an ovation…and I thought no one could’ve played Lady Liberty better than Susan did. I felt proud of her because I didn’t think she would do it.

Dinner gave us all a chance to unwind. We all managed to sit around one huge table, the cast, Vincente, Susan, and me. It didn’t matter that I had just gone along for the ride. .

“Vincente,” Sonja said, “you’re a genius, but we couldn’t have had a better Lady Liberty. Don’t you agree? Everyone agrees. Susan stole the show. Nevertheless, I want to congratulate and thank all of you, and to my director Vincente, a special thanks. Once again we pulled it off. With all that could’ve gone wrong, which makes us wonder why the hell we’re in this business, and makes me wonder why I insist on doing it live … every week the same pressure. And we couldn’t do it without geniuses like Vincente. It would intimidate mere mortals. An ordinary person would wilt under pressure.”

I wanted to see Vincente’s face as Sonja heaped praise on him, but he was turned away from me, talking to someone else. By then people were busy eating and talking and weren’t listening to Sonja. I just happened to have been sitting next to her.

Vincente took us home, and as he walked up to our door with us, I asked him if he wanted to come in. Contrary to what I expected, he accepted the invitation. He relaxed at the restaurant … a combination of slowing down, San Miguel Beer, and good food helped … so he didn’t seem tired. We were fortunate to find an apartment with an upstairs bedroom, and Susan took advantage of it immediately. She was exhausted. Vincente and I managed to scare up a couple of beers (for consumption on the premises), and we decided to stay up half night talking about ourselves. He was going to make a movie about Moros and set it in the Sulus. He challenged me to go see the region for myself. “When you come back, I’ll pick your brain,” he said. It was like Vincente was giving me an assignment.
Chapter Thirteen
I don’t know how the topic came up. Maybe Vincente sensed my thirst for adventure. It should’ve been obvious to anyone who knew me. Hadn’t I come … hadn’t we come to the Philippines without knowing much about the country?

I had read about colorful sea gypsies in NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC and how they lived their entire lives on houseboats. I was easily persuaded (persuaded might not be the right word) to go to the Sulus, though it wasn’t the safest part of the world. Vincente suggested it. And I was going with or without Susan. Vincente suggested that I go on a scouting trip for him, a scouting trip to the Sulus for a movie he intended to make. With or without Susan … I’d preferred to go with Susan and make a holiday of it. .

I had read about the Sulus and Moros. I met some young Moros at the university and had contacts down there. Having contacts wouldn’t hurt. I read about Moros being the only group in the Philippines who never surrendered and about how good fighters they were. Vincente said that I needed to be careful. I didn’t need to be reminded, but he assured me that there hadn’t been any killings or kidnappings recently. I was thankful that Susan had gone to bed. The Moro insurgent struggle dated back to the Spanish.

Late the following afternoon I waited for Nick to return from class. I considered Nick an expert on insurgencies. When I saw him coming, he looked in a hurry, and if he were on a mission, I didn’t think anyone could stop him. After he sat down, I asked him about Moros. He said he had friends who were Moros and alluded to a massacre on Corregidor. It was the first I’d heard of a massacre on Corregidor, and of course was curious, but I didn’t want to seem overly curious … or ignorant so I let him control the conversation. I could always return to the massacre. I wanted to see Corregidor and would go, take Susan, and go first chance we got. Nick talked about the Oblates … French Canadian Catholic brothers … who ran schools in Mindanao and Sulu. He said, “The struggle down there has been going on forever. It’s just heating up again. I’d like to go with you.” He also wanted to take me to where he grew up in Central Luzon. It sounded good to me. It would give me a chance to see both struggles first hand. It was a journalist’s dream.

As I rode a bus back to Guiapo, I felt like I’d been given a gift. How it fell into place amazed me. I couldn’t wait to tell Susan. With or without her, I was going.

I sat next to an open window. Fumes burned my eyes, making me more aware of congested Manila than ever. I was already looking forward to getting away. I already had my bag packed. I hadn’t told Susan that we were going, and I already had my bag packed. Manila depressed me. There was too much for me to grasp. I had gone back and forth on the same route for months, the same route from our apartment to the university and hadn’t grasp it all yet. Manila was just too big to grasp, and I now had to admit that I’d stopped paying attention to it. I remembered then my first impressions.

An American couple, recovering from jet leg in an upscale hotel on lower Roxas Boulevard after a long flight across the Pacific, slept for God knows how long. They regretted that they slept so long. There were feelings of uncertainty. Thinking of the enormity of the decision they made … the enormity of their decision to leave their country hadn’t hit them, much less sunk in. Honking they heard from their room (before they left it) … though strange … put them in touch with reality. (Honking was my very first impression of Manila.) They were waking up in a strange, foreign land.

When I reached Guiapo, I went into the church. I didn’t know why I went into the church. I hadn’t been in the church before. I didn’t know why any more than I knew why we left the States. I sat alone in a pew and felt alone. I sat alone in a pew and felt alone and missed my home. I sat alone in a pew and felt alone, missed home and tried to think it through. What was I running away from?

All through college, I didn’t pay attention to the war. I was in college so I didn’t have to pay attention. I didn’t have to worry because I was in college and right after college I got married. That was when I began to worry about the draft and when I came close to getting drafted. And it became most real to me when a close friend of mine died over there … died in Vietnam. I came close to being drafted and began to pay attention to the war then. After I lost a close friend over there. It was before the riots, so the campus was very tranquil. We knew about the war, but it didn’t bother us much because we were in college and not until a close friend died over there. After I got married, I still thought I was out of reach and didn’t worry until a friend died over there. It was before Kent State. I went about my business after I got married, but it worried me. I knew it was highly unlikely that they’d take a married man, but it still worried me. It didn’t make sense, but it worried me. And it worried Susan too.

David took my place in Vietnam, and, if I could I’d ask him why he did it. “Ten years ago,” I said in a debate with myself, “we were just a couple of snot-nose kids and dismissed troubles of the world with a flick of a wrist. There were only advisors in Vietnam then, and we were more interested in girls.” Some of us worried about graduating, I continued, but within a year most of us had wandered off. David was gung-ho about the war. I remembered that. I remembered thinking he had a problem. As for the war, I hated it. I hated it that peace talks were going nowhere.

Chapter Fourteen
A niece of a former president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dihn Diem, went to my college, and we often argued in a polite way. I often listened to her talk about her uncle. She talked about how her uncle fought communist. Logic over there was simple, if you were against Diem you were Communist; you either were or you weren’t. But it was more difficult than that in 1964 and 1965 when Monks and nuns were against Diem. When he cracked down, he arrested thousands. “Thousands,” I said, “instead of focusing on the real enemy, real communists, communists from the north.” It just made her angry, polite but angry.

Unlike David, who knew firsthand, I came to conclusions without really knowing what I was talking about, and I knew just enough to make someone like Diem’s niece angry. This made me appear interested … interested and educated … you’d expect an educated person to know about Vietnam … to know enough about Vietnam not to mix Diem up with someone else. Though I never cared enough to take a stand, I still felt sorry for Dien’s niece when the former president was assassinated. I considered myself sensitive and gave her my sympathy when Dien was assassinated. I remembered how dejected she seemed, and how she mourned and wore black. I felt then that we needed to stop communist and support anyone who fought them. It was hard though because they weren’t always good people, and sometimes it didn’t make us many friends. This was true of Diem, but I didn’t dare say that to his niece. Besides it didn’t matter to me. I wasn’t well informed enough … or cared enough … for it to matter.

But everyone was entitled to his or her opinion. Of course Diem’s niece was biased. If we weren’t biased, we wouldn’t be human. It was true for everyone, and it made it all right for me to disagree with David’s decision to go to Vietnam. I respected him for it, but I disagreed with him. For him it was a personal decision, but it also meant that someone else wouldn’t have to go, and why couldn’t that someone be me? Except, since he was killed, I felt lousy about it. Still I liked to think he took my place.

I thought of David every time I saw GIs wandering along Mabini Street. I liked to wander along Mabini Street and people watch, and window shop when I wasn’t looking at people. I thought of David every time I saw GIs on Mabini Street, with or without the companionship of pretty Filipinas. I thought of David and felt lucky. I was alive and felt lucky and never envied GIs I saw wandering along Mabini Street. I never envied GIs I saw on R&R … ones I saw with or without pretty Filipinas. I considered myself to be extremely lucky. And it was also quite clear to me that it was no longer possible to divide South East Asia into two neat camps or spheres of interest … communist or free (American or Soviet) … which I believed you could until I met Nick. Thanks to Nick. Yes, thanks to Nick. Thanks to Nick my opposition to the war intensified. Thanks to Nick it represented everything I hated … everything I hated about war. But it didn’t mean that I didn’t appreciate what David did for me.

I found Nick in his room; and the only thing that had changed since I last saw him was that he had become more involved in demonstrations. And as he served me tea, we began planning our trips.

“Easter break is around the corner,” Nick said, “but we could wait until summer when I’ll have more time.”

“I’d rather not wait,” I said. “We could take two trips, but I have more time than you do. What do you think?”

“Since I’ve never been to the Sulus,” he began, slowly, as if he were thinking out loud, “I think I’d like to go there first.”

“So then let’s plan to go to the Sulus during Easter break,” I said.

“The idea of traveling through a Muslim area during Easter intrigues me,” Nick said. ”With Christians as administrators, educators, police, soldiers, etc., you know that there’s likely to be trouble.”


“Good? Oh, I see. You’re right. It will be a perfect time for Moro bandits to be on the move. In Jolo, the cathedral will be ready, the police and the military will be on alert, but it won’t assure a peaceful week.”


“Perfect. Yes, perfect.”

“But let’s not overly alarm Susan.”

“No, we shouldn’t alarm Susan. “

Nick offered me more tea and poured himself more. As we sipped from our cups, he asked, “Would you like hear about my life as a HUK? I think I can trust you.”

I said I would, especially since we were planning to also go to Central Luzon. “Well, this is off the record. The HUKs,” he went on, “maintained camps away from towns and villages and it meant fighters were separated from their families for long periods of time. You can imagine difficulties this posed. And since my father loved my mother, he became convinced that the only solution was to take all of us … mother, my older brothers, and me … with him, which meant bringing us into the movement. When I feel passionate about the communist revolution, it comes from this source; or when I’m so revolted by American imperialism, how can I forget what was drilled into my head. In camps, I … like my young comrades (other children) … we shared responsibilities with our elders, my parents and other fighters. Our family was inseparable from each other and from the movement. Private interests became public. Personal issues became everybody’s business, and we had to follow orders and were subjected to discipline of the movement. Nothing was more important than the movement. As children, we were called upon to join the struggle for the Philippines and were taught to shoot and tough it out. I’m referring to mental toughness as well as physical; much like pounding your head into a wall, depravation was sometimes used. Mother tried to balance home life and revolutionary life as best she could,” Nick continued. “She resisted communal life, communal pressures, and remained faithful to my father. She never compromised, even when the movement demanded it. When they pushed for equality between men and women, it didn’t change how my mother related to my father, her role remained the same, she still bore and suckled his babies, and so forth. But it meant that she suffered abuse. There were a whole series of conflicts, problems, some I was aware of and some I didn’t know about. My father finally reached the conclusion that his family meant more to him than the revolution, but it wasn’t easy for him…well, I’m not sure what transpired, what led to our leaving. This wasn’t supposed to happen, which didn’t mean I respected my father any less…but I was at an impressionable age. And as you would expect, those early years in a HUK camp stayed with me, and I’ve gone back. I’ve often wondered what would’ve happened to me if we’d stayed in camp.”

Because I didn’t see a problem with this story being told, I said, “As a journalist, I think that you’ve just given me a gem.”

Chapter Fifteen
“No, no, no, that wouldn’t be good,” Nick said. ”I don’t need the attention that such an article would bring me. The government has already started cracking down on the HUKs again. It has all dimensions of civil war; rebirth of the HUKs and upsurge of violence means Marcos will ratchet up his response even more. He’ll find some excuse, some provocation, and I’d like to survive it. You can write a general story without mentioning me: about the rebirth of the HUKs, the upsurge of violence, and Marcos’ reaction. You’ll get information you need from our trips. You’ll get your scoop. There are many people out there who have more dramatic stories than mine.”

Nick then told me a few things about what he expected to find when we went to his home during the summer. His parents now ran a small coffee shop, and this was what they returned to when they left the camp. His parents grew up in the same town and inherited the shop. In the shop they carried a few necessities such as Carnation canned milk, white rice, Blenda Margarine, and soda pop. The family…four all together…lived on two floors above the shop. His father still considered himself a HUK. He maintained ties with the HUKs and provided intelligence whenever he could, but he did it on the sly because he didn’t want to jeopardize his business or his family. He loved to socialize. He also loved his standing in the community, where he was respected as a leader. Townspeople came to him for advice and he never hesitated to give it. He was mayor once; he would’ve still been in politics had he not been blackmailed and linked to a raid or two. “Once dad was charged with murder,” Nick said, “but he was “forgiven” through the general amnesty program of President Quirino.”

Nick unplugged his hotplate and stood up. “Now I have to go. I have a class,” he said. “Why don’t you go to the library and read about Quirino and his relationship with the Hukbalahap. I don’t want to be your only source. Actually my father is an honest man, and very even-tempered. I’m afraid he didn’t pass on that trait to me. My dad wouldn’t trade the coffee shop for anything and has said that he never regretted leaving the camp. Well, I don’t know if it’s true. His stories don’t support his assertions, the way he tells them and how his face lights up.” Nick indicated that I could stay in his room, and he closed the door when he left.

Our next decision was how to get to Mindanao. I was thinking that I’d like taking a train south to Legazpi. “It would give me a chance to see part of the country I hadn’t seen,” I said, rather naively, given that we only had a short period of time. “Would you mind flying?” Nick asked. We found that the airport in Zamboanga was shutdown due to the poor condition of the runway; that left taking a ferry. I sat down with Susan and asked if she wanted to go. She said she didn’t want to be left alone, and I thought that settled it, but her demeanor told a different story. She was fidgety and had a fake smile on her face. She then sat curled up on the couch for sometime; she looked like she’d just gotten off the Tilt-A-Whirl, and had a sort of lost look that I had only seen once before. That was after she thought that she had just become “a widow woman.”

She was about to get up, but I made her stay seated. And now instead of giving her breathing space, I leaned over her and asked her what was wrong. She looked rather annoyed. Then she stood up and stormed into the kitchen.

I sat there for a few moments. “Okay!” I exclaimed, “You don’t want me to go.”

Stepping back into the room, she explained that she had read in the paper about a ferry sinking and she took it for a bad omen. If one thought about the time that it would take to ride a train to Legazpi, the closing of the airport in Zamboanga, and now the sinking of a ferry, one would be hard put to disagree. It was clear then that Nick and I lacked a viable plan, though we were still determined to go. It was a tough decision. Between the ferry and the train … Susan was definitely afraid of the ferry. We left it up to Susan. We left it up to Susan because we hoped it would ease her mind a bit. “But then,” Nick surmised, “if she doesn’t go, she doesn’t have a say. It’s absurd, really absurd. She has to come,” he said. And I was glad that she didn’t hear him say it.

She said she would have to think about it.

We soon found ourselves on a train bound for Legazbi. Our only consolation was the price of the ticket…less than 100 pesos (about three dollars). Like our mothers Susan looked after us. She had our maid pack lunches … and like our fathers, Nick mapped out a route … by train, buses, and short ferry hops. Though the train ride was very slow, the bus rides weren’t, and I must add that I don’t know how many roosters we almost ran over.
Chapter Sixteen
The train almost hit a squatter squatting on the tracks. He literally stepped out of his shack onto the tracks and squatted. His shack was built so close to the tracks that there was barely room enough for the train to pass. And what was he doing squatting on the tracks? He was squatting there and made the train stop. Indeed many squatters built illegal shacks right next to tracks. It was as depressing as Vincente’s mother’s neighborhood, which from our perspective was pretty bad.

Nick explained, “Most of this we can blame on Marcos.” I wasn’t surprised that he said this because he blamed everything on Marcos. “Many of my classmates, the poorest, grew up in areas like this, and because of it they’re easy to recruit. We can do better. No one deserves to live this way. That’s why I’m so … so against Marcos. And incidentally it’s the reason why we’re winning the battle.”

As for Susan, I loved to watch her reaction. And I could tell then that she was only half listening to Nick. That she was off somewhere else was evident to me. She only half listened to things that she didn’t agree with. I could tell that she didn’t like what she heard because she was only half listening. I loved her though, and I loved to watch her reaction. I loved her though she disagreed and dismissed almost everything Nick and I said or thought. I knew that she disagreed when she opened ATLAS SHRUGGED, a novel she recently bought. I never enjoyed Ayn Rand very much. I thought what she wrote was a piece of crap. Objectivism! Maybe that was why Susan picked up the novel … because I considered it crap … though I admired it for its length. I admired anyone who completed something that long.

I thought reality was seen in a shanty; to embrace objectivism was a sham; and to overlook how most people of the world lived was a travesty. Though I grew up in a clean, neat house, in a neighborhood where people mowed their lawns, in a rich country, order was never a priority of mine. This made me temperamentally closer to Nick than to Susan, though I thought her positives outweighed her negatives by a long shot.

With Susan and I facing Nick, we rode in a first class coach. Unlike second and third class, we had two seats to ourselves, so we could stretch out. I let Susan sit next to the window across from Nick and I put my feet up on the seat opposite of me. We almost had a coach to ourselves.

I felt I was traveling back in time, but perhaps Susan and Nick weren’t interested in going back there with me. Nick was more interested in scenery, and Susan pulled out her Ayn Rand. Yet Susan, in spite of Ayn Rand, wasn’t interested in reading. I didn’t know what she was interested in. There was too much to see and far too much rocking to read. She only occasionally looked at the scenery.

I agreed that there was a time for discussion and a time for silence, but I could tell from Nick that this trip was intensely personal to him. Maybe too intense, I wondered. There was a lot I wondered about. By then I’d read about the massacre on Corregidor.

“Susan, have you read LITTLE BROWN BROTHER?” Nick asked. “Mark Train said that he was ‘opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.’ He was referring to the Philippines.”

“So” was all she said. To me, she didn’t seem very intelligent. I thought she could’ve shown a little interest and sounded intelligent.

What followed was a long, long silence, a twiddling of thumbs. Hopefully Nick hadn’t been offended. I wasn’t sure he hadn’t been offended. I didn’t know what he was thinking or if he’d realized that he was rebuffed. There was a lot to think about, a lot. And we were supposedly on a vacation.

Did Nick realize the implications of Susan’s rebuff? Did he realize that the whole world didn’t revolve around him, around his world, or the Philippines? That Susan was like most of the world and like most Americans and didn’t know the history of the Philippines, or cared one way or another. Or cared about insurgencies and counterinsurgencies, or what happened just outside her window. She was simply on vacation and would spend much of the time reading and working crossword puzzles.

I wanted to see Leyte and the beach where MacAuthur landed. Until recently there was more emphasis placed on benevolence of America in the Philippines than on the cost of the Philippine/American war. For obvious reasons many older Filipinos loved MacAuthur and Americans, but many of their children accepted American imperialism as gospel. Many of them were as enthusiastic about it as Nick was and sometimes even more so. Nick’s anti-Americanism was contagious, and few people came in contact with him without being affected, but Susan wasn’t one of them. She liked him, but she simply wasn’t impressed. I was more sympathetic, but I wouldn’t have taken to the streets. As a journalist, I had to keep my objectivity. As a student of history, I studied America’s annexation of the Philippines.

I had watched with increased interest demonstrations on campus. I watched for Nick. I watched while I stood on a sidewalk as students with placards passed by me. And I looked for Nick in the crowd. I watched as demonstrations grew more frequent and more savage and more anti-American and was surprised that they weren’t directed at me. I didn’t see Nick among them. I never felt threatened. Maybe I should’ve felt threatened, but I didn’t. Maybe it was because I had my reporter’s hat on.

Maybe I didn’t see Nick out there because he knew he had to be careful. Because of his political views he had to be more careful than most other students. Because of his anti-Americanism, his Maoism, and his opposition to Marcos he had to be careful. Maybe it was because Elaine was the daughter of the commander of the American Navel Base on Cavite. Although Nick knew that he had to be careful, he wasn’t afraid to express his views to me. “I can’t be silenced,” Nick said. But Susan had done just that: silenced him.

She picked up her book and started reading it. ”No, I haven’t read LITTLE BROWN BROTHER,” she said. “But I’ve seen a copy lying around our apartment.” The train was wobblier the further away we got from Manila. The train used a narrow, meter gage track, which made the trip even more hazardous than it would otherwise be; and there was always the possibility of sabotage. Jerking, jogging motion made me sleepy. To wake up, I decided to walk to the platform at the end of the train.

I stood at the end of the train for a long while, thinking about thick tropical growth and problems it caused American soldiers. They were fighting in a foreign land, without resources and weren’t used to the tropics. It was an extremely bloody campaign, bloody and lopsided. Logically, except for the idea of carrying a big stick, to take the Philippines didn’t make much sense to me, and so the notion of benevolence seemed even more farfetched. To push back on what Nick said, there was little doubt that we’d made mistakes and yet, when it came to our imperialism, I’d say we’d been very generous. And yes, benevolent. Take for example, how we rebuilt past enemies: Germany and Japan. Look what was going on in South Korea. But, perhaps, Nick, as a Filipino, had the right to be disenchanted … even angry. And he could be convincing, but of course not to Susan

“You ought to go back there for a while,” I said, when I got back. “It’s good to see where we’ve come from.”

“Well, I’ve just realized something,” Nick said. “We won’t be able to travel on Easter Sunday; so I suggest that we plan ahead and not get stranded.”

Our itinerary was very flexible. We had no destination except the Sulus, but wanted to get a feel for all the Sulus. Planning the trip took place informally one afternoon in Nick’s room and hadn’t included Susan. Elaine was left out completely. “Elaine may not want to go,” Nick said, “Elaine would consider it too risky.”

“What risk?” Susan asked. ”Is it a major risk, or a minor one?”

“There are always risks … just as there are always risks at home. I should think that we have minimized risks by bringing Nick along, and if we use common sense and listen to our guts, we should be okay,” I said. “Sure there have been kidnappings, but who would want to kidnap us. The real danger isn’t kidnapping. It’s water. To be a target, you need to be valuable to kidnappers. Kidnappers like businessmen, mainly executives. They’re after ransom. And who would pay anything to rescue us? I don’t know anyone who would. So what do we have to worry about? We don’t fit a profile and don’t need to worry. And not all insurgents are ruthless. I’ve learned that from Nick. We have Nick. He’s our insurance policy.”

Chapter Seventeen
We slept on the train and arrived in Legazbi without enough sleep. We then spent the morning sitting on a bus. There was no schedule for the bus, and the driver wouldn’t leave the station until the bus was full. So we didn’t get out of Legazbi until the middle of the afternoon, by which time the bus was not only full but there were people standing in the aisle and sitting on the roof.

“Where do we go from here,” Susan asked.

“Onward!” I said.

“Let’s hope we don’t have to spend night on the bus,” Nick said. “But we should be able to go straight through and catch a ferry at Bulan for Masbate. Masbate … there we should be able to find a decent hotel.”

“A Hilton?” Susan asked with a smile.

“No darling, but a nice enough one.”

“Or we could sleep on the beach. Masbate has several nice beaches. Masbate, a good stop before a long ferry ride to Cebu.” After her objections Susan couldn’t believe that Nick was taking them on a long ferry ride. “Or to save time, we might want to hop from one ferry to another and sleep on the ferry to Cebu, which is an overnighter. I know there’s an Intercontinental Hotel in Cebu.”

Susan’s objection at that point seemed a little silly to me. I asked Nick what he preferred.

“I suggest we wait and see how we feel. But remember we’re not on a sightseeing tour, and we don’t have a lot of time.”

“We don’t? We’re not! I thought we were on a vacation!” Susan exclaimed.

“Well … “

“Well what?”

“Well, relax. I think we’re flexible enough to meet each other’s needs,” I said this in an attempt to pacify Susan. “And we’ll have plenty of time to relax once we get to the Sulus.” We hadn’t told her that in the Sulus we planned to spend a week on a ship.

“And I’m sure Cebu has an Intercontinental Hotel, if not a Hilton.”

“I wasn’t expecting us to stay in a Hilton. I know we can’t afford it.”

While Masbate sounded cool to me … so did sleeping on a beach, though I knew we hadn’t come prepared for it, but Nick had a different agenda. “”Let’s go,” he said. “We’re in time,” and without hesitating, he steered us from our ferry, over two boats, to a fourth vessel. So without stopping in Masbate, we took the overnight ferry to Cebu.

Susan slept next to me on a mat deep within the belly of the ferry. What Nick didn’t tell us was that we bypassed Leyte and I missed a chance to see where McAuthur landed. “Like Magellan!” he called (the next morning), “We’ve just landed in Cebu.” Surprisingly Susan and I slept soundly and hadn’t been bothered by the clanging of the ship.

Nick stood over us and was smiling smugly, knowing he’d pulled something off. Taking Susan’s bag, he led the way up and then down and off the ferry … our second ferry so far. “You’ll like Cebu,” he said, “It has Magellan’s bones. Cebu, it was our first city.” Susan didn’t care. The first thing she wanted was a warm bath. And she said as much. Sitting down on a bus stop bench, she surveyed a bus route map, and said, “You’ve got to be kidding: an organized city. I’m going to like this place.” And unlike Manila, the buses seemed to run on schedule.

We spotted a Marriott. Pulling me that way, Susan said, “Give me a long, warm bath, and you’ll see a human being again.”

After we settled in and slept a few hours, I knocked on Nick’s door. We agreed to meet in the bar down stairs, where he ordered two cokes.

“I’m not very good at accommodating, I’m afraid,” he said. “But my reasons for going on this trip couldn’t be more different than Susan’s. I think it was a mistake to bring her.”

“It’s this hotel, isn’t it?”

“Yes. And ….”


“I wouldn’t have stop Cebu.”

“I know. I know. But I couldn’t have left her behind. It’s Easter.”

“Yes, it’s Easter. We better be somewhere on Easter Sunday. I can’t get over it. I’m acting like an American, staying at the Marriott, drinking a coke. It’s embarrassing. We should be cognizant of where our money is going. It’s uncomfortable and embarrassing. I didn’t want to say anything to Susan.”

“Susan will lighten it. I know Susan.”

“I hope you do. I hope they’ll be no hard feelings.”

I reassured him then, “I want to learn as much as possible about Moros, just like you do. She’ll do fine. She needed a bath and hadn’t one and a bed in a couple of days. This hotel does illustrate one aspect of imperialism…the product and the attractiveness of it. And as you know, I’m a product of this. And I’m not saying I’m handsome. All of these hotels look the same, have the same amenities and they’re in every city in America and are being built around the world. The first time I went to Makati, I was shocked by the supermarket, but why shouldn’t there be supermarkets in the Philippines?”

I now regretted that we brought Susan along. I’d have to talk to her…the idea of staying in the Marriott bugged me too. There were few things worse, and Susan and I talked about it, so she knew how I felt about staying in American hotels in a foreign country. Since our aim for living and traveling abroad was to experience another country to the fullest, staying in American hotels seemed contradictory to it. The reason I hadn’t stood up to Susan was that she seemed so frustrated and unhappy. We’d have to work it out, but Nick and I decided that now wasn’t the time. Just as she enjoyed her warm bath, we enjoyed our ice-cold cokes.

There was an American couple in the bar…laughing and enjoying themselves, from the south, I believed I could tell. I got up to order two more cokes and was accosted by them. “We were wondering where you were from?” the gentleman asked and obviously wanted to talk to another American. ”I heard your accent,” he said. “We’re all recognized by our accents, aren’t we? You can tell we’re from Georgia, I’m sure. Mind if we join you? We’re feeling homesick.”

“Yeah, sure,” I said. “If my friend doesn’t mind, and I’m sure he doesn’t.” I wasn’t at all sure, but that was what I said. They brought their beers to our table, as I returned with two cokes.

The couple was friendly enough, while Nick smiled and hid his nervousness. “I can tell that you’re from Texas,” he said. “I hope you’ll forgive us for eavesdropping, and can you believe Cebu…how modern it is.”

Nick asked him what he expected, and he said that he didn’t know but said he was very glad that there was a Marriott. ”I’m torn every time I visit a foreign country,” he remarked. ”You have to watch yourself, you know.” His wife seemed to agree.

Nick advised them to stay away from water. “That way you can avoid dysentery.”

After consuming their beers, the couple excused themselves, but the impression they left reinforced what Nick and I was thinking. But I thought Nick’s comment about water was totally unnecessary and said as much.

“Well,” Nick said, “I though I’d tell them what they expected to hear. It may be the truth, but on the other hand it may be bullshit. I imagine water is safe here and that they’ll only stay in places like the Marriott. That’s right, bullshit and nonsense…and that’s what they’ll go home with, bullshit, and that’s all they’ll talk about … squat holes, instead of toilets. And they won’t go out and see for themselves…and they’ll be considered experts at home…among traveled and learned experts. Among other things, they look down their noses at us…their little brown brothers. They came here with their dollars and spent them on the same amenities they’d find at home…a Marriott here, basically, is like a Marriott there…you’ll find the same towels. And flush toilets”

Nick and I both liked to spout off. He easily went from there to a discussion of Georg Lukac (who?) and HISTORY AND CLASS-CONSCIOUSNESS, in other words an expansion of Marx’s theories. Here we were on vacation, and he was delivering a lecture on Marx. At least I knew who Marx was. If George Lukac, how about Karl Korsch, Antonio Gramsci, Herber Marcuse, and even the philosopher and playwright Jean-Paul Sarte? Nick quickly lost me. Korsch rejected the orthodox. Sarte was impressed by Che Guevara. Now Sarte and Che Guevara were names I knew. Nick got very excited. “Che Guevara was not only an intellectual…(time out)…like Mao, Che showed us how a small group of irregulars could defeat an organize army of a powerful government. Che, like Mao, a cultural symbol and icon, brilliant tactician, who among all of his achievements, changed…”

I couldn’t argue with him. I didn’t have a strong enough grasp of history. I didn’t really know, but sometimes Nick seemed to linked facts and ideas recklessly. It impressed me though; however I was very impressionable.

Chapter Eighteen
After we had our fill of coke, we returned to our rooms and I found Susan, my love, sound asleep. Not wanting to wake her and with nothing else to do, I took out my notebook and started jotting down impressions. The more time I spent with Nick the more I realize how little I knew about him.

Nick was born somewhere in Central Luzon. His parents were HUKs, but it was unclear whether or not he was born in a jungle camp. His father fought for national liberation during WWII and remained a stanched nationalist. He, however, was also a loyal family man. And chose love over revolution and “retired” to run a small store. Nick was one of six children. Both of his parents were political, and their store became a center of politic activity.

Nick grew up in jungle camps and became aware of revolutionary turmoil that then gripped central Luzon. After his parents moved back into town, he was sent to a public school, where he excelled. His mother read to him and his siblings every day, while his father filled their heads with countless stories about Philippine warriors. Nick’s favorite was about Lady Sinn, a 6th century woman warrior. After six years in a local school, he was sent to a private Catholic school in Tarlac. After four years there he was ready to enter the University of the Philippines, where he became a leader. His political experience paid off then.

The next morning we hopped over to Tagbilaran City by fast ferry and with almost the speed of a jet made it there in no time. To my surprise, Susan seemed to enjoy speed. I particularly liked sitting on an open-deck with spray, wind, and views of the coastline.

“A modern conveyance, jet boats,” Nick wrote Elaine, “super speeds cut the trip from Cebu to Tagbilaran City to an hour and a half, but now we’re waiting for a bus, and I don’t know how long we’ll have to wait. Like all things, it comes down to choices: first whether to spend time on Bohol, an island filled with wonders, or push on to our objective: Mindanoa and the Sulus. There’s too much to see and do for one trip. Whatever else you might say about Ted and Susan they are not boring. I think you can see why it sometimes takes the patience of Job to travel with someone. Susan is fond of nature; Ted is more interested in history, and I’m interested in politics. If I were totally honest, my idea of a perfect day is getting something done, and, when you’re talking about travel, getting somewhere but in relation to absorbing something, I can do it very quickly. So my point is this: that there isn’t anything that says that I should like a particular Boholano dish such as torta Loayan just because Susan does, or vice versa. By the way, we both love putomaya, or hot chocolate. Then it must be true that most of us love hot chocolate; on the contrary there must be many people who hate it. As a group we must agree on priorities, or go our separate ways.”

“It might help if we talked to each other…and listened to ourselves. Unfortunately the risks are high (even if we claim to be friends). There are legitimate differences; Ted and I are men; Susan is a woman, who definitely has a mind of her own…especially concerning ferries, as oppose to flying, and then you ought to see how she took to a fast ferry ride. Still, traveling together has been mostly good. Companionship for one thing has helped when there are long waits. Like now! Considering how far we’ve come without killing each other, I’d say we’ve done quite well. If we can get through the next day or so (for after all we’re almost to Mindanao), the trip will turn out okay, for we’re heading for Marawi, on the shore of Lake Lanao and we’ll learn there what we can about Moros. You can count on me bringing you back beautiful pieces of material, beautiful pieces of material that will adorn the most beautiful woman I know.”

Here we were in Marawi. Most of the Philippines lay north of us, and all signs now were that we could travel safely from place to place. Nick was happy, and at the moment Susan wasn’t complaining. I was going hiking in beautiful rolling hills and mountains; and there was every indication that Susan would spend most of her time in town soaking up Maranao culture. (That seemed crazy because she loves nature.) Nick went directly to Mindanao State University, where he intended to talk with students. He said something about getting inside Muslim minds, and I didn’t want to interfere with the process. But he said it was like a blind man groping in the dark. He was a stranger, wasn’t a Muslim, hadn’t read the Book of Allah (swt) or the Sunnah of His Messenger (saw); and the value of those things became clearer the deeper he probed. Common ground he found came from recent insight (not from a book), that while the HUK revolution seemed distant from Maranaos and their struggles, the two groups shared the same enemies. It helped that he was a student … a student of the University of the Philippines … and a radical … and they had common enemies. Yet they were suspicious of Nick, which disappointed him. For Nick the highlight was when he went with some of them to a mosque where he changed into a sarong and bathed by a tank of cool water. Pouring water over his head, he tried to forget his baptism and tried to overcome feeling like a stranger.

Chapter Nineteen
After spending three days in Marawi, we agreed that it was time to leave. We considered ourselves lucky because we achieved our goals, Nick more so, but Susan got a bonus. She succeeded where Nick and I failed, and this without asking questions or trying to make an impression. She was invited into a Maranao home, where they exchanged personal items. And she was given an intricate silk malong.

They made her feel at home. “For me, their hospitality and unpretentiousness was astonishing,” she said. Susan’s fascination with their lifestyle was evident, for it was written all over her face; like them she was curious about people who were foreign to her. She was taken in by a large close-knit family and said they made her feel at home. Children dragged her to a house, and a woman invited her in. “With me, she wasn’t shy or veiled,” Susan said. “She asked me for my T-shirt and, in exchange, gave me this pretty malong. I was a bit taken aback. Hum! Little taken aback.”

Within a few minutes, Susan found herself comfortably sitting inside a rather large house, with one central room. A devote Muslim, a mother, and businesswoman, her host took charge of her. Other women appeared for more than one family lived there, a sister-in-law, a grandmother, all gathered around her and welcomed her. They all sat on mats, with smiles that revealed how they felt. “We’re happy you’re here,” one of them said. Susan felt moved.

A daughter, who had just finished her studies at Mindanao State University, magna cum laude in Accountancy, and ranked well in licensure exams, served Susan tea. She said, “Nangandoy ko (I aspired for it), and Susan could see that her mother was very proud of her. Their movements were graceful, fluid, and were accentuated by the way they walked. They wore silk, which didn’t seem to fit Susan’s idea of everyday clothing.

They asked her if she’d like more tea. It would’ve been rude for her to refuse, so she said, “Yes, sure. I don’t know your customs, and if I make a mistake, ignorance is my excuse. It seems silly that I didn’t know what to wear when I see how women are covered up here. I understand why people stare at me. I don’t mind people asking me if I’m married, and I am; or how many children I have. I have none. I don’t really mind stares or questions. I’m just as curious as you are. I really don’t mind. I like it here. You’ve been nice to me.”

It was cold then in Marawi. Susan complained when she got back to the resort at the university. It was green and wet, and she said she should’ve brought more to wear than T-shirts. Susan then explained how in Marawi women in T-shirts were frowned upon. Some one should’ve told her. More than frown up it was against the law, and someone should’ve warned her. With elevation, she felt not just cool but cold. It was damn cold at night, and someone should’ve warned her about it too. The lake, the second largest in the Philippines, dominated the town and provided pleasant views, but it was cold. She froze.

Susan looked for postcards. There were none. I don’t know why she expected to find post cards. Marawi hadn’t been a chartered town long. Emergence of the town as a commercial, educational, and political center only occurred in the twentieth century. Many of the Togogan houses, with antique royal high roofs, however, were much older than the town. Susan told us about being invited into one and showed off her malong, though she would’ve preferred a sweatshirt or a sweater. So she retreated to our bed and her novel and curled up and read the rest of the afternoon.

Having hiked all morning and climbed Mt. Mupo, I decided to catch what sun that was left in a lounge chair on our patio, which overlooked a 9-hole golf course. A man on a mission, Nick continued his quest. Comparatively, Susan and I were living a life of luxury and felt that we deserved it. Nick said, “Giving up so soon? I’ll see you for dinner.”

I asked Nick to bring Susan back a postcard of Lake Lanao, if he found one.

“Will do,” he said.

He started to leave; then changed his mind, or ran into someone, and they, within earshot of me, started a conversation. “You know, I’m trying to make sense of Marawi, but so far I haven’t gotten very far,” Nick said. “And without help, I don’t think I will.” Nick then asked him if he were a tourist.

“No, no, I’m a Muslim, from around here,” he said. “We are Maranaos and proud of it. And my family has enjoyed blessings of this beautiful place for many generations. We enjoy a sense of history and have always resisted foreign intervention.” Neither he nor his students were afraid of the government, he said; rather they were brazen. So he was a professor.

Yes, Nick had found a cohort. But where had this guy come from? But it didn’t feel right to Nick. It didn’t feel right to be approached at a resort like he was, but there was no way of checking the guy out and knowing for sure who he was. By the time he walked around town and bathed in a mosque Nick had no doubt attracted attention. The three of them had, but Nick more so but the other two were obviously tourist, American tourist. American tourists meant dollars, and dollars meant prosperity, but a Filipino … a Filipino Christian who bathed in a mosque attracted attention. Now Nick was viewed as an intruder, and Nick wanted to avoid arguments and avoid misunderstandings, but still relished this contact. It was what he was looking for, but he wasn’t on his own turf and knew he had to be careful. This gentleman was sent to check him out, and Nick sensed it too. They were eventually able to talk, yet Nick was never able to ease the man’s suspicion.

“Four centuries of jihad, first against Spain, then America, now Marcos, and never defeated. Even when we were no match for machine-guns and artillery, our struggle for freedom has continued.” Until he heard this, Nick wasn’t sure he wanted to talk with this gentleman, but now he listened intently. But as a Christian he knew that he had to watch himself. “The Bangsamoro masses have always resisted while our leaders have often fallen for tricks and collaborated with our enemies. Now our homes, our mosques, and our madaris are being burned. Armed Christians, instead of living side by side with us, are gorging themselves on our land and, without mercy, are killing our young, our old, and our women. ‘Rats,’ is what we call them, and they attack us, while the government supports them and not us.”

Nick was familiar with this story but not the whole story. He shared with the gentleman his own experiences in Central Luzon and his parents’ struggle against the government, which to Nick’s surprise caused the gentleman to frown. Nick didn’t know the connection between his father’s revolt and the mass migration of Christians, or “rats,” from Central Luzon to Mindanao. This caused a mass displacement of Muslims. Nick would join Muslims, if he could, he said, and the gentleman still shook his head. Nick would have to do what he could in Manila, where he’d support his Muslim brothers and sisters by speaking out.

The gentleman acknowledged Nick’s statements with a grin, took his hand, and then shook his head again. “We’ve heard it before,” he said. Whereupon Nick asked, “What would it take?”

“I don’t know. “I’ve often asked myself why is it so hard,” the gentleman said. “Christians are in the minority here. Um! In any case, no one is stopping them from worshiping.”

My parents, who were Seventh Day Adventists, often sent money to missionaries in the Philippines. Some of that money might’ve gone to Marawi and the Lakeside clinic there. I didn’t make a connection until the gentleman mentioned Seventh Day Adventist. He talked about their good work and the clinic, and how they saved the life of one of his children. He praised Dr. Santos several times and finally saying it was an example of how Christians and Muslim can live together in harmony. I missed the clinic when I walked around the town and asked Susan if she saw it. I also wrote home and told my parents about the good work they were doing in the Islamic City of Marawi.

Later I asked Nick if he found a post card.

“I didn’t get that far,” he said.

The next morning we left Marawi by bus.

Chapter Twenty
Nick seemed disappointed that he didn’t receive a warm reception in cool Marawi. “You know,” he said, sitting across from Susan and me on the bus, “I thought I’d have more in common with them, because of our common enemy. Except the Moros have been resisting longer than we have …they’re always going to be defiant.”

Nick made friends with a Muslim sitting next to him and asked him what he thought. Looking out the window, he said, “We used to have all of this.” All this? He was trying to say that we were still in Moro-land, but we clearly were not.

We had gone less than twenty kilometers and could see that people along the way no longer wore colorful Maranao garb. When I pointed it out, Nick said, “We must be almost to Iligan.” It was a quick-change … a cultural change. It was like we crossed a border, but we hadn’t. There were no signs, no line. It defied explanation, when in fact it was quite simple. Within a few kilometers we came down from the highlands. Within a few kilometers, the beauty of a lake, mountains, and trees was replaced by industry: an integrated steel mill, alloy plants, a hydroelectric plant, a tinplate mill, and fertilizer and cement factories. Almost to town we saw rather large metal buildings lining the highway, and that was how the bucolic setting of Marawi gave way to signs of progress, and it was only possible because of capital coming in for the outside. “To develop the region, they harnessed a waterfall, destroyed its beauty, and with power came factories, plants, and mills. Of course, it meant jobs,” Nick explained. “I like to think everyone won, but I know it wasn’t the case. Somebody got filthy rich.”

We changed buses in Iligan, and for once we didn’t have to wait. When it happened so smoothly, Susan said, “Good Lord, what’s the world coming to? A bus, and on schedule.”

We followed the coast the rest of the day. We ate snacks we bought from venders who came on the bus each time we stopped. They were mostly children and women and their trade was as much part of the scene as anything else. The conductor and driver tolerated it by allowing them on the bus. Nick negotiated for us, mostly in Tagalog, though they didn’t speak Tagalog but some other dialect. By now we were used to all this.

I bought mango and pineapple in a cup, and for some time I enjoyed the treat.

It seemed like Nick’s mood changed. “What’s wrong with you?” I asked.

“I’m lucky. My parents own a sari-sari story, which placed me above these kids … which allowed me to go to school. Here I am … on a vacation.”

“So why aren’t you enjoying yourself.”

“I am.”

“You look depressed to me.”

“Marawi was what was depressing,”

“What was depressing about Marawi?”

“I’m lucky.”

“Why were you depressed in Marawi?” I asked.

He thought for a moment, while he took a bite of jackfruit and said, “I thought we had more in common. How would you feel if you were told you were part of a problem, a big problem? I see that we just as well could be Muslim as Catholic. We were all Muslims once and before that practiced something else. We were all subjugated and converted; before that we were subjugated and converted by Muslims. We have a common origin, yet we speak a different language. I kept looking for something, or expected something, and there was something, but I didn’t recognize it. It had something to do with my expectations. I said, ‘I want to fight with you.’ But they were leery … suspicious. And I understand why they would be.”

Susan and I had gotten into a rhythm, and her attention was now directed toward absorbing as much of the sights as she could, or absorbing as much as she could without knowing the people or the history. She was enjoying smells and tastes of the tropics. She was now the first to explore a new fruit. She also never rejected children and always had one or two of them hanging onto her, but dirt bothered her. In the Sulus, where they were less likely to have seen a white woman, she was frequently touched on an arm, her face or her hair.

I spent most of the time staring out the window, staring out the window and allowing the wind hit my face, and whenever the bus stopped, children and women came up to the window and stared at me. I could’ve reached out and touched them. Now and again, they reached out to me or held a hand out for money, but I never gave into the urge to give them something.

“My father was no fluke,” Nick said, “He could write well, and no one could phrase things better. And he had a grasp of ideas that shaped our country and read people as divergent as Joaquin and Rizal. “Guardia de Honor” was my father’s favorite story. I guarded the first book he gave me with my life. Reading has been a big part of my life.”

Susan wasn’t listening. She wasn’t listening because she was so absorbed in scenery.

“My mother gave me something more important. Through her work in rural health she set an example. For her it was all about Mother Teresa of Calcutta, or “to give until it hurts.” The concluding chapters of Nick’s education were more secular. “Of course,” Nick said, “my trip to China greatly influenced me. But what’s the good of any of it?” he sighed. “Without justice.”

We raced through Manukan, Sindangan, and Liloy, with the bus honking at chickens and chickens fluttering and flying to get away (roosters were more prized, groomed, and hand-fed). Susan said, “God help them. God protected chickens. But no! They’re just chickens. God, what I’m saying. I thought we’d slow down for chickens and towns. What if they were people. Chickens!” She said she couldn’t look.

And she never expected to find God again after the ride between Iligan and Zamboanga. We flew all the way as if we were trying to outrun bandits. “Isn’t it lucky I can close my eyes,” she said, as she gritted her teeth. “Otherwise, I’d jump ship.” At the edge of Zamboanga, the bus finally slowed down. I looked for cops, which might’ve been the reason the bus slowed down and strained to see what I could see. I didn’t stop looking out the window until we entered a bus station. “Good Lord, what a ride!” Susan declared, glaring at me.

Chapter Twenty-one
Before we did anything else, and even ate, we found a hotel. I asked, as we walked along, “Nick, why are you godless?”

“Gutless! Godless! Who said I was godless?”

“But you claim to be a communist.”

“Do I?”

Now I was confused. He said he was a Maoist. Nick told me he was a Maoist, and had Mother Teresa for a mother, and his girlfriend was an American and he applauded Mao, not the West, but the East. And if he wasn’t a communist, what was he? It didn’t make sense to me. But I learned that it wasn’t always clear, so I decided not to pursue it.

Then while walking across plaza and heading for the hotel, he tried to explain, “I’m not a communist.”

“But you went to China, Red China.”

“And does it make me a communist?

“And you said you were a Maoist.”

“I may have learned a lot from Mao and went to China on a vacation, but … ”

“Red China … “

“Red China. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t love my country. I love my country more than anything else. I’m more of a nationalist than anything.”

“But doesn’t one have to be consistent,” I asked.

“Consistent? I think I have been … consistent. I think I’ve been consistently inconsistent, except when … “


“Except when it comes to Marcos. And you don’t have to be religious to do good things. Too many people have died in the name of religion. Here in Mindanoa too many people have died in the name of religion. Here in Mindanoa we’re seeing good Christians kill Muslims and you can understand why Muslims are fighting back. I wasn’t a radical until an American GI raped a Filipina in Angeles City, city of angels and prostitutes, and he wasn’t tried in a Filipino court. He was tried in an American court. And you call it justice. Now wait a minute. It’s not true. I grew up a radical. I was never Americanized, and when I got a chance, I went to China, Red China, on a vacation. Thanks to my parents I was never Americanized and got a chance to go to China. I jumped at the chance. Who wouldn’t want to go?” Nick concluded, “If given a chance, wouldn’t you go?”

We stopped at the curb across the street from a hotel. We had a choice of more than one hotel. The plaza was full of venders, color, flowers, smells, and people. “Here we have a choice,” Nick said. “We can take a little time to enjoy what’s here, or we can rush into a hotel and see if they have room for us? One of my favorite things is right here: halo-halo, with ice, fruit, beans, and cream. I’m thirsty and hot. Then why do you suppose we’re in such a hurry?”

“I don’t know. But ask Susan. I bet she’s focused on one thing … the WC. So you can have your halo-halo.” I said, taking Susan’s arm. “I know my wife. She’s been awfully quiet.”

Nick smiled. “I can see why you’d want to pacify her. If Elaine were along … “

“You’d be different. I know … “

We walked across the street and approached a hotel door

“I’ve learned to compromise, or she’ll outfoxed me. I can have halo-halo anytime. I hope you develop a taste for halo-halo, because it’s Filipino, and it’d be a shame if you don’t take tastes from the Philippines with you when you leave.”

“Why wouldn’t we love halo-halo?”

I knew that Nick liked many American things … an American woman and hamburgers in particular. I understood. But if he claimed to be Maoist, he was certainly a communist. And I didn’t believe he went to China on a vacation. But he loved his country. I was sure of it. When we reached the front door of the hotel Nick held it open for Susan and me. It was kind, or was he simply playing a role?

“Now I’m going to let you take care of my bag: you two check in, go pee or whatever, while I become your halo-halo man.” Smiling, he added, “I think we all could use a lift.”

He ran back across the street. By the time he got back with three halo-halos we were already up in our room; and we had a room for him next to ours. The three of us enjoyed our halo-halo.

Chapter Twenty-two
Mao, a kind of Jesus in China, I didn’t know much about him. Maoism, except for generalities, I didn’t know much about it. I knew it was a breed of communism, and we were fighting communism. It was what Vietnam was about … stopping communism. And there was the Domino Theory. And there was an Iron Curtain and people behind the Iron Curtain weren’t free, and we weren’t free to go to China, Red China. And there was always a question of who lost China. There was no redemption, no remission, communism was a sin, and there was no redemption or remission in China, and the world was divided into two camps and China, Red China was in the wrong camp. It was black and white. Nick was on the wrong side, but since I was Nick’s friend what did it make me?

The next day we got an early start. First we drank fresh pomegranate juice and ate breakfast: Susan and I ordered scrambled eggs; I added onions and tomatoes and tried fried fish. Nick relished lumpia, loganessa, fried eggs and fried fish and from time to time said something about food. He seemed nervous. After we finished our meal, Susan and I ordered coffee, and our friend excused himself and went back to his room.

“What’s wrong with Nick?” Susan asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Sometimes I feel like we’re intruding. I know that it is true sometimes with …”

“With us?.”

I smiled. “Now be honest. We all sometimes wish we weren’t tied to someone else’s schedule.”

“Are you saying you wish I’d stayed home?” she asked.

“No, no,” I said. “I like being with you.” I smiled again, a fake smile, and she recognized it. There was a form of communication that Susan and I had that didn’t involve words (most married people have it), but with us there was no malice, since we really cared for each other. And enjoyed each other’s company. This meant that I was glad she hadn’t stayed home … in spite of our needing a break from each other, and so possibly my faked smile came from habit. Susan later told me that the reason she traipsed halfway around the world with me…if it hadn’t been for the draft…was because it had been my dream, which strangely disappointed me. It was never her dream.

“My dear Ted,” she said, “I have gone along with your adventurousness to my astonishment because I didn’t want to lose you and thus far it’s been worth it. We’ve made friends here. We’ve made a life. Friends have made a difference. But let’s take it a day at a time. You’re undoubtedly more adventurous than I am, and undoubtedly at some point I’ll say I’ve had enough. But for now let’s take it a day at a time. Some day I’m sure I’ll want to set down roots.”

And then I said, “People are not trees.” I shouldn’t have said people are not trees.

When Nick returned I told him that that didn’t take him long, and he said “daily cleansing” was a beautiful thing, and then asked if we were ready to go. Susan had to excuse herself first.

After a day in Zamboanga, we planned to go for a day over to Basilan, unless there was a kidnapping, a bombing, or some other form of violence over there. Nick said his father always stressed the importance of paying attention and to use common sense, but he’d also been a risk taker. Nick wasn’t afraid of getting kidnapped, getting killed, and wasn’t particularly afraid of anything, while we could see he was nervous. Then what did he know that we didn’t know?

I think Nick also thought he could talk himself out of any dangerous situation. He had the right credentials … though his experience in Marawi didn’t reassure him. As far as he was concerned, he never made right connections and was surprised that he wasn’t welcomed as a brother. Now Nick was determined to sell himself as a brother and not emphasize his religion and simply learn as much as he could. Didn’t they have a common enemy or enemies?

And timing seemed right. With demonstrations on campus, timing seemed right. With demonstrations on campus and unrest in the south, timing seemed right, but he said, “I have to remember that they have been struggling longer than we have. We’ll have to see. We’ll have to see.”

Nick had Moro friends back in Manila, and they treated each other with respect, and he could fall back on it. But Mao (as a model) hadn’t impressed Moros like he had Nick and hadn’t caused them to change tactics that they used for more than three centuries. “I have no allusions,” Nick said, ‘but I think we’ll be okay.” Nick hadn’t come all this way to be deterred. So when Susan came back, we were all set.

That evening, the three of us had dinner on a hotel patio over looking the Basilian Strait, and it had tables right next to the water. When we arrived there was a group of gypsy boys diving for coins. They were standing on the water’s edge and on the edge of a small praus. A waiter steered us to a table near the water but not too far away from a bar. There was a Caucasian (later identified as David, an American), with an attractive Filipina, sitting at a table next to ours. “Why don’t you join us!” the stranger said, standing up and indicating to the waiter to make room for us. “It isn’t often that I get to dine with fellow Americans. I know Americans when I see them. I also notice that you’re not typical tourists. My companion and I here have just ordered. Let me recommend prawns. They’re fresh, huge, and, as a fisherman, I know prawns.” He pulled out a chair for Susan. Nick and I brought over a couple of chairs.

After introducing himself, David asked us what brought us to Zamboaga. He then explained that he ran a fishing operation off of Basilian and how it was getting more expensive and tougher for him. But for an American in Sulu he was apparently very successful. From the way he dressed you could tell he had money … something he never mentioned. He didn’t have to mention it. You could also tell his companion had expensive taste. Her clothes were expensive. You could tell she loved clothes. She hung onto his arm whenever they weren’t eating. Whenever they were relaxing, she clung to him. In Nick’s opinion, he was an interloper and she was his jungle bride. He told us that afterwards.

According to Nick, David’s time had passed. No matter how much he helped the economy or how many people he hired, David’s time had passed. David was a thief, a robber, and it didn’t matter if what David did was legal, he was robbing what rightfully belonged to the Philippine people … according to Nick. He was an interloper. Gypsies lived and depended on these waters. They depended on fish and fishing and should benefit from fishing. Instead they weren’t treated fairly by anyone.

Speaking of gypsies, boys diving for coins were hard to ignore but were one of the reasons tourists came to this restaurant. They had become an attraction and earned enough money from diving for coins to make it worth their while. So Susan for a few minutes tossed coins in the water and watch them dive and retrieve the money. The crystal clear water made it possible. If they had been anywhere else, begging or selling trinkets or gum, Susan would’ve ignored them. But here she rewarded them generously.

Then I told David that we were planning to go to Basilian.

David invited us to stay with him. When I saw Nick’s face, I realized that it might not be a good idea to accept David’s invitation. I saw Nick’s face and saw him squirm, while I thought David missed it. Why not? You may ask why not. I knew why. Nick traveled all the way from Manila to specifically spend time on Basilian and then to stay with an American … I could see why he wouldn’t want to stay with an American. He traveled all the way from Manila to spend time on Basilian with Moros and not an American. He couldn’t have been too happy. It could mean he could lose his chance with Moros, and what if Moros were plotting to throw Americans off the island and hadn’t gotten around to it yet? What if? Then I had one of my conciliatory moments and said that we already booked our passages on a ship that would take us to Sitankai and back, which, with our schedule, left us with only one day for Basilian.

This pleased Nick. Now he could look for his rebels.

David offered an invitation again, and added that he wasn’t home that much; his fishing required it. “Requires an army, imagine it?”

Nick was happy now. I would’ve enjoyed staying with David.

“My darling here,” Tom said, looking at his companion. “Cecelia will be disappointed. You know Filipinos. But aren’t we all beneficiaries? With a woman like Cecelia I ought to know. I couldn’t be luckier. She knows my every need and is surprisingly free. I thought I knew everything about women until I met her … here in Zamboanga, Miss Cecelia. She comes along, seduces me, and begins my education. Now she runs my house. But someday she’ll run my business. Legitimacy is always an issue. The idea is for me to continue to expand. Sabah is close by; Malaysia; and here I am now; and if things go south…well, I have a speed boat.”

David carried on about Cecelia, about his fairy-tale life and not a word came from her. “Even if you can’t spend the night, you three can certainly come to dinner … that would be after the ferry has left the island for the day so it’ll be a bonus. I can bring you back to Zamboanga in my speed boat.”

Nick refused to comment.

“How about prawns?” he asked. “They also have the best wines. I’ve ordered the best of the best.”

“This is all quite nice,” Nick finally said.

Our waiter brought us all wine. He took our menus and our orders. “I’m surprise they serve wine. In deference to Muslims, I thought they wouldn’t,” Nick said.

“One of the reasons I come here is because they cater to Western tourists. When I’m home I observe all of the dietary restrictions of my neighbors and stay away from pork. I observe all of their holidays and give my employees time off for their holidays. They’re also able to be with their families for Christmas and Easter. I don’t discriminate. That’s why I’m tolerated. Now let me hear about you.”

Nick bit his lip and said, “I’m all about change … in the way we view each other, in the way we think … and I’m always focused on tomorrow, and optimistic that the world will change for the better.”

David didn’t respond, and then Nick said to David, “I suppose you’re satisfied with the way things are.”

We enjoyed our prawn meal. Afterward David excused himself, walked a ways away from us, and lit a cigarette. David said it was a nasty habit that he enjoyed very much…enjoyed all his vices from smoking to drinking. “But I can modify my behavior,” he added with a smile. “I grew up here, so I’m not really a foriegner. I’m considered an Amereican, but I’m not really a foriegner. Happily I can afford a private life.” When we said goodnight to Cecelia and David, they were heading to a room in the hotel, but they weren’t in a hurry.

Chapter Twenty-three
In front of the hotel, pedicabs vied for our business. Instead of taking one we walked along the waterfront and in front of warehouses filled with copra. When we came to the main wharf, we decided to stroll to the end of it.

“This is where we’ll board a ship to Jolo and ports beyond, but it’s not here yet.” Nick said, and then pointed out a ferry to Basilan, which was docked for the night. “Actually there was something I wanted to say to our American friend,” he continued. “I regret that I didn’t tell him about Elaine; in any case, it’s not the same as his relationship with Cecilia, and when he talked about her being boss, I couldn’t see it happening to me.”

Nick looked forlorn and torn and slightly angry with himself, but whenever he mentioned Elaine it perked him up. He said until he met Elaine he couldn’t see himself dating an American and dating a daughter of an American Navy commander “amused” him. (It didn’t make sense to me.) Dating a daughter of an American Navy commander … had it hurt his standing as a radical? I wondered if it had. No, according to him, it increased it.

I asked Nick how he felt about dropping by David’s house for dinner.

“It disturbs me, but a speed boat ending sounds exciting,” he said. “I’m inconsistent. I’ve been inconsistent for a very long time. So why not! As long as I make contact with the rebels.”

After Mawari, he had no preconceived ideas about how he’d be received. He wasn’t sure … wasn’t sure how much they had in common. “To catch a ferry, we’ll have to get an early start,” he said, as we stood in front of a ticket stand. “Actually I think I can hold my own. I have credentials. We have the same enemy, enemies. I know we have our differences, but we have the same enemies.” From there, he launched into a history lesson. It started with the brutal Christianizing of Manila by Spaniards. With the defeat of Rajah Sulayman, Legazpi moved all Muslims outside of the European-styled walled city. With natives then out of gun range, Chinese became Spaniards’ major worry. Educate Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them adjacent to Manila, where there was considerable density of population… Demographically, since then, Christianity has been moving steadily southward. Spanish colonization has been painted as an attempt to spread Christianity while downplaying the angle that Christianization was only a tool. By Christianizing Filipinos, Spanish Catholics ran the government in Manila, the main city, and to continue Christianization …” Nick obviously knew Philippine history and often used his knowledge to drive home a point. Nick finally said, “So you see, we’re brothers.”

When we got back to our hotel across from the plaza, we said good night to Nick.

Nick’s credentials? As far as Nick’s credentials … both communist leader Jose Marie Sison and Moro revolutionary leader Nur Misuari were professors at universities in Manila. Nur taught political science at the University of the Philippines, and Nick took his course. He hadn’t met Sison, but he’d been to China, Red China, one of a few Filipinos who had been to Red China, and he didn’t know if Sison had been to China or not. Remarkably, members of different departments of a university rarely interacted with one another, and it was even less likely for faculty of different universities to do so, so I don’t know if Nur and Sison had contact. Later I know they went their separate ways, organized their movements, so Nick’s having taken Nur’s course was something, and he could drop Nur’s name, if he had to.

David’s armed compound was across the island from Isabela. A trip there was arduous by any standard, through a jungle that became a staging ground for rebels. This was what Nick wanted to penetrate in one day.

“Impossible!” Susan said. “I wish you’d left me in Zamboanga. I brought a good book with me.” She decided to come at the last moment; then regretted it once we were on a bus outside of Isabela, on a bus escorted by soldiers (inside and on top) with machine guns. She said, “I don’t like the looks of this.”

Nick and I reassured her. As long as we were with native people, we felt safe. Nick had credentials, knew Nur, and I felt that I could rely on him. He spoke to other people on the bus. They seemed friendly. We followed three or four of them when they got off at a very small settlement. Susan told me that she wouldn’t forgive me if something went wrong. By her own account, she felt better when she saw women and children in the settlement. Children gathered around her; they were nosy and loud; women took charge and directed her to one of their houses, where they offered her a chair and something to eat and drink. We were also invited, which, if Nick hadn’t been so preoccupied, I would’ve accepted.

At a mosque, having gone there immediately … knowing there would be men there … Nick began asking questions in Tagalog. He relied on his credentials and got directions to someone who could help us. Before leaving her, we told Susan we had a lead (which turned out to be true). She seemed content.

A boy led Nick and me down a jungle path, which was dark. Along the way, we ran into various junctions leading, I assumed, to other settlements. We finally took one to a jungle camp. Once there, armed men greeted us with suspicious and hostile looks. They wore baseball caps, camouflage fatigues and green shades and were smoking hand-rolled cigarettes. We were taken to their leader, essentially a kid.

When he greeted us, we could tell he hadn’t put aside his suspicion. Still he led us into a nipa hut, his quarters. To one side was a table, which served as a desk; around it were chairs, leaving enough room for a bed. Across the front of the table hung a battle flag with five stars, a dagger, a spear, and a white disc with two parallel stripes. One shelf, behind the table, held a few books. This surprised Nick. It shouldn’t have. From where he stood, he couldn’t make out the titles. Nick and I sat down after our host sat behind the desk.

“I assume you’re not crazy,” he said in English. “You wouldn’t have been brought here, if you hadn’t been cleared. I wouldn’t want to shoot you, and it’d cause us more problems than we want right now.”

Nick said he was grateful. He explained that we came from Manila, came as friends, as brothers, and had a common enemy, enemies, namely Marcos and the United States. Then their attention turned to me.

They discussed the situation in Tagalog, and Nick persuaded them to accept me. Without hesitating, he said, “Yes, we’re united by the Corregidor Massacre.” That was when I received a history lesson about the Corregidor Massacre of 1968.

Most people were appalled by the massacre, because of butchery, but the massacre meant more to Moros. It became a rallying cry, a rallying cry much in the same sense as “Remember the Alamo.” Murders were one thing, but culpability of the government made it worse. I told them the massacre at the Alamo galvanized Texans and that the comparison was apt.

The Moro took it from there, “’Our brothers were executed. It calls for revenge. Jabidah! Jabidah!”

Nick explained how he attended a weeklong vigil with Moro students. They held a vigil over an empty coffin marked ‘Jabidah.’ It was held in front of the presidential palace.

“We must set an example for the whole world. The presupposition is that Allah is great. Then with Allah’s help we’ll be revenged. We place it in the hands of Allah. With Allah’s help, we will prevail. Allah is great.”

“Texans won their war,” I remarked smugly.

“Moro recruits were betrayed. With this betrayal we were all betrayed,” the Moro continued. “Betrayal is a great sin. Among all sins it’s one of the greatest, but ramifications are greater. They must never be forgotten. Let Allah be our witness.”

Nick looked exhilarated while I felt excluded.

As I grew impatient, Nick smiled and took my hand. “Ted, here, is an American,” he said. “Yet we should consider him a brother. Perhaps you’d like to hear more about him.”

Supporting us with her teaching, some people saw Susan as head of our household. Because she often buried her desires people also thought that we shared the same dreams, which was untrue. Indeed, if it had been up to her, we wouldn’t have taken off to the Philippines. About this she has said:

“You ask why we go to places where people don’t particularly care for Americans. You have to ask my husband … ask him if he’s sympathetic to communist or Maoist. You have to understand the times and how many young people today are leaning left.

“What are we doing here? How did my husband get mixed up with someone like Nick? This idea that we’re communist or sympathetic doesn’t compute. My husband tells me he’s a journalist. We’ll see. Only God knows what trouble he’s into now. It’s hard to know what my husband is thinking. Let’s say he’s fishing for something.”

Chapter Twenty-four
We met Fr. Dion in Bongao on the island of Tawi Tawi. By then (1970) the late Joseph Dion, OMI, had more influence with Muslims in the area than any other Christian. He was also instrumental in creating the Christian-Muslim Peace Movement, an effort that failed after his death. A simple man with a big heart he earned respect through simple acts of courage and kindness. He was a teacher and a priest. He taught at the Norte Dame School of Tawi-Tawi in Bongao and served as perish priest on Siasi, a perish that extended way beyond the two islands.

Without minimizing his accomplishments as an Oblate, his greatest impact came from his interpersonal relationships. He showed respect for everyone regardless of his or her beliefs, and he was respected for his sense of fairness. Moreover, he withstood many pressures from inside and outside the church and carried on in spite of threats. In spite of threats, he never seemed concerned. Nothing stopped Fr. Dion, and he never seemed to be in a hurry and approached life with a great deal of serenity. It was nothing less than extraordinary. To understand the importance of Fr. Joseph Dion and the peace movement, you have to realize that after his assassination we wouldn’t have been able to travel throughout the Sulus like we did.

We met Fr. Dion after we heard about him, and we sat with him on his porch in Bongoa. His house was a western-style house, one of the few on the island. Fr. Dion, a rather lean-faced gentleman (in blue jeans, a black shirt, and a white reversed collar), who spoke English with a French-Philippine accent, invited us to dinner before another Oblate arrived, wearing the same garb and acting just as friendly. This was Fr. Stacy, and he greeted us when he came in. He gave Fr. Dion a small package, sat down across from us, and said, “The boat you were on brings our mail,” and indicated the package.

“It’s nice to be remembered,” Fr. Dion said. “It was my birthday a month ago, and I still have a sister in Quebec, who cares for me.”

Nick and I heard of Fr. Dion on Basilan, and now Nick asked him if he, as a priest, felt uncomfortable over the unrest there.

“When I was on Basilan several months ago, I learned that some of my old high school students were creating considerable noise in the jungle,” Fr. Dion said. ”Several of their fathers admitted to me that they were disappointed in their sons. Maybe they said that for my benefit … I don’t know, but the ones I knew best worked with me on the Peace Movement project. They’ve all been students of mine, and I don’t think they’re hostile towards me. In a way I can understand. There aren’t many saints in the Philippine government.”

I asked him if he ever felt afraid and unsafe.

“Well, I’m human. But I rely on local people and the shield of God,” Fr. Dion said. “I’ve been in the Sulus for a long time. I know many people. I have connections. I’m rarely around strangers. I’m always running into former students or children of former students. Muslims … Christians … I’m always invited into their homes. I don’t proselyte. I only serve. I’m just as comfortable in a mosque as in a church. I’ve lived here for more than thirty years, surrounded mostly by Muslims, and we are friends.”

“What was it like when you first came here?” I asked.

“I don’t remember it being terribly difficult,” Fr. Dion said. “You see, I was on a great adventure, and Bongao seemed as far as away from a dairy farm in southern Quebec as you could get. I felt a bit confined, a bit isolated, a bit bored and alone, a bit out of sorts. I never lived on an island before, and I didn’t know how to swim.”

I asked the Friar then whether he was afraid of water, and instead of replying he said, “You see, I had to learn how to walk on water. I had just received my divinity degree, when God called me to the Philippines. And I learned to walk on water. . Kidding aside, I have an affinity for boats, and there isn’t an island in the archipelago that I haven’t explored. So, when someone says something has happened somewhere…no matter how remote … I can generally find out what really happened.”

I asked whether he missed Quebec.

“As God willed, this is my home,” Fra Dion said. ”It is where I will be buried.”

Nick said he had to stretch his legs and excused himself. Later he said he’d reached a set of assumptions and was surprised by Fr. Dion’s popular support.

Fr. Dion concluded, “I don’t have time to sit still. There’s always more to do. When I’m praised, I say I don’t have time for it. God calls us to do more rather than less. There’s too much to lose, real losses, loss of what we’ve won and what God calls us to do, loss of ground, loss of hope. I don’t want to lose sight of why I came here in the first place.”

Elpidio had been a student of Fr. Dion. He left Bongao to attend Mindanao State University in Marawi, and there for the first time became convinced of the virtue of Jihad, yet because of Fr. Dion’s influence he lacked focus. Kindness shown by his teacher had an affect, such as gifts that helped pay for his education. Fr. Dion saw Elpidio’s potential right off the bat. Whereas other students struggled with reading, writing, and arithmetic, this boy had a foundation in all three before he entered school. He had gotten help from someone. Fr. Dion suspected it was from the boy’s mother. Even as a small boy Elpidio, according to the friar, had an inquisitive nature and asked questions “about everything under the sun.” This when other boys his age were more interested in swimming. It took everyone who knew Elpidio by surprise, especially Fr. Dion, when they found out that the boy they knew had taken “a rightful position” that led him to waging Jihad in the jungles of Basilan. Actually, Fr. Dion could never see the astute, gentle boy he knew ever posing a threat to anyone. In any event, when Nick and I told him about the contact we had with the rebels on Basilan, our host smiled and said the secessionists were in “enlightened” hands. This, Fr. Dion said, gave him hope. In fact, he thought he could walk into the jungles of Basilan and find a friendly Elpidio.

I began to wonder, without being aware of it, if Nick and I had run into Fr. Dion’s student (a tip off may have been books in the nipa hut of the leader we met on Basilan). He had been friendly enough. And he seemed to know a great deal about the Meranaos of Marawi.

Now when Fr. Dion learned that Nick and I may have had contact with Elpido, he questioned us thoroughly about the encounter. Elpidio, during his four years at Mindanoa State University, when he was figuring out what he was going do, stayed in close contact with Fr. Dion, and, as he struggled, he thought about converting to Catholicism. Surprisingly, the friar discouraged him. Much later, after Elpidio dove into the jungles of Basilan and his separatist activities, Fr. Dion wondered what would’ve happened had his prize student converted to Christianity. What would it have meant for the peace movement? He tried to make sense of contradictions and explain how such a gentle boy could become ultimately a threat. But remember all of his sources, though reliable, were secondhand.

Chapter Twenty-five
Elpido’s father worked for the prominent noble Halun family, the family that ruled the village and owned ¾ of the island. Datu Halun emerged from the era with having the main thoroughfare of Bongao named after him. Elpidio’s father was raised in Bongao Poblacion itself, a community that grew from a collection of stilted houses, and in one of those the family still lived. As a child, he was in the water all the time. He learned to swim as he learned to walk. He was not only an excellent swimmer but also a diver and earned a living diving for pearls. It was said that he could hold his breath longer than anyone else. Then he went to work for Datu Halun, overseeing private oyster beds. Elpidio took after his father and loved water.

Sometimes Elpido went with his father and knew how to handle a boat and navigate by the stars. Imperfect pearls were brought home, sorted, and sold. Elpidio would’ve followed in his father’s footsteps had it not been for his mother and her insistence that he get an education. There was also a pact between the parents that Elpidio should be more successful than they were. They were also aware of dangers inherent in the pearl business and didn’t want their son exposed to them. Too often pearl divers had to fight off pirates.

If Elpidio personally knew the Datu, he never let on that he did. Later, he talked about his father’s employment with his classmates. Elpido was held in high esteem because of it.

As a young child, Elpidio’s mother came in contact with the original Oblates of Bongao. The town was a small, peaceful, isolated place then; and children were more or less free to roam because everyone looked after each other. She had a lot of energy and curiosity; while her mother stayed at home. Yes, she was different from her mother, and different from other women there, different in almost every way. Elpidio’s inquisitiveness, his quest for knowledge, and his boundless energy came from her. She was lively … had a winning personality. Her unbridled spirit gave her confidence. It allowed her to approach people, something that was frowned upon.

Elpido’s mother was the one child of the family people remembered, and when, after Fr. Francis returned following the Second World War (during which he was interned at Santa Tomas in Manila) it was not surprising that she was one of children who frequently joined the priest on his porch for story time. Because of Fr. Francis (notably his retelling of classical Islamic stories), she taught herself to read. She wasn’t encouraged to read at home. Still she loved to read and passed it on to Elpidio. Storytelling also became a family custom and continued because Elpidio’s father wasn’t home much, but he didn’t object to his son being sent to the Norte Dame school. He perhaps knew better than to object. .

During Elpidio’s years at the Norte Dame school, his mother paid attention and continued the boy’s education at home. It was a way she could continue her own quest. She was into literature. Perhaps she was the only Moro woman who read both the Bible and the Koran completely through. She particularly enjoyed stories based on Moro-Moro comedies: except she often changed the endings. She had Muslims defeat Christians instead of the other way around. Regardless, Elpidio didn’t have a choice but to enjoy literature. So Elpidio grew up around the Norte Dame school. At an early age his mother took him there to hear some of the same stories she enjoyed as a child.

Fr. Deon taught his classes in English, all of his classes, so that his students would have a command of English. His classroom was also filled with pictures and maps of other places, among them landscapes of Canada and New England that reminded the Oblate of home. There were two Oblates, who live together. The house, like the school, was western. It could’ve been Manila or Quebec, and Fr. Deon tried to make it as conducive to learning as possible.

Most of the students were Chinese, children of Chinese merchants. Most of them were connected with China and had relatives in Sabah (Borneo). And they took sides (in the Sabah dispute) but couldn’t afford to express their opinions. The Chinese controlled the economy and enjoyed the benefits. They were also predominantly Christian, and that was the reason they sent their children to the Norte Dame school.

Elpidio aspired to be a teacher, maybe a college professor. He looked up to Fr. Deon and started out modeling his life after him, but that changed when he went to college.

Elpidio was the wanderer of the family. He was fond of sailing. He once sailed all the way to Borneo. There he found relatives, heard stories about a common ancestry (and thought they should join together to create a new nation), and made friends. He made a practice of making friends wherever he went. Fr. Deon was responsible, along with his mother, for Elpidio’s love of geography. And thanks to Fr. Deon he learned about Canada and the United States, and he always regretted that he never got to travel abroad. He never considered Borneo part of foreign countries, though it was divided between Indonesia and Malaysia.

He learned also about the unrest in Northern Luzon. He saw the great migration from Northern Luzon to Northern Mindanao …. refugees from the HUK revolution (as a student at Mindanao State University in Marawi)…and when he ran into radicals at the university, he was naturally drawn to them. He soon became a leader.

To his mother, Elpido was her most heroic child. Since he was her first child and a son it was hardly surprising. And she never made it a secret, which other members of the family resented. She said she didn’t play favorites, but she did. Even when his siblings became prominent in their own right, they never received the recognition their older brother did. They were all educated and intelligent and contributed to the development of Bongao, and they all attended the Norte Dame school thanks to their mother.

As a student of history and literature, Elpido excelled at Mindanao State University. He studied there for four years, earned a BA degree, and each summer, he returned to Bongao, only to disappear and wander around the Sulus. He had already turned radical. He attended meetings and organized them. The Bangsamoro mujahideen inspired him before he joined them.

Chapter Twenty-six
After graduation, Elpido took a trip to Manila. Manila shocked him … too many people for his taste. Fr. Deon referred him to Fr. King, a priest at Santa Cruz Church, and the Oblate gave him a place to stay, while Elpido decided what he wanted to do. There he was away from home, alone, in a city, a huge city, and he would’ve been easily disoriented had it not been for Fr. King. Here was a Muslim living with a priest in a Catholic city, a future Bangsamoro mujahideen living with a priest in a Catholic city. He knew a great deal about Christianity, thanks to Fr. Deon and Fr. King, and could’ve then converted and become an Oblate. The urge was one he had to work through. Fr. Deon tried to discourage him by telling him that life of an Oblate in a Muslim world was not an easy one.

Corregidor Massacre changed everything. Like for many Moros, the Corregidor Massacre changed everything for Elpido. It hardened him. It gave him direction when he wasn’t sure where he was heading. After the Corregidor Massacre of the Jabidah group, Elpido returned to Mindanao, where he joined former radical classmates then reunited to avenge the murder of 250 Moro brothers.

Corregidor Massacre truly a massacre. On the night of March 18, 1968, disgruntled and mutinous Muslim recruits … trainees for a planned invasion of Sabah … were murdered at an airstrip on Corregidor. This massacre ignited a protest in front of the presidential palace and a firestorm in the Philippine press. For Elpido, it changed everything. He later said, “People look for explanations why someone does an about-face, except my reaction wasn’t a 180 degree turn. But this terrible incident was what drove me away from my Catholic leanings. I was born a Moro, a Muslim,” Elpido emphasized, “and any other affiliation I may have had was superimposed. Now that brothers of mine … some even from Tawi-Tawi and Bongao …. were murdered, I no longer have a choice.” The Corregidor Massacre made his transformation inevitable and filled him with rage. By 1970, Elpido was totally committed to the separatist movement and was already operating out of the jungles of Basilan.

He had not yet launched an attack though. Elpido instead spent his time recruiting and training. Because of it he was accused of waffling. Yet he still defended the need for violence, in order, as he said, to end oppression and win freedom for Moro people. But he remembered nearly all of Fr. Deon’s homilies, obviously because of his long association with the Oblate, and his respect for the priest. Oblates had been good to him. He also had good friends who were Christian. He was generally liked. And he impressed people. In the jungles of Basilan, as in the Norte Dame school, he impressed people around him.

As unrest on Basilan increased, people were evacuated to safer places. The first to go were the Yakan who lived in the central and southwestern mountainous interior. The migration began with the Christian population; and as a result more and more plots of land reverted back to jungle and led to the deterioration of bridges and roads. (Later “terrorists” destroyed bridges and prevented work on roads.) As a result, villages became more isolated, and residents kept to themselves.

These farmers were afraid to use roads and were afraid to go anywhere. Most of them had little incentive to grow more crops than they could use. Elpido saw these changes and was so disturbed that he questioned his role and methods of his colleagues. They weren’t above robbery, which disappointed him. How could they win hearts and minds of people that way, he asked. He yearned to disappear, sail away, as he had in the past. But there was already a price on his head, and how could he go anywhere with a price on his head?

Elpido operated out of a number of camps. They were scattered throughout the island, and on occasion he also went into Isabela. There he said he ran into the American fisherman we met in Zamboanga.

The meeting between the two men led Elpido to wonder why David was allowed to run such a large fishing operation off Basilan, since most profits from the sale of tuna were not coming back to the island. Meanwhile, members of his group were talking about running all “foreigners” off the island. This would’ve meant raiding the David’s compound. They had even sent a reconnaissance team to scout out the American.

We were escorted to Elpido’s jungle camp and his office in a nipa hut, a hut that separated him from his men. Life there might’ve been Spartan, but his life wasn’t totally so. He had his books and never slept on the ground. Yet Elpido tried to set an example. While members of his band never insisted on having luxuries he had (a bed and a roof over his head), they built simple shelters and within reason were free to come and go. (It reminded Nick of his life as a boy.) Elpido was obviously respected. He demanded discipline and was respected for it. He was lenient and granted a certain amount of freedom and was respected for it too. And because he was respected and his men respected each other, morale was high.

Dogma was Elpido’s forte, and he spoke philosophically better than anyone else. As part of his daily routine, he read, and in this he followed Fr. Deon’s example. He thought they needed to know why they were rebelling and thought that a rebellion was sometimes worse than status quo. And he wasn’t always sure that the means justified the end. He was often conflicted, if not downright confused. He resisted violence and a non-violent insurrectionist was indeed disabled. In Fr. Deon’s opinion, he was a “light” in a “dark” jungle. None of us had a crystal ball and foresaw then the lawless fiefdom Basilan later became.

Chapter Twenty-seven
After the siege of Manila, Americans opened the gates of Santa Tomas. They freed many Americans, many who before the war own businesses in the Philippines, and among them was David Miller Sr.. Captivity was hard on everyone and particularly hard on David Miller Sr. and his family, who were used to freedom, but those years allowed the Miller family to make connections with people who would rebuild the Philippines. And they were from all walks of life, politicians, teachers, missionaries, mining executives, plantation owners, stockbrokers, etc.. And most of those who became David’s friends were Americans and affluent. Yes, captivity was hard on everyone, but in the case of Santa Tomas, treatment of prisoners was better there than in most other prisoner camps in South East Asia, or any of the concentration camps of Europe.

Right before MacAuthur’s return, David Miller Sr. met Herald Fitzgerald, the former general manager of Del Monte’s pineapple plantation on Mindanao. Mr. Fitzgerald needed help and offered Miller Sr. a job, running a processing plant in Cagayan de Oro. The young man accepted the job, though he considered northern Mindanao less than ideal for raising children. That was where David Miller Jr. grew up and where he was drawn to the neighboring sea, learned to fish and, with his father’s help, bought a small fishing boat.

In September 1953, David Jr. went to the States to go college (supposedly UCLA), but he instead looked for someone with a yacht that could use his experience. But it didn’t take long for him to settle for a job on a freighter with a crew mainly of Filipinos. His familiarity with the Philippines helped. As an American who grew up in the Philippines he had an advantage the captain used. He could speak the language, knew the customs, and soon became a go-between. He could converse with the crew (mainly Filipinos) in their dialect and the captain in English. He could interpret the captain’s orders and could understand the crew’s problems. He didn’t push himself onto anyone, but if there was something he could do for someone he did it without hesitation. That was when he learned to navigate the high seas and how to negotiate with Filipinos. He learned both skills well.

His father couldn’t have been more upset and cut off money he was sending to him. That forced him to be independent.

David was drawn to the sea, of course, and his parents knew it, but they were disappointed that he didn’t go to UCLA and get an education. But David was determined to make it up to them. He was sorry for all the gray hairs he gave them but was determined to make it up to them. He didn’t mean to worry them. And asked for their forgiveness. And asked them not to disinherit him. And he wasn’t talking about peses or centavos. He didn’t want them to think he was unappreciative. He sent his love before he told them that he wasn’t going to UCLA. But how could he explain that there wasn’t a particular turning point for him.

David Jr’s parents were clearly disappointed. They worried about him. They didn’t like it when he dropped out of UCLA, but for their own good decided to let go. They encouraged him to go to a school in America, but when he decided to drop out they decided to let go. They had reservations about him moving to a big city like LA, since he grew up in a small place, a foreign country, but they thought he’d benefit from the experience. They worried about him living in a big city and a foreign country but thought he’d benefit from the experience. And they were right: America was foreign to David.

As expected, he went through a period of shock. He flew directly to LAX from Manila. And he immediately felt lost. LA wasn’t Manila, and he felt lost in Manila, so he felt more lost in LA. He managed to get on the right bus, though there was no one there to help him. He let his instincts kick in. He was too proud to ask for directions. He knew that if he hesitated he’d get pounced upon. Later he dismissed his fears as being silly. But in a letter home he wrote: “I wasn’t prepared for harshness and rudeness I’ve encountered over here. I was shocked by how people yelled at each other over nothing. It exhausted me and took wind out of my sails.” He wrote this after witnessing a shouting match between a bus driver and a so-called bum. It ended with the bus driver slamming doors of the bus in the face of the so-called bum and the so-called bum pounding the side of the bus with his fist. It left an indelible impression on David.

David persistence then paid off. He wouldn’t have been hired on a freighter if he hadn’t been persistent. As a result, David was headed back to the orient, though he didn’t inform his parents right away.

For the next few years David worked on the same ship, going back and forth across the Pacific from California to Hong Kong and Singapore by way of Alaska and the Aleutian chain. He quickly moved from apprenticeship to seaman; and this experience got him to thinking about possibilities back home in the Philippines … possibilities that always involved the sea and were suggested by trawlers, netters, and seiners he saw along the Alaskan coast and time he spent around fish markets. He also envisioned a future in the fishing industry because of fun he had on his own boat. And it explained his passion for the sea.

David Jr. came up with a plan and looked for investors to implement it. He touted fishing in the Sulu Seas. He proposed catching tuna and selling it in Singapore. You have to understand that he knew the Philippines and knew that there were great profits to be made there. He already owned a fishing boat. He was ambitious and owned a fishing boat. He was reliable and owned a fishing boat and knew he could make a great deal of money fishing in the Sulus. He owned a fishing boat but knew that someday he’d own a fishing fleet. He was raised on Mindanao, knew his way around, sailed the Sulus, knew his way around the Sulus, and knew where the fish were. “I can corner the market,” and said it with confidence because he knew where the fish were. He also had an advantage over Chinese and Japanese fishermen because he was an American. And he knew as an American, he could take advantage of parity … a trade agreement America had with the Philippines. There was an untapped source of fish and with a favorable trade agreement and the right investors he couldn’t fail.

Ferdinand Marcos had just succeeded and became president, and he seemed to be just what the country needed. My friend Nick hadn’t yet decided where he was going to college, though his father thought he should go to the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Manila. And a change of climate would do the young man good, or so his father thought … and a change of leadership seemed to boast the nation’s morale. Marcos came into office with a great deal of fanfare. Marcos adopted an ambitious agenda and did his best to meet public expectations. Roads, bridges, schools, health centers, and irrigation facilities … all needed attention and all received it when Marcos first came into office. He also lined pockets of friends. Massive spending on public works made Marcos even more popular than when he was elected but didn’t alleviate tension in Central Luzon, where Nick came from (nor for that matter problems in the extreme south).

Optimism generally continued throughout Marcos’ first years in office, and based on it he sought a second term in 1969. Nick, meanwhile, became a leader at the university. He was very articulate and outspoken and was known as a radical. His trip to China, Red China, set him apart from other students and was a defining moment for him. And he never kept being a Maoist a secret, even when it would’ve been prudent to do so. I told Susan, “Nick is all fired up; he always seems ready to charge, to lead, to cheer. While some of his ideas make me squirm, there is something admirable about his determination. Nick is one of few people I’ve met who has the skills to change almost anyone’s mind.”

Chapter Twenty-eight
Both men impressed us. We were favorably impressed with both David Jr. and Elpido. Both men treated us well. We saw both men on the same day, and they treated us well. We only spent one day on Basilan and saw both men that day. Both were living on Basilan (Elpido in the jungle and David Jr. on the coast). Both were transplants, and both didn’t have a base to work from in the beginning. They started from scratch and didn’t have a base at first. And they knew that they wouldn’t have made it without help from outside. They were both guarded (David in a heavily fortified compound and Elpido surrounded by a small force). They were isolated (we wouldn’t have found either one of them without help). ”When you’re living and working in a hostile place, it pays to take precautions and have enough distances between you and your neighbors to maneuver.” Both of them would’ve agreed with this. Passionate … they were both passionate and believed in what they were doing. Both of them had struggled and gone against odds. They wouldn’t have been where they were without struggling and feeling passionate and believing what they were doing. They were both successful with their own little empires. Influential … for David Jr., it was based on the success of his fishing business … for Elpido, it was based on the size of his following. And both men had a price on their heads: the government was after Elpido and the separatists wanted to drive David off the island. So both men were living dangerously. Both knew the stakes. Both were good men and treated us well.

“After there were attempts to drive me off Basilan, and not just by the local government, I decided to help native fishermen improve their livelihood by increasing their catch and expanding their markets. And since the Sulu Sea is bountiful, it hasn’t been difficult. Our biggest challenges, of course, come from the outside …from pirates to big guys from China, Malaysia, and Japan. Too often there are violent confrontations, literal shootouts. Encounters with machine guns. They rely on speed and surprise. They sometimes take boats and ask for ransom. Ransom is just part of the cost of doing business. I think the Philippine government could do more. Just as it has always been I rely on alliances with Moros, and without alliances I wouldn’t be here. I get a great deal of satisfaction knowing that I’ve bucked odds and not merely survived but thrived. I know that it helps that I grew up in this part of the world, but because I’m an American I’m not trusted. I still have to deal with mistrust. Everything I do is suspect. Incidentally, I love Moros. They rank as high as anyone. In my book, they rank as high as anyone. Still I couldn’t have an intimate relationship with one of them. I have to be really careful. It’s why I spend a lot time in Zamboaga. People in Zamboaga look the other way.” That was when we first realized that we hadn’t seen the beautiful Filipina we saw David Jr. with when we saw him the night before.

As we wrapped up our vacation, and after our visit with Fr. Deon on Bongao, we saw the approaching storm again and again. The first inkling came on the bus to Illegan from Marawi, when we learned how Christian’s “rats’ seized Moro land and learned of the bitterness that still existed over it. The long history of Moros was filled with stories of resistance, while the enemy, regardless whether it was Spanish, American or Filipino, was placed at a disadvantage and (we realized) would never gain an upper hand. The history of violence could be summed up simply and was repeated every generation. The struggle had been long, and Moros never gave up. Only there was a new set of characters, some of them we just met … our American fisherman, our Canadian priest, and our Moro separatist.

We reached Sitangkia after Bongao, but tide was too low for us to fully appreciate the Venice of the Philippines. Then the three of us went ashore with the captain in a small boat, and we walked around the small town, as he conducted business that we assumed was legal. We spent our nights sleeping on the deck of the boat, not on cots, but directly on hard wood and on mats we purchased in Marawi. We spent our days exploring islands along the way. On the tiny island of Sibutu, after a very short stroll across it, we could see what we assumed was Borneo. A whole week was spent getting on and off the boat, without ever docking anywhere. On the way out and on the way in from Zamboaga, we stopped at Jolo, and each time we encountered the military.

The first time was in a coffee shop. We sat at a small table, and a soldier came up to us in a way that told us that he had a problem with us sitting there. It scared Susan, and Nick stood up. We had hardly started eating, and this guy came up and started pushing his weight around. He spoke Tagalog, which told Nick that he wasn’t from Jolo. ”Come with me to our office,” was what Nick told us he said. Then words flew fast and furious, and we could see that it was a heated exchange. The exchange went on and on. Nick pulled him aside. “This is it,” Susan said. “I should’ve stayed on the ship.” Then when Nick finally came back to the table, everything seemed okay.

Our boat stopped at Jolo once more. This time soldiers came aboard to search for something and concentrated on the captain’s quarters. They found a carton of Luck Strikes, and the next thing we knew they hauled the captain and the first mate off the boat. Only later, when the captain and the first mate returned, did we learn that they were accused of smuggling. And there they were smiling and congratulating each other, having quickly and easily won their release. It seemed like it was planned, but we never knew the exact circumstances.

Soon after our vacation we read about the kidnapping of an American fisherman … on Basilan of all places. We assumed it was David Jr. and assumed it was connected with Elpido.

Chapter Twenty-nine
Elpido’s jihad journey started with the Jabidah Massacre on Corregido. His journey took him to the jungles of Basilan and led to open rebellion, but because he was a product of the Norte Dame school in Bongao and the Oblates, one would’ve thought that he might’ve been more moderate than many of his associates. Elpido had a Christian education, was a Muslim with a Christian education, yet he was a devout Muslim, a devout Muslim, with a connection with Christianity. Then maybe he was one to approach when time came for peace.

After the kidnapping of the American, the possibility for peace decreased. Not only were Elpido and his band hunted but his friends and former supporters, including his teachers, among them Fr. Deon, began to have serious doubts about him. And it wasn’t long before he was labeled a terrorist. Yet Fr. Deon held out hope. Fr/ Deon expressed continued belief in Elpido, with and without being asked, and in letters that he wrote to him. He also hoped that stories about Elpido were untrue. In his first letter to Elpido, he wrote:

I hope that you view your experience at Note Dame in a positive light and that you consider our presence here in Bongao beneficial. Note that we’ve never tried to convert anyone (which I admit is not typical of missionaries). You can rightly say though that you can’t separate us from God, any more than we can say the same thing about you, but you have to admit that regardless of a person’s religion that we are all bound together by a wealth of common knowledge. What do I mean by common knowledge? I mean possessing basic skills in language, reading, math, and science, which allow us to understand each other and make our world better. Perhaps this doesn’t seem relevant in light of the current struggle, and after the Jabidah Massacre. It isn’t hard for me to understand your feelings because some of the victims were students of mine … no doubt friends of yours, which means we’re both angry over it. I still think that a second wrong will never make it right, which I know is hard for you to swallow after such an injustice as the Jabidah Massacre. My ideas are also, I think, in accord with the Koran. There are degrees of resistance and not enough debate. We all agree that the Jabidah Massacre was a horrific crime, but is more violence an answer? A decision to hurt someone has to be made with great reluctance…

We don’t know if Elpido received Fra. Dion’s letter. We don’t know if he received the friar’s second plea for peace, this time set in the context of history. We don’t know if Elpido received any of the priest’s letters.

Fr. Deon’s perspective of the Moro rebellion came from his Christian background and seemed so biased that Elpido would reject it. Their three-hundred-year struggle came down to this moment, and to strike back seemed like the best action. After the Jabidah Massacre it came down to action … to doing something or being left behind. And if they didn’t do something, what would happen to them and the Bangsamoros movement? How could they be obedient to Allah if they weren’t willing to die for Him?

There was no reason for me to take risks that I did when I returned to the Sulus. Nor was there a good reason for me to go alone to the Sulus. For a story I wanted to retrace our steps as closely as possible and hopefully run into the same people that we ran into before … on my first trip. I wanted to see how things changed after David’s kidnapping.

Rational people started asking me about my trip and the kidnapping of an American. They didn’t know that I was pretty sure I met both parties …the victim and the perpetrators when they started asking me about it. And they were surprised that the kidnapping wasn’t keeping me from going back to the Sulus. I made several contingency plans, while they thought I’d get cold feet … get cold feet and bow out before I got back to the Sulus. I could back out. And it wouldn’t cost me anything but my pride. Rational people would understand. Questions first arose immediately after I read about the kidnapping in the Manila Times.

Contacting Fr. Deon in advance wouldn’t have been difficult. If only I could do it without alarming Susan. But there wasn’t a way; there wasn’t a way I could think of. I thought I’d just show up on Fr. Leon’s doorstep in Bongao, though I could’ve used poste restante, and though it would’ve attracted unwanted attention. And the only way I could go without worrying Susan was to lie to her. And this was what I did. I lied to her.

Time restraints forced us to end our vacation before I was satisfied. Our trip taught me that I shouldn’t try to cram so much into so little time. Our trip with Nick wasn’t the trip either Susan or I wanted. The trip which Nick and I wanted wasn’t a trip Susan fully appreciated even though she didn’t let on. Before our trip Susan made it clear that she didn’t want to travel on leaky ferries, but she allowed herself to be talked into it when there weren’t other alternatives. (The only boat ride that she really enjoyed was on David Jr’s speedboat, a short trip at top speed from Basilan back to Zamboaga.) Our vacation was too long for her. She felt powerless on it, and that experience, and only that, was what I used to convince her to stay home.

There was a great difference between traveling alone and with someone else or a group of people. Reactions I received were different. People were strictly reacting to me and not to Susan and me or to Nick and me, or to the three of us. Mistakes, therefore, were mine. And they didn’t put anyone else at risk. I was the only one to blame. Then let me make it clear that I never went looking for trouble, and I expected to get home from the Sulus safely.

There was no need for me to immediately go back to David Jr’s compound. His kidnapping made it pointless. I already had a feel for the place. Then it made perfect sense to bypass Basilan and go directly to see Fr. Deon, and get his perspective before proceeding further. I felt comfortable around the priest. I had to start somewhere.

Chapter Thirty
A month later I found myself sitting at a table, listening to Fr. Deon. He told me that Elpido was caught in a struggle between radical Moros and moderates, and he refused to believe that his former student was a terrorist. “I knew him as a kid,” he said. “I saw him grow up. He grew up in a house built over water like so many houses here. He had saltwater in his veins and loved water. His father was a pearl diver and wanted Elpido to follow in his footsteps. It was his mother who brought the boy to Norte Dame. She was also a student of mine.”

“He was just a kid filled with dreams like any other kid … a kid, like kids throughout the region, now caught up in ethnocentric and religious fervor. They are proud people who have struggled for a long time. Every once and a while something sets them off.”

“Elpido must find his own way. He may seem to have found a direction, especially in light of the kidnapping, but I’m not sure that that is the case. To be a separatist doesn’t mean he or she has to be a bomb maker or a gun-totter (as a resident here I’m at least a sympathizer), but you have to be an activist. It is not some violent act that makes a rebel a rebel but it’s by supporting an effort in whatever way he or she can.”

Then over a generous spread of imported goodies, I told Fr. Deon about our day on Basilan. Both David Jr. and Elpido were cordial. But the American treated us without any to-do, whereas the Filipino went out of his way to make us feel comfortable. It wasn’t guns that made us feel secure. So many guns! Guns everywhere. Both of them had so many guns. So many guns made me wondered how they avoided a bloodbath … how the kidnapping took place and without a bloodbath. How was it possible? How was it possible without a bloodbath? How was it possible without someone’s intervention? I wanted to know and intended to find out. It’s why I came back to the Sulus. I thought both men were good men. That was my premise. As far as I was concerned, both men were good men.

When we left Elpido’s camp, it was to catch a bus to the coast, where we found David JR’s compound and where we ate dinner with him. Our impressions of both men were based on very short visits because of time restraints we set for ourselves. I’m not sure Elpido would’ve invited us to stay over night, and Susan was off somewhere else. (We’d set a time and place to meet Susan.) I know how I felt when I read about the kidnapping. I remember the shock and dismay I felt. All of this came to mind, as I talked to Fr. Deon.

There was always a danger of being misled by a brief encounter. Elpido didn’t seem like a terrorist. He was extremely polite and seemed sincere. I suppose a terrorist can be polite and sincere, but … Elpido a terrorist … it didn’t seem possible. And it didn’t seem possible to Fr. Deon either. Elpido was polite to us the whole time, and he seemed sincere. No one could’ve been nicer than Elpido. Would we have found such hospitality in the United States? He showed no ill will toward Americans.

It confused me. His friendliness and generosity confused me. Reading about the kidnapping, and having met the victim and perpetrator on the same day seemed incredible and dumbfounded me. My emotional reaction to the news was what brought me back to the Sulus. I knew the risks. I knew them and accepted them. I also knew that I wasn’t dealing with saints.

Unlike the jungle camp we had just visited the American’s compound wasn’t modest. The American had everything any reasonable person would’ve wanted and more. But wasn’t this a mistake on David Jr’s part? Didn’t it set him apart? Didn’t it place him in competition with the Datu? But what else would you expect from someone like him? Why not, you say? It didn’t really matter. What he gave back to the community …mattered … in jobs and services … mattered more.

What did it matter? The answer was revealed, perhaps, with the kidnapping, a kidnapping without a request for ransom. Why not ask for ransom? Ransom … the money could’ve been used for furthering the cause. The kidnapping itself flew in the face of precedent. Rage and running amok would’ve been more typical. Running amok was traditional. Running amok was a deliberate act, much in the same way as the proxy clash of two warriors of opposing armies was. A person running amok was a proxy. So why not run amok? Why change rules?

Unlike the Filipino, the American didn’t try to impress us. But unlike us (“My God, what a spread!” Susan exclaimed), David obviously didn’t have to count his pennies. Everyone deserves a taste of this lifestyle, if only once in a lifetime. About this all three of us agreed. Because of everything it was hard to focus on the man in the center of it. Whenever I think of disparity I think of how David Jr. lived and the lives of his neighbors and come to conclusions that are indeed volatile and maybe that was how you could make sense of his kidnapping.

Chapter Thirty-one
Following instructions I stepped off a bus at a roadside dwelling in the central, mountainous interior of Basilan. I was told where to go and where to get off the bus and where to wait for a guide. With a bandana around my head, I arrived with a name of a contact. It was supposed to be someone I could trust … a reliable contract and someone I could trust. But I wasn’t sure I could trust anyone.

In his early twenties, Aga was a lean, short Muslim man. I usually think of Filipinos as shorter than Americans, and compared to me, Agra was short. He insisted on blindfolding me. I’m not sure why it was necessary, but necessary or not he insisted on blindfolding me. It made it difficult, and I wasn’t sure I trusted him. Why did he have to blindfold me? After the recent kidnapping of David Jr., an American, how could I have been sure or confident about anything? But Aga didn’t carry a firearm, which made me feel better.

Even though I stumbled, we moved pretty quickly along a network of trails. It was hard to keep track of all the turns, as we crisscrossed the countryside. Before walking through each settlement, Aga took off my blindfold and put it on when we were on a trail again. It wasn’t long though before he left it off.

“We’ll have to put it back on when we get closer to camp,” Aga explained. His English surprised me. Aga’s English surprised me. I don’t know why it would … would surprise me. As if he needed to explain everything, he went on, “Elpido wanted to come himself, but you can understand why he couldn’t. Elpido is a good man, but these are difficult times.”

We were now walking between rice fields and under coconut trees. Sometimes people walked along with us; other times we met someone coming in the opposite direction. I hadn’t expected this. It felt like Elpido wasn’t hiding.

“I hope this isn’t too far for you,” Aga said.

“It’s fine. I didn’t expect it to be easy,” I said. We hadn’t stopped, and I was beginning to feel it, but I didn’t have a right to complain. “I’m a bit surprised that everyone around here seems to know everyone.” I asked how it worked.

“Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t, does and doesn’t work” Aga said. “Sometimes we can avoid the army and the Constabulary, and sometimes we can’t. They know where we are, of course? We keep tabs of them too … we keep tabs of each other.”

“Elpido must have connections all over Mindanao and Sulu,” I said “He has a friend in Bongao. He was admitted to the university with the help of this friend.” I was proud of what I knew about Elpido.

Aga didn’t respond.

I than said something about how open everything seemed.

“People here work their own land. The government wants them to give up their land, but they don’t want to do it because they don’t know if they’ll get it back.”

“Basilan doesn’t seem to have a huge population,” I said.

“There used to be more people here.” Aga pointed to a mountain, to the jungle on the side of it, and said, “That’s our security, but we’re not going up there now.” Indeed, we skirted the mountain; while at the same time he gave me a landmark, and it gave me a sense of security.

After the blindfold went back on, we arrived at a rectangular-shape house built on stilts, and, with the blindfold off, we climbed up the steps. The house had only one large room. A kitchen adjoined the house.

Elpido immediately greeted me. Sitting on mats in a circle of men, David Jr. talked as if he were a member of the circle rather than a captive. “You can see I’m treated very well,” he said, “and am very much alive.”

“Our friend, however, is not free to go just yet,” Elpido said. “We haven’t agreed on terms. He sent word to his people and reassured them that he wasn’t hurt. And it took some of the heat off us. Our crime has unfortunately been highly publicized. I say unfortunately, though publicity has been good and bad. How is Fr. Deon? He wrote that you were anxious to see me. You’re either a brave man or a fool.”

As we were served scoops rice and dried fish with cassava, David Jr. interjected, “There are no spoons in the house. The family that lives here temporarily moved in with relatives. It may surprise you that they haven’t objected and consider it an honor.”

Several men and women, women dressed within limits of sharia, came and went from the kitchen, back and forth with food. Men actually served us.

“How is the food?” Elpido asked.


“Good. Cassava and rice were locally grown, but people here can’t grow enough to meet their needs.”

“It’s something we can correct,” David Jr. said, confidently. “With the green revolution, it can be corrected.”

“Our friend is an optimist,” Elpido said. “Yakans are hard working, and each family has a garden. They are happy people.”

“They’d be happier if they were left alone and grew enough food,” David Jr. added.

“They’re not starving, ” Elpido said.. “Besides they haven’t gotten help they need.”

At the end of the meal, servers removed the plates and brought pots of hot tea and cans of Carnation condensed milk. We all severed ourselves tea and, with milk, made ourselves chai. There was some discussion about the status of David Jr. It wasn’t clear to me … whether or not he was a prisoner. Elpido claimed that David Jr. could easily escape.

“I keep telling him he can escape. I don’t like how we’re portrayed in newspapers,” Elpido said. “They make it up as they go along and get away with it.”

“The kidnapping part was accurate,” David Jr. said.

“But you’ve liked it here,” Elpido said.

“But if I were to try to escape … “

“He doesn’t trust me. You can see that he doesn’t trust me. If he trusted me, he would escape.”

“When I was first kidnapped, I was very angry about the disruption. Disruptions are very costly,” David Jr. said. “I didn’t know what would happen and was angry and blamed myself for putting my guard down. I shouldn’t have been kidnapped. I shouldn’t have allowed it. I shouldn’t have let my guard down and given so many of my employees time off. I thought pirates were the biggest threat. Elpido would say, ‘the government is.’ In the Philippines, threats abound, especially here in the Sulus.”

“The government is far more invasive,” Elpido added. ”And now the government wants to evacuate the Yakan because us. Here you see the Yakan have welcomed us.”

Chapter Thirty-two
“I agreed to not put up a struggle,” David Jr. said. “Then when I told him that my father ran Del Monte’s processing plant in Cagayan de Oro, Elpido started talking about Southern Mindanao University. We soon learned that we knew some of the same people.”

“Some of my best memories come from when I was a student at Southern Mindanao University,” Elpido said. “Whenever he brings it up, I get sad, really sad.”

“Elpido says he wants to keep me around,” David Jr. continued. “I don’t think he knows what he wants.”


“See! When I came to Basilan, I brought capital and pumped it into the island. I maintained a large payroll and bought most of my supplies in Isabela. I supported a host of families … Muslims and Christians. Now … now … Now I’m sitting here. Does it make sense to you? It doesn’t to me. I grew up about 30 miles from where he went to college. I wasn’t born in America. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

“Then escape!”

“You keep saying escape! You kidnapped me! See he doesn’t know what he wants. Escape! I was born over here, but I’m still an American,” David Jr. explained. “And Elpido can’t see how an American could be for an independent Moro-land”

“He says one thing and acts differently.”

“I was born on Mindanao, and my parents plan to die there. He doesn’t believe it. So …”

“Given our history ….”

“So given our history, what? Given our history he doesn’t see how I could be for an independent Moro-land.”

“I don’t have anything personally against David. But I’m not sure …”

“He’s not sure what to do with me. He says I can escape, but I’m not sure …”

“That I mean it. He doesn’t trust me. Do you plan to die on Basilan?”

David said, “It depends. I may die here, but I’m not dead yet.”

“So it depends. See!”

“See what? How can any of us know when and where we’re going to die? When, where, and when I die may depend on you. I may die here, but I’m not dead yet.”

“Isn’t your beef with Marcos? Not each other,” I asked.

“ …given our history,” David Jr. repeated and continued. “My father and the plantation hired mainly Christian workers and my father would counter by saying that the plant and the plantation were located in areas of Mindanao that were mainly Christian.”

“Christian rats! Del Monte imperialist! Now don’t say they’re not imperialist!” Elpido yelled.

“He’s forgetting all the good Del Monte’s done.”

David Jr. and I moved out of the way, as Moros found prayer rugs, kneeled, and prayed. We were now in a position to escape, but escaping didn’t seem imperative to David Jr.. I would’ve helped him escape, but he didn’t try. Instead he told me that members of “this Moro gang” were more imprisoned than he was and that he never feared for his life. Hearing this made me think that maybe I was dealing with a hoax. David Jr. and Elpido acted more like frat brothers than enemies, or at least it seemed like it to me.

With prayers over the room became a hub of activity again. Elpido gave an order. One of the men jump-to and left the house. “Now we’ll get some news … we have our sources here and elsewhere. Maybe there’s a letter from Fr. Deon.” He accepted a pot of tea on a tray with enough cups to go around. “How did you find Fr. Deon? I think Fr. Deon has changed. I know I have.” Elpido signaled t the man next to him to take the pot. This seemed to be a ritual. “We allow ourselves one luxury. Tea … a smuggled commodity. We consider it trade, while the government considers it smuggling. I don’t think we need to ask Manila’s permission before we trade with Sabah.”

“As a fisherman I got tired of paying through the nose to the army,” David Jr. said, as he made himself a cup of chai.

After tea and a meal, David Jr., Elpido and I talked some more. From under the house came sounds of animals being fed. In a corner, on a make-shift shelve, were some of the books that I saw the other time I visited Elpido … publications of Filipino authors, a copy of the Koran, and surprisingly a Bible. I wondered if Elpido’s men recognized the Bible.

When I took the Bible from bookshelf, Elpido said, “Fr. Deon gave it to me.” I remembered the friar telling me that he didn’t convert Muslims. “To us, Jesus was human, a prophet, and a good man.” From inside the Bible I took out a letter from Fr. Deon. I read only enough to know it was from Fr. Deon.

“That’s how I knew you were coming. You know I was a student of his at the Norte Dame school in Bongao. My mother’s idea. A Muslim boy might be sent to Norte Dame, but not the eldest son, unless they had a mother as strong as my mother. My father was very devout. My family was different in many ways. My mother kept a shelf of books, which I know she read. I know I’ve upset my mother. She hasn’t written, but Fr. Deon has contact with her and keeps me informed. When I’m unsure of myself, besides Allah I have no one else to turn to but Fr. Deon. Recently, police or military intercepted one of his letters, and I know it because when I received it, it was open. Everyone knows the history of Corregidor. Now there’s a massacre. Murder.”

I then asked Elpido what he knew about the massacre.

“I know enough. I’m now trying to figure out what to do next.”

Elpido showed me more of Fr. Deon’s letters. There were two or three that were written while I was in Bongao … written in a big, bold hand, as if the friar wanted to draw attention to himself …written in ink so that none of it could be erased. One was torn up. All were slightly worn. Some of them were wadded up, and then saved after someone tried to press the wrinkles out. Moreover it seemed clear from their condition that Elpido hadn’t intended to keep them. It seemed odd that he would. Then too, the books also seemed out of place.

“I’m not cut out for this war,” Elpido said. ‘When I was first handed a gun, I didn’t know how to aim it. And it didn’t help my standing with men: now we lack training we need. Coming directly from school, I had no experience or training to justify trust placed in me. But I haven’t hesitated, but actually for some unknown reason it was handed to me. There are other groups on Basilan. That’s why I’ve decided to move to some place else. Our success surprised me. I never expected to kidnap an American without a fight.”

I asked Elpido what they wanted to achieve with the kidnapping.

“It keeps changing,” he said. “He could prove useful, but what do I know?”

Chapter Thirty-three
And we talked and talked and talked. I never understood why he talked so much.

By the time I met Nick and Elpido, the Corregidor Massacre was history. The massacre and the demonstration in front of the presidential palace that followed it were history, and many Moro students didn’t return to the University of the Philippines after that. Many of them feared retaliation or felt that they had to go home. They were afraid of retaliation or felt they had to go home. Many of them hadn’t felt at home in Manila, and the massacre only made it worse. Nick hadn’t had much to do with these students. They formed a clique that he wasn’t a part of. But after he learned of the Corregidor Massacre Nick felt sympathetic. .

I wondered if Elpido was preparing himself for martyrdom. We were many years away from the violent martyrdom of the first suicide bomber, yet I could see that Elpido understood the meaning of martyrdom. And he certainly advocated change for the Bangsamoro people … change and even a separate country for Bangsmoro people … an Islamic republic. After the massacre it became apparent that the time had come. It had been a long struggle, but now was the time. It was a struggle Bangsmoro people had been involved in for more than three hundred years; so it was certainly part of Elpido’s DNA.

Placing the Koran back on the shelve, Elpido said, “Very few of my Muslim brothers understand why my father let my mother send me to a Catholic school.” That prompted me to ask him how his studying at a Catholic school jived with being a Muslim radical. “The truth is,” he answered, “if I hadn’t gone to the Norte Dame school, I wouldn’t have been prepared for Mindanao State University and wouldn’t have been admitted. Thanks to Fr. Deon I had a solid grasp of English, which came from his using the Laubach method. And if I hadn’t gone to Mindanao State University I wouldn’t be a seperatist. If I hadn’t gone to Mindanao State University, I would’ve been a pearl diver like my father.”

I asked him then how he could give up an academic career when it had been his dream.

“I’ve asked myself that question,” Elpido said. “But after the massacre, I couldn’t just sit there in a chair. I couldn’t study poetry when my brothers were being murdered. My responsibility as a Moro called for more. If I hadn’t responded it would’ve been like I condoned the crime of murder.”

“But couldn’t you have more influence on a university campus?” I asked.

“The kidnapping, I hear, made the Manila Times, and was picked up by newspapers around the world,” Elpido said. ”There aren’t many ways to become a martyr on a university campus, unless someone runs amok. But with this kidnapping, I’m not dead yet, and I think we’ll win in the end.”

I spent the night sleeping on the floor next the David Jr., and remarkably he could’ve escaped, but he didn’t. We talked some during the night. Elpido was up and down during the night, while his men stayed out of sight. Once when Elpido went outside, David Jr. told me, “He’s not sleeping very well. All of them are new at this. They’re all amateurs. They don’t guard me all of the time.” With a laugh, he added, “They’ve given me every opportunity to escape. If I weren’t losing money, it would be like a vacation.”

In the morning, there was a great deal of activity outside. With some of his men, Elpido came in, carrying wild game, freshly killed birds and venison. The owner of the house came in after them. ”Ah,” David Jr. said, sitting up, “Whenever we have guest, food improves around here. All this is for your benefit.”

“It shows the support we have,” Elpido said, as he handed the game to a couple of men who came in from the kitchen.

Elpido introduced the owner of the house, who as it turned out provided the game. He explained, “He feels it’s a great honor to have two Americans staying in his home. Hospitality has always been very important to us. The Koran teaches us to give hospitality to strangers and kindness to travelers. He went hunting for you, something he wouldn’t have done for himself or his family. It’s good, because I assume, as Americans, you need variety.” Elpido ordered the meat to be prepared for our breakfast.

I gladly accepted the hospitality. The owner of the house (our host) stayed until after morning prayers and tea was served.

“Ahmad told us that the Constabulary came through here last night,” Elpido said, pouring four cups of tea. “According to him, they got close this time. Of course, I knew this. My contacts are better than his.”

“Perhaps you have sources on the inside,” David Jr. said.

There were greetings on the porch, and men I hadn’t seen before came in, soon filling the room. They were all very curious. Each in turn greeted Elpido and our host before sitting on the floor in a circle.

“They’ve all come to see the American stranger,” David Jr. explained, smiling. “I got the same treatment when I first arrived.”

“This may not make sense,” Elpido said. ”But they won’t allow anything to happen to you.”

The Constabulary, I learned later, would wait for them to leave, which gave Elpido a chance to get away. It also bought time, time to ponder a number of things such as “Where would help come from?” “Who could he trust?” “Could he make a deal with anyone?” During the course of a long history, Bangsmoro people learned answers to most of these questions, but Elpido had to work it out for himself.

Who could deny that Elpido committed himself in a dramatic way and placed himself in a very difficult situation? But through a relationship he forged with his captive … hadn’t he given himself a little wiggle room? He still had choices, options. Inevitably, he’d spend time in prison: he could use that time reading, praying, and thinking. But knowing what to do … could only come from learning what Allah planned for him. It would finally come down to whether or not he could meet demands of Allah and by so doing influence people. Only then would he be able to become a Muslim leader.

Chapter Thirty-four
I left David Jr., Elpido, and Elpido’s band of separatists the same way that I arrived: led out blindfolded and on foot. I had my stories, one I’d write and one I’d tell the Constabulary if I ran into them. They were different stories. Although I had enough material to write a long piece, there was still a lot that I didn’t understand.

“There are a few more questions I have for David Jr.,” I said to Nick the next time I saw him. “I don’t know why he didn’t escape. I have a few hunches why … why he didn’t escape, but they’re merely hunches. He clearly has a stake in Sulu. He grew up on Mindanao … born and bred there. We didn’t talk about Marcos, except in connection with the Corregidor Massacre. Then there’s his fishing business out of Basilan.”

I continued to communicate with Fr. Deon and continued to follow the conflict on Mindanao and in Sulu, as the conflict festered. I worried about Elpido whenever I heard about trouble on Basilan. And as tension between Christians and Muslims grew, Fr. Deon however felt safe. He felt safe because of his relationship with the Muslim community … with former students and parents of students, students who attended Christian Notre Dame. And long ago he placed his life in the hands of God and was determined (with all his being and God’s help) to keep the school open and to maintain peace on Tawi Tawi.

Fr. Deon wrote me to tell me that our friend Elpido was sitting in a military stockade in Zamboanga and for that he was thankful. Elpido could’ve easily been killed. Too many had been killed since the start of the government’s offensive. I kept track and knew that too many were killed. And I was happy to learn that Fr. Deon and Elpido were still alive and that the American had gone to bat for his former kidnapper. And Fr. Deon wrote that he was praying for Elpido’s release and a return of civility and stability. Fr. Deon was caught in the middle. He was aware of the aspirations of the separatists and how most people around him were hitching on for a ride. He also realized that he was considered an outsider and assumed the American on Basilan was going through the same thing.

Fr. Deon also shared contents of a letter Elpido wrote from prison. It was written for his mother. He reassured everyone that he was in good health and that he wasn’t being mistreated. He also reassured everyone that he was taking care of himself. He was exercising and eating. There was stimulation, and he had time to think. And he was hopeful … hadn’t given up. Why should he have? But as he waited his fate, he received little news. And as he was kept in the dark, he hadn’t been to court yet. The judicial system! He was learning about it.

There seemed to be two judicial systems. He had no visitors except his interrogators. And except for Fr. Deon, who brought him a few things. Other people tried to see him but were turned away, or so he was told by Fr. Deon, which didn’t make any more sense than being held without trial. Yes, held without trial. The hardest thing was that … especially waiting and without a hearing and no progress. He didn’t have a book until Fr. Deon brought him a copy of the Koran.

Fr. Deon said he’d get him a lawyer. But he wasn’t sure what good a lawyer would do. He urged people not to come see him, while he assured them he wasn’t dead yet. Fr. Deon reassured everyone that he wasn’t dead yet. He wasn’t sure but that he might be sent somewhere else … somewhere far away from Mindanao and the Sulus. Who knew where he would be sent? Who knew if they would then see him? It had been more than a month since they were captured, that fateful day in the rain. He thought he’d be shot. It surprised him that they weren’t tortured more than they were. He wanted his father and mother to know what he was trying to do … that he was trying to stand up for what was right. He wondered whether they were prepared for what could happen to him. He wanted them to remain strong … not to worry too much. He wasn’t dead yet … was treated well … was treated better than he expected. They shouldn’t worry because Allah was in control.

The American talked to someone on Elpido’s behalf…it was in a beginning, a positive beginning, and he vouched for his kidnapper. After that Elpido was treated better. After thaat torture ended and it hadn’t been too bad. He was told the American said he’d come see him. If he had it to do over again … the kidnapping, given the circumstances and after the Jabidah Massacre (the Corregidor Massacre of 1968), whether he’d join the separatist and take to the jungles of Basilan again or not, he wasn’t totally sure he would. There wasn’t much to do in prison, without his books. Of course, he had the Koran Fr. Deon brought him, and his prayers. As regard to the Koran, and while he had time, he set out to memorize the whole thing and complete his education.

As time wore on … and out of frustration, Fr. Deon continued to communicate to me about Elpido. When I realized that he was being held indefinitely and was denied his legal rights, I began to feel guilty that I hadn’t intervened. It seemed inappropriate for me to get further involved. I also knew that if I did I’d incriminate myself more than I had with my article and have to answer questions about what I was doing on Basilan and why I hadn’t alerted authorities. So that was where my involvement ended: with me resisting an urge to jump in. Yes, I felt an urge to stick my neck out, but I never understood why Fr. Deon and Elpido’s family thought I could do something. I was an American, an outsider. How could I as an outsider and an American influence anyone? Yet pressure was exerted on me to do something.

But I think Elpido’s time in prison benefited him. It gave him time think. During Elpido’s time in prison, I thought about how much easier it must be to take a certain course, endure setbacks, or survive deprivation when a person has the guidance of Allah or God. But even with guidance of Allah, Elpido had doubts, sown by his relationship with a Catholic friar. Elpido clearly looked up to Fr. Deon and looked to him for advice. Conflict caused by this dynamic must’ve been exceptional, though it proved to be inconsequential.

A footnote from BBC News: The Abu Sayyaf emerged in 1991 as the latest in a number of militant groups which have waged a 30-year campaign for a Muslim homeland in the south of Roman Catholic Philippines. The seeds of conflict were sown in the 14th Century, when Arab traders crossed the Indian Ocean and established Islam in the southern Philippine islands.

Chapter Thirty-five
Manila! Manila, the capital and pride of the nation! First light on our first day in Manila. We were suffering from jetlag and didn’t know what time it was. Heard from hotel bed: constant honking. Roxas Boulevard. Sweeping view of Manila Bay. Manila’s bay provided the city and the Philippines with a welcoming gateway, much in the same way as The Gateway to India did for Bombay and India. But there was a cloud hanging over the bay and Corregador, an island in the center of the bay, but we didn’t know it. Very few people talked about it then.

Palm trees lined the esplanade like a necklace. American Embassy overlooked the bay north of our hotel. Yacht Club was south of embassy and also north of hotel. We sat on the seawall. Morning walk through the Luneta. Cool breeze from bay. Stretching from Taft Avenue to the bay, the Luneta. One of the largest parks in Southeast Asia. Monument to national hero, Jose Rizal. Rizal Memorial Park. 58 hectors. A flag pole from where all distances in the Philippines were measured. Grass. Free benches, open spaces but very little shade. Free concerts. Families and lovers, bicyclist and chest players. In the morning joggers and tai-chi practitioners. At night a romantic rendezvous for lovers. Flowers, fountains, and less smog. Apart from a grassy expanse, an amphitheater, a playground, and a garden or two. A place to people watch, sit in the grass, relax in the sun, or just hangout. Tourist and Filipinos loved to hangout. The Pope was planning to come to town in the next few weeks. Maybe he’ll want to hangout.

Mabuhay. The Manila Hotel, best hotel in Manila, on grand Roxas Boulevard north of embassy. Showing off the authenticity of Philippine culture. Diplomatic meetings, power lunches, unforgettable weddings, and Happy Hour. Ask for MacArthur’s suite.

Nearby Fort Santiago next to the river, the Pasig. Manila was cut in two by the Pasig River. The Pasig when we knew it was very polluted. The Pasig separated the executive branch of government from Congress. Malacanang or the Presidential Palace sat on the north side of the river, and Congress on the south side. The embassy and the hotel, with Congress and the presidential palace as opposing square corners, formed a rectangular bastion of power. And for students this bastion was possibly as impenetrable as the walls of Intramuros or old Manila, but none of them seemed to believe it.

The Rajah Sulayman ruled the walled Moslem settlement that later became Intramuros. When the Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legaspi arrived in 1571, Rajah Sulayman fled north across the Pasig, to the area known today as Tondo. He lost his life at the Battle of Bangkusay Channel…a defeat that led to three hundred years of Spanish rule. Today, Manila sprawls on both banks of the Pasig and covers the entire area where this drama took place. Over eight million people lived within this area when we lived there.

Fort Santiago. The Spanish and Japanese used it as a prison. And around the Luneta were grand buildings of government and grand boulevards linking them. Manila, with its grand boulevards and grand buildings was designed to impress. They were indeed impressive. And the cathedral was impressive too, impressive and stark. It survived earthquakes and war. And the park in front of the old fort, grassy and with a flower clock. So come, take a stroll, have a picnic, sit on grass and eat barbecue. Here’s to peace and quiet. Small Moon. And be ready to answer “the site of whose execution?” “No, that was over there.”

The dungeons of Fort Santiago. Built by the Spaniards. The tourists kept coming. “Yes, prisoners were held here. And Americans too. MacArthur? Yes, the fort was his headquarters.” The same questions were answered a thousand times a day. “Yes. Where? Over there. No, not in the dungeons. The man was thirty-five years old. Shot at Bagumbayan Field, today known as the Luneta.” Then to everyone. “This is the cell where on the eve of his execution, Decemeber 29, 1896, Jose Rizal wrote an untitled poem, now known as ‘Ultimo Adios.’ A masterpiece but read it and decide for yourself.”

Quiapo Bridge. Transportation funnel of the city. Morning traffic intense. Constant traffic. The old church on the north side gave passengers a chance to pause and gesture the sign of the cross. Have you ridden a MRM Taxi, the UBL Bus Line, or JD Transit? Jeepnies?

East of the city, and north of the river, was Quezon City. Before Susan and I arrived, it was designated the capital of the Philippines, but they never moved the capital there. Instead, it was home of The University of the Philippines/Diliman. And the university was pretty far out. How long it took to get to the University of the Philippines from the Qiapo Bridge by bus depended on the season and the traffic. During rainy season streets flooded, and buses were much slower. With traffic, on a normal day, it took up to an hour. And most students depended on buses and jeepnies. Most people depended on them.

Manila Streets. We walked Manila’s streets looking for a place to live. Taft, of course. But what about Harrison or Forbes? Too expensive! Or Nebraska or Ohio? Sounded like home. In 1961 Azcarraga Street became Claro M. Recto Avenue. Some streets like Raon, Camba, Urbiztondo, Lardizabal and Gandara were named after Spanish governor-generals. Other names refered to Rizal and his novels, Basilio, Simoun, Sisa and Crisostomo. Two streets were named after his pen names, Laong Laan and Dimasalang. There was Tayuman named after the tayum plant, Antipolo Street, after the tipolo tree, and Isaac Peral Street, after the inventor of a submersible. There was Anloague for carpenters; Fundidor for foundry workers; Jaboneros for soap makers; Panaderos for bakers; and Labanderos for laundry men. City Districts north of the river were Binondo, Quiapo, Sampaloc, San Miguel, San Nicolas, Santa Cruz, Santa Mesa, and Tondo. We mustn’t forget Tondo. The other eight were Ermita, Intramuros, Malate, Paco, Pandacan, Port Area, San Andres, and Santa Andres. But whenever we got homesick we headed for Makati and the supermarket and Jack ‘n Jill Barbecue, Honey Pretzels, Plaza Pizza, and Big 20 Hamburgers. That was after we became truly situated.

In the center of the bay sat strategically the island of Corregidor … because of it and the bastions of Bataan and Cavite, the harbors of Manila were defensible. (Recognizing it America maintained a Naval Station on Cavite.) Still, when Dewey steamed into Manila Bay, he defeated the Spaniards almost without a fight, but the fight wasn’t over then by any means.

We saw disparity everywhere we looked, and I thought it was a threat to Manila and the country. The wealthy appeared well entrenched. Except for a few here and there, from Ermita and Malate to Malolos and Quezon City, most wealthy people lived within walled compounds (topped with broken glass and/or barbed-wire and protected by armed guards) or in large gated sub-divisions in and around Makati. These sub-divisions were built to provide homes for diplomats, airline pilots, and stockbrokers, or for people with similar resources. At the same time, slums mushroomed north of the Pasig in a district called Tondo. Nothing described squalor there. There was a massive invasion of squatters. Already densely populated with poor Chinese, the district became one of the worse slums and one of the most densely populated places on Earth. Added to the squalor (and misery) was a huge city dump, with garbage, smoke and stink, and where thousands more live, scavenging to survive. But this struggle and squatters weren’t limited to Tondo.

Chapter Thirty-six
Imelda was giving attention to an area just south of the Pasig and west of Taft Avenue over to the bay, which included Fort Santiago, Intramuros, the Luneta, Congress, and other government buildings (as well as a miniature golf course). Much of this area was constructed over centuries and then destroyed during liberation from the Japanese. But most of Intramuros hadn’t been rebuilt, and Fort Santiago … a national shrine where the national hero Jose Rizal was immortalized … remained a ruin, and as such a testament to the struggles of the Philippine people.

Although this area had always been a source of Philippine pride, it had been neglected over the years. Before Imelda, even with its venerated churches of St. Augustine and the Manila Cathedral (both survived the war), squatters, not to mention criminals, took over Intramuros and the Luneta, and do I dare say prostitution in the same breath as poverty? It got so bad that people avoided Intramuros, the Luneta, and the area around Fort Santiago, and it remained true until Imelda and De Roy Valencia, a columnist for the Manila Times, joined forces. (Mr. Valencia topped my list of people I had to meet.) Thanks to Imelda and Mr. Valencia this area became safe, almost free of crime, and had some of the cleanest restrooms in the world. Mr. Valencia stationed attendants in each restroom to clean each stall every time it was used and to bang on stalls each time they saw feet disappear. Moreover, there was a sense of urgency that was unprecedented. Projects that before then took months, even years, to complete were with Mr. Valencia’s clout and walky-talky finished in weeks. Whether it was for the creation of a flower clock or an outdoor theater, his orders were followed without question.

But despite this success and construction of huge public projects elsewhere, the government was unable to meet many public needs. And the population of Manila skyrocketed. A good deal of this increase came from migration from all over the country. Migration was a non-stop phenomenon. Migrants were drawn to the city for many reasons but the most obvious reason was to search for jobs. And jobs weren’t plentiful. So squatters not only invaded Tondo but also in places such as Malate where they lived without running water, sewer, and in primitive conditions. And ever-increasing numbers of people strained public services. Manila couldn’t keep up, and more people kept coming in search of a better life.

With this as a backdrop, students were demonstrating on campuses throughout Manila. And whenever I ran into one … demonstrations … I looked for Nick. The city had been a battleground before, but this time it became a battleground with militants wanting to overthrow Marcos and his puppets. It was a diverse group, led by students, so many different people that the movement couldn’t be dismissed. This was during Marcos’ second term, when disenchantment and frustration with him extended beyond an intellectual fringe. This created tension that could’ve erupted over almost anything.

During this period of unrest, it was hard to say who was leading whom: whether students at Ateneo were … or were activists from the University of the Philippines/Diliman? As activism grew at Ateneo, students faced expulsion and, as the government cracked down, they could expect violence. But the university administration tried its best to maintain a semblance of normalcy. Unlike what happened at the University of Philippines, Ateneo didn’t see any great battles. But students from all universities were involved to some extent. There were often three or four demonstrations going on at the same time, and no one could predict where the next one would be.

Though there were more and more demonstrations, most students weren’t activists. The majority went about the business of getting the best education they could, and whether at a private or public school, most of them thought it was still possible to transform Philippine society by peaceful means. But it all changed on January 26th (1970) of this year, when Marcos used brutal force against student demonstrators in front of the Congress building. To the students it seemed outrages, but it was even more outrages when riot police were unleashed on them.

To fully describe the events that took place would take a book, and from the 50,000 people who were there, you would get 50,000 different impressions.

To achieve their aims, students joined an assembly that had gathered to hear the President’s State of the Nation message and again I looked for Nick there. Some of them carried placards and burned Marcos in effigy (I looked for Nick to be one of them), but it was a violent reaction of the cops and the soldiers that awakened the public.

There was no rhyme or reason to how events unfolded. Some colegialas wandered off in boredom before it really got started, while priests and seminarians stood back from the crowd. But right below mikes and a podium set up for the President, there were restless, clamorous, chanting militants. (I thought I saw Nick among them.) They carried streamers bearing names of their organizations and waved placards in the air … none of them carried guns. I thought they were an amiable bunch and mingled with them as much as I could, while I looked for Nick. Since a permit gave them a right to demonstrate only up to 6:00 p.m., that was when they declared their demonstration officially over.

But passions were high, and just at that moment the President came out of the Congress building. The first scuffle was brief, and by the time it was over the President and the First Lady made their escape.

Then after the first attack by cops, demonstrators regrouped on the Luneta side of Congress. For the next two hours, a battle between cops and demonstrators continued, with one group charging and the other retreating, back and forth like that over and over again. There were three directions of retreat- north toward Maharnilad, south toward the Luneta, and west toward the golf course and Intramuros.

When a people’s will is suppressed and they protest and their protest is met by armed aggression, this is a recipe for even more acts of violence. There was more violence. And although the demonstration in front of the Congress building ended…and fallout from it was significant…Marcos’ reign on power didn’t ease. That first battle only led to more battles, and cries of ON TO MALACANANG!

They took to streets and battled over a sharp rise in bus and jeepny fares. A sharp rise in gas prices preceded this, and as tension across the city increased Manila became a battleground. They weren’t planning to take boulevards or seize buildings. It was more spontaneous than that. Then ON TO MALACANANG!

Some of them gathered on the Luneta, near Roxas Boulevard and Manila Bay. ON TO MALACANANG!

So when oil prices suddenly jumped causing fares across the city to also jump, they rioted and cried ON TO MALACANANG! A bus was overturned and burned! ON TO MALACANANG! Given the steep rise in the cost of oil, a jump in fares might’ve seemed justified. ON TO MALACANANG! Hardly a day went by without some sort of demonstration, or riot over something. ON TO MALACANANG! They marched across Quiapo Bridge and then on to Malacanang (the presidential palace).

Communists were often accused of being the instigators of trouble, but I’m not so sure. Yes, there were those like Nick who gave Mao’s success as an example of what could be done. But most activists, however, pointed out that they were inspired by the demonstrations against the Vietnam War in the United States. Even communist like Nick said they were fighting for one thing: genuine democracy. Some activist will look back on what they did on January 26th and tell their children that’s where the road to revolution began: that it all started on the steps of Congress.
Chapter Thirty-seven
Filipinos portrayed as friendly, polite, hospitable and musical. Amok Filipinos run amok. Everywhere leftovers from colonialism. Now called imperialism. Everyone studied Rizal, national hero, national novelist and poet, national martyr, invoking other heroes. Who killed Magellan? Datu Lapulapu. Conducted the longest revolt? Dagohoy. Conspired with the British? Diego? Murdered? Gabriela Silang. Self-taught Father of the Philippine revolution? Andres Bonifacio. Propagandist? Marcelo H. Del Pilar. Brains of the revolution? Emilio Jacinto. Wife of Andres Bonifacio, who fought beside her husband? Gregoria de Jesus. Greatest general of the revolution? Antonio Luna.

Chinese dinner at a Cantonese restaurant on Mabini Street with Nick. Mabini Street: shopping emporium with stores, restaurants, and sidewalk venders. Where you would buy shoes, eat sweet and sour pork, and haggle over a box of Post Corn Flakes.

Littered with broken glass, parts of the city were flooded by snapped water mains. Walls and roofs of many Old Spanish stone houses and churches outside town crumbled. Most of Manila’s buildings, designed to withstand quakes, were built of bolted timbers. They withstood the shock better. President Marcos proclaimed a state of emergency.

4:21 a.m. Friday. Rolled through an 800-kilometer stretch from Aparri in Cagayan to Samar in 33 seconds. Shook bed. Ceiling went one way; floor the other way. 33 seconds seemed like forever. Pitch darkness. Then Fire! Terrified, rushed out of apartment building. Come to find out, neighbors lit candles after quake. Across town, on Doroteo Jose and Teordora Alonzo streets, in Santa Cruz, six-story Ruby Towers apartment building collapsed. Building collapsed “like a house of cards.” 342 people died. 6,000 volunteers dug with their hands for over a week to extricate bodies and survivors. Hard, dangerous work. Red Cross …served coffee and sweets. A yell went out each time a body was found. More hands and more volunteers, working night and day as fast as they could through rubble. Masked because of dust and death. 125 hours after the quake miracle: two girls pulled out alive. Now, two years later: accusations.

No soil exploration. No slump tests. Poor design. Deficient construction. Inadequate inspection and supervision. On the 1,293-square-meter property stood a two-story building, room for shops, an eatery, and a club. On building’s top floor was Ruby Tower temple. Most people who lived in Ruby Towers were Chinese-Filipinos.

Visited Ruby Towers site with Nick, who had an apartment nearby. Town packed solid, inside, outside. Streets packed with buses, trucks, and colorful ubiquitous jeepnies. Concrete surrounding but for parks. Crowded inner-city alleys leading away from main streets. Broken sidewalks and open sewers underfoot. Overhead, excessive power lines. Major arteries jammed with traffic…colonial-era bridges. Under Quiapo bridge, a market for tourist. Topside, an old church. More pollution. Smog. Flooded during rainy season. Miserable water pressure. Kids draining water hydrides for their families. Nick said, “They have to fetch water at night and often miss school because of it.” Ducked down narrow lane to his front door. Reminded me of my doorway. People living on top of each other. More crowded than London. No courtyard. No room for it. Went into apartment. It all looked familiar. Cement floor. Small kitchen. Toilet without a seat. A few shelves of books: a desk, a sofa, love seat. No fan. “It gets very hot in here during the day,” Nick said. “I have a window upstairs next to my bed. But I keep the window closed. My neighbors yell at each other all the time. I hear everything.” I wondered how much they knew about Nick. Always fighting. Nick explained how he was lucky, how his rent was cheap, and how his building survived the earthquake. Lucky to have a pump. Paid extra for pump. Pump a necessity because of lack of water pressure. Nick’s anti-imperialism, anti-war attitude had my sympathy. Millions of things happened to Nick … bad things I wouldn’t go into details about because he was still emotional about it.

Looked at old guidebooks of Manila. Saw that the city was once called The Pearl of the Orient … much of it was destroyed during the Liberation of Manila. Some people still described the city as beautiful; a great many more wouldn’t go that far. Many more were nervous rather than optimistic.

But here we had more people living in less space than almost any other place on earth. Here we had rich people living next door to poor people and the only thing that often separated them was a wall and a guard. Here we had a city that had an infrastructure that was inadequate because the city grew out of control. Broad boulevards connected the city but were often clogged beyond belief. Perhaps you’d want to avoid squatter areas, particularly those that sprung up recently.

You may choose a stroll through the Luneta or down the esplanade along the bay. You may want to stay in safe areas, though determining what was safe seemed problematic. Yet Manila was considered one of the safest big cities in the world.

You may want to take a cruise for a day and relive a little history. Everyday, except when there was a typhoon, you could take a cruise to Corregidor.

Do you feel homesick? No need for it. Manila offered a little bit of everything. So name your poison. As an American, you’d feel at home. Still want more? Ask a cab driver. You could pay for a ride for an hour or a day. Be sure you negotiate before you get in a cab. But if you want a slower pace, you could hail a pedicab… still willing to peddle you and your belongings to a hotel of your choice. Ermita and Malate were where a large number of tourist hotels were located. For reasonable dinning consider Mabini Street.

Please, please, pardon our mess, as we’re experiencing growing pains. Most hazards were temporary. You may have to cross street but it only showed how earnestly we were trying to solve our problems. But let us assure you that these problems were truly temporary. We had to absorb a vast number of refugees who came to Manila looking for a brighter future. Well, you say, “so have many other cities.” You ask, “What makes Manila different?” We like to think it’s the temperament and the resilience of our people.

Our hopes and dreams of a bright future lie in the hands of people who have come here from all over the Philippines. They may begin with nothing. They prefer to live here because of opportunities here. So Mabuhay or welcome! You are always welcome in Manila, The Pearl of Orient. Let us live in peace for everyone’s benefit.

On her way home from school, Susan stopped at the supermarket in Makati, a weekly routine, and picked up a few goodies we had to have. This supermarket, so different from any other market in the Philippines, was like most supermarkets in the United States Aisles were wide, wide enough to accommodate huge shopping carts. Shelves and freezers were full, full of products from around the world. There were checkout lines, with cash registers and checkers, which was different from other stores or shops in Manila, which rarely specialized in more than one or two items and relied on clerks who served customers directly. (Most busy Filipinos had maids, who shopped each day in open-air markets.) In back of the supermarket was a parking lot, with a security guard, where customers from nearby Forbes Park and other subdivisions parked their cars. The supermarket reflected modernity and western influence and tastes of rich people who lived and worked in the area. As was her custom, Susan bought something special for me, a treat from home, but also something for our maid Linda, something that would expand her horizons. Susan couldn’t wait to spring her surprises on Linda. Linda had learned to adapt Philippine dishes to our American tastes.

Linda claimed she found us. Before she moved in with us, she lived in a shanty in a squatter’s area. Before she moved in with us, she lived with her sister, her sister’s husband, and their eight children. They all lived as one big happy family, all eleven of them in two rooms, with adjoining bathing and cooking areas. We never knew what Linda’s family did to survive, but we were told repeatedly that we paid Linda too much.

I asked her if she was happy living with us.

She said, “yes.” But on principle, we shouldn’t have paid her so much. By paying her too much we were creating inflation. While we could afford it most people couldn’t or wouldn’t. With what we paid her, Linda was able to save money, and we never knew how much she gave her sister. We considered it none of our business.

Linda usually had our evening meal ready soon after Susan got home, and over a meal we talked about our day … Susan about her day at the International School, me about my adventures good or bad, while Linda rarely said anything.

As a reporter, I was able to ingratiate myself with a Moro rebel and a Communist radical, but my articles hadn’t made us much money. So we relied on Susan’s salary, which by Philippine standards was fairly decent.

I asked Linda where she lived before she moved to Manila and started living with her big sister.

“We lived near San Fernando, not far from Manila, and we grew rice. Most of it went to our landlord,” she said.

I asked her how it worked.

She seemed hesitant. ”It depended,” she said. “Supposing it was a bad crop… a bad year … then most of it went to our landlord because our lease remained the same. The most he could take from us was all of it. In San Fernando, I had to find work, or go to Angeles, where as a girl there was always work; yet I heard from my sister that there were more opportunities in Manila…so I moved here. Then, too, I could make more money in Angelas.” She didn’t elaborate, but we knew what she was talking about. “But I want to get married someday. And as girls, we went to church. Landlords who don’t need money shouldn’t be so hard on tenants when crops are not good, because who wants to have their daughters go to Angelas. I know I am very lucky. See how it worked out for me, but it doesn’t work out for everybody.”

As we sat down for dinner, she said, “I paid my sister rent when I lived with her. She got used to the rent that I was paying to her, so now with what you pay me I’m able to keep it up and since you don’t charge me anything to live here. We all must help each other when we can.”

Chapter Thirty-eight
From our apartment on Taft Avenue, I went to an appointment with Vincente de la Cruz, who was now facing censorship. Vincente was very open and frowned constantly. His frown seemed to come from his intense nature. What seemed to come from his intense nature? His constant frowning.

“At least I have a film in the can, waiting distribution,” he said. “We’re going through a tumultuous period, and it could go in a number of directions. There are students, God bless them. There are students I think who are playing into the hands of Marcos. They don’t realize it. They don’t realize that they’re setting fires that they won’t be able to contain. Meanwhile Marcos cracks down. And then someone asks, ‘aren’t we a democracy?’ and Marcos loosens up. Then maybe all we have to do is call his bluff. Only he’s not bluffing. Then there are those of us who know that all the president has to do is turn loose his goons. The official reports never jive with facts. If they did, Marcos might lose. Wonderful, to shift suspicion elsewhere, he needs someone like me to stage an attempted coups. Obviously, instead, someone whispered in his ear and said, “’Sir, Mr. de la Cruz is a dangerous man. Therefore, we must keep his latest movie off the screen.’ My movie, however, isn’t radical enough. But my next movie will be. It will be like tossing a hand grenade into a crowd.”

I asked him what he thought Marcos would do next.

“Marcos doesn’t know what he’s doing now,” he said. “We are a people who have been led by our noses for too much of our history. Most of our heroes were either executed or were failures. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Meanwhile, students fall behind in their studies.”

After I found an editorial friend of mine in his office, we enjoyed a drink together. He was rushed and had a deadline to meet. He was always rushed but always found time for a drink. His English was perfect, and his comments were balanced. I don’t know if he was fair.

“ … If I had a crystal ball I’d say Marcos would win this spat. He won easily round one. But I’m nervous and know the Philippine people. I see them stuffing their rage until they eventually explode. I told Imelda this, and she, bless her soul, didn’t disagree with me. Since she shares a pillow with the president, I hope my warnings are repeated. At some point I may have to go into exile because of where I sit. ‘On the fence’ some say. Meanwhile, I have to sweat it out. You never know.”

As I wandered around Manila, I kept asking myself, “What am I doing here?” I sought out people on both sides, people on the fence, and people who weren’t paying attention. There were those who were struggling to stay alive. They literally had nothing more to lose. For them, slogans had no meaning, politicians were a threat, and students were from a different planet. Abandoned, they were aliens in their own country, whereas I was an alien far away from mine.

The sprawling University of the Philippines campus in Diliman (Quezon City) was by and large open. It was built around an oval formed where Manuel Roxas Avenue and Sergio Osmena Avenue met. It was lined with benches and trees and important buildings such as Palma Hall. Quezon Hall housed the administration, and was situated behind and, with its elevated and colonnaded façade, dwarfed the Oblation- a sculpture of a young naked man by Guillermo Tolentino. The sculpture greeted everyone. At the campus entrance, the Oblation signified the act of offering oneself in the service of the nation.

The plaza in front of the sculpture was where students confronted cops and the military. And many of the demonstrations took place in front Palma Hall. Nick met me on the steps and was dressed in a white embroidered polo and a loose pair of slacks. He had a book under his arm. A number of students, also in polo shirts, were using the steps to go to and from class, chatting and laughing along the way. Nick introduced me to a group of them. I didn’t catch their names.

I asked Nick what was being done about squatters on campus.

“So far it’s not a problem. They’re members of our alumni who we all know. I’m not kidding. And we’re known as the University of the Poor, and to have the administration evict them would send a wrong signal. Students would scream, and I ‘d hope the faculty would join them. Why didn’t you give me a heads-up about you sneaking back into Mindanao? I might’ve wanted to go too. We could’ve planned another trip around Christmas and the New Year. I’d think you’d have the courtesy to at least tell me your plans.”

I asked for his forgiveness and quickly change the subject. I wanted to go without stirring up things. There was enough hostility down there without creating more.

Next I met a student leader by the name of Ben. He helped organize most demonstrations on campus. We also met on the steps of Palma Hall. We exchanged small talk.

“I’m studying law,” Ben told me. ”Originally I thought I’d go into politics. Now politics make me sick, but I wouldn’t say I’ve gotten politics out of my system. Ninoy Aquino should be president.

A friend of his walked up. Ben introduced him as his point man.

“The country’s greatest problem is complacency,” Ben’s friend observed. ”People generally do nothing. They generally do nothing because they think our problems are unsolvable.”

Another student wearing glasses then joined us. She was Ben’s girlfriend, and her duties included keeping track of him. “Ben has to be encouraged,” she says. “Since our freshman year, we’ve come very far. Ben often doesn’t see it. But things are about to break. I see trouble ahead.”

“Ttrouble? Trouble? What specifically is being done about squatters on campus,” I asked for the second time that day. “As I’ve gone around Manila, I’ve seen squatters in many places, and I’m told that there’s not much that can be done about them. Well, I know what I’d do. I’d give them all lollipops.”

The “Trialogue,” a small room at the far left end of “student owned” Vinzons Hall (the student activities building) became a hangout for young activist. It served as headquarters for demonstrators. That was where Ben and his girlfriend took me. Surprisingly I was accepted, after Ben introduced me as a “neutral” journalist. Brown leather couches with matching coffee tables helped make the room a cozy place.

“With persistence, we’re making headway with President Lopez,” one of the students told me. “He arranged for Marcos to come to the campus and discuss vital matters and from that our eighteen demands were met. Mayor Amoranto assures us that the Quezon City police won’t enter our campus without a written request from the university.”

He stood up, went to the door, and looked down the hall, giving someone else an opportunity to say something to me. “Because of our general strike and because we shut down the university, Lopez was forced to issue Executive Order Number One. It gave greater autonomy to all student organizations. Now maybe we can get the university to release some money. We’ve asked for a lot of things. But it’s only a beginning.”

Dean Felixberto Sta. Maria (President Lopez wouldn’t see me), dean of the College of Education, was then feeling heat. “Students are after my hide because I won’t give them everything they want,” he informed me, after warmly welcoming me into his office. “There’s still a process in place that allows them to air complaints.”

I said something about how unrest seemed to be growing.

“You have to realize that we have repeatedly given in and that a line has to be drawn.. Of course, I’m not opposed to organized opposition and believe in academic freedom. Now about the question you raise about unrest, perhaps it should be organized in ways that classes are not disrupted. But in a democracy you can’t control everything. That’s why governments such as ours get into trouble. But I’ve so far been able to keep doors open, as demonstrated by Marcos coming himself to the university, not once but twice.”

After my visit with the dean, I went to see Nick at his apartment. He still had a Chinese flag, a Red Chinese flag hanging on his wall. He talked to me as he finished a bowl of noodles. To me he enjoyed making slurping sounds. He asked me how I got into see Dean Felixberto Sta. Maria.

“I’m surprised that you know about it,” I said. “Between appointments, he squeezed me in. He spent most of the time defending himself.”

Nick heated water for tea on a hotplate and went on talking about the dean isolating himself. “Even when we do get in to see him, he claims he can’t make changes any quicker because we live in a democracy,” he said. “It’s a joke. Marcos certainly hasn’t paid attention to the Constitution. It has taken a general strike to get as far as we have. We were only asserting our rights.”

I asked him what he thought would happen next.

And he gave me a vague reply, and said, “Marcos has friends on campus, and by friends I’m talking about informers, even within various student groups. Marcos thinks by giving us a few cookies he can pacify us and save his own skin. There have already been students arrested for nothing but exercising their rights.”

Chapter Thirty-nine
At a Christmas carnival in Makati, I met Susan and a fellow teacher and her husband. They’d talked me into going with them to a movie at the opulent Rizal Theater. The three of them had been shopping. It was Susan’s idea that we hook up with another American couple. It was my first chance to talk to someone who worked for a large American corporation in Manila.

Jeff turned out to be a tall, smart New Englander. He had an equally bright wife. She was teaching her second year at the Manila International School and didn’t have to work if she didn’t want to. He loved his job.

I asked him about his world.

“I am not an executive at OMB,” he said, emphasizing OMB. “I’m not essential. I can easily be replaced. Why then am I here when I can’t hold a managerial position over a Filipino? At least official, I can’t. Per an agreement OMB has with God-knows-who, there can be only so many of us here in Manila, but they tell me I’m essential when I’m not. I guess I’m essential because … because the company has a bias. They will not admit that they have a bias, but they do. The company doesn’t like to admit that there are as many of us here … as many Americans as there are and would deny that they had any Americas working for them here if they could. I detest the charade. I do my job. I like to think they can’t do without me. I came over here two years ago expecting within a year’s time to train myself out of a position, but the way it’s going I expect to be here another two years. We’re contributing to this country, and I’m training people who should be able to someday run the whole show.”

I asked him about how he felt about the recent unrest in Manila.

“It’s unfortunate. But it’s the same back home. I however think it’s safer over here. Over here we live in a gated community. Back home I don’t think we could afford it.”

They happened to live in Forbes Park and in a nice house on a lot with a swimming pool. Should the need arise, they not only had around-the-clock protection of security guards but also protection of an army.

Marcos had just detained Vincente de la Cruz, the award winning Philippine filmmaker, actor, director, who was known for his hard punches. They questioned him harshly before they let him go. It wasn’t generally known that he was picked up but few people would’ve been surprised. He had a reputation for being tough on the aristocracy and critical of the president.

In his most recent film, shot almost exclusively in Quiapo (he wrote it), society was depicted as degenerate and corrupt. Expensive cars were seen crawling down narrow streets. It was always about money, an obsession of the rich and the poor … about obscenities of the rich as they snubbed the poor, with the Pasig as a metaphor … the polluted Pasig. But the most damning part was Vincente’s focus on hypocrisy of politicians, particular those in power. But to point a finger at Marcos was dangerous. That was why he was detained.

To catch up with Vincente, I went to a tenement building in Tondo, a neglected, half-completed structure, where he was shooting a documentary with a small crew and a hand-held camera. Children were playing nearby. In front of the building, more children were playing soccer with a ball that had seen better days. (Vincente never missed small details and would certainly capture this one.) Inside was a dark, hollow lobby. It was once a palatial place but now felt like a tomb with dirt and graffiti all over the floor and walls. There were also piles of trash on the floor and here and there junk. In one corner, a couple of men sat on the floor, asleep or drunk, which I half expected to see. Down two halls were stairs to other floors and doors to small apartments. They had a few windows and kitchens and bathrooms, and bedrooms, but no running water. This was home to thousands of people.

I asked Vincente how he was received. I assumed that people living there were not thrilled with their plight.

“People generally want to be in movies. From the number of movie theaters in Manila, over 400, you can see how popular movies are. Since I’m well known, and because of the kind of stories I tell, I’m kind of a hero. Almost all of my films have been successful, and that was why I think I wasn’t detained any longer than I was. Marcos wants to gag me, but he knows that he has to be careful. He’d like for me to be on his side … have me betray myself and betray Philippine people. I think people here realize that I’m on their side.”

I asked him what he intended to do.

“It’s obvious that Marcos intends to hold onto power and that he’ll do anything to hold onto it,” he said. “People here are symbolic of our nation … poor, struggling, and oppressed, and by and large forgotten. But they see how students are standing up to Marcos and may even have children involved. They know about the general strike at UP. I want to see what impact this has made. Are they thinking of joining a much bigger struggle? Or are they too embroiled in their day to day struggles to care? I think Marcos is a fool, and I don’t have to say why I think it.”

As he continued to shoot his documentary and we continued to talk, it became clear that Vincente had joined the ranks of radicals and that he was far from complacent. Yet one thing set him apart, and this was that he had a huge following.

“I had my own awakening when I was very young,” he told me. “My father was a bigamist. He was charged with bigamy and afterwards chose his first wife over my mother. She then had to raise me on her own. I saw how she struggled. Now aren’t the contradictions apparent?”

The Congress building on Burgos Drive, opposite a parking lot and a grassy sidewalk that formed an embankment above a mini golf course housed both Houses since it opened in 1950. Built in a neoclassical style, the edifice was remarkable for Corinthian pillars that line a vast colonnade and pilasters that supported every wall. The design of the nearby Manila Post Office was considered superior with its channeled Greek-Ionic columns.

Vincente, a chunky Filipino in his late twenties with a constant frown wore a loose fitting Hawaiian shirt and khaki shorts. Because of the bright sun he wore sunglasses. “The post office was almost totally destroyed during the war. This building didn’t open until 1950.” Vincente said, as he shot footage of the area around the Congress building. “Manuel Roxas became our first president when independence was granted, as scheduled, on July 4, 1946, and yes, it was on the 4th of July. But in my estimation, true independence never occurred. It was then that we signed a military assistance pact with your country, giving your country a 99-year lease on existing military bases. Since then your country has helped itself to a huge slice of our economy. And as presidents came and went, not much changed.”

I wanted to argue with Vincente but I couldn’t. I am of medium height, lean, clean-cut and normally not very hard to get along with. “Although to a certain degree I agree with you, I don’t think you can honestly blame all of your problems on the US.”

I then asked him how he became an activist.

“My mother sent me to a private Catholic school, run by American nuns, and it gave me a taste of honey-sweet brutality,” Vincente said. “The nuns ruled with rulers, and after that experience … well, after that experience … I was radicalized. I’ve since portrayed fascists and heroes, crybabies and big shots. Our problems aren’t going away anytime soon. Say we want to buy toothpaste, why don’t we have more choices. Colgate, that’s our word for toothpaste. Thus I make the films I do, of themes about petty and gross injustices, with popular movie stars, and perhaps popular melodrama, but I stay away from pure propaganda. The minimum requirement for me is realism.”

”May I ask,” I asked. “What are you doing now, and why, to the extent you have, have you concentrated on this building? The thing I’ve noticed is that you’ve avoided photographing people. I don’t see where you’re going.”

“No, no. I don’t talk about my films until they’re in the can.”

Chapter Forty
Revolt had been a time-honored tradition in the Philippines … beginning with Lapu-Lapu’s assault on Magellan to the Katipunan revolt and the martyrdom Bonifacio and Rizal. I dug into this history and thought I knew as much about it as any American. “Rizal walked to the place of execution. Kept looking around as if seeking or expecting to see someone. He said in a loud voice his last words, ‘It is finished.’”

After shooting all he could that day, Vincente took me to the site where the Spanish executed Jose Rizal on December 30, 1896. (Some people think that the Rizal Monument, which contains the hero’s remains, is located on the exact spot, but it isn’t … though like the monument it lies within the Luneta.) Vincente seemed nervous, so we didn’t stay long. He still gave me a description of what happened there that day in 1896.

Vincente wanted to get details right and told me that Rizal wasn’t the only patriot executed there. He reminded me that many Philippine heroes were executed: some garroted, some hanged, and some shot.

“As the shots rang out, Rizal turned and fell face up. The execution wouldn’t put an end to Jose Rizal, and numerous visitors attracted to his monument each day proved it.
Executed for crimes that were unfounded … the American colonial government had every reason to turn Rizal into a national hero.” I knew we were standing on sacred ground but didn’t understand why Vincente felt so nervous. Did it have anything to do with me?

I daresay that politicians that came and went that afternoon from the Congress building felt suspicious when they saw Vincente with his camera. And possibly also people who came and went from the post office. And possibly they were suspicious enough to notify authorities. Or maybe authorities were already onto Vincente. You’d think that Rizal’s Monument would’ve been a less conspicuous place to shoot a movie.

When I came to the Philippines, I knew almost nothing about the history of the Philippines. Most of the little that I did know came from American history books. I hadn’t read a full account of the war we fought to secure the Philippines for ourselves … how we defeated the First Philippine Republic “to save the new country from itself.” To save the new country from itself, or as McKinley put it, “there was nothing left for us to do but to take it (the Philippines) in order to educate and uplift and Christianize them.”

It was Nick who first called my attention to the insignificance of Rizal … the insignificance of a national hero … or comparatively insignificant. It seemed strange that he would say it and that standing on the spot where Rizal was executed made Vincente nervous. Comparatively insignificant? How could he say it? People can say anything, I guess.

Vincente then took me to the people’s theater in Fort Santiago, already in full swing then. I was fortunate enough to meet there some of the country’s most popular, and perhaps greatest, movie stars. All of these stars worked for Vincente at one time or another. I was dazzled by the production, which included explosions of a real cannon and the appearance of a live horse. There were at least half a dozen movie stars in it, each trying to upstage the other.

I spent time thinking about the significance of the play in relationship to its setting, to the theater and its location (nearby were dungeons used by the Spanish and the Japanese) and historical connections that seemed so obvious. None of it tallied with what I was taught in school. But since coming to the Philippines, my perspective changed. And it gave me a better understanding why there was an uproar over America’s continued presence in the Philippines, as epitomized by our military bases. The name of the play was “Hindi Aco Patay,” or “I’m Not Dead Yet.”

They tried to be true to the period and as realistic as possible. They presented Andres Bonifacio as the hero and the martyr that he was (as well as brave young men and women who defended the black-lettered flag of the Katipunan). Though the actors were often too melodramatic for me, I applauded them for their enthusiasm.

While watching the play, I saw present-day parallels. A “ladrone-insurrecto” band was formed and armed just as students I saw were demonstrating and arming themselves … this band successfully drove a force of constabulary off the streets just as students I knew took to the streets and marched on to Malacnang. The students I met shared the same destiny as the insurectos of the play, many of whom faced imprisonment and death in the dungeons of Fort Santiago.

There were many scenes that showed brutality of Americans and goodness of Filipinos, and with what I learned, it was hard to dismiss it as pure propaganda. The audience received the play with great enthusiasm, the actors were genuinely appreciative, and in gratitude the audience gave them a standing ovation. So I leaped forward and gave the audience credit for clearly making a connection between the Katipunan of old and the Kabataang Makabayan of my day,

Okay, perhaps I went overboard, namely by embracing almost everything I learned from my Filipino friends. To me the past was not dead. I could easily accept blame for mistakes and crimes of my countrymen, while overlooking goodness and valor that went along with the bad and the ugly. Anyhow I was there and, like it or not, had become part of the history of this country. It was with these thoughts that I sat through the play “Hindi Aco Patay” or “I’m Not Dead Yet” at Fort Santiago and tried to imagine what it would’ve like to have been locked up in the dungeons next to the theater with water up to my neck.

It was with these thoughts that I visited the dungeons after seeing the play. I spent a great deal of time down there trying to imagine what it was like … what it was like for American and Filipinos prisoners. But they had sanitized the dungeons, with brick walkways for tourist and had turned a horrible place into a place that belied its history as a torture chamber and a deathtrap.

At the same time I walked through the dungeons, I was trying to sort out my life. I had high school buddies who were fighting and perhaps dying in Vietnam, and where was I? Some said, incredibly that they were fighting to defeat communism, maintaining that if Vietnam fell the rest of Southeast Asia would also fall. And where was I? Would I admit that I knew Nick, a Philippine communist, a Maoist, and we became friends?

Andres Bonifacio, who Filipinos honored as the true Father of the Philippine Revolution, vowed to fight Spaniards regardless of the cost. Andres, along with Ladislao Diva, Teodoro Plata and Deodato Arellano, created the Katipunan, planned a revolt, and issued a cry that would be remembered as the First Cry of Balintawak. It was then that they tore up their cedulas (papers) and shouted long live the Philippines.

Katapunan then, Kabataang Makabayan now, Kabataang Makabayan forever! I listened to them yell “Katapunan then, Kabataang Makabayan now, Kabataang Makabayan forever!”

“Katapunan then, Kabataang Makabayan now, Kabataang Makabayan forever!” Long Live the Philippines!

We recalled the memory of Bonifacio on his 101st birthday,

When a struggle, like ours, was a struggle against tyranny,

When like now a legal struggle had reached the white wall of futility,

When like now Bonifacio’s beacon of courage was most needed,

Once, 101 years go, a great hero came out of the proletariat,

And inspired a nation so long dominated by a foreign power,


Thus issued a cry, the Second Cry of Balintawak! Long Live the Philippines!

I stood there and shouted LONG LIVE THE PHILIPPINES!

But we must have friends…

That a developing nation can’t survive without help of friends

We’re expect to be friends after everything they’ve done for us

Can expect that friendship will cost us something, as we’re expected to ask for help.

One of the students carried the black-lettered flag of the Katupunan as they marched ON TO MALACANANG! Long Live the Philippines!

Chapter Forty-one
Nick knew all about Kabataang Makabayan, which was founded on November 30, 1964, the 101st birthday of Andres Bonifacio. He knew more about Kabataang Makabayan than Vincente did and became personally involved. It caught Nick’s imagination, just as it caught the imagination of many other students. They relied on the organization. They needed the organization. They needed to organize. Why, this was what Bonifacio would’ve wanted! This is what Bonifacio would’ve done. This was unfinished business. This was the unfinished Philippine revolution, while it was a new democratic revolution.

Vestiges of colonialism. Everywhere he looked Nick saw vestiges of colonialism. In the grand Manila Hotel, where comprados and imperialist still met and brokered deals … on splendid Ayala Avenue … on splendid Ayala Avenue in Makati, whose tall buildings dwarfed everything except some new hotels … and in the Palasyo ng Malakanyang, the Philippine White House built by a Spanish merchant, which like the U.S. Embassy itself, were some of the places where Nick saw vestiges of colonialism. Again Nick said it all stunk. There was no way to escape it, no relaxation of America’s parity, or American bullshit … according to him. ”Just think,” he said, “where we would be if we hadn’t been bled, soaked, screwed, and as coffers of our leaders swelled. And they call it fair.”

Pointing a finger at Washington, Nick accused Marcos of selling out. Thinking pointing a finger at Washington helped, Nick accused Marcos. “Even after granting us our independence, they controlled our economy and politicians!” he said. “The same old families are beholding in the same old ways, the same as they have been for three hundred years. You can name them, name them by name… a breed born into money and privilege.”

I listened to Nick’s debate in the “student own Trailogue.” The Kabataang Makabayan, wasn’t mentioned by him; whereas Mao was given credence: “maybe you’re afraid of sinking, and if you think about it, you will” (Mao said). But on whose side was Marcos? The battle lines were drawn.

A student sitting on a comfortable, leather sofa went on and on about the First Lady’s pet projects (there was now grass in the Luneta and a flower clock in front of Fort Santiago), and how money could be better spent on garbage collection. So much for logic! But let us not forget how much of an eyesore those places were.

“The ruling system is rotten. It was first brought here from Spain and then America. We allowed it to get out of control; we nurtured it, and it strangled us. Now roots planted in our fertile soil choke us. Our tropical climate was perfect for it. As we organize and arouse masses, we enjoy our televisions and go to Makati whenever we get a chance.”

Vincente continued to film the city from the bridges across the Pasig. He shot the Mexican Baroque façade of the Church of the Black Nazarene, where thousands of devotees came every day to light candles. And Miranda Plaza nearby, where politicians frequently held rallies. Inside Paco Cemetery (where Rizal was first buried) with its empty crypts (rumored to have been robbed by Emelda). In the course of a day, Vincente shot the Lapidas in Paco, the Ocampo Pagoda and the Mosque del Globo del Oro in Quiapo, the Plaridel Corner in Miranda Plaza, and the iron gates of the Palasyo ng Malakanyang. Everywhere people were rushing and going about their business, and yet he wasn’t focused on people. Vincente still didn’t know what his next film would be about. .

They raised their bolos, tore up their cedulas, and yelled “Mabuhay ang bayang Pilipinas!” What remained of Balintawak? An old tree. Now Bonifacio lay in state in an urn in the Congress Building on Burgos Boulevard.

As weeks went by, Vincente still felt stuck, mainly because of the status of his latest film (still censored) and because footage he just shot looked as if an amateur shot it. He didn’t like feeling stuck, and he certainly wasn’t an amateur.

I wandered around Tondo, looking for a story. I remembered when Nick brought me to a tenement building in Tondo. I remembered the building and the people in it, but only vaguely remembered where it was. I couldn’t get there on my own. I asked an old man where Bonifacio was born. He said something about Tutuban and when I asked directions to Tutuban I was directed to an old train station built in the 1800’s. The area was a commercial center with a myriad of merchants all trying to get my attention. I looked for a marker, but there wasn’t anything … no monument, nothing to show where Bonifacio was born. Nothing, except … except a street name. There was a street named after the hero of Balintawak Bonifacio. From the station, I walked south on Bonifacio Dr., trying to get my bearings. Along the way a boy, not more than ten, attached himself to me. I asked him if he knew Bonifacio. He told me to follow him and led me on a roundabout trip down a number of passageways and roads into the neat newly swept courtyard of his elementary school. It was in session.

From each classroom I heard recitations of various lessons in English. Over one of the doors was a sign indicating the Office, where there was a reception area with a counter behind which several people were working. Behind me stood the boy who brought me there and standing behind the counter was a friendly woman who greeted us both.

The principal, who came out of his office when we entered, was tall for Filipinos and appeared to be in his late fifties. He had his hair trimmed neetly and looked like a Filipino dignitary, in neatly pressed trousers and a fancy polo shirt.

Mr. Hernandez had been the principal of the Pilar Elementary School for many years. He had reached an age when he enjoyed prestige he earned and had started thinking about leaving it behind. After the boy ran off to class, Mr. Hernandez ushered me into his office. I told him about my interest in Bonifacio and how disappointed I was not to find anything that indicated that he ever lived in Tondo. “You’re right,” he said. “All of us who love our country should honor Bonifacio more than we do. It’s hard when there’s so much more that concerns us, but people who live here in Tondo should have a greater appreciation for our native son than others do. It’s not surprising though when there are so many people living on the edge or working seven days a week, but people who live and work here are essential for our country. They’re not lazy, and most of them have strong feelings about the Philippines … about Filipino traditions, Filipino music and Filipino food. When a festival comes along or say a wedding … honoring a saint perhaps…they all show up. Each year we have festivals here at school…the tradition perhaps goes back to Bonifacio. Everyone wants to get involved, but I always say there won’t be a festival unless our dance troupe, our Glee Club and teachers choral group, and our rondalla, all practice year around, and they do, and I’m quite proud of them. But I don’t expect my parents to know as much as my students do. I don’t expect them to know much about new math or our history. My students are generally eager to learn; their parents generally encourage them. We often win competitions, and display trophies so that our parents can see them. I’m very proud. But I’m always a little disappointed with our parents. A general criticism is that as a rule they don’t get involved enough. But then, even as a group, what can they do? They’ve been left out. They live from day to day. They live simple lives revolving around work and family. They’re completely wrapped up in surviving. Like I said, they’re forgotten. When they’re not working, they’re eating and sleeping.”

I asked Mr. Hernandez how he avoided the same fate.

“I’m not from Tondo. Don’t get me wrong … Tondo has produced some our greatest, most prestigious leaders,” he said. “I chose to come to Tondo, when I was teaching in Pasay and I came then to this school. I decided to stay and hoped someday that they’d give me the school. They did. At the time Magsaysay was president, and I got invited to hear in person his State of the Nation Address. Talk about history. In a sense, I’m a historical figure. All of my students know I love history, which is why I know so much about Bonifacio.”

Chapter Forty-two
To catch Vincente de la Cruz, a friend, I rode a motorized tricycle to his home, which he shared with his partner and his dog, a Great Dane. Passing through an ornate gateway, down a narrow walkway, and into an inner courtyard with a huge mango tree that provided a canopy for most of the day, I stood at Vincente’s front door. I used a heavy knocker to gain entrance. A vestibule led into a spacious living room. On the walls hung a collection of modern art, a mixture of western and Filipino art. The pieces were mostly abstract. All were signed and reflected taste of an eclectic and sophisticated man. Among them there were a couple of nudes.

A grand piano sat in a prominent place. Around a sofa and a couple of easy chairs were an assortment of conversational pieces from various places: among other things all the instruments for a gamelan from Indonesia, a safari hat from South Africa, and a phone booth from London. The room would’ve looked like a museum had it not been for Vincente’s and his partner’s eye for composition. The only thing that didn’t fit was a Santos of St. Christopher, sitting on a pedestal, since I knew Vincente was a Mormon. Absent from the room was any reference to his movies or any awards he received.

He ushered me into the room and told me his dog was friendly. (It was curious that he had dog, a Great Dane no less, since this was the first dog I had seen in a home in the Philippines.) Vincente’s partner greeted me and left the room. I didn’t take it personally. ”Jose paints and has a studio in a back room,” Vincente explained, while he invited me to sit down. “We’ve agreed to give each other space. We don’t delve into each other’s business. But from time to time, I’ll use his artistic eye when I need one in a film. That’s how we met.”

We both sat down. Vincente was very much at ease with himself. He didn’t have an affixation but in many ways his belongings reflected who he was. His showmanship couldn’t be overlooked. When he moved, there was a grace about him that showed he was a trained dancer. Yet he was very masculine. And when he sat, he was totally relaxed, and he knew how to put people at ease. His expression, unlike many directors, was gentle, and I never saw him angry.

I told Vincente how I was on the trail of Bonifacio, and how I lost the trail in Tondo.

“His trail is easy enough to follow,” Vincente said. ”You only have to look as far as the Kabataang Makabayan. Any afternoon go to the “grassland” east of Palma Hall and you’ll see a testament to Bonifacio, or simply take note of the memorial in front of the building. Most students who congregate there are strongly left wing. But I don’t expect much to come of it. So my expectations are low. As for myself, I try not to be pegged with a label, though I’m certainly not a friend of Marcos. I denounce his power tactics, his crony system, and his plain arrogance … I hate everything Marcos stands for. And during the last election, I didn’t support him, and that was before he censored my film, and I was one of those who thought the Philippines needed a benevolent dictator. Well, we have a dictator, but he’s not benevolent. I guess I didn’t voice my opposition loud enough, but then for business reasons I wanted to maintain neutrality. I wanted my movies to appeal to the broadest possible audience, but it became clear that I couldn’t stick to it.”

I asked him where he stood now.

“I’m not as careful as I once was,” he said. “There are all kinds of things happening now. For a filmmaker, there is no shortage of ideas. I haven’t always been honest with myself. I’ve never made a film that I’ve been totally pleased with. There isn’t anyone out there for me to follow. If there were others I wouldn’t need to make movies.”

I asked him about his work.

“I’m lucky because I’ve always been able to work within the star system,” he said. “But most of my movies are considered art films, though I’ve never had that luxury except maybe in recent years. I’m now thinking about doing a documentary. I started the other day at the Congress Building, and you were there. I’ve had advance warning of a demonstration planned during the president’s State of the Nation Address, an advance warning and a premonition. I want to be there with my camera. I don’t want to take a crew because it would be too conspicuous. It will be a labor of love, and I plan to blend right in. In recent days I’ve been hanging out on the campus of UP Diliman … where you said you’ve been too. I’ve caught some of the demonstrations on film but have spent more of my time shooting background footage. At present I’m looking for spontaneity, but I’m having a great deal of difficulty because I’m too well known.

I asked him whose viewpoint his film would take.

“I’m not sure,” Vincente said. ”We’ll have to see. I take responsibility, sole responsibility. This time I’m trying something new. I’m doing my own cinematography, without a crew, so I’m running a risk … both artistically and personally. A documentary film, one shot with a hand-held camera, requires a lot of risk taking. I want the camera to be eyes of students, bystanders, cops, and soldiers. I want that kind of intimacy. I want the viewer to feel like they are participating. I want them to be part of the carnage. I want them to be pushed around, knocked to the ground, and hit on the head, but I’m not sure my camera will survive a direct attack. And I want to edit it in such a way that it rises above photojournalism. Why not have Bonifacio confront Marcos on the steps of the Congress Building? It makes sense to me, but is the connection readily apparent? I know members of Kabataang Makabayan will see it.”

I asked him how far he expected to take his film.

“I plan to see what I capture first before I make any decisions. Then I’ll worry about a script and fill in the holes as needed. I first have to see what comes from the demonstration in front of the Congress Building.”

Changing the subject, I asked him about what film he’d like to make most.

“I’ve given a lot of thought about making a film I’d call EL CONQUISTIDOR, but it would be very expensive to make,” he said. “But getting the needed financial backing, I’m afraid, would be very difficult, almost as difficult as deciding where to start the film. I’d have to deal with a great number of characters, and how to tie all of them into a cohesive plot presents another challenge. It would take a tremendous amount of research. But I’d still like to give it a shot. The section I most want to tackle is the one that I know the least about. I’ve always been amazed by how Islam gained a foothold throughout the Philippines before the Spanish came. When I think about where we are today, I see all the waves that have washed over us. Even gentle waves erode; and the invasion of Muslims must’ve been more like a tidal wave … destructive and irreversible tidal wave. In contrast, the American invasion wasn’t a gentle swish, but a tsunami. Tsunamis are hard to detect in the middle of them, only when they reach a shore do we have the equivalent of what happened on Semar.”

He closed his eyes, tilted his head back, and began, ”From the deck of the U.S.S. Olympia, Commodore George Dewey said calmly, ‘You may fire when ready Gridley.’ Spaniards weren’t looking for a fight and quickly surrendered. Before he knew it Dewey captured Manila. This made him a hero in New York. Concerning the Philippine Insurrection, George said, ‘I thought they would be friendly, and would help us; and they were very unthankful, I think, in turning against us after what we had done for them.’” Vincente smiled and said, “That would call for the staging a war, and I’m not sure I’m up to it.”

“But surely Filipinos wanted to learn how to speak English,” I said.

“Yes, and that falls in line with what we know about William McKinley and why he said the islands couldn’t be turned over to us. According to him we ‘were unfit for democracy and Western Civilization.’”

I asked Vincente to give me a portrait of a Filipino as a radical.

“Al Perez is an illegitimate son of a Filipino mother and an American father and consequently people question his citizenship,” he said. ”He was two years old when his father abandoned his mother. He doesn’t remember his father and knows nothing about his American relatives. After his father left, he and his mother lived with his Filipino grandparents here in Manila. He adopted the last name of his grandfather (Perez) when he was old enough to do so because he didn’t want to live in the Philippines with an American name. He was forced to quit school and work since his father abandoned him and his mother. He entered acting after he became interested in movies. It was a way that he could see to advance himself. Al Perez quickly became a star. Because of his light skin and good looks he became a star. He learned his trade on the job … didn’t take acting classes. He became a star because of his light skin and good looks. But during the Japanese occupation, he served his acting apprenticeship by appearing night after night in Manila during a short revival of zarzuelas, many of which were nationalistic and political in nature. His mother died during the war. Shortly after liberation, he found work again in movies. His popularity helped rebuild the industry. There were only a few big names then; almost all of them were Eurasian, or American bastards. He was known as a womanizer. Never married. He claimed to have been a member of the Resistance.”

I questioned Vincente’s depiction of a Philippine radical. “Aren’t most radicals students now?” I asked.

“When I think of radicals, I think of historical figures: Rizal, Bonafacio, Pilar, and Al Perez, the movie star, to name a few,” he said. “In 1967, Al urged me to make ANG MAHARIKI, a movie about a guerrilla fighter and a Japanese Major in Northern Luzon. It initially had approval of the president and was to star my radical friend Al. While I was handed the story idea, I had too small a budget for what turned out to be an epic. ANG MAHARIKI didn’t turn out the way Marcos wanted. It didn’t make a hero out of a Marcos character or anyone else for that matter. It was an unlikely love story during an ugly war. When Al Perez read the script, he loved it, and of course wanted to play the Japanese Major. I somehow knew Marcos wouldn’t approve of the film. I wasn’t interested in making the propaganda film Marcos wanted. I talked to Al about this, Al who like Marcos was in the Resistance and hated the Japanese. Al knew Marcos and the First Lady personally, but had already become disenchanted with them. Al told me that he wanted to concentrate on the human side of his character. I agreed. There was the famous sex scene that censors cut out. I was very impressed with my star and pleased that he had confidence in me. When critics learned about the film they followed Marcos’ lead and expressed outrage without viewing it. Al’s attitude about the project and his faith in me never wavered. He said he felt we were making something quite remarkable. He tried to create a sympathetic character and avoid the stereotype of a sadistic Jap. But during all this, I didn’t know that my star had a political agenda and thought that Marcos exaggerated his war experience as a guerrilla fighter. But I don’t think Al influenced me when I wrote the scenario for ANG MAHARIKI. No one can say that it is an ant-Marcos film, anymore than they can say it’s pro-Japanese. My whole crew … my cameraman, my art director, and my film director, me …we were all green. We were all novices, and I didn’t know whether I’d lose my house or not.”

Vincente told about shooting the film.

“We used the small coastal town of Vigan in Northern Luzon for our setting. I chose Vigan because it was one of the few towns that still looked the same as it did during the Spanish colonial period. And I started shooting ANG MAHARIKI much in the same way as I’ve started my current documentary. With its priceless Old Spanish architecture, the town became more than a backdrop, because of the focus I gave to the great, big houses and the impressive Baroque cathedral. In the film, the town comes alive to such an extent that I’m told that viewers share the same love for it as the Filipinos and Japanese in the movie do. However, it had to have been more complicated than that. Could the sister really love a Japanese major? It is hard to believe that she could have. When there was destruction all around Vigan, why was the town spared? We know the brother was in ang mahariki, or the resistance. At the same time, members of his family were corroborating. To this day over a hundred of the old houses, made with brick thick walls and red clay plastering, line Calle Crisologo. Since the film was made, many tourists have gone to the town simply to see where it was made.”

I said that now because of the film I’d like to see Vigan.

“We used the interior of the cathedral and inside and outside of actual houses, which today might not seem innovative at all. I had a friend who lived in Vigan, and my friend opened many doors for us. I filled reel after reel and didn’t concentrate on a plot. And I ran out of money before we finished, even though Al Perez didn’t take a salary. I thought of approaching Emelda. I knew Emelda and knew she was approachable. She entertained the idea long enough for me to drop her name when I approached other people. Many of them liked the idea of having Al Perez as my leading man but didn’t like him in the role of a Japanese major. They wanted him to play a Marcos-like hero. It was Al Perez who finally sold the film. But before the film opened, Emelda withdrew her support. And many critics boycotted it. Finally, one of them went to see ANG MAHARIKI, and let’s say the rest was history. I was very appreciative of all of the praise, but I had no idea that that year it would win the FAMAS Best Film Award.”

I asked him what happened then?

“The film took off, and it ran for a year. It made money. It was shown all over the Philippines, but I’m sure to the chagrin of Marcos. Finally, it made it to Cannes, where it did surprising well. I didn’t think there was an international market for it, but it impressed most critics who saw it. I hadn’t expected it. Because of the success of ANG MAHARIKI, I was able to make my next film, TAN MASH’IKA, about the Arab trader who first brought Islam to the Philippines. While I was shooting this film in the Sulus, someone accused me of being stuck. Stuck? I didn’t know what he meant by ‘stuck.’ And then I realized I had indeed repeated the love theme of ANG MAHARIKI. But I left it in the new film…only shifted focus and subtitled the film A ROYAL MARRAGE. Then I made THE GOOD WIFE, which was indeed an indication that I was ‘stuck.’ But the public loved it. The plot came from a short television drama, which I expanded. Television has spawn many promising young writers. Incidentally, I worked in television for a while. I think you know Sonja and her crew. Of course you know I worked in television. Because of your wife, you know I worked in television. I shoot in color and in black and white. It all depends on the film and the mood I’m trying to create. More than anything I try to make sure that the production design and the story match. Time, place, action, characters all has to fit. Everything has to come together in such way that whatever happens couldn’t possibly happen in any other way.”

I couldn’t say if Vincente achieved what he set out to do. I hadn’t seen all his films; and my Tagalog was minimal and without subtitles I couldn’t understand a lot of what was going on. I grasped the big picture, but often missed nuances. I asked Vincente about how he viewed his success.

“You first have realize that I’m very critical and am never satisfied. I rarely feel at home with myself, but I don’t feel that’s a bad thing. Also, I’m always restrained by a very tight budget. But if a story resonates with me, I’m 99% sure that it will resonate with viewers.”

I asked him which directors inspired him the most.

“It’s hard to say. I admire most classical filmmakers, specifically Bergman, Antonioni, and Renoir. Tauffaut impresses me. Actually, I am very critical, so that’s ruined most movies for me. Nowadays, I don’t watch many films.”

Chapter Forty-three
On a good day a bus ride from Quiapo to Diliman and the campus of the University of the Philippines was at least forty-five minutes long and could be pleasant. I was riding a bus with Vincente, when we could’ve been using his car. “UP is frankly elitist. Only honor students get in,” Vincente told me as we entered the campus. We stood in front the Oblation … a sculpture of a young naked man created in the likeness of the actor Fernando Poe. “You know that’s the actor Fernando Poe, don’t you? Fernando worked for me more than once.”

Vincente pointed to a group of students standing on the lawn, while I looked to see if Nick was among them. “These students marched against compulsory Spanish classes and led a fight against America and its war in Vietnam. But you can’t forget that Marcos graduated from here. I think my film will have to deal with this, especially since there is so much animosity here toward Marcos.” There was excitement in his voice … perhaps excitement over being in the middle of so much turmoil.

We looked for Nick on the third floor of Palma Hall. Doors were shut, perhaps locked. I heard rumors that students were planning to shut down the school. Before we left the building, we looked at a bulletin board and saw a flier encouraging students to attend a rally the next day in front of the Congress building. It was scheduled in conjunction with the President’s State of the Nation Address. The bulletin board was also filled with announcements of other demonstrations, and I watched Vincente write a note about each one. As he scribbled, he told me again about his plans to film the rally in front of the Congress building. ”I’m going to look for a hero,” Vincente said. ”I don’t have one yet. I’ll wait for one to emerge, which is hard for me. I hate waiting. But I have to have faith and trust my eye. Of course, there’s a chance that it will rain … rain on Marcos’ parade … rain seems fitting somehow. Let’s pray for rain.”

By the time we got there Marcos had already begun his speech. The sun was shinning. Our prayers hadn’t worked. We didn’t pray hard enough for rain. Vincente and I made our way through a crowd that was massed from one end of Burgos Drive to the other. I felt privileged to be with Vincente, someone as recognizable he was. I didn’t want to get separated from him, but I didn’t want to get in his way either.

Now there must’ve been … let’s give an estimate from newspapers … there were over 50,000 people there that day, spilling over into the parking lot and the grassy sidewalk forming the edge of the golf course. “Very few of them came to listen to the president,” Vincente observed as he started filming. ”They’ve brought their own entertainment. Cops out in force. Close-ups of heads. People listening to radicals speak from steps of building. Radicals have their own microphones and loudspeakers. Flag flown at half-mast. Members of riot squad, wearing helmets and carrying shields. Security tight for president. Here is Marcos … played by Marcos, once a popular president. His annual speech after his speech before Congress. Men in uniform, with carbines, guard doors of building. We don’t see Marcos yet. Too many people in front of us. Is he still speaking inside the House chamber? Marccos will eventually have to come out.”

With his camera, Vincente seemed to be in his element. Other photographers on the scene, but they were only interested in filming Marcos. They weren’t making a documentary but were capturing news. My friend tried to tell a complete story.

Vincente suddenly decided to climb the steps to shoot close-up footage of radicals. He said, “I needed to show their faces.” This seemed like spontaneity to me and like a different departure for him. “I’ll try to get as many of them as I can.” It was too late to stop him, and he was too quick for me to follow him. That was when I saw Nick. The woman he had with him was his American girlfriend Elaine and she didn’t seem concerned about being seen with him. They had their arms linked.

Until then I felt okay … at ease because I was with Vincente. I wasn’t pumped up with adrenaline so I felt okay. I wasn’t pumped up with adrenaline like I would be later.
Was it possible for me to feel at ease? Why were we there? Tell me, please. Why? To the extent possible Vincente must be left alone. There were the curious who joined just to see what it felt like to be part of a rally. “Maybe that was why Elaine went,” I said to Vincente afterwards. “If she had any sense, she would’ve stayed home, because as an American woman she stood out.” When I caught up with them … Nick and Elaine … Nick seemed glad to see me. I pointed Vincente out to him when there was no need for me to do it.

Vincente appeared on the steps just as the crowd started chanting. We then all sung the national anthem. And loudspeakers were turned up full volume. And manifestos were thrown up in the air and were eventually trampled on. Protestors had every right to be there. They had every right to express their views when they spoke of a need for change. But did they have a right to break rules? They had a permit. They were given time to demonstrate and express their views, but did they have a right to break rules?

Nick joined radicals who took control. Nick was someone Vincente would want to catch on camera. (Unfortunately he also caught Elaine.) There were also dissenters who wanted to dissociate themselves from anything criminal. There was a young labor union leader who was a tremendous speaker. Such an event called for many speakers, but the rally erupted before it got very far.

To catch it all, Vincente would’ve had to be everywhere at once. He also had to think about sound. Not only did he have to catch speeches, but he also had to zero in on constant chanting: “Rebelusyon! Rebelusyon! Rebelusyon! Around him, there were also conversations. They were never completely drowned out. Here maybe was the story he was looking for.

There were also conversations and sounds that went with emblems of an enemy: a cardboard crocodile, painted green, a coffin, and a paper effigy of President Ferdinand Marcos. When the president came out of the Congress building, an effigy of him was set on fire. And a coffin was pushed toward him. And a crocodile was hurled at him. There were so many people there that many of them couldn’t see the president when he came out on the steps. They only saw a burning effigy of him. There was commotion at the door and flashbulbs that went off when he came out. Things then got very confusing. Elaine pointed out Marcos to Nick. She didn’t need to point out Marcos to Nick. The crowd got very excited when they got their first glimpse of Marcos. I hoped Vincente caught it on film.

The first scuffles were brief. By the time they were over, the president and the First Lady had made their escape. Vicente later said, “I let the camera roll and captured a close-up of the couple retreating. A very poignant scene. The viewer will be able to see a very human Marcos.”

Vincente followed cops with his camera, as they retreated into the Congress building with hostages. We watched them too. Militants then returned to their mikes and had possession of the moment. I had never been in the middle of a demonstration before. Many of the spectators headed home then. Those who remained refused to be cowed. Some sang the “Internationale” in Tagalog. Vincente, on the steps, looked pleased.

“Fight and fear not! Link arms. March together. Face cops without flinching. Bait them! Taunt them! Pulis, pulis, titi matulis! Pulis, mukhang kuwarta!”

Mocked cops. Shouting in the middle of mocking. Shielded figures with billyclubs. Elaine seized Nick’s arm, as she participated in the mocking. Mocking reflected rage of the crowd. Outrage showed how much respect for cops had slipped. Cops were generally considered corrupt. I didn’t have exactly the same feelings, but I had felt wrath of cops before.

I saw Vincente descend the steps of the Congress building, holding his camera on his shoulder. I waved to get his attention. Nick told Elaine about two other demonstrations … one at the U.S embassy when Agnew came and the other at Malacanang to protest police brutality … during both police ruffed up student protestors. It seemed like it could happen again.

Spoiling for a fight. Angry crowd. Nick demonstrated how to protect our faces with our arms. Gathering around flagpole. Out shouting speakers. Around flagpole, debate turned ugly. At this point, Nick asked Elaine a crucial question.

Nick asked, “Do you want to get out of here?”

Elaine said, “Not on your life. This is my destiny.”

Nick said, “No, it’s not. This isn’t your country and isn’t your fight.”

Police chief appeared. Boos and catcalls, sticks and stones started to fly. And police chief retreated.

And it so happened that I got separated from Nick and Elaine just as I heard, “Here comes the cops!”

What followed was a bloody war. Marching feet, running feet in the other direction as one group broke into a run. Everywhere confusion. Each man for him or herself. But cops only went after those who ran. Students charged. Vincente jumped right into it.

Again they charged, this time from the Luneta side of the building, hollering and whooping as they charged. Vincente crouched, smiled, obviously happy, while aiming his camera. The cops slowly backed away before an angry crowd, then ran, ran for their lives. Nick and Elaine observed this, as students gave chase.

But momentum took them into the very ranks of the police. Once again battle lines formed, with students in the middle and cops facing them from Burgos Drive. Vincente smiled while they charged each other. For the next two hours the lines of battle shifted over and over again as a battle raged on. It was the big one everyone anticipated. However it was only a prelude to what was to come.

Afterwards, I found Vincente and asked him how his filming went. And did he find a hero?

“Better than expected,” he said. “And no, I didn’t find a hero. But I won’t know what I have until I start editing. Of course I worry about a finished product and each time try not to repeat myself. So far it hasn’t been a problem. In Manila, I’m known for my experimentation and my nerve. After all, most directors don’t start a film without a plan and don’t lose their way as I have. Usually by now I know what a film is about; but this time seems different. So far all I have is a newsreel.”

Chapter Forty-four
There was a knock at the door. Vincente opened it. He was handed a note. He opened it. It was a tip from a friend. It said students were calling for a boycott of buses and jeepneys. In Manila, there were always calls for boycotts or strikes over something.

Price of fares was raised. We’d have to wait and see how much more they would be raised. And we’d have to wait and see what would happen next. So you see life was disrupted, but life went on and where there was life there was hope. Meanwhile some producers were so excited about Vincente’s concept for his film that they advanced him enough money to keep going. Hopefully it would amount to something. Although chasing demonstrations and strikes like an ambulance chaser was more exiting than reporting on problems such as poverty, still overall the plight of the poor had ramifications that were just as important as a war in front of the Congress building. I spent more time in the poorest sections of Tondo and found amazing people there and amazing work being done. But by and large this work went unnoticed.

Rich people tended to congregate together, merchants with merchants, and intellectuals with intellectuals. There were, it was true, exceptions, but because the problem of poverty was so overwhelming it was easier to look the other way than get involved.

Who really wanted to spend time in a smelly, smoky dump and work with families who lived there? How many people really wanted to devote their lives to helping people who lived and worked in a dump and then face risks that would be involved? It was like poverty was a disease and catching. People were more likely to attach importance to working with children, while people were often blamed for being poor. Rich people sometimes gave to charities that helped poor people, but they rarely did more.

Jose was thirteen years old and lived in a squatter’s hut in Tondo. He came from the dump. He dropped out of school to work in the dump … to scavenge in the dump with other children and to help his family scavenge and survive. Then one morning I saw him coming from the dump. I don’t know why I was attracted to him more than to other children in his situation. There were over100, 000 children like him in Manila, and it was easy not to see them because there were so many.

Walking around, I was often confronted by them. I usually kept walking, ignoring their pleading and shielding myself as best I could. It was easier to keep walking. I usually didn’t want to know anything about them, so I kept walking.

Jose came up to me. He was skin and bones … dirty, skin and bones, but appealing. His skin was sun-damaged because he lived mostly outside. His face was cast in sadness, but he smiled when he saw me. His eyes were wide but distant, nose was runny, lips were chapped, and though his smile seemed genuine, his expression was hard and serious. He was wearing plain blue shorts. I suspected that they were once part of a school uniform. For a top, he wore a raggedy, torn T-shirt. There was nothing, however, about his dress that distinguished him from other beggars, but in spite of it he seemed different. For one thing, he wasn’t begging or trying to sell me anything.

He walked beside me, trying to match my stride, stride for stride.

“Life is good,” he said in English. “I live in paradise. My father owns a pushcart, and I have two brothers and one sister. A car hit my father, so I help out now. I had to quit school, so that I could help out. But I feel I’ve had all the schooling I need. I speak English good, right? I write too. But I don’t use writing very much. When I have to I use it, and maybe someday I’ll need it more than I do now. You like sweets? Would you like to buy something sweet? I can show you where you can buy pitsi pitsi, sapin sapin ube and suman.” Of course I bought us both something sweet.

“Life is good. We know where to get food when we don’t have any. St. Nino Church the nuns give out rice there. My mother is about to have another baby. She does her best. The nuns tell us that God will take care of us. If God didn’t want us here, he wouldn’t take care us.” He told me that someday he’d like to go back to school. He began scavenging before he quit school, mostly on Saturdays and Sundays, and learned to bargain and barter before he had to. Soon he was good at it. Soon he had a thriving business recycling things other people threw away. Soon his family wasn’t starving.

Jose directed me to St. Nino Church, where I met nuns. The head nun said, “We see Christ in the poor; we serve Him by helping them. Here we do what Jesus did and minister the poor. We heed the call of the Beatitudes and open our doors to all people. They can’t lie on our doorstep and expect us not help them. God wants all people to live and die in dignity. Don’t ask why we help. People we help probably never know what they give us in return … as we make their lives just a little bit easier as they seek the blessings of the Lord.”

Besides food distribution, nuns and volunteers wash and confront hundreds of children like Jose. The nun told me that they find some on the streets and some wander into the church. “We have a dormitory and a medical ward and some them arrive after suffering physical abuse. Too often mothers bring them here and leave them. They don’t want to give them up, but they have to.”

A line formed inside a courtyard, as a crew of nuns prepared a simple meal inside the church. “They come for food, and without thinking about it participate in the Eucharist, as our Sisters serve them,” the nun said. “They can also shower or wash their hands and faces, which we feel is more critical than having their feet washed, though we’re prepared to wash their feet too. We wash feet, because our Lord Jesus did.” A bell then began to ring, and from inside a chapel there was singing. “You and your friend here (Jose) are welcome to stay and share a meal with us. It won’t be fancy, but filling. We don’t turn anyone away.”

I then felt more inclined to help Jose than I did before talking to the nun. I asked him if he would like to go to a restaurant with me. He jumped at the change, but before we could go anywhere I needed to buy him a pair of shoes and a pair of socks. I wasn’t up to washing his feet.

So I turned down an opportunity to eat at the church and took off with the boy without explaining what I was going to do. Jose ran ahead of me. As we left the church, the line grew and was already extended outside the courtyard and around the corner.

Jose told me he liked New York Pizza … liked it with pink ham. At Divisoria market place, we looked for New York Pizza with pink ham, but before we got very far, he stuffed himself with Jack and Jill Barbecue Curls. At least, he didn’t fill up on sweets.

We stopped at a shoe store, and immediately a short, thin salesclerk grabbed Jose by the scruff of his neck. “Stop bothering the gentleman,” he said.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I plan to buy him socks and shoes.”

“But mister…”

I had him let Jose go.

“I’ve seen him work this street before,” the clerk said. “He picks out English speaking tourists and plays on their sympathy. We can’t do much about it, though it hurts our business.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “He didn’t play on my sympathy.” I had Jose sit down, remove his old worn-out sandals, took a pair of socks from a rack, and put them on his feet. “He needs shoes,” I told the clerk, “and I’m willing to buy them for him.”

The shoes he chose, unlike mine, were tennis shoes and not very expensive. But I could tell that the clerk still objected and continued to object to the end of the purchase. I could tell because he grudgingly took my money.

Once again we were out on the sidewalk, and I wanted Jose to show me where he lived. At first he wouldn’t budge. Then I persuaded him to come with me.

Before too long, I found myself in an area where people lived practically on top of each other. There was no order, no streets, no running water and no open space for children to play. As I moved through the area, Jose followed me. He followed me, and people greeted me in a friendly way and paid no attention to him. Other children crowded around me, unsmiling but not hostile. Jose, after seeing this, jumped in the middle of them, next to me, and began showing off his new shoes, when an elderly Filipino, with a severe stoop and an assured manner, intervened. He could’ve been the children’s great grandfather.

“Oh, give him space,” the old man said. “You know better. Oh, are you lost?” He directed his question at me and made the children to back off.

Jose laughed, clapped and yelled, “Stand back, stand back! Back!”

“Oh, here is a little general!” said the old man, grabbing Jose, who tried to break away. “Naughty boy!” Then turning to me, he said, “No one has time for these children, so I step in.”

“It’s okay, okay,” I said.

“And who are you,” he asked. “I’ve never seen you around here before.”

Jose lifted up a foot, showed off his new shoes again, and said, “This nice man bought them for me.” Then, “I must run. My mother will be worried.” Jose then ran off.

Chapter Forty-five
Back on a major street, I walked west toward Manila Bay and the major port. The Pasig was south of me. More people approached me. It was the good season. During monsoon this area would’ve been flooded.

A group of children ran to me. “Hey, mister! Hey, mister!” they yelled. I knew about the squatter area here from reading in the Times about the government’s effort to demolish it.

A pleasant officer of the National Police stood at a checkpoint. “The area is restricted to residents, sir,” he said with authority. “We need your cooperation.”

“I’m a journalist,” I said, as I showed him a press pass I created myself. “May I speak to your superior and ask him for an interview and permission to enter? I hear there’s a plan to remove squatters from here.”

The cop let me through.

With children following me, I went down a narrow path, through an area packed with shacks (made out of pieces of wood and sheet metal), stepped across trenches of sewer, and looked for someone to interview. Harbor cranes towered over me and served as a backdrop. I soon came across a young man, who was sitting on his hands. “I can’t go to work,” he said.

“Why?” I asked, after being surprise that he spoke to me.

“I can’t leave. If I do, I’m afraid police will tear down my home.”

“Then I don’t blame you.”

In a doorway stood a woman with three children, which I assumed were hers. “When we moved to Manila, we rented this house from a landlord who told us that we wouldn’t have problems with police,” the young man said. “He gave us a lease (notarized) that he said gave us a right to live here as long as we paid rent. We moved here five years ago. The house is ours now. We’ve made necessary improvements, as mandated by law. Now the roof won’t blow off unless we’re hit by a typhoon. But the government betrayed us and says we have to relocate outside of the city to make way for a new international port. If we move we’ll still have to come back into the city to work. It would take us then a couple of hours both ways. It’s time and money we can’t afford.”

“What do you plan to do?” I asked.

“Keep what we have here,” he said. “This is all that we have. If we didn’t have this place, we’d have to live on the streets, and there’d be no way to keep clean. We’d surely become beggars then. So we refuse to leave and have begun to organize.”
The organization was called ZOTO, or Zone One Tondo Organization. It was the first urban organization of poor people in the country. The defiant squatter said he wasn’t sure he wanted to join and was sitting on his hands. He was afraid, afraid to join. “With a family, I have too much to lose,” he said. “I’m not sure I want to be associated with communists.”

ZOTO was a federation of many different organizations fighting for the poor. Most of them weren’t of the communist persuasion. Communist or not, regardless, something had to be done.

Throughout the area, there were other men afraid to go to work. In doorways, and sitting on their hands, were other men guarding their homes, huts or shacks built so close together that there was very little space between them. They had very few chairs and by and large slept on mattresses on dirt floors. And when it rained it was impossible to keep out mud and water, and with it garbage and sewage.

Linda, our maid, took us to the squatter area where her family lived, which was ritzy in comparison to the squatter area in Tondo near the harbor. Homes where Linda came from were built to last and could withstand typhoons. Homes there were permanent, though they were constructed illegally in alleys and over streets. All of them by then however, received blessings from the city and local politicians because each adult occupant represented one more vote. They seem to be set. They seemed to be sitting pretty. They had approval from the city, while people in shanties in Tondo near the port, faced a constant threat of losing everything.

“ZOTO is trying to organize all of us … all residents of the area,” a young man guarding his door told me. “We’ve gone to court to stop destruction and so far that has stalled the process. The police still harass us. They’re making arrests; the situation seems to be getting worse. So far no one has been killed, but you don’t really know … some people have simply disappeared. Those that have disappeared have been mostly organizers. Police know who they are, so it’s hard for them to hide.” That made me think of Nick.

I reached the end of the pathway, where there was a high chain-link fence with razor wire across the top. Just beyond the fence were piers with tall cranes and big ships. Port facilities there were basic: cargo boats and ferries, some food and drink stalls, and seating. Little shade. Tourists were advised to secure their luggage and wallets. This was where Nick, Susan, and I would’ve caught a ferry to Mindanao and the Sulus had we gone by sea.

Back in the squatter area, as I was walking out I ran into one of the ZOTO organizers (as I found out, a full-time worker). He talked about challenges they faced. It was said that Tondo was too big to organize, though not all of Tondo was filled with squatters. Organizers also knew that residents needed to be trained, though in the past training was limited to leaders; and if training was to be effective, it had to be done systematically. So far, the biggest problem, the organizer said, was how to sustain the effort when Marcos bought off a majority of their leaders. He threw pesos around as if it were play money. Who could blame anyone for taking it? It was often their only chance to pull themselves out of poverty.

“It’s the Germans who are dipping into their pockets,” he said. “And it’s the Germans who are treating the poor of Tondo as Hitler treated the Jews. We’re looking for real solutions. We’ll march by the thousands, and when we march to the German Embassy, we’ll embarrass Marcos, and hopefully the Germans will cut off the faucet. We believe these people belong here. They’re human; and when you see that, you’ll see that they’ll like you. We plan to have more than 4,000 marchers. And there are more people who’ll join us once they see we can’t be bought off. Our work has just begun. With each passing day we’re gaining strength. Strength in numbers will stop bulldozers. It’s happening. It’s wonderful to see. But we have to be on our toes. Just yesterday National Police arrested a co-worker. Two weeks ago a checkpoint suddenly appeared. Now we’re treated like criminals. Next will come bulldozers.”
I reached Smokey Mountain, where Jose said he lived and worked. Confronted with unbelievable pollution, smoke, and unbearable smell. All day long, non-stop, container trucks came and went, to and from the huge mountain of garbage. A rather steep road led to the top, which was several stories high. I climbed to the top using the road and entered an unexpected hell where literally thousands of people lived off other people’s garbage.

“People survive however they can,” I said to myself, as I thought of Jose. “They sift, search and scrounge, and whatever they find they recycle, sale or eat. So far, no one has figured out what to do about these people. Eighty-percent of the children don’t go to school. Most of them can’t envision a better life for themselves. It should embarrass Marcos. It isn’t exactly what the president promised, how people adapt to filth, heat, smoke, and smells; why human beings are allowed to live this way … in a very toxic place … in filth and squalor and with diseases. It breaks your heart.

I asked Nick later about it.

“I wouldn’t go there,” he said. “As it is we’ve got our hands full.”

On top of the mountain were camps. They consisted of shacks built on garbage and shared with millions of flies and armies of rats, all surviving in spite of dangerous, stifling heat and air. Up there was a whole community. Some people ran sari-sari stores; others capitalize on a videoke machine or a ‘bar’ with a billiard table. Scores of men, women, and children were sifting through refuse…wading through it, scrambling to get behind each truck, and fighting to get the best part of it. Most of the people were filthy; some were ill. But I realized that none of it fit Jose. It made me wonder about Jose.

“Everything has value here,” one of the drivers told me. “Or else it’s set on fire, and there’s always another load.”

I asked for a ride in his truck, which made my escape easier. Nearby children were playing soccer. Their ball was old and half-inflated but at least it was a ball, when there really wasn’t room to run more than a few yards or so. I kept thinking of Jose and looking for him.
Chapter Forty-six
Since then, whenever I went to Divisoria Market to eat or shop, I looked for Jose. I looked hoping eventually to run into him, and sure enough I did.

When Jose saw me and I saw him, he didn’t try to avoid me but smiled and spoke to me in perfect English. I asked him how his new shoes fit, and he hemmed and hawed because he wasn’t wearing them. As we walked along, I asked, “How’s life on Smokey Mountain?” The first chance he got he ran away.

Perhaps the most direct confrontation Elaine ever had with her father came after he learned of Nick’s participation in the Battle of Mendiola.

A horrible confrontation followed. Here is her account of what happened.

“It was after midnight. Dad waited up for me. Nick wouldn’t come into Forbes Park. I was glad he wouldn’t come in and walked from the front gate to our house alone. My mother, poor thing, had already gone to bed. But how could my father sleep after he read a briefing of the battle? I hadn’t anticipated that he would be awake. I unlocked the door and was surprised to find him sitting in the living room. I started to go upstairs. “Come here,” he said.

“What’s the matter?

“Your friend is in serious trouble.”

I felt afraid and miserable. I ran up to my room. I saw then that I couldn’t do anything and go anywhere in Manila without my father finding out about it. I should’ve known that he would find out about it, and he would object.

The dishonor …as daughter of the Commander of the American Navel Base on Cavite … I should’ve known better than to get involved in a demonstration. Although I hadn’t participated in the Battle of Mendiola and the battle had principally been waged against Marcos … as far as my father was concerned, it was unconscionable and unpardonable that my boyfriend was identified as one of the instigators. It took me a long time to forgive my father.

This battle occurred on January 30, 1970, when students marched to the presidential palace and military troops, in riot gear, attacked them. The students fought back with stones and bombs. The demonstrators even crashed a fire truck into Gate 4 of the palace. To Elaine’s surprise her father was able to give a detail account of the fighting and the arrests that followed.

Her father also saw a photograph of Elaine with Nick, taken not in front of Malacanan but in front of the Congress building during the demonstration there. It gave him all the proof he needed … proof and ammunition … proof that upset him greatly. Unfortunately his superiors and the Philippine government had poof too.

Yet he couldn’t be overly harsh with his daughter, his only child, and his “puddin’.” But because of his position as a representative of his country, he had to be careful. He had standards to maintain, and those standards also applied to his family. But he knew he couldn’t control Elaine and had to trust her. The only other choice he had was to disown her, and he couldn’t do that.

According to a common held belief within the American military establishment, including Elaine’s father, the main source of grief in Southeast Asia were communists, and the loss of Vietnam meant the loss of all of Southeast Asia. And they could see the loss of the Philippines … the loss of the Philippines like the loss of China … and they weren’t about to let it happen.

Strict protocol had been established to assure maximum cooperation between America and her allies (in this case the Philippines). It not only applied to military personal but also included family members; and certainly dating a communist would’ve been covered.

Elaine initially accepted restrictions or rules imposed by protocol, but hadn’t counted on falling in love with Nick. It just happened. A lot just happened. It just happened that Nick was a Maoist. It just happened that she met him. And it just happened that they fell in love.

She always maintained that Nick’s allegiance to Mao was merely an intellectual exercise. In her mind he couldn’t be a true communist. And that his “radicalization” (as well as that of other students) was a response to undeniable abuses by Marcos. She also thought that Nick and other students had a right to object to a foreign war waged from their shores and had a right to demand closure of American bases on their soil. “Students back home are up in arms over the same things,” she argued.

Once in the military however, a person (and it seemed to apply also to his or her family) gave up many of their rights and that included independent thinking, though a family member was given a little more slack. And it applied to everyone. There were no exceptions, and Elaine knew it. She knew that she shouldn’t have been dating a communist. She also knew her actions had consequences, and one of those consequences was that it could hurt her father’s career. But to expect her to give up Nick, once she had fallen in love with him, was expecting a lot.

Still Elaine’s father said that he believed in his daughter and said who she dated was her business. But when it came down to it, what did he really believe? And as a commander he was used to giving orders. And having his orders obey.

He actually liked Nick. They only met once and hit it off. It was hard not to like Nick. The one time he met Nick was when he hosted a birthday bash for his daughter and they talked history all evening. Elaine’s father was impressed. They had more in common than one would have thought … a love of history. They both read works of revolutionaries, from Thomas Paine to Karl Marx, but as a United States naval commander, Elaine’s father also knew that he was under constant scrutiny.

Then he found out that Nick was a Maoist. How did he find out? Elaine didn’t tell him. Neither did Nick. Nick might’ve thought about it. Nick might’ve let it slip out, but he didn’t.

As Commander, Elaine’s father was in frequent contact with CIA agents within the U.S Embassy. Then came massive anti-American demonstrations and demonstrations against Marcos and particularly one in front the Congress Building (sensitive stuff). And there were pictures of Elaine and Nick at the demonstration that were placed on his desk in Cavite. He knew the implications without being told. Back in the embassy, where he parked his car everyday before he was ferried by helicopter to the station, he now had a mark against him. He would always remember a call he received from a CIA friend:

“But surely they realize my daughter is a grown woman,” Elaine’s father said to his friend.

His friend commiserated and said, “Just try to get her to be more discreet.”

“I’ll talk to her.”

The way it was handled with photographs and a phone call rankled. It got him to worrying and wondering where the heat was coming from. Who took the pictures, and so forth?

Although it hadn’t been made public yet, the Naval Station Sangley Point (Cavite) was to be turned over to the Philippines by the end of year. This meant that Elaine’s father’s position would soon end, and his next assignment was up in the air. And he didn’t need any additional complications because of his daughter. He loved Elaine … however …

He finally came to believe that the CIA was interested in Nick. CIA interest also meant that the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency of the Philippines was also interested, and it meant that as a devoted father he had to take steps to protect Elaine. Nick was definitely on a government list, but her father couldn’t tell Elaine. He couldn’t get specific. He couldn’t even tell her about the photographs.

It was important that he remain vague … leave Nick out of it as much as possible … not divulge all he knew and how close the young man was to being arrested. He didn’t want to think about it. With the closing of the base, there was too much to think about, and it often kept him awake at night. Now he had a new worry. Nick was a communist and was dating his daughter. He was a communist. He was a communist … a communist … and there wasn’t anything he could do about it.

He had to talk to Elaine. She should’ve known better. He knew she was hotheaded, just as he was hotheaded, and knew talking to her would be almost impossible. He didn’t want to lose her. He assumed she knew Nick was a Maoist. But what could he say? She was a grown woman. She still lived under his roof, but was a grown woman. There was too much at stake, so he had to talk to her. The stakes were too high. He couldn’t tell her everything he knew, but the stakes were too high. Elaine had to be persuaded. She had to be reined in or else.

Chapter 47
Marcos used the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) or the Secret Police to track down and eliminate his opponents. By this time it had infiltrated the radical movement. By this time Nick had become a target. And Nick knew it. And Elaine’s father knew it too.

And Nick knew that no one was safe from the eyes and ears of the agency, especially people like him who openly opposed Marcos. The agency’s motto Ang Karunungan ay Kaligtasan or “knowledge is security” was to Nick used as an excuse for its abuses. And he knew that the NICA and the CIA were closely connected … in much the same way, as everything else in the Philippines seems connected in someway to America.

To Nick Yankee imperialism was real. He saw it everywhere. He was often ambivalent and often fluctuated, but not about Yankee imperialism. You couldn’t find anyone more opposed to Yankee imperialism than Nick, yet he dated an American. It was hard to imagine that Nick didn’t see the danger and how his relationship with Elaine didn’t help matters. And it didn’t help that as a Caucasian American she stood out in a Philippine crowd.

Although discipline and loyalty were expected in the military, Elaine’s father’s belief in independent thinking was never squashed. So until confronted with a photograph of his daughter and Nick at the demonstration, he wasn’t concerned about his daughter’s relationship with a Filipino radical. He somehow knew Nick went to Red China, talked about Maoism, and participated in student demonstrations, but it didn’t seem to matter to him until he saw those photographs. He believed in free speech and liberty, so he wasn’t worried about Nick until certain photos landed on his desk and a CIA friend cornered him. He also took pride in the close relationship he had with Elaine … even though he spent half of her life deployed on ships often thousands of miles away from her. Then came the Battle of Mendiola.

Elaine’s father graduated from Annapolis and as a navel commander made a career of making decisions for other people. Now he felt very old. For almost a quarter of a century, he was head of a household and, when he was around, boss. Now he felt powerless. He made rules, which he felt were always fair, but they were still his rules. But his daughter was now grown, and the situation had changed. In a perfect world he wouldn’t have had to face the dilemma he faced. The world would be harmonious. Now he faced a dilemma, a losing battle, and he hadn’t lost many battles before, so the world was far from harmonious. Now feeling powerless, Elaine’s father sat uneasily in his favorite easy chair, dreading a confrontation that he knew would come.

“Sweetheart, I’d be very careful, if I were you,” he told Elaine, after he disclosed that he knew she participated in the demonstration. “For Nick’s sake, as much as for yours. I’m not telling you to cut off the relationship, but I’d be very careful, if I were you.”

The commander helped his daughter move on a sunny afternoon. Instead of moving in with Nick, she moved into a small apartment in Ermita similar to ours in Malate. Her building was built on a concrete slab, made from cinder blocks, and survived several earthquakes and typhoons. She had a queen-size bed with a water-mattress and mosquito netting, a hope chest and trunk filled with valuables, two wicker rockers, a mirror with a cabinet and drawers, and a very heavy wardrobe. Her clothes remained on hangers. She had boxes and boxes of books. Her parents loaned her a fan. We all scrounged furniture for her living room and dinning area; and she bought everything for her kitchen. She now had freedom and privacy she always wanted.

It took three men … Nick, Elaine’s father, and me …to lift and move heavy stuff. The women cleaned. We procured a small van and started loading. We could’ve easily hired help, put a person or two to work, which we considered before deciding to do it ourselves. Everything that belonged in the bedroom had to be lugged upstairs. The furniture for the living room …a bookcase, a sofa, tables, and chairs … came in stages. Elaine’s new neighbors soon gathered around us; and we soon had more help than we needed. But we made sure they were helping rather than hindering and had a grand time, giving orders on where things should go. Food arrived. There weren’t any boundaries and very little restraint. Everyone had a good time.

“See, you’re already part of a neighborhood,” Nick said. “See how easy it was.” Once in the neighborhood Elaine got invited to celebrations of Saint Days and birthdays. And they asked her about getting married and having a bunch of healthy kids. They weren’t shy about asking things. Then one night after having only lived there for a month, Elaine was jarred awake by the wild squeal of a pig as it was slaughtered illegally. The next day she went to a festival and enjoyed eating pig after it had been roasted whole on a stick. What was she going to do … stay home and be rude? And what else did she have to do?

They all thought Nick and Elaine were engaged…they were not. But they didn’t attempt to explain … why he came and went when he did. And as often as he did. Sometimes he spent the night. Rumor had it that he was about to become a father. But Elaine disappointed them, and they felt sorry for her.

Nick refused to talk about the Battle of Mendiola. He refused to talk about what led up to it, how he participated, or the outcome.

After the demonstration in front of the Congress building, the student council at UP called for a boycott of classes for the rest of a week and President Lopez gave everyone a holiday. Some students gathered in front of Quezon Hall to hear the president say that he suspended classes. They wanted more from him, more than an expression of indignation over arrests and brutality in front of the Congress building. Some students standing there had been there. Some faculty members had been there too, and some of them had bruises to prove it. It called for more than talk.

So professors organized a march. Nick went along. They marched toward Malacanang, led by President Lopez, eager to present Marcos with a declaration protesting bloodshed. But students still weren’t satisfied. They were angry; and who could blame them?

While faculty members were at Malacanang, the student council led a march to Quezon Hall, where they then turned the Philippine flag upside down. They also removed a plaque from under a picture of General Romulo and covered the Oblation with a sack. Nick missed this … hundreds of students, protesting. The following day many of the same students joined a peaceful rally in front of the Congress building, many for a second time, and many of these then start marching to Malacanang. Nick led them over Quiapo Bridge and over to Mendiola Street. There they faced police shields and a water cannon. Nick watched a fellow student pour gasoline on the street and light it with a match. He watched as a student commandeered a fire truck and rammed it through a gate of the palace. He saw someone else set a car on fire inside the compound. And he did more than watched.

Nick saw blood in the compound and on the street. He saw a killing and took part in violence. They had taken a bold step and didn’t want to lose momentum. At the same time Nick tried to avoid getting hit and even worse getting arrested. But was he one of those who planned violence? He wouldn’t say. But he wouldn’t have stood there and taken it. He was willing to sacrifice himself and, if it came down to it, offer his body as a sacrifice. He knew what he had to do.

It was his time- just as Rizal and Bonifacio had their time. Excess and abuse, widespread poverty, rampant corruption, and unrestrained criminality, had to be curbed. It was why students stood up to soldiers. Why they fought and knew they could die. And there was no doubt that Nick was one of them, and he tested himself as the battle continued all night long. He was lucky that he wasn’t hurt … wasn’t hurt and would live to fight another day. Some died; a great deal more were injured; even more were arrested; and most were accused of sedition.

Vincente caught it on film, and I asked him about it. Authorities used his film, and I asked him about that too.

“Of course, Nick wasn’t alone,” he said. “Others opted out and ran from there. But Nick didn’t. Since it lasted all night, it was remarkable that he wasn’t hurt.”

Nick aged. Like others who lived through it, he aged.

“Does anyone know what students plan to do next,” I asked

“No,” Nick said, breaking his silence. “There are no rewards yet, except more and more people are getting involved. We don’t yet even know the names of students who died. We’re waiting for the government to release names. We don’t know who was arrested or when they’ll be released. I’m lucky that I wasn’t arrested. Let’s hope they’re treated well and are not tortured. Thank God, there weren’t more students killed.”

The old Nick never returned. One of those killed was someone Nick recruited. He was a freshman, bright, with a passion for music and was very impressionable. He had a wonderful smile and an inquisitive mind. He wore American army shirts, and around his neck hung a pair of dog tags: Alvero Martinez: DOB: 1-24-50: Blood type: Filipino.

“He was a friend of mine, and I let him down,” Nick said. “We went to the demonstration together. He came from Taclobang and was a direct descendent of Jose Rizal. Honestly.”

I learned from Nick that Ben … another friend … had been arrested, and no one knew where he was being held. He carried a red Katipunan flag with the KKK and the bright yellow sun during the Battle of Mendiola.

“Was this seditious?” Nick asked. “Ben led troops and our enemies will now try to silence him.” But I heard Nick led troops.
Chapter 48
With Nick leading the way, we headed to a bus station in Quezon City to catch Rabbit north to Pampanga. We’d been planning a trip to Central Luzon for a long time. After surviving the Battle of Mendiola, he seemed more set than ever to go home. He was going with or without me.

At the same time, we suspected the NICA had him under surveillance. He told me as much. He said he couldn’t sleep. Had Elaine said something to him? Had Elaine’s father said too much, and Elaine said something to him. He never said. Nick thought he was on top of the NICA’s list after he was photographed at the demonstration in front of Congress building with Elaine. By then they had a code name for him and knew he was a Maoist. They’d have a thick file on him by then. I suspected they also knew about me.

They would’ve picked him out of the crowd during the Battle of Mendiola. But they wouldn’t have moved in quite yet because they wanted to nail Elaine’s father. Elaine’s father was a greater prize than Nick.

We waited for what seemed like hours for the right bus. We had a schedule, but buses didn’t run on schedule. (It seemed longer than it was because we wanted to get out of town.) Before we finally saw our bus pull into the station, Nick hired a boy to climb through a window (even before the bus rolled to a stop) to save us seats. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have gotten seats. We bought tickets in advance, but still we wouldn’t have gotten seats.

The bus stopped in Angeles City, a bustling, dusty town, adjacent to Clark Airbase. Clark was then the largest American base outside of the United States. Before the bus stopped, Nick told me that he wanted me to get a feel for the bar scene. So he dragged me off. Believe me he dragged me off because I wasn’t interested in being around a bunch of drunk Americans. But Nick wanted me to get a feel for it.

“This is our battle zone,” Nick said, while acting like a tour guide. “Here’s the Dew Drop Inn, (I had already seen the sign in front of the bar) and inside they only take U.S. dollars: for bets on pool and darts and picking up and scoring with easy dates.”

That was when Nick launched into another diatribe about Yankee imperialism. He had a loud voice that carried to the next block, but luckily I was there to shut him up. He wanted to make a scene, but I wasn’t in the mood.

The Dew Drop Inn was only one of many nightclubs and girly bars that catered to GIs just outside the base. It was open around the clock, in the middle of a section of town that was always open. And this suited men who had one thing in mind and knew they were headed into harms way. They came in all sizes, and some looked more like boys than men. They also represented every race and had a bravado about them that came only from being away from home. Because of heat many of them were stripped down to their undershirts and wore their shirttails out over civilian pants. Inside the bar were several drunks and several dozen Filipino women in bikinis dancing and twisting to early rock. Through double doors, in the back and opposite the bar, one could enter the dark and cozy VIP Room and expect to receive what R&R war weary airmen deserved.

“This is one of the causes of our anger,” Nick said. “How our women are treated. And how the rape of a Filipina on Filipino soil never leads to a conviction in a Filipino court. But I’m of a different school. I say make them pay, make them pay more than they could ever afford. Some women here came from where I came from.”

Nick’s voice was loud again and quite forceful. I tried to shut him up as he acted drunk and talked jabbing his fingers in my chest. (I learned later than he’d been in there before.) “There’s no compromising,” he said. “This base has to go.”

“What was I doing standing next to him?” I asked myself.

He then confronted a drunken airman and told him that he (the airman) represented everything that he hated. He told him he had no use for America or for Americans, but he fucked an American woman. Had he forgotten that I was standing next to him? It made me wonder if he really loved Elaine, or just said he did. Only a suicidal man would’ve said what Nick said to a drunken American in the Dew Drop Inn; only the American was too drunk to fight. But sooner or later I knew shit would fly. “Notice the suggestion box,” Nick yelled. “Suggest … suggest that they find a way to cut this chicken shit out.”

Inside the Dew Drop Inn I moved from applauding Nick and feeling smug to resenting him and feeling angry. I later lashed out at him. I thought I put him in his place. “Our allegiances to our respective countries shouldn’t affect our relationship. To test this or, better to test us, we … must take a stand and defend our countries and not hold it against each other. There is a difference between policies of a country and its people, and it’s possible to hate a country without hating its people.” Listen to me. I was running, running away from war and dodging my responsibility, placing in jeopardy my ability to ever go home again and going into the Dew Drop Inn brought it all home. The drunk could’ve easily been me. And then I heard Nick say, “I hate Americans.” Then he hated me! But I was sympathetic … sympathetic to how Nick felt. I understood how he felt, and I had similar feelings. I loved my country, but the airman represented everything I hated. But it wasn’t the airman because I could’ve easily been in his shoes. It was his uniform, except he wasn’t in uniform.

The worse place in the world that I could’ve gone was Angeles City and the worse thing I could’ve seen were those Phantom fighters taking off from the base. And it was orchestrated by my Filipino friend Nick, who brought me to Angeles City and into the Dew Drop Inn. What was he trying to do? He hated me. It was clear he hated me.

Nick was not just any old friend of mine in that he wasn’t a good old boy from Texas but a Communist intellectual who had taken a sabbatical in Red China … a Commie; and my country, the country I loved was fighting to stop Communism in Southeast Asia! Was I traitor? We just walked into the Dew Drop Inn, and in a sense (when I thought about) into the jaws of a huge Air Force Blue crocodile. In the Dew Drop Inn, when my friend said he hated Americans, after a moment of confusion, I felt like killing him. Weren’t we killing communist? I felt like telling the owner of the bar to call the MPs. Call them and tell them and tell them he collared a draft dodger and a militant Communist. Instead he got his bouncer between Nick and the American drunk and threw Nick and me out of his bar, and then I’m glad to report that Nick had only me to contend with.

Nick felt he’d scored a victory, an essential part of a change in him after the Battle of Mendiola, but I thought he made an ass of himself and an ass of me. I was with him when he railed at a country I loved. I’m not sure he knew I was with him and didn’t consider me an enemy. We were friends, but did he consider us to be on opposite sides. He knew the NICA had infiltrated the radical student movement. The question then for him was could I be trusted.

I had never been confronted in such a way before and was so angry with myself, so fearful of losing it, that the slightest peep from Nick then would’ve caused an explosion. I said, “Whatever my feelings about Vietnam may be, the war will leave a permanent mark on me.” I lost a friend in Nam just as Nick lost a friend at Mendiola. It felt like Nick was attacking me when he attacked an American in the Drew Drop Inn. Telling the American he hated him was like he was telling me he hated me. It was so clear he hated me. When in fact we could remain friends, just as I could walk around Angeles City and look through the fence of Clark Air Force Base without yelling obscenities. It was a test for me. My antiwar stance didn’t mean I hated my country.

I felt so troubled that I wanted to immediately leave Angeles City and get it behind me as quickly as possible, but there was no urgency on Nick’s part, and not another bus for another hour or so.

I hadn’t lost anything on Clark Air Force Base. I didn’t have to walk the three miles to the front gate. What we did didn’t make sense. I’m amazed that I walked up to the gate with a bandana tied around my head. I walked there hand in hand with a former HUK, in Huklandia. I’m amazed that we weren’t shot. I’m amazed we weren’t stopped. I’m amazed. (In the Philippines, men frequently held hands in public.) Security shouldn’t have been so lacking. This was before the age of suicide bombers and heightened security, still security shouldn’t have been so lacking. Shouldn’t we have been apprehended? Even for the disturbance Nick caused in the Dew Drop Inn shouldn’t he have been arrested?

We were anything but innocent. Maybe I wanted to get caught, but there were so many other Americas around, even with Filipino friends, that we blended in. It was possible, or maybe security was simply lacking. I was what I was before…a draft dodger, if they only knew.

I could’ve been accused of spying. For all I knew I was being used to gather intelligence for his communist friends, (just as I was sure now he was using Elaine). I could’ve said that I didn’t know much about Nick but it would’ve been a lie. Nick said he wanted to see what was going on, and, as an American and knowing what I knew, I should’ve been alarmed.

At the time of our visit, Clark Air Force Base was in full operation and was the main base supporting the Vietnam war, and though there were recent raids by insurgents on the outskirts of Angeles City, we could still walk up to the main gate. The walk did us good. It got all the smoke from the bar out of our lungs. We could’ve taken a jeepney. And it seemed to clear the air between Nick and me.

Taxis, buses, and jeeps passed us, coming to and from the base, and there was a line of taxis parked with hawkers just outside the gate. An American flag flew at half-mast. I wondered who important died, as if death wasn’t a central ingredient of war. There was the gate leading into the base with military police checking identifications and standing guard. We certainly didn’t want to get too close. We stuck to the side of the road and didn’t want to get too close. We also walked with groups of people so as not to stick out.

A two seat, twin-engine, all-weather, supersonic F-4 Phantom III took off and showed us what it could do. It was impressive. Roar of engines diminished as the plane climbed. And as soon as one took off, it was followed by three or four more. There were also cargo and passenger planes waiting their turn. I assumed they were heading either to the States or Vietnam.

I never imagined that I would get this close to war, close enough to feel vibrations and hear the roar of war. A terrible feeling came over me. I started to cry, like I later cried during the opening scene of the movie BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY. I was a guy, who never cried, yet I cried. .

We ate at a roadside food stand with an American GI and his Filipino girlfriend. I waited for Nick to say something. The GI had a large, oval, sun burned face and muscular hairy arms. He was thin and short, with blond hair cut in a flattop. Wide-eyed, he also had a winning smile. He wore a loose Hawaiian shirt and equally loud Bermuda shorts. The young woman had long straight black hair down to her waist and wore a modest cotton dress.

“This is my wife,” he said, adding happily. “She looks after me when I’m not fighting a war.”

“I’m assuming you’re talking about Vietnam,” I said.

He looked like I had to be kidding. As an airman, he was restricted as to what he could say but he said all he needed to say by his attitude. Then too he didn’t know Nick and me, who we were. My comment must’ve seemed odd to him. He said that as far he knew there was only one war going on. I really knew very little about Vietnam and consequently the war he was talking about.

I introduced Nick and myself and explained that I was a vacationing journalist. I wanted to reassure him that I wasn’t looking for a story. I told him I wouldn’t use anything he said in a story. He told me, if I did, he’d track me down and kill me.

In no time he loosened up. Sitting next to me, Nick kept very quiet. While we waited for our food, he seemed preoccupied, and I was very thankful. Whatever Nick was thinking, he wisely kept it to himself.

He kept looking at the young woman and slightly nodding his head. I couldn’t help thinking about his relationship with Elaine and how other Filipinos perceived it. I remembered how Nick once said after seeing an American with a Filipino woman that many Filipinos would view the woman as a whore. I said to Nick then, “That must make it hard on Elaine. If Filipino women with Americans are considered whores, then how are you viewed when you’re with Elaine?” So Nick had to acknowledge a double standard.

In his situation it was considered a conquest. He was looked up to as a stud and Elaine was considered his filly, and so forth. It was expected that at some point he and Elaine would get married, which I’m not sure he ever intended to do. As an American, I’d never confront him and ask him about this, but I bet his Filipino friends did. As it turned out, the question whether Elaine and Nick would get married was overridden or mollified by events, which was to say that in an old-fashioned sense he never made an honest woman of her. But I think it worked out for the best.

“What do you think about Nixon withdrawing troops from Vietnam?” I asked.

“I haven’t had time to think about it,” he said. That was all the GI said. Loose lips sink ships! “Anyway I’m on my way to becoming a family man.” Great! So it was all hush-hush. Yes, there was only one war. Cambodia and Laos didn’t exist, so I’d never get to see Angkor Wat. I supposed the border between Cambodia and Nam was just too dangerous to cross.”

“What do you think about what happen at My Lia?” I asked.

“No comment.”

“Do you think we can win? Do you think we’re succeeding?”

“No comment.”

I thought that that said it all: “no comment.” I thought that he’d also say something like if they left it up the Air Force we would’ve won a long time ago.
Then he motioned to his wife that it was time for them to go since they ordered Chicken Adobo to go. It was Nick who stopped them. Nick asked, “Inside your head is there a question about what ‘search and destroy’ means? “

I stopped Nick then before he could say anymore because I wasn’t sure he knew what he was talking about. What did we know about Vietnam? What did we know? We didn’t know very much. We didn’t know whom to blame for it.

I told Nick about how I got a deferment to go to graduate school. I told him that I thought my deferment was unfair to those who hadn’t been able to avoid the draft. I made sure he knew that I would be in Vietnam if my draft board hadn’t made a mistake. And I married to stay out of the draft. And I came to the Philippines to stay out too. I didn’t feel particularly proud that I outsmarted Uncle Sam by leaving the States. And maybe that was why I cried watching BORN ON THE FORTH OF JULY.

I hadn’t wanted get off a bus in Angeles City, and I hadn’t particularly wanted to walk the three miles to the gates of Clark Air Force Base. But when it came down to it, I hadn’t been brave enough to tell Nick and felt defeated because of it.

Chapter 49
The route of the Death March passed by Clark before Clark was Clark and followed railroad tracks north. I wanted to see where agony and death of so many people occurred, but it was Nick who suggested that we walk up the railroad tracks. As we made our way he told me how his father told him the story of the merciless killing and about “dead men walking on their feet.” It seems that sometime in 1943, as Japs drove their prisoners north and drove civilians away, Nick was born. His father joined the resistance then. There was nothing twenty-seven years later to commemorate the march save little white crosses that marked places where Filipinos died.

I took our pilgrimage seriously. I wouldn’t have known that the route followed the railroad tracks had Nick not pointed it out to me. He told me how his father talked about it every time they crossed the tracks north or south of there. Nick seemed to know every square mile of Pampanga and seemed to have a keen interest in reliving its history.

He, however, took me farther up the railroad tracks than I wanted to go. He kept looking into the base, and kept looking, and seemed to be noting everything. The way he was looking made me afraid that someone would question us. I told Nick this, and he frowned. But he walked on, and I followed him.

Luckily we weren’t alone and followed a well-worn path besides the tracks. At first Nick walked slowly, but when I became agitated, he sped up and almost left me behind. When we got to the northeast corner of Clark, we turned around and went back. Nick finally seemed satisfied. But to me something about my Filipino’s friend’s behavior didn’t seem right. It was a gut reaction, and I’m not sure I trusted him.

Once we were back into town, I felt better, but Nick seemed distant. It bothered me. I couldn’t be … wasn’t sure … didn’t know what was going on with him. Then I learned about a bombing in Angeles City the year before. The attack left six airmen and two Filipinos injured and “hoodlums” or HUKs were blamed. And I knew of Nick’s close association with HUKs. He grew up a HUK, and I met and liked his family, who lived not far from Angeles City.

We made it back to the bus station in time to catch a local Rabbit. It was crowded and hot, with all seats taken but had a conductor who would’ve made a Filipino yield a seat to me had I not stopped him. He was wearing a tan uniform with his shirt half buttoned, and he sold tickets, as people crowded onto the bus. He had a fist full of pesos in one hand and a roll of tickets in the other. He was clearly in charge.

When we reached his hometown, Nick took me to his parents’ store, which was larger than your typical sari-sari store. It took up the ground floor of a building, while his parents lived on the top two floors. Unlike many sari-sari stores, customers could walk around inside this one. And there were the usual commodities for sale: candies, can goods and cigarettes; and cooking oil, salt, and sugar stored in sacks and cans; and customers bought products in bulk rather than packaged. On the walls were reproductions of paintings of various Philippine heroes (Rizal, Bonifacio, and don’t forget Melcharo Aquino), and an old photograph of Huk Luis Taruc).

“My husband and I manage as well as we can without Nick,” Nick’s mother told me as she tried to make me feel comfortable. “We opened the store in 1958, when we decided it was best for Nick. It seemed important that he get a proper education. A jungle camp is no place to raise a child. It wasn’t good for him after he reached a certain age. It’s a good memory though.”

Nick’s father showed me an old scrapbook filled with newspaper clippings and photographs of HUKs.

HUK, a Tagalog acronym for Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon, stood for People’s Anti-Japanese Army. They came close to victory in 1950. Knocked on the door of Manila. But were defeated by a combination of advanced U.S. weaponry and reforms by President Roman Magsaysay. One quiet American helped the president win.

“After the Japanese invaded us, we were angry and scared. We wanted to fight back. Some of us had guns and talked about forming an army”, Nick’s father said. “I had come back from Manila, where I had gone as Nick did for my education. The Japanese invasion interrupted it. By the time I got back here, there were small-armed groups already forming, mostly tenants and farmers and peasants. So I joined a small one in the mountains nearby. I didn’t know then that it would become a lifelong commitment.”

“How did the resistance movement come about?” I asked.

“At first people acted on their own,” he said. “But we soon realized that we needed to organize and did. We only had homemade guns and a few rifles we stole. I had to learn to shoot…and elsewhere in Pampanga other groups emerged. We joined them. That was in March of 1942.”

“It was a very difficult time for us. There were thirteen units, and this was the first squadron, the beginning of an army; and as we increased in numbers, they gave our squadron a number, Squadron 6 of the Hukbalahap. Before the Japanese entered our barrio we didn’t have any plans. It happened spontaneously. I was sixteen at the time. I grew up in a hurry. I soon got married. It helped me mature, but I wasn’t ready to get married. That March, in a barrio at the foot of Mount Arayat near the Pampanga border, several squadrons joined together, men from Candaba, San Luis, Minalin, Magalang, Cabiao, and as far away as Bulacan. All together there were over two hundred of us.”

I asked him how that worked.

“It helped that we had a common enemy,” he said. “Also, we had the leadership of Luis Taruc. Taruc was baptized a leader before he came to us. He was good speaker and inspired us. I never wanted to be a leader, but it turned out that I was destined to become one. I looked up to Taruc. It gave me confidence to see how much confidence he had. Like me, he was a son of a tenant farmer. Like me, and unlike most peasants, he completed high school and went to college for a year in Manila. He was a farmer, a tenant; he had been a ditch digger, who became a tailor. He left that trade and his wife and children to become our leader. He listened to us. He was like a brother.”

“Once he asked me if I’d give up my wife and son too. Like I said, he set an example. I told him I would, but thank God I didn’t have to.” Whereupon, he looked at Nick’s mother and smiled, and said, “She followed me and wouldn’t stay home like she should’ve. What did it matter that she was a woman?” He laughed. “She became my jungle bride. I liked her spunk. Only a woman like her would carry a rifle at the same time she carried a baby. They called her Lady Sinn, after a 6th century woman warrior. Lady Sinn’s military exploits were legendary.“ Nick’s father still referred to Nick’s mother as “his Lady Sinn.”

“My Lady Sinn … she did everything a man did and did things men couldn’t do. I felt responsible for her delicate condition. I soon found out that it wasn’t necessary. All I knew was that I wanted to be with her. I wanted her to have my baby. She did. How fortunate we were. And here we are. We were with each other all the time and she went on raids, and then Nick came along, and we had to think of him.” He then turned to his wife and said, “You were so foolish. You could’ve been killed.”

I asked her about the experience.

“Sex, love and revolution: what more could I have asked for? I often slept next to my husband on the ground. We got married when I was fifteen and he was sixteen. We held each other to keep warm. When we slept outside, we always slept with our clothes on and our rifles ready. So I don’t know how I got pregnant.”

“You only had one child?”

She hesitated, and finally said, “I had trouble getting pregnant.”

“What did you family think?”
“I think they were proud of me.”
“How did you feel?”
“About not getting pregnant? Disappointed. Then Nick came along. Remember we’re Catholic.”

“What do you think about Nick’s politics?”

“What can I say? We’ve always supported revolution. God gave us Nick when I thought I could never have a child. God’s gift one Christmas one year.”

“I believe, as Nick does, that if America can put a man on the moon, America can do anything she sets her mind to,” Nick’s mother then said. “If you want peace, you should be able to achieve it. That’s the truth and a sad thing. A cry for peace, a war moratorium has now been called for not only here in the Philippines but all across America. That’s what I hear. If they don’t listen, however, and if protests fail, then you have to change tactics. Ask Nick: students are not about to give up. I’m proud of him.” She was a short woman with gray short hair and a wrinkled post-menopausal face. She was wearing a plain work dress, which seemed appropriate for the store.

I then said, “I now see where Nick gets his radicalism”

“I don’t see much of a connection. For many years there was a-disconnect,” Nick told me. “They wanted more but settled for less. Then came along the Vietnam War and the protests in the United States. That gave us permission to hold our own demonstrations.”

Nick’s father got out a Japanese sword he kept in a display case.

“I kept this as I a souvenir,” Nick’s father went on. “I was just as active in the Resistance as Marcos says he was. So was Ninoy, who was from near here, and like me became the mayor of his hometown. To me, Ninoy is a lesser evil. I’ve heard Ninoy speak, and he has a brilliant mind. Now he’s a senator, who’s not afraid of Marcos. I’m proud of Nick. He’s not afraid of Marcos. And if I were younger, I’d march with him.” Suddenly he raised the sword above his head, but then he slowly lowered it, as if surrendering it. “There’s little difference between today and yesterday. The poor are still poor. We’re talking about the same things: land reform and American imperialism. When Nick quotes Mao and describes the Philippines as a ‘semifeudal, semicolonial society ruthlessly exploited by United States imperialists’, I know what he’s talking about.”

Chapter 50
Elaine and Susan, both of whom stayed home, began to worry about their men’s safety. And they sought comfort from each other. Since Elaine’s parents still lived in Forbes Park (in Makarti) and Susan’s school was in Makarti, they sometimes met each other there … took in a show or went shopping. Susan was a doomsayer, and Elaine was normally the opposite. Susan felt lonely and out of place and didn’t really want to come to the Philippines and only relented because of my draft situation. Elaine loved adventure and in that way took after her father. She also loved the Philippines and had no intentions of ever going home.

The whole time Nick and I were in Pampanga Susan couldn’t sleep. She talked to Elaine about it, and Elaine reassured her. As it turned out, we were in good hands, and there was no reason for Susan to worry. Susan spent one night with Elaine, again when she couldn’t sleep. They spent some of the time reminiscing about the States. Susan had become homesick for a country she loved and even more forlorn than she had been before. Elaine sympathized with her. It said a lot about her. Elaine wasn’t normally a worrier, but after her father showed her the photograph of her with Nick at the demonstration she began to worry. She suspected the CIA. She knew the CIA lurked in the shadows and knew the CIA and her father could steal her happiness. She wasn’t concerned for herself like she was for Nick. She knew enough to be concerned for Nick. Nick, her friend, her soul mate, and her lover. Nick, who meant everything to her.

Traveling gave me a lot time to think about my life. I grew up on the dusty plains and felt at home with tumbleweed and sagebrush. My sense of place was undisturbed then. Then an inner voice told me that there had to be more to life.

Before I met Susan I decided to major in journalism. Take pity Lord … journalism … or shall I die before I’m eighteen? I was that determined.

Low and behold, I saw her… Susan … but didn’t just see her but asked her out for a date…that proved that she never really needed to fear that I wouldn’t notice her. It wasn’t easy for her to love me because I wanted to be a journalist and had already caught the travel bug.

It was hard to know why Susan was so negative. She rarely talked about her childhood, which hadn’t given her confidence. People who knew her couldn’t believe that she let me drag her half way around the world. She did, however, have some adventurous blood in her. Running was her idea, and if you asked her, she admitted it.

“I prize my husband’s life,” she said. “I didn’t want to see him end up in Vietnam.”

My mother sent me a clipping about Bill Butler’s death. Bill Butler was my best friend. Although he was clumsy and had more automobile accidents than anyone I knew, he died in a fixed-winged aircraft over Long Khanh, South Vietnam. He almost failed his physical because he was polydactyl. He had twelve toes, which was never taken care of.

It turned out that Bill had other physical deficiencies that should’ve disqualified him from flight school, except he was always an exception. He wasn’t smart, though he received high grades and scored high on tests. Our paths could’ve crossed because, as I understood it, he flew in and out of Clark several times. There was a memorial service for him back home, which my parents attended and sent me a clipping about.

“What I prize most, however, is being close to him,” Susan said. “It gives me strength. It’s like a strong tonic that you gulp down all at once. You close your eyes and gulp it down. It doesn’t need improvement, though it can upset your stomach, and it burns for a while though you’ve grown a tolerance for it.” But how much longer did she have to be away from home before she realized it could become addictive?

Although Susan knew Nick was a Maoist, she was reluctant to talk about it. She and Elaine avoided the subject, even though it concerned both of them greatly. Elaine listened for hours to Nick talk about the movement, though he knew she could’ve been a CIA asset. Both of them should’ve been more cautious.

Nick a HUK.
Compartmentalize it
Loose lips sink ships

The CIA often recruited assets who were lovers of people they wanted to spy on.

We saw Elaine coming around the corner, from the back of the Rizal Theater, where she parked her car. As soon as she saw Susan and me, she waved. She immediately said that she didn’t want to see a movie but wanted to go somewhere and talk.

I was used to Susan’s neurotic mood swings, but I hadn’t been around Elaine when she changed her mind. Still it didn’t alarm me. Something must’ve come up with Nick to keep him from coming. She suggested that we go to the polo grounds, where her father took her when she first landed in Manila, and took us there in her car. On the way, she asked us if we’d seen or heard from Nick.

She was obviously distraught. Her driving told us that she was upset. We zoomed by a swimming pool, tennis courts, driving range, equestrian grounds, gym, squash courts, bowling lanes, and badminton courts. She screeched to stop and back into a parking spot.

“I’m worried,” she said, and told us about a confrontation she had with her father. It was the first time she told us about the photograph of Nick and her. “Now I can’t find Nick. I’ve checked everywhere. As you know we were planning to see a movie, the four of us, together.” By then it was clear that she was very upset. And it made me curious and wonder what she knew that I didn’t know.

Susan lay next to me on our bed. She was crying, obvious shaken, and rather distant. Her eyes were closed, shut tight, her hair was tangled, and her face was blotched …the result of her crying with her makeup on. She still wore the cotton dress she wore to the theater.

“You don’t care about me,” she said. “If you did, you wouldn’t be so reckless.”

“Susan,” I murmured as I touched her and she pushed my hand away. “Aye yaw yaw, I can’t win.”

“My devotion to you was not predicated on my waiting as you serve a long prison sentence…and I assume Filipino prisons are worse than those in the States,” Susan continued, “but I’m a dutiful wife, and I suppose I’ll wait. Does your conscious bother you? Does it bother you that you associate with communists and people who hate your country? Tonight when Elaine told us about Nick’s disappearance, I became ill. It was then that I thought, ‘Susan, you might as well get used to the idea of becoming a widow, and we have no life insurance.’ Now, my stomach aches and I feel trapped. And I’m supposed to carry on as if there isn’t a problem. You think I’m blind. I’ll have to say all I know is what I’ve been told. I know that you associate with people who hate Americans, know that you’ve attended anti-American demonstrations, know you had a great time in the home of a HUK, and know you spent time with a Moro rebel in the Sulus. I’m afraid that because of it people will assume that you hate America. It must be so, or so it seems.”

This gave me an opportunity to level with her.

“I’m looking for stories … that’s all. I’m a journalist looking for stories … that’s all. Since when is it against the law for journalist … “

“Stop! With you it’s more than that.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Nick’s my friend.”

“So he’s your friend.”

“You’ve crossed the line.”

“No, I haven’t.”

“How do people know? It’s dangerous.”

“So is crossing the street.”

“Stop it!”

“I’m not a Filipino.”

“That’s the point, isn’t it.

“Susan …”

“I said stop it!”

When I traveled with Nick, I couldn’t call her every day, but I did my best to stay in touch. I knew Susan worried. When Nick and I were on a bus, timing would make it impossible, and I knew she worried. Sometimes during stops, I paid the conductor to hold the bus while I searched for a phone because I knew she worried. It amused Nick, and in spite of money I gave the conductor, I always worried that the bus would take off and leave me.

Nick wanted to take me to one of the HUK camps. He insisted that I’d come away with a favorable impression. The HUKs I met were mostly peasant farmers and more or less homogeneous. They were more for agrarian reform than anything else. I told Nick that I was amazed how friendly they were. But he told me that I shouldn’t be fooled.

I knew, of course, that I had to be careful and not totally trust them. Nick wouldn’t disagree. I also knew that, as long as I was with him, I wouldn’t have any problems. He scolded me for acting nervous. We traveled freely throughout Pampanga without a single incident. Nick was always there with me, so I don’t know what my reception would’ve been had I been by myself. We traveled for over a week … had a wonderful time, and I came away with a favorable impression. Later, my opinions changed, just as the situation in the area intensified.

Susan said, “I love you,” as she tried to reassure herself.

Chapter 51
Around the same time Nick disappeared, two other events further disrupted Elaine’s life: His Holiness Pope Paul VI’s visit to Manila and transfer of her father to the Pentagon. Coming at the worse possible time, with the air station’s scheduled closure, Elaine’s father’s transfer came out of the blue. He wasn’t eager to move. At such a critical time, he wasn’t eager to move. Even when moving meant that he’d avoid more controversy involving his daughter, he hated the thought of moving. He considered this transfer a demotion but felt grateful that it occurred without fanfare.

The Pope’s visit to Manila, on the other hand, attracted the attention of millions of people and disrupted traffic. But shortly after his plane touched down, Pope Paul survived an attempted assassination by a Bolivian painter. Afterwards he smiled and seemed unfazed. Yes, the Pope seemed unfazed. It was a hectic day for the Pope, as he continued as if nothing happened. And he took time out of a hectic day to forgive the assailant and rebuked a monsignori who saved his life. Imelda gave her husband credit for saving the Pope’s life.

Millions lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the Pope as he toured Manila. Following the tour, he was brought to Manila Cathedral where he presided over a liturgical reception. Then he blessed an image of Our Lady, the Nuestra Senora de Guia near Elaine’s apartment in Ermita. Elaine and I were caught in traffic but didn’t see the Pope.

News about her father came to Elaine by letter from her mother.

I met Elaine when she wanted someone to go with her to her parents’ home. Her frazzled mother’s silvery hair was hanging loosely around her head when she opened the door, and she seemed surprised that Elaine brought me with her. She also didn’t know what to say. I could tell that she didn’t know what to say because she limited her part of the conversation to answering questions. She said she didn’t know when Elaine’s father would be home. She did invite us in. And Elaine and I noticed a For Sale sign in the front yard. The visit was significant by what wasn’t said.

We met Elaine’s father at the naval air station. He was too busy to go home at night then, though he was used to traveling back and forth. Elaine and I both felt tension in the air, and from it was hard to imagine that Elaine and her father were ever close. He was obviously angry, and she was obviously hurt.

After a few minutes of small talk, he looked his daughter in the eye and said, “You must be proud of yourself.”

Elaine was about answer back when I stopped her. I didn’t know until then why I was there. This was towards the end of October, and it was simply a coincidence that this happened at the time of the Pope’s visit. I asked the commander if he were aware of the assassination attempt. I talked about the traffic snarl and the difficulty we had getting to Cavite. “By land it’s always slow, by sea it’s less of a gamble, and by air it’s a snap. Luckily, I have a helicopter. That’s how I’ve been able to live in Forbes Park and work over here.”

Elaine listened with a scowl on her face and then said, “Dad, I suppose what’s happened between us is not unusual. I’m sure difficulties between fathers and daughters are quite common but rarely do they result in an international incident like it has in our case. I regret it. And I’m truly sorry. It’s my fault. I’m sorry. I’m sorry it hurt your career when it shouldn’t have. I know how much success in the navy means to you. It’s not fair. I continue to love and respect you though. It’s not fair. I’m not sure or know how it happened or why I fell for Nick, but I did. You and mother like him. But now!”

“It’s out of our hands now,” he said.

“I don’t agree,” she said.

“You don’t know how much trouble your boyfriend’s in. It’s out of our hands. And you’re connected with him, and it means … “

“It means what? You have connections.”

“And my connections are telling me … “


“Elaine, you’re a grown woman.”

“And I’m your daughter. Maybe I should’ve been more discreet since I’m your daughter. Maybe I should’ve been more careful since I’m … I’ve made mistakes. I know I’ve made mistakes. I may be inexperienced and made mistakes. You must believe me. I never intended to hurt you or hurt your career. As you’re preparing to leave and are wrapping things up around here, I know you don’t have much time. Mother told me that you weren’t going home at night.”

“I didn’t have much time left here anyway.”

“Nick has disappeared. You don’t seem surprised that Nick has disappeared. I think he’s been arrested. Where is he dad? I think you know where he is. I think he’s been arrested and you know where he is. Why don’t say something?”

“Elaine, you don’t belong here.”

“I don’t belong here. What do you mean I don’t belong here? You’re right, I’m not a Filipina. But you’re not a Philippine citizen either. So don’t tell me I don’t belong here. Where’s Nick? Why is it such a big deal? There are demonstrations everyday. I attend one over here and the whole world gets involved. I’m surprised that it has caused so much trouble.”

Shortly after massive floods in 1970 and the Pope’s visit, I opened our front door to find a young American standing there. An informally dressed American, who introduced himself as Joe Wilson, ostensibly a businessman, he handed me a business card. On the card after his name was printed the word “Consultant.” I didn’t know what to think.

Mr. Wilson asked me if he could come in.

“Of course. Normally you wouldn’t have caught me at home.”

I immediately felt alarmed when I saw a white man on my doorstep and felt suspicious because of what happened to Nick. But I kept my thoughts to myself, as I brought him into my living room and tried to make him feel at home.

“I caught you off guard. I can see it in your face,” he said.

“You did,” I responded.

“I didn’t mean to alarm you.”

“You see why I would be.”


“I’m here alone. My wife’s at work, and the maid’s out shopping.”

“If it’s a bad time.”

“No, no.”

“What is this about?”

“You’re a reporter?”


“Then I’m a fan.”

“A fan?”

“Yes, I’ve read your articles.”


“Nothing. Or should I say they’re informative.”

“Who are you, really?

He embarked on a complicated answer that I suspected was fictitious. He said he left the States almost two years before then to work his way around the world, and the reasons … well, it was complicated, which told me, like me, that maybe he was running away from something.

“So for the past two years you’ve been supporting yourself in various parts of the world as a business consultant,” I surmised.

“That’s my cover.”

“Then who do you work for?”

“As my card suggests, I’m for hire.”

Personal questions about himself, about his American connections and those in the Philippines, about his travels and traveling companions, and whether or not he worked for the CIA, as I suspected, were skillfully dodged. Then suddenly my visitor said, “I suspect you’re wondering why I’m here. I assure you that I’m not here in any official capacity. No one sent me. I’m just curious. Are you a communist?”


“As far I know it’s not against the law in the Philippines to be a communist.”

“What’s your point?”

“You needn’t be afraid.”

Then he got down to business … the business of my friends and my association with known communist and subversive individuals. He stressed subversive individuals. He asked me specifically about people I knew and had written about.

What was amazing was that I didn’t kick him out. I got angry but didn’t kick him out. I sat there, responded to his questions, got angry, and didn’t kick him out.

“Are you … “


“Did you …. ”


“Will you …. ”

“Of course not. But now Joe, I have a few questions for you. Just who do you work for … if not for Uncle Sam, then who? Am I or have I ever been a communist? Have I knowingly aided or supported a communist movement, directly or indirectly, through another organization, group, or person? No. Well, yes. I’ve bought a communist lunch. I have a communist friend. I’ve bought his lunch. We’ve gone on trips together. Now I have a question for you. Have I broken any law? Another question. Perhaps a more important one. What are you going to do with what I’ve told you?”

“Nothing. As I said, I’m just curious.”

“And I’m suspicious.”

“Fair enough.”

Then it occurred to me that Mr. Wilson could be a vigilante, or totally insane, so I asked him about both things.

“To both questions: no,” he said. “Maybe I’m just pulling your chain.”

Now came his attempt to set me at ease. “I could use something to drink. You shouldn’t have written those articles if you didn’t want to be on someone’s radar. I admire your bravery, or was it stupidity? Can we start over?”


“Okay. I guess I better be off.”

Such questioning seemed so absurd that it didn’t deserve a response. I always wondered what kind of people the CIA recruited, and I now I knew. Did they think their approach would work? Would I say something that would incriminate me? But then of course, I was a novice.

“Oh, before I go. I’m curious. Again curious. I’m sure you’re planning to go back to the States.”


“What about dope? Do you smoke it?”


“And you love America?”

I nodded my head.

“And you’re married? Congratulations. I assume you don’t have children, but I don’t know why I assume it.”

And as he went out the door, I said to myself, “So much for Mr. Wilson.” I decided I wouldn’t tell Susan about Mr. Wilson’s visit. I didn’t want to cause her anymore grief.

Chapter 52
Since my first visit to the U.S Embassy and a bombing across the boulevard from it, security was beefed up and augmented with Marine guards from Saigon. Before I had no trouble getting in. I assumed since I was a Caucasian and spoke fluent English that I fit a profile of a good guy and that was why the first time I didn’t even have to show ID. I sported a safari hat, carried a backpack, was with Susan, and we’d been in Manila less than a week. We weren’t on any particular mission. Then almost immediately after Joe Wilson’s visit, I went back to the embassy thinking that I’d confront the devil.

I knew CIA operatives work out of the embassy or at least like everyone else suspected it. It was an assumption and a belief I hold to this day. I never suspected I’d have trouble getting into the embassy, but in case I took my passport and a second form of ID. I expected fair treatment. I thought I’d be shown respect. As an American, I expected fair treatment. I had certain expectations and planned to use a smile and a friendly hello and didn’t think I’d be stopped at the gate.

I read stories about recent violence. I got news about America from the Manila Times and letters from home and knew about shootings at Kent State. There were sometimes copies of the New York Times for sale at The Manila Hotel and the National Bookstore in Makati (I could also find it in the UP Library). The Times of New York and Manila, both newspapers gave me all the news that I wanted … news that generally wasn’t good. We didn’t have television. I missed Walter Cronkrite and the CBS Evening News, but just because we didn’t have a television didn’t mean Filipinos didn’t have them and weren’t very much aware of the psychedelic era we lived in.

There was Woodstock and Hair, and Manila wasn’t immune. There was no stopping it … the influences and happenings … the sit-ins and love-ins. It would’ve been hard for the Philippines to ignore it. I remember watching protests and demonstrations on the campus of UP and thinking the same thing is going on at home … then reading about demonstrations and riots and Kent State at home and saying there’s no difference. I had strong feelings about the Vietnam War. It went beyond my not wanting to go. But all along I dreaded that somehow someone in the government would not only find out how I felt but would also turn me in as a draft dodger, which after Mr. Miller’s visit began to haunt me. I should’ve talked about it. I should’ve worked through it with Susan. It was just one more thing that I kept to myself. Maybe then I wouldn’t have panicked.

It was not unusual for me to spend a whole afternoon in the library at UP devouring a Sunday issue of the New York Times. I first had to see what was opening or playing on Broadway, to get the scoop and read the reviews. It gave a complete picture of the art scene. I read about Avalanche and SoHo, Earthworks and Conceptual Art, Johnny Cash: The Man, His World and His Music, Jimi Hendix Rock Star Dead in London at 27, and, of course, Kent State. I would then take it all back to Nick and Susan.

As he sat working at his desk under a Chinese flag, I went into Nick’s room with a rationale about why it wasn’t wrong for me to associate with him. Or why it wasn’t wrong for me to associate with students who hated America. I knew I didn’t share their feelings … at least some of their feelings. But I couldn’t get over the idea that students around the world were united in their opposition to the war. I hadn’t said the Pledge of Allegiance in some time; but I hadn’t sworn allegiance to any other country either. When asked, I told people that I loved my country. But I found myself less inclined to defend Her, to say anything good about Her, or feel patriotic, or cut my hair. My sympathies were with radicals; and because of it I felt sure the CIA was watching me. And Mr. Wilson’s visit proved it.

But I thought the CIA wasn’t supposed to target Americans. I guess I was lucky to be an American and lucky that I wasn’t dead yet. Mr. Wilson asked me pointed questions about my loyalty to the United States, asked me if I were a Communist, and he implied that as a loyal American I should fall in step. There was more insinuated than that. I took it as a threat. He went too far. The CIA wasn’t supposed to target Americans.

I shouldn’t have let him in, shouldn’t have listened or taken a grilling, and most of all shouldn’t have answered his questions. I was nervous. I couldn’t think straight, but he probably already had enough to hang me. Probably the interview was simply a formality.

It wasn’t true that leaving America was an easy decision for me … that I felt no qualms about avoiding the draft. Bill Butler’s death haunted me. I felt guilty, cried through Vietnam War Movies, and dodged questions about my experiences during that period. We lived as expatriates. I felt that I was just as involved in the anti-war movement in the Philippines as I would’ve been had I stayed home.

I spent almost a whole year there as an observer and wrote a few articles to justify my being there. Susan had documentation from her employer that she was essential. The school didn’t need her, but they said she was essential. They could get all the teachers they needed from a huge English speaking community, people who didn’t have to worry about Philippine immigration. The school didn’t have to pay teachers very much because they hired mainly wives of businessmen and military personal, women who actually didn’t need to work. None of them, except Susan, supported their husbands.

Susan was as close to a free spirit as they allowed. They viewed me with suspicion. It didn’t surprise me that they viewed me with suspicion. I was anything but subversive … even though I associated with many people who were … subversive.

Initially the Philippine Bureau of Immigration didn’t show any interest in us. As Americans, we could enter the Philippines without visas for twenty-one days, which we extended for sixty days before we had to leave the country. We then flew to Taiwan to get our passports stamped so that we could reenter the Philippines for another sixty days. We did that four or five times before the International School gave Susan documentation we needed to get the right visas. Still we never knew when we’d receive a letter from immigration giving us a few hours to pack and leave. For a while we lived in constant fear and hoped they’d forget us.

I took solace in the belief that immigration was inefficient … or less efficient than US authorities would’ve been had they realized I was a draft dodger … also less than the National Police was … and since immigration was overwhelmed I thought they wouldn’t look hard for us. I also felt having a few articles published explained why we were in the Philippines. But I didn’t know how close I came to getting into serious trouble.
Then came Nick’s disappearance and Joe Wilson’s visit, and it came at a time when I was less sure of myself.
Back home, our parents weren’t getting any younger. I had a grandmother to die on me. I also lost a boyhood friend, which shook me up more than a divorce of another friend. I missed many other things besides birthdays and holidays, and in spite of trying to keep up by reading the New York Times. I didn’t know anything about changes that were taking place in my hometown. I never realized how fast and how much it would grow and become unrecognizable in such a short period of time. But why did I care? One would think that I didn’t hold my hometown in very high esteem, because I hesitated to tell people where I was from. I preferred to say that I was from someplace else … someplace more cosmopolitan and more sophisticated such as New York City.

I began to feel like I didn’t belong anywhere. After I began to realize that I didn’t belong in the Philippines, that it wasn’t my country, as I began to feel like I didn’t belong anywhere. As an expatriate, I could still be an American. It would’ve been easier for me to be from Canada. As a draft dodger, I could’ve gone to Canada, as many others did. I could’ve found safe haven in Canada like many others did. This wasn’t the case in the Philippines. The Philippines didn’t offer me safe haven.

Even with Susan’s endorsement from her school, I felt sure I wasn’t safe in the Philippines. And we couldn’t live and work there as long as we wanted. Perhaps I blew our chances. But I could fight it (whatever “it” was). I had rights, the right of due process, although in the Philippines I wasn’t sure. Moreover, since I became involved in political activism and wrote about it, I ran a real risk of getting kicked out of the country.

I don’t think I seriously weighed risks, or thought about it much. I allied myself with Nick, a known communist and traveled with him to Basilan and Central Luzon without thinking about consequences. I simply didn’t think about it much. If I had … I didn’t have a lot of confidence in the Philippine judicial system … particularly under Marcos … and I never thought the U.S. Embassy would help me. And based on my friends, it would be hard for me to prove to them that I wasn’t a communist. There were no guarantees. I never expected there would be guarantees. But after Nick disappeared and Mr. Wilson showed up at my door, I was less confident. Up until then I hadn’t given it much thought.

And what about Susan? Susan? What were my obligations to her? After Nick’s disappearance and Joe Wilson’s visit, I thought about her more often. What would happen to her if something were to happen to me? It was like carrying around a hundred pound weight and at the same time suffering from extreme farsightedness. For the next two weeks, I couldn’t sleep, eat, and my stomach didn’t like me. Then after I couldn’t stand it any longer, I headed for the embassy. I was going to get answers.

Chapter 53
Meanwhile, I received greetings from Nixon. It was my fourth draft notice. “You are hereby inducted, hereby ordered … failure to comply is a federal offense.” A federal offense! It sounded ominous. I was suppose to report to Clark Air Force Base for my physical. I thought about it. And we talked about it before I decided I wouldn’t go. I’d stick with a decision that I made when we decided to go to the Philippines, and Kent State reinforced it.

Elaine’s father didn’t tell us where Nick was being held. We felt he knew, but wouldn’t tell us. We came away feeling frustrated because we knew he knew more than he was telling us. By then we narrowed it down to two detention centers: Fort Bonifacio or Camp Crane. We knew that students were being held in both places. Fort Bonifacio, or old Fort McKinley, would’ve been my choice, if I had a choice, because of its location in Makati and its close proximity to Forbes Park. Fort Bonifacio … the Cadillac of detention centers … I was probably wrong about it. Nick wouldn’t have been sent there because it was too close to Forbes Park. The location of a facility bore no relation to what went on inside it, so it didn’t matter whether he was being held in Fort Bonifacio or Camp Crane. We just prayed Nick received humane treatment. But humane or not there wasn’t much I could do about it.

Given my tenuous situation, there wasn’t much I could do. I couldn’t afford to draw any more attention to myself. I was an American expatriate, whose influence was nil and views were considered suspect. Now that I was on the lam and seemed to have attracted attention, I knew that I had to be careful … that or else I could end up in the slammer like Nick. Only it would be worse for me. Given my nationality it would be worse.

I heard horror stories about Americans held in foreign prisons. Judicial systems varied from country to country; in many countries people were presumed guilty instead of innocent. I didn’t know much about the Philippine system, but I knew enough about Marcos violating human rights to scare me. I heard about prisoners being held forever without a trial. And I had the draft hanging over my head. And wasn’t I being accused of being a communist? I also knew my articles had given me a certain amount of notoriety.

No one was making us stay in Manila. We had no real ties there. We were foreign nationalist, expatriates and free to go. We still had our passports, and there were many places we could go. But no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t forget the Vietnam War. At the beginning I hadn’t been against it. I hadn’t paid much attention to it. I attended undergraduate and graduate school and received deferments so that I could attend. What if I hadn’t received those deferments?

Since I suspected that the CIA was on to me, I wanted to learn as much as I could about the agency’s activities in Manila. But the CIA was hard to crack. I read Graham Greene’s THE QUIET AMERICAN. How much of it was fiction? I heard about Col. Edward Lansdale. Nick referred to Lansdale several times during our trip to Central Luzon, and I knew how the CIA, through Lansdale, ran Magsaysay’s successful campaign against the HUKs. Basically because of this alliance, in 1954, American policy in Southeast Asia was best represented in the Philippines, as the policies of the two nations became inseparable. More than in any other place in the region, the CIA found a home in the Philippines. All of this was common knowledge.

True or not, the idea of an omnipresent CIA became fixed in the Philippine psyche, and I couldn’t help but pick up on it. The Manila station, I assumed, was quite large. How else do you explain the appearance of the infamous photograph of Elaine and Nick, Joe Wilson’s visit, and Nick’s detention, how all three events coincided? It seemed highly unlikely to me that it was coincidental. Remember there was also the sudden transfer of Elaine’s father to the Pentagon.

Clearly I was placed in an impossible situation, and I clearly had to take the blame for it. The question then came down to if Joe Wilson was CIA, then what did the CIA want from me?

There seemed to me to have always been a difference between what Americans thought they were doing in the Philippines and what natives perceived, or this was another example of my naivete. Our trying to help other nations, rightly or wrongly, had often been misinterpreted, as we unintentionally placed ourselves up on a pedestal. I’m not sure where I came up with this … whether I came up with it on my own or read or heard it somewhere. Personally I was trying to justify why Susan and I remained in the Philippines.

Elaine became an activist. If she became an activist in her own country it would’ve been one thing, but in the Philippines? What did she think she was doing? What could she accomplish standing in the rain with a sign on Lawton Avenue in front of Fort Bonifacio? Could she see the irony … the irony and contradiction, from a Filipino perspective, between what Bonifacio stood for and what she did? Maybe she should’ve gone about it another way. For starters, she could’ve gone with me to the American Embassy.

What she didn’t realize was that the military could’ve gotten rid of her and she could’ve ended up in a cell next to Nick. Arrests of militants continued throughout 1970 and 1971, even before Marcos declared Martial Law after the bombing in Plaza Miranda, when the president used the event to seize more power. On the Filipino stage what influence did Elaine have? Did she think she could get the government to release Nick?

Coming from America, I took for granted political freedom; that was until Nick’s arrest. Before then I was very casual about it. I felt that America’s influence should’ve been great enough to assure Filipinos the same freedoms we enjoyed. Since America was an influential country, and powerful, I thought its traditions of freedom would naturally extend to its former colony. And why hadn’t the good, along with the bad, stuck? “It’s a different place,” Susan said in response to my question. “Of course, in Makati, you may think with a supermarket that you’re still in the States (and because of the presence of IBM, Chase Manhattan, American Express, and the like), but you’re not.”

A few agonizing days after Joe Wilson’s visit, I found myself walking through the Luneta toward the American Embassy on Roxas …slowly ambling along, thinking. I wasn’t in a hurry, but I didn’t have as much time as I thought. I never dreamed that I would have trouble getting into the embassy. I hadn’t before. As Americans, we didn’t have trouble then because we wore shoes. Although I still owned a pair of shoes, I now generally wore sandals. (I had even found sandals made from automobile tires that I thought were pretty cool.) I didn’t expect a long line either because it was in the middle of the afternoon.

So I ambled along, enjoying the huge national plaza. It was 2 p.m., and the walk gave me a chance to unwind … too much had happened in too short a time. And I had a lot on my mind. Elaine had asked me to picket with her in front of Fort Bonifacio.

When I finally got to the embassy, I took my place in a line outside the gates. There were mainly Filipinos there seeking visas and a legal way to enter the States … and on this particular day I didn’t see any protestors. I waited patiently and would’ve resented anyone trying to break in line, but there were a couple of Marine guards standing at the gates to make sure it didn’t happen. They were also asking for identification. Some people resisted giving them anything. This generally held everyone up while they discussed the matter.

I felt annoyed as the line crawled and as I realized that maybe I hadn’t allowed enough time. There were, I don’t know, maybe two or three hundred in line. And we were all standing in the hot sun. I kept thinking that there had to have been a better way. It seemed as if those of us who were Americans shouldn’t have to stand in line, but that wasn’t to say that everyone shouldn’t have had their turn. There were times when the guards opened the gates for cars, and I wondered what kept people in line then.

Back in front of the main gate of Fort Bonifacio, Elaine took up residency on a cot. She also proclaimed a hunger strike. The military guards, whose responsibilities included maintaining a Filipino flag in front of a sentry post, checking identification stickers on cars as they came and went, and raising and lower an arm that served as a gate, didn’t know what to make of Elaine. But it was only a matter of time before they picked up a phone and asked what they should do about her.

A young diplomat from the US Embassy stepped up to Elaine and said, “Good Day, Miss. My name is David Wolfe. I represent the American Diplomatic Mission here in the Philippines. I want to advise you as a…” apparently, he knew who Elaine was…”your father … how can I put this … is … let me say … very concerned. You’re making quite a spectacle of yourself. I suppose that is what you aim to do … make a spectacle of yourself. I’ve come to see if we can help … help resolve your … let’s say … situation.”

“All right. This is quite simple. For the record, I’ve stopped eating and won’t eat until I learn about a friend, whom I believe is being held here in Fort Bonifacio.”

“Your mother …”

“This has nothing to do with my mother!” Elaine exploded.

Mr. Wolfe nodded and then explained that if she broke any Philippine law, the US couldn’t be expected to intervene, and that she could be arrested for vagrancy … arrested and detained. He therefore asked her to think about what she was doing. He then reminded her it could cause a very unpleasant international incident. Before he left he made several attempts to get her to change her mind. He obviously didn’t know Elaine.

“Mr. Wolfe, I wish to inform you, and the government you represent, that I intend to make, as you put it, a public spectacle of myself and cause an international incident, unless…” Elaine went on. “I went to my father. I assume you know my father, or at least know who he is. I’m sure you’ve been briefed, or else you wouldn’t be here. Therefore, my initial request, as I might’ve said, seems quite simple to me. His name is … and I’m sure he is being held inside there. And I plan to stay here and not eat until he’s released. Am I making myself clear? And therefore you can give a message to my father.” Whereupon she swore at him … swore at her father.

The diplomat, who sounded as though he were from New York, said he’d make sure her message got to her father. He was more than a little flustered but managed to overcome it. While offering her sympathy, he then admitted that there wasn’t anything he could do for her. “I’m worried about you … about you and your boyfriend. Well, it’s unfair, and clearly unfair, or it seems likely, as I understand it, that it is a human rights violation. But as you may know, we can’t directly get involved in an internal affair of another country. We couldn’t do it. Therefore, it’s out of our hands…”

“It’s out of our hands,” she repeated in a monotone.
“It’s too bad, really.”
“It’s too bad.”
And so Elaine set up residence in front of Fort Bonifacio. “And I have no doubt that she was fully prepared to starve herself to death. I’m also sure that she embarrassed her father, and that the Marcos regime didn’t know what to do about her. Did the CIA monitor the situation, well, who knew? We assumed certain things that might not have been true. It was also unclear whether Mr. Wolfe helped or not, or was he simply a messenger? So Elaine lay on her cot, with a sign, and without realizing how much she abused Philippine hospitality. Meanwhile the Military Police looked on from their sentry post and for a while did nothing but watch.

Chapter 54
It seemed like Elaine and I were faced with the same dilemma. Both of us were in conflict over where we owed our allegiance. Why was there any doubt? Why was there any doubt in our minds and in the minds of others? Why was there a question about our loyalty to our country? We weren’t Filipino. We definitely weren’t Filipino. We spoke only English. We shared an American background. We grew up enjoying American riches and privileges. We took advantage of an American education and by and large thought like Americans. With American values and an American vision, we could never stop being Americans.

Yet I refused to go to the head of the line, and Elaine was starving herself in front of Fort Bonifacio. I can’t speak for Elaine, but I didn’t feel out of place. It felt good to still be free. It felt good to come from a free country. I felt lucky … lucky to be from a free country and lucky to still be on my feet and alive. I felt confident enough to approach the embassy.

I felt sorry that Nick had been arrested. I was scared for him. It scared me. He was arrested not for what was in my mind a crime, but for speaking out for what he believed. I admit that there may be a fine line between freedom of speech and sedition, and that freedom of speech meant one thing in the States and something different in the Philippines. So Elaine and I, as Americans, may have been pushing our luck. And maybe we were counting on something that didn’t exist. We were identified and seen at demonstrations. We were on a list. We were in a foreign country, on a list, and to some extent we were radicalized. We were seen associating with people who were actively opposed to Marcos and his regime and were equally angry at the United States, and wasn’t that enough to get us in trouble? And more trouble than we realized? We liked to think that that shouldn’t have mattered; and that as Americans we enjoyed immunity (because of who we were … immunity), but that wasn’t necessarily so. I also imagined that my draft board had by then issued an arrest warrant for me, making it impossible for me to return to the States.

I was uncertain. While I stood in line, I didn’t know where I stood. Yet I knew I was better off than Nick, whose fate I wondered about as I stood there. I could only imagine what he was going through. As I approached the gates and Marine guards, I pressed my hand against my passport in my shirt pocket and said to myself, “Fool. This is great. What makes you think you won’t get arrested? Forget it!” And as I got closer, I began to shake inside.

We assume people are reasonable. At least I assumed people were reasonable. I expected a certain amount of courtesy and respect. I may have been naïve but I expected it. Why wouldn’t we be shown courtesy and respect and denied that right? But why expect liberty and freedom in a land where oppression was on the rise? As Americans, we still didn’t expected to be shackled, interrogated, or worse tortured. The spirit of liberty was alive within us. And it was something we were anxious to share with the rest of the world.

But I wasn’t quite sure of myself, though I seemed confident. Maybe I was overconfident. I knew we didn’t live in a perfect world, but I didn’t think it applied to me. We lived in a world where a large majority of people didn’t enjoy the same freedoms that we enjoyed … with those thoughts I finally reached the gates, having waited my turned and had a Marine then stop me.

After his arrest, Nick was first taken to a safe house so that relatives or friends couldn’t trace him. He went unaudited or wasn’t officially acknowledged while he was interrogated or worse tortured. I’m pretty sure Elaine’s and my name came up. All this before he was transferred to Fort Bonifacio and we began worrying about him. That’s where we were when we attracted the attention of the US Embassy.

At the gates, a Marine guard took one look at my sandals and told me I couldn’t go in. It looked like I’d have to wear shoes and socks to get into the embassy.

ISAF No. 42796
Inmate Registration No. B1 516 741

Be it known that the United States and the Philippines are long-time democratic allies, and the US Embassy wishes to reiterate our government’s support for the rule of law, constitutional order, and the government of the Philippines.

On Bonifacio Day, Quezon Bishop Emeritus Rolando Lim led a prayer vigil at Plaza Miranda in Ouiapo. The police supported it by their presence. Angry over being turned away from the embassy, I joined Elaine in her protest.

Early in January of 1972, we received two letters from immigration telling us that we had 72 hours to leave the country. This was something that happened before, but this time it seemed more ominous. We were devastated. There was no hint in the letters why there had suddenly been a review of our visa status. It was especially troubling when Susan and I had recently been granted extensions because of her employment.

Christmas and New Years came and went without Nick’s release; and Elaine hadn’t been rescued. She was still starving herself in front of Fort Bonifacio. She wasn’t really starving herself. She had made it so far on sugared water; and her father, without her mother, had flown back from Washington DC (where they were in the middle of a move) to see what he could do.

Elanine’s father had rank and still had connections in the Philippines, having just been transferred to the Pentagon from Sangley. Without notice, he got his orders, a summons. The air station was scheduled for closure anyway, so some would argue what did it matter. And it wouldn’t have mattered much … except he felt like he was being punished … and except for Elaine. The surprise hurt … hurt both he and his wife. When he received his orders he was told that he was needed back in Washington because of Nixon’s covert incursion into Cambodia, essentially a compliment rather than a demotion. But it didn’t feel like it was … was a compliment.

Now because of Elaine he rushed back to Manila, which didn’t make him happy. So in January, when he flew in, he went to the US Embassy instead of to his daughter.

After receiving our letters from immigration another letter came from my parents, this one informing us that the FBI paid them a visit. They said that the FBI questioned them about us and that they cooperated fully. (My parents would cooperate.) They said it scared them to death. They were scared for me … for us. (As far as they knew, I had never been in trouble before.) And it was the FBI. And my father couldn’t believe I would shuck my responsibility. He didn’t raise me to be a draft dodger. He assumed that was why the FBI knocked on their door. They didn’t understand, and they pleaded with me to come home and take care of it. They also said they would send us money, if we needed it. The letter was written in my father’s very neat handwriting and signed by both of them.

We felt unsupported. I didn’t want to go to Vietnam. Susan didn’t want me to go to Vietnam. My best friend Bill Butler was killed in Vietnam. And the idea of turning myself in and going to prison didn’t appeal to me either. That was what January was like for us: filled with fretting and uncertainty. I imagined Nick had it worse.

We didn’t really have time to think … time to think or respond to my parents except by telephone. We didn’t want to unnecessarily worry them, or keep them hanging. We didn’t want to unnecessarily worry them until we knew for sure what we were doing.

We thought of flying to Singapore and turning around and flying back. Susan had her job to think about. Then we worried about whether they would allow us back into the country or not. Normally we wouldn’t need a visa to return to the Philippines for a short while, but there was the list I felt sure I was on. It seemed impossible, but Susan felt an obligation to her students.

I tore up the letters from immigration and couldn’t believe that I did it. It seemed to me as if we could avoid immigration for a little while. Yes, we could delay things, maybe. Yes, delay, delay, delay! How to delay? Delay the inevitable. Or was it inevitable? It seemed like it depended on how well we avoided drawing attention to ourselves.

Susan agreed that she needed a little more time, more than 72 hours, to say good-bye. Thankfully we still had “valid” visas stamped in our passports, but we realized we could still have problems at the airport if we didn’t leave as requested. Requested? Or were we ordered out of the country?

We would give all our furniture to our maid Linda.

Chapter 55
Susan wrote the following note to her parents, while I checked on Elaine.

January 15, 1972
Dear Mom and Dad,
By now you’re getting fairly used to not hearing from us. I don’t mean to keep you in the dark; but since I usually don’t have anything to report, I use that as an excuse. I want to assure you that if something significant happened to us, you would be the first to know. That’s the reason for this letter. I didn’t want to surprise you with a letter from Singapore, Malaysia, or some other place. I didn’t want to spring it on your. We’re thinking about moving on, but we don’t know yet if we will. There’s nothing that you should be worried about. We’re just thinking about moving on.

We got a letter from Ted’s parents today. They report that everybody is doing well. They did express concern about how their son was letting his hair grow out.

For the second time this school year, I’m out of classes for a week due to a track meet (in which my school is not even participating), so I talked Ted into taking a group of my students on an excursion. We went to The Free Press (a local newspaper), to a TV station, and then to a park for a picnic. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. It was an excellent opportunity for me to get to know them better.

I’m sure you’re both very busy now, but write when you have the time.
Love from us both, Susan

Like I said I went to check on Elaine, but she was gone. I went up the sentry post, but they wouldn’t tell me anything, so I asked around. I hadn’t planned on this development, anymore than several other recent ones. I then decided to go by Elaine’s apartment in Ermita, hoping that I’d find her there with Nick.

I later found out that she was picked up the night before and flown to a hospital at Sangley. I learned that she was taken against her will … that plain-clothes men took her … kicking and screaming … and turned her over to the US Navy. It was a joint operation that took considerable co-ordination so that her father could avoid further embarrassment. She planned to starve herself to death, but she found herself in an American hospital, where they wouldn’t let her die.

On the twenty-ninth of January … I remembered the date because it was when Susan and I were supposed to leave the Philippines…Nick got released from Fort Bonifacio. He got word that morning. He got released and immediately started looking for Elaine. She disappeared, but he didn’t realize that there was a connection between his release and her disappearance. What he didn’t realize was that she finally agreed to go back to the States with her father if he arranged Nick’s freedom.

Elaine’s father did it easily enough. He pulled a few strings after Elaine agreed. But it wasn’t easy for Elaine. She kicked and screamed before she agreed. But she was desperate … afraid … afraid and desperate and after starving herself … weak. She wanted to see Nick, but more importantly she wanted him free. She was afraid they would kill him. Her father easily did it … made a few phone calls, after she agreed to go with him back to states.

We didn’t know any of this. We only found out later.

Nick received a Dear John letter from Elaine that broke his heart. I watched him fall apart. He didn’t understand … couldn’t understand. I told him about her hunger strike and he couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t believe the Dear John letter as he fell apart. He couldn’t believe that after a hunger strike that she came to the decision she did. He couldn’t believe it. He thought she was forced into it. I remember going with him to her apartment in Ermita and finding it vacant. I remember going with him to Sangley where he shouldn’t have … where he couldn’t get anyone to admit that they knew anything about it.

The neighbor who helped Linda (our maid) with our furniture found us a room in Pasay City. Nick wasn’t in shape to help. He couldn’t go back to school and wasn’t in shape for anything. None of it made sense to him. Why? Even before he was released there was a deal made … a betrayal of sorts…he couldn’t help but view it that way.

When he walked out of Fort Bonfacio, down Lawton Avenue, little did he know that he walked past where Elaine set up her cot. When he walked past the place, free at last, there was no sign of a cot or his love, someone who was willing to sacrifice everything for him. Where the cot was there was a vender selling fruit in a cup: atis (sugar apple), bayabas (guava), mangga (mango), pineapple, and papaya. When Elaine was forcibly taken, the cot was quickly snapped up.

But it wasn’t the cot, but the American woman who slept on it and refused to eat that they talked about. The talked about how plain-clothes men came and took her away. She seemed frail then … weak … and like she might die. Nick didn’t believe … couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe Elaine wrote the Dear John letter. He wouldn’t admit that it was in her handwriting.

America … America seemed so far away. America … America was far away. Far, far away. Nick kept talking about Elaine … kept saying he was going to win her back. And he would’ve chased after him if I hadn’t stopped him. He would’ve chased after her and would’ve gone after her all the way to the States.

I kept emphasizing that he needed to move on. “Move on?” What did it mean to move on? Susan and I decided to look in on him. We decided to look in on him to make sure he was alive … to make sure he was eating. We went to his apartment, and he wouldn’t come to the door. We knock and knock, but luckily the door was unlocked. We took care of him while we tried to figure out what we were going to do. We needed to decide if it was worth it to stay in the Philippines and face God knew what.

Nick moped around in his pajamas. America …. America … we were all trying to decide what we were going to do. Elaine’s note came and said she was returning to the States. America … America … so far away. Elaine’s note didn’t give any details. It didn’t say when she was leaving or where she would live. It just said that she was returning to the States and for Nick not to contact her.

Nick slowly opened the envelope, tearing it, and knew whom it was from before he opened it. There was no name or return address on the outside, but still he knew.

He dreaded the contents, because just as he was about to unfold it he handed it to me to read. His hand was shaking when he handed it to me. His hand was shaking, and his head was down, though he wouldn’t cry.

“Let it out,” I thought.

It hurt him. I know it hardened him. I don’t know whether or not it was possible for him to become more radical than he was, but I know that the loss of Elaine changed him. This surprised me.

He finally got out of his pajamas. And I think he did his best to put thoughts of Elaine out of his mind. He began eating again, and I felt that I didn’t have to watch him as much. America … America …. Now what were we going to do?

We couldn’t see the future. We didn’t know if we had a future. We assumed the FBI was looking for me. We also thought immigration was looking for us, and I was on some sort of list. Here we were in a city with millions of people, but we didn’t blend in. Between Nick’s apartment in Tondo and our room in Pasay City, we had two places to hide, but we didn’t feel secure. As weeks went by, when by then we were in the Philippines illegally, we grew more and more worried.

At some point, I began thinking we were being followed.
Chapter 56
We took a jeepney to TayTay and met our maid’s sister, who now had our furniture. She welcomed us, welcomed us like we were family. In a sense we were family. Susan had agreed to become godmother of her youngest boy. What a fiasco! What a fiasco, and what a celebration. Poor woman and poor godchild. It was heartbreaking to know that we’d never see them again.

We changed our routine and avoided certain places and people. And as we went around Manila we tried to act and look normal. I saw Vincente for the last time, and it felt awkward. It turned out that the National Bureau of Investigation confiscated his film of the battle. He was forced to co-operate. At least, that was what he said.

Outside of Paco Cemetery, he picked me up in his car. I remember that it was an old Mercedes treasured by him. Vincente told me he bought it for one of his movies. We drove around for a while, while we talked.

“Students are at it again. Hundreds of them have formed a barricade at UP,” Vincente said. “I wish I were there with a camera.”

We drove toward Pasay City, Vincente negotiating traffic with ease, while he did most of the talking. Sitting next to him, I barely opened my mouth. He talked about how much he suffered (at least artistically) under Marcos’ thumb (first censorship and then having his film confiscated). Friends of his were arrested, and he said he felt responsible. People were killed. A number of times, he asked, “What can we do?” He mentioned Sonja, our mutual friend who ran the theater at Fort Santiago. She relied on her connection with Imelda. “It makes it difficult for Sonja,” he said. It was the same for all arts organizations Imelda supported. “What can we do?” he repeated. “If only we didn’t need her support.”

I didn’t respond. Instead, after a moment or two, he asked, “You watched Elaine, as she pulled her little stunt, didn’t you?”

“What stunt?” I asked him, remembering how Elaine’s father somehow got a hold of a photograph of his daughter with Nick at the demonstration in front of the Congress building.

“You know what I’m talking about. But what happened to her? That’s what’s important. What happened to her? People keep asking me. What happened Ted?”

“Poor Nick.”

“Yes, poor Nick. But what can we do? What happened?”

I didn’t respond. I then asked, “Do we all have to suffer because of this madness?”

I wanted to accuse him of betrayal, but I wasn’t sure of myself. I couldn’t prove anything. I didn’t know whether Vincente betrayed us or not. So I held my tongue.

“I think the best thing for us to do is make a pact and pledge silence,” Vincente said.

I couldn’t restrain myself any longer and like a fool jumped in. “You’ve never been detained. Why is it Vincente? Why do you remain free? You’re not deported. You say you’ve been censored and had your film confiscated but how do we know what really happened? You still driving around in a Mercedes.” And so on. I didn’t like confronting him, a friend … particularly since I didn’t have facts to go on.

“You’re assuming an awful lot,” Vincente said, with a grimace. He had a distinctive way of responding to criticism. He let it go. He heard me, and he let it go. Then he seemed not to hear me. I realized then that it didn’t matter what I said to him. “Don’t judge me too harshly. I value you friendship,” he added. I knew he was trying to console me.

“We’re all being scrutinized. As public figures, we being scrutinized, but now for too many of us it has gone too far …as we’re denied our freedom,” Vincente said, “Can you tell me why it is?”

“You can’t be serious.” I laughed. “I can’t believe we’re having this conversation.”

He said he couldn’t either.

“You know I looked up to you, don’t you,” I said.

“I don’t believe any of us set out to destroy people,” he said.

“I think we do the best we can,” I said. “Can we do anymore?”

He was silent.

“You started this conversation by telling me about hundreds of students forming a barricade at UP,” I said. “We should both be there, you with your camera and me with my notepad.”

“Yes, we should be. Different professions, but we share the same goals.”

“Well, we’ve got our marching orders. Did you know Susan and I are being deported”

He said no; he didn’t know it.

“I thought you might’ve heard it. It seems to have gotten around,” I said. “The old swinging door.”

“It’s too bad,” he said.

I went on to say, “It forces us to make a decision. We don’t know what we’ll do, or where we’ll go. We were given a pass. Since we were given a pass, it can be taken back at any time.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I was lucky. I was given a pass all of these years so that I could finish my education. What gives me the right to expect to keep getting passes?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Forget it.”

He laughed. “Now I’m the one who doesn’t have facts. Here we are … without facts. Working in the dark when we constantly have to look out for ourselves. When we have to be constantly on guard, how can we look out for each other? That’s why I think we should be less critical. Let me buy your lunch.”

“But I thought that was where we were going? You arranged our meeting and…

“And I invited you to lunch. But we’re going in the wrong direction.”

“You’re driving.” I shuddered at the thought of eating in Makati.

“How about Cantonese on Mabini Street?”

Nick later showed me an old clipping from the New York Times entitled:
Appears in Plays in Native Theaters-
How an American Smashed the Sun of Filipino Independence
Foreign Correspondence THE NEW YORK TIMES
Feb. 5. – For some time there has been a recrudescence of the insurrecto spirit in the neighborhood of Manila, the symptoms being an alarming increase of ladrone-insurrecto bands: in one case a few miles from Manila, a band of 400 strong was formed, armed with good fireworks. This band succeeded in driving a force of constabulary to cover, and terrorized the district for some time.

The Filipino theatres in Manila took up the agitation, giving many seditious plays. The climax came in a play called Hindi Aco Patay, which, translated from Tagala means “I’m not dead yet.” This was produced in the Theatre Rizal. There were many scenes showing the supposed brutality of the American and the goodness of the Filipino; but at first the play was not amenable to police interference.

The actors went too far, however, and showed scenes where the Katipunan flag, a red field with a black letter “K” thereon, was waved amid the great enthusiasm of the disaffected Filipinos.

I was struck by how the piece still resonated. To me it seemed contemporary. In many ways, things hadn’t changed. With students bringing back the drama, yes a revival of sorts, it seemed very contemporary. Over time, characters change, mature perhaps, but the cause is the same. And although the two sides were more in cahoots, the resentment was still there. The difference now was that I found myself in the thick of it.

“Feel free to disagree,” Nick said. “If I were in your country, I would speak my mind. Go ahead- tell me where we’re wrong. Tell me what you think.”

I was put on the defensive and asked, “Why are you suspicious of me?”

“As an American, you can’t always agree with us. And you don’t really know how we feel. You can’t walk in our shoes,” Nick said. “I know who you are, and you can’t pretend you’re someone else. You’ve taken our side, but it’s hard to understand why. I guess you can argue with your government, just as we argue with Marcos, but it doesn’t make sense to me why you would betray your country. But you can’t help being who you are, but it might surprise you to learn that I love America … yes … just as I love Elaine, I love America. God, how I miss her.”

I never knew Nick to be hypocritical. He made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to say.

“Then you move on,” he said. “You told me to move on.”

“Tell me Nick … what am I doing here?”

“Don’t ask me.”

That night we ate fish Sinigang soup in a restaurant somewhere on a street that separated Ermita and Malate. It was a compromise … not in either area. After dinner, before our bowls were removed, and while Susan and I were sharing with Nick things about us, I asked, “What are you going to do now?” It was the same question that kept popping up in our minds. “How do you move on? Elaine is already in Fairfax Virginia, and you’re here, but you’re constantly reminded of her.”

“How do you know she’s in Fairfax Virginia?”

“Well, it stands to reason. Her father is stationed in the Pentagon.” I then told him life sometimes stunk … how it wasn’t fair that she had to leave, when she was willing to sacrifice her life for him.

“Sacrifice her life for me?”

“Afterwards how do you move on? I’ve never experienced such a loss, loss of a parent or a love. I don’t know if I would be sitting here. But here you are thinking about how to move on. And we have to get use to thinking of you without Elaine, as if she were dead and I suppose in many ways it would be easier for you if she were … dead. It stinks.”

“Time … it’ll take time,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense, but perhaps in time it will.”

There was a cool breeze coming in from the bay, and outside, sound of traffic. We walked for a while, the three of us, hand in hand.

The road back to Mindanao and Sulu began that evening. I have to admit it. It began that evening.
Chapter Fifty-seven
Over a year ago we would never have guessed that we would become connected with a revolution and take off with Nick. We didn’t know anything about the Philippines. We knew very little about the Spanish American War … except we knew the Philippines had some connection with it, and we hadn’t bothered to vote. I worked my way through college and attended graduate school to avoid the war. I met Susan in college. And we hadn’t bothered to vote.

After Susan met me she didn’t have a chance to go with someone else, but her parents would’ve preferred a different choice. They met me only once before we got married. Her father gave me an earful. He told me that he thought I wasn’t worth a tinker’s damn. He also told me that they hadn’t raised Susan to be killed by someone like me. I’d never been treated like that before. It was the welcome I got.

“We came here, because I didn’t want to be drafted and to be as far away from war as possible,” I added.

“You came to the Philippines to get further away from war?” Nick asked. “That doesn’t make sense.”

“None of it does.” (None of it did.)

“I hate war,” Susan said. “An uncle of mine was a C.O. during World War II. He and his brother served as medics in Europe … ”

“ … which helps me make my case.” I couldn’t keep quiet. “But … but I’m not sure if it’s worth fighting. Unlike you we no longer have a home base. But fight now I’m not sure we have the wherewithal to continue.”

That week Susan gave her resignation to the International School. They complimented her and said they regretted losing her because she was one of their better teachers. The truth was they didn’t have any trouble filling her shoes.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with Philippine Immigration,” the principal said. “I’m so sorry. I thought we pulled it off.

The truth was he didn’t fight very hard. But it was silly to assume that he would. It was why they liked hiring dependents of diplomats.

“I may need a recommendation. I don’t know, but I might,” Susan said. “We’re planning to go home.” She didn’t know why she lied.

“Home is Texas, isn’t it? Who knows? Maybe you’ll come back, and if you do, you’ll have a job. We always need teachers.”

It was nice to hear.

Back in Texas, my parents were worried. The visit from the FBI worried them even more, and they wrote details about my family. Mother had been in the hospital. A sister got married. Another sister had a baby. They never told us that mother couldn’t sleep and almost had a nervous breakdown. They didn’t want to worry us.

When I arrived at Nick’s apartment, he was in the middle of packing and had a long way to go. He invited me in. He insisted that he wasn’t too busy to see me. I was willing to help. It seemed natural having gone through this myself, but he had way too many books. I had no idea what he would do with them and said something about it as I stood around.

He shuffled from box to box. The apartment appeared as if it had been recently rummaged through, for instead of possessions being in their proper place they were thrown around. Lot of it was broken. Furniture was smashed, and irreplaceable objects were picked through. “Is anything missing?” I asked. He frowned and nodded his head.

“There were photographs of my friends,” Nick said. “From my trip to China … I brought back a few souvenirs. I never made the trip secret. Now they’re all gone.”

“Your Chinese flag?”


I always thought he was too open.

He laughed and said, “I talk too much.” I didn’t see what was so funny. I hadn’t seen him with so much vitality. “I feel bad about the photographs. The other things, well … I was just going to have to box them up.”

“Going somewhere?” I asked, and he told me that he couldn’t stay in Manila, but hadn’t decided yet where to go. “I don’t know where to start,” he said. “Where Marcos’ goons won’t be looking for me.” Then his eye wandered around the room. “And what am I going to do with all of this stuff? I’ll donate the books to the UP Library.”

He treasured most Pinoy Lit, particularly work of his namesake Nick Joaquin, his PROSE AND POEMS, THE WOMAN WHO HAD TWO NAVELS, and, of course, his play, The Portrait of the Artist as Filipino. These books were in a pile, and he planned to take them with him.

“I need to feed myself. Reading is one way I do it,” he said. “Remember, before he was martyred, Jose Rizal traveled around the world and took his books with him.” Nick seemed quick to shrug and seemed to shrug off everything. He had me sit down and watch him pack his books. “What can I do now? For one thing, I have to warn my friends.”

I remembered Joe Wilson’s visit. I hadn’t tried to get back to the embassy. I didn’t feel confident that they would protect me. .

“What can I do for you?” I asked.

“Nothing. This is not your country. I have to sort things out. Prison taught me one thing: I’ll never go back. I’ll never go back to prison.”

I understood. “I thought you were on holiday,” I said, as I tried to make light of it. .

He thought that I sounded too, too flippant, so I told him about Elaine’s effort to win his freedom … though I knew it would upset him.

He listened, sitting on the floor and watching me to see how my expression changed. “How do you know this?” he asked at one point.

I told him about spending time with Elaine in front of Fort Bonifacio and how Susan and I shared an interest in him. “I was her partner in crime. I felt as helpless as she did, but I couldn’t let her stave herself to death. My crime was that I didn’t wear shoes when I went to the embassy. If I’d gotten in, I would’ve brought up your situation.”

“It wouldn’t have done any good,” Nick said. “We thought Marcos would be a good president. We should’ve known better.”

“He was reelected,” I reminded him. “Anyway, we can’t turn back the clock. And if we could, I don’t believe we’d want to. I believe over time things will get better.”

“Better for whom?” Then he proclaimed, “I’ve earned my pessimism!”

Nick was fired up. Except, perhaps except for the loss of Elaine, he didn’t seem sad. I was seeing a new side of him … a new Nick. Since his incarceration he had become more of a firebrand.

“How do you stop someone like Marcos?” he asked.

“You ‘re right. There needs to be a change. There doesn’t seem any way to stop him.”

“There’s no such thing as a benevolent dictator. I’ve always wanted what was best for my country. By now we must have some idea about how to create a democratic society. For as long as we’ve been trying, we should have some idea. Or do we want to continue to be dominated by foreign interests?”

‘Are you calling for revolution?”

“Why not?”

Nick then raised the possibility of going back to Mindanao and the Sulus and joining Moros. “I’ve been thinking about it, and detention gave me a lot of time to think,” he said. “I think it might be a good way to go.”

“As you know, I went back to Basilan and Bongao, and they were receptive to me,” I said. “There was no violence to speak of, but it was several months ago.” I saw that Nick was listening and reaffirming something so I added a word of caution. “Still, if I were going, I’d keep my eyes open and my nose to the ground.”

“I’m not particularly concerned for myself. Remember I grew up a revolutionary. It’s in my blood. I’ve never hid my HUK background nor was I afraid to say I’m a Maoist. I think I set a good example.

I laughed. “Yes, you set a good example,” I said. “I wish I were as brave, and if I were, I’d go back to the States and face whatever.”

We had a good laugh about which one of us was a bigger coward because we both seemed to be running away from something. Then he realized that he hadn’t been back on the campus of UP where over five hundred students had thrown up a barricade. As I was saying goodbye, he asked me what I knew about the standoff, and I told him that I didn’t know very much.

“Thank you for coming by,” he said. “I really enjoyed our travels.”

I told him I also enjoyed them.

Chapter Fifty-eight
Almost gone were the days of Sandra Dee and Bobbie Darin. Almost gone were hayrides, lantern parades, and rivalries between fraternities and sororities at UP. They were replaced by radical causes, Kabataang Makabayan and no-nonsense types. If the First Quarter Storm hadn’t happened UP might be the same as it was. It might be the same as it was, and I might’ve felt safe then watching anti-American demonstrations, as safe as I had before battles in front of the Congress building and Malacanang. I might’ve felt safe roaming the campus as a freelance American reporter and reading my treasured New York Times in the school library. Now this same campus was taken over by students, militant students, students who meant business.

A student was shot and subsequently died, and I knew enough to stay away from there. Now what were we … Susan and me … what were we going to do? Where were we going to go? We were stuck. We couldn’t leave the country, and we couldn’t stay. We didn’t leave when we were suppose to, so we couldn’t fly out of there. They would catch us at the airport. What were we going to do? Who could have imagined that we would’ve been hounded out of the Philippines, like refugees, far away from home and with parents who didn’t understand what we were doing? As I often did, I punted.

Hindi aco patay. At least I’m not dead yet, I thought as I left Nick’s apartment.

No sooner had I reached our room in Pasay City than Susan came home. She wasn’t very happy. She was never very flexible. Now she wasn’t very happy. And I knew why. She always hated to move.

“By tomorrow we need to make a decision. Right or wrong, by tomorrow we need to decide what we’re going to do,” she said. “If we can’t fly, what are our options? Money we have won’t get us very far.”

I had been weighing our options, good and bad, and decided that we were lucky that I hadn’t been arrested. I always looked on the bright side of things. I was the opposite of Susan. I always looked for something to smile about. I always tried to make light of our situation, so I told her a joke. My joke didn’t go over very well. She didn’t think it was funny. I always dreamed of seeing the world. It was my dream, not Susan’s. Now here we were in the Philippines, in Manila, having survived there for over a year. I could hear Susan say, “I haven’t lost anything in Manila.” Now she didn’t want to leave. And she wanted to cry and wanted to be held.

I began looking forward to moving. My heart rate increased when I thought about it. I looked forward to seeing other places and learning about other people and felt we were foolish to stay in the Philippines after we were ordered out. But Susan hated to move and felt obligated to her students.

Who knew what would happen now? We were stuck. Who knew what would happen to us if we stayed? Who knew what would happen if we left? Who could predict the future? We had no plans. No plans … and it bugged Susan and scared me. I didn’t let on that I was scared. With no plans, I liked to say I was easy. The only thing we were sure about was that we had to stay away from authorities, authorities of both nations, of the United States and the Philippines…something so far we managed to do. I told her about helping Nick pack.

“He said he was going back to Mindanao and the Sulus,” I said. “To join Moros in their fight.” Fight! I shouldn’t have used the word “fight.” I could see in Susan’s face that it set off an alarm. “If it is not too late, we have to do something for him before he leaves. We’ll probably never see him again.”

“I’m not worried about Nick,” Susan said. “I’m more concerned about where we’ll be tomorrow.”

“We’ll make it, Susan. We’ll make it.”

About a week later, we decided that we couldn’t stay where we were. On a bus, Susan and I reopened a discussion about becoming world travelers. I threw myself into it. Susan resisted. I suggested that we walk across Borneo. Borneo! Walk across Borneo. However daunting it seemed Susan knew I was serious. Borneo! She shook her head, while I knew inside she was about to scream. “Look, we can island hop. That’s how we can get out of the Philippines. It should be easy.”

“But what if I’m pregnant?”

“You’re not pregnant, are you?” I could see her getting pregnant and knew she was watching me for a reaction. If she were pregnant, it was okay with me. It would give us seven or eight months to get somewhere.

The thought of her getting pregnant hadn’t occurred to me, but it was something we could easily find out, so I went on talking about walking across Borneo. We couldn’t afford a baby, but we’d make it somehow. I didn’t want to feel constrained. She would welcome it, while I wouldn’t. She could use it as an excuse to go home. It wouldn’t be the end of the world, but … but … I had plans. I had plans but when it came down to it I didn’t have a specific plan. We didn’t have to walk across Borneo. We’d have other choices. I understood Malaysia and Singapore had socialized medicine. I didn’t know about Indonesia

“How can you be so sure how you would feel?” Susan asked. “Wouldn’t you want your son or daughter to be born in America? I don’t like where we are.”

“Do you think I like it?”

“You don’t seem as worried as I am,” she said.

“Now come on, you can’t say you haven’t enjoyed it.”

Susan repeated that she thought that she might be pregnant. She challenged me to say that she couldn’t be, and we debated what we would do, and what would be best for the child and for us. Neither one of us won. She didn’t want me to end up in Vietnam. It came back to that. Vietnam.

I conceded that having a child would change everything. I suggested that we find a doctor, at this point almost any doctor would do.

She said it didn’t really matter to her.

I was very much relieved. She said it didn’t really matter to her. Now we had a closer bond than we had before.

While on our bumpy, sticky journey south, I enjoyed looking at scenery, looking at a tropical world with nipa huts. Somehow we missed Nick. We wanted a chance to say goodbye, but it didn’t happen.

After we settled into a new routine … riding buses all day … I said to Susan, “I know that you’ve not always felt like you could communicate with me, but … “

“But what?”

“No buts. I’ll try to do better.” The bus was fairly full. I continued to stare out the window. I wanted to do better.

We reached Tacloban around noon and were directed to Sisters of Mercy. Sister Agnes invited us in and offered us lunch. She was in the process of establishing an institute for midwifes in conjunction with Mother of Mercy Hospital. “I’m afraid I might be pregnant,” Susan said to Sister Agnes.

“May God bless the child,” Sister Agnes said. “Let me see.”

Sister Agnes had a nice smile and gentle bearing. She was Irish, but had lost most of her accent. I had trouble imagining her devoting her life to Christ. She was just too pretty.

While we ate, Sister Agnes quizzed us about where we were from and what we were doing in the Philippines. I thought she was trying to find out too much. It made me wonder if she had a connection with the police.

“I was one of the first Sisters to come here in 1954,” Sister Agnes said as we entered the hospital an hour later.

“This could be in the States,” I said, pleasantly surprised. “This looks like a first rate hospital.”

“We work at it,” Sister Agnes said. “About fifty hours a week.”

I told Sister Agnes that I’d like to see the beach where MacArthur landed. She talked about the general’s sentimental return to Tacloban after the war and what a big to-do that was. A nurse named Sally-Rose, a Filipina, who seemed in charge, took Susan into a small examination room, while Sister Agnes showed me a chapel.

We stood around and talked some more. We went out into a small courtyard and sat in front of a statue of Christ, adorned with thorns. We enjoyed birds. We sauntered back into the building, and Sister Agnes shared a series of photographs of the hospital under construction. She was used to giving this tour. What amazed me was that Sister Agnes stayed with me. It seemed like she didn’t have anything to do.

She asked me about my family.

“My mother was recently hospitalized,” I said. “She worries too much about us. But my father is different, because he was stationed overseas during the war.”

“We also left our families to come over here,” she said. “We were invited to take up the Cross and follow Him, and our families stayed home in Ireland. I can only imagine what it was like for them.” That was how we were able to commiserate with each other. “They wouldn’t know that it was safe. They have never been here.” We were able to commiserate with each other. Soon she was telling me how she missed Irish stew, and bacon and cabbage (boiled together in water), and boxty, a potato pancake, and how her mother used to make those dishes.

Susan came into the waiting room with the nurse named Sally-Rose. Susan was smiling, and I could tell the verdict from her smiles. Both women seemed outrageously happy, and it got to me.

“Let’s get out of here,” Susan said, dropping a few coins in a donation bucket. “I want to explore the town before it gets too late.” Now she was beginning to sound like me.

There was enough time to find Imelda Marcos’ lavish home, but what we appreciated more was Sto. Nino Shrine, which was built in honor of Tacloban’s patron saint. (Oh, by the way, Susan wasn’t pregnant.)

The next morning, as we were sitting eating breakfast at the Hotel Alejandro, a Filipino named Enrique joined us and asked, “Taxi? All day, half day, really reasonable. Relive the Battle of Leyte. See where MacArthur landed, MacArthur’s headquarters, and the best views of the Gulf of Leyte, and the narrowest strait in the world.” He wore a Red Sox baseball cap and a pair of fairly new tennis shoes.

“We want to see where MacArthur landed,” I replied. “But we can get around on our own.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” Enrique said. “You would miss my invaluable commentary. I think it would be worth your while. I have inside information. My family lived through all of it, you know.”

“We’re not rich Americans, as rich as I imagine you assume,” I said. Then realizing wealth was relative and that we spent the night and were eating in an upscale hotel, I asked, “How much do you charge?” The amount he quoted wasn’t very much, though we weren’t for sure what it included.

“I’ll wait outside,” Enrique announced. “Take your time.”

I didn’t let him leave, and decided to buy his breakfast.

“It isn’t easy for Americans because we we’re charged double for everything,” Susan said. This upset Enrique because he assumed that she meant he was cheating us. Then he said he was willing to give up the day and show us around for free.

Afterwards, after Enrique spent the day with us, it occurred to me that we treated Enrique pretty poorly. The idea of being cheated always infuriated me. After Enrique left us, I asked Susan if she thought we took advantage of him.

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “You made it clear to him that we couldn’t afford him. But I have to confess that it felt awkward. When he wouldn’t take “no,” or a tip, I was thrown off. To give him a few pesos wouldn’t have hurt us very much, but it would insult him. He only asked for a few pesos to begin with.”
Chapter Fifty-nine
The next morning Susan and I went down to the lobby to check out. We had a summons from local police, something we hadn’t expected. We asked the clerk about it, since he handed it to us, and he dismissed it. He told us not worry. He said, “The police get a copy of all of our registration slips. It’s law. We follow the letter of the law. Since you’re traveling outside of Manila, I assume your passports are in order.”

We knew we could be into serious trouble, though our passports were in order or appeared to be in order.

“Why would police bother with tourist like us,” I asked, without hesitation.

The clerk said he didn’t know.

“We’ll check out anyway,” I said. “We can ill afford to change our plans, since we want to see as much of the Philippines as possible.”

I felt nervous. I felt I looked nervous. I was certainly glib … perhaps too glib … looked guilty … and gave ourselves away. I always looked guilty. Then to minimize the situation, I said, “I suppose this isn’t unusual.”

“You’re right, sir. I can reassure you that it’s quite routine.”

Routine to him was far from routine to us, while I hoped he was right. So we felt we didn’t have a choice but go to the police station, and said we would.

When Susan and I left the hotel, she suggested that we walk. As we made our way along, it felt like she was trying to delay the inevitable. She wore comfortable, open sandals and was carrying a backpack, and she wasn’t in a hurry. It was how I also felt, as I held her arm to emphasize how I supported her. We were tempted to run. I knew she felt the way I felt. We could easily run, since the police hadn’t detained us at the hotel. The summons seemed more like an invitation than an ultimatum, though it came with an official seal and all of the importance that such a seal implied.

And there was me feeling guilty. I couldn’t hide it. I felt guilty, and it showed on my face … in my complexion and bearing it seemed so obvious. And there was a distinct possibility that I’d confess right off the bat. Susan looked worried, and I knew I looked just as bad.

Without warning, she stopped and seemed so bewildered that she didn’t know which way to turn.

I held onto her. “What’s the matter?”

“We didn’t ask directions. Men never do.”

“I know where we are. It’s hard to get lost on the main street.”

Right there on the main drag, she started crying. Right there on the main drag, she told me that all she wanted was to go home. She told me she didn’t want to be there. She told me that whatever I wanted she always went along with it. And she never said anything and always accepted whatever I said. But she was tired of it … tired of being a caboose.

Caboose? Where did that come from? .

“I don’t like this,” she said. “We should’ve left the country when we were told to, and tell me why we didn’t! It was your decision. Just like this is your decision.”

“My decision! Now whose decision was it?”

“I simply went along with it.”

“No, you seem to forget that you didn’t want to leave.”

“I simply went along with it. You’ve always been the engine, and I’ve always been the caboose.”

It would’ve been one thing for us to have been tourist, (or travelers, as I preferred to be called), with a set itinerary, I thought, but it was quite another thing to get involved in the internal affairs of a foreign country. Now we were fugitives, fugitives in a foreign country, and we really couldn’t go back home. That’s when I found myself saying, “It could be worse. We’re not dead yet.”

I hailed a motorized tricycle. We hadn’t yet grown used to people staring at us. Perhaps we would never get use to it and would never escape from a glass bowl we were in. That morning we wanted to breakout more than ever. Wanted to get away from stares that saw right through us. Wanted to disappear and get out of Tacloban more than anything. Before getting in the tricycle, I looked up and down the street. The coast seemed clear.

While we intended to go to the police station, there were many reasons that kept us from it. Most importantly was loss of time and maybe loss of freedom. Our saving grace was that we hadn’t been detained. We could see ourselves detained and turned over to the US Embassy.

There were times when I didn’t think clearly, and this was one of them, and there was no way of knowing whether we would pay for it. This wasn’t easy. Nothing at this point in our lives was easy, and it was why we hesitated. I took responsibility for what we finally did.

We clung to the hope that it meant something that we weren’t arrested. Maybe it was because, as Susan said, we weren’t in our room when the police came by. It wasn’t like we were International criminals or big time crooks. We were small fry in a huge pan. I needed to remember that we were small fry in a huge pan. I told the tricycle driver to take us to the edge of town and then from there to Red Beach. To the driver we hopefully looked like typical American tourists anxious to see where MacArthur landed.

Most days people went back and forth, to and from the beach in jeepneys and tricycles. There were so many people that there was always someone waiting to be brought back to town. This worked to our advantage because by then we didn’t intend to return to Tacloban..

We bought our meals as we went along. Everywhere there were coffee shops and sari-sari stores from which we could purchase food. It was one less thing we had to worry about as we took one last look at where MacArthur waded ashore. I couldn’t resist the temptation of reenacting the event.

From then on we had to be on guard, blending in as much as possible. Whenever I think of close calls, I think of Tacloban and one phrase comes to mind: Hindi aco patay or I’m not dead yet.

While on the road in Leyte, we traveled with a Christian family migrating to Mindanao. We left Red Beach without knowing where we would spend the night. We thought we would hitchhike, do anything to avoid public transportation. We followed the coast from Tacloban to MacAuthur and on to Panlot in southern Leyte, on foot with our host family.

I had never spent a week walking in my life, and I couldn’t get over how this family from Tondo had packed all their belongings in and on a homemade rig and were pushing and pulling it down a highway. It was amazing. It was amazing they weren’t run over. It was amazing to me that they chose this simple but ostentatious way to move from Manila to the promise land in Mindanao. It was amazing to me that they went as far as they had without a major accident. And no one tried to stop them. Yet with a third of the effort and much less grief, they could’ve all gone to Mindanao by ferry.

It was as if they valued their belongings more than their lives. They were forever holding up traffic. More times than I could count I saw buses, cars, and trucks almost run over them, and I knew what it would’ve cost them. I can only imagine what it cost them. It seemed strange that the police hadn’t stopped them, regardless whether they were breaking laws or not. I was to learn that as Christian migrants they had support and encouragement from the government, just as a backlash from Moros was developing. We could never imagine living and moving like they did.

The whole time we were with them, we walked by the side of the road, a safe distance away from traffic, hoping that people were paying attention to them and not to us.

“Imagine,” Susan said.


“We’re saving money and getting in shape to walk across Borneo.”

“You’ll thank me later.” And we both laughed. “I wish we had a camera.”

We finally got into a groove and that alone helped us along.

Benito and Clara left Tondo with their family for Mindanao with a vision of a land of promise. They started making plans way before they left. They dreamed of cultivating their own land and leaving the slums of Manila behind them forever. They found the idea of a typhoon free island very agreeable. This idea had great significance because after every typhoon they virtually had to start over. They were assured they would be given land in Mindanao where mangoes, pineapples, and other tropical fruit grew in abundance. So Benito constructed a rig that rolled quite easily and held all of their belongings. He never hesitated. He always thought with a little endurance and patience and a little luck they could reach their destination. But now, as they approached the end of their journey, they seemed to get cold feet. As they got closer and closer, they heard rumors that disturbed them.

When we joined them, the youngest girl was riding a tricycle on the highway in front of the rig, and in that way, I suppose, her parents thought she was safe and they could keep track of her. When Susan saw this, she lost it. When she saw how close the child came to getting hit, she lost it but somehow kept from screaming.

“No!” she said. She was obviously very upset with these parents. “What the hell are they doing? What are they thinking?” The rest of the family, including the little girl’s siblings, was needed to push and pull the rig

But seeing this motivated us to help this family as much as we could. Susan “steered” the little girl and “shielded” her as much as possible. It wasn’t long before she became a big sister.

“What kind of world is this, where a kid leads the charge on a tricycle?” Susan asked. “Still I can’t get over it. Luckily we’re on a coastal road and not the main highway.”

Yes, lucky for them and lucky for us. Ordinarily, we would’ve been mobbed, but here we’re just a sideshow.”

“It feels good to sort of fit in. Can you believe we’ve joined a band of gypsies?” Susan laughed. Even when she felt irritated with these parents, she laughed.

With villages close together, distances seemed short.

“What a wonderful life! Why do people live in cities? Here they grow rice for starch. Here they fish for protein. They have all they need right here.”

“There are a lot of people living close together like they do in cities. But there’s no grime or pollution.”

At the end of each day, we always came to a place were we could pull off the road, and for the first time we got away with camping. Asians didn’t understand camping. We usually slept near the family, usually on a beach, and felt very brave. Fresh air and plenty of exercise! No wonder we felt exhilarated!

Chapter Sixty
You have to remember we were in the tropics, but Filipinos didn’t seem to sweat much. Not as much as we did anyway. I don’t know how they stayed clean. I remember it cooling off in the evening. Whenever I could, I took a dip in the ocean, though it wasn’t something people around us often did. At least no one could say we smelled.

I’m told meat eaters have a particular odor about them. This wasn’t a problem yet. Needless to say Filipinos bathe and bathed frequently. Leyte was hot and humid, and we needed to bathe. But as I said, Filipinos rarely sweated, and they bathed without using much water. They were used to having limited water. At least people we were with were used to it. They were from slums in Manila and were used to having limited water.

Women kept their clothes on while they bathe. Maybe we would be better off if we bathe with less water and with our clothes on. Filipinos had to work to work up a sweat. We Americans thought sweating was a virtue. And we weren’t afraid to get our hands dirty. We didn’t allow our fingernails to grow until they curled. But not all Filipinos were the same. Not all Filipinos allowed their fingernails to grow until they curled. It was our perceptions that didn’t change.

Susan looked skeptical.

I tried to make it make sense to her. “Filipino men tend to be macho. To them long fingernails are symbols of power and virility.”

“Now I know what your problem is. You cut your fingernails,” she declared, laughing. “Why, you’d be destroyed. I love you anyway.”

I laughed, too.

Breakfasts in coffee shops, and we ate ravenously, but it didn’t satisfy our hunger…or keep us from snacking along the way. I had never seen so many varieties of bananas. We learned that poor people often made a meal out of a banana. We talked about such things. As we walked along, we talked about such things, knowing fair well that there were people around us who spoke and understood English. And we always knew the first question they would ask us.

Why then didn’t we start out with an answer? We sometimes did. Many Filipinos didn’t understand why we didn’t have children. They often became sympathetic when we told them we didn’t have any. “Why not?” they then often asked. “Do you have children” and “why not” were the first questions most often asked. They were direct, and would ask it, and we knew we would be asked. Susan and I often discussed these things, and I’m not sure why it was such a big deal, when we knew there were going to be misunderstandings.

We didn’t ask for “pride” chicken that was fried for us, however, we made a big to-do about it. They brought with them chickens, in pens, and a couple of prized roosters they groomed as much as they could. To kill a chicken for us was unnecessary when we intended and had money to eat in restaurants. They called the chicken we ate a pullet, I’m sure, because it was tender and good. And why did they do that for us? We couldn’t believe it, and considering how poor they were. They were generous people who enjoyed sharing … enjoyed food, enjoyed conversation, and enjoyed singing. It was one of our fondest memories: sitting around a campfire on a beach eating “pride” chicken.

Here we were experiencing Philippine hospitality, or was it something else? Regardless, it made a lasting impression. And it brought to mind hospitality of every Filipino we knew, of Nick and Vincente in particular, and how they would never allow us to go Dutch. They always paid for things, and we always thought we would insult them if we didn’t let them. Maybe it wasn’t true. Who knew? I’m sure it was something in them that made them so generous, something that made their world work. It was who they were, and there was no way we could change it. As Americans we were always treated as guest and never as equals, and we never wanted to offend them. So we didn’t see how we could ever fit in.

Susan was placed in charge of the little girl on the tricycle. Anything we did for the family was met with swift reciprocity. When we did something for them, they had to do something for us. They were always giving us something, and we couldn’t afford to turn it down. We couldn’t run a risk of offending them. We ran the risk of offending them if we turned down whatever was offered us. And the more we tried to end it, the more complicated it became, and the more generous they were.

Susan felt that too much of their energy was diverted to us. I agreed and told her that I thought that they’d give us their last cup of rice. Back in Texas, that would never have been the case. I couldn’t’ think of a circumstance when it would’ve been. Now we found ourselves in an awkward position … one that was foreign to us … so much so that we didn’t know how to respond. We were caught. Our resentment took us by surprise.

We wished they weren’t so generous. And that was mainly why out of the blue one morning we walked off and left them. They never allowed us to go Dutch or accept us as equals. They always treated us like honored guests. We were always guests and they acted like we were in their home, even though we were on the road, living outside. We could never be ourselves. We felt we always had to weigh what we said before we said it. We never got beyond it.

“We have this land waiting for us,” they would say. They were moving to Mindanao without ever having seen it. They pushed and pulled their rig with all of their belongings all the way from Manila. They were promised land but what they didn’t know was that the land they were promised belonged to someone else. It was part of Morolandia.

They planned to spend only a few months on the road, but they had no idea how big the Philippines was, since they spent their entire lives in Manila. It was their big chance, they said. But the closer they got to Mindanao the more doubts they had. They wondered what kind of reception they would receive. They wondered about their new neighbors who they knew didn’t worship God in the same way as they did. So they were going to a foreign land … just as foreign as the Philippines was to us … and didn’t know what to expect.

They told us they wanted to live in peace with their neighbors, if possible without any conflict, so when they heard rumors of trouble they questioned the wisdom of their decision. They prayed to the Virgin for guidance and safety. With Her help, they thought they would get there without a hitch and so far remarkably it worked out as planned. They told us, “We know from the way things are going we have Her blessing.”

They knew by then that they had no choice but to continue. And they tried to remain optimistic, as they became more aware of difficulties they faced in Mindanao. Don’t forget we’d been to Mindanao and the Sulus and knew how Moros resented Christian “rats.” In due course, there was fighting over land both sides claimed, so migrating to Mindanao didn’t turn out to be such a good idea. But they didn’t know it then. They just heard rumors.

Arm conflict started that year in Mindanao. Unfortunately these people got caught up in it. “It was too good to be true,” I imagine they said. But it had less to do with conflict between Christians and Muslims than a massacre of Muslim young men two years before then on the island of Corregador. Jabidah became a rallying cry much in the same way as the Alamo had in Texas.

Meanwhile on Mindanao, Christians formed paramilitary groups. Then these groups attacked Muslim neighbors. Apparently they wanted more land for more Christians and to rid themselves of people they considered a menace. They tried to evict all Muslims, so Christians like this family could move in.

“The weather was perfect,” Susan said, and we couldn’t ask for more.

We left them one morning before any of them got up. We were still on Leyte, heading for Mindanao, with an eye on crossing by ferry and with enough money to get us to Malaysia and maybe Bangkok where we thought we could work.

Susan and I walked off a ferry almost ahead of everyone else and almost immediately caught the eye of a National Police officer. But on the way over to us, where we stood perfectly still, he asked the head of a Filipino family for identification. They were obviously migrants, obviously because they had their belongings bundled up in burlap sacks.

While we stood perfectly still and the police officer was asking the head of a Filipino family for identification, Susan told me to keep moving. But I wouldn’t move and told her if we did we’d look guilty. As guilty as we were. I always looked guilty. And when he finally reached us, Susan seemed so nervous that I was afraid that she would give us away, so I said, “I hope those poor people have a place to go. You can see they’re poor. They should be given a chance.”

The officer alternately looked at me and then at Susan. He was sizing us up. “There are many of them here,” he said. “Most of them are model citizens. Our job is to make sure they have proper paperwork. Speaking of such, your passports please.”

“That’s easy,” I said … said trying to seem confident. I fished our passports out of a leather pouch that I kept around my neck and under my shirt. “We want to see as much of Mindanao as possible,” I said as confidently as I could. “What hotel here would you recommend?”

He took our passports from me. Only he didn’t inspect them, but looked at Susan, as he tried to size us up.

“Before you think of a hotel, you have to come with me, but it’s only a formality,” he said. “We have rules now that we didn’t have before. Since all the trouble, we’ve had to tighten up our procedures.”

Susan wiped her brow. “I hope this is quick because I’m hungry,” she said.

We were thankful that the officer was friendly. He was indeed simply following procedure and hadn’t been on the lookout for us. He directed us to a small office not that far away.

Susan again said that she was getting hungry. He reassured her that it wouldn’t take long. He was only a private. His commander, he said, liked to meet Americans.

We knew then that there was nothing we could do but play along, so our moods improved. We didn’t enjoy going anywhere with this officer, but our moods improved. What choice did we have? And not given a choice had a calming affect.

Susan simply made a face. I wished she hadn’t made it and hoped he hadn’t seen her make it. The private apparently didn’t notice as much about our demeanor as we feared. He apparently hadn’t been trained very well or else he would’ve noticed. Perhaps officers in Mindanao had more important things to do than train. Perhaps that was why he never looked at our passports. Still, he had procedures to follow. And didn’t his superior express regret over having detained us? To hear this encouraged us.

“How long do you plan to stay in Mindanao?” the commander asked. “He shouldn’t have stopped you,” he added before I could say anything.

“With so many migrants, it must be hard to keep up with everyone. You have your work cut out for you. Anyway, we live in Manila, and I teach at the International School.” Here was Susan giving him more information that she needed to.

I made a face this time, but thank goodness the commander was looking at Susan and not me.

Susan was so honest that it took me aback when she lied with a straight face. She talked about taking students on a picnic and described what it was like spending most of her time in Makati. It was almost impossible to understand her logic. I also knew I couldn’t shut her up, though I felt embarrassed for her. I knew I didn’t have power over her and instinctively knew that if I contradicted her I would jeopardize everything. All I could do was nod my head. “The school vouched for us,” she said. “That was how we got our visas extended. Now we’re on a little vacation.” She pointed at our passports, which he now held in his hands. “Go ahead, look! I’m who I say I am, and my husband, well, he’s my husband. And I trust that you can figure it out.”

“But this is the Philippines,” he said and laughed. “As a Filipino I appreciate your frustration.”

I was silent.

He wanted to stress a point. “We’re very indebted to your country, and we’re grateful.”

“But this remains your country, and as long as we’re here, we have to abide by your laws,” I said confidently.

Since we made a point of having him look at our passports, I guess that was why he handed them back without looking at them.

I took our passports, and spoke of being impressed with Philippine hospitality.

Susan agreed. We were indeed impressed with Philippine hospitality. I couldn’t believe it. How much she lightened up.

We asked where he’d recommend we eat. He said, if he weren’t on duty he’d go with us, and we could eat lunch together. Then he said with a big grin, “What the hell!” And he went to eat with us. He said it was his duty to show us hospitality and give us more information for our trip and so forth. We then got more information for our trip than we could ever use.

During the conversation Susan said that there seemed to be a greater police presence in Mindanao than elsewhere in the Philippines. “Should we be concerned?” she asked.

“No, no, not as long as you stay out of certain places and obey the law. People have to control their inclinations,” the commander added. “It’s our job to make sure that they do.”

“At home, we don’t have to worry about crossing state lines. It seemed like you were randomly stopping people.”

“America has established institutions. The Philippines has a ways to go. Here we have keep a tight lid on things.”

“Well, then, what exactly do you do?” she asked.

“There are those who take advantage of migrants,” he said. “We have to always be on our toes.” Susan stared at him, as if she were going to jump all over him. I couldn’t believe it. “Also, we need to know who is coming to and going from Mindanao,” he said, perhaps trying to explain why we were stopped. “Migrants have waited for years, and now we see them organizing.”

We felt better after our lunch with him. He paid for it; of course, he paid for it.

Chapter Sixty-one

We were in the home of an American chemist in Mindanao’s Davao del Norte Province. “My wife … Mrs. Hines … and I first came here in 1964 … brought here by Goodyear,” he said slowly. With an indistinct accent, he came from the Midwest or the West.

I listened with great interest. I let him talk. I knew our time with him was limited, so I let him talk. I wanted to know what he knew about what was going on in Mindanao, what Goodyear was up to, whether Mr. Hines felt safe in Mindanao, and whether he and his wife planned to stay.

“But you haven’t told us if you like durian.”

“Heavenly as a flavor of ice cream, but don’t try to take it on an airplane.” He was right about its foul odor.

He never told me about his work. After several attempts to get him to talk about it, he never did. Perhaps he couldn’t say anything. Perhaps he didn’t want to say anything. Perhaps saying something would place him and his wife in jeopardy. Maybe he learned to be cautions around strangers and especially around inquisitive ones. It was another thing for him to talk about his life as an American living in the Philippines. He and his wife loved it, and they planned to live on Mindanao until he retired.

He took us on a tour, and we saw how rubber was harvested. We saw that Goodyear had a vast network of small farmers producing rubber for them. But I didn’t get a picture of a conflict, a complete picture of the conflict between these farmers (Christian “rats”) and their Muslim neighbors (Moros) until we ran into Nick again.

Susan’s letters home never mentioned this conflict either. But I kept a journal, even though keeping a journal given the political climate was dangerous. But it was worth it because the journal helped me reconstruct our experiences.

January 20
Marco Polo Hotel, Davao City
We heard a little boy sing “Hey, Jude” and couldn’t stop singing it ourselves. It seemed like everyone was singing. For the first time in days, we felt optimistic. Maybe we’ll get out of this after all.

January 21
They’re truly trying to live the American dream here: tasted Pried Chicken again. They homesteaded land that they were told they were entitled to. Looking for treasures in Mindanao: copper, rubber, bananas, and pineapple. Susan and I rode all day looking out an open window. It was a narrow, rough road, which seemed familiar to us. I wished I had a camera. We waited for the bus to fill up before it took off. Went to Cotabato. Stayed in best hotel there. Visited caves in center of city. We crossed the Rio Grande, but it wasn’t anything like the Rio Grande in Texas. It was uncanny indeed to cross the Rio Grande in the Philippines. Susan’s family, when she was a girl, always went to Big Bend and camped next to the Rio Grande. I don’t know how many times they crossed over into Mexico. We ate great crabs and prawns before we turned in.

January 22
Hotel Filipino, Cotabato, Mindanao
We planned to hike the lower slopes of Mt. Apo. We wanted to hire a taxi to take us to a rain forest on the slopes, but we couldn’t get anyone to take us.

January 23
Unfortunately, four days ago, the ILAGA (a Christian militia), with help from the Philippine Constabulary, massacred Muslims in a small town named Alamada. I understand that Alamada is on the way to Mt. Apo. Wow! That was a close call … too close for confront. We were warned to stay away from the rain forest and the volcano. Supposedly killing had just started. Killing had just started, but there was little evidence of it and who was involved. It looked very much like the work of ILAGA. And Marcos was blamed. Because of the constabulary’s involvement, Marcos was blamed. Naturally people were thinking about leaving their homes, but where could they go? The town wasn’t prepared for refugees, and people there were naturally nervous. Most of the day we spent in our room reading our novels. We wanted to at least see Mt. Apo, and I bought a cheap camera to take photographs of it.

January 24
Enjoying simply pleasures of married life.

January 25
Susan fought an attack of Montezuma’s revenge today, fair enough because she drank water.

January 26
Today we planned to stay out of sight again, while intending to leave Cotabato tomorrow. A harry experience considering the WC was down the hall. I kept my fingers crossed, but it didn’t help Susan

January 27
Left early. The coast was clear. Could’ve skipped out, if we’d wanted to. If Susan hadn’t gotten better, we would’ve looked for a doctor. It’s not worth taking a chance.

During breakfast, we learned more about ILAGA and how Christians were given land while many Muslims remained out of luck. Their beef, along with the massacre, seemed real enough. “Oh, my!” Add a massacre on Corregidor. (Remember the Alamo!) Worse still, we heard of Muslims losing their land and homes through manipulation. Government agencies were in cahoots with Christian settlers, while we hoped government agencies were too overwhelmed to bother us. Up until then we hadn’t seen any violence, but obviously we heard about it. And obviously it became very complicated for us, because people on both sides befriended us.

Had also heard about Marcos’ scheme of turning Rio Grande Valley into an agricultural and corporate haven.

Went to Lourdes Grotto at Tamontaka looking for information about Fr. Deon. The Oblates constructed a simple shrine there to foster devotion to the Virgin. Since we were not Catholic, the shrine interested us more for its connection with the Oblates than as a place of worship. We plan to return to Bongao and see Fr. Deon.

In the afternoon, Susan and I left Cotabato by bus. Said goodbye to grotto and Via Crucis (the Way of the Cross). Father Sin said that they had big plans for the 14.4 wooded hectors surrounding the shrine, which someday he said he hoped would include a creation park. Believe or not, he envisioned building dinosaurs and other creatures that roamed the earth millions of years ago. We lunched with Father Sin. Susan and I had a camera by then and took a variety pictures of grotto and a very proud priest.
Along the route from Cotabato to Zamboanga, we saw evidence of violence, but we didn’t see any of it. Much propaganda was devoted to winning converts and strengthening positions by each side; matching violence with violence, outdoing each other’s atrocities, for which they received ample press: stories such as the one about illiterate Christian vigilantes eating mutilated innards of captured Moros. We heard so much that we became numb. We didn’t know the truth or who to believe, and we were numb. Some stories clearly seem exaggerated. Then we saw houses burned to the ground, rows of houses smoldering and knew what happened. This we decided was hard evidence. By then we had not only heard about the massacre of Alamanda but also of more looting, more destruction, and more killing. But all of it needed to be confirmed before we accepted it.

More massacres took place in other locations such as Carmen and Manili, both near Cotabato and happen around when we were there. And whichever side you may have been on, there were always calls for justice, and if not justice, revenge. Throughout Cotabato Province del Norte, we observed and heard talked about atrocities.

From what I can recall, our bus stopped at several checkpoints or was stopped several times by soldiers along this stretch. Each time, a couple of soldiers went through the bus, looking for something or someone. They asked for everyone’s papers, in our case, our passports. A few times they dragged someone off, but we tried not to pay attention. And it seemed to work. We obviously weren’t Filipinos. They singled out Moros, when I would think they’d be looking for Christians. They enjoyed looking big and strong. We never looked them in the eye…looking out a window helped us stay calm. It was hard for us to know what was going on because they spoke only a local dialect … rarely did they say anything in English. Papers and passports were exchange with few words, dictated by who the person was and where he or she was going. We were told they were looking for troublemakers, people they knew or knew about. Each time we were scared. Like I said, I always looked guilty even when I was not. We were always careful not to say too much.

At one stop, they told everyone to get off the bus. It was an order everyone obeyed without debate. We were afraid we were being kidnapped.

“How can we afford to leave our belongings on the bus?” Susan asked. I admitted that it wasn’t wise, but when I started to grab our backpacks, I was told to leave them behind. We knew that on a trip that we shouldn’t become separated from our belongings even for a minute.

They were all masked and heavily armed with machine guns.

“Oh, my!” Susan exclaimed. “This ain’t good.”

“No, shit!” Here we were in Mindanao in what looked like a war zone, and people who cared about us didn’t know where we were …and we couldn’t do a damn thing about it. (A situation had to be dire for me to swear.) “But they’re not after us,” I said.

I couldn’t get Susan to see that they weren’t after us. No matter how hard I tried to reassure her, she thought we were being kidnapped or something worse was about to happen.

“Oh God!” she said. “They’re going to kill us.”

Because of their masks identifying them was impossible, which I think helped us stay out of the legal game. Having to be part of a long drawn out investigation and trial was the last thing we wanted … to be mired down in something like it. Afterwards I felt discouraged and knew we needed to get off the bus, before it reached Zamboanga.

Later, I realized that they never touch us, while they were rough with Filipinos they singled out. We didn’t fully understood what was going on. And through it all we tried to remain aloof. We were in a survival mode and tried to remain aloof. And more in a survival mode than a sympathetic one. We survived, weren’t dead yet, but couldn’t breathe easily until we were out of the country. Until then, we were scared much of the time and feared the worse.

Throughout the ordeal, I was careful to speak very slowly (who knew how much English anyone spoke?) slowly, in simple sentences, and tried to be as respectful as possible. At one point, a member of the gang admired my shirt and wanted me to give it to him. My first instinct was to resist, but then Susan took my hand as if she meant to keep me in line. Thinking about it now it’s hard to explain why we weren’t killed.

Every time we saw them march some poor fellow off, we felt sure we would be next. Except for that … except for their machine guns and hoods that hid their faces, they were almost hospitable. Other than scaring us to death, they didn’t harm us.

As Americans, we weren’t supposed to be there … weren’t supposed to be in the area …. weren’t supposed be on that bus, but we were, but since we were I believe they altered their plans. I believe a bunch of people weren’t massacred because we were on that bus.

All this took a while. They didn’t seem to be in a hurry. They hadn’t planned for us to be on the bus. Not knowing what to do next, and because we were on the bus, it took a while. Then while some men relieved themselves on the tires of the bus, women were given privacy, as they squatted and peed beside the road. They talked to Susan and me as they allowed most of the people to get back on the bus. It should be noted that our backpacks weren’t touched.

Chapter Sixty-two

Between towns, between Cotabato and Pagadian, riding near the back of a bus, Susan and I looked at each other and questioned why we were spared. We were sure all of us were going to be killed. And we wondered if the nightmare was over. We also wonder why the bus driver and the conductor acted like nothing happened. They were with us throughout the ordeal, stood around, and did nothing to stop the ILAGA gang, and afterwards acted like nothing happened. Maybe there wasn’t anything they could’ve done, but we weren’t sure. We weren’t sure of anything.

“What do you suppose their role in this was?” I asked Susan, as if she had a better sense of it than I did. The conductor eventually checked on us with genuine concern. Formal, as always, he addressed us as Mister and Mrs..

When we got off the bus at Pagadian, police immediately took the driver and the conductor into custody. They told us that they were looking for people who held up the bus but said nothing about kidnapping or killing. Police were waiting for the bus. It seemed odd that police were waiting for the bus.

“What do we have to do now?” I asked a police officer. “We just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“We need a statement from you. As witnesses, your statements may be useful. You never know. You can bet we’ll catch them. We were awarded the best police force of the year.”

“My wife and I didn’t know the situation here when we planned our vacation. She teaches at the International School in Manila.” I was afraid to tell him I was journalist. “We’ve been so busy that we haven’t had a chance to get out of Manila much.”

“My oldest daughter, Qiu, and my third child, Bia, are now living in Manila. It’s not unusual for children to move away from here to go to school. And surely you’re well aware of trouble we’re having at universities up there, and with what is going on around here, it shows that none of us are immune.”

“You said this wouldn’t take long. Let’s get on with it.”

“It’s true that I said this wouldn’t take long, but I don’t know how long it will take … no telling given the seriousness of this incident. Still we won’t be able to complete our investigation without your cooperation. This is not America, where I’m sure things move along quicker. It may surprise you that our system is the same as yours. But you don’t need to worry because you’re both considered victims.”

“Well then I’m relieved; we both are. Why I’m sure most of the other passengers can give you more information than we can because we don’t speak the dialect. It made it hard for us to know what was going on.”

“It’s a pity.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I am too.

“As foreigners, it was so confusing.”

“I’m sure it was.”

He was trying to be polite, and we were too. He seemed to repeat himself. I don’t know if he believed everything we told him, and there wasn’t much we could add to what he already knew. We knew very little then about Christian vigilante groups such as the Magnificent Seven or the ILAGA gang (otherwise known as Christian rats). And I certainly didn’t want him to know that I was a journalist and had anything to do with unrest in Manila. Susan later said to Nick, “Imagine the trouble we would’ve been in had he found out.”

It took them some time to get back to us. Meanwhile, as they interviewed other surviving passengers, we worried and worried. What if they somehow they found out about our immigration problems! Luckily, they didn’t ask for our passports. “It’s the last thing we should be worried about,” I said. “They’d only deport us then.”

“Do you even know how many there were?” Susan asked.

“No, there were more than ten and less than fifteen, but I can’t be sure. We can’t be sure of anything. They didn’t act like Christians.”

“Do you think they killed all those people they dragged off? I like to think that they weren’t killed. Christians are more civilized than that. Christians and Muslims should be able to live together.” Then she started to cry.

A police captain invited us to his house for the evening, where his wife fixed us wonderful Chinese food: Hunan we were told.

At dinner, it became quite clear that he wanted us to spend the night, something we couldn’t turn down. It meant getting involve, more involved than we wanted to be. It was an awkward situation, but if we turned him down it would’ve been more awkward than it was. It seemed strange. It seemed awkward. What did he want? What was he after? As an investigator of the case and our host the whole time we were in Pagadian, he kept us in the dark.

Suspicious me. I’m sure there was more to it than a show of hospitality. For them to share their home for a night, not to mention a week, was more than we had a right to expect. We wondered if we needed a lawyer, but you don’t jump into a fire before you have to. The problem was that we just didn’t know.

We tried to keep from talking about the case, but our host couldn’t avoid it. He said something about not wanting to risk his career by allowing us to go before they finished the investigation. Susan called it “house arrest.”

We eventually discussed the conflict, and our host (of Chinese decent) said that he would prefer not to be in the middle of it, and that from what he’d seen no one could win.

Every morning, after breakfast, he escorted us to the police station. “Are you and the Mrs. Christians?” he asked one day.

“I don’t know about her,” I said, “but I’m an Adventist, if I’m pressed.”

By Saturday, we were still discussing the conflict.

“All hell has broken loose all over Mindanao and up to now you can blame it mostly on Christians,” our host said. “But I refuse to take sides. I can’t afford to.”

Susan tried to stay out of it as much as possible. So measuring her response, she said, “With its climate, its history, and its attractions … a bay, islands, a beach, hot and cold springs, waterfalls and caves … Pagadian has a lot to offer tourist.” It seemed like that the more we concentrated on the conflict the more she talked about the good time she was having.

She also quietly helped around the home, helped in every suitable way with shopping and cleaning. She jumped right in there with all of her energy and enjoyed herself when we were shown the sights.

“There’s no use waiting for something that isn’t going to happen,” she said. “They’ll never finish their investigation.”

And I found an Adventist church, mostly for show. Susan wouldn’t go. She said my conversion was crap. Given the circumstances, I should’ve been worried about being a Christian and felt it would be easier if I were not when our Chinese host made it clear that he was Buddhist. He wasn’t, however, consoled by his faith, as he saw more and more death and destruction. It was part of his job, death and destruction. Death and destruction didn’t suit him.

Pagadian, we are the Best Police Force of the Year
Most of the time in Pagadian, Susan and I acted like typical American tourist. I had my cheap camera. But sometimes we felt like we were an attraction, just as we had been in many other places.

Pagadian was considered the Hong Kong of the Philippines, and our hosts made sure we didn’t forget it. They took us out to eat almost every night. They entertained us at the very best Chinese restaurants, which reminded us of experiences with Nick and Vincente, particularly on Mabini Street. (Cantonese was better in Manila while Hunan was better in Pagadian.) But everything we did in Pagadian seemed clouded or tainted … clouded or tainted by an on-going investigation, by hooded men with machine guns, the ILAGA gang or the Magnificent Seven, conflict between Christians and Muslims, and Marcos’ heavy-handedness … we couldn’t get it out of our heads. There were so many questions and very few answers. What happened to those people who were taken away? Were they tortured and murdered? Tortured and murdered? We never learned. All we were left with were rumors and more rumors … rumors that spread like wildfire. And it seemed like the whole point of rumors was to create a maelstrom that would inflame Muslims as much as possible. Rumors, rumors, rumors. We often couldn’t sleep because of rumors.

Like cutting off ears. Like slashing nipples, plucking out eyes, and carving crosses into chests. We were never free. Our thoughts were never free the whole time we were in Pagadian. Fear of torture, fear of murder and rape, fear of these three things took our freedom away. Still we tried to act normal, while we felt like we were under house arrest.

Could we rely on the police? Or the military? That was when a man has to do what he has to do, must must do to protect himself and his family.

Then this was confirmed by a series of massacres that we got wind of .. information from Muslims we met. The first massacre we heard about was a massacre of some 71 Muslims in Alamanda. It was said to have been the work of Philippine soldiers and shouldn’t have been blamed on Christian rats. After hearing this, Susan said we had to get out of there. She also needed a sedative. And I went and got it for her. I didn’t need a prescription for it. I needed a drink but never imagined that parts of Pagadin were dry. Our host took me to a back-alley establishment that also served as a black market for pesos where I could also get a drinking permit that as a foreigner I was entitled to anyway.

Finally, we were let go. We answered all their questions. We were interrogated over and over again, and we answered all their questions, but they never found out about our immigration problems. It was evident that we were under house arrest … that we weren’t free to go, and that we were surely tailed. Yet we were treated royally. So it had to have been a ruse. Still it was better than being locked up in jail.

At one point, the wife of our host happened to mention the investigation.

“Bia (her husband) told me that he thought the military would be taking over,” she said. “But I wouldn’t worry.” She added, “There’s no need to worry. You’re safe with us. Bia likes you.

This didn’t make Susan feel any better, nor did it me when she told me about it.

We stayed in our room that morning, trying to figure out what we should do, then emerged trying to look as relaxed as possible. “It’s a beautiful day. We thought we’d sleep in.” “Sleep in!” I wondered afterwards if this excuse worked because up until then we had been early risers. We were prepared for the worst. I went on, “A little too much partying last night.”

“It’s okay, okay, okay,” Bia said. “There’s nothing big happening with the case today.
And it’s not nine o’clock yet.”

“There has to be a way,” Susan said to me privately. “We don’t have to take our clothes with us.”

Once she started obsessing, I couldn’t stop her. The only idea we came up with was to pretend that we were going to the beach for the day and then hire a boat to take us somewhere. We didn’t have a map. We didn’t have a map, so we didn’t know if it would work. Susan was eager to give it a try, but her eagerness needed to be restrained. We needed to make sure we knew where we were going.

After breakfast, Bia told us that there had been a change of plans, but he wouldn’t say what the change was. He had just come back from his office in a hurry and had their maid help us pack. It wasn’t much of a job.

Back in our room, with the maid, Susan was about to jump out the window…and would’ve if I hadn’t restrained her…she said she had a bad feeling about this.

“What’s a little jail time,” I said. “Since we’re Americans, they won’t do anything else to us.”

I remembered how Nick was held at Fort Bonifacio and sacrifices Elaine made…the cost of it all, the anguish and heartache. My father would have an expression for it, such as “shit happens” and it strengthened me. I felt sorry for Susan. She hadn’t asked for any of this, while island hopping was my idea. I decided that in the future that I needed to listen to her.

We later learned that the military took over the investigation the next morning. By then Susan and I were well on way to Zamboanga. Well on our way … we were unexpectedly given our freedom, and our host Bia arranged it.

Chapter Sixty-three
Susan and I didn’t feel safer after leaving Pagadian. It was on a bus, after all, where we encountered the ILAGA gang. And we were back on a bus.

It didn’t seem like there had been enough effort put into finding and stopping the bad guys, whoever the bad guys were. There didn’t seem to have been any progress made the whole time we were under house arrest in Pagadian, or any progress that we could see. And I think that we were a target … definitely a target, and we would’ve been charged with drummed up charges, if we stayed. It wouldn’t have been hard for them to come up with something given our status in the country … since we were fugitives.

Here we rode along less sure of ourselves than ever before. And we were traveling through a dangerous area … traveling through a dangerous area during a conflict Muslims consider their holocaust. This was before ethnic cleansing was talked about. We saw it through a bus window before it was talked about and weren’t sure what to make of it.

Neither were we sure we would make it to Zamboanga, but from there I felt sure with our contacts we could still sneak out the backdoor of the Philippines. It still seemed our best option, the best one we had. And Bia reassured us that we wouldn’t face any problems in Zamboanga. According to him Zamboanga was safe. I wasn’t sure he knew what he was talking about. I don’t know how he knew. Still he reassured us. I don’t know how he knew police or military wouldn’t be waiting for us at the bus station. Before placing us on a bus, he gave each of us travel documents, which he said would keep us out of trouble. How did he know?

A fellow passenger introduced himself to us. He said he lived in Zamboanga and went back to Davao to check on his family. He offered us a place to stay, but we told him that we didn’t plan to stay long in the city and already had reservations at our favorite hotel on the plaza…the truth was we needed time to unwind away from people. We wanted to get away … to spend time alone and thought a room in our favorite hotel in Zamboanga was our best chance for it. We had been in constant contact with people for too long and knew it. After more than a week of living with a family, Susan and I had begun to bark at each other.

In Zamboanga, like I said, we wanted to spend time in familiar surroundings. We knew the hotel. We stayed there before. We had a room picked out before we got there. It looked out over Plaza Pershing.

Susan wanted to go shopping. There were personal items she had run out of. And we hadn’t done any of our Christmas shopping. Christmas slipped by us. We hadn’t thought about it. Christmas slipped by us without our buying obligatory presents for our families back home. We forgot our families. It was good to be reminded of them.

Want, want, wants! Susan wanted to revise our plans. Though she wanted time with me alone, she wanted her family more. She suddenly wanted to turn Zamboanga into a holiday destination, unwind, and then turn herself in. She said she didn’t care what I did. She wanted to turn herself in. I didn’t believe her. I knew strain had gotten to her. It got to me too. I also knew that more than anything we wanted to feel safe.

It felt like since we left Manila we’d lived a lifetime. Susan said she missed our apartment, our maid Linda, and admitted that she hadn’t wanted to leave. She said it before. I heard her say that she didn’t want to leave before we left, but this time when she said it she said it differently. Or maybe I listened. I don’t know.

But we didn’t have a choice. No, that wasn’t true. We had a choice. We always had had a choice. We chose to stay and then were forced to flee. Run. Run, run, run. We’d been running for a long time. We needed to unwind. We saw too much and didn’t want to see any more. We wanted to disappear and stayed in our room as much as possible. Christmas would have to wait a little longer. Our families would have wait. We blamed it on the mail.

How did we spend the week? Nick asked us how we spent the week … a glorious week in a hotel across from Plaza Pershing. Nothing. Or we did as little as possible. Nick asked us in the course of our reunion at the Lantaka Hotel. When he knocked on our door at the Lantaka, Susan wasn’t happy to see him. (I caved in to Susan’s request, and we took a room at the Lantaka Hotel for one last fling.) Eager as I was to see him again, both of us resented his intrusion. However, it was a fair question. How did we spend the week? The week we spent in the Plaza Hotel (Zamboanga) was less than romantic.

We started out spending most of the day in bed, and there we paid dues to each other, but we didn’t need to.

“And then what does he do?” Susan indicated that she was talking about me.

“I didn’t do anything, I swear. When we were coming and going, mainly to and from a washroom, we noticed a group of young men staying in the room next to ours. Moros, I believe. They prayed five times a day, so I’d say they were devout. There were seven of them … seven in one room and you can imagine how often we heard them traipse back and forth, to and from the washroom … heard them splashing water and bathing.”

“And don’t think he wasn’t curious?”

“No, not at all. No, not me,” I said. “I never saw them fully dressed. They checked out in the middle of the night. Only in their sarongs. They were meeting; and their discussions lasted well into the night. They weren’t exceptionally loud, but our common wall (or partition) unfortunately didn’t reach the ceiling, so we heard everything.”

“And would my husband complain?”

“No, why complain? It wouldn’t have done any good to complain. Susan could’ve complained, but she left it up to me. After complaining to me, she admitted to me that she was afraid to.”

The students: in a room next to ours recently returned home from UP, of all places, but why were they spending so much time together, I had to know. It was the journalist in me, so I had to know what they were up to. Because I’m a journalist, I had more than a voyeur’s interest in everything that was going on. What brought them there … what brought them home?”

“I don’t think I was ever so glad to get a break from Ted, as when I decided to go Christmas shopping. Before then I looked for excuses to leave our room, while Ted wanted to stay there and listen to them. They didn’t drink. They weren’t partying. So it was clear to me that they weren’t there to have a good time. Seven young men in a room, and they weren’t there to have a good time. In no way did I approve of Ted listening, but they didn’t try to tone it down. The atmosphere in there was far from amiable.”

I couldn’t believe that they were openly committing an act of sedition. Sedition was an old fashion word but seemed to apply. I thought they were stupid and didn’t understand why they weren’t more hush-hush about it. In America, sedition hardly exists. There are laws on the books, sure, but people like us, who enjoy freedom, rarely get charged with it. I’m no authority, but I don’t remember when someone was charged with sedition in the States. “Nick, you should’ve been around,” I said. “You may know them or have seen them on campus. You and they certainly share many ideas. You’re that close. But I don’t think they would accept you. Back on campus, it seems like you were given a chance. I heard them talk about their experiences at UP”

It wasn’t hard to guess who the students were. I didn’t need to see them in black T-shirts. But I couldn’t have been more wrong about Nick and his ability to infiltrate the Moro movement. I ended up with egg on my face and had to admit that I was wrong. It would be over in less than a month.

For weeks Nick dodged the Secret Police Service, a heterogeneous band that had been around since Spanish times. It didn’t make sense to me. Why were they still after him? What had he done to draw attention to himself? There were many questions left unanswered that bothered me. We were both on a list, I assumed. And it didn’t make any difference that he was detained before. But now who would get him out? Who would take Elaine’s place? And what was he doing in Mindanao? What was I doing in Mindanao? What would’ve happened had he returned to the university?

“What if you get killed,” I once asked him.

“I’m not going to get killed.”

“Would it be worth it? Would it make a difference?”

“I’m not going to get killed. And if I did, well … everyone … ”


When he returned to his apartment after his release, he found that his place was searched and ransacked. He knew for sometime that he was under surveillance but never understood why he was such a high priority. (Just as I didn’t understand why I was a target.) He wasn’t Professor Nur Misuari, founder of the Moro National Liberation Front or Professor Jose Maria Sison, founder of the Philippine Communist Party. He was small fry in a huge frying pan.

But Nick took his situation in stride. “One can’t hold onto things. If I had been that way, I would never have left Central Luzon.”

“Why leave UP? There’s still a lot of action there. Where students and faculty are standing up to Marcos everyday, there’s still a lot to be done.”

“I had a choice. Just like you I had a choice. We have choices. Things will work out. They always do. Well, sometimes they do. I had a choice. This is where I choose to be. A while ago, who would’ve thought I would be on the side of Moros, and in Mindanao, or that I would run into you two again, at no less than the Lantaka Hotel, after we said goodbye and said we probably would never see each other again.”

So that was how things were.

Chapter Sixty-four
Back in America, President Nixon answered questions as to why the space shuttle program was the right step for the country. He told the nation that we should proceed at once and develop a new space transportation system. “Practical space utilization” and “valuable spin-offs” were phrases he used. About then, in Zamboanga, a fifteen-year-old Muslim girl came out of Mass with her Christian grandmother.

As they sat on a bench in Plaza Pershing, Susan stood nearby, buying a cup of fruit for herself. As soon as she paid for it and starting eating mango and pineapple with a toothpick, she noticed the girl with her head covered and the older woman with a crucifix around her neck, and said, “Excuse me, but I’m confused. I’d like to believe what I’m seeing. Do you know each other, or are you strangers sharing a bench?”

Susan was thrilled, and, as she said, puzzled. That Christians and Muslims could be related seemed impossible to her, but it wasn’t uncommon in Mindanao. Intermarriage between Christians and Muslims was common. It turned out that the girl’s mother married a Muslim, which again surprised Susan.

As soon as she got back to our room, Susan had to tell me about it. And she said it offered a ray of hope. This led to a long conversation about Muslims revering Jesus, without accepting His divinity. “I’m sure there are people who are trying to bring the two groups together,” she said, and one person that came to my mind was Fr. Deon, the Oblate serving Bongao. This led to something else. “We may be running out of time.” I know the phrase “running out of time” sounded ominous. Susan said that she thought it was too bad we had to leave the Philippines. And said she wished that I hadn’t become involved with Nick. She told me she was frightened.

I brought up the India-Pakistan crisis. I don’t know why I brought up the India-Pakistan crisis because we weren’t thinking about going to either country.

“You know, Ted,” she said. “I don’t enjoy your company very much anymore. You’re never satisfied with one crisis. It’s like you’re looking for trouble.” Also she said, if she had it to do over again, she wouldn’t have taken off with me to parts unknown …she wouldn’t let me lead her around, and she wouldn’t be so dependent.

She didn’t seem convincing to me, but I had no way of figuring it out. I had no way of knowing how she really felt. But I thought I knew her.

“I should’ve insisted you get a real job. I should’ve put my foot down.”

It was clear then that she wouldn’t tolerate much more, so I very diplomatically told her that I understood. Telling her I understood seemed like the right thing to do. I also realized she wanted me to protect her. She was scared and wanted me to protect her. I could see she was scared and was starting to act defeated. But then she found something…such as a Muslim girl going to Mass with her Christian grandmother…to hang onto.

“Why don’t you go back to the States and be without me for a while?” I said. “Maybe a sabbatical would do you good.”

“That’s a terrible idea,” she said. And perhaps she recalled how much she missed me the few times we were separated. But we couldn’t stay in Zamboanga, where stress was taking its toll … where we constantly bickered and when just getting through January seemed monumental.

“Ted, I wanted to get pregnant. You knew I wanted to get pregnant, didn’t you? We always said we wanted children. We’ve talked about. You’ve agreed. Maybe being in a different setting would help. Having a baby would add … would add a dimension that we don’t have now.”

“If you say so,” I found myself saying. “But what about the child? Are we mature enough for one?”

“Sure. Look how we’ve survived … survived so far. I’ve heard you say we’re not dead yet.”

“I thought you said that you were glad you weren’t pregnant. I thought we agreed to wait until we were more stable.”

“A baby could be a stabilizer.”

It was true. Having a baby would change everything. But I sensed that this conversation had nothing to do with Susan getting pregnant. “But we better cure the traveling bug before we have children.”

“That’s what I mean. It’s sensible. I thought we were a team. Ted, I don’t know how I could get along without you.”

I almost said “having a baby is not the answer,” but then I realized that it was dumb. If Susan were pregnant we would be delighted. If we had a child we would adapt. But it didn’t necessary mean we would have to give up our dreams. We would have to plan, though I hated planning. We would have to factor a child into the equation.

Susan had her own ideas … ideas about what it would mean (not surprisingly). I had my own ideas too, so there was nothing to be gain from discussing it. It wouldn’t change anything, or make us feel better. So it was better not talk about it. It was better not to bring certain topics. We better not bring up certain topics and maybe argue about it. I didn’t like disagreement, so it was better to avoid certain topics. Why bring up certain topics when we knew we would disagree. We were both changing, and can’t a person change his or her mind? What I didn’t realize was that she wouldn’t confront me until we reached a safe harbor somewhere.

“If we can agree on a place, I would be willing to settle almost anywhere,” she was saying. “As long as we stay put.”

“Whatever,” I said, without really agreeing.

But first things first. First we had to get out Zamboanga and the Philippines without getting killed. Too much was at stake to worry about anything else. And we knew we couldn’t dally. Now this was something we thoroughly discussed; something we hadn’t done before. We decided that we would spend a minimum amount of time with Nick and then make our way through the Sulus, as if we were typical tourists. Then I came up with the idea that Nick might want to leave the Philippines with us. Then he could go to the States, locate Elaine, and … It was an idea I had. I even thought of bringing it up when …

We bought our boat tickets in advance, two tickets, both ways, to and from Sitangkai, so that it would look like we planned to stay on the same boat and return on it to Zamboanga. We would make our escape from Sitangkai, the furthermost port. But where was Nick? It meant we’d have to cross the hazardous Sibutu Passage. But it seemed like it would work. Where was Nick?

“We could get kill,” she said.

“We could get kill walking across a street. Let’s not panic,” I said. “We haven’t left Zamboanga yet, and you’re panicking.” Where was Nick?

“I don’t want to meet death yet. I want to have children.”

“Susan …” Where was Nick?

We picked up our tickets at the port, which left us with enough pesos to get us to Sitangkai. We had enough pesos so that we wouldn’t have to sponge off Nick or anyone else. It was settled. We were leaving the Philippines. We would leave through the backdoor. In Sitangkai, we would hire a small boat. We made sure we had enough pesos to hire small boat in Sitankai to take us across the dangerous Sibutu passage. We wouldn’t worry about crossing the border legally. Now we had a few days left before our boat was scheduled to leave Zamboanga. So we had enough time to say our good-byes. But where was Nick?

On the day we bought our tickets, mail finally caught us via post restante c/o the post office in Zamboanga. Along with mail we hoped for, there was an old cable from my mother. Even before I opened it, I became very nervous.

“Son,” it said. “Since there was a telegraph strike and we couldn’t pinpoint where you were, we went ahead and buried you father. He died very quickly. In less than a week, he was dead, died of pancreatic cancer. He hadn’t been sick before.” I read it several times before I handed it to Susan. There was also a letter. The letter arrived at the same time the telegram did.

Marfa, Texas
January 2, 1972
My dearest son,
I have bad news. To have to write to you about your father’s death is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. I hope you understand that we tried to contact you before your dad died, but he didn’t linger long enough and the telegraph people conspired against us.

In terms of the estate, I would be happy to send you a copy of the will. You are a beneficiary, next in line to me. I don’t understand why I’m writing about this now.

I am holding onto some of your father’s personal belongings for you. He wanted you to have them. On the other hand, it would be perfectly understandable if you didn’t want them, considering your situation and how storage for you is a problem.

We can find comfort in that your father didn’t suffer for long and is now buried in a plot with other veterans and within the shadow of Old Glory. I will be buried next to him.

With all my love and now sadness,

I no longer remember the rest of that day as I stumbled through it. I’m thankful that I had Susan with me. We almost forgot our differences. It was like we reached a crossroads.

Chapter Sixty-five
When we saw Nick walking toward us waving, we were sitting on the patio at Zantaka Hotel. We were sitting at a table facing the Sulu Sea watching boys dive for dimes. We were sitting with our backs to Nick when we heard him yell. We were glad to see Nick because we never expected to see him again.

It was not only unexpected but also exciting, at least to me, to see him. I still wanted to suggest to him that he come with us … that he leave the Philippines and search for Elaine in the States. The odds of our running into Nick, it seemed, were next to impossible. It wasn’t planned. The odds of him leaving with us were even slimmer. And I wasn’t sure it was worth bringing up.

The timing seemed implausible. It couldn’t have been a coincidence. We usually didn’t eat at Zantaka because it was so expensive, but ambiance seduced us. Sharing a moonlit table overlooking the Sulu Sea sounded so romantic. Then Nick showed up. You may remember we met the American fisherman (David) from Basilan and his Philippine girlfriend there. Remembered Nick was with us that evening.

To be perfectly honest, Nick was on my mind when Susan and I decided to stay at the Zantaka (though we couldn’t afford it). I knew Nick would be in Zamboaga, so fate didn’t have much to do with it. For Susan to be skeptical was a given. It would be hard for her to believe that Nick and I hadn’t planned it. One could hardly blame her for being skeptical, or blame her for being suspicious and angry.

As the evening progressed, we discovered that Nick hadn’t lost his revolutionary zeal; to use the word zeal was an understatement. So he dismissed the idea of leaving the Philippines and going with us. Instead, he talked about taking up residency on nearby Basilan. There was no mention of Elaine.

Nick had definitely changed. I could sense it. Susan and I saw it. We saw it as Nick drank. We all drank too much, and along with it there was a whole lot of gloom. This was around the time opponents to Marcos, members of the liberal party, planned a campaign rally at Plaza Miranda back in Manila. The bombing at the rally in August caused nine deaths and injured ninety-five others. Almost everyone on the stage was injured, including Sergio Osmena Jr., a son of a former president, Sergio Osmena, Sr. Marcos took the opportunity to seize emergency powers, suspend writ of habeas corpus, a prelude to declaring Martial Law.

Susan later said that she felt like we were ganging up on her. She hadn’t wanted me to get involved with Nick again. My doing so she feared could delay our departure, or worse it could place us more in jeopardy than we already were. I didn’t see it that way. Instead the reporter in me saw a good story, but I was beginning to question my objectivity.

I felt I crossed the line of objectivity before then … that I got too involved, and instead of being an observer, I became a participant in the bloody demonstration in front of the Congress building. It was a defining moment for me, just as it had been a defining moment for everyone involved. Afterwards, I sounded more like a propagandist than a reporter. Nor could I reassure myself that I wouldn’t join Nick in Mindanao and Sulu.

I couldn’t help but be curious. My instincts came into play. If I ended up dead, I felt it would be for a worthy cause. At the same time, I knew that it wasn’t my fight. And I had Susan to think about.

Could I run? I had been running all my life. I’m thinking here of my Filipino friends: especially Nick. They all seemed willing to sacrifice so much. But it wasn’t my country. Take Nick. Goodness! There were then over two hundred students who were ready to launch the Moro National Liberation Front and openly declare secession … and waiting for a spark, which Marcos soon provided.

I’ve often wondered where we would be had we not met Elpidio. We had been on Basilan with him. I went back to see him. And I’ve always thought it was remarkable that he and Nick joined forces when they did. A star pupil of Mao hooked up with a star pupil of an oblate friar. They also became friends.

“Elpidio and Nick were both patriots,” Fr. Deon later told me. He explained how his star pupil always defended the Moro cause. He always defended the Moro cause, even though he hadn’t always been a radical. Fr. Deon always knew the boy would become a leader, and indeed he became one. He had to be a star…not only in a classroom but also on a soccer field. Encouragement played a part … Fr. Deon’s encouragement. If it hadn’t been for Fr Deon’s encouragement, Elpidio probably wouldn’t have gone to MSU, regardless of how bright he was.

“Are you patriotic?” Nick asked me. “Could you be, if it weren’t for Vietnam?” Remember my closest friend died in Vietnam.

“No. I’m not sure that I am.”

I asked how he found Elpidio.

“It was easy, and the risk wasn’t very great. Basilan isn’t that big and Elpidio wasn’t hard to find. He has a base near Isabela, and he’s quite famous on Basilan. Everyone knows him or knows of him. And police and military don’t seem interest in him. I don’t know if it will change, but they’re not interested now. Elpidio is planning accordingly. Anyway, I’ve decided to stay with him, partly because I believe in his mission.”

The ILAGA gang was at it again, killing and mutilating Muslims. You couldn’t blame the Moros for their reaction. It had the look and feel of an all-out war, so the reporter in me kicked in. Whoa! Take a moment. Think! You’re not dead yet. Think! It’s not your country. It’s not your country. We had bought our tickets, and the backdoor of the Philippines wasn’t very far away. So leave! As planned. Leave!

Elpidio and Nick seemed destined to become legends. And the way they were going they seemed destined to live short lives. I should’ve seen it. I think I saw it. I saw it. They were destined to live short lives and come to a tragic end. It wasn’t my destiny. I wasn’t dead yet, and I had Susan to think about. And we wanted to have children.

Had it been a waste of time? Was it a terrible waste? And it seemed sad to me, and I could’ve easily gotten caught up in it. Even sensible people got caught up in things that were out of their control and out of their reach … none of their business. It wasn’t my country. Even careful people find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. I didn’t go to the demonstration in front of the Congress building with any intention of getting involved. I went as a reporter.

There had been other times too like being on a bus that was almost hijacked, surviving it and feeling afterwards guilty. We ran into Nick just as we were leaving the Philippines. How did he know where we were? Susan was certainly suspicious. Nevertheless, Basilan, up until then, was relatively quiet. Even with the ILAGA menace, it was relative quiet, and this allowed Nick and me to reassure Susan. “It’s safe,” I said.

Nick was the most militant and strident of the two. The story of his trip to China preceded him to Basilan. When he arrived he was immediately given respect because of the trip. He soon however acknowledged that the Moro struggle was different from the one he had been involved in Central Luzon and Manila and had nothing to do with communism. Nick was strong, ruthless, and honest and seemed to be always on the go. Elpidio, on the other hand, suffered from inner turmoil. Because of his connection with the Norte Dame school on Bongao and Fr. Deon, he took attacks of Christians very personally, and while he defended the Oblates whenever he could. His problem was evident, and I wondered how it would play out.

I wouldn’t have long to wait. 1971 is generally recognized as the start of the Moro War on Mindanao and the Sulus.

By then Nick was a very close friend of mine. One of the last memories of him I have was seeing him wrapped in an American towel. We enjoyed beautiful Alano Beach, as peaceful then as I assume it is now. We took the opportunity to soak up a tropical sun and float in crystal blue water. Elpidio invited us to go. As appropriate, Susan kept her head and body covered. I was gratified that she had enough sense to do it and that she appeared relaxed. Susan had a very well defined figure, large heavy boobs, and was very beautiful. Remember she played Lady Liberty on national television, but there was nothing virginal about her looks.

Nick entertained us all day long, running in and out of surf and showing us how to enjoy ourselves in spite of uncertainty. At one point, he launched into Bayang magiliw perlas ng puso sab diddib mo’y buhay, or the national anthem. He sang it as loud as he could. We stood at attention with our hands over our hearts, as he sang as loud as he could. He continued to sing, loved to sing, and also sang Philippine folk songs, such as “Maria Went to Town” and “Where is My Ring.” Sometimes he was flat, but it didn’t matter to him. It didn’t matter to us. He was proud of his voice.

At the port, we saw more boys diving for coins. We first ran into them beside the sea-front patio at Lantaka Hotel. The port was where we bargained for a boat that we needed to get to the beach. We had the beach to ourselves. There we spent one of our most memorable days in the Philippines. It included Nick’s singing. I always remember how he sang … sang loud and off key. He didn’t care. He loved to sing. We went scuba diving, and Susan had a good time in spite of herself. It was one of the best times we ever had.

Back on campus, Nick often stayed in the background. He enjoyed the world of ideas and was considered a thinker, as he tried to figure out where he fit in. (Nick couldn’t mention Rizal without mentioning Mao, as if there were a connection between the two.) Maybe seeing violence as a boy affected him. Growing up in a HUK family gave him the right credentials but not a taste for action. And it certainly gave him a distaste for violence. But that apparently changed when he joined the Moro movement.

Like Elpidio, Nick was a patriot. When I first met him, I was impressed by his intellect. Likewise, Elpido impressed me. Both of them were leaders, but differences between the two were striking. Elpidio had a dark, moody side, while Nick always seemed impulsive and unpredictable. Elpidio seemed deliberate, while Nick nearly always improvised.

As we played in the sand, the idea of beachcombing came to me. I wanted to explore the shoreline and a nearby Muslim cemetery. A picnic had been prepared. We preferred it to eating at a nearby resort. There was still time before the beach would become crowded, and we sat in a nipa cabana around a table as if we were family, Elpidio, Nick, and me, with Susan sitting across from us. Susan insisted on taking a picture, the only photograph I have of the three of us. We soon demolished a table full of food: Muslim dishes of tyula itum, pianggang manok, and baulo, and a mountain of rice.

Over such a spread, eating with our hands, with fresh limeade … and no flies … every one of us had a good time and regretted when it was over. We all agreed that it was great. I rated this day, as I’ve said, as one of the best we had in Philippines; and we also knew it would be one of last relaxing days we’d have. This allowed us to enjoy the day more than we otherwise would’ve, but knowing that it had to end made it bittersweet. We tried to draw it out, a technique for which all of us lacked. If we realized the significance of this day, no one mentioned it.

As we combed the beach, Elpidio was the most somber. Susan wasn’t far behind him. She often came up with a worse case scenario. And I chided her for it, and she pouted. Unfortunately, she was often right. I chided her on many occasions and nicknamed her “mother of doom.” I don’t how she managed to be right so often when I deserved to be right as much as she did.

“What a disastrous way for a day to end,” she said. “If we hadn’t had such a wonderful time…”

“Here you go again!” I screamed. “You see a tornado in every black cloud. I guess it comes from growing up in West Texas.”

“Well, it’s gunna to rain.”

And sure enough, it did. We had two choices then: to run for more substantial cover or stick it out in a leaky nipa cabana.

Since Elpidio and Nick represented different sides of a conflict, you wouldn’t have thought that they would’ve joined forces. They arranged to meet by writing to each other. While Nick was still in Manila; several letters went back and forth. It took a while for Nick to make up his mind.

He flew to Zamboanga. He went after he became a wanted man. He needed to get out Manila then because police and military wanted him. He met Elpidio at Lantaka Hotel because they liked the atmosphere and food, and it was where he also ran into us. Nick was a thinker, and that made him valuable to Elpidio. Almost from the beginning, they played off of each other. Most people said they were equally intelligent. When they verbally dueled they dueled to a draw.

Social conditions rather than dogma motivated Elpidio, but he never objected whenever Nick interjected Mao into their conversations. As a college graduate, he enjoyed intellectual banter as much as Nick, so sitting out a storm under a nipa cabana, to Susan’s dismay, he engaged in it. I thought Elpidio held his own. Not only was Elpidio coming up with his own ideas about the Moro case, but in my opinion he also vulgarized dogma of Marx and Lenin. His Christian education betrayed him. Though he was Muslim, his Christian education betrayed him. But in the end all they did was bicker.

With only a peephole-view of Maoism, Nick tried to convince us that history was on the side of communism. But Elpido got further with his argument because he talked about Muslims losing land. He had our sympathy because we didn’t like to see anyone lose land. I didn’t agree with Nick when he said, “Land belongs to everyone.”

Elpido was on his own turf, even though we weren’t on Tawi-Tawi or in his hometown of Bongao. It was clear where his heart was. Unlike Nick he hadn’t gone to Red China, which was a defining moment for our mutual friend. To hear Elpidio talk about why he now was willing to give up confronts of home for danger … dangers of an insurrectionist … was rather like listening to a Sunday school teacher talk about shame and guilt.

Chapter Sixty-six
After we left the Philippines, I tried to find out what happened to Elpidio and Nick. My main source was Fr. Deon. Like when we first met him, the Oblate gave us a warm welcome when we passed through Bongao. I want to also express our thanks for his help. He helped us catch a boat to Borneo, bypassing Sitangkia altogether, but I don’t want to make it more difficult for him by saying too much about it.

There was already a flood of refugees also risking it. I didn’t expect Fr. Deon’s help, but he never hesitated. He took our plight personally and helped us catch a boat. He helped us avoid immigration people. He helped us avoid military and police officers. He knew everyone and could help. Without our asking, he responded like we were refugees.

Unselfishly, Fr. Deon helped Christians and Muslims without thinking of himself. Sustained effort would seem too risky without support of somebody … without support of somebody in the government, which confused me. But maybe the government had a secret program, a secret refugee program. Maybe since they decided they couldn’t invade Sabah (Borneo) one way, they decided to do it with refugees.

Fr. Deon had too much to lose, so why would he risk it? It must’ve been difficult to maintain a relationship with both sides, yet he apparently did. It beats me how he did it, remained credible and worked for peace. I’ve also tried to analyze his influence on Elpidio. It was very complicated. He perhaps knew Elpidio better than anyone else did. So that was why I turned to him to find out what happened.

I remember feeling shocked … shocked, upset, angry … shocked, upset, angry that Nick died at the hands of Elpidio … shocked, upset, angry … that was how I felt after it was explained to me. Yet there couldn’t have been anything more heroic. Considering that Nick never wanted to go to prison again … considering Elpidio and Nick had become close friends … and that they were comrades and loyal … considering all this … it turned out for the best. I don’t think it was an act of betrayal, like some people alleged.

The way Nick died makes me shudder when I think about it. When I think about it, I’m apt to shake. I also see how Susan and I could’ve been there, and that makes me shake even more. While I shake, a part of me wishes I had been there. A part me regretted that I wasn’t there … wasn’t there as a reporter and a friend. Then the world would know … would know more about why Elpidio pulled the trigger.

Perhaps I should mention that I’ve never shared my feelings about Nick’s death with Susan, or anyone else, when doing so might ease my burden. I don’t accept it … not completely. I can’t think about Elpidio pulling the trigger, and wouldn’t believe it or know about it had Fr. Deon not written me back.

I still refuse to accept it completely. I ask myself how could Elpidio have pulled the trigger? Elpidio probably died at that moment too. They were surrounded, down to one last bullet. Sadly Nick lost his life before he reached his fortieth birthday.

Nick was born on March 26, 1942. He was conceived before Japanese came ashore in December of 1941. Obviously his father wasn’t around for his birth. The family was very proud of his father’s war experience as a member of the resistance movement. This led to him becoming a HUK. He was a brave warrior, had medals to prove it, and he gave his children (Nick was his middle son) a strong sense of Filipinohood.

In jungle camps, Nick was a favorite of former guerrilla fighters, and, in response, he learned to shimmy up trees and became very strong. Because of the experience, when his family moved into town and his parents opened a sari-sari store, he had a leg up on other boys and quickly became a leader. This carried over in school. It set a pattern that continued the rest of his life. Even people who didn’t agree with him listened to him.

There was an aura about Nick that he often downplayed, but he never succeeded in downplaying it. He came across as intellectually serious and politically astute and was very much indoctrinated as a Maoist. He enjoyed controversy, while he stood on higher ground. One moment he attacked American imperialism and then turn around and embraced an American girlfriend. And instead of simply adding his voice to demands for the closure of American military bases, he slept with the enemy and in the process converted a daughter of an American naval commander. As a consequence, he was singled out, spent time in prison, and was radicalized even more. Then, if you connect dots, it led to his death. And there was no indication that he ever looked back.

Nick was also a good friend of mine, and I’m sad that the conflict he died in has escalated and continues to this very day. When I contacted Fr. Deon, I was pleasantly surprised that he remembered me.

By 1972, Elpidio and Nick were leaders of the Moro uprising. They took part in the occupation of the J. S. Alano coconut plantation and were there when the military declared it a no-man’s land. A Maoist, Nick became a follower of another leftist, and former UP professor, Nur Misuari. This seemed ironic since they hadn’t joined forces in Manila.

At the plantation, they ensconced themselves in J. S. Alano’s fortified compound. It was a setting that was in many ways like the gated community of Forbes Park in Makati, where an expatriate owner and managers (mostly Americans) once lived. The plantation, which Mr. Alano established during the Commonwealth Era (1936-1942), was the first Filipino-owned one on the island.

The plantation owner originally came from historical Malolos and served as the first Congressman of Zamboanga Province. It was on the plantation that Elpidio and Nick had their first taste of war. The military bombarded the plantation and left it destroyed.

In a diary Nick bemoaned the destruction and loss of life. He wrote, “War certainly changes the complexion of classroom idealism.” Nick was provided with a Chinese machine gun and Chinese grenades and more ammunition than he could ever use.

During this time China sent arms and automatic weapons to many different places, places such as Botswana and Tanzania, and Laos and Vietnam, so it wasn’t surprising that Chinese weapons ended up in the Sulus. Nick used to hang a Chinese flag on his wall and played Chinese revolutionary songs all day long. And his connection with China paved the way for him. Indeed, he and Nur Misuari had many things in common. They were both intellectuals, both leftist, both patriots, and both were revolutionaries. And for both of them time they spent at UP shaped their politics.

And they both studied Mao. Mao influenced some of the most important, if misguided, decisions they made, tactically and practically. But that was not to say that they were primarily motivated by someone outside of the Philippines. Both of them … and Elpidio … let me repeat … were patriots. And Moros who over the centuries never gave up inspired them more than by anything else.

Yes, we were good friends. During the whole year that I saw Nick at UP I never understood why he put up with me. I was always bugging him. I kept after him for stories and questions he was reluctant to answer. He’d take me to lunch in a lower level of Palma Hall, where we always ate the same thing. A passionate, outspoken Moist eating frequently with an American didn’t ring true. And perhaps it said more about me that it did him. Neither did his relationship with Elaine make sense. He denounced America every chance he had … participated in anti-American demonstrations … yet he dated an American. It didn’t make sense. And he said he loved her, and I believed him.

Their effort bore fruit. American bases were eventually closed, with the naval airbase on Sangley Point, Cavite, being maybe the first one. And Nick was sleeping with the daughter of the commander of the base.

Nick was often so indignant around Elaine that I felt embarrassed for her. He bashed America around her. He had no respect for America, and she knew it. What was she thinking sleeping with someone who hated American? What was I thinking having lunch on a regular basis with a communist?

Maybe Elaine and I had our gripes. We didn’t hate our country, but we had our gripes. And we blamed the US for more sins than you can imagine. For the record, we didn’t hate our country. We weren’t patriots like Nick was, but we didn’t hate our country. My father often quipped that our generation (Elaine’s and mine) had it too easy, and that was why guys like me weren’t willing to fight for our country. He himself, a GI, fought and could’ve died for our country.

There was no record of how Elpidio felt, but I know he was radicalized by the Corregidor Massacre … the Corregidor Massacre during which young men from his hometown were murdered. It called for revenge, and Elpidio was very troubled by it. And as a student of a Christian friar, Elpidio could never reconcile the dreaded ILAGA’s mayhem, or his unchristian reaction to it. It was that instead of ideology that drove him. And while Nick seemed cocksure of himself, he constantly questioned everything, picked things apart, argued with himself, and looked for ways to make sense out of something incomprehensible, and in essence felt he had to shoulder it all. One sign of this maybe was that he increasingly wanted to be by himself.

Chapter Sixty-seven
Taking cues from each other, Elpidio and Nick continued their academic pursuits while they were guerrillas. Nick looked further into the trial and execution of Andres Bonifacio and began working on a book about the Philippine revolution. He wanted to write it from the perspective of a Moro. He also tried his hand at fiction, completing a few shortstories. Finally, he kept a detailed record of daily events. Fr. Deon sent me a copy of this record. From it I was able to piece together events that led up to Nick’s death. He was never published.
Nick produced quite a volume under the harshest conditions. Often, as he wrote, “working all night with a blackout and minimal light.” I wondered how he did it. He had access to J. S. Alano’s library, which in spite of a bombing remained in tact. In it, he found a copy of Bonifacio’s Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa (Love of Fatherland), a poem filled with patriotism. Within a short time, he could recite it verbatim and used it in daily speech.
Inspired by Bonifacio, Nick argued that his group of guerrillas should acquire a small press and publish their own Kalayaan or newspaper, but didn’t find any enthusiasm for it. He didn’t think that it was impractical, like others did. (Even a small press was bulky and heavy.) Of course he believed in the power of the printed word and believed in the teachings of the Katipunan as spelled out by Bonifacio and his followers. He was especially fond of Bonifacio’s Tagalog translation of Rizal’s farewell poem Mi Ultimo adios.
Revolutionary guerrillas were required to fight. Nick signed on, so he had to fight. But after a few raids he discovered that he preferred sentry duty, so he assigned himself to sentry duty instead of leading men into battle. Sentry duty, however, proved difficult for him because he rarely slept. He couldn’t sleep on sentry duty. Given that he rarely slept; imagine what he was doing to his health.
For a while, Elpidio collected folk songs. And he sung songs, performed them for the group. There were battle songs that could’ve well been composed by them. They were also portrayals of love, and critics of Elpidio’s singing mainly complained about his timidity. Perhaps his singing was his way of getting over that. Nick described his friend’s singing as a “hoot”, as in Hootenanny, even though he sang songs in Spanish, songs such as “Ave Maria No Morro.” Understandably, Elpidio’s songs were often fatalistic, and had about them strains of Woody Guthrie. Imagine Bob Dylan under the coconut palms of Basilan, “A Hard Rain’A Gonna Fall” in Bahasa Sama. He also sung songs in Persian, though I can’t imagine he got the sounds right. I remember the first time I heard Dylan. I didn’t think he could sing, so I don’t think Elpidio had to stay on pitch. Everyone needed amusement, and it was enough to launch Elpidio’s short singing career. I remember Nick sang the national anthem as loud as he could.

As a fighter, like Nick, Elpido was handicapped. “When he was a student of mine, I saw Elpidio stand his ground without using his kris,” Fr. Deon recalled (For a Moro maratabat was about honor, “face”, dignity, sense of shame, sense of pride, ethics, etc.) “As I approached, I saw Elpidio stand up to a bully and saw him get pummeled. I can still see blood running down his face. This wasn’t the first time a bully beat him up.

Most Moros would’ve considered Elpidio’s reaction reprehensible. It was damning, dishonorable the way he stood there and took it.” “From when his mother first brought him to Norte Dame and he was introduced to Christanity (he never converted), Elpidio took his studies seriously. Of all my students he was the most impressionable. I remember having many conversations with him about Jesus … about Jesus and what He would’ve done in various circumstances. (Remember Muslims accept Jesus as a prophet.) Elpido listened; more than listened he took it all to heart. I taught him to turn the other cheek, and it shattered him because of maratabat … shattered him because maratabat was so engrained in his psychic … so engrained in Moro psychic. You see, because of me, he didn’t know what to do when bullying started. Because of me he never learned to fight. So I waited for him to run amok. I waited for it to build up inside him until he ran amok.” Elpidio’s mother shared Fr. Deon’s concern, but Elpidio contained himself. I believe he was strong enough to contain himself, which handicapped him as a guerrilla fighter.

By 1972, Elpidio was drawn into the Moro War, thinking that perhaps war exempted him from the teachings of Jesus. After all he was a Muslim, a Moro from Bongao, where maratabat was normal. But so far he hadn’t been able to kill anyone, a problem for sure. So far he represented an anomaly.

By then the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Philippine government were slugging it out on Basilan and elsewhere. The government, in response to Moro raids, reactivated the 14th Infantry (Avenger) Battalion and integrated it into the 1st Infantry Division and sent it to Mindanao to engage in a pacification campaign. By 1974, when Elpidio and Nick were still on Basilan, nearby Jolo fell to the 1st Infantry Division and then was retaken by the MNLF. The escalation of conflict by then attracted international attention…”because,” Nick explained, “of our determination we have become an inspiration for Muslims everywhere.” One sign of it was that the MNLF gained Observers Status in the Organization of Islamic Conference. (That year the conference met in Kuala Lumpur.) Another sign was President’s Marcos’ violent reaction.

By then it was an all out war, and it wasn’t clear which side would give in first. But not withstanding bombing and an increased deployment of infantrymen, very little of this directly affected Elpidio and Nick because the government concentrated on Jolo.

Bangsmoro freedom and liberation! Freedom and liberation! Bangsmoro freedom and liberation was what they were fighting for. Elpido and Nick carried out their raids under the banner of Bangsamoro freedom and liberation when freedom and liberation still seemed possible.

Nick wrote a proposal to the Organization of Islamic Conference, asking for recognition and support for their cause. On the basis of his proposal MNLF was granted Observers Status. Nick could’ve then left the front and traveled with Nur Misuari, but instead chose to stay and fight with his friends on Basilan. This decision, Fr. Deon wrote, cost Nick his life.

As far as Elpidio, Nick’s decision turned out to be ironic and painful … an ironic, painful twists of fate. Fr. Deon wrote me extensively about it. “Here was Elpidio, who would never kill, much less hurt anyone. He was handed a .45 and was ordered to kill his friend. Nick encouraged him to shoot. Can you imagine the extent of Elpidio’s agony?”

A PC-CHDF team captured them. They poked guns in their ribs and shouted ‘get going.’ They were dragged from their beds, after Nick had fallen asleep on his sentry duty. It soon became clear that a sergeant decided not to bring them back alive.”

Up until then, Epidio’s belief system remained in tact. He had assumed a role of a medic and learned lifesaving skills, which he continued to practice and refine. Elpidio practiced how to control hemorrhaging, maintain airways, assist breathing, and how to use a tourniquet. He dealt with his conscience and his objection to killing in this way. How he avoided combat before he became proficient as a medic we can only guess. We can only imagine the extent of his anxiety each time his comrades staged a raid. He was willing to expose himself to their criticism, which continued until he saved a life or two. That was why giving him a .45 was so cruel.

Memorial services for Elpidio and Nick were never held. It fell on a sergeant to report their deaths, while neither he nor any of his men initially did it. Their task was clear: if possible, capture the enemy but not murder them. It was very much a crime to kill unarmed POWs … in Sulu and Mindanao, or anywhere else.

A soldier who eventual ended the silence was never identified. He broke rank and spoke up but wasn’t identified. He found himself in the same boat as the sole survivor of the Corregidor Massacre, except he was never identified by name. He triggered an investigation because somehow The Free Press got a hold of the story. He told on his sergeant and other men in his unit. He told of Elpidio and Nick’s gruesome fates. He made the military sound like a hit squad … not an unusual view.

Elpidio was one of the few Moro fighters who in combat looked to Christ. Yet he did as much as could to support the Bangsamoro cause. He may have been only a minor player in a war that lasted so long. He may have been a player in war that’s still going on. He faced Allah before he died, but had courage enough to kill a friend, even though it went against his beliefs. “Against his conscious, he took a life; this made his own death merciful.”

Chapter Sixty-eight
The International Film Festival of India, an eleven-day film festival, drew huge crowds to Panaji Goa in December of each year. In 1979, when we were surviving in Bombay, Susan and I took a steamer to Goa and ran into Vincente de la Cruz, my filmmaker friend from Manila. After checking out the Film Bazaar with him, he insisted that we go with him to a screening of his latest film, Enfant Terrible. Naturally, we talked about Elpidio and Nick. He became so interested in the two and their heroism that he made a film about them. An investigation of their deaths had already been exploited by the Manila press and caused quite a stir.

After the screening Vincente took us to a party and after it to his room. The way Elpidio and Nick died was very much on my mind. Vincente said they were national heroes. But I didn’t have enough perspective to see then in that light. To me they were friends, and it was hard for me to see them as heroes. It was hard for me to see the film. Their deaths made me angry. And I didn’t think enough time had elapsed for Vincente to judge. He still insisted that they were heroes, heroes on the scale of Rizal and Bonifacio. On a scale of Rizal and Bonifacio? This seemed absurd. Then I realized Vincente needed to make them into national heroes for his film. I was cynical. I’m still cynical. And I began to wonder if I could trust Vincente. It was my cynicism showing.

“Has Nick been honored by UP?” I asked.

“Yes, along with all students and faculty who died during The First Quarter Storm,” he said. “Nick wasn’t singled out like he should’ve been. It was why I made the film.”

“And are you happy with the film?”

“It was my best effort. By then Basilan was unsafe, and the navy’s blockade was enforced. Though I ran the blockade once, and spent time in Zamboanga to get a taste of the war, we shot most of the film in Sabah. With the problems I’ve had with Marcos, to attempt it in the Philippines would’ve been sheer folly. But I was deeply committed to making this film, wanted to make it as soon as the story broke.”

“I liked the idea because of it’s potential … sure we have Ninoy Aquino, but I thought there was room for another national hero,” Vincente contined. “Nick went to Mindanao, died on Basilan, and was murdered like Aquino, and you have to hold Marcos responsible. And you have to admit that there was an amazing twist to Nick’s story, to tell a friend ‘go ahead and finish me off,’ and then have the friend shoot him in the mouth.”

“I heard you knew Elpidio. I never met him,” Vincente said. “In the Philippines, we’re always on the lookout for heroes. Having heroes makes us proud. You Americans know it, and it’s why Rizal was populized. We feel inferior, and it’s why we need heroes. Nick’s story provides a needed antidote. But he shouldn’t only be remembered for how he died … remember he was a real patriot.”

“And a friend of mine,” I said.

“When I first knew him, Nick stayed in the backgroud. He seemed shy. It must’ve been difficult for him. He didn’t emerge as a leader in Manila, and it meant that people like Nur Misuari got a jump on him. He never wanted to be a hero.”

“Then why did you make him one?” I asked.

Vincente didn’t answer.

“I don’t think he ever got jungle camps out of his system. He talked a lot about growing up in them and what it meant to be a son of a HUK. I met his mother. We traveled together to Central Luzon and down south. He had a restless side that not many people saw,” I said, “but I never thought he would join the Moro Movement.”

“Yes he joined, and it’s what makes his story so compelling…especially since he was a Christian. He joined when he didn’t have to. We all have choices. He knew that he’d been placed on Marcos’ enemies’ list. Perhaps he thought he didn’t have choices.”

“Like you said, we all have choices.”

“Yes, we do. And choices Nick made make him a hero.”

“A dramatic hero?”

“Yes, a dramatic hero.”

“But a national one?”

Again Vincente didn’t respond to a question of mine, but instead said, “He wrote long essays for the Moro movement and wanted to put out a revolutionary newspaper. He pitched the idea but wasn’t successful. He seemed more suited for academa than …”

“I was thinking the same thing.”

“… where publishing is expected.”

“ … where publishing was expected.” Here we were thinking the same.

“If he hadn’t joined the Moros, I feel he would’ve let himself down. I think he knew his destiny. When he first went to Basilan, the war hadn’t started yet there, so we can say he was one of the architects of it.”

“Around then Susan and I ran into him in Zamboanga, and he showed us the jungle camp he shared with Elpidio.”

“No! I didn’t know that. You two simply disappeared. It was a busy time for me, with all the raw footage I had, and fighting with Marcos over censorship. Nick pretty much dropped out sight too. One day I saw him and next day he was gone. It was just before the bombing at Plaza Miranda and then Martial Law, and you have to know it unnerved me. My world ended then. I was shunted. Many of my friends disappeared or turned against me. I was isolated, shunted, and many of my friends disappeared. In that regard, I’m thankful for Nick. As I made the movie, I tried to keep emotionally distant.”


“It was very difficult for me. It was a difficult time. Nick lost his life when there was martial law, and it was clearly a civil rights violation. He went to the Sulus with a purpose. It was incredibly sad. The way he died was incredibly sad. But then I never knew Elpidio. The more I learned of their relationship, the more heroic they both seemed. I ran the blockade of Basilan to get where it happened, where they were murdered, a ruined coconut plantation and a library where Nick’s work was found. I couldn’t stop kicking dirt off. I couldn’t walk without stepping over coconuts … bombing had been so extensive … before they were captured.”

“So your movie is accurate?”

“As accurate as I could make it. I decided to make Nick the hero, but I now think Elpidio deserved the honor. I was eager to find out what it was like for him, but my feelings kept distracting me. ‘Could this have been me?’ I kept asking. Could I have said ‘go ahead, finish me off’? Or could I have stuck a .45 in a friend’s mouth and pulled the trigger? Nick preferred it to execution. I think he staged his own death once he saw that they weren’t going to be brought back alive. It was like when Rizal faced a firing squad and at the last moment turned so that he ended up lying on his back, with his face facing the sun.”

“I tried to work on something else … not make the movie, but as I said, I felt left out and now I had a way of reconnecting. I kept thinking, did having his American girlfriend leave him have something to do with him becoming a martyr? ‘But would anyone come to see it?’ I kept asking myself. “I never know how a film will turn out, whether it will be good or bad and began dreading finishing it. I became paranoid. And there were good reasons for it. I stood a chance of offending everyone. The only thing that kept me going was my ego. There was no way I’d give up.”

“One day, I put a loaded .45 in my mouth, and I let my imagination go on and on, and I came close to pulling the trigger. I wanted to see how it felt. I had just shot their capture, and I wanted to see how it felt. We were between takes. I was exhausted. I was frustrated from having to deal with authorities in Sabah. At the same time I was making a movie, and I wanted to see how it felt.”

“I shot the killing over and over again. I couldn’t get it right. Actors revolted. It upset them very much. Then I said ‘to hell with it!’ You can see the sloppy results in the film. They say they caught me napping. I knew it would be banned back home. Now critics say it’s my best work.”

“I often feel guilty, and I often think about Nick. I think I’ve recreated him fairly accurately. It’s really extraordinary that he’s more alive now than when he lived. And I feel gratified that I’ve turned him into a household name. Yes, I made him into a national hero. And when I think of him now, I think of Rizal and Bonifacio. But I’m glad success of the film doesn’t depend on ticket sales.”

“But doesn’t the memory of Nick mean more to you than the success of your movie?”

Vincente de la Cruz, a Manila friend, and the only one I’ve seen since leaving the Philippines, won that year the Golden Peacock Award for the best foreign film at the International Film Festival of India for Enfant Terrible. In contrast with Nick, Vincente was a practical person and adapted to almost anything. Because of his pragmatism, I knew he would survive. And I wasn’t dead yet. Even when censored by Marcos, Vincente filmed battles of the FirstQuarter Storm but somehow maintained his neutrality. I missed the First Quarter Storm, but maybe I didn’t because I’m not sure when it started. All I know is I’m not dead yet.

Vincente was a reporter rather than a participant. This allowed him to straddle a fence. They never knew if he were friend or foe. They never knew if he were friend or foe, and with this accusations and suspicion and eventually shunting. Vincente remained an outsider … he was more Eurasian than Filipino. People couldn’t quite put a finger on his lineage because he was Eurasian. Still he was very personable. He could sell himself, sell anything, and he usually succeeded at selling. But he tried too hard. I think he would’ve won had he ran for president.

The only reason I got to know Vincente was because we both got involved in student demonstrations that led up to the First Quarter Storm, and we’re both still alive. Those were days when a generation of Filipino students lived dangerously and fought courageously. It was when brave young people manned barricades and died, were wounded and died … when they resisted and were defiant. They formed commando strike forces, formed the AS Rooftop Junta, and Free Radio of the Democratic Commune of Diliman. All of this took place at UP. At other colleges in Manila, students were just as committed, but for some reason ingredients for such a massive revolt didn’t exist.

But the University of the Philippines, Marcos’ alma mater, had a tradition of dissent and debate. This allowed militant resistance to flourish. With revolutionary songs of Mao Zedong and Che Guevarra in the air, and student Power on the march from Berkley to Paris, a few students meeting in a small side room in the student union building came up with the idea of seizing the university. They were spoiled brats, but these spoiled brats lived through three lifetimes in a matter of months.

Freshmen crusaded against compulsory classes of Spanish, fought against American intervention in Vietnam, and capped their first quarter off by storming the gates of Malacanang, all of this before they decided to take over the campus. Most of them lived. They were young, having fun, and wanted it all. They were spoiled brats. And most of them lived.

Vincente maintained that he saw it all, while his film only told the story up until the battle in front of Malacanang. The film was called THE REPUBLIC OF DILIMAN. (It was made before the one he made about Nick.) I asked him about it: why THE REPUBLIC OF DILIMAN had huge gaps in it. He said it was because of censors and that he gave up by the time “The Republic of Diliman” was declared.

Vincente became internationally famous after Goa. His film took the top prize. He gave a little speech when he accepted the award. It shocked everyone when he said Enfant Terrible wasn’t his best effort. (They thought he was talking about THE REPUBLIC OF DILIMAN, when I knew it was his film about Nick and Elpidio that he thought was his best.) He told the crowd that next year he’d show them what he could really do. He didn’t mention the “better” work. Someone else did. Vincente accepted applause by smiling and nodding his head. Enfant Terrible then went on to win the FAMAS awards for best picture and best director. (I didn’t learn about this until many years later when I stumbled upon his name on the Web, but I didn’t find the film mentioned that interested me the most: Enfant Terrible, the one about Elpidio and Nick.) From there, he went on to rake in awards from Cannes to Berlin. During the closing ceremonies in Goa, he was singled out and stood up when his name was called. Vincente basked in fame after Goa.

During opening ceremonies of the 2nd Metro Manila Film Festival (1976), Imelda paid tribute to Vincente. She paid tribute while he feigned modesty. He didn’t rush onto to the stage or take a bow. He simply waved from his seat. (I wasn’t there and only read about it later, again on the Web.) I can only imagine what he was thinking. ”Little Mrs. Sunshine exploiting my preeminence.” I would like to know what he was thinking.

And who is this? Imelda, the Steel Butterfly, in her winged dress.
Well, well, well, if the beauty queen didn’t mention our friend Vincente.
In case you haven’t heard he’s our greatest filmmaker.
But does it mean that he’s been forgiven?

Chapter Sixty-nine
On Basilan, the last time we were there with Elpidio and Nick (circa 1971), an American expatriate community working on plantations and living within their compounds there probably never saw the war coming. They probably didn’t want to see it coming. They probably lived in a bubble. With security guards (for bigger plantations, private armies), they probably felt safe. Yet 1971 proved pivotal. Within a short time, most of them would pack and leave their homes and lives on Basilan.

I’ve often wondered what happened to David, the American fisherman we met in Zamboanga and who offered us his hospitality. You might remember later he became Elpidio’s first kidnap victim. During our last visit to Basilan, we didn’t look him up. We were rushed and didn’t look him up. We felt insecure and wouldn’t have gone to Basilan if Nick hadn’t insisted. We were clearly on the run. And perhaps more than other Americans we grasped the magnitude of the struggle because of Nick and Elpidio, and because we saw the savagery of ILAGA or Christian rats.

Nick and Elpido’s jungle camp wasn’t blessed with amenities like surrounding compounds of expatriates. They and their men lived in huts without running water or modern toilets, or a swimming pool or an airstrip, but their spirits remained high. They revelled in roughing it like Spatans. They didn’t feel deprived and wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. They wouldn’t have wanted to change places with their neighbors, many of whom lost their homes within a short period of time.

But though these neighbors were Americans and rich, most of them were native, and most of them hadn’t lived anywhere else. Take David … a American fisherman … though he went to San Diego State, he identified more closely with Basilan and returned when he got a chance. On occasion, I’ve wondered if he survived. There were many casualties on all sides, once people chose sides.

For our benefit Nick and Elpidio dressed in western business suits. They wore colorful ties, colors that were loud. They dressed up for us and took us to dinner in Isabella. They went all out. It was to be our big send off. I took a picture of them for posterity. I took a picture of the two of them and then one of them with Susan. They let us choose a restaurant.

“What do Muslims eat,” I asked Nick. It was a stupid question, and he gave a stupid answer.

“Rice like we do.”


“Certain foods are forbidden. Never pork or booze.”

“Never booze?”

“Well … “

Whereupon, both Filipinos smiled. Then Nick said, “When around Muslims, do as Muslims do. Enjoy.”

Saying goodbye to good friends was hard. I don’t know why I didn’t realize it would be hard. I hadn’t factored in that we were also leaving the Philippines and perhaps leaving for good. Too much had gone on … too much. The right words never came. I hate goodbyes anyway. Elpidio and Nick … though I sought them out, they always made me feel welcomed. They never acted superior, though in many ways they were. I was never willing to die for a cause. I was a draft dodger, a draft dodger, who loved pork … especially lechon, whole hog on a spit, and sisig! Thanks Nick, I really miss Filipino food.

The four of us…a Muslim, a Christian, and two Americans … good friends, cohorts looked for the right place to eat in Isabela … a good place for a sendoff. One of our options, believe or not, was pizza. Pizza at a one-counter stand, a place lacking pretensions and without a jukebox, and located down near the harbor. We had our pizza and belted out the only Beetle song we all knew, “Hey Jude,” and it stuck in Susan’s and my head for days.

Hey Jude, don’t make it bad
Take a sad song make it better
Remember let her into your heart,
Then you can start to make it better.

One could hear us walking through the Basilan jungle singing, “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad. Make it better.” Don’t make it bad, please! Don’t make it bad. Make it better. The people of the Philippines don’t need.it! Don’t make it bad. Make it better. Each of us tried to out sing the other. Don’t make it bad. Make it better. We sang it in Tagalog, English, and Bahasa Sama, and we didn’t care who heard us. “Don’t make it bad!”

Nick saw us off the next morning. We hadn’t expected him to accompany us back to Zamboanga. We didn’t say much on our short ferry ride or while he waited with us until we boarded our ship for our “tour” of the Sulus.

Within two days, we were back in Bongao, with ports of call in Jolo and Suisi. We had been on this ship before. The captian remembered us, and Jolo and Suisi looked about the same. But that was all about to change.

Remember the trouble our captain had in Jolo with the constabulary over a carton of American cigarettes and how our captain handled it by giving away the carton. This time he offered us his cabin. It was generous and typical, but we preferred sleeping on deck. We preferred sea breezes to his cabin and didn’t mind sleeping with other passengers. We didn’t want to offend him, but this time we didn’t care so much because we were leaving the Philippines. We didn’t go to shore at Jolo, fearing an incident. Suisi didn’t interest us either. But we left ship in Bongao, and looked up Fr. Deon.

We bought roundtrip tickets, giving an impression that we planned to go to Sitankia and then come back to Zamboanga. So we made up a story for the captian that he would buy. We told him that Fr. Deon was an old friend, which wasn’t a lie. We told him that we wanted to spend time with an old friend and see Tawi Tawi and would catch him (the captain) on his return trip. That gave us three or four days on Tawi Tawi. We were on vacation and said it was like a second honymoon. This satisfied him. More than satisfied him. It pleased him. Or our vacationing in the Sulus at that time was crazy enough for him to accept anything.

Fr. Deon had always been kind to me. And remembered Susan. Both times I was in Bongao he went out his way for me. He served us meals again and gave us a place to stay, as he arranged for us to leave the Philippines. I imagine it was ticky for him. A risk, it was tricky.

Since he came to Bongao, he hadn’t left the Philippines, and by 1971 admitted he missed Canada. He was then a well known educator and peacemaker and had to have felt frustated. He didn’t say much about it, but he had to have felt frustrated. He consided it his mission, peacemaking part his mission. This was before the place exploded. He seemed sad. Perhaps he knew the place would explode. Perhaps he’d around long enough to know the place would explode. He was respected for his work … as an educator and peacemaker. He was a quiet person though, when you’d think he’d be the opposite.

On March 4, 1970, Fr. Deon, then sixty-six, seemed frustrated and withdrawn. He was worried, had been worried for some time and even more so after learning the latest news. The constabulary just seized some villages on Tawi Tawi and elsewhere in the Sulus. He knew people in all those places and in recent years mediated many disputes in the area. He didn’t know if his hard work would every bear fruit. One step forward, then two backwards. He saw progress and then saw it evaporate. He had been around long enough to sense trouble. Christians and Muslims were already killing each other. And already that year, he had worked with countless refugees fleeing to Sabah, and he had seen young men he knew return from Sabah … now armed and trained for jihad.

We spent the weekend with him. He tried to put up a brave front. He tried to smile, but he couldn’t keep his lips from quivering.

We told him about our evening with his star student, Elpidio, in a business suit, eating pizza and singing “Hey Jude”. His face lit up. He chuckled, and seemed very pleased. Hey Jude, don’t be hard on the Philippines. Make it better. He asked many questions about Elpidio and said he would give his mother an update.

Then he took us to his school and told us he had housekeeping to do. “I can’t sit idly by. I have to keep busy. Of course, I pay janitors. The local economy needs Catholic money.”

We pitched in. It didn’t hurt us.

“It’s Biblical,” Fr. Deon said, mopping. “Most things are. It helps when you’re down.”

Fr. Deon told us how to avoid the constabulary and police. He arranged everything, the small boat for crossing the border, and said, “They’re reliable. They were students of mine.” And he gave us instructions: what to say and how to act. We weren’t to say much.

When police arrived at his house, Fr. Deon handled it. He talked to them on the steps of the porch, while I sat in a barber’s chair on the porch near the front door. I knew what Susan was thinking. I knew she was sweating because I was sweating too. But the police didn’t talk to us, nor ask for our passports. We had had close calls before. I was afraid because I always look guilty when I’m not.

Fr. Deon operated with impunity in Bongao and on Tawi Tawi. He was a pal of Congressman Datu Ombra Amilbangsa and knew how to use his influence.

A group of Moro leaders had just published a manifesto asking the government to take action against Christian death squads, but the government instead threatened them. Fr Deon said that he was afraid that the cycle of reprisals would become uncontrollable. He also was afraid that his school would be closed or even worse, attacked. The situation was bad.

As atrocities continued, Datu Ombra Amilbangsa was running for reelection to the National Assemble and thought ILAGA gangs were soldiers of Marcos. He asked Fr. Deon for his support. He hoped the friar could stem some of the violence. And it looked like the election was going to be more violent than normal. During a meeting, the Datu noticed that the friar lacked as much enthusiasm as he normally had, but thought it was because he was trying to do too much. He still thought he could count on Fr. Deon. The friar told us that it was going to be a long, hard-fought struggle. He said it would be a long, hard-fought struggle and there would be few winners. And children would suffer the most.

Fr. Deon arranged to go with us to a small island near the border. He went as far as he could go without crossing the borders. It seemed as if he often did this. He said that he needed to make a “courtesy call” anyway. He said he wanted to count refugees “hung up there, waiting to cross.” His constabulary friends told him that there were people there.

It sounded good to us. To have his company sounded good to us because it made it safer. We trusted Fr. Deon, and it made it safer. It wouldn’t eliminate risks entirely, but it made it safer.

We didn’t know how much influence the friar had over pirates, those who roamed those seas and often preyed on refugees. From newspaper accounts we knew how they preyed on refugees. And we were were refugees and were well aware of heinous acts committed by pirates. I didn’t know which was worse: Sulu pirates or ILAGA gangs. Somehow sea gypsies and pirates co-existed, more or less peacefully.

We boarded a red sailboat before dawn and sailed from Bongao just as the sun rose. We huddled together, except for two young boys who stood on the bow. We didn’t want to be conspiculous. I remember that Fr. Deon kept himself distracted by talking to refugees, something he did naturally.

“Ted, look!” Susan said. “They’re playing chicken, those boys are playing chicken. They’re seeing which one will jump first … which one will wait the longest … which one will have to swim the farthest. See how they feint jumping, hoping to trick the other one into jumping first.”

Susan looked worried.

With the shore no longer in sight, I said, “They know what they’re doing. They won’t drown. They’ve been around water all their life. It’a game to them.”

As he declared martial law, President Marcos addressed the nation:

“No matter how strong and dedicated a leader may be, he must find root and strength amongst the people. He alone cannot save a nation. He may guide, he may set the tone, he may dedicate himself and risk his life, but only the people may save themselves.”

I was one of those people who naïvely thought that Marcos would evenually save himself and by so doing save his nation. Or Christians and Moros (people as in people power), would one day push him out. But casualties continued to mount and for all sides continue to this day. Hey Jude, don’t be hard on the Philippines. Make it better. And as for Susan and me, we’re not dead yet.

Randy Ford

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Filed under Randy's Novel I'm Not Dead Yet

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