postcard.jpg The chickens squawked themselves hoarse and went flying here and there, raising flakes of dried mud around the square. The womenfolk looked out their doorways, not knowing what to make of this stranger. He carried a heavy satchel slung over one shoulder, which was slightly lower than the other. He appeared relieved that there were no dogs around. He had never been there before.

Abayaw went out to meet him. He was looking for someone, and Abayaw motioned with his hand to his chest, pointing to himself. The man gave him a letter.

One by one they came out of their huts after he left, and gathered around Abayaw. The chickens sensed some unusual excitement and went scurrying away.

“What is it?” they asked.

“It’s a letter from Nina!” Abayaw exclaimed. He sat down on a log and opened the envelope. “My dear brother, Abayaw,” he read out loud. “It has been a long time since I left for Manila. Don’t worry about me. I am all right. I could not find Berto, but I did meet someone who has helped me find work.

“I am in a place called Tokyo, preparing to work for a family, taking care of their small children. Don’t worry about me. I am all right.

“I’ve made a friend here. Her name is Geraldine. She has shown me how to send my earnings back to a bank in Baguio City, in an account that I have put in both our names. It will be a lot of money so I hope I do not have to work here too long. It will be enough to begin a business of my own. I miss home and want to come back soon. Don’t worry about me. I am all right. Your sister, Nina.”

Abayaw read and reread Nina’s letter that evening. There was something about it that wasn’t right. Because they lived a calm existence, worry was an uncommon word in their vocabulary. Clearly, there was something wrong. Abayaw could not sleep that night.

He rose at dawn and dressed in his school clothes, a pair of blue cotton trousers and a white shirt. Carrying his shoes, he went to his parents’ hut and woke his sleeping mother. He informed her that he was going to Baguio City.

He returned late that evening and headed for the agamang, looking for Dulmog. He wasn’t there. Out gallivanting again, he thought. Abayaw was so tired, not only physically from lack of sleep, but also mentally from anxiety. He dropped down onto his mat and quietly snored.

“Yaw!” Dulmog said loudly, shaking his friend’s shoulder to wake him. “They’ve done it again!” Dulmog announced.

“Did what?” Abayaw asked, slowly getting up from a prone position on the floor. The men in the agamang had already started their day, and knowing that Abayaw had returned late that night, they were careful not to wake him.

“There was gunfire at Bugnay early this morning!”

“What happened?”

“The gunfire was at the new Pangat’s hut. After all the noise, we entered his home and stood around what appeared to be his body. When a torch was brought, we found ourselves surrounding a rolled-up mat. They had shot at a rolled-up mat! So there I was wondering why they came all that way to put holes in a perfectly good mat. Then the Pangat, who was standing around the mat with us, said he was feeling cold and so had slept under his mat, with his arm sticking out, touching the rolled-up mat beside him. He said that the gunman must have mistaken the rolled-up mat for his body. But, Yaw, what can we do to help? We only have spears.”

“Well,” Abayaw said, “we are either dealing with reasonable men or with barbarians. I’ll ask the Pangat if he wants me to talk with the chief in Manila on his behalf. Besides, I have to go to that city anyway and find a way to bring Nina home.” Abayaw got up and had a late breakfast, then he left for Kalinga with Dulmog on his tricycle.

“But we are dealing with barbarians,” the Pangat said to them, after listening to Abayaw’s suggestion. “Only barbarians would come in the still of the night to kill the sleeping defenceless. There is no honour in that. I don’t think talking with barbarians will do any good, but you can give it a try. What options do we have? Would you like someone to accompany you?”

“It won’t be necessary,” Abayaw replied. “I have another errand to do on my own while I’m there.”

“Is there anything we Ifugaos can do to help?” Dulmog asked the Chief. Before he could reply, the Pangat observed something in the distance. “There they are,” the Pangat said, raising his hand to a group of men marching towards them. Abayaw and Dulmog watched them as they climbed down a dike, carrying wooden shovels, bamboo staves, and sturdy strips of rattan.

“Thank you for your concern, Dulmog. Today we are going to lay traps along the paths leading to our villages and hamlets. We shall dig pits and line them with poisoned-tip stakes. We will connect trip wires to large boulders and tree trunks to crush the enemy. We will do what we can with what we have, in order to fight the outsiders.”

The men, from villages in Kalinga and Apayao, arrived. The Pangat began to brief them about the possible locations of traps along the Chico River and the transportation route to the sites where the dam equipment was. Abayaw and Dulmog discreetly left them and made their way back to their own mountainside abode.

Abayaw spent the next few days preparing to leave for Manila. He applied for identification papers for his trip to Japan. He was informed that he would have to do the rest of the paperwork in Manila. He withdrew what he considered he needed from his sister’s earnings. With his new clothes and his recently bought small suitcase, he took the bus that would bring him to that city.

The bus terminal was a three-walled building, the same one, Abayaw knew, through which Nina would have passed. Abayaw stood for a while at the side of the noisy avenue, watching the jeepneys and cars go by. He had asked a fellow passenger where he could stay and he started to walk, heading in the general direction of Makati.

He saw a vendor selling fruit and vegetables across the street. A little girl sat at her feet playing jackstones. He crossed over to buy tomatoes and some bananas for his dinner.

He arrived at the hotel, about several metres distance from the bus terminal. It was a tiny run-down structure. He spoke with the owner of the establishment and asked him for information about what he wanted to do the next day.

The following morning, Abayaw first went to the Japanese consulate and presented his documents in order to get a visa. He was informed that it would take some time. He then went to Malacañang Palace to seek an audience with Marcos. After identifying himself and explaining his mission, he was also informed that it would take some time. He said it was urgent. He was told to come back some days later.

A fortnight later, he was informed by the consulate that his visa application had been refused. He asked to see the consul general to present an explanation of the situation. Abayaw told him that he seriously thought his sister was in trouble, and that he had to find her and bring her home. No, Abayaw said, he was not going to Japan to look for work. And indeed, how could he, with his pronounced physical handicap? He was told to return a few days later.

Several weeks later, he returned to the Palace. He was finally ushered into a room with a judge’s bench mounted on a raised platform. He noted that he would have to look up at the chief, who would look down on his subject. There was something not right about that, Abayaw thought. The relationship is not ruler and ruled, but leader and follower. A leader is at the beck and call of his followers who have bestowed on him the highest position of trust.

Marcos entered the room with a small entourage of what seemed to Abayaw to be thugs. Marcos climbed up onto the platform and sat down. From a short distance, all Abayaw could see was the top of his head. He stepped back a few paces to be able to look at the person he was talking to. A true leader, Abayaw thought, does not distance himself from his people.

Abayaw began by introducing himself, and said that he was representing the Pangat of Kalinga-Apayao to talk to him about the Chico River dam project. “Sir,” he began, “the proposed dams will permanently destroy the ancestral home of over 15,000 families in Kalinga-Apayao and Bontoc–a population of about 100,000. You will cause the extinction of a people dwelling over thousands of years in these mountains. Our culture and traditions are very deeply implanted with our ancestral land.

“I understand there is a power crisis in the country. But there are other means of meeting our energy requirements without having to resort to cultural genocide. We have other untapped indigenous energy resources that have to be explored. These may be low-power density sources, but a higher power density source, such as fusion power, is beyond any one country’s financial means. Making do with what we have, our country is the only nation in Asia with a significant and exploitable source of geothermal energy. Forty sites have been assessed and found to have a combined potential capacity to generate between 2,000 to 4,000 megawatts of power, or 50 to 100 megawatts from a single site.

“Another source is wind energy, which can supply a significant potential source of power. There are wind corridors in Luzon and Mindoro. A wind farm can generate 40 megawatts of power.

“Hydroelectric energy may have the unconfirmed potential of about 12,000 megawatts from 245 sites around the country or about 50 megawatts from a single site, but the life expectancy of a dam is only about fifty years. In the meantime, you will have forever destroyed this nation’s heritage–the culture of a mountain people, a part and parcel of the Filipino’s patrimonial identity–a heritage that belongs to all humanity. In behalf of the people of Kalinga-Apayao and Bontoc, we beg you to stop the Chico River dam project.”

Marcos had been sitting on his podium, alternating his weight from one buttock to the other. He had not looked at Abayaw directly while he spoke. Abayaw waited with expectation for a reply to his impassioned plea.

“Sir,” Abayaw continued, “may I add that when you decided to undertake this project, you did not consult the Kalingas and the Bontocs, nor discuss with them the necessity for the dams so as to reach an agreement on relocating the population. There are many ways of finding a solution to a problem, and violence is the least of them.”

“You are nothing but a mountain hillbilly,” Marcos finally said, “with half a leg.”

Abayaw was taken aback. He thought of something to say, a retort, but then considered that this was the chief of the entire nation. He, on the other hand, was just the representative of the Pangat of a cultural minority.

“Appearances can be deceiving, sir,” Abayaw replied.

Marcos then turned towards his thugs, one of whom jumped to attention and ushered Abayaw out of the room. In less than the time it took to brush one’s teeth, Abayaw found himself facing an empty street.

Outside, Abayaw thought of the human rights that the government is obliged to protect. These rights are life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. When these human rights are not safeguarded and when it turns a deaf ear to its citizens, then the government loses its claim to obedience. The Pangat was right. This city chief is far from being civilised.

Meanwhile, along the Chico River valley in the Cordillera Mountains, government soldiers were bombing villages and hamlets, using helicopters and warplanes. They randomly shot at those working quietly in their rice fields and anyone coming out of their huts. They engaged in all manner of unspeakable horrors in this peaceful area in the mountains. Thousands in Kalinga and Bontoc were killed–thousands upon thousands of defenceless people.

Abayaw limped to a jeepney stop that would bring him back again to the Japanese consulate in Makati. There he was informed that his visa application had been finally approved. He then went to a travel agent to inquire about the next plane to Tokyo.