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Keepers of the Flame

© 1995 by Daphne Haour-Hidalgo


Keepers of the Flame is a short story about the lives of some ordinary people in the Philippines, within the political and social framework of the Marcos period of Martial Law. Its plot centers on a quest for that elusive panacea for the nation’s economic and social ills, and aims to stoke the fires of change.

(Library of Congress Copyright Registration Number / Date: TXu001018005 / 2001-10-02)

•••••

1: Abayaw Prepares for the Haddan

The morning mist hung over the mountaintops and drifted slowly with the breeze. A water buffalo stood motionless in a fallow rice paddy. A distant waterfall fed gurgling streams into aqueducts of hollowed tree trunks through rice enclosures. Hamlets of wooden huts on stilts dotted the quiet landscape.

Under one of the huts, in one of the hamlets, barefooted men dressed in loincloths sat around a mountain priest in silence. The mombaki was reciting an epic poem in a droning lilt, as he haruspicated over the bile and liver of a dead chicken. With a scrawny finger, he poked at the entrails, deciphering a message from the gods. Abayaw, who was whittling two cane reeds into darts, glanced at the mombaki now and then.

A dispute settlement was going to take place that afternoon. Abayaw’s family and their neighbour were bickering over a boundary between their adjacent rice fields. The area in contention was only a metre long, but the haddan in a few hours was important to both. The Ifugaos of the Philippines were not one to trifle with ambiguities.

Centuries ago, this cultural minority built the rice terraces. Using pointed stones, wooden spades and their bare hands, they carved ledges of rice paddies out of the barren mountain slopes. With each shelf held by walls of packed mud, they skilfully channelled water from streams and rivers, irrigating each and every rice enclosure. Thousands upon thousands of kilometres of rice shelves now line the mountainsides, and while building all these without engineering instruments, they could not afford to be imprecise.

“Yaw!” Dulmog whispered, “where’s your egg?” Abayaw looked up and pointed with a quick tilt of his nose to his hipbag nearby.

Abayaw seemed an unlikely choice to represent the family in a contest of physical prowess. He was born with one leg significantly shorter than the other. So instead of clambering the cumbersome stairways of the mountains to work in the rice fields, he attended school. He also spent his time wandering in the forest, wading in the rivers, and exploring the mysterious massive stone ruins, believed to date from 2,000 BC, in the wilderness of Potia. Sometimes, one could spot him limping along the dikes, patting mud into the chinks of its walls. But he was chosen to do battle with the neighbour because the Ifugaos know that a physical handicap does not deter a brilliant mind.

The mombaki finally finished his monotonous chanting. He looked up at the sky with outstretched arms, appealing to the sun, the moon, the stars, the gods and all the forces in the universe worth petitioning to. While this impassioned supplication was going on, the chicken was discreetly handed over to the womenfolk to be prepared for the mombaki’s lunch. Everyone quietly welcomed the wild chirping of forest crickets.

An Ifugao elder, who had been chewing a betel nut all this time, spat the red juice out and slowly got up on his feet. Had the gods looked favourably on the sacrifice? he inquired of the mombaki. There was a collective sigh of relief as the mombaki solemnly nodded his head. One by one, the others stood up and stretched their cramped limbs, slowly dispersing here and there to thatched-roof huts where sleeping boards and reed mats awaited them. They would gather again later to witness the haddan.

Meanwhile, in another distant hamlet, under a hut on stilts, a similar ritual was taking place. The mombaki of the rival family likewise nodded his head.

2. Knowledge is the Enemy of Faith

It was a warm evening in the great metropolis, Manila. Pia Delgado took off her jacket and tossed it together with her leather briefcase onto the front seat of her car, and then drove out of the car park onto the main road.

She slowed to a stop at a red light on Ayala Avenue and came upon a common sight. Descending on the cars that had come to a standstill were young children begging for coins. One of the boys going from car to car caught her eye. He had light brown hair and unusually fair skin. She shook her head wearily and inferred that his mother probably had no profession to resort to other than the oldest one in the world. The woman’s life was complicated enough by her poverty, but with this country being unrealistically devout, the Government and the Church make no effort to prevent her problems from multiplying.

As Pia sat in the comfort of her car, she wondered what it would take to make this country the progressive nation it should be, so that its citizens would enjoy a better quality of life. A multitude of social, political and economic changes have to be considered. She likened the august undertaking to a spider spinning its web, a tedious work but a pursuit that was essential to survival.

Pia recalled a discussion one afternoon after class when she and her friends met together at Delaney Hall, the building adjacent to the Catholic Church at the University of the Philippines. Father Umali welcomed students who used the Hall as a place to congregate on campus. He would sometimes drop by and join them in their talks. Those who knew the priest well called him Derps, a play on the word ‘Padre’.

Raoul and Eric were there. Marites also came that afternoon. Pia wondered how Marites could be so devout. She was studying to become a lawyer, a logical and analytical profession; but she went to mass everyday, she prayed the rosary with a group of elderly women on Sunday afternoons, she went to confession every week and she knew all the Catholic holidays and observed them all. Pia often wondered what a future lawmaker would need to confess; her life appeared faultless. But religion to many, Pia thought as she sat in her car, is a matter of piety, and a majority of the pious are ignorant of its philosophy.

“Derps, what purpose is there in reciting prayers by rote?” Marites asked Father Umali, who came and sat with them around a table in the spacious lobby of Delaney Hall.

“Well, Marites, rote prayers are the foundation for how to pray to God,” Father Umali had replied.

“But can’t you use your own words?” Raoul asked. “I think rote praying serves to engrave religious dogmas in your mind. I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth… And when we are not reciting prayers, we are asking for something. Please let me pass the exams, please let me win the jackpot in the lottery, please protect me at the wheel… But really, all one has to do is to study hard, buy all the lottery tickets, and drive carefully. It’s rather like a hungry cat asking for it to rain mice.”

“The course of our lives is decided by God, and if you ask for Divine Intervention, then you shall receive it. But He can do with you according to His Will.”

Eric sat up with a start, showing disagreement in his countenance with what Father Umali just said. “Derps,” he said, “that kind of thinking is very destructive. That makes people believe that they have no responsibility for their own lives because a god predetermines their fate. That makes us believe that prayer solves problems. So here we are taking a leisurely stroll through life because for centuries you have induced us to believe that Someone up there is looking after us. That attitude restricts initiative. You have taught the people to know no defence but Christian resignation. It’s up to God, you say. The fact of the matter is, how your life turns out to be is up to you.”

Pia watched the cars pass on the perpendicular road, as she waited for the light to turn green. A policeman on a wooden platform in the middle of the intersection whistled now and then, as he directed the traffic to move along.

“There is something about religion,” Eric had said quietly, “that draws the weary, the desperate, the lonely, the lost, the troubled and the dying. What everyone is really searching for is an inner peace. But if one should choose religion to be their sanctuary of inner peace, at least be rational about it.”

“I think,” Raoul concluded, “that in mankind’s search for the meaning of life, a better afterlife becomes a goal. Be good now, so you will go to heaven. Be ascetic, so you won’t be reborn as a cockroach…”

The traffic light had turned green, but the policeman standing on the raised wooden platform continued to motion the cars on the perpendicular road to move along. Some impatient drivers tooted their horns.

“But so many people believe in the existence of a God, so it must be true,” Marites had sighed.

Eric clucked his tongue. “Marites, you should know that that is an erroneous argument. It is a mistake to think that something must be true because so many people believe it to be true. In the time before Magellan, it was believed that the world was flat, and that one fell off the rim on the horizon. They made drawing in their books of a square earth and considered it fact. The majority is not always right.”

Eric then turned to Father Umali to address him. “Religious beliefs evolved when Man started to question the mysteries of life–a time when Science was in its rudimentary stage of development, a time when the Church used Fear as a powerful tool to dominate the ignorant.

“Terrifying visual symbols, themes in drawing and paintings, were used to instil fear. The images of Purgatory and Hell are still with us today. And what is Hell? It is an imaginary netherworld used by the Church to frighten the people into obeying you.

“Then in order for the people to remain attached to the Church, you invented a region of temporary suffering called Purgatory. Pray unceasingly so that you won’t roam in total darkness in Purgatory. The Church uses the threat of endless torment to control people. The images of these horrifying places terrorise the young catechist whose mind is moulded at an early age to believe your teachings blindly. So salvation from a mythical territory of fire and man-eating ogres depends on piety. The power of the Church is derived from terrorising the people.

“Science has answered many of life’s mysteries. Now that we know better, why do you still cling to the primitive doctrines of religion? It is unfortunate that religion is regarded by many to hold exclusive definition of a people’s ethics. But being Christian does not define you to be morally upright.”

Raoul directed his gaze to this symbol of the Church, speaking to him as its representative. “You must keep yourselves,” he said, “in your magnificent edifices and not meddle in State affairs. Do not interfere when the Government tries to control the escalating population by more practical means. Keep your religious fervour and your dogmas confined within the walls of your House.

“Overpopulation is the largest single impediment to improving our quality of life. We have one of the fastest population growth rates in the world. It is unchecked because you make sure that it remains unchecked. The destructive magnitude of overpopulation on our economy is horrendous. We cannot match work opportunities to population growth, causing severe socio-economic inequalities.

“Overpopulation also strains our educational institutions. Our working force is composed of half-baked graduates, churned out by factory-processing schools that lack quality controls because they are unable to cope with large classroom attendance. Neither are there quality checks among our teachers. Burdened by the cost of education, many teachers are below standard because the government cannot find nor recruit better-qualified people who will accept the low salaries. What a wretched situation when it is the solemn responsibility of our educators to forge this nation’s leaders of tomorrow.”

Someone tapping on her car window brought Pia out of her reverie. Will giving the boy some coins solve his state of insufficient resources? The Storybook tells a magical tale of five loaves of bread and two fishes. Can wealth be multiplied by dividing it? Can a few coins help to teach him about working for a living? Is it ethical to receive something you did not earn through labour?

Pia rolled her window down and said, “Find something to do! Shine shoes! Clear someone’s garden! Wash windows! Anything! Work! Be an industrious boy and not an idle one! ”

Taking some coins from her car ashtray, she put them in his waiting palm. “Thank you,” he said, and he hurried to the side, away from harm’s way as the cars started to move on.

Change will take a while, Pia thought. But the time to change was yesterday.

3. How Much Wealth Does a Man Need?

He wore a loud flower-printed shirt with a button missing at the tuck, and bluejeans that were no longer blue. His carefully waxed hair was parted to one side and combed upwards, towards the back. Carrying a black briefcase, he looked self-important. But in the briefcase were gifts of plastic bead on a string, cheap cosmetics and picture cards of movie idols. Because the lock was broken, he held it at the handle with a finger holding onto one side. On his feet were those incongruous rock-and-roll fake patent boots whose soles appeared to be made of cardboard. Sweat covered his darkly tanned face. But in spite of his amusing appearance, there was sympathy in his eyes, and much more matter than one could see between his ears.

An Ifugao who had migrated to Manila several years before, he had arrived from that city and was now on his way to one of the secluded hamlets. The mountain people regarded him with awe and admiration because he would tell them stories about city life, news he had heard or books he had read—tales that were outside of their realm of being.

He reached a clearing, a little out of breath, and sat on a bench made of three rows of stout tree branches. From his pocket, he took out a handkerchief that had seen better days, and wiped the sweat off his face. His arrival frightened some strutting chickens.

Meanwhile, inside one of the huts, Nina was resting on a wooden board. She and her mother had spent the day pulling out weeds among the rice seedlings. They were now resting at home, the mother sitting on the ground under the house on stilts, weaving at her loom. Like the barking of dogs warning of an intruder, Nina looked out of the doorway to see what the chickens were about.

“Berto!” she cried out in delight.

She stood up and hurried down the ladder steps to meet him. One by one, the other girls scurried out of their huts. They gathered around him, pushing, shoving and giggling, like they’d never seen a man in trousers before. Muscular, handsome and in g-strings, the menfolk came out to join them.

“My dear ladies!” Berto exclaimed, as he waved his arms in the air. The girls had surrounded him. Berto sat back on the bench. There was a hum of small talk as the natives sat or squatted, making themselves comfortable around Berto. It was a breezy late afternoon. The birds and the crickets provided a background symphony to which the flowers and the boughs swayed in tune. It was a good time for storytelling.

Berto looked affectionately at his audience. Born in an age and time not of their making, these people were descendants of those that had inhabited the mountains for thousands of years. They called themselves Ifugao–people of the earth.

They believed in gods, deities and ancestral spirits. In fact, they had 1,240 gods, each specialised in a certain task–from one god in charge of ridding the rice crops of worms, to another responsible for bringing discomfort to an enemy. So for every request, they consulted a mombaki to intercede with the appropriate god. The appeals were conducted in ceremonies with an animal offering and drinking of tap-uy, wine made from tinawon rice, the indigenous variety grown on the terraces. Harvested only once a year, it was therefore a precious commodity for the Ifugaos.

They held great reverence for the spirits of their dead. They believed in an afterlife, and that it was similar to their present lives. Their neighbours, the Kalinga-Apayaos, believed that the spirits of the dead lived in a separate temporal and spatial dimension within the same territory as the living. In other words, there was a segment in time and space wherein they existed. The Ifugaos did not believe that their actions in the present life had consequences in the next. Life after death was a new life.

Their society was composed of three social classes: the well to do, called the kadangyan; the middle class, called the tagu; and the poor, called the nawotwot. The nawotwot wore no ornaments at all and the colours in their attire were black and white. The tagu needed only to perform a ceremony to graduate to the upper class and take on its responsibilities. Like the kadangyans, they gave dinner parties to share their wealth with the community. The kadangyans, who wore body ornaments and tattoos and used black and red in their attire, were highly respected because they were hardworking and generous. It was they who decided what was commonly good for the community.

The Ifugaos lived in scattered hamlets of twenty to thirty huts, usually along rivers and their tributaries. The huts were windowless one-room houses on stout posts, about three metres from the ground, made of wood and precisely cut to fit together at the ends because they used no nails. When the children turned six, they left their parents’ house to sleep in an agamang. The elderly, who were alone, also slept there and oversaw the discipline in these dormitories.

Some of the men in his audience wore belts of bones and shells, and some of the women wore snake-bone headbands and heirloom necklaces of jade and gold, others of carnelian agates. The Ifugaos maintained their traditions and customs and succeeded in keeping out foreign influences. They defended themselves against the Spanish conquistadors and missionaries because these natives regarded them first as intruders, and then as common thieves and carriers of diseases.

The Ifugaos wove their cloth material on looms, carved works of art from blocks of wood, raised poultry and grew rice. They evaluated their wealth not in terms of money, but in terms of rice fields, working animals and their family honour that only time and tradition bestows.

Berto felt a sense of timelessness among these people far removed from the cosmopolitan world he knew, which considered itself civilised. Berto deduced that western civilisation should not be imposed on an eastern culture where the definition of civilisation existed in a different dimension.

“It has been some time since you last came to visit us,” Nina said. “What stories do you have for us today?”

Berto took a moment to recall the stories he had already told them before. He remembered talking to them about the universe and that there were at least nine planets in the skies aside from the sun, the moon and the stars. The mombaki was perplexed about that. He also remembered telling them fables by that famous Greek, Aesop. They particularly enjoyed those. He decided to recite a short tale by a Russian named Leo Tolstoy that he had recently read.

“Today,” he began in the Ifugao dialect, “I shall tell you a story about a greedy man.”

Berto made himself comfortable on the bench, and those who were still standing hurried to squat on the clearing around him. Some of them started handing out betel nuts and lime.

“There was once a peasant named Pahóm who lived in a small village, making a living on a small parcel of land. He lived comfortably in a small house with his wife, their children and the farm animals.

“But Pahóm was not content. He complained that he did not have enough land. His cows and horses would often stray and graze in the meadows of a lady landowner who lived next to their village. Her steward would fine the owners of the wayward animals, and this annoyed Pahóm.

“One day, the old lady decided to sell her land. The peasants wanted the Commune to buy it so that they could use it in common. But there were disagreements and it was decided that they purchase parcels of it individually.

“Pahóm was not wealthy and could not easily afford to buy a parcel of earth. So he sold some of his farm animals, hired out one of his sons, borrowed from his brother-in-law, and thus was able to put together the purchase money.

“But he soon had the village cows in his meadows and the neighbours’ horses in his corn. And one morning, he found someone had chopped down some trees in his woods. So Pahóm exchanged words with his neighbours and soon started fining them, and they reproached him for that.

“Then there was word that some of the peasants were moving out of the village, so Pahóm thought of buying more land in the Commune from those leaving. He still felt confined on his estate.

“One day a stranger from Volga passed through the village and Pahóm learnt from him that people were moving there where plenty of land could be had. Pahóm went to have a look and decided to move there, too. Apart from the land granted to him by the Commune, he also could rent freehold land. Soon he became wealthy from the crops he planted and sold. But Pahóm was not satisfied with renting the land. He wanted it to be his own.

“A tradesman was passing by one fine afternoon and had tea with Pahóm. He told him about the country of the Bashkirs where one could get land for next to nothing. Of course, Pahóm was interested. And so he went there, taking a servant with him.

“Pahóm had brought gifts and soon the Bashkirs looked kindly on his interest in their land. The chief Bashkir told him to choose whatever he liked, and that he sold land by the day. Pahóm asked how land could be sold by the day, and he was told that whatever amount of land he could cover on foot in one day, that land was his. He was to start at daybreak at whatever spot he chose, but he had to return to the same spot where he started before the sun set, or else his money would be forfeited.

“That night, Pahóm thought of how much land he could cover and what he would do with it. He decided that the best part he would farm, that the poorer part he would rent to peasants and that the remaining he would leave to the cattle.

“Just before daybreak, Pahóm woke up his servant and the Bashkirs so that they could start measuring his land. The chief placed his fox-fur cap on the ground saying that it would serve as the marker for where Pahóm would begin and return. Pahóm put his money on the cap, and started walking towards the East.

“He walked and walked, neither too slowly nor too fast, for about five kilometres, then dug a hole to mark the corner. He then made a turn and decided to go straight for another five kilometres. It was getting very warm and he took off his coat and his boots.

“After the fifth kilometre, he found the area ahead too nice to lose, so he decided to walk further in order to cover it. But the further he went the land seemed better and better. And so he walked on so as to have that part, too.

“Pahóm was starting to get tired. He stopped to drink water from a flask he had brought. He then dug some soil to mark the second corner. Then he turned left and started walking again, going very far. It was terribly hot, and Pahóm felt very sleepy. But he walked on and on. He then regretted making the other two sides too long, and so he started walking faster and faster. By this time, the sun was halfway down from its zenith.

“Pahóm’s bare feet were hurting now and he was getting extremely tired. He dug some earth to mark the third corner, and then turned to start the final side. But the sun was nearing the point where its size begins to diminish rapidly. Pahóm started to run. He threw away his coat, his flask, his boots and anything hindering his race to the finish. His heart was beating fast, his lungs were ready to pop, his mouth was dry and the muscles of his legs were painful. But he ran on and on.

“He could see the Bashkirs waving their arms, and he could faintly hear their shouts, telling him to hurry. The bottom half of the sun had disappeared on the horizon. He ran on and on. Finally he saw the cap. He sprinted, fell forward and touched it with his hands. He won! The chief congratulated him on the huge piece of land he had gained. But Pahóm remained lying on the ground.

“Pahóm’s servant went and tried to raise him, but Pahóm was dead. His servant dug a grave and buried him in it. And all the land that Pahóm needed, measured less than 183 centimetres from his head to his heels.”

Berto’s audience remained silent for a while, reflecting on the story he had just related. One of the men stood up and approached Berto. “Why is it so important,” he asked, “for some people to own so much land?”

It was Berto’s turn to be perplexed. Why, indeed? he wondered. Berto thought of the handful of Filipinos who owned huge tracts of agricultural land, measuring about three million hectares. Seventy per cent of the Filipino population made a living as tenant farmers, tilling an average of 2.6 hectares. But they were poorer than poor. The landlord took from 60% to 80% of the crop yields as land rent, whereas by law, it should have been 25%. The annual salary of those working as hired hands on the farm was a mere $65. Because they could not survive on this tiny sum, they either borrowed from landowners at exorbitant interest rates of up to 50% or they went abroad and sent their earnings home to feed their families. Working in foreign lands in menial occupations that required little education, farming was the only task they knew well. Landowners not only exploited the peasants, but also ignored the land reform laws. They clung to their feudal powers and did everything they could to make elimination of inequality in rural society unattainable. The extent of the greed, Berto determined, was despicable.

“I am really unfamiliar in the ways of the callous,” he answered, “and concerning their breeding, I would rather remain ignorant.”

“But surely,” the mountain man continued in the native dialect, “there are those who question the absence of the basic tenet of governance, that the common good of the community is pre-eminent?”

“Yes, there are those who question the absence of the interest of the community in governance, but this band has been made to look like outlaws in the eyes of the urban elite.”

“Then that community must change its chief if he cannot prioritise the welfare of his people and if his own agenda precluded their common good.”

“It is precisely that community which put this chief where he is now.”

“Then a baki must be performed to summon the gods to bring this incompetent man to his knees.”

“I’m afraid it will take more than a sacrificial ceremony to rid the people of their oppressor.”

“You have been too long in the city, Berto. In whatever form it be, a sacrifice will be necessary.”

The gold beads around his neck glittered and the coiled leg bands around the man’s ankles tinkled as he sat down. There was a hushed murmuring and another exchange of betel nuts.

“Tell us another story!” someone said.

Berto thought a moment. The day was getting short and he had other hamlets to visit. “I will tell you a fable,” he said. “It is a story about a hawk and some pigeons.

“There was once a hungry hawk that chased after a flock of pigeons. But no matter how fast he went after them, they always managed to scurry to safety.
“One day, the hawk decided to use deception. From a nearby tree, he told them, ‘Because you live a life of constant fear, if you make me your king, I will keep you safe from any aggression.’

“The foolish pigeons believed the hawk. They made him their king, as they thought that he was interested in their welfare. Once on the throne, he issued a proclamation. From that day forward, he ordered that a pigeon be prepared every evening for his dinner.”

A frightened silence greeted the end of Berto’s story. The betel nut chewing had stopped. All eyes were on him, wide and unblinking. It was not the story’s implication that common men who vote a tyrant to power deserve their fate. Berto bit his tongue when he realised that for the Ifugaos a bird is an animal that portends misfortune.

“Look what I’ve brought for you today!” he exclaimed, as he quickly changed the subject. He grabbed his unlocked briefcase and all his gifts fell, cluttering the ground. He picked them up and arranged them on the bench he had been sitting on. The girls got to their feet as Berto displayed colourful baubles, cheap watches, sticks of lipsticks, compact mirrors and opalescent photographs of popular singers and film stars which they would tack along the outside wooden walls of their thatched huts. The girls chose a plastic necklace here, a horrible shade of red there, and one by one they selected a trinket and walked back to their huts.

Telling them that he would return, Berto left and took the familiar path back to the main road. He turned around as he heard light running footsteps behind him.

Nina’s wind-tossed hair draped her soft shoulders. Like a gazelle among the trees, her arms moved rhythmically with each stride of her exceptionally long brown legs. Her unshod feet were covered with flakes of dried soil from the path.

“Do you want something else, Nina?” he asked her, when she caught up with him.

“No, Berto,” she replied out of breath. “I am happy with my mirror. Thank you.” She took his arm and led him to sit on a fallen banana tree at the side. “Berto,” she said, “I am growing vegetables in some of the paddies just above the hill over there. I would like to sell them in Manila. Will you help me do that?”

“What kinds of vegetables, Nina? We have all kinds there.”

“I have sweet potatoes, strawberries, some cabbages…”

“But, why do you want to sell vegetables?”

“Berto, you know that by our tradition, almost all of the property will go to the eldest child, and that is to my brother, Abayaw. Oh, I’m sure he will take care of me, as the community takes cares of each other, but I do not to be a burden to him.”

“But why go to the city?”

“Everybody grows their own vegetables here. But in the city, do you grow vegetables in your garden?”

“It won’t be easy making a living selling vegetables in the city, but I’ll see what I can do to help you. First Nina, you must choose something that cannot be found elsewhere. There are plenty of potatoes and cabbages, but strawberries and citrus fruits are unusual. Specialise in them. Since transportation costs will wipe out your profit, get together with others in your community in a co-operative, and pool your agricultural products together so that each one of you does not go out onto the streets peddling your garden vegetables. Think of organising a Farmers’ Day in the city where, together as a co-operative, you can sell your vegetables directly to the people. This co-operative can also sell the farmers’ produce to large retailers. The mountain roads are very bad, so this might be your best option. Ask your brother to set it up for you. And finally, I must warn you about city people, my pretty Nina—do not talk to strangers.”

They walked together towards the main road where Berto hailed a passing tricycle. “I’ll see what I can do,” he said in parting, and she watched the vehicle turn a corner before slowly heading back.

Nina took a roundabout way home. She crossed the dikes along the rice paddies and went through the forest. She washed her feet in a cool brook on the way. She passed some boys riding on a water buffalo, that unwieldy beast of burden. She came across a trap with a wild and unhappy boar in it, and she tickled its nose with a branch she snapped off from a nearby bush. She passed a banana tree with yellow ripe fruit and climbed it to pick some, leaving the rest for others.

The chickens strutting about took a glance at her with a forward jerk of the beak to the left, to look with the right eye, and then to the right, to look with the left. Then they continued to peck at the ground with nary a squawk.

——–

“How Much Land Does a Man Need?” by Leo Tolstoi

4. A Wolf in a Tuxedo

The traffic congestion was maddening. Pia switched on her car radio. It was playing a guitar piece that reminded her of Raoul and how she appreciated his musical talents. After classes, she would go to Delaney Hall to listen to Raoul on his guitar. But there was one time Pia went one night and found an unusual number of people milling around the Hall lobby. There was an air of tension and she recalled feeling it.

“What’s happening?” Pia inquired of one of the people there.

“What do you mean?” the girl asked warily. “Who are you and what college are you from?”

Pia sensed an uncommon mistrust. “I’m meeting a classmate from the college of Economics here this evening.”

“If you don’t see him around this lobby, then he must be at conference in the back room. We have to be careful. There are government spies among the students on campus.” Then bending forward, she whispered, “There’s going to be a student demonstration tomorrow, and this meeting to organise it is running a little late.”

“What are they demonstrating about?” Pia whispered back.

The girl looked at Pia in shock. “You should keep yourself aware of what is going on in our country! Act to correct anomalies when you see them! Indifference is a trait common among the ignorant! Be involved in our nation’s future!”

The girl left Pia spluttering her excuses. She decided to look for Raoul instead of just standing there. She made her way through the rear hallway. There were two male students guarding the passage, and they let her through when she mentioned her friend’s name. Pia noticed, though, that they appeared not to know who he was or pretended not to know, or didn’t want to know.

She carefully opened a door and peeked into one of the rooms where she discerned a murmur of voices. Pia found it odd that they had not turned on the lights—probably so that they could not identify each other, or so as not to arouse suspicion if there were outsiders looking in. She overheard someone designating who were to print the manifestos and organise their distribution, and where student leaders should be stationed and with what groups. They apparently wanted an orderly demonstration. Pia quietly closed the door. She tiptoed through the dark hallway and headed back for the lobby.

With the traffic as it was, Pia decided to make a detour through a residential area which would bring her back to the main avenue further down. Fewer cars were on this road as it was forbidden to public transport vehicles. A longer route, but faster than on the main thoroughfare.

Pia remembered surveying the scene of cautious conviviality in the Hall lobby that evening. Groups of students were standing here and there. Some were sitting at the few sofas that were available. There was a bar table to the right of the door entrance with bar stools, and the students sitting there were reading schoolbooks or writing, undisturbed by the hum of chatter around them. She spotted the girl she had just talked to, conversing with two other male students. Sitting on a sofa around a coffee table, Pia decided to join them. She introduced herself and they moved to make room for her to sit down.

“We were talking about how the Americans came to the Philippines,” the girl said, “and why they decided to stay.”

“That was during the Spanish-American War in 1898,” Pia remarked.

“Yes, it was” one of the male students said. “The Americans came to seek our help to defeat the Spanish, but when they saw the abundant natural resources here, they abused the situation of the Spanish losing the war, by ‘purchasing’ our country from them as war booty. This imperialistic attitude continues even now—a habit long abandoned by what has become a more civilised world.”

“So Aguinaldo,” the girl said, “after getting rid of the Spanish conquistadors, now had the Americans to deal with. Because he compromised America’s interests, they jailed him and called him a criminal–he who assisted them in their war.”

Pia stepped on the brakes and tooted the horn. A car had swerved in her lane without warning. She looked in the mirror to see if the car behind her had ample distance to brake as well. She switched off the radio and went on second gear.

“The United States,” the other male student declared, “is a country that is only two hundred and twenty-five years old. They have no traditional civilisation. Who are the real Americans? They are the Indians. Slaughtered by these cowboys, they are now a minority population in their own country. Less than one percent is all that remains of the Native American population. Who are the Other Americans? They are all immigrants–that country is populated exclusively by immigrants. They came to that land, in search of a better life. And a majority of these white immigrants were commoners, who did not pass through the fine sieve of Europe’s traditional societies.”

“But these people,” Pia countered, “who came as pioneers to America, may have failed to find their place in the traditional societies of their countries, but it is precisely this that has made them a nation of innovative people, adaptable to contemporary conditions. They were not fettered by tradition and social class structures as the society back in their country of origin were.”

“So these uncivilised Americans went all-out to exploit the Philippines,” the girl continued. “An emissary was sent to prepare a catalogue of natural resources of the country. They dictated economic policies detrimental to our national economy. With the Laurel-Langley agreement, the Americans were granted economic rights in the exploitation of Philippine natural resources. They imposed one-sided treaties that made the country the dumping ground for American products.”

“Then the CIA,” said the first male student, “trained cadres of Filipinos to protect America’s commercial interests, labelling unhappy farmers as subversives and communists. We have not been able to metamorphose as a nation with the Americans supporting the suppression of dissent against the ills of our society. We therefore could not, and even now cannot, manage our own economic development effectively. There are many links in this chain that bind many people to a hand-to-mouth existence.”

“Torture and murder,” the girl said bitterly, “is America’s definition of protection. The CIA recruited locals to do their dirty work for them.”

“My God!” Pia said in surprise. “But why?”

“There is one outstanding reason,” said the second male student. “Let’s say a wolf came uninvited to a traditional dinner party. Everybody would shun him, of course, and most probably kick him out. So he goes home and puts on a star-studded tuxedo, with dollar bills peeping out of his waistcoat pockets. He returns, and some guests loll their tongues like dogs at the sight of the contents of his pockets. He becomes the life of the party, and anything he says is believed, no matter how absurd. He gorges himself on the buffet. But that form of deceit cannot continue for long, as his pockets are soon emptied. So he goes back home and returns with a gun. Wanting to leave the party with their lives, some guests attach themselves to him, thinking it is better to be at the right paw of the wolf than to be his prey. He becomes arrogant because the gun gives him supreme superpower–and he thinks that power gives him permission to do anything he wishes.

“Their military machinery projects this power, making certain that their commercial interests around the world are protected. They are gorging themselves on someone else’s buffet—the natural resources of other countries.

“They show no respect for the sovereignty of other nations, especially those incapable of retaliating. Only if a country has military capabilities do they lay their hands off. Having no authority to force foreign governments to co-operate in sustaining their national interests, they go through international bodies to impose sanctions and embargoes–ways they use to coerce uncooperative governments to conform to their agenda.”

“My God…” Pia exclaimed again in shock. “But what was the CIA really established for then? Wasn’t it their mandate to contain the Soviet menace?”

“What the Americans really saw in communism was an economic system that would not complement their own,” the girl answered. “But the CIA have done a lot that had very little to do with the Soviets. Instead, their work revolved around containing perceived threats to their commercial interests and those of their allies.

“The CIA intervened in Guatemala when the freely-elected President wanted to redistribute land to peasants, thereby threatening an American banana fruit company that owned the largest parcel of land in the country. The CIA rendered the country unstable by creating the illusion of social instability. They operated death squads, snatching individuals in the streets and killing them. They would place bombs in churches and then put communist leaflets in the aftermath. The Americans even poisoned their water supply. They have murdered more than 100,000 of Guatemala’s people.

“The CIA intervened in Chile, when Allende, a social democrat, while retaining a democratic form of government, attempted to restructure Chilean society on socialist lines by nationalising American-owned copper companies, foreign banks and monopolistic enterprises. The CIA-led military coup killed President Allende and installed a military dictatorship under Pinochet.

“When Asia was emerging from colonial rule, Asians believed that their hopes and aspirations for their respective countries could develop along socialist lines. They did not have the necessary ingredients to make a capitalist system work. The Americans intervened to topple the fragile scaffolding. Together with the US military, the CIA ran Operation Phoenix, an assassination project that has killed at least 40,000 Asians.

“CIA covert operations took the form of creating an illusion of mass revolt in order to destabilise governments and wreak havoc with the socio-economic infrastructure. The Americans have made themselves the object of hatred.”

Pia signalled to turn right on Roxas Boulevard. It was nightfall, and the reflected moonlight on the calm waters of Manila Bay illuminated the grey ships birthed there.

“But where’s the outcry of condemnations in the press and by international organisations that keep tabs on such atrocities?” Pia demanded.

“Propaganda,” one male student answered in one word. “The American propaganda machinery tightly controls information fed to the public. Their distortion of the truth is calculated to orient the world’s attitude towards a direction in their favour. They paint themselves as champions of freedom and liberty, these sheep-clothed quadrupeds, and there is so much more to know that the world may never know, owing to America’s manipulation of the news.”

“Do you see how important it is that we have competent leaders in government?” the girl asked. “We are demonstrating tomorrow against the fraudulent election of Ferdinand Marcos. We consider him a puppet of the Americans. We want him to address the plight of the masses.”

“Where will the demonstration be held?” Pia asked.

“In front of Congress,” the girl replied.

“How many students do you think will come?”

“We are co-ordinating with other groups from other universities. We should be about 40,000.”

“Well, one more won’t make a difference then,” Pia answered.

“Each and every one can make a difference.”

Pia parked her car in front of the well-lit restaurant. She looked back at that time in Delaney Hall, a day in January 1970. A series of violent crimes and bombings in Manila marked those early years and then Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972. Thousands of professors, journalists, farmers and students were arrested. Thousands more were to die.

5. The Haddan

It was a fine afternoon for settling disputes. A young man dancing and banging on a gong preceded the procession. Abayaw and the rest of his clan followed just behind. As was the custom, they were shouting curses at the rival family who were doing the same on a parallel dike, with the invisible demarcation line somewhere in the rice paddy between them.

“May you catch a minnow for your supper!”

Bang! bang! bang!

“May you climb a barkless tree with an angry boar behind your back!”

Bang! bang! bang!

“May an imp hear your appeals instead of the gods!”

Bang! bang! bang!

Above the din of clangs and curses, the two mombakis were chanting prayers. Then everyone stopped shouting. They moved to the side, some squatting, others standing or leaning on dikes. The elders sat on their haunches, chewing betel nuts with calm resignation.

Abayaw positioned himself on the opposite side of his opponent. The representative of the other family, a robust man named Iwa, did the same. They stood about eight metres apart.

Then Iwa’s mombaki started shouting. He was asking favours of the sun, the moon, the stars, the spirits and the gods. Abayaw turned to expose his bare back to Iwa.

Iwa threw his first bilao, aiming for the middle of Abayaw’s back. All heads moved in unison as they followed the dart’s trajectory. It landed in the murky water with a quiet splash beside a rice sprout. Abayaw’s clan laughed in wild excitement. Iwa had missed.

Bang! bang! bang!

Iwa took his second cane reed dart from his hipbag. All eyes followed the thrown projectile moving in space. The dart struck Abayaw on the lower left rump. Some of the spectators started to chortle, but Iwa quickly stopped them with an angry glare. Dulmog motioned for silence.

Bang! bang! bang!

Iwa took the egg, and with it, the last possibility to win the haddan. With a warrior shout, he threw it with all his might. A soft crunch was heard as the splattered omelette dripped down Abayaw’s neck from among the hairs on his head. No one made a sound, except for a few titters here and there.

Bang! bang! bang!

Abayaw turned around to face Iwa, who had moved to expose his back to his opponent. Then Abayaw’s mombaki started to shout his appeals, looking up at the sky. There was an exchange of betel nuts and lime among the elders. They popped them into their mouths and chewed with the patience of a ruminating member of the ox family.

Abayaw took his first bilao from his hipbag and practised his aim. He raised his shoulders, then all eyes moved in unison, following the thrown dart’s path. It passed to the right of Iwa’s arm, just below the shoulder, landing in the muddy waters of the rice paddy. Iwa’s clan laughed uproariously. Abayaw had missed.

Bang! bang! bang!

Abayaw, suffering silently, patted his mildly sore left rump. He took the second dart from his hipbag. With one eye squinted, he aimed for the middle of Iwa’s back. He threw the bilao. It, too, landed with a quiet splash to the right of Iwa’s arm, just below the shoulder. The look of doom in the faces of Abayaw’s clan did nothing to dissipate the hysterical glee on the other side. If Abayaw missed the last attempt, then the area in contention would be divided equally between them.

Bang! bang! bang!

Abayaw delicately took the chicken egg from his hipbag. With a look of determination, instead of aiming for the middle of Iwa’s back, Abayaw aimed for the murky waters to the left of Iwa’s arm, just below the shoulder. He took a deep breath and threw his egg. It landed squarely on the middle of Iwa’s back!

Bang! bang! bang! bang! bang!

Abayaw’s family went into fits of pandemic delight. They danced hither and thither. They clanged and banged on their gongs. The elders continued chewing their betel nuts with calm resignation. One of the mombakis grinned from ear to ear. Abayaw limped over to his opponent to console him. Then and there, the dispute was settled.

“Shall we go fishing and get away from this crowd?” Abayaw asked Iwa. They both stood there, oblivious to the noise and the admiring maidens that surrounded them.

“Good idea. I’ll fetch my fish trap and meet you up the hill.”

Bang! bang! bang!

“Mog!” Abayaw called out to his friend, who was making as much noise as everybody else.

“Nice aim, Yaw!” Dulmog said, patting him on his back.

“The praise belongs to the mombaki, Mog. Will you fetch my fish trap for me? Let’s catch fish for the party tonight.”

“Meet you at the hilltop, then!” Dulmog said, leaving for their hamlet to pick up the rattan-woven traps.

Bang! bang! bang!

As Dulmog left for their hamlet and Iwa for his, Abayaw limped towards the hardened-mud stairway leading up to a clump of trees above the terraces. When Abayaw arrived at the top of the hill, he sat down and waited for Dulmog and Iwa. From this distance, he could still see both clans dancing and singing along the dikes.

It was a bit of a walk, in spite of shortcuts through the forest, but they made their way to that part of the river where it was best for catching fish. The three friends walked silently through the woods, minding their steps, as they meandered through the trees and bushes along a seemingly untrodden trail they knew well, although no landmarks showed the way. They passed someone going in the opposite direction.

“Moma!” they said in greeting. This was the shortened expression of Wahana chimomam? ‘Have you some betel nuts?’ and it was their way of saying ‘Hello, how are you?’ It wasn’t necessary to exchange betel nuts, and neither did one necessarily talk about one’s health condition. Sometimes they also greeted each other with ‘Apor!’ —‘Lime!’ or ‘Hapid!’—‘Tobacco leaves!’ Their greetings connoted a humorous camaraderie.

They paused in front of a waterfall and watched the lively cascade. Drops of water went this way and that as they struck protruding rocks or were deflected by blades of grass, or paused through drenched moss, then slowly dripped down. But their course, as the three friends observed, no matter how they made their way and no matter how long they took, inevitably ended below.

When they arrived at the river, Iwa and Abayaw jumped in, dropping their fish baskets on the bank. Abayaw washed the egg out of his hair, and Iwa swam on his back to remove the dried omelette. After their bath, they swam a bit and relaxed in the cool waters of the Ibulao River. A little further off, Dulmog, with basket trap in hand, walked carefully in the shallow water so as not to disturb the unwary mullet.

“How many from your hamlet will be coming this evening?” Abayaw asked Iwa who was swimming close by.

“Well, there’s Grandfather and Grandmother, Father and Mother, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, cousins and the mombaki…we should be about thirty.”

“Then we had better set about catching enough fish.”

They both swam back to shore where they picked up their fish traps, and joined Dulmog who had caught quite a few. They fished quietly, dropping their bell-shaped fish trap on the fish with the skill taught them by their fathers and their forefathers before them. They then joined Dulmog who was lying on the grass, playing with a nest of ants.

Iwa dropped down and lay on his belly, resting his head on his crossed arms. He closed his eyes and sighed contentedly. An ant, carrying a grain of flower seed, crawled over Iwa’s fingers on its way to its nest.

Iwa opened one eye. He took a twig and carefully dislodged the seed from the ant’s grip. Another ant, sensing trouble, came running to his compatriot’s rescue. He turned around to face the twig with his behind, and calmly sprayed it with formic acid. Iwa chuckled.

“Look at these ants, Yaw!”

Abayaw, who was lying on the opposite side of Iwa, turned around. A trail of ants cut across them both. Abayaw observed their determined march towards a small mound of earth where they disappeared into an aperture.

“Do you know what’s under that mound, Iwa?”

“Ants, of course, Yaw.”

“Under it lies an organised world of a social community of ants.”

“A social community?” Dulmog queried.

Abayaw sat up to face his ignorant companion. “If you would stop a minute from running after girls, Mog, you would be less stupid; and if you went to school with me after rice planting season, you would know a little more than you do now,” Abayaw admonished.

“What do I need to know that I don’t already know, Yaw?”

“A lot more, Mog. These ants, for example.” Abayaw went to the mound and carefully removed a part of it. Dulmog and Iwa crawled over alongside. Ants were everywhere, in uniform procession through a series of tunnels.

“Ants live in organised communities, and their members include the queen, the workers and the males,” Abayaw began to explain. “The only role in life of the queen is to lay eggs. The only role of the male ants is to fertilise the young queen…”

“Oh, to be an ant!” Dulmog pined.

“After fulfilling their function, the male ants do not live long, Mog. The worker ants divide the work in their community among themselves. Some take care of the queen, some care for the young ants, others gather food, repair and enlarge the nest, and there are those that defend their community from harm. You see, each and every ant has a definite role to play in his or her society. The queen ant does not preside over the nest. Everybody does their job so that their community functions perfectly. These small insects seem to be smarter than humans.” Abayaw then carefully replaced the broken piece of earth onto the mound.

“Well, I would make a very good male ant,” Dulmog remarked.

“Mog! Except for the fact that you play the nose flute very well, that you’ve managed to make a living transporting passengers in your tricycle, and that you know the right words to say to the ladies, you’re as dumb as a water buffalo in a fallow field!” Abayaw berated.

“We had better be getting back,” Iwa said. They got up and tied their catch of fish on their belt-string. They started to walk when Iwa accidentally stepped on one of the ants.

“By all the gods,” he said. “I just stepped on an ant!”

Iwa picked up its lifeless body and examined it. “Yaw,” he asked, “do you think this particular ant deserved to die? Do you think he did not pray enough to his god for protection? What did this ant do to meet this fate today?”

“Iwa, that ant just happened to be under your foot.”

They entered the forest and started to make their way through the trees and shrubs. Iwa was still thinking about the dead ant. “…then the baki is a meaningless ceremony,” Iwa concluded, after a while of thought.

“What do you mean?” Abayaw asked.

“The ant must think to have a creator, perhaps fashioned in their image,” Iwa said.

“The ant evolved from the wasp, Iwa,” Abayaw said, “a hundred million years ago.”

“That explains his corporal existence, Yaw,” Iwa insisted. “But what explains his spiritual being? What gave the ants the idea of separate work assignments and an order in the nature of things?”

“Physical and metaphysical realms are governed by natural forces,” Abayaw answered. “The behaviour of the ants is guided by instincts, the major one of which is for survival. Science can explain to you what these natural forces are, Iwa. Read about them in books at the school library.”

“And if the behaviour of ants is governed by instincts, then how do you explain the behaviour of humans?” Iwa asked.

They had slowed down along the path where it dipped slightly at an angle. As they stepped down, they gripped the protruding rocks with their toes.

“The behaviour of man,” Abayaw answered, “is a product of both his genetic make-up and his physical and social environment. The first is a result of the conditions in which the species evolved, the resulting behaviour of that is called human nature. The second is the condition in which he lives, which is called culture. It would take a very long time to change the first, the mutation and variability of the genetic sequence of man that can cause diversity in his comportment and morphology. However, the second one, the environment, can be redesigned in such a way as to change his behaviour relatively instantly.”

“So the baki is meaningless, then,” Iwa repeated. “No amount of supplication will change the course of natural forces. A dart thrown in the air will naturally follow the direction in which it was thrown. Can it change course and veer to the left or to the right if you plead for it to do so? You won the haddan because you were better than I. The prayers of your mombaki and my mombaki had nothing to do with the outcome. The chickens could have no way of foretelling victory for either of us. There’s something wrong somewhere.”

“The baki ceremony is part of our tradition. You know that, Iwa. Our fathers did it before us, and their fathers before them Kapyana!—That is the custom!”

They continued to walk this way and that, their bare feet soundless on the soft earth. Dulmog, who was walking ahead, stopped beside the path to pick some yellow flowers.

“Here’s some medicine for your sore butt, Yaw.”

Abayaw broke off the mature flower blooms and snapped off the leaves full of tiny transparent points. He crushed them in the palm of his hand. With the oil from the crushed mixture, he then patted the soothing liquid on his bruised behind. It produced an immediate effect of pain relief.

“Bad aim, huh?” said Iwa, apologetically.

“It could have been worse.” Abayaw wiped his hand on the smooth trunk of a nearby sapling, and they resumed their walk. Iwa walked deep in thought, watching his moving feet and where they landed on the ground.

“Yaw,” Iwa asked pensively, “then what is the meaning of existence?”

Abayaw, who had been minding his step on the uneven trail, looked at his friend walking with sure strides beside him.

“I’ve been wondering about that myself for some time now, Iwa,” Abayaw replied. “I think,” he said reflectively, “that the primordial purpose of life is procreation. The species has to survive. But among all living things on earth, man is a cogitating being. We seek to give meaning to our lives. You can find meaning in life by devoting yourself to society. It is in this realm that our worthiness and our uncommonness are appraised. I think you and I exist to make the world a better place, in whatever field of endeavour we are good at. You and I exist to work towards a way of life that enables everyone to survive—a life that is comfortable for all. When we improve the lives of those around us, we also improve our own. Ultimately, everyone is happy. When you are happy, then you have found meaning in your existence.”

They arrived at the hamlet where preparations were being made for celebrating the haddan victory. A pig was being roasted and a chicken stew was on the boil. The families from both clans were already singing; the rice wine had been passed around some time before. They gave their catch of fish to the womenfolk and joined their families in chanting epic poems in singsong cadence.

6. The End does Not Justify the Means

Berto remained in Ifugao province for a few days before returning to Manila. He stayed in his family’s hamlet, sleeping in the male agamang. The mountain weather was pleasantly cool, and while there, Berto donned a traditional costume, a striped black and white hand-woven scarf, wrapped around the shoulders. Otherwise, he wore shorts and a cotton shirt and like everyone else went around barefoot. The uncallused soles of his tender feet were unused to the rough terrain and two or three of his toes sported small bandages.

The bus ride back to the city was 340 kilometres long and bumpy. The roads were bad and the bus was old. Berto was tired from the constant eight-hour bracing against sudden lurches due to the uneven road surface and the avoidance of potholes. But arriving in Manila, he still had to take a jeepney to go home. It was the middle of the afternoon by now and he was on a road perpendicular to Mendiola Avenue. Traffic was at a standstill. It was very warm and humid, and Berto fanned himself with the newspaper he’d bought from a roving boy on the road. There were quite a number of pedestrians going to their destination on foot, the traffic being what it was.

On Mendiola Avenue, a student demonstration was taking place. Berto watched them go by as they passed at the intersection. He observed that they were organised in columns of about thirty students, with someone carrying the banner of the group in front of each column. Many of the flags were red with white letter markings in the middle. Berto could discern two scripted letters, a K and a M. There were many columns of students, all running at a slow pace. They were shouting phrases, their raised clenched fists beating the air in unison. Several students were running alongside handing out manifestos to passers-by. At one point they sang, ‘My country wake up.’

In contrast to the meticulous organisation of the march, at another intersection further down, the jeepney encountered some youths putting up a barricade across the street. The transport vehicle had to stop.

“What are you doing?” Berto yelled, as he got off to question one of the youths at the middle of the thoroughfare. Berto was upset because he wanted to get home soon. They were busy putting in place litterbins and large cinema poster boards torn from advertising walls.

“I don’t exactly know what the issues are,” the young man said, “but here, read this leaflet. We’re too busy to talk to you now.”

Berto took the sheet of paper handed to him and quickly read the first paragraph: Policies dictated by the imperialist are followed unquestioningly by their local running dogs. Down with American imperialism! To hell with Marcos! Damn the reactionaries! Condemn fascism, feudalism and bureaucratic capitalism! People of the world unite and crush imperialism and their local puppets! Join the anti-imperialist march rally! Fight! Don’t be afraid!

Berto folded the paper and tucked it into his shirt pocket. He started dismantling the barricade. “You will not accomplish anything by doing this!” he said.

“Go to Plaza Miranda! There you will be told how indifferent the government is to the plight of the masses!” a student running by told him.

All of a sudden, a military jeep swerved from the opposite road and came to a screeching halt at the barricade. They fired rifle shots at the fleeing youth, some of whom fell to the ground. One of the soldiers grabbed Berto and hit him in the lower midriff with the butt of his rifle.

“You’re making a mistake!” Berto shouted, as he fell on his knees in pain. The soldier grabbed his briefcase, pulled him up and pushed him in a waiting military van. They left quickly as they arrived. Berto looked out of the thickly wired windows and saw that witnesses to the scene, immobilised by the shock of the moment, immediately went to the aid of the fallen youths. The other passengers on the jeepney descended to remove the barricade, while others carried the injured into the vehicle that would take them to the nearest hospital.

Berto sat back in pain. He overheard students running from a nearby alley, shouting to the people in the street, “Don’t go to Plaza Miranda! They threw combat grenades at the platform! It’s a bloody mess there! They threw pillbox bombs in the midst of the demonstrators! Go home! Go home!”

Berto turned his head. The demonstrating students had broken column and run for their lives when the bombs exploded. The van sped on along the blood-covered avenue, cleared of voices asking the government for reforms. The streets were emptied, and all that remained were placards, flags and manifestos strewn and blown about by the wind.

The military police moved swiftly, disrupting thousands of peacefully marching students who were only armed with an idealistic will along their march. Berto watched some students pick up stones, but this was no match for the weaponry on the other side.

Berto passed out in the van. When he came to, he found himself in a cramped cell with students, some of them groaning. He moved to get up on his feet, but felt a stab of pain in his side and lay back quickly on the floor.

Outside his cell, Berto could just make out the shadowy form of a man playing cards on the table. In the distance, he could hear the screams of some poor fellow. Berto was thirsty. It was dark outside the window of the prison. He heard a door being opened and someone walking along the corridor shouting a question into each cell he passed.

“Who owns this briefcase?” the man asked loudly. Nobody answered. The tap-tapping of his shoes on the cement floor grew louder and louder as he approached Berto’s cell.

“Who owns this briefcase?” Berto heard him say. He looked up and recognised the broken latch. He tried to rise, but could not. Instead, he raised his hand, like a student who knows the answer to a teacher’s question.

“That’s mine!” he said.

Two jailers accompanied the man, one of whom unlocked the cell and kicked Berto up on his feet. They shoved him out into the corridor, made him walk some way, and then pushed him into a room with some kind of metallic table in the middle. There seemed to be blood everywhere, and white specks that Berto did not recognise littered the floor. Berto trembled with fear.

“You’re making a mistake!” he said.

The man with the jailers leaned on the table, with one leg extended and the other crossed over it. The two jailers pushed Berto onto a chair.

“What were you carrying in your briefcase?” the man asked Berto, in the clipped manner of speech that interrogators employ to strike terror into their victims.

“I had nothing in my briefcase! I had some plastic jewellery but I gave them away!”

“You mean you were walking around Mendiola Avenue with an empty briefcase? Were you not in fact carrying manifestos and distributing them in the street?”

The man did not wait for an answer to his question. He motioned the jailers to strap Berto onto the table. They removed his shirt. A piece of paper fell out of the pocket. The man picked it up and read the first line, “Policies dictated by the imperialist are followed unquestioningly by their local running dogs…”

The man opened a large drawer under the metal table. Berto lifted his head and strained to see its contents. In it was a wide array of tools: ice picks, batons, carving knives, crushers, water hoses, rows of metal spikes on a rod. There were also heavy whipping chains for breaking bones, electrically-wired rug hoods, which would be dampened and placed over the head, eyeball pluckers, electric prods for the female area, a masher for crushing extremities and male body parts… He chose a pair of pliers.

“Who are you and what were you doing on Mendiola Avenue?” he asked.

Berto became hysterical when he saw the contents of the drawer. “I’m a photographer for a magazine! I just came back from my hometown! I was on my way home! Please don’t hurt me!”

“So! You’re a photographer! This is getting very interesting! Where’s your camera? Search him and find the microfilm! No one must know the existence of this room!”

“I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about! What microfilm? You are making a mistake!” They searched Berto and found nothing.

“Who were the leaders of the demonstration?”

Berto took deep breaths to try to calm the panic within. “I am telling you, I do not know anything. Even if I did, I would not tell you. I am not a student, but if I were, I would also cry out against the injustices inflicted on our society by our government.”

The man picked up Berto’s right hand and was admiring the nails on his fingers. “Who were the leaders of the demonstration?” he asked again.
Berto then realised what the madman was about to do. “I know nothing! You must believe me!”

“That’s what they all say…”

The man placed one of Berto’s fingernails between the clips of the pliers and pulled. He threw the fingernail on the floor, adding to the number of white specks on the stained cement. Berto screamed.

“Who were the ringleaders?” the man asked again.

Berto became incoherent. The man pulled out a second fingernail…then a third. Berto screamed.

Meanwhile, in the cells along the corridor, the students shuddered. They knew their turn would come eventually. Some of them checked the strength of the stout steel bars covering the windows. Some female students started to weep. Still Berto screamed.

The streets of Manila were dark and gloomy. It was a chilly evening. Drunkards swayed erratically on pavements lighted by blinking neon signs from discotheques still open in the early hours of the morning. The pounding music reverberated outside on the street.

But in the stillness of a corridor, someone playing solitaire got up from his chair and placed a card, the ace of spades, into the twisted mouth of a man lying on the cold cement. The man sprawled on the floor wore unusual patent boots, whose soles appeared to be made of cardboard.

7. Identity Papers

The palm trees along Manila Bay finally loomed on the horizon. It was nightfall, and the reflected moonlight on the calm waters illuminated the grey ships berthed there. Pia parked her car and ran up the steps. The uniformed guard greeted her politely and opened the door.

The walls of the restaurant were covered with bamboo poles, and young coconut trees dotted the room between tables and chairs. Among the fronds and slats, Pia spotted her friends, who were already at their drinks, and she made her way towards them. She raised her hand in silent greeting and sat down unobtrusively so as not to disturb the course of their discussion. A waiter came with the menu and she gave her order.

“How can you know where you’re going, when you don’t know where you’ve been?” Kenneth asked.

“Well, Ken, five thousand years ago,” Marites answered, “our people were already present on the islands. They lived in scattered communities, with each area having its own economic and political structure. In the first century BC, we were trading with Arab and Indian merchants; Islam and Hindu culture have left their imprints. In 500 AD, we were trading with China and other Asian countries; their early cultural influence can also be seen. We had venues for artistic and intellectual expression in our literature, songs, and dances. We had an alphabet of our own and a syllabic form of writing. We spoke many languages. We were an affable and honest people. We are still affable.

“Then the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century. For 327 years, the Catholic friars systematically destroyed what belonged to our pre-Hispanic culture. They not only physically demolished what we had, but there was a far worse consequence of this physical destruction. You see, our patrimonial spirit was driven out of our metaphysical being.”

A sudden silence descended on their hearts. It was an ire that could only express itself in acrimonious silence.

“The Catholic Church divided the world between two conquering nations. The Philippines was on the Portuguese side of the demarcation line, but we were unfortunate to have been in the way of Spanish ships, and the Church moved the line in favour of the Spaniards.
“Those who refused to convert to Catholicism were hanged, imprisoned, or had their hand or foot hacked off. Public flogging of women was conducted if they simply failed to attend mass. I wonder, who are the religious extremists?

“So Magellan, a Portuguese in the service of Spain, landed on our independent shores in 1521, and the Rajahs, who knew what their reasons were, gave up our sovereignty. During those three hundred years, the Spaniards effaced our culture to such an extent that the Filipino even today, finds himself a stranger in his own country. The Spaniards did not bequeath us their language because the friars were obsessed with keeping the Filipinos uneducated. Instead, they left us with a fatalistic attitude, the notion of extended family structures, and they fired our imagination with their knowledge of the fine art of abuse of power and special privileges. The unequal distribution of land can be traced to the Spanish system of land distribution, which still remains with us today.”

“They also left us with their architecture and a recipe for paella,” Pia remarked.

“Good to see you, Pia. We are talking about national identity,” Raoul explained. “We are a disunited nation and a national identity is a significant factor in uniting our people, in spite of dissimilar cultures and diverse languages. It would make the task easier for channelling a transcendent sentiment: the ideal of working together for a better quality of life on a nation-wide scale.”

“It is a monumental task,” Kenneth said, “and it can only be accomplished with each and every one chipping at the monolith. There will be obstacles, but you have to
persevere.”

“I wonder if cynics and sceptics have come out with any ideas on solving the problems of the country,” Pia asked. “I don’t think so. You see, they’re too busy shooting down idealists. Do they have any compassion or sentiment? Their tiny minds have no room for it. Do they have any vision for a better world? Their ignorance blinds them.”

“That’s true, Pia,” Kenneth said. “But do not waste your time and breath on common men. They are incapable of great things–small minds have short horizons. The dogs will bark at passing caravans, but dogs won’t stop them from continuing their way.” Kenneth turned to Marites. “Then what happened next?”

“As soon as Spanish colonialism left the Philippines,” Marites continued, “American imperialism took its place. Although American rule was relatively short, less than fifty years, it left a significant impact on the economic, political, and social life of the Filipinos.

“There are, I would say, three major consequences of America’s occupation on the Filipino culture. The first is education, with its effects on the values of the Filipino society; the second is language; and the third is the form of government.”

There was a pause in the discussion as the waiter arrived with their dinner, then Marites picked up where she left off. “The Americans established an educational system that guided Filipino thought towards favouring American interests. They shaped young minds to conform to American thinking and to certain attitudes. They diluted Filipino nationalism by making brigands out of our heroes. Americanisation of Filipino culture is so deep that the un-American Filipino is considered a backward native.

“They left a political legacy that has brought more problems than solutions. They introduced centralised administration, a strong presidency, and the party system. Our country, one of the largest archipelagos in the world, is divided into regions with differences in language, religion, natural resources, and culture. Local governments, which are more aware and more understanding of the diverse aspects of their region, do not have autonomy in decision-making, and that should be done as close as possible to its roots. In other words, a problem is identified and solved by those who are familiar with the local situation. This decentralisation will improve the socio-economic situation of the regions. We cannot have a national identity when the Filipinos cannot identify themselves with a government that does not understand their welfare. We should develop our own political institutions according to the needs of our people, and not to the dictates of a western polity.

“The unlimited powers of a strong presidency hold the potential for dictatorship. Our American-modelled Constitution has provisions for curtailing freedom and individual rights. The institution of a strong presidency was patterned after a 1913 establishment of governor-general during the American Commonwealth. It may work in Bob’s Saloon and the Okay Corral, but in the Philippines this is unsuitable.

“The party system does not articulate nor does it represent the welfare of the majority. It only keeps society in a feudal state. Political parties are personality-centred. They are usually an assemblage of feudal lords who are pursuing their own interests and elected by a paid peasant following from their provinces. The common voter is more attached to a particular individual, rather than a political party or a political precept. It’s quite repulsive, but there it is. Elections in this country are simply a choice of personalities, not ideologies. Party platforms are a list of promises on paper. There is no solidarity within the party as members jump from one party to another when their charisma wanes in their own party. So who runs the government? Clowns, entertaining the masses with song and dance.”

“We are in a mess,” Pia concluded. “But I think achieving the ideal is possible. The Filipinos may be disunited and their loyalties misplaced, but the Hispanised, the Americanised, and the regionalist Filipinos can be brought together. The diversities in culture, language, and religion are not barriers to unification. We can take example from the European Community which has succeeded in uniting the dissimilar peoples of Europe.

“The pre-Spanish culture is irretrievable; it would be futile to redress the loss of our indigenous heritage. Our natural growth as a nation may have been disrupted by foreign powers through negative influences on our social attitudes, our politics, and our culture. But the only possible way that the Filipinos can develop a Filipino conscience is through education, a pragmatic nationalistic education. What is a Filipino? We should redefine ourselves.”

“But,” Marites said, “to redefine ourselves nation-wide, the citizens of this great archipelago of St. Lazarus have to disassociate from the previous assignation and identify with another abstract and symbolic ascription.”

“And this must be accompanied by a radical transformation of government and the educational system,” Raoul added. “A pervasive nationalist movement is a must. We may have just started on the drawing board designing the scaffolding, but in the end, implementation will be the crux of the matter. Words are meaningless until they are translated into action.”

“Do you remember those years, a long time ago,” Raoul reminisced, “when we were students clamouring for change? Nationalism was an incomprehensible concept with the government.”

“I was there,” Pia recalled, “at one of those demonstrations, raising my fist in the air, and shouting phrases that a student with a bullhorn was prompting us to say. But I left early to study for a Trig exam. How did you survive that time, Raoul?”

“You mean the M-26A-1 grenade bombing at Plaza Miranda? It was sweltering hot that afternoon, and I had just nipped in a café for a beer when it happened. There were many students who died that day, and so many more after that.”

“When Martial Law was declared,” Pia said after a moment of silence, “Derps had asked us to refrain from coming to Delaney Hall. Congregating students were immediately arrested.”

Pia looked out of the open windows at the risen moon on Manila Bay. The silhouette of an anchored ship was a calming sight to see. But behind the serene appearance lay a nation in turmoil.

“I read a news item about you, Pia,” Kenneth remarked, changing the subject, “in the Business and Financial section of the papers. They say you’re a competent business executive. What’s your job like?”

“I work for a trading company,” Pia replied. “We have a domestic division that takes care of our domestic products, and an international division, which I’m in charge of. Among the interesting accounts I’m handling, I would say that right now it would be the wine account. We are deciding between importing wine from France or the United States.”

“Not both?” Raoul asked.

“We haven’t decided on whether it should be one or the other; we don’t want to do both. But in terms of quality, French wine is the best in the world. It would be good for the image of the company to be trading in quality products. We should be discriminating. But it will not be easy since it takes time for people to assimilate new ideas.”

“We have a stateside-oriented society, Pia,” Kenneth said. “If you want to change their way of thinking, you would have to begin with the mass media. A country’s culture is so influenced by what they see on television and read in newspapers, and for positive change to take place, this would require an educated class of objective journalists and responsible television producers.”

“What important domestic products is your company handling?” Raoul asked.

“We are buying copra from our farmers.” Pia frowned, and it did not escape Raoul’s attention.

“Is there something wrong with dried coconuts?” he asked.

“No, everything is fine with the copra. It’s just that this is an agricultural product that is being heavily taxed by the Marcos government. Before Martial Law, the tax imposed was a 55-centavo levy for every 100 kilos of copra. The tax collected amounted to a little less than P13 million a year. After Martial Law, the government imposed not an incremental increase in tax, but a huge 60-peso levy, amounting to the incredible sum of P1 billion. The coconut farmer is the most heavily taxed citizen in the country.”

“It is the economically poor and the politically weak who feed the rich,” Marites noted. “Only two percent of the population are paying taxes, and of all people, it is the poor.”

“So the Filipino farmers,” Pia continued, “are either migrating to the city or abroad, or to other regions in the country. One such region is Mindanao, the food basket of the Philippines, an area where conditions are such that agricultural produce grows extremely well. The Americans control a huge agricultural plantation there. Someone is also processing deuterium there. The socio-political situation in this area is unstable, but there are powerful persons who maintain this instability because it is to their financial advantage that no inquisitve person should venture in the area.

“The Mindanao region is predominantly Islamic. The Muslims there practise their traditional pattern of community, called umma, and clan ownership of land. The umma states that you are not a good Muslim unless you work for the unity of the community as well as for its social well being. Under Islamic Law, the territorial abode of Islam is called dar al-Islam, and the territory of non-believers is called the dar al-Harb. So when non-Muslims come with their pieces of paper purportedly proving that they own a piece of earth, scores of Moros have been turned out of their ancestral homes. In some places, they are a minority group in their own homeland. Taking away their land, you take away their religious territorial abode. So bandits roam the area to protect their communities and they have become war-like with the encroachment in their region of paper-brandishing Christians, government land-grabbers, and poor farmers from other regions. There is a clash of religious and political values.

“When the Christian Government speaks of integration, the Moros feel that their religion and cultural identity are being obliterated, and you cannot achieve national unity by obliterating the culture of minority communities. If it were the other way around, would Christians enjoy being integrated with a Muslim Government? Thousands of Moros have fought and died in response to outside aggression, and they continue to demand political autonomy or secession from the Philippine State which was forced on them in 1578 by the Spaniards. The Moro Wars demonstrated their violent resistance. They do not identify with the National Government, nor do they consider themselves Filipino.”

“Is there no end to all our problems?” Marites asked.

“I’m afraid we’ve not quite reached the bottom of the pit yet,” Raoul replied. “But once we’re there, we either wallow in it, or get up.”

8. A State of Unknowing

The Ifugaos are known for their patience, but considerable time had elapsed and Nina wanted to know what Berto was about. She had no idea where to start looking for him, but she thought that if she went from hamlet to hamlet, she would find him eventually. The bus she was riding on tumbled along, but the strawberries in the basket on her lap travelled well. It was foolish of her to make this trip, but she wanted to see what the big city was like, and she wanted to sell her strawberries.

The bus left in the middle of the morning from Ifugao province, passing through Nueva Viscaya where Nina watched farmers harvesting rice in their flat fields, a tri-annual event unlike the Ifugao indigenous variety. At Nueva Ecija, along a part of the road, Nina recognised the trees lining the narrow thoroughfare; its leaves, when burnt, emit an odour that paralyses mosquitoes. And finally through Bulacan they went, the birthplace of the Philippine Constitution, the first province outside of Manila, the gateway to the north. They arrived at the terminal in the late afternoon.

She got off the bus and the other passengers moved hurriedly by, looking tired and anxious to be home. She walked slowly towards the main street. There were many jeepneys and so many pedestrians. “Have you some betel nuts?” she asked in greeting to a man who bumped into her. He shrugged his shoulders and continued to walk on.

Across the street, a thin woman sat on a stool with a large rattan tray of vegetables at her feet. A little girl was playing jackstones by her side. Nina crossed over and looked eagerly at what she was selling. There were eggplants, tomatoes, okra, papayas, bananas, mangoes, and kangkong. She saw no competition there for her strawberries.

Bili na! Bili na!” The vendor entreated passers-by.

The thin woman regarded the tall pretty girl in front of her. Nina had her hair tied in a bun, exposing her finely tanned neck. She was wearing a white blouse, much like a school blouse, and a hand-woven skirt that reached below her knees. She wore dainty slippers on her feet. The basket she was carrying was finely woven, unlike the commercialised receptacles one finds in the market.

“You’ve come from the provinces, haven’t you?” she asked Nina.

Nina looked up. She smiled. “Have you some betel nuts?”

“Do you know how to speak Tagalog?”

“Yes, I do. I learnt it in school. My name is Nina. May I sit with you to sell my strawberries?”

“Of course, you may. But it’s getting late; I think we’ll have to call it a day soon. Are you staying near here?”

Nina sat down beside her. She removed the piece of cloth covering the strawberries and placed the basket beside the tray of vegetables. “A friend named Berto lives here in Manila. I should be staying at the agamang of his hamlet,” she replied.

“There are no hamlets here, Nina. Where does Berto live?”

“I don’t know.”

The thin woman looked at Nina. “How old are you, Nina?” she asked.

“I am fourteen. Why?”

“You’re tall for your age. How many live in your hamlet?”

“Well, there’s Grandfather and Grandmother, Father and Mother, one brother, several aunts and uncles, a lot of cousins, distant relations, some very close friends of the family, some other families and their kin…we should be about fifty. There are other hamlets that have more.”

“Here in Manila, we are several millions. I think you had best come home with me. Tomorrow we shall decide what to do.”

“But there are other scattered hamlets in the mountains. In Ifugao, we are about 80,000 in all.”

“How much are your strawberries?” Both women looked up at the young man who stood in front of them. Nina had made a quick calculation in her head while in the bus. She named an amount and the young man bought them all. The thin woman provided him with a paper bag to take his purchase.

“Well, that’s a steep price, but I seldom see strawberries in the market,” he said. “I am fortunate to find them. Thank you. Will you be here again?”

“Oh, yes!” Nina answered. “Well, at least I hope so.”

“See you, then,” said the captivated man with an eye for beauty.

“I am so very lucky!” Nina exclaimed. She put the money in a rattan pouch, and tucked it into a fold of her wrap-around skirt. The thin woman smiled. The little girl beside her had stopped playing jackstones; it was, by now, too dark to see the star-shaped jacks. Her mother started putting away the vendibles and the little girl got up to help her. She held the plastic bag open as the unsold vegetables were placed inside it.

“We live in Tondo,” the thin woman told Nina. “We have to take a jeepney home. I come and sell my vegetables here because there are a lot of people coming and going. The bus terminal area is a good place. By the way, call me Aling Sita.”

Nina had picked up one of the bags and the rattan tray. The little girl carried the small stool her mother had been sitting on. They walked to a jeepney stop across the street.

“Do you have a vegetable garden, Aling Sita?”

“No, I don’t, Nina. But there are farmers just outside of Manila who come to the city with a small van of vegetables. We buy from them at wholesale price and we resell what we can buy. I don’t have to pay rent for a vegetable stall at the market, but still, we don’t earn much. It’s enough though, to put food on the table for the day.”

A gaily-decorated jeepney stopped alongside them. Some passengers got off and the men who had arrived before them gallantly motioned for the three to go in first. The jeepney was full, but the young men held on to the side rails at the back. Aling Sita tried to make conversation, but with the noise of the loud engine and the traffic, she decided to remain quiet. It was just as well because Nina’s mind was elsewhere. She was hatching great plans for her newfound business. She thought of all the strawberries that she was going to plant when she would return. She thought of diversifying. She would add other products in her basket. How would she carry all that on the bus? Well, she thought, Dulmog could help her.

The jeepney had stopped, and Aling Sita and her daughter stood up to descend. Nina was still daydreaming. “Nina!” Aling Sita called out.

It was very dark along the mud path. The only light came from candles and kerosene lamps in the rows of billboards and corrugated aluminium-walled shanties. There were puddles here and there that shone in the dim lamplight. They passed one house with a small television wired to a generator. There were people watching the program from inside the house and others watching from outside, standing at the window and the open door. Nina followed Aling Sita, keeping her eyes on the ground because she didn’t want to step into one of those smelly pools of stagnant liquids.

They arrived at a wooden shanty, with steps that were made of bamboo halves. Nina entered the room, which was bare except for a table and two benches. A small kerosene lamp was on the table. On the wall were a crucifix and a rosary dangling from it. Thumbtacked under it was a picture of the Virgin Mary.

Aling Sita placed the vegetable bags in one corner of the room and went to her kitchen. There was a white metallic basin for a sink and a large plastic water container with a spigot. Nina could see a single charcoal stove, a pan and a pot hanging on hooks, a few plates, and peanut butter glasses. A young boy was sitting at the table counting coins and beside him were a few unsold newspapers.

“Is your father home?” Aling Sita asked her son.

“I think he’s next door watching television,” the boy said.

“May I help you with dinner?” Nina asked.

“Oh yes, please. Take the kangkong over there and cut them up. We will have some fried fish and rice.”

While they cooked, the little girl had set the table. The boy handed his earnings to his mother and went outside in the lamp-lighted street to play with a basketball. Outside the house, people walked by talking loudly. Apparently, the television show had just finished. The father came home with a friend.

“Sita!” the husband said in a loud voice. “Please add another plate on the table. Fred is joining us for dinner.”

Aling Sita and Nina came out of the kitchen. “Gino, this is Nina. She comes from Ifugao. She’ll be staying with us for the night.”

“Hello, Nina. Welcome to my castle. Please feel at home,” Gino said.

Fred looked at Nina and undressed her with his eyes. “Hello, Nina,” said Fred. “Will you be staying long in Manila?”

“I don’t know. I am looking for my friend, Berto. If I cannot find him, I will go back home.”

“Nina came to sell strawberries in Manila,” Aling Sita said.

Gino returned from the kitchen with a bottle of cheap rum and two glasses. Aling Sita went back to her cooking. “So you are looking for a job?” Fred asked Nina.

“Not really,” Nina answered. “I just want to sell some fruit and vegetables in the city.”

“Come and sit with us,” Gino motioned Nina to the table.

“That won’t earn you much,” Fred remarked. “I know something you can do that will make you a lot of money. You can be a maid or a waitress, serving drinks at a bar. You can make a lot of money abroad doing that.”

“Where is abroad?”

“Come with me tomorrow and I’ll show you. I’ll take care of all the documents. Gino here is a construction worker and I’m arranging for him to get a job in Saudi Arabia. Isn’t that right, Gino?”

“Don’t talk too loud, Fred. Sita doesn’t know it yet, and I don’t think she’ll be too happy if we drop it on her lap like that. You see, it will mean that we shall be separated. I won’t be able to support them abroad; but at least here life is cheaper, so I’ll be leaving her behind with the children. I’ll have to break it to her gently.”

Nina went back to the kitchen, leaving the two men to discuss their plans. The fried sardines smelled good to Nina. She was hungry. Aling Sita was slicing some tomatoes and onions, and quartering a red egg. She sprinkled this salad with some native vinegar. She handed Nina the dish of fish and a bowl of rice to put on the table. She took the sautéed kangkong and the salad.

“Call your brother,” Aling Sita told the little girl.

They sat down, and Aling Sita murmured a little prayer of gratitude for their meal. Nina watched as they sat with their heads bowed and eyes closed.

“…amen.”

“How was your day?” Aling Sita asked her husband.

Gino looked at Fred. “Sita, I have good news and bad news,” he began. “First, the bad news. The owners of the building under construction ran out of money. We are being laid off at the end of the month.”

Aling Sita had gone through so much financial hardships, she was not at all surprised by more problems of the same kind. She would have to have her little girl selling cigarettes in the street.

“I thought you city people were clever,” Nina remarked. “So, how could they have run out of money?”

“You see,” Gino replied, “the company directors first distribute among themselves the money they borrowed from the bank –this money allocated for building construction. Then they end up not having enough, so they sacrifice construction material quality or borrow more money from investors. When these don’t solve the money shortage, we’re the ones who suffer.”

“What’s the good news?” Aling Sita asked.

“Well, Fred can find me a job working abroad.”

“How much will you make?”

“About 30, 000 pesos a month.”

Aling Sita coughed in surprise. Gino was making less than a tenth of that. She thought of her children who could go to school, instead of working in order to make ends meet. She thought of the clothes she could buy for them, instead of the rags they were wearing now. She thought of moving to a better area of Manila. She thought of having a nice home. She thought of many things.

“When can you start?” Aling Sita asked.

Fred laughed. “First I have to take care of the paperwork,” Fred said. “I’ll do the same for Nina. There’s nothing to it. Both of you will be able to leave in a few weeks.”

Nina had been eating and observing this exchange. She watched Aling Sita’s reaction to the news of Gino going abroad. She concluded that it might not be a bad thing, this going abroad.

“You can stay with us,” Aling Sita told Nina. “I don’t think you will find your friend Berto.”

9. The Third Way

The waiter cleared the table to make way for desserts. A group of guitar-players moved on to serenade another table, leaving the school friends to their discussions.

“There was once a capitalist and a communist knocking on St Peter’s Gate.” Raoul began a joke before the succulent mangoes and ube ice cream arrived. “So St Peter came and asked the capitalist what he had done to deserve coming in through the Pearly doors. ‘I’ve worked hard and amassed a fortune along the way,’ the capitalist replied. St Peter looked the capitalist in the eye and said, ‘Whichever way you’re going, my friend, you won’t need your money with you.’ He then turned to the communist and asked him the same question. The communist replied, ‘I’ve controlled the basic means of production and distributed wealth equally among the people.’ St Peter sighed and said, ‘Stop playing God, my friend.’”

Several seconds passed, but no one managed a chuckle. “You economists have a hilarious sense of humour,” Kenneth noted.

“By the way, has anybody heard from Eric?” Pia asked.

“He’s a bacteriologist doing research on viral transmission in a medical laboratory somewhere in Europe,” Kenneth replied. “I read an article in a medical journal of findings he had made on a particular infectious disease, its origin found to be an animal to human transmission. It is latent in the animal but devastating in the human. It takes money to develop cures and he mentioned a need for financial assistance for certain costly clinical trials. I know Eric also tries to find time to participate in humanitarian work in those countries that do not have access to medical facilities. He loves to travel and his research brings him around the world, particularly to Africa and some Third World nations. I have great admiration for doctors and scientists like Eric.”

“Remember those school holiday trips he organised back in school?” Marites asked. “Eric would hire a bus and off we went to the beaches of Matabungkay and Nasugbu…”

“…or to Hidden Valley,” Raoul added, “exploring the rain forest inside a crater of an extinct volcano…”

“…or dancing in the streets during the Ati-atihan festival at Kalibo,” Kenneth recalled with mirth.

“And Eric was seldom with us during the day,” Pia observed. “Instead, he was going around the villages, talking with the peasants, playing basketball or chess with them. He is so attached to the country folks. They are so poor, he said, and yet so generous.”

“Eric enjoyed being in the provinces,” Marites noted, “and he wanted to share that with us. He remarked about the difference between the city-bred character and the provincial one. He said that it takes so little for the provincial to be happy. They go about their business, undisturbed by complexes, characteristic of city-bred Filipinos.”

“It takes so little,” Raoul said, “but there is at least a minimum required in order to be comfortable. Subsistence below the poverty line is not pleasant.”

“Raoul,” Kenneth asked, “then what sort of economy would generate a better quality of life? Is it capitalism or communism?”

“There is a third way,” Raoul said. Everyone sat up in their chairs and turned their attention to Raoul.

“I want to describe to you a system,” Raoul began, “but before I do so, I do not want it to be tarnished by moral judgments and preconceived ideas. Put your sentiments aside and see the values it holds.

“But the suppositions of an ideal economy and an ideal politic are too complex to cover in one sitting or in a single chapter of a book, and to some, this is a terribly fascinating subject. I will do my best to be as brief as possible. By the way, you must realise that politics and socio-economics work closely hand-in-hand. Let me begin with an Indian story of blind men describing an elephant.”

“I know that story,” Pia interrupted. “There were these blind men who had never seen an elephant before, of course, because they were blind. They were asked to feel an elephant and to describe the animal. One, who was touching its side, said that it was a flat and rough thing. Another, who was feeling its trunk, said it was a cylindrical beast. The one feeling its ears said it was a smooth and soft creature. All of them thought that the others were describing different animals, and they ended up arguing about which one of them was right.”

“So now I want you all,” Raoul asked, “to describe what you think a social market economy should be.”

“The juridical definition,” Marites replied, “of a social system is the notion of equality and justice for all.”

“It is a co-operative economic system,” Kenneth answered.

“It is both an economic system and a political structure whose aim is to improve the quality of life of all the people through a joint framework of economic policies and laws,” Pia added.

“Some will ask,” Raoul continued, “why must we think of the welfare of others? Is it not enough just to think of ourselves?”

“What does it mean to be civilised?” Marites answered with a question. “A civilised society is one with a government that takes care of the interests of all its citizens. By this definition then, we are a barbaric nation.”

“These same people will also ask, why reorganise the economy?” Raoul continued.

“Because the oligarchs of the country profit from this present disparate situation, and so they will criticise, disapprove, and censure anything they cannot manipulate for their benefit,” Marites replied.

“What are the principles of a social market economy that makes change an attractive option?” Kenneth asked.

“In a social market economic system,” Raoul explained, “the rights of the individual are paramount. Every citizen is socially equal before the law. The system embodies principles to safeguard competition, to provide incentives, to encourage enterprise and initiative, and to ensure an economic framework that is balanced and stable. These principles are formulated in policies of the social market economic system and the latter’s framework is defended by laws to ensure its proper functioning.

“In the Philippine context, the ordinary Filipino will have the right to education, housing, and health protection. Equal before the law, land redistribution will give the ordinary Filipino, property rights and with it, control over his own efforts and resources. This economic system will support the ordinary Filipino when he starts an enterprise–the small business is the core of an economy, and large industries have all had their beginnings in small enterprises. The ordinary Filipino is protected through a legal and political framework to ensure fair transactions, tax incentives, and less bureaucracy. Shifting wealth from those who use it productively to supporting the idle poor will stunt the growth of an economy. But through the social market economic system, the ordinary Filipino will be assisted, to a tremendous extent, to enable him–through his own initiative–to rise from poverty and be economically independent.”

“How can we effect this change?” Pia asked.

“Effecting change cannot be done by one man alone,” Raoul replied. “Each and every person has to contribute a chip on the monolith, as Kenneth said. That means each one of us, not somebody else.”

“How do we translate change in the economic and political spheres?” Marites asked.
“Change is translated through legislation. But the decision-making abilities in the party structure of our political system are limited. It is very unlikely that parties can solve our national problems. They do not represent the people, even if they say they do. Read their party platforms and you will find that they are as solid as onionskin. Instead, political life can be organised by way of what is customary, by way of conventional practices, and formulation of statutes. Our government should also decentralise, and leave decision-making at the regional roots. There are also limitations to a Constitutional form of government, and our country can do without one. Besides, no Constitution is fully applied and is time-consuming to modify. Great Britain is ruled without one.

“So legislation is the peaceful way and the chosen path of this economic system. But there is another recourse for translating change, which is not the way of this economic system, but is far more expedient. You see, political extremes gain the most support in countries with great economic problems. The faster way to translate change is through a revolution.

“An empty stomach is a natural force that speaks louder than words and acts before it thinks. Nobody wants a revolution so let us move to do it the peaceful way. But change has to be done quickly and efficiently. If legislatures act too slowly, remember that this other recourse is a faster way. Implementation is the crux of the matter, and this other recourse is also far more expeditious when it comes to implementation. One day, resentment by the masses will reach a peak and they will enforce reforms radically. The French Revolution brought to the guillotine many feudal lords and their families.

“A social market economy,” Raoul concluded, “would have accomplished its objectives when the quality of life of the people will have considerably improved.”

“I have a lot of work to do, then,” Marites the lawyer, concluded.

“What would be the ideal politic?” Pia asked.

“It would be presumptuous to give out ready-made solutions to such a complex issue as the ideal politic in just a few words, but the following view is worth exploring. We are a nation of one race, the Malay race, but of diverse cultures and languages. Unity in diversity can be achieved if the country were organised into autonomous communities in a federation, under a parliamentary system of government. In this way, the concept of nation preserves the characteristics of the regions and the minority communities, united under a national umbrella that represents them.

“A political system can be regarded as democratic if it has the participation of the people in the decision-making process. Soldiers are trained to kill the enemy, and Martial Law is not the answer to a civilian’s problems.”

Getting to the point, Raoul had come up with the economic and political solutions to this nation’s complex problems in a few succinct words. But, implementation would be the crux of the matter.

“So there were these two politicians, who were cousins,” Raoul concluded the dinner with another one of his jokes. “One was from the city and the other from the country. The country politician went to visit his cousin, the city politician.

“‘What a fantastic palace you have!’ said the country politician to the cousin. ‘They must pay you well in the city,’ he remarked.

“‘Come to the window,’ the city politician told his country cousin. ‘See that highway over there? I took a kickback from its construction budget to pay for this palace.’
“‘What’s a kickback?’ the country cousin asked.

“‘It’s a percentage skimmed off the budget outlay in order to get my signature of approval,’ answered the city cousin.

“Then after a brief stay, the country politician went home. Some time later, his cousin, the city politician came to visit him.

“‘What happened to your nipa hut?’ he asked his country cousin, as he looked around for the thatched-roof house. The shack was gone and in its place was a larger palace than his own.

“‘Come to the window,’ the country cousin told his city kin. ‘See that bridge over there, the one connecting this island to the other?’

“The city politician looked from one end of the horizon to the other. ‘What bridge?’ he asked, ‘I don’t see any bridge.’

“‘Well, thanks to that bridge, my dear city cousin, I have my country palace.’”

Several seconds passed, but no one managed even a chuckle.

“I have a lot of work to do,” Marites repeated.

“We all have.”

10. The Chico River Dam Project

“Wake up, everybody!” the old man said through the door of the agamang. “Time to start your day!” The young men got up from their reed mat beds on the floor.

Today began like any other day for Abayaw. He had vegetables and rice porridge for breakfast with his parents, then he made the jeepney trip to Lagawe city, the capital of Ifugao province, where he attended school. His teacher, Ema, who was Bontoc, one of few who spoke both English and Tagalog, apart from her own native dialect, was much respected not only for her language abilities, but also for her wide range of knowledge, which she imparted skilfully.

But this morning was not like any other. Four men arrived, interrupting the class, asking Ema to come with them. They were from the government, they said, and wanted to have a word with the Kalinga Chief. They asked Ema to accompany them to Kalinga-Apayao to translate. Abayaw and several students followed them to see what it was all about.

They spoke in Tagalog, and were dressed typically like men from Manila: short-sleeved cotton shirt, jeans, an over-sized watch, sneakers, and a pompous swagger. They sported the swagger to say: I’m looking for a fight, so don’t mess around with me.
Pangat* Makliing was in the square, smoking native tobacco with the elders of his village. The men from Manila approached the Pangat, the Chief of Kalinga-Apayao, a position earned honourably. They didn’t greet him respectfully, these “Do-this-do-that” men, servitors of a Manila chief, a position earned by other means.

“The government,” one of them announced, “is going to build four massive hydroelectric dams on the Chico River. We have been told to order you and your people to leave the area immediately.”

Abayaw noted that Ema translated what he said with a tone of civility. The Pangat was ignorant of the impertinence. “Please explain what the dams are for,” asked one of the elders.

Mister Do-this-do-that did not know what the dams were for, neither did the other three clowns. But one of them took out a large folded heavy sheet of paper from his hip pocket, brandishing it in a manner so as to mask the empty peanut shell underneath the mop on his head. It was a copy of the draft plan for the Chico River dam project.

The four men did not understand the plan. Abayaw, Ema, and the Chief studied the blueprint. Abayaw noticed that the locations for the dams would submerge entire villages along the banks of the river and bury the sacred Kalinga ancestral burial grounds in river mire. Not only that but more important, the damming of the Chico River would effectively kill all the thousands of small hamlets that lay along it from Kalinga-Apayao to Bontoc. The wrinkles on the Chief’s forehead became taut, his eyes squinted in ire.

“We will not leave!” he said.

“Do you have a title to this land? You do not own it!” one clown exclaimed, in a condescending tone. Ema translated with some decorum, but the Pangat discerned the arrogant inflection. He bristled with controlled anger.

“Our mountains are sacred to us, handed down to our care by our ancestors. We have lived here since the beginning of time. It is part of our being. We belong to this land. You ask me for proof of ownership? The land owns us, we do not own it.”

Abayaw wondered if the clowns understood what the Pangat was saying. He wanted to elaborate, and tell them that the farmer belongs to the land, as the fisherman belongs to the sea. Man is at the mercy of Mother Earth. She allows us to survive, but she has a finite limit of resources. Show respect for Mother Earth, and she will do the same for you. She will be here long after you are dead and gone. You cannot own her. She owns you.

“So! Since you don’t own the land, you must leave immediately!” The four men turned around and swaggered off with their piece of paper. Abayaw and Ema watched them as they left, stunned not only by their stupidity, but also by the enormity of their unreasonable demand.

Ema gathered her students together, motioning them to get into the jeepney and return to class. The Pangat and the elders talked together in anxious and hushed tones. Where could over a hundred thousand people depending on this river go?

School was finished for the day, and Abayaw and Dulmog were in the forest on the outskirts of their Ifugao hamlet. They had been fishing and were now lying on a bed of grass before heading home.

“Yaw?”

“Yes, Mog?”

“I’ve been to our Kalinga neighbours today and guess what I heard?”

“What did you hear, Mog?”

“Some people from Manila came to speak to the Pangat about building something on the Chico River.”

“They call it a dam. It’s to harness the power of the river to provide electricity for the city.”

Abayaw closed his eyes. He was thinking of other things. He was considering putting up a stall in Lagawe to sell woodcarvings, hand-woven scarves, plants and vegetables. He would ask Nina to mind the store. He was also toying with the idea of clearing an area in the woods of the family property, where adventure-seekers could camp and go exploring the Cordillera Mountains. He would employ members of his hamlet community as guides. He also thought of the family rice terraces. The mud walls that held the shelves of the rice paddies were, at some points, in danger of collapsing. He would have to attend to that fairly soon.

“Yaw? It will take a lot of money to move the river.”

“I’m sure somebody is helping the Manila chief to pay for that,” Abayaw replied. “I read in some newspaper issues that Ema brings to school that Imf and Wub have a lot of money, and they give it out to those who need it.”

“So where’s that money now?” Dulmog asked.

“The chief in Manila is surely keeping it.”

“He must have a very large hipbag.” Dulmog sat up and paused for thought. “But, if Imf and Wub have money to pass around, surely they must be smart enough to know how to distribute it. Their paying for the construction of the Chico River dams will wipe out our neighbours, the Kalingas and the Bontocs. Killing people for certain means does not justify the way.”

“Mog, if you only knew what Imf and Wub were up to.”

Abayaw turned on his stomach to face his friend. “I don’t think you’ll understand this, Mog, but Imf imposes free-market economic policies like privatising state-owned industries, lowering trade barriers, eliminating subsidies, devaluating the country’s currency, and raising interest rates in order, according to Imf, to stimulate the business climate. But that only means raising the cost of living and killing small businesses. That wipes out the struggling poor. Imf even imposes cuts in health, education, and welfare spending. They may appear charitable, giving money here and there, but scratch at the surface and you will find underneath Imf’s bonnet, a wolf that helps other wolves continue to live well. Imf serves only a small number of people–those who are far from needing assistance.

“But there is a way that we must consider in order to prevent this capitalist revolution from happening. The government should set certain economic policies, putting up barriers to free trade. This way, domestic industries are safeguarded and the Filipino citizen can have a share of the national income. When we shall have the wherewithal to participate in the globalisation of the market, then we will. But until that time, our people must come first.”

“I may be ignorant, but I am not a fool,” Dulmog said. “I may not know a lot of things, Yaw, and there is still a lot more I need to learn. But there is one thing for sure. I am not interested in the ways of the cormorants.”

“But Mog, do not remain ignorant. You must be aware of their methods in order to better defend yourself.”

Dark clouds slowly covered the sun. They both instinctively got up and gathered their catch of fish. “Do you have news from Nina?” Dulmog asked Abayaw, as they made their way back to their hamlet.

“Manila is several mountains and so many valleys away, Mog. I’m sure it will take time for her to find Berto and then return here.”

“I hope she’s all right.”

The following months, Abayaw noticed strangers and trucks, loaded with heavy equipment, heading for Kalinga. Chief Makliing repeatedly pleaded with the government men not to do this to his community. From village to village, and hamlet to hamlet, the Pangat told them to stay and protect their heritage. They did not leave.

Instead, in the cover of darkness, the Kalingan women spontaneously made for those areas where the construction materials were placed. They took off a screw here and removed a bolt there. Then they went home to sleep.

Work on the dams could not begin when it was discovered that the equipment had been sabotaged. The construction engineers informed the government clowns, whose chief decided to send in the military.

Ema was in and out of her classroom most of the time, translating for both parties the wishes of the other. It was during one of these exchanges that she overheard that soldiers were sent for from Manila.

The Kalingan women rallied together. Along the main path where the military would have to pass, they formed a column, a human barricade, to stop them. The Kalingan men, armed only with long knives and spears, stood behind the women–and behind their hand-carved wooden shields.

“If you see those natives,” shouted a government clown, “shoot them on sight!”

Marching up the path and rounding the curve, they came face to face with one another. The soldiers dropped themselves on the ground, in position to shoot. It was a very tense moment as both adversaries eyed each other. The Kalingan men made ready their spears and shields.

“What are you waiting for?” the government clown screamed.

“I cannot give the order to shoot,” the military commander said.

In front of them, the defiant Kalingan women stood their ground. With not a quiver in their voice, they sang a song of peace in their dialect. They were dressed in their native costume, long hand-woven skirts around their waists, and nothing else. They wore their beautiful bare breasts like plates of armour against the soldiers’ bullets.

“Retreat! Retreat!” the commander ordered. The government clown was fuming in the dust. “Are you cowards?” he ranted.

“No, we aren’t,” the commander replied wisely. “We are reasonable men. In them we see our mother, sister, daughter, protecting what is rightly theirs. Besides, their spears are no match to our bullets. It will be slaughter.” They turned around and left peacefully.

“I will see to it that you are relieved from your post!” the government clown bawled.

The women were clever. In spite of the presence of guards posted around the construction sites, they went away with not only nuts and bolts, but with other accessories and equipment parts. They brought them to the City Hall in Baguio and pleaded with the government officials there to put a stop to the construction of the dams.

Days and weeks went by, then one late evening, when everybody was supposed to be asleep, a young man was running through the bushes and trees, and down towards his hamlet. His body was covered with small and large gashes from the twigs and branches he ran through. His quick gasps of breath were the only sound around him. That, and the furious pounding of his heart. He crashed in through the agamang doorway and landed with a loud thud on the floor.

The noise startled Abayaw and he woke up to find his friend panting beside him.

Dulmog’s hair appeared to have turned white and his face was ashen. He looked as if he had aged a hundred years.

“Mog! What happened to you? Did her father…”

“Stop joking, Yaw! I’ve just come from Kalinga…”

“What’s all the commotion?” someone asked in the dark.

They both quietly tiptoed out of the agamang, climbing down the steps. “You won’t believe what I’ve just witnessed this evening, Yaw! Give me time to catch my breath and I’ll tell you all about it.”

They headed for the adjacent woods, where Dulmog cupped his hand through a small waterfall by the hillside to drink some water. He splashed some on his face and the colour returned to his cheeks. He slowly lowered himself to the ground and leaned his back on a tree. Abayaw sat down beside him and waited for him to begin.

“Remember those people from Manila who wanted to move the Chico River? I heard they came again today, asking Ema where the Pangat was living. They said they wanted to give him something.

“Tonight, while I was playing the nose flute in the ears of… oh, I forgot her name! Anyway, I was in the woods with her when I saw that man from Manila accompanied by several men dressed in green uniform. They headed for the Pangat’s hut. They knocked and when they heard someone approach the door to open it, there was a loud and continuous ra-ta-tat as they fired through the closed wooden entryway. Then they quickly ran off and disappeared into the woods.”

“That was either a machine gun or a rifle,” Abayaw said.

“The noise woke everybody, including the father of… so she ran back. I decided to stay in case she would return afterwards. Torches were lit as they went out to see what happened. I went down and followed the Kalingas going to the Pangat’s hut. They opened the door that was riddled with holes and there was Pangat Makliing, lying in a pool of blood on the floor, his wife and young children weeping beside him. He was dead.

“We followed the elders to Bontoc where they summoned Ema. She related what had transpired that day. She was blamed for the Pangat’s death by pinpointing his residence to the enemy. Since the Kalingas and the Bontocs are united together in a peace pact, the Bontoc elders arrived at a decision in order to keep this agreement intact. Both the Kalinga and Bontoc elders then declared that anyone talking to an outsider would share the same fate as Ema.

“Ema tried hard to defend herself, but it was no use. The mombaki was sent for to perform the ceremony. He could not remember all the words of the poem for that particular ritual since it is almost never chanted now. The judgment and sentence were swift. You see, Yaw,” Dulmog’s voice had become hoarse, “they beheaded Ema….”

Abayaw and Dulmog sat in silence for a long time, until dawn came to rouse them from their numbed state. Then they slowly stood up and headed back for their hamlet.

It was raining the following day. A slow, incessant, and monotonous drizzle that blanketed the mountains and the natives that dwelled in its bowels. The huts and the banana trees cast soft shadows on the muddy terrain. The young palay stalks bowed their heads in silent mourning, with tears of rain streaming down from their cheeks. The people, as morose as the weather, waited patiently for the dark clouds to pass.

The Cordilleras stood proudly and majestically over these mountain dwellers under her nurture and protection. She had stood guard for centuries and centuries, over passing generations. In return, they tended to her needs, planting rice in the hems and folds of her magnificent skirt, keeping her beauty forever.

11. Economic Nationalism

Maximo was already in the office when Pia arrived the following morning after her dinner with her school friends. Pia admired Max, who was in charge of Marketing. During brainstorming sessions, he would come up with the most creative and ingenious ideas to market and launch the new products they were introducing to the public.

“Hello, Max.”

“Good morning, Pia!”

Pia went over to her desk and sat down. She studied the papers in a file on her table. She was thinking of her discussion strategies for the meeting that they were going to have in the afternoon on the wine account.

“That American wine merchant dropped by yesterday evening after you left,” Max said, without taking his eyes from his work. “He talked with Danny and Goro.”

“What does Goro have to do with an international account?” Pia asked, looking up at Max. Goro was working in the Domestic Section of the company.

Danny, the Chief Executive Officer, would often arrive late at the office, leave in the afternoon, supposedly to have conference meetings on the golf course, then come back in the early evening to return phone calls and sign papers. At closing time, Danny would be there at his desk, looking quite dedicated and worthy of esteem, waving an exasperated good-bye to employees finishing their day. Pia was quite sure that many companies have risen to the top in part because of company heads with honourable qualities, but also owing to employees with leadership attributes.

Max shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t ask me,” he said. “I doubt Danny knows what goes on in this company.”

“I’ve decided to recommend the French wine account, Max. I think it’s better for the image of the company to be trading in a quality product, in spite of the limited market base. The competing product may be of good quality as well, but it does not have the historical distinction of a French wine coming from a nobleman’s château or a patriarchal family business. Lortan is coming to Manila next week for a meeting with us. I hope I can convince Danny of the merits of my recommendation before he arrives.”

Henri Lortan was a wine connoisseur with a family heritage of vineyards in Bordeaux. He had an office in Tokyo and was considering expanding his business to cover the rest of Asia. French wine is a huge success in Japan.

“So what marketing strategy do you suggest?” Max asked.

“Well, there are important considerations before we can come up with the right one. First, we have to let the market know what is France–its excellent quality of life and their people’s accomplishments.”

Max stopped his work and moved his swivel chair towards Pia’s desk. “Tell me about France,” he asked.

Pia turned her chair to face Max. “The French culture and the French way of life are the most civilised in the world. Many people of different races and civilisations have contributed positively to the global culture. Among them, the French have strongly influenced the sciences, literature, social discourse, the arts, diplomacy, and philosophy. But what stand out as much as their contribution to the global culture are their brilliant achievements.

“I think that among the most notable of their achievements is their educational system. Aside from catering to the educational needs of the young, France has superior schools specialised in forming the top executives of their nation. Entries to these schools are very competitive. France makes sure that excellent individuals head top posts in the country’s private and public sectors. France provides its youth with a national objective.

“So, after the war, France entrusted these young leaders with the responsibility for their economy. Their dynamism and innovative ideas changed France from a sluggish pre-war country to the progressive nation it is today. These young technocrats transformed France. Among many innovations, the French government nationalised those enterprises that were considered necessary for economic recovery.

“In the industrial and technological fields, France is Europe’s leader. France is unmatched in the efficient use of nuclear power generation for their energy consumption. In the fields of aeronautics and space research, telecommunication, and commercial transportation in Europe, the French are in the lead. Their high-speed passenger trains and their transportation system are among the most modern in the world. They dominate Europe’s space industry. The French are strong in significant economic areas of the future.

“What do these achievements say for France? That the French individual has the personal will to excel in whatever field he or she has chosen, and the determination to change things, among them, antiquated traditional thoughts. Their assertiveness and their initiatives have contributed to their country’s greatness.”

Pia had stood up to get coffee while she was speaking. She handed Max a cup and sat back at her desk. “Tell me about their quality of life,” Max asked.

“Their country is not overpopulated, not only as a result of the War, but also because they have not allowed religion to shape the way they run their nation, nor have they allowed it to run their lives. The French live well, and they eat well.”

“So now you come to their gastronomic achievements.”

“Yes,” Pia said, smiling. “France leads in gastronomy. Her agricultural sector was strongly modernised after the War, and she is the leading food producer in Europe. French cuisine is unsurpassable, and the French are proud of one of their best agricultural products, their wine.”

The rest of the staff had started to arrive. They murmured quick greetings and went straight to their desks to work.

“There is the market to consider,” Max continued.

“If we address those who are educated and dynamic, then there is a market out there. They are the ones intelligent enough to assimilate new ideas.”

“Well, we should do more than just put wine bottles on store shelves. Every wine label must have a story to tell,” Max thought out loud. “We could organise an Exhibition of different wines from every region of France. We should tell the Filipinos about the French quality of life. Perhaps we should also import their cheese…. It’s not enough to start something. It has to be sustained.”

Pia remembered from her Humanities class on the subject of the great civilisations of the world, that it was from the Chinese that the Europeans modelled their educational system in the 19th century. The Chinese had a rigorous educational system for the civil service dating back to the Ming dynasty in the 14th century. Adopting what others have found to be the better way is what progress is all about.

“Prepare a convincing presentation, Pia,” Max said, returning to his desk. “I’ll support you at the meeting.”

Pia went back to studying the documents on her table. After perusing them for a while, she sat back on her chair and remembered a story her mother had related at dinner about a young commoner who fell in love with a beautiful princess. When their love was discovered, he was banished from the kingdom. He then spent the rest of his life being a purposeless vagabond travelling far and wide. After a long period of time and through unbelievable adventures, the princess and the commoner were finally reunited. But the princess had, meanwhile, turned into a fat hag, and him, an old man. In the end, he decided that the sombre pursuit of cultivating a garden was the best occupation for one to do. Pia then sat forward, going back to her work. No one should decide your life, except yourself. She thought, if only the Filipinos would take their lives in their hands, and not allow constraining social traditions and religious dogmas to toss them this way and that….

The office door was brusquely opened and Danny strode in, in that familiar manner of his, appearing to be in a hurry, as if time was precious and must not be lost. But he was late, as usual.

“Pia!” he called out. “Can I see you in my office? Bring your files on the wine account. Where’s Goro? Tell him to see me as soon as he arrives.”

Danny sat down at his desk. He pressed a button on his intercom and spoke. “Bring me coconut juice, please.” Pia sat down in front of his wooden name plaque with her hastily gathered files on her lap. Danny rifled through the papers on his table, looking for nothing in particular.

“What will you be proposing at the meeting this afternoon, Pia?” Danny asked. But before Pia could answer, Danny spoke again. “We’ll opt for American wine. It’s cheaper and the masses go for anything stateside. I talked with that wine merchant last night.”
“Sir,” Pia said, “with all due respect, you have put me in charge of the wine account. After careful deliberation, I strongly recommend we import French wine. It is by far a better product.”

“That’s just it, you see, Pia,” Danny said, “that class in our society that can discern quality constitutes a minority. We have to sell what the masses will buy.”

“Then we have to educate the masses,” Pia replied.

“That will be a tedious process.”

“Then we have to begin now.”

There was a knock at the door, and Goro poked his head through. “You wanted to see me, sir?” he asked.

“Yes,” Danny replied. “Come in and sit down. We’re discussing the wine account.” Goro sat down on the chair beside Pia.

“That American has a cornfield, too,” Goro told Pia. “We can also import corn from him at a good price.” Pia regarded Goro with disdain. For him and many Filipinos like him, economic nationalism was an incomprehensible concept.

“Take two very similar ears of corn,” Pia said. “One is home-grown by a hardworking Filipino farmer who has to feed a family of six, and the other comes from the American. The latter is rich because you buy his products and hence the Filipino farmer is poor. I can understand when we import something we don’t have, but we have corn.”

“You don’t know the market,” Goro huffed. “The Filipinos will buy anything American. Who cares about the Filipino farmer?”

“Most of the people,” Pia responded, “live in the rural area where agriculture is the main industry. But they are migrating to the city because they cannot make a living on their produce. The government’s push for industrialisation is commendable, but it is a stopgap measure for a problem that has a far more simple solution. Seventy percent of the Filipino population is in the agricultural sector. If social peace is to be maintained, investment in the rural area is essential.”

“We are here,” Goro replied, “to make money. Let the government take care of the people.”

“The government cannot do it alone. The private sector has a social responsibility, and their collaboration is vital. Goro, think that when all is said and done, you would have contributed nothing to humanity.”

“Well, since I’m the boss around here,” Danny concluded, “I say we buy from the Americans.”

“I cannot agree with you, sir,” Pia said.

“Well Pia, in any case, Goro will be in charge of the wine account. Give him your files.” Then with an impatient wave of his hand, he said, “That will be all.”

Outside Danny’s office, Goro parted with a jeer, “Pia, keep to your kitchen which is a woman’s place.”

“Goro,” Pia retorted, squinting her eyes in a show of repugnance, “there are many women who are far cleverer than most men. Only cretins like you think all men are superior to women. Balls for brains, that’s your trouble.” Pia turned her back and returned to her desk.

12. Self-Defence Force

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.

13. Leadership Qualities

Pia came home early from work and brooded in the garden. She gazed at the orchids, her mind elsewhere. The housekeeper brought a cup of tea. “By the way, até Pia,” she said, “your cousin, Engie, will be coming for dinner. She called this afternoon.”

Pia thanked her and sipped her tea. Pia was thinking about ethics and character. According to Aristotle, man is a political animal. His behaviour is associated with the social setting in which it occurs. How does a good man act? Moral virtues, he said, are acquired by practice and habit. And what is the measure of goodness? Morals cannot be reduced to a set of principles, but we can make generalisations on what it is to be good men.

Whose task is it to make generalisations? There are those who say that religion is necessary to good conduct. But Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, and other religions are mere conduits, religious moral systems for a code of behaviour. There are other moral systems, and theology alone does not shape man’s behaviour.

Jaime Velayo Ongpin once said that if the individual does not have idealism, the society won’t have it, and thus the nation won’t have it. It has to start with the individual, at home, and spread out from there. The child is modified in mind and character by his relationships with those in his family life, and broadens from there with his contacts outside the home. But the human character of the individual, Pia considered, also depends on his economic circumstances.

But to be a good parent is taught and learnt; it is not innate. Then the teaching of ethics and conduct becomes the responsibility of the State through its educational institutions. The State must teach ethics, not religion, from early childhood. Aristotle also said that a bad moral state, once formed, is not easily amended. The future of the nation depends on how children have been brought up to become leaders and to have principles in life. The good of the individual becomes the good of the community.

Pia considered that there are also norms of society that shape man’s behaviour. Ongpin calls them, infuriating Filipino values: our capacity to forgive and forget, our blind respect for authority, our come-what-may attitude, our naiveté and kindness. We forgive criminals in public office, and forget their crimes. We have a monster as head of state and cannot see him for what he is, but respect him for his authority. We leave everything to God, and make no effort to right the wrong. We, Pia thought, are a nation of credulous simpletons.

Our culture exists because the individuals that compose our society maintain its existence. To create new practices, another way of thought, a different way of life, will be up to the individual to make changes and provide direction.

Pia’s thoughts were interrupted when she heard the front door being opened. She called out to her mother who had just come home. She joined Pia in the garden. “Hello, Mother. Did you have a nice day?”

“Yes, I did, thank you, Pia. I operated on Mrs Hidalgo’s hernia today and put it in its place. I had Mr Cano’s dislocated hip back where it belonged.”

Conchita had brought another cup of tea and set it on the garden table.

“By the way,” Pia said, “I’d like to invite you and Papa out for dinner next week.”

“Oh, that’s kind of you. What’s the occasion?”

“There’s just a problem I want to discuss with you both.”

“Is it serious? Don’t you want to talk about it now?”

Pia did not want to disturb the serene atmosphere of home with unpleasant talk. “No, Mama. I want to talk to you and Papa in a restaurant, not at home.” Pia decided to change the subject. “So what else did you do today, Mama?”

Pia knew that her mother had just come back from a tournament game of bridge, one of many hobbies with which she filled her free time. Pia lived with her parents, like most unmarried working girls of her age. They had a housekeeper to do the cleaning and the cooking, and a chauffeur. The chauffeur was really unnecessary, but Pia’s mother could never manage driving in the congested streets of Manila. A sleepy cabdriver had bumped the rear wing of her car, and she had grown fond of the dent. Mrs Delgado said it let the air out of all the pomp of being chauffeur-driven.

Pia’s mother collected orchids. The garden was full of them. Those that had beautiful blooms she placed on the breakfast table so that everybody in the house would begin their day in good humour, ready to face the world and all its vicissitudes.

And Pia’s mother loved reading and discussing her books over dinner. The experiences of the characters and the philosophy behind the themes, she said, provided a learning ground for those who read them. Literature, she said, enriches and puts order in our lives. Like a mirror, it reflects observations that enable us to acquire knowledge.

“I played a tricky seven diamonds today,” Mrs Delgado said, and started to explain her hand, what the dummy had, and where the significant cards were between the opponents. But Pia wasn’t really listening. Her mind was elsewhere.

What are the ethical values that the State must impart? Integrity, responsibility, moral commitment, honesty, loyalty, social graces, citizenship, intellectual virtues, a sense of justice…. But above all, the State must impart a strong sense of personal responsibility to society. We are shaped by both our upbringing and our education. We are also guided by our conscience. No one is infallible, Pia sighed, but we have to strive to do what is right.

The engine of a car could be heard as it entered the garage. Pia’s father, likewise in the medical profession, was a surgeon with a private practice in Quezon City and, on certain days, saw patients at the Makati Medical Centre. At weekends, he would play tennis early in the morning, and during the week he would take brisk walks within the housing complex where they lived, exchanging pleasantries with the neighbours along the way.

“I’m home!” he announced. “Where’s everybody?”

“We’re in the garden, Papa!”

Pia took her father’s hand and respectfully brought it to her forehead, as she had done with her mother. Conchita came to ask if he wanted some tea. “No, thank you,” he said, “I’m going to change and take my walk.” He made his way back into the house.

“Your daughter has invited us out for dinner next week,” Pia’s mother announced.

“Yes, Papa. Where would you like to go?”

“Are we celebrating something?” he called out.

“No, not really.” Pia sighed again. She turned red with shame as she remembered seeing Max’s jaw drop to the table in surprise when she recommended that the company handle the American wine account at the meeting that afternoon. Danny, without Pia providing supporting arguments, quickly approved it. She didn’t have any. Pia wanted to talk to her parents about her options, possibly go back to school and take her Master’s degree. Pia sighed again.

“I hear Merengie is coming to dinner.”

“Pia,” her mother said, “be polite when your cousin arrives.”

“She’s not related to us by blood, you know.” Pia sniffed.

“Her mother is your godmother, so be nice with your relations.”

“A godmother at my christening does not make her entire family our relations.”

“It’s the custom, Pia.”

“Well then, some customs have to be abolished and new ones adopted. They’re very constraining, these old ways of thinking.”

“You’re right,” Pia’s mother said. “Engie’s mother asked to be your godmother because she was grateful to your father for medical treatment; but a small token of appreciation would have been sufficient. As it is, gratitude has gone beyond gift giving. Now society expects you to express gratitude not with a material present, but in the form of returning a favour. The practice has really got out of hand.”

Pia turned her thoughts elsewhere and gazed absentmindedly at the orchids.

“You look tired, Pia.”

“I’ve had an annoying time at the office today, Mama. You know, like when you feel you are alone in the wilderness, barking at the moon.”

Pia snapped out of her dismal disposition. She pulled her shoulders back and stretched her neck to one side to get the kink out of it. “Will you excuse me, Mama, I think I’ll go and take a bath now.”

Pia took her bag and leather case from the table near the front door and went upstairs to her bedroom. She dropped what she was carrying on her study table and went to the bathroom to prepare her bath. She tossed in her usual bath salts and jumped into the tub. She lay there for some time with her eyes closed, and thought after a while about one of her mother’s storybook characters, Ibsen’s doctor. If she were to stand up to Filipino society’s prevailing orientation, she would make herself unpopular with wolves and vultures. But in the final analysis of this one-sided prosperity that is maintained by those who gain from it, the strongest person is the one who holds the ladle that brings change to the cauldron of social apathy.

There was a light tapping at the door. “What is it?” Pia asked.

“Até Pia, your mother wanted me to tell you that Engie has arrived,” Conchita replied.

“Isn’t she early? I’ll be down in a few minutes. Thank you, Conchie.” Pia hastily finished her bath and got dressed. She went down the stairs, arranging her hair at the same time.

They were in the sitting room, and Merengie was doing a dance step in front of her mother. She stopped and walked towards Pia to greet her. Pia noted how Merengie walked with that slow, ungraceful, flatfooted strut. It was an arrogant walk common to that social class–the calf, not the hip, swaying outwards with every dragging step. The condescending swagger taunted–I can financially afford to take it easy, can you?
Merengie, Pia deduced, was a product of pampering parents. She was irresponsible because she did not know what it was to struggle. She did not have to think to survive. The future of the country was in the hands of its youth, a society like hers whose world was materialistic, superficial, and unreasonable. Their pathetic sense of values was learnt through Western television, which depicted an unrealistic way of life. They had no sense of purpose and they lacked discipline. Leaders were made of rare personal qualities. Surely, they could not come from this miserable lot.

“Hello, cousin!” Merengie greeted. “Como está? Think of me, think of you! I was just showing Auntie the latest disco shuffle.”

Pia could never understand what Merengie was talking about. “Hello, Engie,” she greeted back.

“Did you see that latest movie with Mel Gibson? Chig-a-dig my heart! That Americano is so-o-o gwapo!” Engie spluttered. She sat down and started to fumble through her bag. “Where are my blue seal cigarettes?”

Five more minutes of this, Pia thought as she sat down, and she would return to her bath. She need not have hurried. Small talk was really not one of her strong points. Pia noticed that her mother was just as annoyed.

“Pia,” her mother asked, “will you have Conchita place dinner on the table? I’m sure Engie doesn’t want to be home too late.”

Pia got up with much relief, and arrived at the same time as her father who came in through the kitchen back door. “Papa, we’ll be having dinner very soon.”

“She’s early,” he remarked.

Pia rolled her eyes upward. Conchita giggled and gave Dr Delgado his usual mug of iced water.

“Conchie,” Pia said, “bring all the food to the table. There’s a fire at the lake.”

“Where’s the fire?” Conchita asked in alarm.

“Never mind. We’ll be having dinner now. Just put everything on the table quickly. We shall be in a hurry to finish dinner.”

“I’m going to take a shower,” Pia’s father said, “but go ahead and begin without me. The less time I have to listen to her chatter, the better.”

Pia returned to the living room. “We can come to the table now, Mama,” she announced. “Papa will join us as soon as he can.”

“Where’s Uncle? I gotta talk to him,” Engie said.

“Have to,” Pia corrected.

“Think of me, think of you,” she replied, frivolously. “I am spokening American!”

“Speak English, please!”

“Why don’t you sit here?” Pia’s mother directed Engie to a chair.

Conchita arrived with a platter of prawns and crabs. She went back to the kitchen and returned with small saucers of fish sauce and mayonnaise. “So, Engie, how is my ninang?” Pia asked, passing the plate of seafood to her mother first.

“Mommy just came back from shopping at Landmark in Hong Kong. She’s going to Hawaii next month, you know. Believe you me, she’s a real jetsetter.”

“That’s nice,” Pia replied.

“What will she be doing in Hawaii?” Pia’s mother asked.

“I have an uncle and auntie there, so she’ll just be visiting and shopping with my dad,” she said.

“That’s nice,” Pia’s mother replied.

Merengie unshelled her shrimp with her fingers, drowned it in mayonnaise, popped it in her mouth, and then licked her fingers. Pia watched her out of the corner of her eye, as she used a knife and fork. With the conversation being what it was, they dined in silence.

“So, Engie!” Dr Delgado said as he entered the dining room. “How’s your father?”

“Hello, Uncle! He’s fine. He plays golf with the congressman so he keeps himself fit.”
“Which congressman?” Pia asked under her breath, expecting no reply.

“It’s not what you know from edumacation,” Merengie snarled, “it’s whom you know that gets you somewhere.”

Conchita brought some stuffed bellpeppers, a green salad, and white rice. “Conchita, the ketchup,” Engie ordered. Conchita returned from the kitchen and placed the bottle beside Merengie’s plate.

“So that brings me to why I’m here,” Merengie said, turning to Pia’s father, who was just starting to help himself to a coconut crab.

“Uncle, I want to ask you a favour. I have a friend who wants to be a doctor at Makati Med. I promised him I’d pull strings to get him in.”

Dr Delgado’s eyes began to squint. Pia and her mother looked at each other knowingly. “He gets in only if he’s qualified to practise, and nothing else.”

“But please, Uncle. I told him I had a bigwig Uncle at the hospital. You wouldn’t want to embarrass me, would you, Uncle? Besides, Dad would do anything for you if you asked him.”

Dr Delgado’s nostrils widened in another sign of annoyance. “And what do you think will happen to the qualified doctor who has no strings to pull or doesn’t want to pull any? You will find him abroad, where his expertise and talents are appreciated. Your influence-pulling practices cause a haemorrhage of the intelligent and the talented from this country. So what do we have left? Those unfit for the jobs they’re in. Instead of advancing, we are being run by ignoramuses who keep us backward with their mediocre ideas and feebleminded ways of thinking. They are common men who do not want to rock the boat because they are content with wallowing in the mud, which is their existence. Progress and development will forever remain retarded, with severe consequences for this country. The government should seriously worry about the brain-drain problem; otherwise, there will be no one left to lead this country to prosperity. Do not ask me to pull strings for you.”

“But please, Uncle…”

Dr Delgado’s anger went into its final stage. His forehead wrinkled, his eyes popped out, and his teeth showed under his taut lips. “Engie, let’s say your friend practises medicine. How many patients would he misdiagnose, mistreat, or even cause to expire before he is stopped? What you are asking me is impossible. Consider the consequences. My answer is an emphatic no.”

Conchita brought a custard pie to the table. Dr Delgado was just finishing his crab. “Would you like coffee with your dessert?” Pia asked Merengie, who was pouting over her ketchup-smothered bellpepper.

“No, thanks.”

The rest of the week was busy for Pia. Goro was unfamiliar with the organisation concerning foreign business associates, so Pia had to take care of Lortan’s arrival and agenda in Manila. Danny had given her permission to attend to him.

She was at the airport to meet the Frenchman and bring him in the company car to his hotel and first appointment in Makati. Pia had informed him beforehand that another decision had been made, and that she would introduce him to another trading house that would better serve him.

“By the way, Mr Lortan,” she informed him after lunch, “I have decided to leave the company next month.”

“I suppose a better job opportunity came your way?” he asked.

“No, it isn’t that. I do not agree with the company on certain principles and it has become a matter of integrity. Danny and I are both on a different plane of intellect. You see, the donkey means one thing and the driver another.” Pia wondered if she would make the same decision if she were the breadwinner of a family with several mouths to feed.

Mr Lortan sat there for a while, deep in thought. He dropped a cube sugar in his coffee and stirred it slowly. “Miss Delgado,” he finally said, “I find you very competent. I would be quite fortunate to have someone of your calibre in my company in Tokyo.”

Pia looked up. “Thank you for your offer, Mr Lortan. Will you give me time to consider it?”

It was a hectic week for Pia. She had business meetings and company conferences one after the other. She had to explain the accounts to the staff who would be handling them, and introduce them to her business contacts. She had lunch meetings and appointments outside the office, and with the oppressive heat and humidity of this tropical city, this was tiring. She would arrive home late, have a quick dinner, go to bed, get up the next morning, and start again.

It was at the end of such a day towards the end of that week that Pia went to meet her parents in a restaurant in Greenhills. Pia was tired and the dinner conversation was laconic. But she did have something to talk about.

“Mama and Papa,” she said, when the desserts arrived, “I am thinking of going to Tokyo. I’ve been offered a position in a French company there.”

“Tokyo…” Dr Delgado pondered. “Isn’t that where they have all those electronic gadgets and women carrying parachutes on their backs?”

“But,” Mrs Delgado asked, “didn’t you just pass the qualifying exams to take your MBA at the University? Wouldn’t it be better for your career to take your MBA first?”

“Yes, I know, Mama. But I think this is also a great opportunity to test my wings outside the nest. I can take my Master’s degree at a later date.”

Mrs Delgado looked at her husband to see what his reaction was to the news. “Who’s going to play tennis with me on weekends?” he asked.

“Will you be serious!” Mrs Delgado uttered. “Your daughter is going abroad–alone!”

“I’ve done a little research on Tokyo,” Pia said as they got up to leave. “It’s one of the safest cities in the world. I don’t think there can be anything to worry about.”

They walked together towards the front door, Dr Delgado’s arm on the shoulder of his wife, with their daughter leading the way to the car. “Pia is young. Let her see the world,” Dr Delgado said. “Let her learn what life is about. We must also teach her to be independent. Pia is a responsible girl. She can take care of herself.”

14. Perceptions

Pia discovered that the consulate paperwork to work in Japan was irksome, but managed it in the end. She met all the requirements and arrived at Narita airport on a Saturday afternoon. At the airport, the immigration officials also gave her a difficult time. She didn’t know why because all her documents were in order. Mr. Lortan was waiting for her at the Tokyo City Air Terminal but she did not know how to contact him there. Pia was exasperated and tired after her trip. She decided to call Lortan’s office to have one of his employees contact him at the Terminal. She took out Lortan’s namecard, and the immigration official upon seeing it, asked for it, then allowed her to leave. Pia wondered about that and thought to ask Lortan about it.

Mr. Lortan drove Pia from the Terminal to a hotel near the office. He would give her time next week, he said, for her to find a flat. Lortan pointed out some tall buildings and told her what they were. Pia observed that not many monuments had survived the War. Tokyo was a very modern city.

“By the way,” Pia asked, “at the airport, the immigration official had only let me go after taking your namecard. Why was that?”

“A namecard,” Mr. Lortan replied, “tells the other person more than just your name, your company, your position, and your office address. For the Japanese, this information denotes your social status. Their language has different forms of respect and the namecard tells them which form to use. The Japanese are a people bound by honour and the namecard is more than just an introduction.”

Several days later, Pia found a small house made of wood, next to a primary school in Aoyama. An elderly widow, who preferred to live in the country, owned the old Japanese dwelling. The front door opened onto a hallway that led to the living room area on the left, and the one bedroom on the right. The bedroom floor was covered with tatami mats, and she was told that you place a futon on it for a bed. The kitchen had no door and opened directly onto the dining room. With an area of fifty square metres, Pia found it comfortable. She enjoyed shopping for furniture and things to decorate her new home.
She spent her first weekends exploring the surroundings of Aoyama. The cars on the avenues were all brand new. The Japanese pedestrians were all well dressed. A few women wore kimonos. Near her house were two sports shops opposite each other in the street, Ski Shop Jiro and Tennis Shop Jiro. Pia found their window displays beautifully eye-catching. There were modern buildings mingling with wooden Japanese houses. There was Bell Commons at the corner of a busy intersection and across it on the other side, an old Japanese house selling tea.

Pia enrolled herself at a language school to learn French. She found it necessary when dealing with French clients in Tokyo and business associates in France. After all, she was working for a French company. She understood the language after three months but would only speak it when necessary. She did not want to be misunderstood in a language she did not fully grasp. Besides, she knew that the French dislike it when their language is spoken incorrectly. The company had Japanese employees and they took care of the Japanese side of the business.

Pia’s office was located in a building in Akasaka. Commuting took her less than five minutes by the subterranean railway from her house. Sometimes she would leave early and walk briskly to the office, crossing through Aoyama cemetery. Cherry trees line the stone paths of this huge cemetery located in the heart of Tokyo, where land for the living is scarce and priceless. The Japanese hold great reverence for their dead.

On the weekends that she wasn’t treasure hunting in flea markets, she would spend it playing tennis. The sports club membership fees were costing an arm and a leg, over several hundreds of thousands of yen, but she found public tennis courts reasonable. Like other tennis players, she had to reserve in advance, and there were courts where your name was drawn by lottery.

Pia devoted her evenings to the social circuit. She found it necessary to keep in touch with the people they were doing business with and to keep herself in the public eye. She quickly learnt that in this kind of business, good public relations was an advantage.
Pia once attended a cocktail party at the French Embassy and because she spoke French only when necessary, those around her wrongly assumed that if she didn’t speak the language, then she must not understand it.

“Do you see the lady in the blue suit? She’s Miss Delgado. I hear she’s very clever. She works with Lortan. His company is doing extremely well.” “Who is she? She’s so distinguished and elegant. What’s Lortan’s business? He must have an excellent selection of wine. Remind me to call him tomorrow.” Ah, the French–so gallant and so chivalrous.

As Pia stood by the French windows, admiring the large Japanese stone lantern in the garden of the ambassador’s residence, one of the guests came up to her. “Miss Delgado, do you speak Spanish?” he asked. “No, I’m sorry. Spanish sounds Greek to me.” “I have been told,” he snorted, “that the upper class in your society are the ones who speak Spanish.”

“I resent your implication, sir,” Pia snorted back, “but allow me to enlighten you on our language problem.” Pia looked around and directed him towards some chairs in the corner of the salon of the Residence. “You see,” she began, “the Filipinos suffer from an insidious discrimination. It is the discrimination among Filipinos for fellow Filipinos. Our years of colonisation have dispersed us in so many ways, and we create an artificial status symbol to identify ourselves with. We do not have a unifying language, so one class identifies with the Spanish language and Spanish culture; another class identifies with the American tongue and American merchandise; and all the others identify themselves with the region they come from and the dialect of the area.

“Do the Filipinos have a national identity? It is so ambiguous that we quibble among ourselves and create social identity in terms of language: I speak Spanish, I speak English, and I only speak Tagalog with the maids. I am Pampangan, I am Cebuano, and I speak Chavacano in Mindanao. Less than two percent of our population speak Spanish, and they are the descendants of those who came here long ago. There are not many of them left, but they are wealthy because they own huge parcels of land and have created industries from this capital base. The Chinese live in a society of their own, speaking their languages among themselves. They have done very well, too, in their adopted country.

“My nation’s progress depends very much on unity, and one factor of cohesion is a common language. We have between 100 to 150 indigenous languages and dialects, estimates one eminent Filipino linguist. We have eight ethnic groups and 60 cultural minorities. Our diversity is our cultural wealth and we must keep it. But put all these 100 or so speakers of different languages in one national meeting room and you will have a cacophonic discussion that could not possibly lead to anywhere near some kind of understanding of any side. To complicate the whole matter, we are an archipelago of 7,107 islands, many of which are still unnamed. Not only can we not communicate with each other, but we also find it difficult to cross the physical frontiers of our country.

“Elemental nationalists have made Tagalog the dominant language in education. It is a beautiful and romantic language, but unfortunately, with a very limited vocabulary. Filipino society in Manila speaks a horrible mixture of Tagalog and English; not many speak Tagalog eloquently. Tagalog is the language of the capital and is one of the eight major languages in the country, out of 87 considered as languages. But it is not the language spoken by the majority of Filipinos; only 23% of the population are native Tagalog speakers. The Tagalogs are a part of the population, and the language, culture, and customs of this segment do not speak for the entire nation. We alienate other linguistic groups by choosing this indigenous language, only because it is the language of the capital. If we transfer the capital to the Visayas, what would the working language there be? Would they impose the language of the Visayan capital on the rest of the population?”

“I apologise for my ignorance, Miss Delgado,” he said. “But then, what do you think the solution is to your language problem?” “We have three national languages: Tagalog, Spanish, and English. In 1959, the indigenous national language was renamed Pilipino–perhaps to make it sound more a national than a regional language. But the success of that simple modification as a solution to our language problem is questionable. It is essential that we have a lingua franca, a language that we can all use simply to facilitate communication among all the ethnolinguistic groups. There is one such language that we can adopt nationwide.

It is a neutral language, so one region does not disassociate itself from the other. It is a language that has the knack of creating new words and expanding–Tagalog has contributed some words to its vocabulary. It is a language that we are already familiar with, as it was easily grasped through our educational system when used as a medium of instruction. It is a language that will promote our integration with the international community. Adopting this universal language would greatly simplify communication. It would be preferable if it were the noble language of diplomacy and culture, but the Filipinos are already accustomed with the other.”

“The Scandinavian languages also have limited vocabularies, and rely to some extent on English,” he said. “But language is closely linked to culture. You change the language to the detriment of culture.”

“No, sir. We will continue to speak our languages and our dialects. But we will use that universal language as a second language, only to facilitate communication among all Filipinos. Besides, there would be a far worse effect if Tagalog or any other Filipino language or dialect were to be the only language used. You see, without an effective command of English, employment is restricted to the language’s region and whatever possibilities it presents. We would therefore limit our opportunities with elemental notions of nationalism in language. This then perpetuates regionalist attitudes and sharpens social class distinctions.”

“Although English-speakers do not hold a monopoly on the upper social class,” he concludes, “it is highly advantageous and useful if one were multilingual. In Belgium, for example, where the north speak Flemish and the south speak French, the language issue divides their population because historical social class distinctions have been unfairly related to language. The Belgians also speak English, aside from either Flemish or French, and use it as their working language in order to avoid confrontations on this issue.”

The employees at Pia’s new office were very good to her. She often had lunch with them when she did not have a business appointment. They enjoyed practising their English. “Are there other Filipinos you know?” she once asked her Japanese colleagues over lunch. They looked at each other and waited for the other to speak.

“Yes,” one of them said. “We hear about them in the news, but you will not find them interesting.” They talked about an area in Tokyo called Kabukicho, where the yakuza operate drinking dens and illegal brothels. Here, they said, you will find Filipino dancers, singers, and bargirls. Pia was shocked. She was unfamiliar with this world. “But why would they come all the way to Tokyo to do that? Are there no Japanese bargirls and whatnots here, that you would have to import them from my country?” she asked in disbelief.

“Economic development in your country,” one of her colleagues replied, “is the slowest in all Asia, and because of this, there are many Filipinos working abroad. You have eight million compatriots overseas who remit $12 billion annually to the Philippine treasury. Your country’s economy is artificially propped up by all the belly-shaking dancers, domestics, and construction workers around the world. We have such a high standard of living that very few Japanese are willing to get into work that involves the 3Ks: kitanay–dirty, kiken–dangerous, and kitsui–difficult. Your citizens are probably your country’s major export.”

“They are willing to work in these jobs in foreign lands,” another colleague continued, “because your government does not look after their welfare. They come from the rural areas, working abroad to support families back home. It is a big sacrifice on their part to be separated like that. They are one of many unsung heroes of your nation. They have taken the economic ills of your country on their shoulders, sending money home to feed the people.”

“Like Maupassant’s tallow ball…” Pia remarked.

Pia’s first months in Tokyo passed very quickly, and when it was the Japanese holiday of Obon, she thought it was too soon to go to Manila to spend a few days there. She wanted to visit the Asakusa Kannon Temple that morning and then go to Ginza.

Two huge angry-looking statues of deities greeted her at the entrance to the temple. They were in a wire-fence enclosure on opposite sides of the entranceway, with a large red lantern in front. The pathway leading to the temple was lined with souvenir shops. The path was crowded with Japanese and very few foreign tourists. There was a display of bonsai and ikebana to the right. There was a magnificent five-storied pagoda to the left. Pia walked around the Temple, admiring the architecture and the colours used on the designs of the ceiling and columns.

She watched the Japanese throw coins into an old wooden box with narrow beams across the top so that the coins passed through the slats. Then they clapped their hands twice and bowed their heads. There was a braided cord attached to a bell, and they gave that a shake. Apart from certain ritual ceremonies to accompany birth, marriage, and death, temple visiting seemed to be the only other obligation for a believer. The only Buddhist, in the proper sense of the word, is the Buddhist monk. Pia saw some of them inside the temple, and they looked at peace with the world and most dignified.

Pia had read that Buddhism came to Japan via India. Its distinct attribute is its intensely practical attitude. It is a system of thought that teaches the way to perfect peace and happiness. Siddhartha Gautama, the father of Buddhism, was born over four hundred years before Jesus of Nazareth. He was the son of a royal family, in what is now Nepal; the other was the son of a carpenter, in what is now Israel. Buddha developed his philosophy, outlined as the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. Christ did the same, developing his own philosophy and promising eternal salvation to those who believe it. Buddhism, like the Christian philosophy, has evolved through the years with varied interpretations and is now very different from the original. Both have statues and monuments–fantastic representations of human imagination. Both were human beings, symbolising a spiritual principle. One has been elevated to the status of God.

At the bottom of the steps was a large metallic receptacle with burning sticks of incense. The Japanese fanned the smoke towards their face, motioning good luck to come. Just to the side of the incense burner was a rectangular water trough. Pia watched the Japanese as they dipped a tin cup with a long wooden handle into the trough, then holding the handle in one hand and with the back of the other, guided the tin cup to their lips. It was a graceful hand movement.

To the far right of the temple, behind some short trees and tall bushes, Pia noticed a small wooden edifice. She walked around it and approached it from the main path. There was a carved wooden panel of animals on the left. It was a Shinto shrine. From what Pia had read, Shinto is the oldest surviving religion of Japan, dating from prehistoric times. The Japanese worship many deities called kami, which are the basic forces found in nature. It is an animist religion that emphasises rituals. It has no elaborate philosophy. According to Shinto myth, the sun goddess, Amaterasu, created the Japanese islands, and that the Emperor is descended from this divinity. The Japanese conduct ceremonies, the matsuri, that pray for long life, peace, abundant harvests, and good health. Pia was amazed that this modern society still kept their primitive religion, practicing its rituals and observing its traditions.

She continued on foot along the main avenue up to the Sumida River where she watched a sightseeing boat ply along. There were several bridges that cut across the expanse of water, each one different from the other. She bought some roasted chestnuts from a street vendor, and wondered how he could eke out a living from the small profit he adds to the price of his produce. After a few minutes, Pia headed for the underground station to go to Ginza.

There were many shops and department stores, and many more Japanese. There were art galleries, automobile display rooms, bookstores, and eateries. She strolled along, admiring the window displays. She passed by a shoe shop and went inside to buy walking shoes.

On the left side of the shop were women’s shoes and on the right, men’s. It was lunchtime, and business suit-clad customers were browsing around. Even on holidays, Pia observed, the Japanese feel compelled to work.

Pia tried on a pair, which she found too tight. It’s too small, she said, motioning with her hands to the attendant sales clerk, since her Japanese was minimal. There was a Japanese man sitting next to Pia, waiting to try on a pair of shoes. He turned to her and said, “Why don’t you cut the front part off, and let your toes hang out?”

Pia turned her head in his direction and laughed. “Your English is very good,” she said.
“Thank you! I studied English in school and from an NHK programme, our educational and cultural television station,” he replied.

“Your state-run television stations have excellent programmes,” Pia remarked. “They present the arts, discuss literary classics, and they have excellent news coverage and documentaries from the British Broadcasting Corporation.”

“Thank you!” he said again. He then took a leather cardholder from his coat pocket and handed Pia his meishi.

“Allow me to introduce myself,” he said, bowing slightly and giving his namecard politely. “Please call me Keita.”

Pia took her card out of her handbag and did the same. “I’m pleased to meet you Keita-san. Please call me Pia.” The saleswoman returned with another pair for Pia, and Keita tried on his.

“Pia-san,” Keita asked, “have you had lunch?”

“No, not yet,” Pia replied.

“I would like to practise my English,” he said. “May I please invite you?”

Pia looked him over. He looked smart in his well-tailored suit. He was polite. He was funny, too. Don’t talk to strangers, her mother said, but this one looked to be all right. “I would be very happy to,” she replied.

They both paid for their purchases and walked out of the shop together, and as Keita looked left and right, deciding where to go, Pia noted his height. He only reached up to her chin.

“Let’s see,” he said, “there’s a street not far from here that’s lined with restaurants. Let’s go there.” Keita started to walk, and he marched with quick short steps. Pia walked slowly with long strides, looking in at the shop windows now and then.

“So how long have you been living in Japan, Pia-san?”

“I just arrived a few months ago.”

“Are you from the Philippines?”

“Yes, I am.”

“I just love your country!”

Pia looked at him in surprise.

“Your country is so beautiful! The Filipinos are so kind and hospitable! In spite of their hardships, they are always laughing or smiling. When I go to the countryside, I find both young and old playing chess together. That is so fantastic! Either that or they are playing basketball or betting on fighting cocks.

“I have been to Boracay, the chocolate hills in Bohol, the rice terraces in Banaue, and the island of Cebu. I have seen the sailing boats on the seas of Mindanao. I have been to the beaches of Batanes, eating sea urchins on its shores. I have been to other places in your country that you will not find on a tourist map. Really, your country and your people are wonderful!”

Then Keita lowered his voice, and placed his hand in front of his mouth as if to whisper. “You know, I don’t want to talk too much about your country to the Japanese. The young Japanese go to Hawaii or Saipan, but what they don’t know is that the real paradise is your Philippines. If they knew that, they would all come to your country instead. So I want to keep that a secret.”

Pia stopped in her tracks, with her mouth open like a stranded fish. She stared at this man who was so proud of her country. “It’s still a long while from now,” he continued, “but I would like to buy a house beside a golf course in the Philippines when I retire. I think I’m about your age. I’m forty-one.”

Pia walked hurriedly to catch up with him. “Thank you very much, Keita-san,” Pia said, “but I’m only twenty-seven.”

“Oops,” Keita started to look at the sky. “Pleasant weather for this time of year, isn’t it?”
Pia laughed again. “Well, you’re so tall, Pia-san, I thought you were older. Gomen-nasai.”

“That’s all right.” They turned right in an alley of two-storied buildings made of prefabricated material with wooden façades. They decided on raw fish and entered a restaurant where they sat at a counter in front of the sushi chef.

“So how do you like living in Japan?” Keita asked. Pia paused for thought before she replied. She could say so little after Keita talked so glowingly about her country. “There’s still a lot I need to know about Japan. I admire your traditions and your culture. Your people are so honest and polite. The Japanese must be one of the most cultivated societies in the world. I congratulate the parent-State for your excellent upbringing. You have a highly structured society, carefully represented in your language, so it is almost impossible to integrate into your society. You also have a quality of life that must be the envy of Asia.”

“Crime and poverty are not common in Japan,” Keita agreed. “Yes, we have a very high standard of living. Good manners and right conduct, and a moral education are taught to us in elementary and high school. Japanese society imposes strong expectations on ourselves–you see, we have a very strong national identity.”

“But both our countries emerged from the War in very bad shape. What has put Japan in the lead? Ninety percent of your population live on twenty per cent of the country’s territory and you have no natural resources to speak of.”

“Our system of land management was drastically reformed just after World War Two. It has been considered one of the most successful in the history of agrarian reform. It brought a more equal distribution of assets, thereby restructuring rural society. We redistributed land property rights, with the only eligible buyer being the cultivator of the land, thus creating a social class of independent owner-farmers. The property rights of those landlords, whose property holdings exceeded five hectares, were transferred to the tenant farmers through compulsory acquisition by the government. Land property was not confiscated, but was financially acquired. Nevertheless, land reform, in order to be effective, necessitates draconian measures.

“So in Japan, conditions were conducive to the success of this land reform. First, the political situation was favourable and facilitated the undermining of the landlords’ political and economic power. Secondly, we had a group of well-educated people in the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce who were able to tackle the enormous amount of operational work. Thirdly, the government offered a highly favourable credit programme enabling tenants to purchase farmland. And fourthly, government policies regulated land and food prices so as to make land an unattractive source of income for large landholders. The government also enacted other numerous regulations aimed at defending the dignity of man. The reform greatly improved the standard of living of rural people. Please study our land reform programme. Your country, by the way, needs a drastically innovative government to reorganise your society.

“Our economy, on the other hand, is driven by international trade. But the Philippines once had the second biggest economy in Asia, next to Japan. Students from neighbouring countries were going to your universities in order to study your ways. In the early sixties, some ASEAN countries were sending their economists to learn what the Philippines was doing. This was the time before Marcos. After Martial Law, the Philippines is now one of the poorest countries in Asia.

“There is also another issue that your country must tackle. Your countrymen have little loyalty to the government and therefore to the nation. In search of a better life, your first wave of migrants was well-educated Filipinos and skilled workers, later to be followed by the rural people. If you are indifferent to your country’s plight, who then will make the changes? Your government should also be worried about the brain-drain problem.”

“They seem unconcerned,” Pia replied, “because emigration is an open safety-valve to let out social unrest. It is an unsatisfactory solution for the country’s economic problems. The result is that there is almost no one in the country capable of carrying the nation forward. There are 400 millionaire families, of which 40 are billionaires, and they control tightly 90% of the country’s wealth. There are 14 families who each own over 40,470,000 square metres of land.”

“Look at Singapore,” Keita continued, “that nation developed under the extremely capable and responsible leadership of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. They also had a colonial past, but Lee Kuan Yew transformed his nation into the thriving economy it is today. The socio-economic development of Singapore is another excellent Asian model.

“There is another difference between Japan and the Philippines, and that is religion. We do not allow religion to dictate how the government runs the country. The major consequences of your overpopulation are your country’s poor standard of living and the strain it puts on your educational institutions. If the masses are not educated, they will never rise above their poverty; nor will they, by holding the majority of the popular vote, be capable of making the right choice as to who is to be their nation’s leader. If the plight of the masses is not redressed, this situation will become a breeding ground for social unrest. You must not allow dogmatic notions lead your country to destruction.”

“Buddhism,” Pia noted, “teaches very practical principles, but there are Christians in your country.”

Keita laughed. “The ones who brought that religion to this country were very often English-speakers. The Japanese love to practice their English. You see, many of us Japanese find it hard to believe, and consider it almost implausible, that there should be some sort of divine creator of man and the universe. Christmas is a commercialised event in this country. We are attracted less to faith but to gift-giving customs, carol-singing, and bright decorations. Like Valentine’s Day, our department stores know a good thing when they see it.”

They had finished their lunch and stood up to leave. “We have a proverb dating back to the Edo period,” Keita said, as they stepped out of the restaurant. “If you want to educate your children, let them travel. Learn from the cultures of the advanced civilisations of today, and see what has made them what they are. Those who do not leave their niche are limited in their perceptions.

“The influence of other cultures is inevitable and necessary, and there is a lot to learn from the cultures of other nations. Keep your traditions and customs, but also, assimilate selected aspects of other cultures in order to move forward and to assume the progress made by others comprising our world community. Progress is a constant learning process of what works and what does not. Learn from those who have learnt better.”

15. Western Definitions and Eastern Interpretations

Pia came home late from work, checking the mailbox before entering the house. In it she found some bills and a large manila envelope from her mother. Pia unlocked her door, took off her coat, dropped everything she was carrying on her sofa, and then went to the kitchen to put a kettle on the burner for tea.

She walked back to her sitting room and sat down to open her mail. In the manila envelope her mother had sent was a newspaper issue of the previous week. Her mother had circled a small headline on the left side of the front page. It read: Trading executive killed in a car accident. Pia read the article in dismay. Danny had been going too fast along a country road and had driven off it, falling into a ravine. He left behind a wife and son.

Pia dropped the newspaper on her lap. She stared out through her sitting room window. Without conscious attention, she noticed how the trees in her neighbour’s garden stood staunch and bare against the season’s winter chill. They stood there, with their chins held high, defenceless but resolute, in the face of winds coming from Siberia. They stood there, watching mutely, as life went on around them.

Pia picked up the papers again and read the other 1979 news headlines: Marcos signs the U.S. military bases agreement, guaranteeing the U.S. “unhampered military operations.” Graft and corruption is exposed in the Public Highway Ministry, where investigation uncovered “ghost” employees, fictitious contractors, payroll padding, and bribe-taking. American president pledges US $500 million over the next five years in military assistance and security support against insurgency. Philippine population is 46.3 million, of which 43% are under 15 years old. External debt is now US $9 billion and Philippine credit rating is poor. About 56% of all Filipino families reported incomes below the poverty line, 80% of which live in the rural area. Seventy percent of Filipino children are under-nourished. Widespread famine in Negros where 75,000 children are so malnourished, many of them are going blind and suffering brain damage. Sugar workers in Negros receive less than 80 cents a day, one-third of 1940 wages. The head of the Philippine Atomic Energy Commission issues construction permit for Westinghouse to build a nuclear power plant in Bataan. Bataan is an area known for tidal waves, located 8 kilometres from Mt. Natib, a dormant volcano, and 40 kilometres from three geological fault lines. The Marcos and Romualdez families own that area of Bataan. The floating casino and several buildings go up in smoke–the Light-a-Fire Movement claim responsibility. Hospital bed capacity in Manila is one for every 270 people, and one for every 1,076 outside Manila. The second worldwide oil shock causes further economic deterioration….

Pia tossed the newspaper onto her sitting room table. She stared out of her window at those stoic trees, silent witnesses to what man was capable of doing.

Pia remembered hearing from old timers in the provincial town of Ferdinand Marcos that he was the illegitimate son of a Chinese fellow and his domestic. He lived with his impoverished mother, who later on married a local politician.

Marcos studied Law and passed the Bar exams with excellent marks. He possessed a mechanical memory–a quirk of the brain. It was knowledge without comprehension. It was an abnormality also common among the autistic–a deceptive semblance of intelligence. He struck his gullible professors with awe by reciting the Constitution backwards. Unfortunately, that did not make one a proponent of the law. Neither are exemplary scholastic marks the only criteria for good leadership, nor is it a measure of integrity. He was found guilty of murdering his stepfather’s political rival by shooting him while he brushed his teeth; and in a country where something fishy is not only common in fish stalls, he was later acquitted.

Marcos had a devious and unprincipled character and a personality disorder that developed into greed for money and lust for power. He decided to enter politics, and in order to sway voters to his side, Marcos falsified his war exploits, claiming feats of valour that remarkably resembled that of another. It was said that he was into scrap-metal collecting during the War. But he declared he was a one-man army and that he was the most decorated hero of World War II. The Americans awarded him his claimed medals, even though they had no record of his deserving them–making a mockery of those who did.

Credulous simpletons, holding the majority of the popular vote, propelled Marcos into Congress, believing the following election campaign platform: I am rich because I got my war benefits from the Americans; if you want yours, vote for me. And once his foot was in the door, he remained inside to accumulate wealth beyond moderate reason, if one can consider some ounce of legitimacy to wealth accrued from political power. The word ‘rapacious’ fails to describe how much he had amassed and by what means. In Congress, he began by extorting “commissions” in return for approving or granting import licenses, foreign exchange credits, and government permits.

The Americans endorsed Marcos as “the man of the hour.” In exchange for their political support, Marcos offered them not only the country’s natural resources for the continued taking, but also undisturbed intimidation in Asia with their military bases. Like many before him, the U.S. seeks out those who can do its bidding: Quezon takes credit for the Tydings-McDuffie Act that allowed the nation’s political and economic policies to be determined by the Americans. Roxas wrote the Military Bases agreement, and secured preferential treatment for American businesses through the Bell Trade Act. Quirino won the most corrupt and bloody elections in history aided by Americans, and he suspended the writ of habeas corpus on the CIA’s urging in order to imprison “subversives.” And Magsaysay won the presidency by a landslide through American propaganda and CIA assistance.

Then someone, covertly or by proxy, masterminded a series of bombings in Manila. Blaming the terrorism on communists, it gave Marcos the excuse to curtail the civil liberties of the people. Marcos then turned the city of Manila into a paradise for the scum of the earth with prostitution, drugs, arms trafficking, and organised crime. Marcos plundered the country, weakening it irretrievably. His spectacular accumulation of wealth depended heavily on political power.

For safeguarding America’s interests in the country, Washington gave Marcos over $100 million when he declared Martial Law. In total, America’s policy of full support of the dictatorship resulted in America’s giving $2.5 billion and $5.5 billion through major multilateral institutions. The CIA financed the so-called anti-insurgency warfare with $10 million, and they trained a cadre of Filipinos in the art of slow death by sadistic torture. To discourage further dissent, their bodies were returned to their families or displayed in public. The killing of grumbling farmers, making less than one dollar a day, was America’s definition of stemming subversive activities. When news of torture and similar violations of human rights was leaked to the press, the U.S. State Department magnanimously issued a statement: It is not the policy of the Marcos government to violate human rights.

The Filipino economic elite, arrogant and condescending in attitude, profited so much from American business ties that they became contemptuous and brutal with their impoverished countrymen. They employed private armies of these sadistic killers, murdering anyone encroaching on their wealth with notions of land reform and change in government. This slaughter went pitifully unchecked. The international community, waylaid by American misinformation, was unaware of the Filipinos’ desperation or chose to be ignorant of their plight. They only know that the Philippines is a cluster of beautiful islands–but it is a little nook in the Pacific Ocean, where man exploits man in the most ignoble manner.

Pia stood up to prepare tea, the kettle had been whistling for some time. She had come home late that evening because she had some extra paperwork to do. She was going on a business trip the following day. She had dinner, a bowl of noodle soup on her desk. Mr. Lortan was sending her on an exploratory mission to a nation of enormous economic potential, a nation of a great civilisation and culture. Pia was going to China.

While she waited for her tea to steep in the pot, Pia took out a suitcase and started to pack. As she gathered her clothes to fold them, she thought about Confucius and doing business with the Chinese. No one can succeed in business with the Chinese without first knowing about that country’s history, its people, its politics, and its languages. One has to think Chinese to do business with the Chinese, and it is not that simple. They are a disciplined race and their thinking is shaped by their basic guide to morality and good government, a set of teachings called Analects by a Chinese philosopher named Confucius. One of his precepts emphasises that rulers must govern according to high moral standards. Another one is that a well-ordered society has its foundation in the family. And still another is that a ruler serves the interests of his subjects, and if he does not, the citizens have “the divine right to rebellion” and must overthrow him.

Pia had read that in spite of the traditional Confucian outlook–that the political function of the people is to obey their ruler–towards the end of the 19th century, the idea that every citizen should participate consciously to make China progressive was raised. The Chinese reformers decided that in order to acquire the strength they needed, they would have to learn from the Europeans. They also decided that traditional patterns of thought must change in order to emphasise the role of the individual.

The one who pioneered the introduction of Western ideas was Yen Fu, and the reformers idealised it in 1898. One factor that sets China apart from Asia is the importance they give to politics as an integral part of their life. They sent their students to Europe for their education, and the intelligentsia debated on what aspects of the West they could adapt to China’s needs. Their civilisation preserved their sense of pride in their culture, but the political dimension of their existence was also paramount.

Mao was born during this period of uncertainty. His goal was to free his country from foreign control and restore it to the people by radical means. He urged individuals to work together for the benefit of the whole society, and to wipe out the extreme poverty of the old China. He wanted to end the control of China by the wealthy, whom he regarded as a corrupt society. He made the peasants the backbone of his revolution. He unified this large country that had been divided for centuries. He revolutionised Chinese life with political and economic reforms, some of which were impractical, resulting in deaths of millions of Chinese. Pia thought that the concept of equality in the communist ideology is unrealistic –a doctor and a cook can work together as equals in the field planting crops, but what a pity to waste their individual talents for the sake of equality. But Mao Tse-Tung is idealised by the Chinese as the hero of the people.

When a government has to bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots, then the ideals of socialism are commendable as they provide inherent stability to a country in an uncertain economic situation. Capitalism only works well under certain conditions, and where there is political instability, the first to suffer are the poor.

So what are the conditions required enabling capitalism to work? Social and economic stability supported by a prosperous middle class. A Capitalist Government cannot work satisfactorily when a social gap exists between the rich and the poor, and the nobility and commoners. Nor can it function satisfactorily where no homogeneity exists in the populace in terms of religion and language, because politics will divide the people along these differences. In the matter of education, a level of literacy is necessary to enable the people to vote wisely and be politically aware of the issues that they have the power to determine in the interest of their country. Where these criteria do not exist, capitalism cannot work.

What may be feasible for the West may not necessarily work for the East. If we have an Eastern form of democracy, why impose a Western definition? These are two sides to the same coin.

Pia finished packing and went back to her sitting room. While sipping her tea, she considered that for her reconnaissance trip she would first find out whether a good working relationship could be established with the contacts the company had made. She would have to check if they were familiar with the government laws relating to overseas business, since less than one percent of the Chinese can do business with foreigners. With a population of 1.3 billion consumers, less than one percent is still quite a lot, but probably not enough to meet international demands on this huge Chinese market. Then she would have to find the best location in a city with a good infrastructure. She would also have to ensure that Mr. Lortan possessed the necessary majority of equity in order to have the right to any final decisions. A business partnership is set up with the government, not the private sector. Chinese financial contribution in the joint venture is in the form of tangible assets, land and building facilities. China’s economy grows at a rate of over 10% a year, an ideal prospect for investment. Pia knew she would have to find out in China anything else it was essential to know. The Chinese are basically closed to the world, and they will not tell you who they are, nor what is China.

It was Saturday and Pia left for Beijing that morning. She decided to leave on a weekend so that she could explore this great city with its rich historical and cultural heritage. She arrived at this former Yanjing to find modern Beijing. The capital is huge. She took a cab to the hotel and noticed many Chinese on bicycles. She dropped off her luggage and left soon after to visit some monuments.

The first monument Pia went to see was the Nationalities Cultural Palace. This large mosaic-tiled structure is dedicated to honour the contributions of the 55 Chinese cultural minorities. Then proceeding to Tian’anmen Square, she walked from the Chang’an Avenue, passing the Great Hall of the People, the seat of government of China. This Hall has over 50 meeting rooms, with each room honouring a particular cultural minority, province, and municipality. On the other side is the Museum of Chinese History. An obelisk lies between the two buildings, a monument to the heroes of the Chinese Revolution. In front of the obelisk on the other side of the avenue is the massive Gate of Heavenly Peace, the Tian’anmen. There is a Chinese inscription on a plaque to the left of the Gate that reads, “Long Live the Unity of the Peoples of the World.”

She had done quite a bit of walking about, and as it was getting late, Pia returned to the hotel. She studied the bus and train schedules and made arrangements with the hotel travel office to visit the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City the next day. Thousands of Chinese tourists from all over China visit this huge Imperial Palace of the ancient Chinese Emperors. It is believed that the Chinese of old sent terracotta soldiers with their Emperor, to accompany him in the other life. Pia found it fascinating the way civilisations have come to rationalise the mystery of their existence in beliefs of the now and thereafter. And what if Spanish friars had come to China, to destroy their culture systematically, and deprive her of her patrimonial identity….

Together with some hotel guests, Pia arrived at a section of the Great Wall at Badaling. She was astounded. The Great Wall is a remarkable accomplishment of defence. She walked along a span of it and marvelled at the parapets, the beacon towers, and the landscape along both sides. The Wall’s form followed the contours of the countryside’s undulating hills. Pia walked slowly, oblivious to the picture-taking tourists and the cackling of Chinese languages around her.

“Hello, Pia.”

Pia turned round suddenly. She knew no one in Beijing. “Eric!” she exclaimed, as she recognised the tall spectacled man behind her. “How wonderful to see you here! What an extraordinary coincidence! What brings you to China?”

“I’m here on holiday. What about you?”

“I’m here on business, but I’m a tourist today. You haven’t changed! Isn’t this city amazing?”

Eric took Pia’s elbow and they sat down on a protruding ledge. The warm sunshine cast wonderful yellow and crimson hues on the autumnal landscape in front of them. Doctors, Pia knew, are never good at small talk.

“I must say,” Pia said, after getting over her initial reaction of surprise, “that contrary to what you hear and read in the American media, China does not look at all threatening to me.”

“The Chinese government,” Eric replied, “pursues a policy of peace. Their society, more than any other, knows the limits of freedom and the responsibilities that come with freedom. You are free to smoke, but not in my face. You are free to eat, but not from my plate. You are free to be happy, but not at my expense. You have to know what you can and cannot do with freedom. Freedom does not mean that you can do anything you want.

“The Chinese have suffered under colonialism and imperialist exploitation. Their government exerts monumental efforts to extricate their people from poverty and give them a sense of dignity. Their military strategy, similar to that of the European Front and certain Asian nations, is a policy of self-defence as regards the United States.”

Pia, who was absentmindedly gazing at the scenery in front of her, turned to look at her friend from school. “What are you implying?” she asked.

Eric picked up a pebble at his feet and threw it over the wall towards the West. “The United States’ assault against the ideology of communism is an attack against the efforts of a people that wish to transform their nation’s political and economic infrastructure in order to overcome poverty in ways that will not complement the American economy. America’s military machinery is either used as a deterrent or as actual force.

“When Truman signed the Act creating the Central Intelligence Agency, its mandate was to contain Soviet aggression. During the entire history of the CIA, the only two occasions that Russia had ever breached that line was when Breshnev ordered the invasion of Prague, and the Americans were nowhere when that happened. The other was when the Russians invaded Afghanistan, and the CIA bungled the way they helped that country regain their freedom, making worse enemies for Americans instead. How intelligent is their intelligence network when they could not forestall, prevent, or settle by diplomatic means these incursions?

“So we ask: What was the real but secret mandate of the Central Intelligence Agency? Then we see: that the CIA conducted proxy wars to destabilise governments; that they interfered in the internal affairs of nations; and that they plotted to assassinate foreign leaders whose political thinking was not to America’s advantage. So we conclude: The Central Intelligence Agency was not intended to contain the Soviet threat, but rather to protect America’s exploitation of the natural resources of other countries through terrorist acts. These commercial exploitations are euphemistically referred to as “national interests.” Protection of national interests is a paramount objective in that government’s foreign policy.

“In their effort to reduce the world into an American-dominated economic system, anything outside of that must be destroyed. Communism, whose political ideology is State-control of their resources for their own socio-economic development, does not serve the American national agenda. America’s crusade has reduced much of East Asia and the rest of the world to an American-dominated economic system.

“The Americans think that they can do anything they want, and say anything they want. Through sanctions, embargoes, boycotts, and covert operations, and through the IMF and the World Bank, the Americans will strongly endorse the suspension of aid or block multinational loans in countries where they need to safeguard their own national interests. The American definition of democracy is that which is pro-American in orientation. If you are not pro-American, then you are not democratic. American behaviour is akin to a spoiled child who gets what he wants, and whines if he doesn’t. They settle differences and disagreements not with reason, but either with deleterious financial backlash or a gun, and sometimes both.

“Protection of American national interests supersedes and determines all their decisions concerning international diplomacy and relations. American diplomacy demands compliance with an American agenda. So the Americans want to prevent independent economic development by Third World countries because they are heavily dependent on the natural resources of these nations. To maintain their military power, the Americans use the argument that a threat of war exists. While the international community thinks of peace, there is one that is at war–an economic battle supported by military might.”

“But does no one see the Americans for what they really are?”

“The United Nations Organization is hindered and restricted in their work as an impartial and international body merely by being located in the United States. The guest must show deference to the host. The Americans are quick to criticise the Secretary-General because they will support only those they can control. They are capable of maligning anyone or anything that threatens their national interests. There are those in the international community who see the Americans for what they really are, but they are political monkeys who prefer to say nothing.

“André Malraux once expressed the idea that the headquarters of the United Nations should be transferred to Geneva from New York. The Americans have considerably weakened its status as an effective negotiator in international politics. With one hand, the American warden holds tightly onto the tethered organization, and with the other, they create conflicts in “undemocratic” countries and support “democratic” dictatorships around the world, while exhibiting a propagandist façade of magnanimity.

“The United States of America is a young nation. They lack a sense of direction in the arena of international politics. They do not understand the responsibilities that come with freedom and the limits of freedom. Freedom does not mean that you are free to trample on another country’s dignity and infringe on people’s human rights. They unabashedly have abused their power.

“They attribute so little importance to history because they have no civilisation to speak of. They are, after all, a nation of immigrants with no indigenous culture of their own. They still have a lot to learn from the old and great civilisations of the world. That this one young upstart determines the world order… What is America’s interpretation of human rights? The work of the Central Intelligence Agency has created enemies around the world for all Americans. Nations, who have been victims of American abuse and patronising ways, have adopted an anti-American posture that will prevail for a long time.

“The United Nations must impose that they reduce their military arsenal significantly and allow peace to reign. If the Americans are wise, they will agree. The Americans, supposedly in charge of maintaining peace, make $12 billion annually on arms sales. They are the world’s largest exporters of arms and munitions, fuelling the arms race around the world. It is to their financial advantage that instability reigns. Surely, there must be other means of maintaining peace.

“No, the world cannot be led by American supremacy. The American president is elected by popularity—a popularity that can be bought, and therefore, those not necessarily with the capabilities can run for office. A majority swayed by political rhetoric and charisma elects this American president. This one vulnerable man may have a perception that could be humanly wrong, and whose presidential dispositions are at the mercy of wealthy political lobbies. This head of a superpower, the chief of its army, has the capability to wipe out all of mankind. That obviously needs control. That seriously needs to be under check. Power is so easily abused.

“It is not the tiny third-world countries trying to come to grips with their economies, aspiring for reforms, and maintaining a defensive stance against those capable of taking advantage of them–but that country with the largest military power–that is the threat to world peace. The defensive behaviour of those other countries with weapons of mass destruction is a threat to no one else but the Americans. No amount of western propaganda can change that. America’s manipulation of world opinion is criminal.”

“But isn’t the United States,” Pia asked, “the policeman of the world?”

“That appears to be a self-appointed designation. If the conflict does not threaten American commercial exploits, they will not initiate diplomatic discussions. If no one approaches his dish of national interests, the policing bulldog remains in its kennel. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, western commercial interests in the region were threatened. But they have not involved themselves in the plight of some Balkan states and some African nations, belatedly if at all, because they have no commercial activities in those parts of the world. Citizens of some countries unknowingly assist in America’s “meal-dish-protection” policy by paying a national “Gulf war tax.”

“The United States cannot be designated by the international community as the guardian of world peace. Détente is the responsibility of the United Nations, not the Americans. The peacekeeping efforts of the United Nations costs money, and the Americans have the largest outstanding dues owed to them, about $1.6 billion. America’s military budget can be put to better use. So not paying this assures the Americans of the Organisation’s weakness and the United States’ strength. But the United Nations must be decisive when it comes to collective security. They should have learnt this from the devastating results of a lack of leadership at the League of Nations.”

“But why,” Pia demanded, “has the international community allowed this abuse of power to continue?”

“Is it better to be the right hand of a wolf?” Eric replied with a question. “There are some First-World countries who seem to think so. They also think that there are other cats to whip or fish to fry. No one has publicly condemned the actions of the United States, and the United Nations seems only able to slap its wrist. Where were the outrage and condemnations when the Americans violated the human rights of the people of Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Guatemala, Chile, and the Philippines? Their crimes against humanity remain unpunished. If the United Nations appears incapable of controlling the behaviour of the United States, then who can? One day, this playground troublemaker will step on the toes of someone capable of challenging him. Resentment can reach a peak, and the Americans are magnets for terrorism. Conflict with the U.S. may include those countries with American military bases. An Arab leader considers any country servicing American military forces, a party to war. Remember, America’s war with Spain gravitated to where the Spanish fleet was located in Asia.

“Many conflicts incited by the Americans have been disguised as missionary work. Their superficial puritanical zeal has also been transferred to their own domestic politics, this zeal so outmoded and so ingrained in their psyche. There is no such person as a puritan and to uphold this is a practice in hypocrisy. The Americans do not know what the important issues are, what matters, and what does not.

“They spout peaceful co-existence and human values, when they are as superficial as their rules on human rights. Their virtual monopoly of the media and their expert use of propaganda, muzzle the voices of truth and justice. This country of gun-wielding citizens and racist bigots, this nation which allows anyone—a wrestler, an actor, a tailor–in the name of freedom, to run for public office based on popularity and not on a civil service qualification, is a tragedy for all mankind. No, we cannot have any one country dominate the world.

“American treachery and deception are pervasive and perfidious. One wonders whether social and political unrest in a country is American-activated or a genuine voice of the people clamouring for political and economic reforms. One wonders how the youth of their nation have acquired the appalling pop culture of the Americans. And one wonders why American-defined and imposed politics and American-defined and imposed capitalism disregards the welfare of the masses, when a government’s raison d’être is essentially socialist in precept. No, the community of nations must not allow this abuse of power to continue.”

The tour leader approached them and informed Pia that they would shortly be leaving for the Forbidden City. Pia replied that she understood and would be coming soon.

“Do the Americans know that behind their government’s façade of magnanimity that they, through their foreign policy and the work of the CIA, are the threat to world peace?”

“Can you see the wart on your own nose?” Eric asked. “You need a mirror to see that. In the absence of one, a sympathetic person might point it out to you.

“The Americans helped Europe and Asia in the last War, and we are immensely grateful for that. But the post-War American governments have been doing a very poor job of filling the shoes of their grandfathers. It’s like a spoiled brat squandering his inheritance. What little goodwill remains is now inadequate to reverse the tides of antipathy and disesteem. It is not easy to see your nose when your head is too big.”

“Power has been misused for so long now, Eric,” Pia noted. “Do you think the international community will finally consider doing something about this in the immediate future?”

“No, it will be up to mature Americans to let go the tethers. Hindsight judgment is the easiest, and when all is said and done, foresight would have been the more worthy option. Let’s look at this from an “if-then” scenario: If I had learnt to swim before the boat capsized, then I would be alive today. If I had worn a sheath, then I would not be suffering from AIDS. If only you were tolerant of political ideas and cultures different from your own, then your sons and grandsons would not have to go to war to keep the peace. If the Americans are perceptive, then they will consent to the transfer of the United Nations, and with it, the responsibility of peacekeeping and impartial détente.

“One is always wiser after the event, but there are some mistakes that are impossible to correct. Prevention, as all doctors will tell you, is better than cure, and that is another significant role that the United Nations should play–that of guiding the communities of the world about choosing their leaders. Many autocratic and ruthless rulers were mostly financially underprivileged, with little or no education, and who brook no dissent. I am not saying that leaders should not be poor, but family and educational upbringing are important factors in gauging character. Where each nation attends to its own affairs, the international community suffers when one country has made a serious error of judgment and has voted into office a dysfunctional person who abuses his mandate. Other countries, through the United Nations, end up either trying to keep the peace or fighting someone else’s domestic war. Some end up with immigrants at their doorsteps.

“The United Nations, therefore, has the right to claim an imposition of a guideline of what a country’s leadership should be. Those vying for the post as their nation’s leader must conform to these criteria. Again, in order for this controversial idea to be acceptable to all nations, the United Nations’ headquarters must move to a neutral country in Europe. Likewise, the defence capabilities of all countries should be under United Nations supervision. This Organisation should also set up a system of controls to assist and ensure that these leaders have a continuing sense of community.”

They stood up and started to walk back. The pictures were taken and the loud expressions of admiration spoken. Now there was only silence along the Wall. Pia turned around to behold the sinuous effect of the rippling hills on this Chinese wall of defence of long ago.

“Society needs rules to live by, and freedom carries with it certain limits and principles,” Eric concluded. “There are good and bad in the humanity of any society, so it is pointless to generalise. Not all Americans are bad.”

“What are your plans, Eric?”

“Well, I’ve decided to return to Manila and teach at the University. I have learnt a lot overseas. I will join one of our medical institutions and contribute what I know. I would like to build hospital facilities in the rural areas where the poor have no access to medical assistance. I love my country. I have never forgotten her.

“As for my immediate plans, I’m leaving for Guilin this afternoon.”

“Where is that?

“It is a panoramic area on the Lijiang River.”

“Let’s keep in touch!” Pia said as she joined her tour, and Eric said likewise.

16. Dubious Promises

Abayaw followed the crowd getting off the limousine bus at the Tokyo City Air Terminal. They crossed the hall towards another set of sliding doors leading outside to a line of waiting taxicabs. A uniformed attendant helped Abayaw load his suitcase into the boot of the car.

“To the Philippine Embassy,” he told the cabdriver. Abayaw had to repeat what he said until the driver understood.

It was a long way and Abayaw watched the fare metre as it clicked every few minutes. He would have to be careful with his expenses, he said to himself. He looked out the window and observed how neat and clean the streets of Tokyo were. He also noted that they were travelling along the left side of the carriageway.

They arrived at a nondescript building whose large black-painted iron gates were left ajar. A man inside a small outpost to the left of the gate wrote down Abayaw’s name in a logbook and gave directions for the consulate section.

He entered a large room with desks arranged in rows, and dividing the room was a long counter just in front of the entrance. There were chairs along the sides of the wall, in front of the counter. He was told to take a number and wait his turn. He sat down and started a conversation with the man beside him.

“I just arrived from Manila this morning,” he said, “and I’m here to look for my sister.”

“You don’t know where she lives?”

“She wrote me from Tokyo and gave no address. I think she’s in trouble.”

A woman next to them asked Abayaw where the sister was working. “She wrote that she works for a family, taking care of their children. She has a friend named Geraldine.”

“I know someone named Geraldine,” the man said. “But she works in a bar in Kabukicho.”

The woman’s number was called and she passed through the counter entranceway and sat in front of one of the desks where a consulate employee attended to her.

“If you don’t have her address,” the man said, “it won’t be easy to find her.”

“I was thinking that the consulate would know her whereabouts.”

“She might not have registered with the consulate,” he said. Then the man’s number was called, and Abayaw sat patiently waiting his turn. He limped through the counter entranceway towards the desk of a woman who had called out his number. Her telephone rang and Abayaw sat down and waited.

“I hope you find your sister,” said the lady from the waiting area, who was at the adjacent desk. “But if she were working for a family, I don’t see how she could be in trouble. Anyway, I do hope she’s all right.”

“Thank you for your concern,” Abayaw replied.

The consular woman finished with her telephone call. Abayaw then made known his request, and she asked him what month and year his sister arrived in Tokyo. She then got up and went to a shelf of logbooks and took one out. She returned to her desk and looked through the pages, one by one, since the family names were not listed in alphabetical order. “I’m sorry,” she finally said, “but your sister did not register with the consulate.”

Abayaw stood in the lobby, wondering what to do. He stared blankly through the glass doors at the cars with blue number plates in the car park in front. He had read in a magazine on the plane that the area of Tokyo is 2,186.84 square kilometres, and has a population of nearly 12 million inhabitants. A hamlet-to-hamlet search would not do here.

The woman from the waiting area passed by on her way out. “Did they have your sister’s address?” she asked, as she walked towards the glass doors.

“No, they didn’t,” he said, rather discouragingly.

She stopped and turned around. “What are you going to do now?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you know anybody in Tokyo?” she asked.

“This is my first time outside of our country. I know no one here. I don’t know where to go, and I really don’t know where to begin to look for her.”

“What’s your name?”

“Abayaw.

“My name is Pia, Abayaw. I’m on my way to my office now, but come and stay with me. I’ll see what I can do to help you.”

They took a cab, and Pia had it wait in front of her house. She told him to help himself to anything she had in her refrigerator. She gave him her key in case he wanted to go out, and her telephone number at the office. She said, as she got in the cab, that she would try to be back early.

Abayaw sat on the sofa and wept. He was so very tired and so very worried. He took off his shoes and pushed the sitting room table to the side. He took the rectangular carpet from under it and curled himself up to sleep.

Pia came home to find Abayaw snoring on the floor. She had dropped by a Chinese take-away food shop and she tiptoed to her kitchen to prepare dinner.

“Abayaw,” she said, patting his shoulder. “Wake up. I’m sure you’re hungry.” Abayaw stretched himself and sat up. He stayed like that for a few minutes wondering where he was and what he was doing there. Then he remembered, and his forehead furrowed with anxiety. He got up from the floor and Pia showed him where to wash. He joined her a few minutes later at the table.

“What’s your sister’s name?” Pia asked.

“We call her Nina. She’s unusually tall for an Ifugao and very pretty. I don’t know how she came all the way here.”

“Do you know the nationality of the family she’s working for.”

“She didn’t say in her letter.”

“May I read her letter?”

“Of course.” Abayaw got up and opened his suitcase. He returned to the table, and since it was written in Ifugao, Abayaw translated it for Pia.

“The only possible lead we have,” Pia said, as Abayaw put the letter down on the table, “is her friend, Geraldine. We could ask at the consulate, but their records are not computerised, so that would be next to impossible to find. We don’t know when she came, nor do we know her family name. She also might not have registered with the consulate.”

“A man at the consulate said he knew a Geraldine at a bar in Kabu-something,” Abayaw remarked.

“But what would Nina have to do with a bargirl?”

“I don’t know, but it’s the only other information we have.”

“All right,” Pia said. “I think bars are open from eight o’clock in the evening. We’ll go there tomorrow.”

“Pia, can you find a live chicken for me?”

“A live chicken… I really don’t know where you can find one. Tokyo has everything, but I don’t think they have live chickens. I can get you a fresh dead chicken from the food store. You can just as well cook it that way. What do you need it alive for?”

“I am Ifugao, Pia. I need to offer it to the gods to ask them to help me find Nina. I have to sacrifice a chicken when asking the gods a favour.”

“Well,” Pia thought, taking some seconds to consider. “We’ll get up very early tomorrow and go to Tsukiji market. It’s the largest fish market in Asia… there just might be a stray chicken somewhere strutting about…. Could you do with a cat? Hold on! I could ask my friend, Keita. He lives in the suburbs of Tokyo. He might know.”

Pia got up and made for the telephone. “Hello, Keita-san, this is Pia. How are you? Good, good. Listen, Keita-san, I need to find a live chicken. Where can I get hold of one?” Pia covered the mouthpiece and said, “He’s asking his girlfriend, Mikka.”

“Yes…. All right. Call me at the office tomorrow, then. Thank you, Keita-san. Good-bye.” Pia went back to the table and sat down. “They don’t know where, but Mikka will inquire at her butcher’s. Keita will let me know tomorrow.”

After dinner and having cleared the table, Pia took out a map of Tokyo. “While I’m at work, Abayaw, why don’t you explore the city? My house is here,” she said, circling a point on the map. “There’s a nice park here, and some shops along the small streets nearby. This is Akihabara, where you have all the Japanese electronic goods at discount prices. I’ll give you a map of the subterranean railway system so you can move around easily. I have a large wooden bowl full of coins near the front door. Please help yourself to any for your fare and whatever you need.”

“Thank you, Pia. What time shall we meet tomorrow?”

“I’ll meet you here at half past six. I hope Keita will be able to find you a chicken. Well, let’s get some sleep now. I’ll give you a blanket. The sofa can be pulled apart to make a bed.”

“That’s all right. I feel at home on the floor.”

Abayaw turned off the light and made himself comfortable on the rectangular carpet on the wooden floor.

The following day, Pia received a call from Keita saying that Mikka had been able to get hold of a live chicken early that morning, before it saw the butcher’s knife. Pia asked him to bring it to her house at half past six.

“How many bars are there in Kabukicho?” Pia asked Keita when he arrived with the chicken in a canary cage.

“I don’t know, but a lot. Why?”

“We’re going there this evening.”

“Do you know that that’s probably the only dangerous area in Tokyo? The yakuza controls most of the drinking dens. What do you want to go there for? You really wouldn’t want to bump into a yak!”

Abayaw was in the dining room, preparing to perform the sacrificial ceremony with the chicken. He had covered the floor with newspapers, and had placed a knife and a vessel of rice wine in front of him. The fowl gave a wild squawk of surprise.

“What’s happening in your dining room?” Keita asked.

Pia proceeded to tell Keita about Abayaw and his search for Nina. They were going to Kabukicho to look for the sister’s friend, Geraldine. She told him that what Abayaw was doing was some form of religious ritual to ask his gods for success in this undertaking.

“Are you Catholic, Pia-san?”

“Yes, I am.”

“What do you do to ask your god to intercede?”

“We pay for mass to be said on our or someone else’s behalf. We buy candles and light them for prayers. There are moneyboxes in the church with names of saints on them. We petition the saints to intercede with God on our behalf.”

“You pay for divine intervention? And what god is for the poor?”

“The same God looks after them as he looks after a flock of sparrows.”

“So that’s where that practice probably originated.”

“What practice?”

“The practice of buying favours.”

Pia stood up, walked to her front door and opened it. She then took an object hanging on a hook above the door. “Do you know what this is?” Pia asked, returning to the sitting room, showing Keita a concave mirror. “It’s called a pa kua, a protective charm I got in China. These lines around the mirror are the eight trigrams that the Chinese use for divining the future. They believe that every movement in the universe gives rise to a reciprocal movement. That man can only overcome his limitations by uniting all the energies or forces of nature and harmonising the flux of the cosmic breath. The cosmic breath, the qi, is composed of yin–water and yang–wind. The sha qi, the breath of ill-fortune, is said to travel in a straight line and can be deflected with this mirror.”

Abayaw started reciting, in a monotonous lilt, a traditional epic poem in his language.

“By the way,” Keita asked in a whisper, “what would his sister have to do with a bargirl? And what if the sister is there, too? The yaks consider these women possessions. If you steal from a yak…”

“Well, we don’t know if this is the Geraldine we’re looking for. We shall simply ask any Geraldine we come across if she knows the sister and where we can find her. If Nina had misled her brother, I don’t know what we’ll do if we find her in a gangster’s bar. We could call the police.”

“The Japanese police are afraid of yaks. I think I’d better come with you this evening. Neither of you speaks Japanese, and that makes it worse…. But come to think of it, no amount of Japanese will convince a yak that you’re not dispossessing him. What mess are we getting into? What’s he doing, by the way?”

“He must be praying over the dead chicken.”

“He killed the chicken?! Mikka was getting fond of that bird! What am I going to tell her?”

“Keita-san, can I offer you a saké or a beer?”

“I think I need a beer, please.”

Pia stood up and made her way to the kitchen, passing through the dining room. Out of deference, she tiptoed as she walked by. Without moving her head, she took a quick glance in the direction of her dining room. She nearly jumped out of her house slippers. The newspapers and her shiny wooden floor were splattered a crimson red. She returned to the sitting room with two beers.

They sat quietly, sipping their drinks, and listening to Abayaw’s chanting. “How long do you think he will take?” Keita asked in a low voice.

“I have no idea.”

“I’ll just go to the store and get something for us to eat.”

“Take the money in the bowl near the door!” Pia whispered loudly.

Keita returned with some pickled seaweed, strands of dried sweetened salted fish, and potato chips. Pia went back to the store and brought back a box of crackers, a package of chocolates, and a pre-sliced pineapple.

“Let’s be systematic about going through that area,” Keita said, studying a detailed street layout. Pointing to a place on the map, he said, “We’ll start here, then move inwards. We’ll only choose the shady-looking places. You’ll take note of the name of each bar so that we don’t enter any twice. Those small streets can be very confusing.

“And if we do find Geraldine, tell Abayaw not to make a commotion. It won’t be good for any of us.”

“You think of everything, Keita-san.”

“It is prudent to be prepared.”

Abayaw finally finished his epic poem. He went to the kitchen with the chicken and plucked it, washed it, and placed it in the refrigerator. He joined Pia and Keita in the sitting room. He was too anxious to be hungry and so they left.

They took a cab and were dropped off in a large street with hoardings of neon lights everywhere. A cacophony of loud music coming from different establishments greeted them as the cab door opened to let them off.

They walked together, passing a stall with huge prawns cooking over a barbecue. People were coming and going here and there. A man walking in the opposite direction shot out an arm as he passed by, and fondled Pia’s breast. Before Pia could shout, he disappeared into one of the alleys behind them.

“Keita-san!” she screamed.

“Yes? What is it?” he asked in alarm.

“No, nothing. Never mind.” Keita was so frail, Pia thought, how could he possibly deliver a karate chop or a judo arm twist? He might not even inflict a bruise.

“Don’t scare me like that.”

They walked through one alley and decided to enter one of the bars there. The room was filled with cigarette smoke. They sat at one of the tables nearest the exit.

Abayaw looked around. A young girl, clad only in a kerchief, was serving drinks at a table. Another girl approached them now. “What will you have?” she asked in Japanese.

“Please bring us orange juice,” Keita replied.

“We don’t serve that here.”

“Three beers, then. Uh, by the way,” Keita motioned for her to come closer, “are there Philippine women working here?”

“Why do you want to know? We all have entertainment visas. Are you the police?”

“No, it’s not that. You see, we’re looking for someone named Geraldine. She’s a friend. Does she work here?”

“No, she doesn’t.”

“Thank you. We won’t take up any more of your time. Good-bye.” Keita stood up and the other two did the same. They left quickly. Outside, Keita stamped his foot on the ground in frustration. “I should have asked her if she knew somebody by that name and if she did, inquire where she was working!”

“Keita-san, let’s go to another bar. This time, just ask if Geraldine works there. We don’t have to sit down at a table,” Pia said.

They found another establishment and went in. Abayaw looked around at the girls serving drinks, the girls singing on the stage, and the ones sitting on the laps of some of the clients. He looked up at the large revolving glass ball on the ceiling, its tiny mirrors reflecting pinpoints of light around the walls of the room. But Geraldine was not there.

Outside, they passed some women hawking their wares. One of them approached Keita and spoke to him. After she left, Pia, thinking she provided some information, eagerly asked, “What did she say? What did she say?”

“She said it costs ¥10,000 and that it was cheaper than taking one from one of those shady bars where it costs between ¥20,000 to ¥25,000. The pimp gets 40% of their earnings.”

“Oh… they earn a fortune!”

“The girl or the pimp?”

They walked through another alley. In the opposite direction, four burly men with cropped curly hair blustered towards them. They wore white suits and black shirts. All four sported a missing small finger on one hand. Keita’s knees started to knock together. They moved quickly to the side, hugging the walls of a building to let them pass.

“I think my heart had a terror attack just now,” Keita said, when they were far behind.

“Me, too,” Pia said.

“Those four nine-fingered gorillas look almost human,” Abayaw observed.

Coming out of the alley, they entered a slightly larger street. They couldn’t tell which bars were shady and which were half-decent. Then they saw one curly-haired yak standing guard at a door in the distance.

“Caw! Caw!”

“What was that?” Abayaw asked with dread.

“What was what?” Pia inquired back.

“The caw, caw!”

“That’s just a crow,” Keita replied, “picking at the garbage bags left in the street.”

“It’s a bird with black feathers and…” Pia started to say.

“Turn back! Turn back!” Abayaw gasped.

They turned around and ran. “What’s happening?” Keita shouted over the noise their shoes were making on the pavement.

“I don’t know!” Pia hollered back.

They hailed a passing cab and jumped in. “We’ll try again tomorrow,” Abayaw said.

Pia left for the office the next day, taking the underground. She had bought a newspaper from a kiosk, and standing in the train, she took a quick glance at the headlines on the front page. The fine hairs on the back of her neck suddenly stood on end.

The body of a Philippine woman, the article ran, was dumped in the car park of the Philippine Embassy during the night. She had multiple stab wounds, bruises all over her body and her head was bashed in. Police said that it looked like the work of members of the underworld. Embassy officials and the police had not identified the victim.

Pia arrived at the office and sat numbly at her desk. Her phone rang. “Pia-san, this is Keita. Have you seen the papers?”

“Yes,” she said. “I’m going to call the Embassy now. I wonder if Abayaw has a picture of his sister. I can’t ask him to go to the morgue to look at the body. He’s only seventeen years old, and the experience of looking at a dead person in that condition could upset him, especially if it were his sister. I hope it isn’t her.”

“You are going to look at the body?”

“Well, somebody has to.”

“If it isn’t her, are we going back again tonight?”

“Keita-san, I don’t want to put you in any danger. If your sister was in some predicament, what would you do?”

“I’ll meet you at your house after six. I hope he doesn’t need another chicken. Mikka was distraught this morning.”

Pia then called her house to ask Abayaw for a picture of Nina. He didn’t have one. She asked him to describe her in detail. Then she called the Embassy. The person in charge of this inquiry sounded harassed, but from the description of the body, Pia concluded that it wasn’t Nina. Then Pia asked how the country could allow its citizens to work abroad under demeaning conditions. She replied, saying in confidence, that it was the Marcos government that promoted the trafficking of Filipino women as prostitutes and entertainers. There are, she continued, 43,000 such Filipino women in Japan, many of them are illegally recruited and given vague promises of decent work. Dubious employment agencies scout the countryside looking for pretty girls, who then travel under false documents and tampered passports. The ones who are killed by the yakuza are usually the ones caught trying to escape or those who want to go home. Many of them commit suicide.

The three of them went back again that night. This time, they had more courage than the day before. They were determined to find this Geraldine. They entered one establishment after another. They went up and down through alleys and side streets, covering a large part of Kabukicho.

Then they entered another classic shady-looking drinking den–dim inside, the music loud, and cigarette smoke everywhere. But along the three sides of the walls were girls under small spotlights. They only wore knickers and a boa of fake feathers around their shoulders. They swayed provocatively to the beat of the music.

The three stood near the entrance, their eyes adjusting to the poor light and the acrid smoke. “Nina!” Abayaw said quietly, looking at a girl along one of the walls, dancing under a spotlight. Keita and Pia followed the direction of Abayaw’s gaze. They then surveyed the room and noticed what looked like the yakuza manager. They hurriedly turned around and left.

Outside, they heaved a sigh of relief. Better than finding Geraldine, they had found Nina and she was alive. Now how to get her out. “Look,” Keita said, “I’ll go in and study the lay-out of the place and see how many are working there. You two stay outside. If I’m not out in ten minutes, call the police.”

Keita returned in just under five minutes. “I don’t think we can do anything tonight,” he said. “There must be a yak convention in there. The place is crawling with yaks. So there’s only the yak manager, the bartender, and the girls. Those yaks treat them worse than garbage. What should we do?”

“We’ll rescue Nina tomorrow then,” Abayaw decided.

The weather was overcast the following day. During her lunch break, Pia went to a shop selling masquerade costumes in Omote-sando. She bought a blond wig. They met again at her house that evening.

“All right,” she said, “this is the plan. Keita-san, you distract the yak manager. While you’re doing that, I’ll grab Nina off her pedestal, put this wig on her, and cover her with my raincoat. Abayaw will keep the cab. What do you think?”

After a few seconds of thought, Keita asked, “How in the world am I going to distract the manager yak?”

“Oh… I hadn’t thought of that. Well, you could do a striptease and make a proper fool of yourself.”

“The lights,” Abayaw said. “Look for the light switch and turn off the lights.”

“Good idea.”

They hailed a cab and left. Abayaw remained in it, while Pia and Keita headed for the drinking den. Leaving their umbrellas outside, they entered and waited to be seated. They ordered what everybody was drinking, watered whisky. Keita then asked the waitress where the men’s room was. Pia looked around to find Nina. She spotted her at the same place as the night before. To think, she gyrated there night after night until the wee hours of the morning.

“I found the light switches,” Keita said when he returned.

“All right,” Pia said with resolve. “Let’s do it.”

Keita stood up and calmly made for the light switches. Pia waited a moment then went near Nina, but did not look at her directly. “Nina,” Pia said in an urgent voice, “when the lights go off, get down and come with me. Abayaw is waiting outside.”

Nina began to sob. The lights went off and she jumped down. There was a commotion among the clients, but the loud music kept playing. Someone started to giggle as she was tickled in the dark. Pia covered Nina with her raincoat as they ran for the door. Outside, they made a mad dash for the cab.

Nina wept convulsively in Abayaw’s arms. Pia’s nose pressed hard against the windowpane as she searched desperately for Keita through the downpour. She imagined what those half-humans would do to him. Please let him be safe, she said to herself. It was an eternity.

Then, there he was running towards the cab. He jumped in and told the driver to leave quickly. They turned their heads to look behind, to see if anyone was following, and not until Kabukicho was out of sight, did they finally turn their heads to look in front.

17. The Power of the Powerless

The morning mist hung over the mountaintops and drifted slowly with the wind. A lone carabao stood motionless in a fallow paddy. The dew on the spiders’ webs glittered in the early sunlight. A distant waterfall fed gurgling streams channelled in aqueducts of hollowed tree trunks through the rice enclosures. Plastic bags placed on the ends of pliant bamboo poles made a swishing noise when a breeze passed by, guarding the rice plants from unwelcome visitors. Small children sat one behind the other on a dike, in the middle of the rice terraces. Faded cotton shirts, red and blue, hung on shoulders of trimmed bamboo poles, dotted the quiet landscape, helping the plastic bags with their task.Dulmog was whistling a gay and careless tune as he ambled down towards the hamlet from a mountain road above. The chickens marked the groovy beat, darting their necks forward left and right. He arrived at the square and squatted next to Abayaw, who was carefully arranging two panicles of precious tinawon sheaves.

“Yaw?”

“Yes, Mog?”

“What are you doing?”

“I am preparing rice bundles for Pia and Keita-san.”

“That’s our highest expression of gratitude,” Dulmog remarked. “Do you think they will appreciate it in their culture?”

“Good question, Mog. But it’s the thought that counts.”

Dulmog then swayed to the right, putting his weight on one squatted leg, and peered behind his friend.

“How did that man manage to get in that box?” he asked.

“It’s called a transistor radio, Mog. I bought it in Tokyo. I’m listening to the news.”

The sun shined warmly on this slope of the Cordillera Mountains. The rest of the community was working in the rice fields and some women were weaving at their looms in the shade under their huts on stout stilts. Squatting on the other side of the square, a father chewing a betel nut, with a baby tied in a blanket-sling on his back, was quietly sharpening his farm tools with a stone.

“Nina seems to be sleeping all the time,” Dulmog noted.

“If sleep will make her forget, then let her sleep and sleep.”

Nina never really recovered from her ordeal. She stutters when she speaks. She walks with slow short steps, like a woman of ninety with rheumatic pain. She is often seen staring in front of her, but not really seeing. The stricken look on her face was painful to watch. At other times, she would be cowering in the corner of the agamang like a trapped animal.

Abayaw went to Baguio City to seek help from doctors there for Nina. Neuroscience, he was told, had traced the neural routes in the formation of memories, but had not yet fully fathomed the mechanisms of the brain to be able to remove that part of emotional memory that destroys innocence.

“Shall we go fishing when you’re done?”

“Yes, all right.”

“I’m going back to work, then,” he said, getting up. He took the familiar winding path through the rice paddies, going up the mountain, passing the small children and the carabao, this well-trodden path leading to the road above.

Vengeance is a family obligation, Abayaw recalled telling Pia. “It is considered disgraceful,” he explained to her, “if the family does not seek retribution.”

Pia replied by explaining that grievance courts and a system of laws provide just that.

“But,” Abayaw had replied, “your laws are different from ours. What you may consider unlawful is right in our society. Your society hangs people, and yet you look aghast when we behead them. Your society puts wrongdoers in box-like enclosures, thinking that this will reform them. If the crime is light, we seek property compensation from the wrongdoer. If the crime is serious, justice is only done when the wrongdoer or his family suffers a similar violation of their rights. The one who is wronged is the only one who can say when justice has been achieved. Your courts have no emotional link with the parties concerned, and are therefore a poor judge of whether justice has been justly met or not.”

Then Pia started to explain justice from a religious point of view, telling Abayaw that it was the Lord who would exact vengeance. Abayaw replied by remarking that there was no justice in Christian resignation.

“When you cannot right a wrong,” Abayaw remembered saying, “then the wrongdoer—who obviously has no conscience and no god–will continue. He knows that your Christian society shrugs off punishment, leaving it to an ambiguous vengeance-seeking god. Your god does not terrify me, and my gods do not terrify you. An intangible god cannot terrify an evildoer.”

Abayaw had also taken the time to see the Pangat of Kalinga to report to him what had transpired in Manila. The Pangat asked him to attend a meeting the elders of Kalinga-Apayao and Bontoc had called with people from Manila. There were over 3,000 Kalingans and Bontocs who attended. Village representatives took turns speaking, and all pleaded for the same thing: Please stop the Chico River dam project. You will bring to an end our heritage of rice terraces and desecrate our ancestral burial grounds–ancestral domains passed down from custodian to custodian, and now in our custody. We would rather die than allow you to destroy what has been entrusted to us.

Lawyers in the Manila group who were sympathetic to their plight, asked their permission to file an action in court. The elders, after consulting with one another, politely declined, saying that they would be honour-bound to respect the ruling of their courts. Besides, they said, your laws are different from ours, and judgment would most probably be against them. They said that they had reasoned countless times with the government, whose only response to their pleas had been violence. Our patience, they said, has given out, and that this would be the last meeting they were to call with them.

Abayaw listened to his radio daily, to keep himself aware of what was happening in that distant city. He learnt that one day in August 1983, Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. was assassinated on the tarmac of Manila airport. Suspicion fell on Fabian Ver, Marcos’s Mother-of-all-Do-This-Do-That men and former chauffeur–someone who could not tie his shoelaces without his mentor’s permission. Marcos announced that it was a “rubout job” by those nebulous communists–that convenient scapegoat for anything that goes wrong. Abayaw wondered how many more sacrifices the Filipinos would have to endure to make them wake up and unite together for much-needed change.

There was growing criticism, reported on the radio, of excesses committed by Marcos in order to amass his ill-gotten wealth. Foreign debt had now reached US $25.6 billion in 1984; it was $2 billion in 1972 when Martial Law was declared. Government policies favoured the crony network, Marcos’s fronts and dummies, disrupting the economy and disillusioning legitimate businesses. There were widespread injustice and violations of human rights. Seventy-five percent of the population now lived below the poverty line.

Then one Saturday afternoon in February 1986, during a contested presidential election between Marcos and Aquino’s widow, Abayaw heard on his radio that a minister and a general were defecting from the Marcos government. But what Abayaw did not learn from his news box was that there was a plot in the making by Ver to murder the apolitical economist Cesar Virata, the noble and civic-conscious Chairman of Benguet Corporation Jaime Velayo Ongpin, his brother Roberto, Fidel Ramos and Juan Ponce Enrile. The defectors had discovered this plot and being on the list, the minister and the general had no choice but to defect.

This was the news that Abayaw had been waiting for. He asked Dulmog, Iwa, and others from Kalinga-Apayao and Bontoc, to accompany him to Manila and help the people there remove that chief from his throne.

“But what can we do?” they asked Abayaw.

“The power of the powerless is powerful,” he replied.

They took a bus early Sunday morning for Manila. There they joined thousands of unarmed people gathered on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, participants in a shake-up that toppled a despicable greedy little man, who was bloated with wealth beyond recognition. Marcos called a curfew that day which nobody heeded. The Filipinos stayed all day and all night on this Avenue.

On that Sunday, Ver ordered the military to disperse the crowd. The people surrounded the tanks with their bodies. Marcos ordered helicopters with machineguns to strafe the camp holding the defecting minister and general. The pilots defected instead. That evening, Marcos sent for a barge on the Pasig River and loaded it with three hundred heavy crates, possibly containing gold, and everything else looted from the country. Taken from palace vaults and warehouses, the cargo was then transferred to his yacht.

On Monday, fighter planes flew over the city, firing at the grounds of Malacañang as demonstrators surrounded the palace, in an attempt to force the Filipinos into submission. Ver was reportedly nervous about these fighter planes; it seems that someone else, other than his mentor, had ordered them to fly in Philippine airspace. Marcos called a press conference but not many journalists came. He declared a state of emergency, to the few who listened. A cameraman recorded Ver asking permission to bomb the camp. The request was denied in public, but Ver sent a helicopter assault team, naval units, and a detachment of jet fighters–all of which defected, to the other camp.

On Tuesday morning, Marcos and Mrs. Aquino went ahead with their presidential inaugurations. On the palace grounds were over 2,000 paid supporters to which Marcos and Imelda sang a love-song. In the evening, when the Americans realised the strength of People’s Power, they sent several helicopters to Malacañang to rescue Marcos, his family, and some cronies–in total, 89 passengers. They were brought to Clark Air Base and then to the sunny beaches of Hawaii.

An initial estimated $10 billion were unaccounted for, the equivalent of three years State budget, covering more than one third of the country’s external debt. Foreign debt had now reached $27 billion. About $475 million stashed by the Marcos family, representing a fraction of the billions of dollars the Marcoses took from the country, was located in some Swiss deposit accounts.

Later on, Imelda Marcos, in a speech, disclosed that the Marcos fortune was larger than anyone could imagine–more than enough, she said, to pay the country’s entire foreign debt. During those twenty debilitating years of authoritarian rule, Marcos looted the Philippines, leaving behind very serious economic problems. Equally abominable as this, which time and effort will find difficult to heal, Marcos decimated the national psyche of a people just barely making it to survive.

Meanwhile, the Americans were eager to return the Philippines to the way things were before: The rule of the elite enforced by private armies of killers. They wished to continue to exploit with abandon the country’s rich natural resources without contributing much to the national economy. They also wished to continue their military presence with inconsiderably minor restrictions. So they seek out Filipinos who are servile, those who can be bought to do their bidding….

In December 1986, President Corazon Aquino cancelled the Chico River dam project that was begun in 1974. Plans for the dam had started in 1962 but the government could not establish economic viability for the project. In spite of it, Marcos went ahead with the dam project with loans from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. The European Economic Commission and the Asian Development Bank have now jointly funded an agricultural project in the Cordilleras. But the Cordillera mountain dwellers will forever be wary of and hostile towards outsiders, friend or foe, in their territory.

There was other news on Abayaw’s radio that he found interesting: The volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 buried Clark Air Base in ash and the Americans abandoned it. They also withdrew from Subic Bay Naval Base because of widespread opposition to renewing the agreement when the treaty allowing the Americans to occupy it expired in 1992. Abayaw deemed that the destructive alignment with the United States could only cause mistrust and enmity among neighbours. National security, he considered, can be assured by means of friendly ties with peoples of other nations.

But what Abayaw did not learn from his news box was that the US Armed Forces and the Central Intelligence Agency continue to operate and maintain other military and communication installations, as well as secret facilities throughout the archipelago. In the event of any conflict involving the United States, the Philippines is a huge potential battlefield.

Abayaw also learnt from his news box that among the many countless victims of human rights abuses during the Marcos regime, there were 75,000 people detained, 35,000 tortured, 3,257 killed, and 1,637 documented missing political dissidents. These guardians of ideals now pass the relay torch to those in front, to carry on their noble struggle of etching out an ambitious vision for country and fellow man.

18. The Weak Link

One evening, coming back from the office, Pia arrived home to find a letter from Max. She was pleasantly surprised because she had lost touch with him. She tore the envelope open and read his short note under the hallway light.

“Dear Pia,” he wrote. “I asked for your address from your mother, and I am writing to you about something that has been bothering me for some time. It’s about the wine account you were handling many years ago. On your next trip to Manila, please give me a call. Max.”

The wine account? Pia stared a hole in the wall in front of her. She immediately went to the telephone and called Mr Lortan at the office. He often worked late, like the Japanese. She asked to be absent on the morrow. Then Pia called her parents to let them know that she was coming to Manila, and to call Max at the office in the morning to inform him. She packed a small travelling bag and tinkered about the house, as she waited impatiently for news from Max.

It was a warm late afternoon when Pia arrived in the metropolis, Manila. Her plane had just landed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and she was now on her way to meet her former colleague at a restaurant in Makati.

Along the road a common sight greeted her. Barefooted children were begging for coins from passing cars. She sat in the comfort of her mother’s chauffeur-driven old banger and wondered what it would take to make this country the progressive nation it could be, so that its citizens would live a better quality of life.

The gracious guard greeted Pia as he gallantly opened the wooden doors. She crossed the hall and entered the dining area. Max stood up and waved to catch her attention.

“Hello, Max.”

“Hello, Pia! You haven’t changed!”

“Thanks, Max. You’ve put on weight yourself.”

They sat down, and without looking at the menu, Pia ordered dinner. She did not care for small talk. “So, Max, what has been bothering you about the wine account?”

Max took a deep breath. “Do you remember who took over the wine account after you left?”

“It was Goro Patas. He was present when I was talking about the wine account with Danny, bless his soul.”

“Goro was working in the Domestic Division. Didn’t you ever wonder why he was put in charge of an overseas account?”

“Max, I did wonder why, but I was too preoccupied with other matters to really question it. But I remember admonishing Goro about something…. Oh yes, the eggs account. I found out he was padding the charges for the egg purchases and pocketing the difference. The accountant had remarked to me in passing that the carbon copies of the invoices were tampered with. I didn’t bring it up with Danny because they both come from the same province. You know how it is with fellow provincials—the outsider is always in the wrong. So what about Goro Patas?”

“Goro managed to convince Danny to give him an international account. You see, that American merchant went about looking for the weak link in the organisation and it was Goro Patas.”

“The weak link. “What do you mean?”

“There was a connivance between Goro and that merchant. You wouldn’t want to know the details, Pia, but Goro slandered you in order to get you out of the way.”

The waiter arrived with their dinner. It was timely because they were both quite agitated by these revelations. “How did you come to know that Goro Patas was dishonest?” Pia asked in a disgusted tone.

“Low moral integrity is an easy thing to spot. Corrupt persons won’t do anything, even when it is their job to do so, unless you give them money under the table. When you see things that cannot normally be afforded on a salary, you can smell the stench of corruption.”

“But rumours would not have convinced Danny to give an international account to someone in Domestic. How did Goro make Danny give him the wine account?”

“I heard the American merchant tell Danny that Goro was the best man to handle his business.”

“So, was that wine a big success here?”

“It was a monumental disaster. The company lost a lot of money. We almost went bankrupt.”

Pia had lost her appetite. She placed her knife and fork alongside each other on her plate. “Max, how did you learn that there was something fishy going on?”

“The new young lady Director who took over after Danny discovered the monkey business and she fired Goro.”

“But Max, why do you tell me this only now?”

“Well, the lady Director is looking for intelligent, capable, and efficient people to work for the company, and I thought of you.”

“Thank you very much, Max. I’m glad to know you were thinking of me. But that still doesn’t explain why you didn’t inform me of this long ago.”

“Goodness, Pia, you could at least have told me before that meeting that you were going to do something against your will. I had a difficult time rescrewing my jaws back in place after they dropped in surprise at your recommendation.”

“I’m sorry, Max. That is inexcusable. Forgive me.”

Dr Delgado was out playing tennis early the next morning with his colleagues. Mrs Delgado was still asleep. Pia was in the garden pulling out weeds–those harmful, useless, and troublesome plants that choke flowers and vegetables of nourishment from the soil. Conchita approached Pia and asked her if she was done with breakfast. She had left the poached eggs untouched. Yes, she said rather sharply. She didn’t want her thoughts disturbed.

Corruption. What is this contemptible word? It is the betrayal of trust for financial gain. It is the intentional misperformance of duty. It is the abuse of position of authority in both government and in private enterprise for personal advantage. It exists in a society whose sense of ethics is wanting. In Philippine society, it is a national pastime.

Corruption cripples the economy. How does one prevent weeds from fracturing the landscape of the economy? Laws and enforcement of such laws must severely punish the corrupter and the corrupted. Corruption is a crime against the People and against the State. It is a crime that must be punished by law.

Investigative journalism will expose the corrupt. Reporting unusual wrongdoings at the workplace will expose the corrupt. Requiring public officials to declare their assets—before, during, and after their term of office– will expose the corrupt. We must create conditions difficult for the corrupt to thrive.

All that weeds need to flourish is that nobody does anything about them. Corruption is so rampant, from the top to the bottom of the professional and political ladder, that it is almost ridiculous to imagine that this social cancer, this metastasised tumour can be entirely excised. But doctor it we must, or else we die.

Pia heard her father come home. “Papa!” she called out. “Come out here into the garden and help me yank these weeds out!”

Dr Delgado came and watched Pia as she attacked the weeds with so much vehemence.

“Pia,” he said, “another will take its place.”

“Oh….” Pia sat back on her haunches. “What should be done, then?”

“By all means attack the symptoms, but you must also treat the cause. It is the poor quality of the soil that’s to blame.”

“You mean the poor quality of life?”

“Yes.”

Pia stood up and walked contemplatively around the garden. Dishonesty among those in public office and in private enterprise is a symptom of a much larger problem. The population has now reached seventy-five million, and when one has several mouths to feed because Religion and the State keep the people ignorant, and when they are not paid enough to put food on the table for large families, then petty corruption becomes a Machiavellian solution. The grumbling of an empty stomach is a force whose actions the mind cannot speak for. But this is a lame excuse for one’s lack of integrity.

Pia removed the garden gloves she was wearing, threw them down on the ground, and challenged the World: Shall we forever wallow in the mudpit of indifference? We are born in a time that requires change, and change we must. Old habits, old ideas, old ways of thinking must change.

Change will inevitably bring some form of instability. But transition is an on-going process, so do not be reactionary. You should neither expect a ready-made finished product, since there are no ready-made solutions. But whatever we do from now, may our personal journey of life contribute to the well being of our fellow men.

Pia remembered the words of one of her professors: Consider national goals in your career aspirations. What the country needs most is young leaders with innovative ideas, young leaders in government and in business. Whatever career you pursue after graduation, you must aspire to contribute to the well being of the nation.

19. Make That Change

“Mog?”

“Yes, Yaw?”

“I want to tell you an old Russian folktale about a turnip, from a book I read in a bookstore in Tokyo.”

“What’s a turnip, Yaw?”

“It’s a vegetable that grows underground. You know, Mog, you are nothing until you make something of yourself. Now listen to this story.”

It was a pleasant afternoon. Abayaw and Dulmog were lying on the grass by the river. Beside them were their basket traps and a catch of fish.

“There was once an elderly couple who lived with their grandson, a dog, a cat, and a mouse. One day, Grandmother decided to prepare a turnip for dinner, so she went to her garden to fetch one. But no matter how much she pulled, the turnip would not budge.

“‘Grandfather!’ she called out. ‘Come and help me with this turnip!’ So the grandfather came, and they pulled and tugged. ‘Grandson!’ the grandfather called out. ‘Come and help us with this turnip!’ So the grandson came, and they pulled and tugged. Still, the turnip would not budge. Then the grandson called the dog, and the dog called the cat, and the cat called the mouse. When the mouse came and they all pulled and tugged together, only then did the turnip finally come out of the ground.

“So what do you think of that, Mog?”

“Grandmother should consider growing vegetables above ground.”

“Mog! It means that even the smallest effort can bring change. It means that the only way we can succeed is that we work together. Be involved in making that change.”

•••••

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