I saw it with my own eyes. The baby was sucking milk from her mother’s corpse. That extremely hot noon was terrifying and I can never forget that, the same reason why I will never vote for any descendant of the dictator this election.
Ate Gina, one of our school aide, is wiping the dust from the bookshelves in my classroom. Right after my first set of students leave for lunch, she comes in to start her routine—dust the shelves, arrange the books, sweep and mop the floor, arrange the chairs and, while doing all of this, she spends some time telling me personal stories and rants against the administration—in preparation for the next batch at 2:00p.m. As usual, she initiated a conversation while I was checking the test papers of my students in Contemporary Issues. I think it was the writing on the blackboard triggered her.
FEDERICO E. MARQUEZ was the only president with an almost perfect grade in the Bar Exam. His infrastructure projects were beyond comparable to any anyone else that this country had or will ever have—the Heart Center, Kidney Center, and the Cultural Center are a few examples. He exemplified genuine concern for the masses with the Mabunga 99, Blue and Green Revolution, and the healthy bun that they gave to children at all public schools for free. Discipline was imposed during his time and the country was a booming nation in Asia.
“Teacher, is this your topic today?” she inquired.
“Yes, Ate, why?” I answered promptly.
“Nothing, teacher, it just reminds me of my childhood. Were you alive during that time, teacher?”
“No, Ate, in fact, my parents were born in 1964. I might not even have been in my father’s wildest imagination during those years, but that will not invalidate my credibility to teach that era.”
“Of course, teacher, I know.” she said cordially, then continued “I just wonder why these writings on the board only express the good sides of Marquez, but the other side of the story might have been left behind.”
“Well, Ate, his time was really the golden age of the Philippines.” I said with pride.
“Sorry, teacher, but I cannot agree with you on that.” I could sense that her mood had changed. Her eyes were also turning red. I don’t know if it was because of the dust from the second shelf that she was cleaning now, or if she was getting emotional. She moved closer to me.
“Look at this, teacher.” She leaned toward me and pulled up the right sleeve of her shirt. “This was a gunshot. I got this when I was eleven years old.” Then she pulled a chair next to my table and sat on it.
I was curious about how she got shot in the shoulder. I remembered that she would feel pain in that area whenever she carries the chairs on my classroom. I thought it was because the chairs were heavy, or some other reasons. I asked her to tell me the story of her scar.
“Okay, teacher, but I need to rearrange the chairs first, it is already 1:25, and the students might arrive in a few minutes.”
“No, no need, Ate. I will just ask them to fix those later, after the gate opens. Please, tell me the story now.”
“Okay, teacher, but please do not report me to the office. You know that we are not allowed to let the students do such work. Their parents might complain and I might get kicked from my job.”
“Of course, Ate, and besides, I will be the one to tell them, not you. But wait” I pulled the rightdrawer of my table open to get two siopao which my daughter, Tasha, bought me for lunch. “takethis one, let’s eat while talking. I know that you haven’t taken your lunch yet, and neither have I. Don’t worry, I will not tell anyone about sharing food with you, because I am aware that the school forbids school aids from receiving anything from the teachers or students.” She took the siopao and started eating it. “Please, go on with your story now, Ate.”
“I was born in Leyte, teacher. I studied elementary there, but I never got to high school because something happened in our school, and my parents could notsustain our daily expenses if I were to study in the school at the town proper, plus we had adopted my youngest sister, Aiza, then. They told me that to know how to read and write will be enough. Besides, I would just get married soon and not work but handle household chores and look after my kids.”
“That’s the problem with the mind-set of old people; they look at us girls as just caretakers of the house and as breeding sows for our husbands. That’s really irritating! Are they not aware of our abilities? Besides, we are better that men in most things. That is why I never wanted to get married; my daughter is enough for me. Men just want us to be their sex objects and maids.”
I interrupted her rant: “Go on, Ate, sorry. I am just carried away. You know I am always pro-women, probably the reason why the male teachers call me a feminist, which I see as a compliment.” She just smiled. I am sure that she did not even know the meaning of feminism. “Please continue, Ate.”
“I felt bad when they told methat, because I wanted to be a teacher, like you. I used to enjoy my classes, especially with my Filipino teacher, Ma’am Chat. She was my grade five adviser. She was beautiful and intelligent. Her boyfriend, KaRoel, always accompanied her to school. I didn’t know why people call that guy KaRoel. I asked my father about itonce. He told me that “Ka” is short for “kadre” and no further explanation was given to me.” She took her final bite of the siopao, crumpled the plastic and put it in her pocket.
“September 23, that was the birthday of Ma’am Chat. She cooked pansit and brought some sliced bread for the class. We were eating the food during recess when her boyfriend came in the classroom with a baby. At first I thought that was KaRoel’s younger sibling, and that he just brought her to the school because nobody would look after her in the house. We all greeted him and ran close to the baby. She looked exactly like Ma’am, so probably, it was her sister. Then Ma’am got the baby.”
* * *
“Ga, Janna keeps on crying and she ran out of milk. I brought her to you so you can breastfeed her.” Sweatwas running down his face. The sun might have exhausted him and he was gasping for air while talking.
“Don’t worry, Ga. The principal said that the three-month delayed salary will be give later. We can buy milk for Janna and some canned goods from the market later.”
“That’s good news, Ga, but we have a problem,” KaRoel said.“I got the news from Ka Rene today that the president just declared martial law yesterday. We need to be more careful with our movements, especially since there’s a new platoon arriving anytime today.”
“What is it to you then? You are not part of the group anymore. Why should you be afraid?”
Then a gunshot reverberated somewhere near. The pupils hid under their chairs and KaRoel pulled Ma’am Chat and their daughter into the comfort room at the side of the classroom.
“This is what I am afraid of, Chat, the possibility of an encounter between the group and the army. What I want you to do is stay here and breastfeed Janna so that she will not cry. Okay?” He kissed Ma’am Chat and the baby on the forehead and went outside.
* * *
“We heard noise from outside our classroom and I thought something might have exploded, or there were fireworks. My classmates all hid under their chairs so I went to Ma’am’s cabinet in the corner opposite to the CR. That’s where she kept all the brooms and dustpans,” Ate Gina said. “Because the cabinet door was ajar I saw KaRoel pulling Ma’am into the CR with the baby. They stayed there for a while. People with guns entered our classroom and asked all my classmates to go out. I was afraid to go out, so I stayed inside that cabinet. I also saw KaRoel walking toward door, and as he just got outside the man in a military uniform welcomed him with a punch to the stomach”
My phone rang, I just got a message. I am sure this is Tasha:
Baby Tasha. 1:53p.m.
Ma, I will go with my classmates in their house to practice for our choral recitation. Don’t forget to eat your siopaos. Iloveyou!
I lifted my phone and replied, then put it in silent mode, while Ate Gina continued to talk. Good thing my daughter was not texting using their weird language with a lot of c, x, and z.
“KaRoel fell to the ground. I was trembling inside that cabinet, preventing myself from making any noise. Blindfolded men were brought to where KaRoel was lying. They were pinned to the ground, kicked, and pounded by the men in military uniforms.”
“I heard the one of them shouting, ‘Take their blindfolds off! Now all of you, start digging your own grave! Haven’t you heard that the president have given us the authority to declare war against you? Rebels!’ One man was answering the military guy but I could not hear him.”
* * *
“Don’t you understand!? We are not rebels! We are farmers and ethnic tribes! What you want is just to get our lands!” exclaimed the man beside Roel whose face was bruised and whose lips were bleeding. The military accused him of being a rebel. He was arrested last night in his own house.
That man’s wife had been sound asleep, and he was about to turn off the gas lamp when he heard banging on their door. He rushed to open the door, thinking it was his brother, whom he was expecting that night.He was surprised with a blow to his face with the butt of an M16. He almost lost consciousness. Those men tied him and brought him into the house.
The men were interrogating him and forcing him to admit that he was part of a rebel group. Their loud voices awakened his wife and she called out to her husband. The soldiers looked at each other, ran into the room from which her voice came and brought the young wife into the sala where her husband lay tied up.
“Leave her alone! She is not part of this! I am telling you, I am not a rebel!” He was trying to fight back against the two men holding him down, but they were just too strong.
“If you don’t want to cooperate, let me teach you how,” said one of the soldiers. “Boys! Bring this beautiful young lady back into their room.”
The two guys brought the wife back in the room, even as she was fought and shouted at them to let her go. Then the man who commanded followed.
* * *
“The men in military uniforms were laughing and cheering outside. I was thinking what Ma’am and the baby were doing inside the CR, then a loud noise came from there. Something might have fallen, followed by the cry of the baby.”
“A soldier ran inside. I saw his big body. He had a big gun. He kicked the door of the CR and Ma’am shouted. I couldn’t see what was happening in there clearly because the guy’s body was covering the view. The next thing I saw was Ma’am walking outside with the crying baby.”
* * *
“Ma’am, can come get in?” I hadn’t noticed that it was almost for class, and some of my students were already outside the classroom.
“Okay, get inside, but stay quiet. I am still talking with Ate Gina,” I told the class president. “Go on, Ate.”
“I was curled up, and trying avoid making noise in the cabinet,” Gina continued.“Peeping through the small space of the cabinet door, I saw Ma’am together with the other people outside lining up facing outside our classroom.The baby was still crying. Maybe, there were about fourteen of them, fifteen if I count the baby. The soldiers started to talk again, but it is inaudible from my place.”
* * *
“So, are these all the rebels in this area?” Lito, the leader of the soldiers asked.
“We are not rebels! Can’t you see? You intruded into my class and our celebration!” Chat answered back as her baby continued crying.
“Shut up!” One of the men slappedMa’am Chat’s face.
Roel moved briskly toward Ma’am Chat to attack the soldier who had slapped her, but two other men grabbed him immediately, and hit him on the shin. The pain made him sink to his knees. The guy who hit him was about to make another strike, this time to Roel’sthe face, but their leader raised his right palm.
“That’s enough. Tie their hands and put their blindfolds back on. That’s enough sight for the day. This ‘teacher’ with a child, let her join her comrades,” he lit a cigarette then turned to Chat, “but feed your stupid baby first, its crying is irritating!”
The soldiers started to tie and blindfold the people they accused of being rebels. One by one, they pulled the bound people to their feet, facing the school.
“What will you do to us?”
“What are you doing!?!” Chat exclaimed.
“Did I give you the permission to ask me questions? Shut the fuck up and feed your freaking kid!” answered a soldier named Erwin. “Pull these two to the side; let her witness what will happen to the enemies of our New Society!”
When all the 13 men were standing, tied, and blindfolded, the soldiers began shooting them; Chat ran to Ka Roel while her daughter was still sucking at her breast. All of a sudden, something struck the back of her skull and she fell.
* * *
“I was really afraid, teacher, so I tried to pull the door of the cabinet, but I heard loud noises from outside again, probably the men’s guns. Suddenly, I felt something pierce my right shoulder. I stopped myself from shouting, though my shoulder was really painful. After few seconds, there were no more…” The bell rang, cutting Gina’s story short.
“Goodness Ate Gina! You need to continue that story for me after the afternoon class; I need to get started on my class now. Thanks!” G