Paolo L. Guiñabo
There was one thing that my high school and college friends do not know, and that is, my parents were underground revolutionaries. Both of them, especially my father, were actively involved in the underground movement during Martial Law. Mama was an activist, while Papa was a high-ranking officer of the New People’s Army, the NPA. He was then the Visayas Regional Commanding Officer. He later became a member of the General Command that oversaw the NPA’s national operations.
While growing up, I had the chance to join my Papa and his “kaupod” (comrades) as they plotted to neutralize the injustices perpetrated by the Marcos government. I spent some of my childhood days in the mountainous places of Kabankalan, Negros Occidental. While children of my age back then were playing on school playgrounds, I was out with Papa, wandering around the guerilla fronts in Negros (literally the war zones) of the revolutionary movement during the 1980’s.
As a kid, like others of my age, I also used to play with Matchbox cars, Tonka Trucks, G.I. Joe action figures and toy guns. But, unlike the others, aside from just playing with toy guns, I also used to see and handle the real stuff. I used to memorize the type of guns my Papa and his comrades carry. But, what seemed like a game that children my age play was later explained to me as a struggle for something meaningful—a struggle against a dictator, a struggle for democracy.
Young as I was, both my Mama and Papa made me understand the significance of the revolutionary struggle they were actively engaged in. Mama would painstakingly explain to me why Papa had to be always away from home; that Papa was fighting for the country’s freedom from a tyrannical rule. In that situation, she would explain, we could not live normally as other people do. Young as I was, I had a chance to walk and talk with people of great intellect and admirable courage. That was 20 years ago; I was only four years old then.
Due to security reasons, my family relocated to Manila when I was 11 years old. My brother and I were enrolled at one of the big schools along the university belt. I was in Grade VI, my brother in Grade III. Regularly going to school and playing games being played by all the other kids in school and our neighborhood, I felt that my life has returned to normal. I am now a normal kid, I thought. Until…
September 8, 2002 Papa was supposed to fetch me and my brother in school at 3:40 in the afternoon. He didn’t show up, which was very unusual. He was always on time. We waited, for that was all we could do, because back then, we received no money for baon. For me and my brother to go home, Papa had to pick us up in school. So we waited. And waited. And waited. By six o’clock, Mama called the school guards to check if we were still in school. Yes, the guard said, still waiting for their sundo.
Another hour passed when a burly, middle-aged man who had been sitting all that time at our school’s waiting area, approached us asking why we were still in school. My brother replied, “Kasi wala pa po ang sundo namin at wala po kaming pera para makauwi” (our Papa has not arrived to fetch us and we have no money to get home). And so he gave us money and even said, “Ingat kayo ha” (take care) as we boarded a jeepney.
Elements of the Intelligence Service Armed Forces of the Philippines (Isafp) had arrested Papa while he was on his way to fetch us. And I suspect (Isafp would not admit it, of course) that the man who gave us the money for fare was one of the arresting officers.
Mama was furious when we got home, seeing only me and my brother. Papa called home moments after we arrived but Mama hung up on him. He was not able to explain. Hours later, Papa arrived home with a fruit basket, dinner, and two companions who were total strangers to us. Mama was still fuming mad. But when Papa introduced his companions as his military escorts because had been arrested, she suddenly calmed down. She told us to go to our room as they started discussing in the sala.
They had finished talking when we were allowed to go out of our room. As Papa and his guards were leaving my youngest brother, who was only four years old then, asked the two men, “Dadalhinn nyo po ba ulit ang Papa ko?” (Are you going to take my papa with you again?).
Two days after, Papa’s arrest made it to the news. We had a daily news reporting activity in our “Araling Panlipunan” class. Earlier that day, during the flag ceremony, a classmate had informed me that a man bearing my surname is in the news and they will be reporting about it. And so I figured that it was news about Papa’s arrest.
I was feeling uneasy and uncomfortable the entire morning. I was anxiously waiting for the news reporting activity to be over. I was weary of being humiliated in front of the class. I was not ashamed to admit to all and sundry that Papa was an NPA commander. What I was weary of then was the capacity of my classmates to understand the significance of the struggle that Papa and his comrades were engaged in. If they cannot understand it, they will think negatively of him.
As my classmates prepared their news report on the man bearing my surname, I was preparing answers to questions that they possibly may ask me. When the report started, everyone listened attentively, curious of the reason how a man with the same surname as I have, got in the news. When the report was over, one classmate blurted out: Miilitary ang tatay mo?” (Is your dad in the military?). I could only nod and smile. They did not understand the news after all and have mistaken Papa as the captor (AFP) and not the captive (NPA). Days later, I told only my closest friends the real story.
That was then.
Today, my work has brought me back to places where I had been before, finding myself working with some of the people whom I had met in the underground movement. In the places I visited because of my work, I constantly meet people who know me but are total strangers to me. They would usually tell me that they were Papa’s “kaupod” before.
However, my work now is vastly different from my parent’s work before, although we shared a common vision: the upliftment of the lives of the majority of Filipinos who are marginalized because of unjust social structures. They pinned their hopes on armed struggle to attain this vision. I pin my hopes on the struggle to create a viable and socially-just economic system by persuading the people to adopt sustainable agricultural technologies and fight for a fairer trading system.
In Negros I was born and to Negros I have come back. Piece by piece I am re-discovering my underground roots as I work with the impoverished farmers and sugar workers of my homeland. Just like Papa and Mama, I also would like to involve myself into something that could make a difference on the lives of the people, even if what I am doing now is not as grand and bold as what they used to do.