Note: Published on page A11 of the January 4, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
ONE thing my high school and college friends did not know was that my parents were revolutionaries who had gone underground. Both of them, especially my father, were actively involved in the movement during martial law. Mama was an activist, while Papa was a high-ranking officer of the New People's Army. He used to be the commanding officer of the Visayas and later became a member of the General Command overseeing the NPA's national operations.
When I was 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 my age were playing on school playgrounds, I was out there with Papa, wandering around the guerilla fronts in Negros (actually the war zones) during the 1980s.
As a kid, I loved to play with Matchbox cars, Tonka trucks, G.I. Joe action figures and toy guns. But unlike
others kids, aside from just playing with toy guns, I also got to see and handle the real stuff. I used to memorize the type of guns my Papa and his comrades carried. But, what seemed to me like a game children play was later explained to me as a struggle for something meaningful: a struggle against a dictator, a struggle for democracy.
Both my Mama and Papa made me understand the significance of the revolutionary struggle they were engaged in. Mama would painstakingly explain to me why Papa had to be always away from home: he was fighting for the country's freedom from a tyrannical rule. In that situation, she said, we could not live normally like other people do.
At a very young age, I had the chance to walk and talk with people of great intellect and admirable courage. But that was 20 years ago, when I was four years old.
Due to security reasons, my family relocated to Manila when I was 10. 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 II. Regularly going to school and playing games being played by all the other kids in school and our neighborhood, I felt that my life was normal.
But that was until Sept. 8, 1992, when Papa was supposed to fetch my brother and me from school at 3:40 in the afternoon. That time, he didn't show up. Which was very unusual since he was always on time. We waited, since that was all we could do, because we were given no money for baon. Papa had to pick us up so we could go home.
We waited. And waited. And waited. At six o'clock, Mama called the school guards to check if we were still in school. Yes, the guard said, still waiting for "sundo" (someone to pick us up).
Another hour passed before a burly, middle-aged man who had been sitting all the time at our school's waiting area, approached us to ask why we were still in school. It was my brother who 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)."
He gave us money and advised us to take care as we boarded a jeepney. Later we learned that agents of the Intelligence Service Armed Forces of the Philippines (Isafp) arrested Papa while he was on his way to fetch us. (I suspect that the man who gave us the money for fare was one of them.)
Mama was furious when we got home. Papa called moments after we arrived, but Mama hung up on him before he could explain.
Hours later, Papa arrived with a fruit basket, dinner and two companions who were total strangers to us. Mama was still mad. But when Papa introduced his companions as his military escorts, she suddenly calmed down. She told us to go to our room.
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, "Dadalhin nyo po ba ulit ang Papa ko? (Are you going to take my Papa with you again?)."
Two days later, Papa's arrest was in the news. We had a daily news reporting activity in our Araling Panlipunan class. During the flag ceremony, a classmate informed me that they would be reporting about the arrest of a man who had the same surname as mine. I figured that it was about Papa's arrest.
I was feeling uneasy and uncomfortable the entire morning. I was not ashamed to admit to everyone that Papa was an NPA commander. But I was worried that my classmates would be able to understand the significance of the struggle Papa and his comrades were waging. If they could not understand it, they would think badly of him.
As my classmates prepared their news report, I was preparing answers to questions that they might ask me. When the report started, everyone listened attentively, their curiosity aroused by the fact that a man with the same surname as mine was in the news. When report was over, one classmate blurted out: "Military ang tatay mo?"
I could only nod and smile. They did not understand the news after all and had mistaken Papa as the captor and not the captive. 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 visit 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 share a common vision: the upliftment of the lives of the majority of Filipinos who are marginalized because of unjust social structures. They pinned their hope of attaining this vision on an armed struggle. 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 in something that could make a difference in the lives of the people, even if what I am doing now is not as grand and daring as what they used to do.
Paolo L. Gui–abo, 24, is a Mass Communications graduate of San Sebastian College-Recoletos Manila. He works with the corporate communications unit of Alter Trade Corp. in Bacolod.