Note: The following is from my upcoming 5 book series entitled The Saga of Fray Paco - and is based on my own first live performance.
"There must be thousands of people in the square listening to Uncle Artie," said his wife Aunt Betsy. She was unable to hide the pride in her voice.
"He seems to be reassuring the multitudes and promising them things," observed his 7 year old niece, Lucrezia.
"It's a must for politicians to make promises," declared Carly, Uncle Artie's son. He was 10 going on 20 and he reveled in the political rallies, the songs and the dances performed by members of the Ortigas Nieto clan. Carly was not only bright, he had promised his parents that he would study Law and then run for Congress.
"I have mixed emotions regarding that kind of determined ambition in one so young, "Dona Esperanza the powerful Matriarch and Mater Familias of the clan had affirmed.
And yet she heartily approved of all the children who displayed self initiative and discipline.
"Even great human beings like Gran-Gran (Dona Esperanza) can often be flippy floppy in their opinions," thought Lucrezia.
Uncle Artie delivered his speech in Tagalog, (Filipino) a most difficult language to speak and pronounce correctly. He memorized the speech phonetically for he was of Spanish and English descent. He had never seriously studied the language.
During the Philippine Commonwealth, which lasted from the 1920's to 1946, the Illustrados (the illutrious, the elite, the wealthy and the intelligentsia) spoke fluent Castilian, English and Chinese. The best schools taught every subject in English since their colonial Master happened to be the United States of America. Tagalog, as other native languages and dialects was ignored if not snubbed.
"That's only for the masses," they sentenced.
From December 1941 until February 1945 the Japanese had occupied the Philippines with a brutality and savagery second to none. America was their mortal enemy and Manila was the capital of their Empire - their Manifest Destiny. It was a logical progression, if anything in war can ever be called logical,that the occupyng forces of His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Hirohito took pains to inflict as much humiliation and mutilation on the Filipinos as their rage and imagination allowed.
Manila, dubbed by all those who visited the city and lived there "The Pearl of the Orient" was crushed to dust. Lucrezia and her cousins had never seen the beauty that had once been Manila. Ruins and more ruins stabbed their eyes whenever they passed through the boulevards which formed the corniche of Manila Bay, considered by many to be the largest and most perfectly formed circular bay in the world.
Those who had survived the bombing and shelling, the fires, the killing fields, the tortures and the total destruction of 15th and 16th century Manila could not bear to look at photographs of the Manila that had once been. So the rich and poor post-war offspring never saw the bewitching and dazzling city of "Pre-war Manila."
Life continued even if the gashes which the Japanese Occupation and the American Liberation had wrought never healed. It was covered over with thin veils of songs and dances and gaiety. Even those like Lucrezia - the baby boomer generation and without a doubt those who would be born after the post -war - carried these wounds in their hearts and in their souls.
"Manila will never heal. It might take us hundreds of years to recover from this horrible trauma. Yes. I know we are often compared to the city of Warsaw in the sense of our suffering and our destruction during WWll. I visited Warsaw in the 30's. Nothing there of comparable beauty with Manila. Lord! the city has no bay,and no natural beauty. The Catholic Poles were a people full of intolerance, darkness and dread. Our Jewish relatives and friends here had no similarity with those in Warsaw. The Jews I came across with had no awareness of beauty nor of spirituality. Despair emanated from their pores. How dare the Press even make the comparison. God forgive them for they know not what they say," Dona Esperanza had stated unequivocally.
"It was kind of Artie Hagedorn to single out our town."
"You can say that again."
"Particularly in view of the fact that the Huks (the Hukbalahap Marxist guerilla movement) are killing as many landowners as they can in ambushes."
"They say that the Huks are hiding in the impenetrable mountains and forests of Montalban."
"The Huks are everywhere. They are all over San Mateo too."
"Is it true that the reason they became outlaws is because they never received any of the back pay which the Americans promised them as guerillas fighting the wrath of the Japanese during the Occupation?"
"So they say."
"But they are still Communists who do not believe in God. "
"Sssh! Artie Hagedorn is explaining why he believes that the Huks are more Nationalists and landless peasants than followers of Marx."
"These guerrilleros risked their lives fighting for their country Many died doing so. They left farms unattended because their families followed them into the jungles to avoid the reprisals which the Japanese meted out to guerrillas. When they returned after the war, there was nothing left. They had lost family through malaria and dengue fever. Unscrupulous men and war profiteers had illegally taken over their lands. The Americans and our government have ignored them and declared war on them instead. My clan and others close to our way of thinking are considering changing this intolerable situation. But first the Huks must show us that they are willing to consider laying down their arms. They must stop the killing of innocent peasants and farmers. "
Silence. And it seemed to last forever.
"Did Hagedorn just say what I think he said?" asked the Mayor of San Mateo, a faithful supporter of his platform and his issues.
"He certainly did."
"Well, what are we waiting for? Let's cheer the man till we lose our voices. He deserves it."
The thousands standing on the plaza in the pleasant October air cheered with delirium. They choose to believe him. The Ortigas Nieto clan had never reneged on anything. The banks owned by the clan had loaned money to farmers and small businessmen without guarantees and at a low rate of interest.
"We must put our money where our mouths are. The country is laid flat. We must be active participants in its reconstruction. I don't want to see miles of red tape. Anyone engaging in red tapery will be fired by me personally," said Dona Esperanza, the largest shareholder of the Banco Fil-Americano.
After twenty minutes of furious hand clapping and shrill cheers Artie lifted up his right arm and signaled for silence.
"I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your rousing approval of our plan of action. It will not happen overnight. We will do everything to hasten it. Now, my children, nieces and nephews who are native speakers of Tagalog will regale you with a brief program of songs and dances from Rizal province, (where San Mateo and Montalban were located)
Uncle Artie and Aunt Betsy had decided before the rally that Lucrezia, who could sing and dance as well as play the piano would open and close the show.
Attired in a typical Filipino costume - crimson butterfly sinamay sleeves and a long skirt draped like a sarong to enable her to dance the intricate and graceful steps of "La Carinosa" Lucrezia ascended the wooden steps leading up to the make shift platform and stage. Uncle Artie was well over six feet, and the microphone had been adjusted to her height, except that it held center stage.
"Ah! that won't do. It's in the middle of the stage. I must be almost on the edge where I can see and feel the people," she thought.
"Magandang umaga sa lahat ng aking kababayan. Ako'y si Lukresya. Sandali lang po, gusto kong kumanta malapit sa inyo. Dapat dalin nila ang mikropono dito sa ilig ." Good morning to all the people of my country. I am Lucrezia. Please wait a bit. I would like to sing closer to you all. They are going to bring the microphone as close to the edge of the stage as they can.
The people understood at once and they replied with a roaring applause. Lucrezia bowed and then curtsied in acknowledgement.
The sun's rays struck the red butterfly sleeves of her Maria Clara gown. Lucrezia was a fetching site to behold. That image would remain imprinted on all the people who had seen her and heard her on that tragic morning.
Ah Wei, her Hakka Chinese amah (nanny) was suddenly filled with dread. For in the distance, the rugged hills and mountains of Montalban loomed.
"When I was a child in Fujian province, bandits usually attacked the rich merchants and the Mandarins as they rounded narrow stretches in the hills. They are perfect for an ambush. It has always been so."
Then the rondalla, a group of musicians who played on guitars and mandolins intoned the first bars of the folk song "Bahay Kubo" (Little Hut) Lucrezia entered on the 6th bar in a clear and melodious voice and Ah Wei put aside all her fears and her misgivings, for a little while.
"She is a magical being. Nothing wicked can ever happen to her because God does not will it," she prayed.
Lucrezia's eyes roamed the faces of the farmers and the peasants who had come to their political rally. They listened intently and mouthed the words of the song. Worn faces, toothless faces, sun darkened leathery skins, ivory skins, toiled bodies, smiling expressions on faces that knew suffering and endurance, "Mati-is" was the expression. It meant endurance devoid of rage. It meant acceptance of hard times with the implicit hope of better times.
"I love the Filipino people, I think I understand them a little and I feel for them," she realized as her song was drawing to a close.
"Really Luki,"murmured cousin Cookie. " Why did you ask them to move the mike so close to the edge of the stage? I'm terrified of all those brown faces staring at me. I'm always nervous before I sing."
Aunt Betsy, daughter of a seasoned politician told her daughter. " You'll be fine as always. There is nothing to be araid of. They love us, and we love them."
Cookie was older than Lucrezia and Carly. She was 11 and very conscious of her dark Malayan-Spanish beauty. It contrasted with Lucrezia's fair skin, blonde curls and blue eyes and it struck the onlookers at the rally in a positive manner.
The Ortigas Nieto clan was multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-lingual. Yet they closed ranks during tumultuous and troubled times. Feuds had a short lifespan. Differences patched up quickly. Envy and Jealousy banished. Scandals ignored. Gossip had short legs. Character assassination, forbidden.
It was now time to perform La Carinosa a favorite with the assembled thousands.Carly was the swain and Cookie and Lucrezia would do intricate steps around him.
Most eyes centered on the three children. One lone figure in the back of the multitude put away the binoculars he had been using to look at the prey on stage. He slipped away swiftly and headed towards the outskits of San Mateo. His legs were like granite. He was an expert mountain climber. He knew every rock, stone and path which would take him to the site where his Leader and his companions waited.
"The motorcade will have to zig zag slowly through the sharp inclines and precipices of the Montalban hills. I'll cut right through and over the boulders and be there at least twenty minutes before the Ortigas motorcade gets to the pass."
He imitated the sound of a maya (a brown parakeet) and waited. The sound was repeated. He squeezed his thin frame between two rocks and stepped into the site of what had been designated as " Las Matanzas" the killing fields.
"You're late. You must have stayed till the very end," barked the vicious voice of the leader.
"I had to be sure which of the children was Lucrezia. I was only following your orders."
The slap that struck him was as unexpected as it was bloody. Two teeth flew out in a gush of blood.
"I would kill you if we did not need your knowledge of Montalban. Answer me, which one is Lucrezia?" he asked oblivious to the blood.
The young man talked through the blood still pouring out of his mouth" Sheesh imerd - she's in red (red) rnds even - around 7. Sheesh yellow er - she has yellow hair."
"Get ready. Everyone in their positions.You!" he pointed towards the bloodied mountain climber, "Stop that bleeding and get the carajo out of my sight."
Uncle Artie bid the people of San Mateo goodbye. "We humbly thank you for the affectionate welcome you have given me and my family."
"It is we, who are duty bound to thank you and cherish you and all the members of your family and clan who have honored us by coming to San Mateo, " replied the Mayor.
"Ah Wei, we are proceeding to Montalban. Since you are afraid of heights you can go back to Manila with the other relatives who swear they too will get sick navigating through the narrow roads of Montalban with its sheer drops," said Uncle Artie.
'Thank you sir. Just a kiss to Lucrezia? She hugged the child and kissed her. This feeling of catastrophe has again surrounded me. I am helpless. We are all helpless. It may be nothing at all. But I can feel that somebody hates the clan with such a biblical hate that it will stop at nothing to hurt them."
"Oh Ah Wei. It was just splendid. All of it. I hope I did not make too many mistakes. I think not. How did I sing? Did I dance gracefully? Please don't cry Amah. Is it because I was good or because I was terrible? Never mind. I love you and I'll see you all at Santol Mansion this evening."
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