Achieving Happiness

January 26, 2010

For Ka Douglas, in memory of the P500 bills

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 6:38 am

As Philippine senators threw mud at each other and called each other names (trying to outdo each other in self-righteousness and in their respective attempts to prove that they were pristine and corruption-free), Ka Douglas Dumanon, former national treasurer of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), former secretary-general of the urban poor people’s organization Kadamay, and KMU national council member passed away last night after a long struggle against cancer.

How do you describe Ka Doug and the kind of person he was?

A gentle giant. A kind, compassionate man who always cared to know how others around him were doing. He had a gentle sense of humor, and it always showed in his eyes. I never saw him get angry or upset. He was mild-mannered by nature, and he was a 100% non-complainer.

I was a staff of KMU National for seven years, starting when the office was still in Intramuros and there were only three small, cramped rooms and only a 486 computer and a dot matrix printer.

Through all that time until I left for Bayan Muna in 2001, it was Ka Doug who handed me my monthly political allowance. When I first started in KMU, there was really no money (it was the aftermath of the re-affirm/reject kaguluhan, and the traitors who left to form BMP had all but wiped out the KMU bank account), and Ka Doug explained to me that I would not be receiving a salary or anything similar to it. I remember how sheepish he looked, somewhat apologetic. I hastened to say that I knew what I was getting into, that it didn’t matter. All the same, every month, Ka Douglas handed me P500 ‘para sa pagkain at pamasahe sa jeep.’

I will never forget those P500 bills. Each was so precious, and never before then did I really learn about the value of money. Galing kasi sa butaw ng mga manggagawa yung allowance, Ka Douglas told me, and as such I was so honored. I would’ve worked for nothing, because I knew that everyone else in the office barely received anything either and they had families to support. Commitment, strong and tested, was something I learned from Ka Doug and the others in that small office — Ka Manny Sarmiento, Ka Bel, Teddy, Ka Bong, Ka Sha, Ka Dick, Ka Robert and Ka Noli.

It was Ka Doug who taught me how to put together project proposals: together we made one for a foreign finance agency seeking its support for a KMU monthly newspaper. He was a patient editor, and I remember how funny it was that at the time, we were mostly guessing about the statistics we we put in the proposal. We crossed our fingers. “Ang Manggagawa” did come to light of day beginning year 1998.

Ka Douglas was a comfortable person to have around you, an adult who did not intrude, but all the same you knew he would pay attention if you had problems. Remember, I was barely 20 when I got into KMU, and I still had bashfulness issues despite being tibak for the last three years. Ka Doug helped making me feel at home in the KMU office because of his kindness.

When I first heard that he had cancer and that they had to cut off his leg, I had just come back from Hong Kong after 10 months of clearing my head and getting my ducks in a row again. I was shocked and saddened. I was told, they told me, that his cancer began in his throat, and it was an effect of his frequent visits to Payatas where he was deployed as an organizer-leader of Kadamay. The permanent stench, the perpetual smoke rising from the piles and piles of rotting garbage and the methane, they said, made him ill.

I was unable to visit him, as my work kept me busy (Ka Bel was still under hospital arrest then, and I was desperate to make up for lost time).

In was only in May, during the Labor Day commemorative rally in Liwasang Bonifacio that I finally, and literally finally, saw Ka Doug.

He sat on a bench near the fountain, and he had only one leg after the other was amputated to stem the tide of cancerous cells which ran amok in his system. He was thin and haggard looking. He also appeared tired, he was tired, and I tried very hard not to show him that I felt sorry seeing him lamed when I was used to him being the big and tall man with the cheerful stride, a more graceful Mr. Bean with glasses, his posture correct.

Instead, I smiled and hugged him tightly, and asked him how he and his crutches were getting along. Said crutches were an aluminum pair, and he had them propped somewhat carelessly near him.

“Di pa kami bati,” he joked. He hated using the crutches, he said. he often forgot that he was one-legged, and he sometimes stood up only to realize that he couldn’t without falling. “Di pa ako sanay, naiinis pa ako.”

I told him he’d get used to them soon enough, and started to tell him about an article in Readers’ Digest that I read, about positive thinking, about adapting, about mentally and spiritually accepting change so it would be easy for his body to adjust.

“Yakang-yaka mo yan, Ka Doug!”, I said. He nodded, laughing.

We then shifted to other topics, because I could see that he would much rather we talk about other things, far removed from what had happened to him. He wanted news, he wanted stories, he was bored at home, he said.

So we talked and talked, and in my head, I could picture Ka Douglas the way he used to be, and it pained me.

Hay naku, Ka Douglas. Napaka-bata mo pa para mawala sa amin. Ang dami mo pa sanang magagawa. Ikaw na walang piniling gawin; ikaw na walang ginawang gawain na hindi mahusay. Ikaw na napakamasayahin. Mabuting ama, mabait na asawa. I know your daughters and your wife are so proud of you, how you remained devoted to the Movement all these years since your youth, and how you waged your struggle to keep sane and cheerful despite the pain of cancer and the pain of losing a limb and becoming, again, dependent on others to be able to move around. You were a hero in so many, many respects. Lider manggagawa, ehemplo sa lahat sa kabaitan, katapatan sa gawain, husay at sipag.

Ka Doug, paalam. Salamat po sa lahat. Isa kang bayani ng uring manggagawa, ng masang anakpawis. You made waging revolution look easy, because you did your part so willingly, so cheerfully. Didn’t you get to make me work hard for P500? For that I will always be grateful.
——

The following are some of the comments this tribute got when I posted it in Facebook:

Tekla Dt:naiyak naman ako nito. pa-share ha.

Anna Leah Escresa: Ina, I was fortunate to work with Ka Doug during my almost a year work in Kadamay. Tama ka, hindi siya marunong magalit at ang pasensya ay walang patid. Noong panahong humarap din ako sa krisis, nandoon siya at nakaagapay. Hindi nanubumbat, hindi naniningil, nakaagapay hanggang makitang muli ang liwanag. Salamat, Ka Doug! =)

Kilusang Mayo Uno: Sa ngalan ng mga manggagawa at maralitang tinulungan, ipinaglaban at pinaglingkuran ni Ka Douglas, maraming salamat, Ina! Salamat sa pagbabahaging ito sa kung ano siya sa mga mambabasa. Bigyan natin ang tunay na parangal ang kadakilaan ni Ka Douglas sa patuloy na paglilingkod sa uring manggagawa at sambayanan!

Noy Natividad: I remember Ka Douglas for his politically savvy ways. He never tires of reminding trade union activists the value of alliance work. “Kapag ika’y nasa gawaing alyansa, wag mang-aaway. Laging hanapin kung saan kayo pwedeng magkaisa.” Salud, camarada.You will always be a model activist for me.

Me-an Yazon: nalulungkot pa ako…matagal kong nakasama si k.douglas, ni minsan di ko sya nakitang napagod o umangal… pasensya na po at di ko man lang kayo nadalaw… malaking kawalan kayo sa kilusan…

Manny Sarmiento: Sa mga mangggawa siya’y bayaning kaibigan,
Bayani sapagkat di sya nagkulang man lamang,
O bumitaw sa prinsipyo ng unyong tunay at makabayan,
Kaya’t sa puso nila’y ang Douglas na pangalan ay di malilimutan!

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January 25, 2010

Satur Ocampo, prisoner of the Aquino government

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 6:27 am

Last Friday, presidential candidate Sen. Noynoy Aquino shot back at Satur Ocampo that he, Satur, owed his freedom to his, Noynoy’s, mother the former president Corazon Aquino.

“Satur should be the last person to call my mother a failure. The freedom of expression he is enjoying and the freedom given to all political prisoners under Marcos, he owed to my mother. Is that failure?”

This was Noynoy Aquino’s response to a statement Ka Satur made: “….. Today challenged presidential aspirant Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr.to take responsibility for and rectify the errors of his mother former president Corazon C. Aquino. He was referring in particular to the failed agrarian reform program of the Aquino regime and the January 22, 1987 Mendiola Massacre where 13 farmers were killed and scores wounded.

“Sen. Aquino has been citing the lives and legacies of his parents to the Filipino people as a sort of guarantee that he will be a good president. Given this, he should then admit and take stock of the failure of former Pres. Aquino to implement a genuine agrarian reform program. It has been 22 years since the Mendiola Massacre, but justice still eludes the victims and the survivors. Majority of the the country’s farmers remain landless and impoverished,” he said.

“Filipino farmers challenge Sen. Aquino to rectify this. Can he and will he take a stand for genuine agrarian reform? Up to now the struggle between the Hacienda Luisita farmers and the Cojuangco family remain unsettled, and Sen. Aquino has issued nothing but platitudes,” he said.

 
Ka Satur issued this statement during the culmination of the ‘Lakbayan ng Anakpawis para sa Lupa’t Katarungan sa 2010’ which began in Davao on January 12. Some 7,000 farmers participated in the historic lakbayan.

“Social injustice is a state policy with the incumbent government under Macapagal-Arroyo. More than 7 out of 10 farmers aredeprived of land. Farmers are modern-day slaves of big land owners and transnational corporations which own vast tracts of agricultural lands- turned into cash crop plantations. Can Sen. Aquino do more than his mother did and include in his campaign platfrom the promise of giving land to the landless?”

The following is a partial account of the legal battle Satur Ocampo and Bobbie Malay faced as prisoners of the Aquino government. Sen. Aquino is being ridiculous and pathetic when he says that it was his mother who restored democracy in this country (as if there really was democracy ever in the Philippines) and that former political prisoners like Satur should be grateful to the Aquino regime for their freedom.

Noynoy Aquino, as the campaign period continues, becomes more and more delusional and in his head, the role his mother played in the Philippine’s unfolding history had eclipsed even the Filipino masses. He is either truly ignorant, or he simply chooses to ignore, the reality that his mother’s government also committed countless crimes against the Filipino people.

His mother’s government denied the rights of Satur Ocampo and Bobbie Malay to gain immediate freedom using legal chicanery.

—–
1986.

Satur and wife Bobbie returned to the public eye: the former as chief negotiator of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the latter as chief of staff of the NDFP panel in the peace talks. The NDFP engaged in peace negotiations with the then-newly installed government of Corazon C. Aquino. The initial talks produced a two-month nationwide ceasefire agreement intended to provide the proper atmosphere for the substantive negotiations aimed at ending the protracted armed conflict.

The substantive phase of the peace negotiations was stalled by disagreements on framework as well as on specific issues. In the course of the talks, the GRP panel disclosed threats by military elements against the lives of members of both panels. While the two sides were in the midst of discussing security measures, news arrived that government troops rained bullets on a rally of farmers demanding land reform in front of Malacanang. The brutality which resulted in the death of 17 peasants became known as the Mendiola Massacre. The negotiations, as could have been expected, fell apart. Satur and Bobbie returned to the underground.

On July 27, 1989, Satur and Bobbie were arrested in Makati as they were following up a new peace initiative. The NDF had earlier made a offer to the GRP for a nationwide ceasefire and to pursue new peace talks if the Aquino government agreed to eject the US military bases from the Philippines by September 1991. Aquino rejected the NDF’s offer, but prominent religious leaders and people’s organizations welcomed the initiative and offered to either host of mediate the new peace talks.

Even in military prison, Satur and Bobiite continue to seek a peaceable and just resolution to the civil war. In July 1990, a group of peace advocates led by then senator Wigberto tanada and allies from an international human rights group spoke with the couple regarding the possibility of calling for another round of talks between the NDFP and the GRP. Satur and Bobbie endorsed their initiative and made suggestions as to have these efforts could become more successful. They also declared their preparedness to help in whatever capacity, especially once freed, towards gaining a negotiated political settlement of the armed conflict in the country.

The ball went rolling. There were a few positive signs as multisectoral groups expressed support and initiated a series of discussions with a cabinet-level group handpicked by then Pres. Aquino. This group, the Multisectoral Peace Advocates, the People’s Caucus and the National Peace Conference drew separate proposals for a peace agenda.

For its part, the NDFP welcomed the initiatives. It sent feedback on the same and forwarded them to the Aquino government with declarations that it willing to discuss and put together with a GRP an agreement on mutual respect for human rights and international humanitarian law aheadof political, economic, social and military issues.

Burgeoning hopes, however, immediately crumbled when the AFP put its foot down against the talks. The Aquino government followed the lead of the military and stated that before any peace talks can begin, the revolutionary forces must first lay down their arms.

Right to bail denied

Immediately after they were arrested, the military presented Satur and Bobbie to the national and international media as the NDFP’s ‘top leaders.’ In contradiction to their own labelling, however, the military refused to charge either one with rebellion of subversion. This was to deny the couple the right to post bail.

The military and civilian state prosecutors filed four separate common criminal charges for which they recommended no bail for the accused couple. The charges were: (1) illegal possession of firearms in furtherance of rebellion or subversion; (2) two separate but indentical charges of kidnapping with serious illegal detention; and (3) a charge of murder. In all four charges, the prosecution alleged that Satur and Bobbie committed these crimes as leaders of the revolutionary Left.

It was clear that the Aquino government was twisting its own laws like a pretzel. under a judicial doctrine (the Hernandez Doctrine) issued by the Philippine Supreme Court in 1965 and reaffirmed on June 5, 1990, common crimes allegedly committed in furtherance of rebellion are deemed absorbed in the single crime of rebellion and cannot be prosecuted or punished separately. The SC also laid down the ruling that persons charged with rebellion should be granted bail as a matter of right.

The Aquino government, however, on the push of military, ignored the doctrine and proceeded to charge suspected political dissenters such as Satur with nonbailable crimes instead of rebellion.

From the very beginning, Satur and Bobbie’s lawyers questioned the charges and their bases. They moved for the reinvestigation of the cases in view of questionable sufficiency of evidence, for consolidation of the charges and for changing them into a single case of rebellion.

The prosecution, almost completely handled by the military prosecutor who had been authorized by the Department of Justice to assist the state prosecutors in “national security-related cases,” opposed every motion of the defense and almost always this opposition was sustained by the courts.

Satur and Bobbie had no choice but to go through the trails, even as Satur publicly expressed strong reservations that he would receive justice in the process.

TO BE CONTINUED.

January 21, 2010

Marlene Aguilar’s pain: Not Pieta

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 6:13 am

The last week has seen Marlene Aguilar-Pollard weeping and wailing on tv. Her son Jason Aguilar Ivler was finally captured by a team from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in a daring raid caught on camera. As the NBI operatives closed in, Marlene stood there in that basement-room in a blue house dress, her long, wavy hair flowing across her shoulders like Medusa’s snakes. Her face was strangely blank and her eyes went dead as the bullets started flying, the NBI forces retaliating after Jason began shooting.

A mother witnessed her son getting shot. A mother who sheltered her fugitive son from the authorities. A mother who now faces criminal charges because she loved her son too much, so much so that she deliberately blocked out all that her son did to another mother’s son in November 2009. Jason Ivler is both lucky and unfortunate to have such a mother.

Being a mom myself, I truly do understand what Marlene Aguilar Pollard is going through. Becoming a mother changes you, the center of the universe becomes the child you bore, and even as you live, breathe and work and devote your time and energies to other pursuits, always, always your child (or children) and how he or she is doing will be the primary thought in your quiet moments. You want your child to be always safe, to be happy and healthy, for her/him to grow up a credit to himself/herself and a benefit to those around him or her. You want the child to develop into a productive member of society, preferably compassionate and aware of injustice and hence, develop too a need within herself/himself to help in efforts great and small to alter the world for the better.

But how does a mother condone the faults of her child? She mustn’t. To love doesn’t mean to tolerate wrong deeds, to comfort when the child has done mistakes. To love doesn’t mean to ignore the child’s faults and to allow them to continue uncorrected. And Jason Ivler, 27 years old and long past childhood, took someone else’s life for the shocking reason that the other man bugged him with his driving. And Jason, instead of facing up to the consequences of his actions, chose to run and hide, and he ran to his mother and hid in the basement where he had high powered ammunition.

On tv, Marlene Aguilar weeps. Her face is always crumpled in tears, and her voice broken by sobs. She weeps that her son was treated like a pig led to slaughter; she cries out against the injustice of her being denied to see and touch her boy. She is a mother, she insists; and it’s cruel that she’s being kept away from her son as he lies in a hospital bed with his wounds.

What of Renato Ebarle Jr and his mother? Renato Jr lies in his cold grave, and there is no comfort for those he left behind as his death came suddenly, violently, and without justification. It was a traffic altercation, and no heated words were exchanged, Jason’s car did not bear any dents or the slightest damage, there was nothing. But Renato Jr. paid with his life for a debt he suddenly incurred when Jason lost his patience, his sanity.

Marlene Aguilar is said to be a writer, a creative person, a woman of intelligence and talent. Yet she doesn’t appear to be anything else now but a weeping mother who refuses to see that her son did wrong, that she herself did wrong by sheltering him. My heart would go out to her had she apologized in her son’s name; had she admitted that she gave in to the weakness of so many other mothers when their child is in trouble and the first impulse is to protect, to give succor.

But she didn’t. She remains adamant in defense of her son, in her love for him which she says will continue even after death.
There is no sympathy for Marlene Aguilar and her pain. This is not pieta.
——
My most sincere condolences to the families of Jul Luna, Tanya Domingo and Ian Dorado. Even in their pain , I am certain that their parents must be so proud of them. Jul, Tanya and Ian lived for a cause greater than themselves and died defending it. They saw beyond themselves and their own young ambitions and fought for the rights of others so they too could dream freely and one day embrace the realizations of these dreams. Silang mga dakilang kabataan, tunay na huwaran. Silang mga rebolusyunaryo, hanggang kamatayan.

The contrast between Jul, Tanya, Ian and Jason Ivler cannot be more stark. Jul became a member of the NPA and in her hands, the gun was a weapon of liberation and a symbol of a people fighting for freedom and justice. In Jason Ivler’s hands, the gun was an instrument of murder, cold metal merely — a weapon of death that was senseless.

Jason wasted his youth and he is so lucky he survived his bullet wounds. His mother can be comforted, but no one else rejoices.

Jul, Tanya and Ian devoted their youth, their gifts, their very lives to the poor and the oppressed, and the enemies of the people used instruments of murder to send bullets into their bodies. They did not survive, and their parents grieve, and so do the rest of the Kilusang Mapagpalaya. Had they lived, there would have been happiness immeasurable.


On an infinitely lighter note, When Kim was home, I was able to see more movies in a month than I have in the entire 2009. In the month he was here, we watched Avatar, Sherlock Holmes, and Alvin and the Chipmunks: the Squeakuel.

All three movies provided me temporary escape from the usual problems of every day living. Well, except Avatar which was about a race of people fighting against intergalactic business interests who sought to harvest the planet’s resources even at the certain risk of destroying an entire civilization and the environment.

It’s great that many, many people have seen and continue to watch Avatar. It’s not the usual movie because of the theme it carried — armed struggle against invaders. The Navi saw no other way to defend themselves, their home and their culture than by fighting against the invaders who cared nothing about anything else than what wealth they could generate from Pandora’s resources.

Robert Downey as Sherlock. I don’t know if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would’ve approved, but I’m sure as heck Kim didn’t. He kept muttering that the Sherlock whose adventures he read and followed wouldn’t be able to punch anyone’s lights out; or allow himself to be stripped naked and then tied to a four-poster bed with only a pillow to cover his genitals.

Kim and Sir Doyle aside, I enjoyed the movie. It was rather long and it did ramble some, but it arrived and delivered in the end. There really is a lot to be said about not bathing and shaving when you look like Robert Downey. Jude Law as James Watson was delightfully dry and funny as well.

I am reminded by a snippet I read about the TV series ‘House.’ The creators patterned Gregory House, MD after Sherlock, and Jim Wilson after Watson.

January 11, 2010

Almost Emily

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 6:26 am

“Almost Emily” is what I saw spray-painted on a wall somewhere along Kalayaan Avenue. The words struck me as wistful, their rhythm rueful. The calligraphy was somewhat crooked, as if the creator did not know how to use the spray can, and the letters skittered across the wall’s rough surface. Who is Emily, and why was she only almost so? It’s a mystery I know will never be solved, one among others I have discovered through the years — useless but intriguing, they make me see the world from a different angle yet again.

This is my first official blog for the new year. The first one about Ka Bel doesn’t really count – I just pasted the words written almost two years ago in a Microsoft Word file. I’ve missed Ka Bel badly, and it’s still unreal that he’s no longer here. Still, the book project….

I’m writing press releases etc for Ka Satur Ocampo now. How lucky am I that I’ve been given the opportunity to write for yet another legend of the national democratic movement?! It’s a great honor, really.
——

For Christmas, Kim gave me two books — Alain de Botton’s ‘The Architecture of Happiness’ and Douglas Coupland’s ‘JPod.’ I finished the latter and have begun the former. JPod isn’t Douglas’ best. I think Eleanor Rigby still takes the trophy home, and the next-best ribbon goes Hey, Nostradamus.

JPod is mostly a rehash of ‘Microserfs,’ only it’s grittier and has less heart. There’s a thread of genuine emotion that runs through Microserfs, the characters being charming, highly intelligent and a lot lost because they had yet to discover their true purpose in life.

In JPod, the characters are angrier, less charming, and less complex even if there was the (failed) attempt to make them appear interesting and hip. They are people have lost their innocence and mostly they just want to get by. They roll with the punches, and they have no more questions: they have found the answers, and they have been disappointed. Instead of asking more questions, however, they chose to entertain themselves instead, hoping to keep boredom at bay. Life for them is primarily a matter of adjusting, and their hearts have somewhat petrified. Like I said, JPod is a harsher version of Microserf, and I didn’t enjoy it as much. There is no delight in finding that powdered cola seeds can be brought and one can make a cola drink in one’s own home. Poking fun at Ronald McDonald and painting him as a demented clown with a violent and sordid past (not of his own doing) generated only the weakest smiles. I didn’t care about Ethan and his friends — they could all drown in a ditch somewhere and I wouldn’t weep.

As for ‘Architecture of Happiness,’ ah, well, Alain de Botton has never disappointed me. I’ll write a lengthier review after I’ve finished reading it. All his books make me both think and laugh — they’re intelligent and funny. I don’t care that some reviewers find them pedantic, or think that they’re pompous and essentially useless; they’re books I like to read again and again because they amuse and give comfort on a day that’s particularly ordinary and blah. The language sings and the prose is poetic. I am often tickled by his insight, and while the advice tucked between the paragraphs is not profound, it still makes me stop an consider: often the key to making life bearable is to live simply and to find joy in the smallest things. Then life can begin to beautiful, and you can enjoy it.
—-

Kim and I have been watching the True Blood series. It’s twisted and funny and sickening and amusing. I am both repelled and intrigued by the sex and the violence mixed with the vampire lore. I never liked vampires, but they’ve been a staple in a lot of the horror books I’ve read and movies I’ve seen since I was a child. It’s funny how every writer comes up with their own set of rules when it comes to how vampires live and how they can be killed; but for my sister and I, it will always be Anne Rice who’s the main authority. She made vampires come alive, pardon the pun. Bram Stoker’s Dracula was plain creepy, and I couldn’t wait for Jonathan Harker to drive a stake into him and good riddance.


What else? Dezaato’s bread is better than BreadTalk’s. More delicious, bigger and cheaper. I could eat two in a row and not feel guilty or greedy.


Miko turned 18 months the other day and she continues to thrive both mentally and physically. She’s in a love-hate relationship with her daddy: she’s nuts about him as a playmate, but is somewhat resentful when daddy exerts authority and tells her ‘No.’ It’s an interesting study in child behavior.

—-
2010 resolutions
1. I promise to read at least one non-fiction book a month.
2. I promise to try to curse less often. Sometimes I’m worse than Debra Morgan and I have a toddler who easily picks up words, hell. Oops.
3. I promise to bathe Galliard and Milkpot more often.
4. I promise to learn to cook more than just sinigang and nilaga and recipes that don’t have the equivalent of commercial pre-mixes.
5. I promise to be more patient with Kim’s sometimes infuriating sense of what’s funny.
6. I promise to eat better.
7. I promise to write more.
8. I promise to dust the shelves more often.
9. I promise to try to be more in touch with friends beyond poking them in Facebook.
10. I promise to get more exercise.

January 7, 2010

Pin: The young Crispin Beltran

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 1:35 am

On the stormy night of January 7, 1933, the former Valentina Bellen gave birth to her and her husband Paciano Belo Beltran’s second son, the second of ten children they would eventually have. The baby, swaddled in warm blankets and laid on a caragumoy mat, was small, but with a full head of fine, black hair. They named him Crispin, but as he grew up, he was called by the literally diminutive nickname ‘Pin.’ His siblings were Ciriaco, Arcadio, Armando, Bonifacio, Celina, Azuzena, Gerodia, Consuelo and Araceli.

From the onset, Ka Bel, then called Pin, was a quiet child. He was never loud or boisterous, seldom if ever joining his siblings in play. Born to a family that lived hand to mouth from one day to the next, he immediately learned what responsibility meant.

There were no televisions then, and radios were still a luxury and the signals of the already existing stations did not reach areas further than the city or municipal proper. The days were long, especially for children, but for Pin they were always spent helping his parents keep
the family together and alive.

They planted kamote (sweet potato)in the small patch of land surrounding their bahay kubo.(house of bamboo and straw) After a few weeks, Pin would dig them up, wash, peel, and cut them into cubes and boil them with rice. More often than not, the entire family would subsist on this fare for days on end, sometimes with fish, sometimes with chicken, but often than not with only a sprinkling of salt to break the monotony of flavor.

As the second eldest, he took on chores in the household from washing dishes, fetching water, and doing the laundry. His father, a fisherman, lumberjack and farmer depending on what season it was, found an assistant in the elder son, Ciriaco, Pin’s senior by one and a half years. Pin helped their mother, a housewife and a farmer. A true son of the soil, he knew how to plant rice, to harvest it, dry it and pound it to separate the chafe from the pearly-white grains.

Pin learned to use the slingshot, and used it well not as a toy but as a hunting weapon. He shot birds and brought them home to be plucked and roasted. He also used a home-made bow and arrow made of slender bamboo and string to shoot fish in the shallower end of the river. An uncle had given him a wooden top made of guava wood, but he was not interested in playing with it.

Immediately after school, Pin would head straight home and begin his chores. He looked after his younger siblings like they were his own children instead of being another child not much older than them.

Being a solitary sort, Pin preferred the company of adults. Among them he could sit silent and unnoticed, closely listening to their conversation. On early evenings when the other children would be outside playing habulan or taguan (catch-me-if-you-can, hide and seek) in the moonlight, Pin would sit in the kitchen or living room while his parents talked with visiting relatives.

It was this way that he learned about how life was like for most other poor folk living in the provinces and underdeveloped towns. As he grew older, he would learn that his family’s experiences in poverty and want were the same as those of most other families, and that it was none of their own doing or fault. Poor they were, but lazy they were not. It was among Pin’s earliest realizations that many Filipinos work from sun-up to sundown and their lives would never improve, and that larger social and economic forces were behind it.

The summer after he graduated from elementary school, Pin helped his family improve their bahay kubo in Tanagan. With their father Paciano and uncle Gorio, Pin and his brothers Ciriaco and Arcadio chopped down and then dragged, sometimes carried on their shoulders long poles of bamboo and sheaves of anahaw leaves from Sitio Mandoong, next to Tanagan.

For two months the Beltran family cut the bamboo in half, securely tied them together for the walls and floors of their kubo which they expanded in size. They wove the anahaw leaves together and in thick, tight clusters put them on top of each other to form the roof and ceiling. It was a genuinely family affair with all of the children helping.

They didn’t use a single nail. Theirs became the grandest bahay kubo for kilometers around.

Courier

Ka Bel was born in Tanagan, Bacacay, Albay, and he lived the first few years of his life there. When he was seven and about to enter the first grade, he was sent to live in Birac, Catanduanes with his uncle Pedro Beltran. Pedro was a school teacher, and for two and a half years Pin lived under his care and tutelage. In 1941, Pin returned home to Tanagan, and it was around that time that the Japan invaded the Philippines.

Ten hours after bombing Pearl Harbor, Japan launched a surprise attack on the Clark Air Base in Pampanga on December 8, 1941. After continued aerial bombardment, Japanese troops landed in Luzon. General Douglas MacArthur was then commanding the armed forces of the Philippines and the United States troops.

All over the country, Filipinos organized militias and guerilla units. Towns, municipalities and even baranggays put together their own defense units. These independent initiatives and coordinated efforts were so effective that the Japanese only succeeded in controlling only 12 of the 48 provinces. In Central Luzon, the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon or Hukbalahap was the biggest Filipino guerilla force against the Japanese. It had a fighting force of 30,000 armed Filipinos, and their influence spread all across Luzon.

Fighting continued until Japan formally surrendered on September 2, 1945. The Philippines suffered great loss of life and tremendous physical destruction by the time the war was over.
As a child living during the time of the Japanese occupation, Ka Bel’s life was irrevocably changed. School was suspended, and all children were forced to forego their formal education for three and a half years. Ka Bel was then two months shy from finishing grade four.

The members of the invading army were cruel in their dealings with the people they conquered. Ka Bel and the other children were witness to various atrocities.

The Japanese would round up suspected guerillas and torture them. The victims would be taken to the river and hands tied behind their backs they were forced to lie down in the water. The swiftly moving water would flow over their submerged heads and enter their noses,
and slowly, more painfully, their lungs.

Choking and nearly drowning, they would be kept down for minutes at a time, the Japanese bearing down on their chests or legs. When the victims were already half dead with the exhaustion of fighting against drowning, they would be hauled out. There, on the riverbank, with their victims’ hands still tied and water overwhelming their senses, the Japanese would stomp on the victims’ stomachs.

Ka Bel’s favorite teacher was part of a guerilla unit. The teacher had long noticed his young student’s serious nature, his adult gravity and ability to grasp ideas that were often beyond the understanding of children his age. It was to the teacher that Pin addressed his questions about the invaders. It was also to him that he confessed his eagerness to help fight them.

By then, Ka Bel’s own parents were guerilla sympathizers, giving shelter and protection to the fighters, and serving as militia. Ka Bel, young as he was, decided to do the same, and volunteered his services.

It was the assessment of the guerilla leadership that Ka Bel was a sturdy and steady boy, and because of his smallness, he would be considered a harmless, ordinary boy even as we went around town and the surrounding region as a courier.

He learned from the guerillas and his teachers about what the Japanese aimed to achieve by invading the Philippines. His young mind did not understand why another nation had to invade and take over another when on its own; the invading nation was already rich and developed.

In his heart, however, it was easy to determine right and wrong: it was wrong to take over, torture and massacre a defenseless people.

The one time that Ka Bel saw the Japanese behead a group of suspected guerillas behind the Bacacay school house was more than enough to cement his anger against the occupying forces. The experience also planted the seed of patriotism in Ka Bel; it was then that he first understood what love of country meant.

From the beginning he had wanted to carry a weapon, a gun even if the guerillas had any to spare. After three years, when he turned 13, the guerilla leaders found him responsible and able enough to carry one of the carbines and Browning automatic rifle.

Ka Bel knew of the dangers of being a courier for the guerillas. He saw and heard enough of Japanese atrocities to know that they would not spare him if he were caught. He’d heard of how the Japanese burned villages, abducted and raped women, young and old alike, turning them into sex slaves.

He exercised caution in his dealings even with children his age. He was careful to never speak about his work for the guerilla movement with anyone including his parents lest he jeopardize their safety and security.

For three years, Ka Bel delivered messages for the Flor guerillas. He went to and from the offices of local government officials such as the Albay mayor and governor of Bacacay, carrying secret letters from the guerillas. He went to various houses all over the provinces, on foot and on his own, the letters tucked inside his shorts. He never read the letters, but he knew of their contents: they were either requests for assistance, for money or weapons; or more importantly, they were intelligence reports, detailing the movement of Japanese troops and how they were conducting themselves in the region.

He was never caught.

A good student

To get to Bacacay from Tanagan, the young Crispin Beltran had to take a banca ride. Not having any extra money for the fare, he volunteered to be the boat’s ‘crew.’ The old sailor Tata Fulgencio Bertiz, a cousin some degrees removed, was kind to Pin and let him on board for free, but Pin insisted on working for his ride.

He took his position at the other end of the boat and act as a balancing weight. Sometimes the waves were particularly strong, hitting the boat’s sides with force and there was a threat of the boat falling on its side. Pin would rush to the side of the boat that was tilting, secure the ropes securing the boat’s sails, and pull, bearing down with all his weight to steady the boat’s center of gravity.

With the war behind him, Ka Bel went back to being a student whose favorite subjects were arithmetic, social studies and history. His pre-Japanese occupation schedule of heading home immediately after school resumed. On the outside, every thing was back to normal.

Inside him, however, Pin was never the same.

He became conscious of what other people did and said in their lives and how it affected others. He was unable to forgive the townspeople who supported the Japanese, the collaborators who gave the invaders food and shelter in Bacacay. He resented how the collaborators in Bacacay were able to continue living comfortably, and without remorse over their betrayal of their various neighbors and even relatives.

Ka Bel focused most of his free time studying. He would rush from school to his uncle’s house, help with the chores, or whenever still possible bring merienda to his uncle and aunt who were in the fields or selling vegetables and rootcrops in the market. Immediately after dinner and the wash-up, he would tend to his homework. He studied by the light of gas lamps, and seldom stopped studying until just before midnight.

Ka Bel’s first ambition was to become a priest. Subsequent events would change this, and he would then aim to become either a lawyer or an engineer. He pounded away on his math and English, having been told by his teachers that being good in these subjects would help him in the long run.

During his sophomore year, Ka Bel was elected class president. His junior year found him beating the nominee of the senior class for high school student council chairman. On his senior year, he was elected the chairman of the Supreme student council. By then, Tobaco Municipal HS was called Albay High School.

His earlier-conceived interest in English landed Ka Bel a position in the student paper, as associate editor of the Vanguard. He was unable to write many articles, however; he was often busy with other extracurricular activities. He became a member of the sports club, and became assistant adjutant in his PMT classes, or pre-military training.

The adjutant was Ka Bel’s best friend, Ranulfo Buensalida, and together they led their platoon to become the model platoon in Albay. Pin began to think of getting a career in the military.

Weeks before graduation, Ka Bel started to save up for the Americana suit he was going to wear to the rites. Previously during all the other awards ceremonies and social functions that he attended as a student leader, he wore an America he borrowed from his uncle Pedro. He wanted to wear something new on his school graduation because he thought his entire family would be able to attend.

When the day came, however, it was only his mother Valentina and one of Ka Bel’s younger sisters who were able to attend. They did not have enough money for the fare from Tanagan, and the rest of the family thought that since the ceremony would only be for half a day, it be better if they did not attend anymore. Instead, they sent their warmest and most affectionate greetings to Ka Bel.

Ka Bel was awarded first honorable mention or third honors, and he walked up the stage to loud applause because everyone knew that he was the boy who sent himself through school by being a live-stock caretaker.

Ka Bel was humbled and gladdened by the applause, but inside him he did not agree with how the other academic awardees were chosen. Ka Bel believed that the boy who was ranked after him as second honorable mention deserved to be valedictorian because he was without doubt that most intellectually gifted. The boy, Jaime always had the highest scores in the exams, performed well in class during recitations and problem-solving experiments in Math. Jaime was also personable and friendly. Ka Bel believed that Jaime was a victim of discrimination because his family was mestizo-Chinese.

Chosen as valedictorian was the son of the local judge. The salutatorian was Odilia Competente, Ka Bel’s first girlfriend.
When it was turn to deliver his speech about his predictions for the graduating class, Jaime predicted that Ka Bel would be elected president of the country 25 years into the future. Ka Bel felt the back of his neck and ears turn red with embarrassment, but he took it in his
stride and smiled gratefully when the audience applauded.

Ka Bel also ranked as the Bicol region’s topnotcher during the first national high school competency test for seniors. The exams were the precursor of the NCEE and the NSAT. He ranked among the top 10 percent of all high school graduates in 1953.

Childhood battles

In school, the young Crispin Beltran was a studious and obedient boy. His friends were also of the quiet sort, young boys who became men overnight because of the atrocities they witnessed during the Japanese Occupation. He talked to them about his experiences, and they in turned shared theirs. Together, they tried to understand these experiences and how they were affected by them.

Among Ka Bel’s schoolmates was the son of a rich landlord, a scion of one of the families who collaborated with the Japanese. The sight of Sergio Villar strutting around the school yard like he owned it made Ka Bel angry. Sergio was also something of a local bully, and teachers had the habit of ignoring how he copied off his less well-off classmates during quizzes and examinations.

One afternoon after a short test in school, Sergio was heard bragging in the school yard about how well he did in the exam. One of their schoolmates retorted that Sergio was a cheat, that he copied from Ka Bel.

Incensed, Sergio threw a sharpened pencil at the classmate. At the time Ka Bel was standing right next to the classmate, and the pencil hit him instead, square between the eyes. Instead of apologizing, he taunted Ka Bel, calling him ‘taga-bundok’ or literally, from the mountains. Ka Bel, a foot smaller, reached up and threw a punch,
catching Sergio on the jaw. Sergio staggered back in pained surprise.
Sergio ran to their teacher, Mr. Rosario to tell him what Ka Bel did. The teacher confronted Ka Bel.

“Ang liit-liit mo, lalaban ka ba sa kanya?” (‘You’re so small, can you fight him?”)the teacher asked as he pointed at Sergio.

As if in answer, Ka Bel gave Sergio another blow this time to the chest, then walked away. The teacher did not stop him as he left the school grounds. From then on, Ka Bel gained a reputation: the boy was not one to take slights lightly.

Fledgling Boxer, Boy Scout, Farmer

Ka Bel as a young boy had no other interest other than school. He liked music, but wasn’t one to sing. Movies were still a novelty and had yet to reach Bacacay.

What Ka Bel liked to do, even as a young boy, was to box. He would frequently get into ‘fights’ set up by the male adults in the community.

He proved to be a formidable little boxer. By age 10 his fists were rough and scabbed over after hitting them against various opponents’ faces, teeth, and stomachs.

He himself had his own war- wounds, scars on his chin, and cuts below his eye. Never deep or serious, but they marked him as a fighter. It was never his habit to pick fights, but never did he walk away from a challenge. It was a test of manhood and a rite of passage for many young boys growing up in the province to be able to best his contemporaries in backyard brawls. They were expected to be good sports, to accept defeat manfully.

When he was in fifth grade and he was on his way home, he passed the make-shift gym and exercise area of a local boxer named Binong but who went under the moniker ‘Small Talio’ because of his relative shortness. Small Talio was considered a professional, but he had lost two of the last fights he was in and so needed to practice more.

Small Talio was then shadow-boxing in his backyard, within a boxing ring consisting of four wooden posts connected by rope.

Ka Bel walked up and watched Small Talio do his exercises, jabbing, evading, striking at an unseen enemy. He was transfixed.

From then on, at least twice or trice weekly, he would drop by the boxer’s gym, and take boxing lessons along with ten other boys his age. Together they took instruction from Small Talio on footwork, punching moves, and how to strengthen their bodies.

Ka Bel was by far the smallest among Small Talio’s students; but he was also the most hard-working. He learned how to punch hard enough to knock the wind out of his bigger sparring partners. He learned to lift his own weight as he used the monkey bars. He could even hang himself upside down by the feet to strengthen his ankles.

For the next thee years, he harbored a small dream to become a boxer. But as he grew older, he noticed how Small Talio’s ears looked like crushed cauliflowers, and how thick the skin on his cheeks was. Ka Bel, an adolescent, had become conscious of his looks and became a little alarmed at how the constant blows to his face and head would affect his appearance.

He began to more conscientious during sparring practice at ducking and evading punches.

His ambition to become a boxer was given a death blow one evening three years after he first began boxing.

Ka Bel was then a high school freshman, and he practiced less often than he wanted. Tired from school, he still went through his boxing paces and then swung himself up on the bars by his feet. He fell with a dull thud, scrapping his forehead so hard his scalp burned raw. He saw stars, and right then and there resolved that a career in boxing was not for him.

Small Talio tsked-tsked and said that had Ka Bel persevered, he could have made a name for himself as a professional. Years later, Ka Bel would joke that he let go of his boxing dreams because he wanted to keep his ‘baby face intact.’

The only other extra-curricular activity Ka Bel had during his elementary years joining the Boy Scouts. He joined when he was in his 5th grade, and he enjoyed it well enough to continue until the 6th grade.

What made Ka Bel like being Boy Scout was not so much the activities (which he liked because they were trainings in how to be more organized, prepared and disciplined); but because of the leather shoes he wore during the said activities like marching practice, camping and jamborees.

They were his first pair, two leather, lace-up shoes that ended just above his ankle. A deep chocolate brown, they were warm and sturdy, and Ka Bel loved them because they were a gift of his grandfather, Cenon.

Ka Bel’s Lolo Cenon sold eggs for a living, and his grandson who had very earlier learned the value of hard work was seldom rewarded with the commensurate money knew that his Lolo must have sold hundreds of eggs just so the shoes could be brought. Cenon had told his grandson that the shoes were his reward for being a good boy.
Cenon took his favorite grandson to Legaspi so that in could pick the shoes. Cenon himself went everywhere barefoot; his foot pads were thick and rough like steel wool, and his toes branched out, seemingly allergic to each other. To Ka Bel they resembled ginger roots.

Together grandfather and grandson went into the bigger of Legaspi’s shoe stores, and Ka Bel chose his shoes. At P10, the shoes became Ka Bel’s most expensive possessions; and because they were from his grandfather, his most cherished.

Ka Bel took the shoes almost everywhere with him, but he seldom wore them on his feet; instead, he drew the laces through the shoe eyelets and slung them across his shoulder. On the very few occasions that he did wear them, he was careful to make sure that his feet were dry and clean. He also shined the shoes regularly, and made sure that they were protected from mildew.

When Ka Bel finished elementary school, he graduated with honors and ranked third in his class. Some of the teachers said that Ka Bel deserved to be class valedictorian, but because of small-town politics, he had to settle for third place. The principal’s daughter, Baby Vibal, became valedictorian, while his old nemesis, Sergio Villar, was salutatorian. Ka Bel’s being a transferee from the barrio also worked against him.

Labandero
The young Crispin Beltran went to Tobaco Provincial High School. During the first two years, it was still called Tobaco Municipal School. Located 25 kilometers from the Bacacay town proper, Ka Bel, still called ‘Pin’ had to ride the bus and pay 25 centavos as bus fare to get there, and another 25 centavos to get back to Bacacay where he still lived with his uncle’s family.

It was very hard going for Ka Bel. He wanted to give his full attention to his lessons, but it was frequently difficult because he did not have the necessary materials, from the notebooks, paper for exams, and even books. He often borrowed from the library but because of budget constraints and school policy, the books could not be taken out. Ka Bel would look wistfully at the books his more well-off classmates carried around with them.

Ka Bel knew that he was getting an education solely because of his own persistence. Back home in Bacacay, his parents barely had money to sustain the rest of the family and send the younger ones to elementary school. Neither could he ask any of his aunts or uncles, or even his previous mentors to help him because they too were poor.
The 50 centavos he had to pay for fare everyday was already a heavy burden his family was shouldering; the added expense of school books would be financially crippling. Confronted with these realities, Ka Bel, then 17 years old, wracked his brains to find a way to support himself and his schooling. He determined that he would be able to save money if he lived nearer the school, and that if he found a source of steady income, he would no longer have to burden his parents with his tuition.

Tobaco Municipal High School was in the heart of town. It was surrounded by sari-sari stores, barber shops, stores selling grain and animal feed, the local police station. Many residents made their living by offering their services to the school, as janitorial help, clerks and custodians, gardeners, cooks and helpers in the cafeteria.
The teachers who lived in town employed the services of an elderly labandera, or washerwoman. Lola Tinding, as she was called, washed the school uniforms of the teachers, as well as other articles of clothing by members of the staff and even the student body. At 65 years old, she was a small and stout woman, her skin burnt a deep brown and her eyes crinkled with laugh lines despite the hard life she had lived.

Ka Bel asked teachers where Lola Tinding lived and went to her house one afternoon. Lola Tinding lived in a small but well-kept house along the main road heading towards the school. Ka Bel offered to help her do the laundry in exchange for a place to stay.

From childhood he already washed his own clothes; and when he was home either in Tanagan or in his uncle’s house in Bacacay, he helped do everyone else’s laundry. He proved to be a good labandero, and was quite adept at ironing clothes as well. He was careful with the iron, a heavy metal contraption that was fed with hot coal. He knew how to keep the iron just hot enough to smoothen the creases out of different kinds of cloth without getting them burned.

Ka Bel slept on a wide bench in a corner of Lola Tinding’s one-room house. Every night, after reviewing his lessons and doing his homework, he attacked the piles of school uniforms that Lola Tinding collected during the day.

He soaped and scrubbed, rinsed the teachers’ blouses and skirts, the male instructors’ white pants and long-sleeved shirts, and the occasional Americana suit and formal coat in the small laundry area at the back of Lola Tinding’s house. Then he would hang the clothes to dry, careful that they did not fall off the clotheslines.

The next evening, he would do the ironing. Lola Tinding was the one who returned the clothes to their respective owners.

Ka Bel stayed with Lola Tinding for six months. His hands, hardened by years of helping in the fields of Tanagan and Bacacay, became even more callused as he washed kilos and kilos of dirty clothes. He left when he was accepted as one of the student caretakers of the school’s pilot poultry and swine raising project. Up to the time he graduated from high school, however, Ka Bel visited the old woman and with every visit he washed clothes for her, this time, refusing any payment.

Livestock minder
In school, Ka Bel applied for a position in the school-run farms. As usual, he was the smallest among the applicants. At 18, he had already reached his full height of 5 feet two inches, and would not grow taller anymore.

As one of the five student caretakers, he was tasked to look after, take care and guard the school’s 300 chickens – White Leghorn and New Hamsphire varieties – and five hogs. Ka Bel attended his classes in the daytime, and at night sleep in the storage building next door to the poultry farm and make sure that the animals were safe at night.
In between classes he checked on the animals, how many eggs the chickens laid, the state of their feathers; how the pigs were faring, how their appetite was. Everything was written down in a daily report and taken to the principal.

It was work that Ka Bel took easily to. He enjoyed looking after the chickens. He was fascinated with how big they were, and how glossy and thick their feathers were. The New Hampshires, in particular, had beautiful soft yellow feathers. The chickens laid one egg a day each for 30 days in succession, stopped hatching for the next 30, and lay eggs the following month. It was a cycle that Ka Bel found reliable, and it fitted with his sense of order and discipline. He didn’t even mind the often raucous noise the chickens made because at night, the loud cacophony of screeching and clucking was reduced to a gentle clicking and cooing.

For the most part, Ka Bel felt a little proud of himself because the chickens flourished under his care. The principal also trusted him to choose and buy the feed for the animals. He would go to the feed stores in Tobaco and canvas prices, asking storeowners about the different kinds of chickenfeed and which were best for foreign varieties. He learned that different grains mixed with vitamins helped boost chicken’s immunity against diseases and pests. He was told which chicken feed helped the animals lay more eggs.

As a security guard, Ka Bel was conscientious. He guarded the chicken house like a hawk searching for prey. He made sure that the cages were secure, that there were no holes in the wire mesh big enough to allow the occasional chicken to fall or escape through. Short of ordering the chickens to line up as he conducted a head count, Ka Bel made sure that all the chickens were safe before be turned in for the night.

All his efforts however, went out the window one night.

Not really knowing what woke him up – the pigs were behaving for a change – Ka Bel was suddenly compelled to get up and check on his feathered wards.

When he got to the cages, he immediately felt something was amiss. Sure enough, when he trained his flashlight on one row of cages, the occupants were missing.

First thing the following morning, Ka Bel went to the principal to report what happened. The principal was understandably upset. Ka Bel estimated that there were at least 35 or 40 chickens missing, judging from the empty space in the cages. The principal asked Ka Bel what he intended to do. He didn’t ask Ka Bel to pay for the missing chickens, only saying that steps must be made to discover where the chickens went.

Ka Bel feverishly asked himself who could have entered the coop, extract almost 40 chickens without having the fowls raise hell with their noises, and get away without making a sound and undetected?

A professional thief, that’s who, he said to himself.

Ironically, Tobacco’s resident and confirmed thief was Napoleon Blancaflor, the son of the local chief of police.

After school, Ka Bel went around the community where Blancaflor lived and asked his neighbors if they had seen Blancaflor.

The neighbors nodded in the affirmative. They had seen Pinaflor, and quite recently in fact. Only the morning before, they saw Blancaflor leaving the house with boxes with airholes in them. They believed that Blancaflor headed in the direction of the train station and was bound for Manila.

Ka Bel thanked them and hastened to Legaspi station. From there he immediately sent an telegraph to the Gumaca, Quezon station where the train would eventually pass. He estimated that Blancaflor would arrive there – with a cargo of stolen chickens in boxes –the following morning.

Ka Bel went back to school and impatiently waited for the train station to call back. The telegram he sent, he asked the train managers and conductors to apprehend Blancaflor and his cargo, inspect it and if it contained live chickens confiscate them in the name of Tobaco Municipal High School. He left the number of the principal’s office and asked that the principal be contacted if Blancaflor was caught.

The following afternoon, the principal sent for Ka Bel. The train
station had called and said that the chickens had been recovered and that they would be returned to the school as soon as possible. In the meantime, they would make sure that the chickens were fed and given water. The principal was all praises for Ka Bel and patted him on the back.

It was a Monday when the chickens were stolen. The following Friday, they were returned and taken back to their cages. Out of the 40 chickens, 37 were recovered. Since the station authorities did not mention that any of the chickens had fallen ill and died, Ka Bel assumed that they had slaughtered three of them and ate them as their reward for foiling Blancaflor.

From then on and for the next two years until he left, Ka Bel slept in the poultry farm itself. He would perpetually smell of poultry feed and chicken droppings. No matter how long he bathed and how hard he scrubbed, he still felt that the smell of chickens clung to him like second skin.