Message to the Mountains
by Yay Marking
This Week (Sunday Magazine of the Manila Chronicle) May 8, 1949
“Tell them I am Viernes.”
Yes, you are Viernes. You are a little god with a great big gun on your hip. Originally you had a Cause with which few of us, considering ourselves decent, had quarrel: but you have grown bigger than your cause and now you are Viernes and you boast of woman-killing. Off and on there is drivel that “it was not the Huks.” No, it very likely was not the Huks as an organization, but certainly it was some of the Huks in an organization running amuck for lack of leadership control. Definitely it was Viernes, so proudly claiming credit for his armed prowess.
Down here in the lethargic lowlands, Viernes, there is a moral and mental evasiveness which avers we didn’t do it, you didn’t do it, “they” did it… “they” indicating the imaginary margin for banditry. Thus we play politics with the devil. Thus we avoid saying anything nasty about the likes of you lest we ourselves get a bullet in the back. The word for this, of course, is cowardice, the language not having changed since the days the guerrillas scouted for and held the camps you now use. But the people can become only so afraid, Viernes, then no more; once the saturation point is reached, you will still be Viernes, yes, but the people will be The People.
Though we of small stature cannot answer for a nation, each human, in the name of humanity, can answer for himself, and by that token I for me. You acclaim yourself one of the “little people” –the exploited tenant, the underpaid laborer, the nameless men and women in millions of as against the unjustly favored few. As one of the “little people,” you have spoken with blind and final hatred in the merciless murder of Mother Quezon, Baby, Philip, Bernardo, the others I may not have known personally but whose lives were equally precious. Nor have their human rights been more savagely denied, than the lives of men, women and childrenslain in bloody continuity through four years of pretended peace.
Think you, Viernes, that all the “little people” are you? How about me, and millions like me? We have known labor in the fields, dishwashing in restaurants, the picking and packing of fruit. We are the little people too, come earlier to maturity perhaps than you. Perhaps our fight for the same things is longer and harder but, God give us strength to keep it so, cleaner. We reason with ideas, not with bullets. Bullets are for defense against aggressors, not for our brothers, not for the few truly noble in an admittedly contemptible landlord class, certainly not for those hundreds of simple, ignorant, struggling workers men like you have killed as atrociously as your ambush of Mother Quezon and her party. For yours has hardly proved itself a class war, Viernes: it’s just a war, shooting blind, more for the establishment of your own ego than the cause of the workers. By what you have done for your own brutish satisfaction, you have lost most of the gains made by labor and peasant unions throughout the country, inch by inch, “two steps forward, one step backward,” they were getting somewhere. You have robbed them of gains… and what have you substituted? –the unremitting enmity, resistance active and passive, contempt of hundreds of thousands of people of which the “big shot” class is a small and not very admirable percentage. I, who never loved the tenant system, have nowhere to go now, for I hate the likes of you as much as the cacique and his usurious wife… Essentially you are the same kind, both of you abusing power, he the power of money, you the power of a gun. You’re both ruthless, both cruel, both violently egoistic. I hope it gives you surprise to discover to whom you are blood-brother. I am even willing to admit, while claiming neither of you has the right, that you, Viernes, dispose of your victims swiftly while your landlord-brother in vicious inhumanity kills by a slower process.
In your ego, you naturally think you accomplished your ambush all by your little self. Never will you realize that the landlords and the tycoons are your real commanders, that it is less inconvenience to them to have you fighting and dying in the hills than driving them to their wits’ end with strikes, court cases, fairer laws. And they do not weep too greatly nor at long length over Mother Quezon’s death, for she was your friend more than theirs. Believe me, they are even pleased that you have made this horrible deed that finally gets the field action against you that they themselves have never been able to marshal. Where they lie, Mother Quezon knows this, Baby knows it, Philip knows it, and if the dead can weep, and this I wish I did not know, they weep for you. Hesitating on Nini’s doorstep, fumbling for words of comforty, needing to receive as give it, I cannot find the kind word of explanation, I cannot tell her why this had to happen, why a maniac by the name of Viernes takes pride in slaughter, why the grieving is short-lived. For what you have done to Nini, which equals what you did to all the rest, I hate you. Believe me, you can never hate me as I hate you. And hating you, I bless the memory of Colonel Roberto Mata who hunted down and killed in a cornfield one of us who committed highway robbery. I cherish the memory of Colonel Leon Z. Cabalhin, who tried and executed a rapist; I am even humble before Marking whose headquarters was not only a guerrilla military school and hospital but also a reformatory where he personally by a combination of persuasion and force made his followers into “gentleman fighters or I’ll break your goddam head.” I might quarrel with his language but never with his results.
If Quezon were alive he would rip down the fence, toss the sitters to their sides, talk votes with voters, say it with bullets to killers. For crime, corruption, for the distressing bad behavior found in the highest offices in the land, he would turn this our beloved country upside down to set it right again. And it would not have needed the death of Mother Quezon to pinpoint the raging of a civil war. Anybody’s violent and unmerited death would have sufficed.
Who first fought for Social Justice? Who went to you under the burning Pampanga sun, through the Muñoz floods, to the furthest outposts to see you, hear you, help you? Who had long conferences with that other great man, Pedro Abad Santos, and for hours stood before a hundred thousand of you at a time in simple, honest debate? It was neither politics nor patience: it was for love of you.
He knew about the creek dammed by a rich man to make a fishpond at the expense of living water for hundreds of your families along the dried waterway… He knew about the cacique’s usurious wife and the 10-centavo bottle of mercurochrome she debited against you for P2.00. He knew how insufficient your share of the crops and too, how barren the earth for so many mouths… I know he knew, for he allowed me to study reports meant only for him and his Cabinet and to study them only under Vargas’ watchful eye lest I make off with one he would himself study further: many times I studied until 11 o’clock or midnight in Vargas’ Malacanan office. And who was I? – just a cub reporter, for a long time with more of a haircut than a name, yet I could ask this great man questions, even if I could quench the thirst for knowledge with a President’s secretary my librarian.
None of us was too humble for his attention, neither you nor I. As he helped an ignorant, eager girl, so did he valiantly help you. He knew what you wanted, the familiar, but barren land under your feet, was at best an empty heritage, so he pointed you to new land, to virgin land, and he loaned you the money to go, gave you NLSA supervision, focused national interest on you. Do you think the landlords were happy to have him ease you out of bondage? He stood strong and alone in his humanity, and for this you slew his family. Your own revered Pedro Abad Santos would cry out against your savagery. Wherever the gentle old bachelor lies in his hero’s grave surely his heart must ache for his political children who have become what?
All through a great President’s years of service, Mother Quezon helped her husband and in that capacity was our first, and last, Lady of the Land. Wherever there were those in service to country she was there, not in self-glorification but in assistance to him and to them… among the teachers, the nurses, the writers, the doctors… and among the factory workers rolling cigars by hand, the students timidly choosing a walk of life, the mothers in the puericulture centers, the workers who had built the bridge… ever among the poor, to whom she gave her life, only to have it taken by force.
Baby was the girl who should have been a boy. For her who is dead and cannot herself ask, in what way did Baby harm you? – by blasting public indifference toward the lepers’ misery? Sweating for funds for the Ylac slum schools? Cramming law into her head, the better to carry on her father’s work? A fragile body, driven by an untiring spirit? Baby’s sharp tongue and cutting wit were only for us inured to it, understanding and loving her for it. Never did she jab at you, to whom she was fiercely loyal. It is even possible that she was a friend to me because she considered me one of you. “Hi,” she would say, “How’s Yay the Underprivileged? Madrigal still overworking and underfeeding you?” And if I mourned my financial state, she would jibe, “Don’t be stupid! Strike!” Through the years, I was grateful for her frankness, for her rough, unpitying, challenging friendship, for her equality and because once, when we quarreled, and she stamped her foot and I stalked out in anger, when I reached the office she was on the telephone to apologize.
Philip, too, is dead. What dramatic irony that you butchered him. For Philip and Baby were your open door to a half-million hectares of free virgin land… Only one other person knows that there was a place for you to go, land for you, a new start. That person is Judge Barrera. Ask him.
It started in the time of President Roxas, the time when people, despite atrocities, gave you the benefit of the doubt. They could not see what Roxas saw then, that the language you understand is the language of violence. They had no quarrel with your cause, and only doubt as to your methods. Fatuously they thought that secretly siphoning you out of congested areas, spiriting you away under the noses of the soldiers, leaving them with nothing to fight and thereby saving their lives too, would rescue you from circumstances of injustice and hunger which justified your desperate rebellion.
It was so agreed. Baby and Philip would let you know if and when… I would point where. All your problems were being considered –food, tools, instruction, free medicine, schools, markets for your produce, immunity from the past…
It is your friends you have killed, your friends more than mine, more than anybody’s. You snatched a necklace, and lost a loving heart. You tore a jewel from the one ear in the Philippines that would still listen to you. You poured bullets into frail Baby at the dawn of a legal career for the underprivileged. You mowed down a man who called out to you, not for himself but those who defended you where you could not defend yourselves. There is little loss in hating you: you cannot do worse to your enemies than you have done to your friends.