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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Chapter 6 - Sta. Rita Agricultural College

Chapter 6

Sta. Rita Agricultural College

         Rejuvenated after two days hibernation from the Bishop’s visit, Driarco reported back to school. “Two days absences, not really that  bad. I’ll just catch up lessons missed,” the thought lingered  his mind  entering entrance of  the school premises.
               Sta. Rita Agricultural College was once exclusive for secondary education students only. But as the municipality progressed, many migrants  resettled on this peaceful place parents by necessity sent their children enrolled in the school. Enrollees then bloated to maximum. Upon graduation, parents were forced sending their sons and daughters in Manila for College. With Tertiary Education however offered later at Sta. Rita’s, many stayed for good until its conversion into State University expanding Academic offerings from Agriculture, Liberal Arts, Education to Engineering.
               The sylvan setting one could feel and seen through many centuries old mango trees spread throughout the school campus ushering  fresh air conducive for learning among its students provided  cool ambiance for study.
                This proved very decisive as alumni opted studying  on their beloved Alma Mater until graduation finding jobs without ever experiencing political harassments the way their counterparts experienced in Manila. The institution is one of its kind. The teachers were the cream of the crop, the brightest and articulate from their batch. And as the good foundation were in place in their education,  the school produced excellent  graduates successful and productive in  their respective chosen fields – letters, arts, education and agriculture some engaging themselves later in politics. Religion too surprisingly has played profound influence among its graduates. Batch ’75 incidentally for example was the ,most ecumenical producing the most numbers of graduates serving God’s vineyard as Catholic priests, Reverends and Pastors of His Church. What a noble way of returning back the compliment to God. The most telling of them all true to many Universities and Colleges, student-leaders joined Nationalist struggle for democracy; many also joined the military.
                Those whose ideologies developed from progressive ideas and deeply rooted on pervading unjust social system favoring the rich oligarchs  became hard core firebrand activists. These were the ones trapped swallowed up by  nationalist fervor spreading like wildfire in  Manila. First an initiation to rallies and strikes and later as full time armed combatants. What else any would these young idealist get their security and defense if not from what the institution they were identified with stands for.
               Doy Laurel’s letter to Cory Aquino on August 13, 1988 after Marcs. Fall accounted 25,200 members of which 16,500 were NPA regulars; 2,500 in Metro Manila, the rest affecting twenty percent of the country’s 42,000 barangays. Those in Manila advertently joined the feared underground movement of the Maoist and Leninist faction. Soon they pay price for their idealism as they  fall one after the other on the dragnet set by Brown Shirts, the wolves unleashed by the military. Those captured were  either  given refresher course on Filipino ideology of the New Society; the unfortunate ones  subjected to severe beatings and tortured dead. Some held under maximum security detention were at least lucky their freedom extended but not until they banished into thin air after summarily executed. Too many of them in fact and by all gauging set by the trend of dictatorship would go unabated depending on the extent of abuses of dictatorial government.
               The vast tract of lands, verdant rice fields rice stalks vowing to the ground  the sun shines through its golden palay, fishponds, duckery and piggery projects – all these are the common sight inside the school campus and considered water hallmark of the College. No students would graduate from secondary education without undergoing rigid training in these projects. Those who would like to engage in farming after their studies are provided with farm lots  and carabao to learn new farming techniques and technologies increasing agricultural production. Driarco spend four years in such project. Not that he wanted to go full time farming later but  practice industry and feel what it takes to become a successful farmer. His nerve and guts paid off albeit not earning handsome dividend. This all what he  desired determining not just the thrill but also viability of farming and profession.
               “They are considered true hero of the land as they feed daily the people, why are they not receiving subsequent respect,” he told.
                From his harvest he paid his own tuition fees, the rest of the money formed his own savings and allowance. The rest were spent  vacationing visiting relatives at Mindoro. Soon he learned that farming is not only profitable undertaking but also, enriching endeavor especially when one becomes a part of the farm. It was not all pleasant experience though. At least he was hospitalized twice from farming when his left foot got infected by bacteria while  plowing.
               He was not sure whether he would be in farming again after his study in the seminary but what he is definitely certain is the memory of working in the field would be part of his life. The aromatic scent of palay, the sprouting of mushrooms from the thawing rice stalks after harvest, catching  mudfish and catfish by the nets, the mountains of rice brans turning black consumed by fire, the innocent voices and shouts of classmates either planting or harvesting palay – who could forget these memories?
               What an excitement High School studies bring.There were times when his mettle was put to an acid test. For Driarco abhorrence to whatever form of abuses either perpetuated by students or teachers is legend. In fact, he could not swallow his pride being a witness to it let alone subjected indiscriminately to abusive punishments. An instance was a punishment meted against him by his instructor demanding bamboo pole for every single absence incurred. Questioning the legality and morality of bringing such requirement, he was ready to challenge the sanity of Mr. Mirang, the instructor, after learning that bamboo poles donated or brought by the students were either used as fence for his house or just piled up gathering dust in the corner. The poor instructor just gave way to avoid further trouble and possibly getting the ire of the school’s superintendent. For this heroic act, Driarco received give-me-five gestures from his classmates their loyalty and respect included.
               “As I kept repeating  like a song sang all over again, there are hundred ways of killing a cat you know. The bottom line is you should stand and be ready to be judged by your own action or work,” he impressed his classmates after his exploits. But there were also silly things he did. He restricted this stupidity however to his friends not to dampen their morals looking  up to him as role model. Under cover of darkness normally every time there is brownout, he and Taklin would surreptitiously collect ten to twenty sacks of carabao and or cow’s manure from tons of such manures deposited beside the concrete fence along the municipal road. He would  present them the following day to the collecting officer. Poor innocent guy gypped into believing the industry of his student. Fifteen sacks per students are required each year. Those who are not smart enough found themselves scouring from east to west, north to south of the municipality’s grazing land forest included searching for that much-sought animal wastes. Dung.
               His roughly four years stay at Sta. Rita has been closely associated with his buddies – Miguel, Larry, Kim, Theodore, Monera, Kay, Taklin, Paz, Donna and Josephine, Llyon and Yolly – forming altogether into clique.  All are equally ambitious as Driarco and Taklin. Part of their covenant collectively agreed upon is to answer the challenge who would make it as the best from among the group in the shortest possible time. Among others, implying that the first one who would go back in school later should be in a capacity as guest speaker. It’s one of the first deal the group unanimously agreed in one of their session.  Seldom a week passed by without similar session held at Aling Nita’s, a refreshment parlor adjacent the school campus  just across the road.  Being Friday, they again regrouped but this time the topic centers on the impending Martial Law, the granting of emergency powers to President Marcos.
. . . . . . . . . .

               Have you ever read the announcement in the Bulletin Board?” Taklin asked the group.
               “About tomorrow’s important meeting with Mr. Paler, I mean Monday morning at the quadrangle,” Kim volunteered.
               “You’re right. He would be discussing  Martial Law,” Taklin answered.
               “Tell me why in the world there is a need of putting the entire country under dictatorship,” Josephine griped.
               “Sick idea from a very sick man Mr. Marcos indeed, ” Theodore interrupted.
               “Sorry folks but I don’t personally see any logic why he has to resort this far. You know what I mean,” he added. The rest remained silent waiting further bombshell from Horace.
               “What’s the use for instance of having registered 60,000 members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.  What are they in service for? Just collecting our taxes as paid mercenaries without firing a single shot! Holy shit.  He should have learned a lesson from then Jose P. Laurel, his mentor and savior from the Kempetai who exonerated him from Nalundasan case though he was guilty as charged. President Laurel declared Martial Law you know in case you have not heard nor read it yet.  But look what happened.  Neither he was successful in cushioning the shock of the Filipinos from Japanese nor helped him saving his face from such actuations unbecoming to a leader of a nation.  I’m speaking of his decision leaving the country with his family and some trusted friends as a sign of ingratiating himself to the Japanese when Gen. Douglas Mc Arthur “I Shall Return” was about to happen  to the Philippines.  It’s pure and simple cowardice.  Declaring war against the United States and Great Britain from the promptings of the Japanese and then fly away right after reading the declaration of war” is simply amazing.”
               “Shameful act and definitely unbecoming of a President,” Josephine echoed.
               “Yes but I think, not really that serious.  An exception you know. Here Martial Law was declared while the country was at war!”
               “Yes. But not that serious I think because as a Constitutionalist, he is still par excellent.  In fact, the later became a Senate President after his humiliation from Elpidio Quirino. Oh you have probably heard one of the dirtiest election scam in history where birds and bees voted in an election. It’s one of its kind in Asia  happening right in our own backyard  given the penchant of our politicians sticking themselves in power no matter what. That’s one of the incurable sickness our politicians suffer every time they are elected. Once they tasted power, they’re never the same again. Not only that, it is also contaminating one after the other leading to political dynasty.  And that what makes it alarming amd doubly outrageous,” Theodore added.
               Driarco, Taklin, Paz, Donna, Theodore, Isagani – all captive audiences sitting helped themselves digesting the sanity of the lecturer. Larry was the self-proclaimed kibitzer.
               “You mean Marcos should have utilized the military in quelling the fires of rebellion initiated by the reds – those whom he particularly addressed as enemies of the nation up in arms against the government,” Larry ventured.
               “That’s what he said.  True, that he has the legal basis from the Constitution.  But where that leaves us?  Are we really in the state of rebellion, insurrection whatever as he claims it to be.  Whatever happened to his trusted lieutenants, the ministers tasked in calling order of this Republic.  What made them so inept that they could not move and shoot their guns,“ Theodore clarified.
               “Then they should be castrated if not crucified,” Taklin interjected drawing giggles from the gang.
               “But assuming that there really exists state of violence or invasion that could overthrow the government,” Donna asked.
               “Then by all means he should declare war against the commies.  This what Suharto did to the communists in Indonesia.  He practically wiped them out and gifted those who survived with coup ‘d grace. You see buddies. We can never trust commies.  You may but beware of their intellectual dishonesty.  They’re the only group beside the Pope who claim infallibility as if they hold the key to problems ailing the nation.  But is this really true?”
               “Good for the Pope that we Catholics are not critical against him when he speaks defending the matters of faith ex cathedra.  But not commies.  They are that unpredictable lot.  They changes their color depending on the occasion Witness several purging from their ranks of zombies and mistrust creeping the entire system.”
               Without waiting for the response, he answered his own question.
               “I just don’t think so,” he said catching his audience almost under his spell.
               “You cannot just mix water with oil you know if you get what I mean. Political power. That’s what they are actually fighting for. And that’s nonsense. It is not given in a silver platter; it is earned the hard way given to you by the people recognizing the role you are playing. A leader has to work hard to get it. It’s the price the Filipinos would bestow to any person whom they could trust giving their future. Now let’s go back to square one where we left off,” Theodore decided shifting gear.
               “That business of Martial law,” Kim said sort of griping.
               “I think we have more than enough of its reality. Anytime people would soon be herded on their prison cells and all that. Who must have been behind all these things?” Paz probed.
               “Marcos who else,” Larry declared.
               “But I’m looking beyond that,” Theodore exclaimed catching Donna unprepared face blushing.
               “Eureka. Don’t tell me that Marcos has to do it by himself. You must be crazy. In a sense, Martial law simply tells us that Uncle Sam has not identified yet possible replacement for Marcos never mind his state of health. This is the most logical thing happened. Come on. Why? Military bases right here in the Philippines, the heart and soul of the Americans staying in this country. Allowing the restlessness of the people to escalate might cost their bases right here. And as you probably know that implies possible intrusion by USSR in the country unmolested. Should that happen, losing their defense in this republic, it would be another tragedy, an enigma to incoming American generation second maybe to their humiliation they received from the hands of Ho Chi Min’s Vietcong. Imagine losing 58,000 US armies after conscripting as many as 80,000 for Vietnam War. True that around 30,000 casualties suffered from Ho Chi Min after deploying 60,000 Vietnamese.”
               “How would Uncle Sam win anyway  to a “War of the Flea” of the frail Ho Chi Minh. That huge casualties revealed the story of it all. But of course many of communists North Vietnam were dead given sophisticated weapons of US armies. That’s all they could do. But the reversal of event was too much. Why not given the creativity of the enemies digging up Cu Chi Tunnels  and Minh’s trail, famous supply line by National Liberation Front guerrillas right near  US 1st Infantry Division,” Theodore further narrated. 
            “But if you would consider the law of proportion, US received the worst beating having lost more than half of its men. Not only that they also lost their faces back home. You could never win any single war you know if you’re not armed with moral integrity and persuasion. That’s it folks. Dissecting Marital Law is never peanuts. For one, it requires us to look into the complexity reading between the lines as you probably say it” Kim batted in.
               No one so far stood up and posed challenge Theodore’s treatise. For Driarco and Taklin what his good friend expounded merely vindicates their notion of the American’s implacable intervention in Asia and the rest of the globe propagating their concept of Manifest Destiny and Benevolent Assimilation. They have done it to other countries and why in the world they could not do it to the Philippines they too helped in times of crisis shedding their blood in fact during Spanish-American War culminating with Treaty of Paris on 1898.
               “We can’t really trust the aliens  folks. They’re not in fact needed here.Maybe as visitors but never interfering with our political affairs. Look what happened to Magsaysay during his inauguration to the presidency after beating badly the incumbent Elpidio Quirino in the presidential election. Lansdale changed Magsaysay’s prepared speech with his’ plus an upper cut bonus to the chin dropping the poor Magsaysay down into the floor.”
               “So take it from me guys, it’s only a Filipino who could love better a Filipino. I may sound redundant to that concept ably emphasized by Laurel in his Filipinism to Claro M. Recto’s nationalism but I think it makes sense loving a fellow Filipino. Who else do you think would come to our rescue if not our own neighbor? In the gospel sense, we should be our own brothers’ keeper. If not who else would. And if I may add, if not today ‘when?’ Thus, said the didactic journalistic piece from University of the Philippines telling it all in few simple words but pregnant with meaning.”
               Theodore was right thought Taklin. For he hardly recalls any deal between US and Philippines the country earning desirable credit. On the contrary, mostly of the agreements were always at its expense. Witness the fictitious independence given on 1946 making the Philippines as its neo-colony instead imposing US suffocating control over political and economic system of the country starting from Bell trade act extending free trade relations on 1909 and allowing the US in prostituting our constitution like the partial parity rights. Further aggravating the sordid fate of the country has been the Military Bases Agreement (MBA) allowing the US with impunity exploiting selected area as storage for their nuclear weapons to the chagrin of nationalists leaders  the likes of     Recto, Lorenzo Tañada and Diokno.
               “One deal follows after another after that infamous 1949 deal. Thus, the infamous Laurel-Langley agreement of 1954 bloating the power of the US using and developing the countries natural resources for their own profit; helplessness of the government in sustaining late President Garcia’s Filipino first policy on to dishonorable surrender of President Macapagal to IMF-WB pressures which saw the devaluation of peso to decontrol program of the 1960’s,” he said pausing looking into the eyes of this classmates.
               “The high road now of course is Martial law hanging like a crucible over the heads of Filipinos. Like Damocles’ blade, it could either make or unmake democracy in the country,” Taklin further thought.               
               Save for Driarco, the girls by all indications  already under the influence of their own ladies’ red wine  ready accepting relevant thoughts for the day..
               “So you should not be surprised at all folks in case we would be soon under Martial Law. That’s the price we have to pay for having lived under foreign control or have been so lavishly smitten by the promise of milk and honey over there by Uncle Sam,” Theodore told the group exhausted after dishing out his nationalistic sentiments.
               “You’re great buddy,” Larry complimented Theodore.
                “Your presentation of the futility of Emergency power has been lucid. Like a scalpel, it dissected the very deep recesses of the anatomy of dictatorial rule, its implication to us today. For this I owe you a gallon more of coco beer,” Larry added blowing out loud whistle.
               “My point is, let’s start our formal protest from now on. We have nothing to lose but our own fears as they said. If we would not move who would follow suit. Never mind what form each one signify his protest. The point is we should stand up and be counted,” Theodore said while gazing seriously around his eyeballs almost popping out from their sockets.
               “There’s just no substitute for democracy. Everybody knows that. By democracy I’m very particular to a process not much on concept. In layman’s term, if we could not practice it then leave and forget it and scout for other political system workable and best for us. Lenin of Russia, Mao Tse Tung of Mainland China and Fidel Castro of Cuba show us how to get one through revolution. What else. But could we afford so much bloodshed to happen in our land. That is tantamount  invoking God’s wrath. If indeed the price for creating such political system is wholesale carnage of our people then we might as well forget it. Suffice it to say that democracy is still the best political system existing under the sun.”
               “But how mature Filipinos are in accepting let along maintaining such system? Our experiences in the past and now Marcos deal to us tells simply irrevocable ‘No!’ With much regret I don’t think that government is setting an example. Look and count the number of persons controlling for instance vital industries in the country today. You could actually count them with your fingers. The Cojuangcos, Benedictos, Tans, Desinis and other fortunate souls who believe they could bring their riches with them in limbo when they get there.”
               “The UP political scientist was right. She said that what actually we do is not democracy per se but merely pretensions of being a democratic country. Gee what a revelation!”
               The group have their eyes fixed anew to Theodore who seems not leaving any stones unturned on the topic.
               “I believe it might be very interesting for you to know from a respected columnist and journalist that indeed we do have democracy but not when you discover that what is left is very little only. Thus, his question: ‘how could we ever claim that we are failing when we have not even tried it all?’ True enough, how could we really afford to lost it too if we have not practice it, I am asking too the way you’re also asking yourself.”
               Seen through the faces of his listeners were intellectual satisfactions. His impromptu political treatise was simply plausible no one in the group could deny. They collectively agree that the praxis’ dimension of democracy is the bottom line and what really counts. It’s just observing leniency to a Catholic changing religious affiliation to protestant and become a better practicing Christian, a living gospel if you wish rather than staying as Catholic and don’t give damn knowing and practicing his faith lousy attitude prevailing among nominal or occasional Catholics.
“Where your heart is there’s your happiness also,” Driarco collected from one passage in the book of Psalm. The gathering was not anticipated to be as fruitful that evening. Driarco for instance feels the occasion was a heaven sent relief, a catharsis to the bleeding democracy. Each one feels uncertain of their surviving capacity not discounting any possibility they might too end up as scapegoat of the dictatorial regime.
               Outside the crickets were chirping merrily under the clusters of thick shrubs auguring a new cold evening ushering chilling air biting their skin.
               “Good grief Charlie brown,” Driarco uttered to himself after Miguel, the interim chairman of the group officially closed the session thanking each member reiterating their commitment for yearly reunion at Aling Nita’s. Kim and Donna were appointed as Chairman and Vice Chairman respectively for ad-hoc committee.
                Like all other fellowship, the night was filled with laughter and music, valid excuse for uncertainties and insecurities shrouding their future. Who really knows given the unpredictability of Martial law? Not even those in power. The president could put anybody behind bars with just one stroke of a pen, suspend the writ of habeas corpus and or order summary execution.
                Concluding their activity was the singing of “Ang Bayan Ko” their shrill and resonant voices echoing back and forth  in the four walls of the refreshment parlor. It ended with catcalls and whistle sealing their initial salvo of defiance against emergency power. On suggestion by Erly and collectively agreed by the group, they tattooed the  soft spot between index finger and thumb of their left hand with numbers 9/21 using ancient Greek  number symbolizing mark of identity and protest they would probably erase when dictatorship would be over. When would that be? No one has the answer yet.
. . . . . . . . . . .

               Seasons come and go. Graduation was already fast approaching. Barely five months more to go, Driarco would find himself in Manila at St. John theological seminary. Possibly he would be donning his cassock five years after to formally start treading the path towards Calvary, they said what priesthood is really all about. By then he would earned his philosophy degree and begin studying theology. Would he succeed? He doesn’t have the answer. Bishop Valdez provided the cue how to be one.
               “Just be true to yourself. It’s a deal between you and God,” he recalled his Bishop’s advice making him enthusiastic facing another brand new day. A smile with a thought that he would finally be serving God in the service of his fellowmen somehow elated him. Thus far, he’s undaunted having met the seminary’s minimum requirements: passed the entrance examination, has favorable endorsement from the Bishop himself and the financial assurance from Mr. Smith, the German national philanthropist.
               Taklin, the closest to Driarco would be with him entering Minor Seminary. Just don’t though what option he would choose as entering Philippine Military Academy in Baguio, the premier military institution of the country and academy of future general has been at the back of his mind. He keeps this privy even from his bosom friend Driarco to avoid complication. Of course, to be a priest is his first option but for one reason or another might transfer to military training as what happened to the rest.. He too passed the required entrance examination both physical and academic. In fact, Sta. Rita has been proud to have announced that Taklin made it to top three for batch ’76. Miguel is contemplating of taking up Civil Engineering, Larry Law, Kim agriculture, Theodore political science, Paz nursing, Donna accounting and Josephine medicine, Llyon education, Yolly, Salim, Ruth, Diego ministry. Not a bad start to equally ambitious crusaders of peace. At least they know what to do and where to go.
               Weekends are usually spent by both Driarco and Taklin helping their respective fathers on their farm. In the evening they would saw themselves attending fellowship and choir rehearsals. They would join helping lay ministers in far away villages after  second masses during Sundays. Preparation of liturgy and readings are their primary task and similar related activities as sacristan.
               Such has been their apostolate making themselves dear and closer to the parishioners in remote places. This makes them hardworking all the more not counting the cost and hardships in crossing wading through rivers, scaling mountains and hills and enduring the heat of the sun. From the looks of it, Sundays seem like a great trek. Taklin himself has no complain over this long and tedious journey having been used to it in war-torn Mindanao before his parents migrated in Romblon.
“Once you’re used to it everything comes handy with less effort,” he clarified. Such has been their devotion to their work they are caught jogging in the thick of the night just to be on time on their commitments attending fellowship and bible studies. This activity went on unabated for the past four years. It was very taxing alright but the accommodation and their zeal in serving God far outweighed the concomitant hardships and problems faced.
               When not busy in any church activities, they would frequent the barracks located atop the hill two kilometers away from the municipality. There they would bury themselves in books in the library reading military history, guerilla warfare, revolutions and related literature. They would practice shooting in between after playing basketball. This love of sports made them at top shape strong sustaining their energy in handling many activities.
               Part also of their leisure is catching freshwater fishes through hook and line attached at the top of dozens of bamboo sticks. All they do is plant two meters bamboo stick in knee-deep water at the center of rice field with minute live farm frogs as bait leaving them there for one hour. Coming back, they would know that either mudfish or catfish are caught when the line suspended to the tip of the stick loosen drifting away  pulling big catch. Proceeds of this activity are reserved during rainy days and excess are oftentimes wasted away in  local cinemas.
               Such has been their lifestyles during weekend draining out sometimes reserved adrenalin but they have to let them go. All work without play makes a person dull and sickly, they would say.

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