Tonyboy G. Gilana
It is November 10. We all listened once more today to the news, hoping perhaps the contents and contexts more complete, perhaps more comprehensive. The air is still melancholic!
Yesterday, November 9, in early afternoon, we received calls of a tragedy, and we all tensely waited for the news. Everywhere, different versions were being buzzed around by people, but the truth was there – eight young policemen from the 509th PPMG, on a hot pursuit operation, aboard their police mobile, were blasted by a landmine said to be planted by the New People’s Army, along the Barangays Antipolo-Calomagon road at around 11:30 in the morning, but not without a fight. Four of the police officers were killed, and two seriously injured, two others escaped. Another unidentified body was brought downtown to Funeraria Labalan. The reports said he was a member of the New Peoples’ Army. Those who died were natives of other towns, except for one Bulaneno, the locally-renowned nemesis of the NPAs in Bulan, SPO1 Johnson Gerola, labeled by his colleagues in the service as “The Legend Tiger” because he outsurvived his police batchmates in Bulan, and because he had survived many military battles and attempts on his life. He did not survive this time. But he died, together with his colleagues, in the performance of a patriotic duty. They are heroes in their own right.
And maybe, too, that unidentified NPA cadre, is a hero in the eyes of his comrades-in-arms. They should be relishing their victory now in their mountain hide-out.
There was a certain tension all over town, even though the fatal ambush took place in an isolated, remote roadside, some ten kilometers away from the poblacion. This war, now of attrition, has been taking place in pockets, for more than thirty years now, all over the country, and here in Sorsogon. Until when it will last, we never don’t know. We hope the better, more positive side of the leaders and negotiators from both sides come out for the good of all, that war is not a solution to our existing problems. Or that, war is causing us more problems than ever. Ironically, however, it is also this war that may purge us of the evils in the system that we are in.
And there was the paradox of silence and hushed noise among the townspeople as they crowded outside of the Bulan Municipal Police Station downtown and the 509th Police Provincial Mobile Group camp, or at the Funeraria Labalan where almost everyone wanted a glimpse of the dead. Families and friends shed tears for the fallen officers. Everybody seemed affected as groups and pockets of people, bystanders, huddled for the news, in many corners.
It is another rare instance today, that the peace of the town was once more broken. Every now and then, over the past years, we are shattered by news that this person or that policeman or armyman died, shot by somebody from whose side we seem to all know. To us in Bulan, it is always a big deal when we hear of those news because it is not commonplace. Despite this long-running war between government and the NPA rebels, Bulan has been a relatively peaceful town, and the townspeople, peace-loving, normally goes on and moves on with life, busy with living, making a living, as if, especially those in the urban areas, these things do not exist. In the remote barangays, especially those said to be influenced by the NPA cadres, the people, especially the barangay leaders, though afraid and cautious, fearful for their own safety, skillfully, prudently and wisely relates and deals with both sides, but do not seriously side with either of them. If the NPAs come, they welcome them. If the military patrol comes, they welcome them. The bottomline, for the local leaders, or the barangay chiefs, is that the lives of our families, of our children, of our residents, are safeguarded, and that we not be caught in your crossfires — (Those whom we love are more important than your ideologies, or your systems, or your philosophies, or your politics. You come and you go, but we remain here in this barrio, in this place, in this town.) I think these local officials and barangay leaders are heroes. They have courage in the midst of their fears. And yet they may, or can, be persecuted by either side.
The delivery of the dead fighters downtown is big news for the young generation today. Many were yet unborn when Bulan was drenched in blood during the Martial Law days, when every night was always broken by the exchange of gunfires, maybe in San Ramon, Marinab, Gabod, Busay. In 1972-76, during those darkest of years, the cadavers of both the military and the rebels were delivered daily, their pitiful broken corpses lined-up or displayed in one usual sad place in front of the police precinct. And we heard of the names of rebels, or they call them “freedom fighters” Tony Ariado, Nanette Vytiaco, Fenito Guan, Anihay, or from the other military side, Sgt. De Leon, etc. Those were really the years of living dangerously. I was ten or eleven years old when Martial Law was declared and we already felt the melancholy of the time.
The generation of today are fortunate, because they live in a time of relative peace.
But I think the generation of yesterday were more fortunate, because they were tried and tested in the crucible of those dark years, in vicissitude, in blood, in fear, in hope, in tears, in patriotism. Whether those who have fallen fought for government or against the government, they have not died in vain, if they died with that purity of intention and love of country. And for those who lived, they sure know what patriotism or betrayal meant. They emerged stronger.
And now, this day of melancholy hovers upon us, maybe, until the dead police officers are interred. Or for the families, until they shall have accepted the fate that descended upon their beloved. Both sides went there to perform a sacred duty, whatever their ideologies must have been.
I dream of that day when leaders will sit across tables, in negotiation, in truce, in goodwill and there settle differences rather than in the battlefields. I dream of that day when no corpse will come down from the mountain, and break the hearts of our people. I dream of that day when our rice and coconut farmers can bring in the best produce of their land because there are no more bullets from crossfires to fear for. I dream of that day when our our babies and our kids grow peacefully; our families live, not in fear but in friendship with one another.
I also dream of that day when there will be no more freedom fighters going to the hills to stage a revolution because they think government did not care for them, so they sought refuge in their beliefs even if this means death as a matter of sacrifice for others.
And I dream of that government, pure and honest, that takes into its caring fold every citizen, and then brings him up truly a person of dignity. I dream of this and much more…
It seems an impossible dream because history has proven that to us, from the beginning of time, all over the world. But there is no reason to despair as long as there is hope in men, and as long as there are hearts and hands to realize that dream.