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Chapter Eleven

DARK NIGHT

 
 

December 16, 1985

Mama died this afternoon. A bullet pierced her head and brain. According to eyewitnesses, three armed men accosted her while she was on her way to the rice mill. She had just came from the bank. They grabbed her bag, pushed her down the canal and shot her. The killers fled on board a car.

She was still alive when I arrived in the emergency room. Blood was oozing from her head. She was gasping as I helplessly watched her die. All I could do was to anoint her and entrust her to God's loving care. She died at exactly 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon. Frs. Ramon Fruto and Louie Hechanova, stood beside me and touched my shoulder. Ramon asked me if I was O.K.

I went out of the hospital without feeling anything -- no anger, no sadness, no sorrow. I could not cry. My main worry was how to break the news to Papa. I immediately went home and told him what happened. He started crying, calling out Mama’s name. I put my arms around his shoulder. Dr. Yañez and Aunt Sally arrived and took his blood pressure. It was 200/100. They were worried that he might have a stroke. They gave him some medication and stayed behind to console him.

Late in the afternoon, I went to the funeral parlor. Mama's body was laid on the table in the morgue. The embalmer told me that they had to wait for a few hours before embalming the body and place it on the coffin. So I was left all alone for half an hour gazing at Mama's body. Her face looked serene in spite of the bullet hole on her head. I came closer and kissed her forehead.

When I went back to the monastery, a charismatic expressed her condolence and told me: "It's God's will. You'll have to accept the will of God."

I answered her, "No, I don’t think it is God’s will." I was simply revolted by the idea that Mama's death was God's will. I just could not accept this kind of theology.

I don't believe in a God who wills the brutal death of a helpless mother, a God who is the source of grief and suffering. No, this cannot be God's will. This is the will of evil people. It would be blasphemous to blame God for all the evil and suffering in the world.

Mama is a victim of this sinful and violent situation, she is a victim of the selfishness and greed of others. Thousands of people suffer and die in this country because of people whose obsession is to accumulate wealth and power and who don't have respect for human life.

Oh God, where is your justice?

An Elegy for my Mother

My heart turned to stone
as I watched you gasped
for the last time,
your eyes blank
and blood oozed from a hole in your head
made pointblank.

My eyes couldn't even
shed a single tear.
Numb, numb, numb.
This is the only way
I could survive this madness.

What used to be mere news reports and statistics
have finally hit home.

"This is God's will."
Some pious people consoled me.

Praise the Lord!
But I do not believe in a God
who can mastermind the murder
of a helpless mother.

What a blasphemy--
to make God the prime suspect
for the crime committed
by men who were supposed to maintain
peace and order.

This is the will of a rapacious regime
that has spawned an army
of thieves and murderers.

Mother, I just cannot imagine you
as a mere pile of dust and bones
in a dark and lonely tomb.

Mother, I can never believe
that a bullet can annihilate
everything that you have been
and will always be.


December 19, 1985

I just can't believe Mama is dead. It's difficult to imagine her dead. She was so full of life. She was only 59. I always imagined her growing old and reaching 80 like Lola Frangka.. I thought that she would still be around when I celebrate the silver jubilee of my profession and ordination.

She lived her life to the full. She was an amazing woman, mother, wife, teacher and Christian. Although she was busy as a teacher, she was able to fulfill her responsibility as a wife and a mother. Before leaving for school, she would give me a warm bath when I was a baby. She massaged me whenever I was sick. She did not want me to become a Mama’s boy, so she encouraged me to accompany Papa to his projects, to church, to the tennis club, to the movies and restaurants (she also did this to my brothers). She bought a piano and sent us to a piano school. She encouraged me to develop my artistic talent by buying art material and asking me to draw and paint visual aids for her class. When I had a difficulty in math, she gave me a tutorial. She taught us the value of work – by giving us cleaning and cooking assignments. Even if I hated it, she insisted that I scrub the floor, arrange the furniture and wash dishes. She would send me to the market to buy rice, meat and vegetables. She taught me how to cook pinakbet, spaghetti, kare-kare, lengua estofada, etc. When she saw I was playing priest in our childhood games, she encouraged me to become an altar boy and then enter the seminary. When I was arrested, tortured and imprisoned she was very supportive instead of becoming angry with me. When I was already a priest, she did not treat me as her little boy. She treated me as an adult son and as a friend. Even if I sometimes doubted whether she loved me, I believe and I now know that she always loved me and cared for me. This is a gift that I will always cherish.

When my father had a stroke and could not work anymore, it was my mother who supported the whole family. It was she who made sure that all of her eight children would finish college – even if it meant working overtime, borrowing money from her family corporation and pressuring my siblings who have finished their studies to support the education of the younger ones. My mother patiently took care of my father who was not able to fully recover from his paralysis. She had to put with his temper and self-pity.

In spite of her responsibilities as a wife, mother and teacher, she was able to find time to involve herself in various Church groups and activities. During the early years of martial law, she was a member of the Justice and Peace committee in Iligan. She was the president of the Legion of Mary. She conducted the regular pre-baptism seminars in St. Michael’s parish every Saturday evening. She helped organize the Redemptorist Associates to raise money for the support of the seminarians. She was a woman of great faith and charity, of love, compassion and service. She managed to integrate the basic dimensions of Christian life -- prayer, witnessing to the Gospel, service.

She was a great woman. I can truly say: I am what I am because of her.

Thank you, Mama.

December 22, 1985

The funeral mass was celebrated at the Redemptorist Church this afternoon. Over 30 priests concelebrated -- many of them Redemptorists coming from Davao, Cebu, Bacolod, Dumaguete, Iloilo and Tacloban. The Church was full. It was a gathering of family, relatives, friends and colleagues of Mama. My brothers Sammy and Dodong were able to come home from Saudi Arabia. I was the main celebrant and I also preached the homily. I almost broke down when I started to preach but I was able to maintain my composure. During the offertory procession, my sisters brought the bread and wine as Papa and my brothers rolled the coffin forward from the middle of the aisle to the front of the altar. We agreed to do this as a gesture that we were offering back to God our mother. We were planning to have a funeral motorcade from the church to the monastery. But we decided to walk the two-kilometer route. Walking slowly behind the hearse was a balm to our grieving hearts.

After the burial, we had a banquet in our house. It was, indeed, a feast. It was like a despedida party -- a good-bye party for Mama. This is what I like about our tradition -- our wakes and funerals are like a fiesta, a feast celebrated by the family, relatives and friends. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a banquet where our sorrows will turn into joy.

It will be Christmas three days from now. This will be the saddest Christmas our family will celebrate. How can we celebrate the joy of Christmas when we are still experiencing shock and grief? Will it be possible to even celebrate Christmas in the future without being reminded of this tragedy?

Busay, Cebu. December 27, 1985

Here I am once again on this mountain overlooking the city of Cebu. I'll be here for a week of silence, prayer and fasting. I'm also making my final preparation for the annual Manila Marathon -- doing high-altitude training.

The shock is wearing off. I'm beginning to feel the pain of loss and separation. I am able to cry. It's so quiet around here. I am all alone. How I wish there is someone who can comfort me. It is difficult to grieve alone.

Even prayer does not come that easy. I doubt if there's Someone out there who can hear my lamentation. God seems so hidden and distant.

Where are you, Lord? Are you really there? Or are you the product of our imagination? If you are real, why did you allow my mother to die?

January 7, 1986

Here I am in Iloilo to attend a meeting of Young Filipino Redemptorists. I had a long chat with Pasky. He is in the process of making a major decision in his life. It seems that he finds the mission apostolate inadequate in responding to the needs of the people, especially the poor and oppressed. He wants to leave the priesthood and work full time with the peasants and workers. In fact, he is seriously thinking about "going to the hills"-- to join the armed struggle. The kidnapping of our confrere Fr. Rudy Romano and the worsening situation have radicalized Pasky. This is the same Pasky was thinking of joining the Trappists a few years ago.

I understand what Pasky is going through. I, too, have been going through the same process of questioning how I can best serve the poor and the oppressed. The option to join the armed struggle is a constant temptation for me. However, I still believe that we priests and religious have an important role in the struggle for liberation without taking up arms. We can still effectively exercise our prophetic task of denouncing this sinful and oppressive situation, making the poor and the oppressed aware of their situation, and announcing the kingdom values of justice, peace and total liberation.

While respecting those who have made an option for armed struggle, I still prefer to carry out the prophetic task through non-violence. I think there is a general tendency to romanticize and glorify armed struggle. But I doubt if this strategy can effectively bring about freedom and liberation in our country. The strength of the present regime is its brute military force and the US support. All we can expect is protracted civil war with the intervention of the superpowers. This means prolonging the people's suffering and the never-ending spiral of violence. It would be suicidal to think that violence is the most effective and quickest way of bringing about freedom and liberation. This regime is at its weakest point -- morally and politically. It is the power of truth and non-violence that will dismantle this oppressive regime.

January 9, 1986

The young Redemptorists continued the meeting today. We discussed the following questions:

1. How do we see the Philippine situation today and in the near future?

2. What is our mission and response as Young Filipino Redemptorists vis-a-vis the Philippine situation?
 
 

We shared with one another our perception of the present situation, the possible "scenarios" in the near future, and our individual stand. This is a summary of the main ideas that emerged in the course of the sharing:

We live in a revolutionary situation -- a crisis situation. We believe that this political and economic crisis will worsen as the US-backed Marcos regime tries to consolidate itself through this farcical election. More and more people will be radicalized and the movement for liberation will continue to grow and expand. The strategic stalemate phase of the struggle could be reached within a couple of years, and perhaps even the strategic offensive stage will soon follow. A new regime could come to power. It will either be a coalition government or communist-dominated one. However, if the US intervenes, the struggle can go on indefinitely. And we will find ourselves in a no-win situation where the regime becomes more and more repressive.

We see our role as being present with the poor and oppressed in the midst of their struggle for liberation. For some, this could mean supporting the revolutionary movement in so far as it is truly liberating. Our primary commitment is to the poor and the oppressed, and not just to any party, movement or ideology. In so far as these political parties and groups truly struggle for the liberation of the people, then we will enter into dialogue with them and even work with them. Yet at the same time we will maintain our independence from them.

Our primary task is to help the people understand the relation between faith and struggle, to highlight the faith-dimension of their struggle for liberation. Our primary role is the prophetic role. This involves denouncing and opposing all forms of oppression and injustice; making the people aware of their dignity and basic human rights; proclaiming the Gospel values of love, service, compassion, justice, peace and freedom. This prophetic role will continue in the future, even with the coming of a new social order. If ever new forms of oppression, tyranny and injustice will arise, we will not cease to denounce and oppose such sinful situation.

We respect the option for armed struggle that some have made yet we favor the option for active non-violence.

January 16, 1986

I am here in Lipa – the novitiate house. These past few days, I have been plagued by doubts about my faith. I have been questioning the reality of God's existence. Is God really real? Is he really the God who liberates the poor and oppressed? Can he really do something about our present situation? How is he present in the suffering of our people and what is he doing about it?

I have often felt God's absence rather than his presence in my life. Last night, as I tried to pray in the dark chapel, I expressed all these doubts and questions. Finally I cried out: "Oh God, I'm not sure if I am talking to you or I am speaking to the wind. If you really exist, please give me a sign."

Before I went to bed past midnight, I read a book I picked from the library "Letters from Prison" written by Ninoy Aquino. Ninoy's account of his conversion in prison (he was an agnostic) really moved me. While in solitary confinement, he finally felt God's presence, he finally believed in the God who never left his side, the God who never abandoned him. I was simply overwhelmed as I was reading and tears flowed from my eyes.

When Ninoy died, I was shock like so many millions of Filipinos. He came home to the Philippines to lead the non-violent struggle against the dictatorial regime. But even before he could step on the airport tarmac a bullet pierced his head. It seemed that all that he dreamed of and all that he struggled for was in vain. What was the meaning of his death? Here is a poem I wrote as I tried to come to terms with my grief:

DEATH ON THE TARMAC

(For Ninoy)

You sprawled on the tarmac
like a dove in flight
that has been nailed to the ground.
They finally stopped you.

Or so they thought.

The bullet that pierced your skull
pierced our frigid hearts.
The shot that echoed throughout the archipelago
continues to reververate
in our wounded hearts.

No bullet can ever kill a dream.
It will only break the vessel
from which the fragrance is released.

It will only crack the dam
from which the rising waters
will break through.

Ninoy,
your death has freed us from our fears
and sparked a fire in our hearts
that will continue to rage through the night
until the dawning of the new day.

You died
that we may rise.

 
 
 

Iligan. January 24, 1986

I just got back from Manila after running the Manila International Marathon a few days ago. I met Ann and Cynthia the day before the marathon and cooked spaghetti for them as we talked. They were a source of consolation for me.

We celebrated today the 40th day after Mama's death. Many came to pray and celebrate with us. It was our final good-bye.

Papa told me that the men who killed mother had recently been identified and all of them were killed by the police during a shoot-out. They were all part of a gang composed of military men who were engaged in armed robbery. The police had received a call that there were armed men inside the house of the Delestes. The police encircled the house. They killed the three men and when they checked their identification they turned out to be military men. It was later confirmed in the ballistic tests that the .45 caliber pistol found in one of corpses was the gun used to kill Mama. My cousin Nica said that these were the same men who were hanging around the store a few days before mother was killed.

How swift is God's justice after all! I have been asking for a sign of his presence in the world. This must be God's answer to my prayer. God does not sleep. Neither is he absent. Evil will not reign forever.

February 7, 1986

Today is election day -- the presidential election. I believe this is a very crucial moment in the history of our country.

In this corner, we have a powerful dictator who has ruled the country for almost 20 years. Marcos has caused so much suffering to our people. He is the personification of evil in our society whose reign is characterized by greed, oppression, exploitation, lies and deceit, and violation of human rights. He is so sure of himself. He thinks he will never be defeated. He has all the "guns, the goons and the gold."

The person running against him is an unlikely candidate -- Cory Aquino. She is the widow of Ninoy Aquino. Marcos calls her weak and inexperienced housewife. Yet she inspires hope to millions of people. It seems that Cory has a broad popular support but Marcos has the political machinery capable of manipulating the election results.

If Cory wins, this will be the beginning of a new era of freedom, justice, reconciliation and national reconstruction. If Marcos prevails, this will mean the worsening of political and economic crisis, more repression, more injustice and more violation of human rights. Consequently, it could lead to the heightening of the revolutionary situation and the rapid expansion of the revolutionary forces. The protracted armed struggle and civil war could escalate.

The election results will determine the future of this country and even my own future. I will be faced with the question of holding on to my preferential option for active non-violence or finally opting for armed struggle.

I hope Cory wins this election so that there can be a peaceful change and restructuring of our society. If Marcos wins, many people including myself will be forced to consider the more radical revolutionary option.

We are now putting our hope on this widow who is regarded as "humble and meek" to be the rallying point in our struggle against this ruthless and powerful dictator.

I am hoping for a divine intervention. This is the ultimate sign I am praying for. My hope is that God will now manifest His saving power during this crucial moment of our history.

God, if you truly exist, if you are truly the God of the poor and the oppressed, the God who liberates, then listen to our cry!

February 10, 1986

It has been three days since the presidential elections and up to now we don't know who is really winning. There are so many conflicting results. The election has been characterized as dirty and fraudulent. Marcos has been trying to manipulate the counting even if Cory is leading in the NAMFREL count. The whole country is tense at present. There could be massive protests and civil disobedience in the coming weeks.

It appears that the evil dictator is going to be triumphant. But I think it will be a pyrrhic victory. Marcos may win this election through fraud but he has totally lost his credibility among the people and among other nations. It will be a matter of time before his regime collapses. My question still remains: Where is the hand of God in all of this?

February 11, 1986

This evening I had my last series of examination for the brown belt in Karate. The test began the other day. Every session started with sitting Zen meditation. The instructors then tested my skills in basic forms (blocking, striking, punching, kicking), throwing (judo and aikido techniques), falling and diving, basic self-defense (against opponents armed with knives, guns, bats, etc.) Kata forms, Kumite (sparring). The last part of the test was fighting against multiple attacks (four opponents). I was able to pass the examination and was awarded the brown belt. My whole body is still aching.

For the last two years I have been training regularly in the Okinawan style of Karate - Shorin Ryu. The mission in St. Michael's Parish in Iligan made it possible for me to train regularly (three times a week).

What I like about the Shorin Ryu style is the holistic approach. Karate is not only a physical discipline, it also has a spiritual/contemplative dimension. It is not just a matter of learning the fighting skills -- it is above all internalizing the principles of ZEN. Thus, the regular sitting meditation (zazen) that we do before each training exercise and the moving Zen meditation (kata) are the means to develop this contemplative spirit. The attitudes emphasized are: self-emptying, attention to the present moment, humility, defense of the weak and the oppressed, and doing justice.

As I hone my martial art skills, the more I become aware of my capacity for violence. I know how to defend myself. I know that I can easily kill another person quickly with my bare hands or feet. That is why I am very careful not to misuse what I have learned. It would be dangerous if I explode in anger. It already happened recently during a sparring match when I lost control and injured my partner. I know I can easily become brutal and ruthless. That is why I am afraid of my own anger.

I think I am physically ready to join the armed struggle should I decide to adopt this option. I've recently met Ike and Jogan -- the NDF and NPA leaders in the area). Should the situation worsen I can easily contact them. But I have to wait for the outcome of this election. This has to be the last resort.

February 25, 1986
It's almost
midnight. I am here in this very remote mountain barrio in Arakan Valley, South Cotabato. Yet my mind and heart is thousands of miles away in Manila where a miraculous event has been happening. For the last few days we have been listening to the radio coverage of the EDSA people power uprising. Finally, tonight, we hear the good news: the dictatorship has ended and Marcos and his cronies are fleeing to Hawaii! This is the good news of liberation.

There are tears in my eyes. My heart is welling with joy. And I can feel very strongly your presence LORD. I believe, forgive me for my unbelief! You are indeed the subversive God, the God of the poor and the oppressed. I can no longer doubt your love, I can no longer doubt your presence and existence. This is our EXODUS. This is too overwhelming. You have turned my sorrow into joy!

Who would have thought that things could turn out this way? Who could have expected that a dictatorship can easily collapse without any bloodshed. No "scenario" ever predicted this. This is completely unexpected. It is miraculous! Once again, God has manifested himself through his liberating deeds in history.
 
 

A Psalm of EDSA

Ring the bells,
strum the guitars,
blow the horns,
light the fireworks,
let the dance begin
in the barricades, streets,
camps
and homes!

Proclaim to the entire nation,
and
to the entire world the good news:

the dictator has finally fled to
Hawaii!

This is the moment we have longed for,
the moment of our deliverance!

They who put their trust in their armies
have been put to shame
by millions of men, women and children
emboldened by the power of the cross
led by the widow of the man
who gave his life on the tarmac.

The instruments of terror
have unwittingly been converted
into forces for freedom,
embraced and protected by the people.

The armalites, tanks and helicopters
were powerless against the risen masses
ready to offer their body and blood
without taking life,
armed with their prayers, tears,
rosary beads, carved images of the mother
and the child, crosses,
flowers and food for the bewildered troops.

Let us praise and thank the Lord,
the God who was never blind, deaf or powerless,
the subversive God
who has been with us in our struggle
throughout this archipelago,
who is present at EDSA,
and who will accompany us on our journey
to the land of promise -- a land flowing
with peace, justice and prosperity.

Let this moment be etched in our hearts
for we have shown to the world the saving power of God.