LUNCH was much too sumptuous. The guests feasted on a wide variety of pork and chicken mixes done native adobo, mechado, and fried styles that filled the entire length of the long table occupying almost the whole of the balcony of the house. Much allergic to chicken, I had to dispense with much of the servings. Anyway, I have never grown used to multi-viand meals, and there, too, was my good old favorite fried tilapia with steamed talong and ampalaya to boot. In lieu of bagoong, which normally goes with those vegetables, what was served was a popular specialty of Pampanga, burong isda. I’d gobble much of it anytime, with sips of the soup in-between chews and bites. My favorite soup is halaan, but the one in the soup pot didn’t look it.
What was the soup? I asked.
“Tinolang manok,” chorused a few comrades.
Oh, my, I muttered to myself.
I essayed the virtual fiesta meal. I thought it quite unlikely for folks who, in their youth, were steeped in the principle of “mas simpleng pamumuhay, mas mahirap na pakikibaka (simpler living, harder struggle).”
In the mid-80s, the Special Operations Unit under the General Staff of the New People’s Army were having more than enough sacrificial living in the city. Logistical support was getting hard to come by, with Diego and I being able to contribute only so much from our meager earnings for their subsistence. Heading this unit was Ka Ronnie, who had asked Diego and I to stand as godfathers for his child by Ka Vicky during her baptism. At the simple reception in a Fairview, Quezon City, UG house, Ka Ronnie sidled up to me and tucked into my waist a tiny pistol, a .38,
Saying, “Pamana ko sa ‘yo (Your inheritance from me).” He cautioned, “Ingat ka. Pag nahuli sa ‘yo ‘yan, pitpit and bayag mo. Koronel ang may-ari niyan (Take care. If that’s found in you, you’d get your balls crushed. That gun is owned by a colonel).”
Ka Ronnie was alluding to an agaw-armas (gun-snatching) operation in Valenzuela some time before where a military colonel from whom the gun was allegedly taken was killed. I had held on to the gun as a private belonging—apart from the NPA General Staff armory that had been entrusted to me—from then on until the early 2000s. That was the time land grabbers began attempting to forcibly gain possession of my Antipolo property and I had to summon support from comrades. I gave the gun to Ka Negs, head of the support group that responded to my call,
Now the reason I remembered Ka Ronnie in the Juaning Rivera boodle fight was that a little time after the simple baptismal reception for his daughter, I caught sight of a story in People’s Tonight about a failed bank heist in Bacoor, Cavite. Along with the story was a photograph of one of the alleged holdup men lying dead on the pavement. The dead man was unidentified, but his looks were much too familiar to ignore: the oval face, the pointed mouth, and the moustache. If I found myself urging it was not who I thought it was, the reason was that I did not want to confirm my impression of who the slain man really was.
However, it so happened that Diego lived in the vicinity of a funeral house on Tuason St., in Sampaloc, Manila, where the slain holdup suspect was taken for internment. He dropped by one evening, found the funeral chapel so desolate but for a coffin there. Inside the coffin, Diego confirmed, was Ka Ronnie.
After that, Diego and I would learn that the special operations group was so hard up that they were forced to engage in that attempted bank robbery. After all, it was being taught for the revolution to use the enemy’s resources against himself. Just too bad for Pareng Ronnie, he was no bank robber, really. He was just one idealistic rebel combatant who wanted to persevere in pursuing the aims of the revolution when the revolution itself could no longer sustain those aims.
So now in the funeral parlor, Ka Ronnie lay dead. How many had passed away in this manner?
No flowers. No condolences. No visitor.
Ah, what a requiem for a revolutionary.
Guffaws stirred me off my reminiscences. The reunion was proving to be true to Mindo’s assurances of rejoice.
But talks were in Pampango. Not being versed in the dialect, I barely discerned that the group was rejoicing at the prospect of Duterte’s implementation of a federal form of government. Already, they seemed to be talking about who among them would be head of the Federal Republic of Kapampangan.
At the long table, Diego and I were sitting right across Bilog so that while the group was in their boisterous discussions, we managed to engage Bilog in a talk of serious issues.
Federalism, according to Bilog, is a welcome idea for the group.
“ ‘Yan na rin naman ang nangyayari sa atin ngayon (It’s what’s happening to us now),” he said.
Bilog was referring to the way political dynasties actually rule the country. I made a quick rundown in my mind and pictured regional clans exercising political control over their respective regions. So, I surmised, federalism if at all would only be formalizing what already is in actual practice.
My particular objection to federalism, however, is that it’s precisely what will pave the way for the reestablishment of US military bases in the country. I had always maintained that the BBL is an American ploy to have Muslim Mindanao separated from the Philippine Republics, so that it can negotiate with it for bases installations in the country without having to pass through the Philippine Senate, which had demolished those bases in 1991.
Bilog’s retort was quick.
“Hindi na nila kailangang magestablish pa ng mga base sa Pilipinas (They no longer need to establish bases in the Philippines),” he said. “Ginagamit na nila ang ating mga base militar sa pamamagitan ng EDCA (They are already using our military bases thru EDCA).”