The Makapilis re-emerge from the ghastly deep

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Marlen V. Ronquillo

The name of my barrio is Concepcion in Lubao, Pampanga. It is an obscure farming barrio that shares a boundary with the poblacion. And during the time of feudal Lubao, proximity was the only thing we had in common with the poblacion. The poblacion was the place of the landlords while ours was the place of their sharecroppers. My late father was a kasamak, the Pampango word for sharecropper, and so was his father and grandfather.

Lubao’s feudal structure and the lord-serf relationship between those who owned the land and tilled the land was the reason our town holds a special place in history. It was the site of the country’s first organized agrarian strike that took place in the early 1930s. Landless farmers, mostly followers of Perico, or Pedro Abad Santos, stormed the gates of the Prado mansion at Barangay del Prado in Lubao and burned the standing sugar cane of the hacienda. The brother of my grandmother, whose hero was Perico, was at the lead of the insurrectos cum burning team. Many from my barrio were with him in that historic strike. The insurrectos led by the brother of my grandmother did their version of a short march – they gladly walked the entire 20 kilometer distance from our barrio to the hacienda gates with their torches and flaming red headbands.

About 10 years later, at the onset of the Japanese occupation period, there was full-blown political awareness in our barrio, which early seeds were planted by the participation of the young Sosyalistas in the burning of the Hacienda del Prado in the early 30s. Like the evolution of Pedro Abad Santos from a Socialist theoretician to a willing Marxist, the young men and women of my barrio seamlessly evolved from active participants in agrarian protests to members of the Hukbalahap, the Marxist-oriented guerrilla movement, which was to fight the Japanese forces with determination and ruthlessness.

From the ranks of the volunteer fighters from my barrio emerged Silvestre Liwanag alias Linda Bie, one of most determined commanders in the bloody history of the Huk movement. Two of his early recruits – but whose stints as Huk fighters ended in 1946 – were my father and my mother, then in their teens.

In the retelling of those who fought as Huks during the Japanese period, the hardest part was the fact that they have to fight two enemies – the Japanese forces and the locals who collaborated with the Japanese. In the late stage of the war, the Japanese had hooded sympathizers called the Makapili.

Makapili stood for Makabayang Kalipunan ng Mga Pilipino, in name a patriotic society. The actions of the hooded Makapilis let loose by the Japanese made the name Makapili synonymous with betrayal. Betraying the innocent and identifying them as “Huks or Huk-sympathizers” or “USAFE or USAFE-sympathizers” to please the Japanese masters. To set them up for execution. To set them up for torture. To set them up for extreme punishment. Hooded villagers with an ax to grind used their hoods to betray mostly the innocent.

The hooded informants, in the retelling of the old Huk fighters, were willing to spread lies and misinformation. Under his mask, the dispenser of mostly false information was egged on by the Japanese puppeteer to pinpoint supposed “enemies” of the Imperial Army. The more, the better.

And how the hooded men sang.

The Makapilis, or at least a version of them, are making a comeback in the 21st century, sanctioned by the government’s war on drugs. They come in two forms – the Masa Masid and the drop boxes. They don’t come with hoods but the function remains – betray people, pinpoint people, set people up either for arrest or summary execution.

The modus is the same — anonymity.

The Masa Masid nurtures a bizarre sense of community vigilance that encourages villagers to inform on fellow villagers who are supposedly involved in the illicit drug trade. A wacko with an ax to grind can list down a long list of the innocent, to set them up for arrest or gangland-style execution. Just like during the days of the Makapilis.

What if a neighbor who does not like your videoke songs morphs into a concerned villager and informs on you, the out-of-tune neighbor tagged as a notorious drug pusher or user?

In normal times, it is good sleuthing and solid information gathering work that turns out solid information on the drug-engaged people. Masa Masid is the exact opposite, the lazy information gathering work that nurtures a culture of betrayal.

The drop box, in normal times, is often the depository of suggestions on how the public agencies can improve their operations. It can untangle official gridlocks and can make government instrumentalities and agencies more efficient.

On the private side, drop boxes take suggestions on how private products and services can be improved. Or, how private institutions can best respond to the needs of the market.

Now, any budding traitor can just write the name of an innocent and tag him as a drug pusher. Given the current context, which is a rush to judgment, then the rush to hurt the accuse with nothing but the false accusation, the drop box would change its function from a keeper of positive feedbacks to a keeper of tall tales and hoaxes, with dire results.

Under what state of malignancy can nurturers of betrayals such as Masa Masid and the drop boxes rise up from the ghastly deep?

We all thought that the 21st century has been purged of the environment that birthed the Makapilis and that lethal culture of betrayal. How wrong were we.

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