Editor’s Note: This piece placed 1st in the Short Story Category of the 2016 Chronicle Literary Awards of Adamson University.
While this is a work of fiction, some details are based on the experiences of a Martial law rape victim. Images used are from the film “Ang Mga Alingawngaw sa Panahon ng Pagpapasya” (Echoes in the Midst of Indecision) by Hector Barretto Calma. watch the film here:
“Nobody will remember my name when I die. Why do you bother to know my life anyway?” Lourdes Esparcia insisted. At the age of almost fifty, she would definitely rival women half her age. Maybe it’s because of her luminescent skin with matching strong fashion sense – a reluctant mestiza that would definitely land a cover of a magazine or a beauty pageant title in her heyday. She wore a stunning jewelry that protrudes around her chest. But her eyes tell a different story. They were lonely, elusive and hesitant to say the least. Still, there is something about this woman that intrigues me.
“Ma’am, please,” I begged her to be our last respondent. We only need one more to complete our thesis. So far, most of the prospective interviewees that we had were either missing to this day or have succumbed to the Mighty Creator. In short, Lourdes was my thesis group’s last shot to beat our deadline.
She froze for a while looking far outside the window. “How about my identity? Can you not include it?” her legs were crossed while tapping her fingers on the table. I knew from the tone of her voice that she fears judgment from people she barely knows. “Ma’am, we can conceal your identity,” I assured her.
“How about them?” she pointed to my classmates – the ever diligent Luis Dimalanta and the feisty feminist Michelle Quirino. I had a feeling that the lady was uncomfortable with the video camera. “Oh. We can assure you, Ma’am. This is purely for educational purposes. We will not record our conversation, too. I will jot down notes instead.” I tapped my teammate at the back with my eyes wide open; Luis instinctively turned the camera off and assisted me with the interview.
She nodded. Lourdes sipped coffee in her mug while seemingly gathering her thoughts. “Ok, I think we are clear. Isabel, can you get these kids some refreshments,” Lourdes referred to her house help who looked like in her early 30s. I held my pen and paper with excitement – partly because I saw a glint of hope for my graduation. Luis, Michelle and I fought nail and tooth just to reach this point. We will reach the deadline in a week’s time.
“All we need to know is the experience you had in during martial law,” Michelle begged for an answer. Lourdes froze like a statue, contemplating on our plea. “Alright,” the lady answered; I felt the sigh of relief in our group – literally.
”Let me start where it all began. It was the summer of 1985 when the five of us decided to go to Gumaca, Quezon – the hometown of my friend, Eloisa Ranola. We were classmates in high school together with Gilberto Romero, Hector Suntay and Maria Analisa Bermudez. That was the first time we saw each other since high school graduation. Eloisa was taking up Dentistry in UP Manila; Gilberto majored in Engineering in PUP; Hector was pursuing Commerce in PLM; Analisa wanted to be a teacher so she pursued her degree in PNU. I was the only one in our barkada who studied in a private school.”
“Where did you study, Ma’am?” Luis followed up. “I was a Political Science student in Adamson University then. I entered as scholar in my school,” she smiled before pausing for a moment yet again. “We were adventurous, ambitious children then; our dreams were to build an empire so we intentionally applied in different schools. Among my four friends, I was closest to Analisa. Even today, I still dream of her,” her head bowed, she reached for tissue and covered her nose.
“M–ma’am, may we know the whereabouts of your friends?” Michelle followed up. Isabel laid the orange juice and biscuits in the table before leaving us again.
“I was the only one who survived that horrific night,” she looked at us straight in the eyes. I could feel her teeth grinding with anger while recalling the moment. Lourdes then added, “I was lucky enough to escape the torture.”
Lourdes turned her back to get the three photo albums in a nearby rack before ensuing with her story. She opened the first one on top while narrating, “On April 19, 1985, we reached Gumaca at around 3:00 in the afternoon. The five of us were walking around the town after having our merienda when five armed men interrogated us,” her hands paused in the middle part of the photo album, staring at the photographs and news clippings. “The boys – Gilberto and Hector – became apprehensive with the confrontation. None of us were able to defend ourselves because the military men did not allow us to render an explanation. We were accused of being communists so they tied our hands and covered our eyes,” there was dead silence between my classmates and I while waiting for the next part of the story. “It was the longest trip of my life. Analisa was wailing on my shoulder throughout the trip. One of the men kept on teasing her; he whispered on her ears, licked on her earlobes, and touched her private parts.”
Curiosity hit me so I asked as soon as I grabbed the chance, “where did they bring you, Ma’am?”
“Those animals brought us in Guillermo Nakar Camp in Lucena, Quezon. While my eyes adjusted to the light after hours of seeing darkness, to my surprise, we were not alone. Some farmers and student activists were also encapsulated in that cold, dark room with only a swinging lightbulb that served as a consolation prize. The room had wooden beds, drums filled with ice-cold water and other torture devices. Their boss, General Delos Santos, greeted us when our blindfolds were removed. That pig was confident that none of us will stay alive for long. He was so wrong,” Lourdes depicted it in such a vivid way. “At that point, you are still with your friends?” Luis asked. She nodded her head in response. I painstakingly jotted the details in the swiftest way possible.
“We were segregated then according to gender. All the women were asked to strip in front of everyone. Those who refused were unclothed forcefully. I could still remember the agony in Gilberto’s face when the General removed Analisa’s dress. It must be excruciating to see your girlfriend be sodomized in front of you.”
“So, Analisa was Gilberto’s girlfriend?” Michelle asked. “Yes. Analisa was my best friend and even though it was painful, I did not interfere with their relationship,” tears rolled down Lourdes’s eyes. Luis offered his handkerchief but she declined, pulling wipe rolls from the tissue box. “It was dreadful to see the two most important people in my life suffer in such amount agony,” she supplemented.
“One by one the detainees instantaneously became lifeless when the officers played Russian roulette at us. When Hector horribly pulled the trigger, that one bullet ended his life. Bloodstains were all over, parcels of Hector’s flesh spattered in our bodies,” her face turning from pink to red. Even though Lourdes was our fifth interviewee, the pain of hearing the stories of these survivors are as horrendous.
“The rest survived?” Michelle asked with her trembling words. “The men who survived Russian roulette were blindfolded again. Their head and feet were put into two adjacent beds while the rest of their body hanged in the air,” Lourdes narrated. “San Juanico Bridge,” I responded. That was the same form of torture of our first interviewee, Mang Carding – a fisherman in Bataan. “Yes. A lot of things happened that night; some were victimized with what they call truth serum. Others were electrocuted. As for most of the women, we were abused by whoever wanted us. I held my hand with Analisa when Eloisa was shot because the soldiers thought she was fat and not pretty enough to be raped. My friend was butchered like an animal. They were disgusting!” her voice thundered.
Michelle stood from her chair and asked Lourdes for a hug. They both sobbed while Michelle brushed Lourdes’s back, attempting to ease the nightmare. When I looked at Luis, I saw him clandestinely wiped his tears under his eyeglasses so I pretended to look at my notes.
“Annalisa was taken by the General and that was the last time I saw her,” Lourdes’s hands were shaking. “The last time I heard her voice was when cursing before I lost my consciousness. One soldier was on top of me, he was shoving his sex organ in my vagina. Two soldiers held my hands and feet, the three idiots were laughing. I was struggling though I didn’t have the right amount of strength to combat three muscular men. They persistently hit my head, that made me see flickering stars,” the lady exclaimed. The story almost left me in an oblivious state that my consciousness drifted away; I got carried away, too. With the earnest efforts in my head, I snapped back to reality.
“Ma’am, if it’s too much to recall certain –“ I uttered, even before I finish what I wanted to say, the lady shook her head. “No. No. It’s ok. I think your generation should know what kind of atrocity innocent people endured then. And I also want to break my silence,” Lourdes explained. There was an awkward pause.
“For the longest time, I tried to evade talking about this. But I can’t take how much historical revisionism is taking place lately,” the conviction in Lourdes’s voice is adamant. “How could these people do this? If only they can feel the agony of nights when I hear screams in my head. I chose to isolate myself; to not build my own family because of my fear that General Delos Santos and his cohorts might track me down.”
“We promise to do our best to fight the attempt to rewrite history,” said Luis. “We are grateful you survived,” I added. Lourdes looked at us in awe. “Well thanks to that one soldier,” an abrupt interval occurred. “At dawn, he carried me out of the shambles. Even though my vision was blurred, I saw his name embroidered in his uniform. It read, ‘Ortiz, N.B.’. Mr. Ortiz briefly instructed me to follow a trail on the woods to ensure my safety. He was the one tasked to bury the corpses; nevertheless, when he felt my pulse I saw mercy in his eyes.”
“A soldier helped you escape?” Luis clarified. “Yes. That man looked like an angel; he had a simple face nevertheless possessed that striking features. He gave me this platinum gold necklace with a cross amulet, he reminded me to pray whenever I’m afraid. I will forever be grateful for that moment,” Lourdes held the jewelry on her neck. “After few minutes of crawling, I heard men screaming from afar then gunshots followed. The silence of the camp was erupted, General Delos Santos was fuming mad upon checking that there was a missing body in the hollow ground. Motor vehicle engines started, military men roved around in panic. They feared that one person could spill the beans of their camp. I was determined so I used all my remaining energy to move as swiftly as possible.”
It was like frosty water splashed in my neck, I realized that the soldier Lourdes was referring to might be the missing jigsaw puzzle in our family’s history. My uncle once served in the Armed Forces in the 1980s. Back then, my grandparents were just told that Uncle Nick left the camp one day and never returned. Could the initials in the soldier’s camouflage apparel stand for Nicanor B. Ortiz?
“Hmm…Hmm…Hmm…He looks so much like you, Vito…” Lourdes hummed Johann Sebastian Bach’s Aria – the song that Uncle Nick always played in the piano, according to my father. “Vito Ortiz, right?” Lourdes added which left me dumbfounded, and then suddenly my notepad and pen fell to the ground. “Hey! Hey! Are you okay?” Michelle held my shoulders. “Dude, your face is pale and sweaty!” Luis added. Their voices were like an echo. The three of us looked at each other in bewilderment.
“Vito, listen. Takes this necklace and give it to your family. Tell your grandparents that your Uncle was my Bagani – which means hero in my native language. And please extend my regards,” Lourdes handed the jewelry to me. I held it tight in the hopes of finally bringing peace to my family’s long search for Uncle Nick. Slowly, teardrops from my eyes turned into a flowing river of tears.
The thesis is almost over. Tranquility is on its way to our home. The answers that my family sought for more than three decades are finally solved.
Then there was silence.
[Entry 191, The SubSelfie Blog]
About the Author:
Paul Tena works as Paralegal at Santiago Cruz and Associates Law Offices while pursuing his law degree at Adamson University College of Law. A graduate of a degree in Broadcast Communication at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Paul also taught English Writing, Speech and Literature for three years at the Philippine College of Criminology, Universidad de Manila and World Citi College (North Caloocan Campus).