Tag: History

John le Carré has been Federised

Federer makes an appearance on John le Carré’s new novel, Our Kind of Traitor.

le Carré, author of numerous espionage thrillers, rehashes the historic 2009 French Open finals between Le Fed and the Swede Robin Soderling, and in this snippet from the upcoming novel’s extract, Perry and Gail, two Oxford academics, go to Paris to watch the French Open championship match. Does it mean that he has been a fan of the Swiss all along?

Note: Pictures were added for dramatic effect 🙂

“The stadium is erupting.
First Robin Soderling, then Roger Federer looking as becomingly modest and self-assured as only God can. Perry is craning forward, lips pressed tensely together. He’s in the presence.

Warm-up time. Federer mis-hits a couple of backhands; Soderling’s forehand returns are a little too waspish for a friendly exchange. Federer practises a couple of serves, alone. Soderling does the same, alone.
Source: Rolandgarros.com

Practice over. Their jackets fall off them like sheaths from swords. In the pale blue corner, Federer, with a flash of red inside his collar and a matching red tick on his headband. In the white corner, Soderling, with phosphorescent yellow flashes on his sleeves and shorts….

… the match has begun and to the joy of the crowd, but too suddenly for Gail, Federer has broken Soderling’s serve and won his own. Now it’s Soderling to serve again. A pretty blonde ballgirl with a ponytail hands him a ball, drops a bob, and canters off again. The linesman howls as if he’s been stung. The rain’s coming on again.

Soderling has double-faulted; Federer’s triumphal march to victory has begun. Perry’s face is lit with simple awe and Gail discovers she is loving him all over again from scratch: his unaffected courage, his determination to do the right thing even if it’s wrong, his need to be loyal and his refusal to be sorry for himself. She’s his sister, friend, protector. A similar feeling must have overtaken Perry, for he grasps her hand and keeps it. Soderling is going for the French Open. Federer is going for history and Perry is going with him. Federer has won the first set 6-1. It took him just under half an hour.

The manners of the French crowd are truly beautiful, Gail decides. Federer is their hero as well as Perry’s. But they are meticulous in awarding praise to Soderling wherever praise is due. And Soderling is grateful, and shows it. He’s taking risks, which means he is also forcing errors and Federer has just committed one. To make up for it he delivers a lethal drop shot from 10 feet behind the baseline…
… But suddenly Perry isn’t watching the game any more. He isn’t watching the smoked windows either. He has leapt to his feet and barged in front of her, apparently to shield her, and he’s yelling: ‘What the hell!’ with no hope of an answer.
Rising with him, which isn’t easy because now everyone is standing too and yelling ‘What the hell’ in French, Swiss German, English or whatever language comes naturally to them, her first expectation is that she is about to see a brace of dead pheasant at Roger Federer’s feet: a left and a right. This is because she confuses the clatter of everybody leaping up with the din of panicked birds clambering into the air like out-of-date aeroplanes, to be shot down by her brother and his rich friends. Her second equally wild thought is that it is Dima who has been shot, probably by Niki, and tossed out of the smoked-glass windows.
Source: TheGuardian.co.uk
But the spindly man who has appeared like a ragged red bird at Federer’s end of the tennis court is not Dima, and he is anything but dead. He wears the red hat favoured by Madame Guillotine and long, blood-red socks. He has a blood-red robe draped over his shoulders and he’s standing chatting to Federer just behind the baseline that Federer has been serving from.

Federer is a bit perplexed about what to say – they clearly haven’t met before – but he preserves his on-court nice manners, although he looks a tad irritated in a grouchy, Swiss sort of way that reminds us that his celebrated armour has its chinks. After all, he’s here to make history, not waste the time of day with a spindly man in a red dress who’s burst onto the court and introduced himself.

But whatever has passed between them is over, and the man in the red dress is scampering for the net, skirts and elbows flying. A bunch of tardy, black-suited gentlemen are in comic pursuit and the crowd isn’t uttering a word any more: it’s a sporting crowd and this is sport, if not of a high order. The man in the red dress vaults the net, but not cleanly: a bit of net-cord there. The dress is no longer a dress. It never was. It’s a flag. Two more black-suits have appeared on the other side of the net. The flag is the flag of Spain – L’Espagne – but that’s only according to the woman who sang La Marseillaise, and her opinion is contested by a hoarse-voiced man several rows up from her who insists it belongs to le Club Football de Barcelona.

A black-suit has finally brought the man with the flag down with a rugger tackle. Two more pounce on him and drag him into the darkness of a tunnel. Gail is staring into Perry’s face, which is paler than she has ever seen it before.
God does not sweat. Federer’s pale blue shirt is unstained except for a single skid-mark between the shoulder blades. His movements seem a trifle less fluid, but whether that’s the rain or the clotting clay or the nervous impact of the flagman is anybody’s guess. The sun has gone in, umbrellas are opening around the court, somehow it’s 3-4 in the second set, Soderling is rallying and Federer looks a bit depressed.
He just wants to make history and go home to his beloved Switzerland. And, oh dear, it’s a tiebreak – except it hardly is, because Federer’s first serves are flying in one after the other, the way Perry’s do sometimes, but twice as fast. It’s the third set and Federer has broken Soderling’s serve, he’s back in perfect rhythm and the flagman has lost after all. Is Federer weeping even before he’s won? Never mind. He’s won now. It’s as simple and uneventful as that.

Federer has won and he can weep his heart out, and Perry, too, is blinking away a manly tear. His idol has made the history that he came to make and the crowd is on its feet for the history-maker, and Niki the baby-faced bodyguard is edging his way towards them along the row of happy people; the handclapping has become a coordinated drumbeat.”

Read the rest on The Telegraph.

The Inaugural Address of Pres. Benigno Aquino III (Full Text)

His Excellency Jose Ramos Horta, Former President Fidel V. Ramos, Former President Joseph Estrada, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and members of the Senate, House Speaker Prospero Nograles and members of the House, members of the Supreme Court, members of the foreign delegations,Your Excellencies of the diplomatic corps, fellow colleagues in government, aking mga kababayan.

Ang pagtayo ko dito ngayon ay patunay na kayo ang aking tunay na lakas. Hindi ko inakala na darating tayo sa puntong ito, na ako’y manunumpa sa harap ninyo bilang inyong Pangulo. Hindi ko pinangarap maging tagapagtaguyod ng pag-asa at tagapagmana ng mga suliranin ng ating bayan.

Ang layunin ko sa buhay ay simple lang: maging tapat sa aking mga magulang at sa bayan bilang isang marangal na anak, mabait na kuya, at mabuting mamamayan.

Nilabanan ng aking ama ang diktadurya at ibinuwis niya ang kanyang buhay para tubusin ang ating demokrasya. Inalay ng aking ina ang kanyang buhay upang pangalagaan ang demokrasyang ito. Ilalaan ko ang aking buhay para siguraduhin na ang ating demokrasya ay kapaki-pakinabang sa bawat isa. Namuhunan na po kami ng dugo at handa kong gawin ito kung muling kinakailangan.

Tanyag man ang aking mga magulang at ang kanilang mga nagawa, alam ko rin ang problema ng ordinaryong mamamayan. Alam nating lahat ang pakiramdam na magkaroon ng pamahalaang bulag at bingi. Alam natin ang pakiramdam na mapagkaitan ng hustisya, na mabalewala ng mga taong pinagkatiwalaan at inatasan nating maging ating tagapagtanggol.

Kayo ba ay minsan ring nalimutan ng pamahalaang inyong iniluklok sa puwesto? Ako rin. Kayo ba ay nagtiis na sa trapiko para lamang masingitan ng isang naghahari-hariang de-wangwang sa kalsada? Ako rin. Kayo ba ay sawang-sawa na sa pamahalaang sa halip na magsilbi sa taumbayan ay kailangan pa nila itong pagpasensiyahan at tiisin? Ako rin.

Katulad ninyo ako. Marami na sa atin ang bumoto gamit ang kanilang paa – nilisan na nila ang ating bansa sa kanilang paghahanap ng pagbabago at katahimikan. Tiniis nila ang hirap, sinugod ang panganib sa ibang bansa dahil doon may pag-asa kahit kaunti na dito sa atin ay hindi nila nakikita. Sa iilang sandali na sarili ko lang ang aking inaalala, pati ako ay napag-isip din – talaga bang hindi na mababago ang pamamahala natin dito? Hindi kaya nasa ibang bansa ang katahimikang hinahanap ko? Saan ba nakasulat na kailangang puro pagtitiis ang tadhana ng Pilipino?

Ngayon, sa araw na ito – dito magwawakas ang pamumunong manhid sa mga daing ng taumbayan. Hindi si Noynoy ang gumawa ng paraan, kayo ang dahilan kung bakit ngayon, magtatapos na ang pagtitiis ng sambayanan. Ito naman po ang umpisa ng kalbaryo ko, ngunit kung marami tayong magpapasan ng krus ay kakayanin natin ito, gaano man kabigat.

Sa tulong ng wastong pamamahala sa mga darating na taon, maiibsan din ang marami nating problema. Ang tadhana ng Pilipino ay babalik sa tamang kalagayan, na sa bawat taon pabawas ng pabawas ang problema ng Pinoy na nagsusumikap at may kasiguruhan sila na magiging tuloy-tuloy na ang pagbuti ng kanilang sitwasyon.

Kami ay narito para magsilbi at hindi para maghari. Ang mandato ninyo sa amin ay pagbabago – isang malinaw na utos para ayusin ang gobyerno at lipunan mula sa pamahalaang iilan lamang ang nakikinabang tungo sa isang pamahalaang kabutihan ng mamamayan ang pinangangalagaan.

Ang mandatong ito ay isa kung saan kayo at ang inyong pangulo ay nagkasundo para sa pagbabago – isang paninindigan na ipinangako ko noong kampanya at tinanggap ninyo noong araw ng halalan.

Sigaw natin noong kampanya: “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.” Hindi lamang ito pang slogan o pang poster – ito ang mga prinsipyong tinatayuan at nagsisilbing batayan ng ating administrasyon.

Ang ating pangunahing tungkulin ay ang magsikap na maiangat ang bansa mula sa kahirapan, sa pamamagitan ng pagpapairal ng katapatan at mabuting pamamalakad sa pamahalaan.

Ang unang hakbang ay ang pagkakaroon ng tuwid at tapat na hanay ng mga pinuno. Magsisimula ito sa akin. Sisikapin kong maging isang mabuting ehemplo. Hinding hindi ko sasayangin ang tiwalang ipinagkaloob ninyo sa akin. Sisiguraduhin ko na ganito rin ang adhikain ng aking Gabinete at ng mga magiging kasama sa ating pamahalaan.

Naniniwala akong hindi lahat ng nagsisilbi sa gobyerno ay corrupt. Sa katunayan, mas marami sa kanila ay tapat. Pinili nilang maglingkod sa gobyerno upang gumawa ng kabutihan. Ngayon, magkakaroon na sila ng pagkakataong magpakitang-gilas. Inaasahan natin sila sa pagsupil ng korapsyon sa loob mismo ng burukrasya.

Sa mga itinalaga sa paraang labag sa batas, ito ang aking babala: sisimulan natin ang pagbabalik ng tiwala sa pamamagitan ng pag-usisa sa mga “midnight appointments.” Sana ay magsilbi itong babala sa mga nag-iisip na ipagpatuloy ang baluktot na kalakarang nakasanayan na ng marami.

Sa mga kapuspalad nating mga kababayan, ngayon, ang pamahalaan ang inyong kampeon.

Hindi natin ipagpapaliban ang mga pangangailangan ng ating mga estudyante, kaya’t sisikapin nating punan ang kakulangan sa ating mga silid-aralan.

Unti-unti din nating babawasan ang mga kakulangan sa imprastraktura para sa transportasyon, turismo at pangangalakal. Mula ngayon, hindi na puwede ang “puwede na” pagdating sa mga kalye, tulay at gusali dahil magiging responsibilidad ng mga kontratista ang panatilihing nasa mabuting kalagayan ang mga proyekto nila.

Bubuhayin natin ang programang “emergency employment” ng dating pangulong Corazon Aquino sa pagtatayo ng mga bagong imprastraktura na ito. Ito ay magbibigay ng trabaho sa mga local na komunidad at makakatulong sa pagpapalago ng kanila at ng ating ekonomiya.

Hindi kami magiging sanhi ng inyong pasakit at perwisyo. Palalakasin natin ang koleksyon at pupuksain natin ang korapsyon sa Kawanihan ng Rentas Internas at Bureau of Customs para mapondohan natin ang ating mga hinahangad para sa lahat, tulad ng:

  • dekalidad na edukasyon, kabilang ang edukasyong bokasyonal para makapaghanap ng marangal na trabaho ang hindi makapag-kolehiyo;
  • serbisyong pangkalusugan, tulad ng Philhealth para sa lahat sa loob ng tatlong taon;
  • tirahan sa loob ng mga ligtas na komunidad.

Palalakasin at palalaguin natin ang bilang ng ating kasundaluhan at kapulisan, hindi para tugunan ang interes ng mga naghahari-harian, ngunit para proteksyunan ang mamamayan. Itinataya nila ang kanilang buhay para mayroong pagkakataon sa katahimikan at kapayapaan sa sambayanan. Dumoble na ang populasyong kanilang binabantayan, nanatili naman sila sa bilang. Hindi tama na ang nagmamalasakit ay kinakawawa.

Kung dati ay may fertilizer scam, ngayon ay may kalinga ng tunay para sa mga magsasaka. Tutulungan natin sila sa irigasyon, extension services, at sa pagbenta ng kanilang produkto sa pinakamataas na presyong maaari.

Inaatasan natin na ang papasok na Secretary Alcala ay magtayo ng mga trading centers kung saan diretso na ang magsasaka sa mamimili – lalaktawan natin ang gitna, kasama na ang kotong cop. Sa ganitong paraan, ang dating napupunta sa gitna ay maari nang paghatian ng magsasaka at mamimili.

Gagawin nating kaaya-aya sa negosyante ang ating bansa. We will cut red tape dramatically and implement stable economic policies. We will level the playing field for investors and make government an enabler, not a hindrance, to business. Sa ganitong paraan lamang natin mapupunan ang kakulangan ng trabaho para sa ating mga mamamayan.

Layunin nating paramihin ang trabaho dito sa ating bansa upang hindi na kailanganin ang mangibang-bansa para makahanap lamang ng trabaho. Ngunit habang ito ay hindi pa natin naaabot, inaatasan ko ang mga kawani ng DFA, POEA at ng OWWA at iba pang mga kinauukulang ahensiya na mas lalo pang paigtingin ang pagtugon sa mga hinaing at pangangailangan ng ating mga overseas Filipino workers.

Papaigtingin namin ang proceso ng konsultasyon at pag-uulat sa taumbayan. Sisikapin naming isakatuparan ang nakasaad sa ating Konstitusiyon na kinikilala ang karapatan ng mamamayaan na magkaroon ng kaalaman ukol sa mga pampublikong alintana.

Binuhay natin ang diwa ng people power noong kampanya. Ipagpatuloy natin ito tungo sa tuwid at tapat na pamamahala. Ang naniniwala sa people power ay nakatuon sa kapwa at hindi sa sarili.

Sa mga nang-api sa akin, kaya ko kayong patawarin at pinapatawad ko na kayo. Sa mga nang-api sa sambayanan, wala akong karapatan na limutin ang inyong mga kasalanan.

To those who are talking about reconciliation, if they mean that they would like us to simply forget about the wrongs that they have committed in the past, we have this to say: there can be no reconciliation without justice. Sa paglimot ng pagkakasala, sinisigurado mong maulit muli ang mga pagkakasalang ito. Secretary de Lima, you have your marching orders. Begin the process of providing true and complete justice for all.

Ikinagagalak din naming ibahagi sa inyo ang pagtanggap ni dating Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. sa hamon ng pagtatatag at pamumuno sa isang Truth Commission na magbibigay linaw sa maraming kahinahinalang isyu na hanggang ngayon ay walang kasagutan at resolusyon.

Ang sinumang nagkamali ay kailangang humarap sa hustisya. Hindi maaaring patuloy ang kalakaran ng walang pananagutan at tuloy na pang-aapi.

My government will be sincere in dealing with all the peoples of Mindanao. We are committed to a peaceful and just settlement of conflicts, inclusive of the interests of all – may they be Lumads, Bangsamoro or Christian.

We shall defeat the enemy by wielding the tools of justice, social reform, and equitable governance leading to a better life. Sa tamang pamamahala gaganda ang buhay ng lahat, at sa buhay na maganda, sino pa ang gugustuhing bumalik sa panahon ng pang-aapi?

Kung kasama ko kayo, maitataguyod natin ang isang bayan kung saan pantay-pantay ang pagkakataon, dahil pantay-pantay nating ginagampanan ang ating mga pananagutan.

Kamakailan lamang, ang bawat isa sa atin ay nanindigan sa presinto. Bumoto tayo ayon sa ating karapatan at konsensiya. Hindi tayo umatras sa tungkulin nating ipaglaban ang karapatan na ito.

Pagkatapos ng bilangan, pinatunayan ninyo na ang tao ang tunay na lakas ng bayan.

Ito ang kahalagahan ng ating demokrasya. Ito ang pundasyon ng ating pagkakaisa. Nangampanya tayo para sa pagbabago. Dahil dito taas-noo muli ang Pilipino. Tayong lahat ay kabilang sa isang bansa kung saan maaari nang mangarap muli.

To our friends and neighbors around the world, we are ready to take our place as a reliable member of the community of nations, a nation serious about its commitments and which harmonizes its national interests with its international responsibilities.

We will be a predictable and consistent place for investment, a nation where everyone will say, “it all works.”

Inaanyayahan ko kayo ngayon na manumpa sa ating mga sarili, sa sambayanan, walang maiiwan.

Walang pangingibang-bayan at gastusan na walang wastong dahilan. Walang pagtalikod sa mga salitang binitawan noong kampanya, ngayon at hanggang sa mga susunod pang pagsubok na pagdadaanan sa loob ng anim na taon.

Walang lamangan, walang padrino at walang pagnanakaw. Walang wang-wang, walang counterflow, walang tong. Panahon na upang tayo ay muling magkawanggawa.

Nandito tayo ngayon dahil sama-sama tayong nanindigan at nagtiwala na may pag-asa.

The people who are behind us dared to dream. Today, the dream starts to become a reality. Sa inyong mga nag-iisip pa kung tutulong kayo sa pagpasan ng ating krus, isa lang ang aking tanong – kung kailan tayo nanalo, saka pa ba kayo susuko?

Kayo ang boss ko, kaya’t hindi maaaring hindi ako makinig sa mga utos ninyo. We will design and implement an interaction and feedback mechanism that can effectively respond to the people’s needs and aspirations.

Kayo ang nagdala sa akin sa puntong ito – ang ating mga volunteers – matanda, bata, celebrity, ordinaryong tao, na umikot sa Pilipinas para ikampanya ang pagbabago; ang aking mga kasambahay, na nag-asikaso ng lahat ng aking mga personal na pangangailangan; ang aking pamilya, kaibigan at katrabaho, na dumamay, nag-alaga at nagbigay ng suporta sa akin; ang ating mga abogado, na nagpuyat para bantayan ang ating mga boto at siguraduhing mabilang ang bawat isa; ang aking mga kapartido at kaalyado na kasama kong nangahas mangarap; at ang milyun-milyong Pilipinong nagkaisa, nagtiwala at hindi nawalan ng pag-asa – nasa inyo ang aking taos-pusong pasasalamat.

Hindi ko makakayang harapin ang aking mga magulang, at kayong mga nagdala sa akin sa yugto ng buhay kong ito, kung hindi ko maisasakatuparan ang aking mga binitawang salita sa araw na ito.

My parents sought nothing less and died for nothing less than democracy, peace and prosperity. I am blessed by this legacy. I shall carry the torch forward.

Layunin ko na sa pagbaba ko sa katungkulan, masasabi ng lahat na malayo na ang narating natin sa pagtahak ng tuwid na landas at mas maganda na ang kinabukasang ipapamana natin sa susunod na henerasyon. Samahan ninyo ako sa pagtatapos ng laban na ito. Tayo na sa tuwid na landas.

Maraming salamat po at mabuhay ang sambayanang Pilipino!

Photo from Reuters

Love means doing something for nothing

Much like badminton, which has its roots in British India, tennis did not originate in Europe, but most likely in ancient Egypt.  CNN’s A Short History of Tennis: Henry VIII to Federer the great sheds light on the funny/bittersweet scoring term wherein to not win a point or a game is to “love.”

The love has its origins from the French word for egg ‘l’oeuf’, symbolizing ‘nothing’ as Lesley Ronaldson, a Real Tennis professional, who lives at Hampton Court, told Open Court.

“In lawn tennis it’s 15-30-40 games, abbreviated from 45 in 1800,” she said. …And love for instance, love was something you did for nothing, you did something for nothing, it comes from there,” she added.

And if to love is “to lose one’s head,” then the idea was served up to Anne Boleyn quite literally:

Henry’s second wife Ann Boleyn was watching a game of Real Tennis in Whitehall when she was arrested, and according to the official Web site of Hampton Court, legend has it he was playing when told she had been executed.

“That was clearly not a ‘love’ match but from Real Tennis it is generally accepted the modern tennis scoring system and terminology evolved.

Would Federer have fared better if tennis was still being played the “real” way.

This is what we are commemorating today

“Twenty-one lang ako noong magka-giyera. Nasa Aurora ako nung dumating yung mga Hapon. Nang ipinatawag kami ni MacArthur, nagpa-alam na ako sa mga magulang ko kasi hindi ko alam kung magkikita pa kami uli. 

“Pumunta ako ng Maynila para mag-report sa headquarters. Nung maging ‘open city’ na ang Maynila, nagpunta naman kami sa Bataan. Doon na kami inabutan ng mga Hapon. Mahirap ang buhay namin doon at kung ano-ano na lang yung kinakain namin.

“Nung sumuko kami, pinag-martsa kami papuntang Tarlac… Bago kami dumating ng Pampanga, tumakas kami. Minamalarya ako noon, pero sa awa ng Dios, nakaligtas naman ako. Yung isang kasama ko ang minalas; namatay sya habang tumatakas kami.  Lumabas na lang yung tubig sa ilong at tenga nya. Pitong araw kaming nagtatago noon, tapos tatakbo lang kami pabalik ng Tarlac sa gabi para hindi kami makita ng mga Hapon.”

Thus my grandfather shared while we were watching the video documentary “In the Hands of the Enemy” which my friend Peter, a teacher and historian based in Florida, sent me a few years ago. This is what we are commemorating today. For my grandparents.

It’s difficult to verify everything now, as only oral history has been passed on from one generation to another. Word has it that my great great grandparents were Katipuneros.  However, although Lola might not have heard of Tandang Sora’s exploits when she was in grade school days, she eventually participated in the guerrilla warfare as a nurse when Japan invaded the Philippines. Suffice it to say that her hands-on medical training was conducted without any modern equipment but only bandages, herbs and kind words to comfort the wounded and the dying.

One of these days, I’m going to scan all the pre- and post-WW2 photos that my grandmother had painstakingly saved in her photo albums. Lola (Tagalog for grandmother) kept dozens…hundreds, maybe…of photographs of years past that told so much about what life was like in those days when everything was simpler but people knew how to live well. Tom Brokaw called the World War II-era generation as his nation’s greatest, and I could probably say the same about those who witnessed and fought through the same war from here.  It’s too bad that their children and their children’s children have all but forgotten whatever progress was made when the country attempted to rebuilt itself after the war.

A Family Tale

Aside from the fact that the writer is an uncle who won this year’s Palanca Award for short story for this piece, I am proud of my father’s side of the family’s background. Whatever strides the family has taken over the decades, nobody forgets their humble beginnings. My generation is a considerably lucky lot.

I have often listened to my grandfather talk about his exploits as a soldier and the harshness of war, especially the Japanese invasion. At 20, he was recruited to the United States Army for the Far East (USAFFE) and was immediately called upon to defend the country when news of the attack on Pearl Harbor reached the Philippines. He fought in Mt. Samat in Bataan, and from the time that the peninsula fell into the hands of the invaders, he cheated death twice by breaking away from the Bataan Death March near the Pampanga-Tarlac border, all the while suffering from starvation and malaria, with Japanese guards on his heels ready to shoot him and his comrades on sight. Out of the group of seven or so men that left the March, two did not survive.

Years later, Japanese soldiers rounded up every able-bodied male in his town, Victoria, Tarlac, to be tagged as a traitor or conspirator for the Americans by a makapili. Thanks to sheer luck, his former employer, a Japanese intelligence officer who set up a shop in town as a cover, recognized him and asked the Japanese guards to let him go. At that time, he was either working for or had been involved with the guerrilla campaign.

I do not know how he and my grandmother met, but years ago, I discovered a photograph kept by my grandmother in one of the family albums. At the back of the photo was a loving dedication to Lola, dated 1948.

My grandmother, a loving woman around whom the family revolves, is a devout Catholic who still performs certain religious practices that would make the Pope squirm in his frock.

Life on the Sierra Madre
– Sigredo R. Iñigo

“You forgot to check the traps,” Father was chuckling, shaking his head as he came up from the meadow. He held between his two fingers a tiny feather-covered skeleton; a quail had been caught and gone unnoticed for days and the ants had picked it to the bone. He was not a big man but he could roam by himself through the woods for days with only a box of matches and a sharpened machete.

I was perched on a log on top of an outcrop, watching sundown. I just cut a sackload of sakate grass for Pandora, our carabao, so named after my dog who had died that summer. I had left her half-submerged in a mudhole near the stream below, tethered to a sapling. From our little hut the aroma of rice and vegetables being cooked drifted to our nostrils. Mother had gathered eggplants and bitter gourd and green chili from the field and singkamas leaves from the bank of the stream and these she now boiled in a clay pot, seasoned with fish sauce and topped with the catfish caught in our buho trap which she broiled over the glowing coals. We were in a mountain farm somewhere in the Sierra Madre.

“Supper’s ready,” Mother finally announced. She was forty and had given birth to five children. I was sixteen, the second to the eldest.

“You better bring the carabao over,” Father said.

I returned to the stream in the gathering dusk, but saw no carabao. The sapling to which I had tied its leash had been uprooted. I saw hoofprints beside the creek, going downstream. I should have tied it more securely. Feeling myself guilty as Iscariot, I called Father and told him about it. He came down immediately, and we hurried along to catch the runaway.

Most carabaos – or water buffalo – are tame as dogs, never running away even if left untethered, but a few, like ours, had the nasty habit called ag-garot: left untied it would run for miles like a fugitive. Farmers hated such animals, and I too began hating it as I stumbled repeatedly in the dark, sloshing in the knee-deep water.


This was 1970: Father had just retired from the army. He was a master sergeant. Most retirees were content to reminisce about the war, but not my father. With his savings he bought the rights to this homestead. Our folks thought he had been shell-shocked and wanted no part of civilization, but I knew there was something else on his mind: he had grown up in a farm near a forest that teemed with deer and wild boar and python whose bodies grew thicker than coconut trunks; maybe he wanted to relive his younger days.

Mother had tried to dissuade him from retiring; a family with five children could not live decently on a soldier’s pension. But he was resolved to leave the barracks for good. For years he had grown bitter serving the army, tired of being ordered around by lieutenants fresh from the military academy, those upstarts who swaggered around like heroes while he, who fought in Bataan and saw his comrades shattered by mortar and cannon, he who walked the hundred miles from Bataan to Tarlac – the Death March – that claimed almost as many lives at those that fell in the battlefield – barely survived on a peon’s wages drilling recruits to the ground. Before I was born he went to Korea as part of the Philippine contingent sent there to fight the reds. In Mindanao he fought the mujahideen, those fierce Muslim warriors who wielded the kris, the ancient fire sword that could hack cleanly through rifle and man. After a quarrel in the barracks with a drunken corporal whom he almost shot he packed his bags. His aging comrades waved him through; they never expected to see him again.


The homestead lay in a hidden valley up the mountains, so far only a few kaingineros – slash and burn farmers – lived near there, much farther than the tiny village of Mal-lungoy where as a child I used to go on summer vacations, staying in my uncle Ulep’s hut. My parents thought I was frail and that life on a farm would make me strong like my cousin Simo who was asthmatic until the mountain air cured his lungs. I remembered mornings when I took the carabaos to pasture with Simo, clinging for dear life to their slippery backs. He always warned me to carry a stick and watch out for the brownish yellow kara-saeng lurking in the tall grass, venomous and deadly. He told me to watch my footing in the swamps lest I step on the dreaded gayung-gayung – quicksand – that could swallow a man and his carabao if he was not careful. On moonlit nights I played hide and seek with other children among the haystacks and the wooden carts.

When I asked my uncle Ulep where the homestead was located, he replied “Just over there” which was a way of speaking among country folks. If you asked them how far it was to the next village they’d say it was “only a little way up there” and you’d better not go unless you’re prepared to go on a day-long hike. When I was a kid, my playmates in Mal-lungoy told me that an ocean (the Pacific) lay just across the mountains. Excited, I said I wanted to see it for myself, and proceeded on my little expedition. The other boys followed gamely behind. Perhaps they wanted to see the ocean too and believed I could take them there; I must have looked so determined. “Let’s go home,” I said after a couple of hours walking. The boys said nothing; they seemed relieved.

The days went so slowly in Mal-lungoy. When my cousin Anton celebrated his birthday, there was much excitement over a dance party in his honour. The yard was swept of debris and splashed with water to keep down the dust. That evening, a single kerosene lamp on a bamboo post illuminated the dance floor. My aunt Binang and my cousin Luzviminda who was fourteen prepared rice cakes and boiled banaba leaves flavoured with molasses to make tea. The girls of the village sat on benches and inverted mortars, barefoot and sunburnt like the men, their long hair glistening with fragrant coconut oil. I watched them dance with the men to the dull rhythm of a guitar that went dyal-dyal teng, dyal-dyal teng, dyal-dyal teng until I fell asleep; the dancing went on till dawn.


I was aghast when my father told me I would have to help him work on the homestead. I was newly graduated from high school. I was itching to join my eldest brother in college and find my destiny. But we were poor, and my parents assured me I would go college like the eldest who was taking up Liberal Arts at Wesleyan. She made it sound like a long vacation.

Everyone in the family had seen the land, been to the mountain as if on a picnic, except myself. Resigned to my fate, that summer while Father was away on some business I went up the mountain with my younger brother Thelmo to help clear the land. We carried scythes with long handles and our food in a rattan basket strapped to our backs. We hiked the first ten miles over trails, skirting the village of Mal-lungoy, and the next ten miles to our homestead. We had to cross a river, which was dangerous during monsoon rains, and we trudged over trails and rice paddies. To take a short cut we had to climb over a mountain ridge: we were breathless when we reached the summit. We were trudging over trail of sun-baked earth when Thelmo called out “Kara-saeng!” and took to his heels; I followed, laughing at him for his cowardice, not believing a snake could ever outrun us. Later in the mountains I would see how the kara-saeng could move like a blur through the grass, and I knew then why some people dreaded it so much.

We were drenched with sweat when we reached the homestead. I saw rolling ground covered with lush cogon. Only six acres and a half, this homestead was, consisting of rolling terrain. Heavy rains have created dry gulches, but the soil, though soft and rich, was sticky as clay, and the thick mat of cogon roots kept it from being washed away. Where a mound of soil had been deposited by rain from the overhanging bank, one could stick a piece of stem cutting from a cassava plant; in a few months, it would grow tubers as thick as a man’s thighs. Here the sabawil, a wild vine that bore bean-like fruits, grew in profusion. Its fruits could be cooked with vegetables when fresh; the dried seeds could be ground and brewed like coffee.

My brother and I mowed the cogon all day and went home to Rizal, our town, by sundown. We did not want to spend the night at Mal-lungoy, not wanting to be a burden to anybody. We were more tired from the walking than the mowing. I knew then why the feet of farmers were cracked at the heels. This continued for several days until vacation was over and Thelmo had to stay in town to attend school. All through the remainder of that summer I trekked to the mountain alone, going there at dawn and returning at nightfall, not wishing to be seen by my former classmates who might be returning home for vacation, having enrolled in colleges and universities, pursuing their dreams while I languished in the wild.


When my father returned with the carabao – he had bought it for three hundred pesos – he decided it was time to build a hut so we would not have to hike everyday, and Mother could come to help with the cooking and house chores more often. There were plenty of cogon for the roof, and the nearby woods abounded with diverse species of bamboo. For posts Father scoured the forest for the molave, a tree so dense water would not penetrate it even when soaked. My father once hauled a molave trunk that had drifted downstream and fed it straight to the fire; it burned steadily for hours. We gathered rattan vines and cut them into long strips; with these he lashed the beams and rafters to the posts. He spread the cogon evenly over strips of thin bamboo, their roots still intact, until sufficient mats were made for the roofing. With a pole I flung the mats to my father, and he lashed the thick mats of cogon to the rafters, layer upon layer. The sides of the hut were covered with sawali – strips of beaten bamboo woven together, still green; in time they would turn to dull yellow. There was no flooring but the compacted earth. We made a bed and a table out of bamboo which also served as my bed at night. Our utensils consisted of tin plates and spoons, coconut shells for drinking cups, wooden ladles, and fresh banana leaves to cover the table. We sat on a makeshift bench, made of a small log, whose feet were driven to the earthen floor.

Piled high next to our hut was an enormous stack of firewood taken from long dead trees. Everything that we used came from the farm: we drank from coconut shells and ate rice from banana leaves. Our clay pots and the stove itself were made from the strong red clay of the jungle. When going to town or to the woods, Father carried a backpack made of woven rattan. Among his treasured possessions were a stainless steel coffee mug and canteen marked U.S. army. He also kept hidden a .45 pistol and a bayonet, relics of the last war. At times when I strayed far from the farm, he warned me not to shout or I might attract the tulisanes – armed outlaws.


Here in the mountain, native rice is usually sown in mountain slopes, and now Father began tilling the soil in earnest, using an ancient plow to break the soil. He was clumsy at first, not having touched a plow in years, and as the plow went this way and that he cursed the animal, and the fresh mountain air reverberated with his curses.

Mountain soil is rich with centuries of accumulated loam but sticky as gum; chunks of it clung to the passing plow. Underneath the soil were thick mats of cogon roots and hidden boulders that sometimes snapped the plowblade.

The sticky ground finally yielded to the plow and harrow, ready for sowing. Father had obtained a sack of rice seed, the aromatic balatinao, rich and glutinous when cooked, and he soaked it in the stream. A day or two later Mother placed the seeds in baskets and cast them into the broken earth; Father passed the harrow over the soil, covering them.

That night, a soft rain began to fall, lulling us to sleep as we kept thinking of those seeds buried in the sodden earth.


We obtained our drinking water from the stream: with our hands we dug at the sandy bank and waited for the water to gush from the hidden spring. The water that flowed was cold and fresh and clean and tasted of wild roots. I spent my days fishing in the stream, which wound its way up the surrounding hills, ending up in a twenty-foot waterfall. I learned to make fish traps out of bamboo which I placed on flooded rice paddies. To catch quails, I was taught to make tiny fences of twigs in places where the tiny birds pecked for food so they would try to look for a way out. I left a small opening where I put in place a tiny noose. I improvised further, sprinkling a bit of rice on the ground leading to the trap. But you had to be alert for flapping noises or the bird would be strangled to death and rot.


The balatinao appeared – tiny pale green shoots peeking from the moist earth – a few days after sowing, bright and gay, as if calling on us: “Here we are, look at us, we’re coming!” We kept staring at them that morning like kids who have just planted their first garden crop. My parents had a new spring in their steps, clearing more land and planting fruit trees and vegetables. Father tried his hand at carving terraces out of a hillside, although he could not make them perfectly level so that water gathered at their lowest parts; he even dug tiny canals so the rainwater from the top would flow to the new paddies. Mother planted rice seedlings on the soft muddy ground and stocked the flooded portions with edible snails.

I never felt the need for company: I had always been a loner. I had fun building a small dam to make a pond for fish and shrimp. I found I enjoyed taking Pandora to pasture and gathering sakate for her evening meal. I enjoyed building my quail traps, finding more ingenious ways to lure the birds. I was always thrilled to see labuyo nesting in a thicket, or a jungle hornbill perched on a tree limb, or a thin red snake slithering along the bank of a creek. At nightfall when I went to the stream to fetch water, I listened to the chorus of insects from the nearby woods, sonorous and endless, and I imagined the time when no man had ever yet set foot in this place and defiled it.

Have you ever heard of a deafening silence? Here in the mountains the sounds are so muted, the silence so oppressive at times your ears seem to rebel at the absence of sound. Even at noon on a cloudless day during summer one hears nothing except the occasional cawing of a crow, or the vigorous whir of a quail’s wings.


In the farms the poor never starved: it was considered the worst sin for a farmer to allow his family to skip meals, for food is all around him to gather, from the ubiquitous malunggay to the lowly saluyot which grew in abundance in the meadows. Along with other greens and sour fruits these are boiled with fish sauce; with a plate of rice these were enough to silence the stomach and enable a peon to keep on working. Here, nobody who is willing to work dies of hunger. Even the old women, stooped and barely able to see, spin cotton thread into cloth and repair mats woven from palm leaves.

In the cities, people might go hungry, but in the country almost everything could be brought to the dining table – snails, crabs, fish, and shrimp from the stream, edible beetles, called abal-abal, which swarmed during the month of May as they emerged from the sandy soil along river banks; cooked with salt and tomatoes it is eaten by squeezing its fat belly into one’s mouth. Once a week Father went to the forest to snare labuyo – wild chicken – and I caught fish from the stream and quail from the meadow. But without rice, the native variety, which is white and fluffy and aromatic when cooked, a man would not be able to work. A man’s social status is determined by the size of his granary. Thus, a town’s tradition and culture revolved around rice, which we called in reverence “Apo Innapoy.” Rice was the staff of life, the thing for which we have come to work with our hands in this forgotten wilderness.


Our first harvest came in the month of November as the nights became longer and the cold easterly wind began to blow. The morning sun revealed the balatinao in all its glory, wearing its precious crown, the clusters of seeds dangling heavily from each stalk, shimmering in undulating waves, cascades upon cascades of golden grain, ready for the reaping. With scythes we began amputating the stalks, leaving the sheaves exposed to the sun. We reaped till dusk while the earth and the sundered stalks smelled sweetly, and the chilly breeze refreshed us. The next morning we allowed the sheaves to dry some more, then gathered them in the afternoon. By nightfall we had a mandala – a pile of sheaves seven feet high, our trophy after six months of toil.

We did the threshing by moonlight, pounding the sheaves against a wooden frame over a mat spread on the ground to catch the falling grain. Father had planted a small portion of the farm to glutinous rice, the variety used to make rice cakes and pinipig: fragrant and sweetish rice treat made by roasting fresh unhusked grain and pounding them over mortar and pestle. Mother picked a handful of the grain and made pinipig for us. We ate the rice and drank coffee brewed with ground roasted peanuts and newly harvested sugar cane molasses. Father loaded our harvest on a borrowed cart the following day, making two trips to town.


That summer following our first harvest I stayed in our farm most of the time, seldom visiting town. I spent most days hunting for quail in the meadows and fishing at the waterfall. This land had become my Shangri-La. Here I could sit for hours and not feel bored, gazing at the green stillness, inhaling the earth’s breath, drinking in the sunshine.

On afternoons I would sit over an outcrop contemplating the land, and I began thinking how, if I were Father, it could be improved. First, I would have to build better rice terraces so that the land would not be eroded by rains. I could bring down water from the waterfall using bamboo pipes to irrigate my paddies. I could catch rainwater by damming the gulches, and raise fish in the ponds formed by the rains. I could plant a grove of coconuts and mangoes and coffee where it was not possible to build rice paddies. I could bring some animals over here, like pigs and poultry. I could build a herd of cows as the grass here was plentiful. The only question was the absence of roads to take our produce to town, but I was sure there had to be a solution.

In time I realized I could stay here all my life like the few people I had seen who dwelt in far-away huts. To wake up each day to the call of birds, to watch the daybreak over the Sierra Madre, to admire the work of your own hands – won’t those be enough for a person to be happy all his life?


We had been running for sometime when Father stopped and hurried back to our hut to get a flashlight. The hoofprints we were following had vanished. I was left alone sobbing in exhaustion, hating the runaway that had ruined our evening. During the next two hours upon his return we went around the distant farms, wary of the fierce dogs that rushed upon us. The folks were courteous; they saw no animal. They probably did not tell us they were worried the runaway would go over their farms and trample the sprouting grain. We returned to our hut in silence. Mother had been worried so much, knowing I was hungry and probably had been scolded repeatedly. That night I dreamed of myself pursuing the beast until I overtook it, and I was so happy to take it back I promised not to beat it anymore for having ran away. Dawn came and again Father and I visited farmers around, inquiring, but none had seen our buffalo. Worse, rain had fallen the previous night, erasing most tracks. We hunted in all directions until nightfall. Father was worried the animal’s leash, which was tied to a rope to allow it to graze, might get snagged in some rock; left under the sun, the animal would die of thirst.

To cover more ground (although in reality I wanted to avoid Father) I volunteered to go on a separate hunt. Until that time I had been afraid to walk through the dense cogon, dreading the kara-saeng, or slosh through the muddy ground, wary of quicksand, but now I flung myself into the search as if our life depended on it, feeling envious at the farmers I passed by who seemed leisurely plowing their bit of land while ours lay unattended. I recalled how my cousin Ofreng came to our house in town one night when I was ten, looking for a lost carabao. I did not give it much thought at that time, but now I suddenly recall he had come all the way from his hometown in the province of Pangasinan, a hundred miles away.

Cautiously I entered the jungle, faintly hoping to find the animal in its gloomy depths. I followed a mountain stream where silvery fish with long bristles frolicked on the surface. In the forest depths you could sense an unheard bidding to be silent, as when you enter a cavernous cathedral. I looked up furtively at the overhanging branches for pythons that might be lying in wait. I followed the stream, but when it forked and branched I turned back at once, afraid I would get lost. I began to dread this wilderness which had suddenly became hostile, strange, watching, deadly.


That night, Mother and Father spoke softly so I would not hear, but in the mountain the tiniest whispers had a way of being heard. Father suspected somebody had stolen the carabao, which seemed unlikely, but perhaps he only wanted to lay the blame on somebody else. He cleaned the .45 that evening and loaded it, hiding it under the canvas bag that was their pillow. Perhaps he was tired of blaming me for my carelessness. What would you expect of a boy unused to the harsh life of the mountain farm? As I drifted off to sleep, I heard Father saying he was through: he wanted to return to town. “Just like that?” Mother was saying, with sarcasm. She had been silent since the animal ran away, but now all the bitterness came out.

A quiet, strong woman, she served as nurse to sick and wounded guerrillas who fought the Japanese during the war, applying ground sulfathiazole tablets on wounds to fight infection and bandages made from clean strips of cotton shirts. Looking back now, I can understand why Mother wanted so much to succeed in our little farm. In town we had no house of our own, our family staying with my grandfather in his old house, and she wanted to do something for a change, not to be dependent on his measly pension. When times were hard, she was not ashamed to go planting rice with the peasants, her legs buried in mud to the knees all day, stooped and bent, just to earn a few pesos to buy us rice.


When I arrived at the hut that evening, Mother had gone to consult some seer in town. Father spoke very little, which made me nervous. I woke up very early in the morning, drank a little coffee and went off in search of Pandora.

As I hiked through the outlying farms, seeing the abandoned huts, the barren fields, the monotonous vista of rolling cogon-covered land, I saw my plans to develop my Shangri-La fade away. In my mind I saw the people of Mal-lungoy, unlettered peasants who had migrated from the scorched plains of the North, frugal and industrious, scrupulously picking up every grain of rice spilled on the ground, every bit falling from their plate as they sat hunched on their squat tables. I saw them clearing the land of trees, carving terraces out of the mountainsides. But rice plants needed a lot of water, and without rains the paddies dried up, the crops often withered and died. The people hoped for rain, prayed for rain. The land was a god that demanded constant servitude, and a young man in the peak of health, able to carry three sackloads of rice on his shoulders for a mile could be a mere bag of bones by the time he was fifty. My cousin Pidot died when he was seven, bitten by a kara-saeng as he took a carabao to pasture. In the years to come, his brothers Anton and Simo would join the army in search of a new life, to run away from the harsh god that was Mal-lungoy.

But for the old-timers who had forsaken the lowlands, Mal-lungoy was a sanctuary from the landowners who in the lowlands always demanded the greater share of harvest – the rich and pampered fools who never even pulled a weed out of the rice fields, who did nothing but strut around town in their embroidered ternos, covering their noses at the smell of the labourers returning from the fields – the wretched of the earth who plowed and harrowed the fields from dawn till dusk – turned grey over the years as did their forefathers before them. Here in the mountains no landlord could grab the land they had hewed painstakingly from the virgin forest, and if anyone would be foolhardy to dare try, every farm hand always carried a bolo, and the mountains could be a stronghold to the oppressed.

I wanted no more to be part of this forgotten land. I resolved to tell Father about my plan to enrol the next summer, to work for my tuition if necessary.

I searched through the afternoon till dusk. Spent and hungry, I arrived at the hut where Father was cooking supper. He had a most pleasant look on his face. Then I saw Pandora tied to a tree, munching sakate grass.


The buffalo had been caught in a village some ten kilometres from our hut, and Father had to pay for the damage it caused to some farms. I went to town early the following morning to tell Mother the good news. She had just attended mass, and I kissed her hand in respect. The seer had told her the carabao had gone west, taken by cattle rustlers most probably, and west pointed to the town of San Jose; thither she was about to go that day to plead with the mayor for his intercession with the bandits. As I told her about Pandora’s return, she just sat there, a thin veil on her shoulders, saying nothing, but her eyes were misty. She patted my head, smiling.


I went to college that December after our crop was harvested. Father almost got killed when a band of tulisanes barged into our hut one night while I was away, but he managed to escape, firing at them with his .45 as he ran. Armed with old rifles, the bandits did not pursue but Father knew they would be back and he returned with Pandora to town the following day.

Two years later, Marcos declared martial law, and the mountains around Mal-lungoy as in many other parts of the country became the refuge of youthful rebels who believed in the worthiness of their cause. Here they roamed at will visiting huts and befriending the farmers. They enforced vigilante justice in villages, meting death to even petty criminals until nobody would dare touch even a sheaf of rice or a hoe left lying in the field. In time government troops went after them, and the terrified homesteaders left their farms for Mal-lungoy where a detachment of soldiers was permanently assigned.

My Shangri-La had become no man’s land.

Not long ago I found the courage to go there. I found our hut still intact, though the roof was in tatters, but an angry gecko was now its tenant. The cogon had grown tall and lush. The stream was dry. It was noon on a summer day when I arrived; there was a cloudless sky.

And a deafening silence.