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Philippine barrio

Childhood in rebel infested area in the Philippines

Researching my family tree brought back memories of my childhood, a happy one, but marred by the same NPA problems besetting the country even today, and I am speaking of more than 50 years in the past. It became vivid in my memory when I dig deeper into my past how the intrusion of the underground forces changed our family life, in particular my brothers and me.I was only four year old when my father who was a public school teacher was transferred, in 1948, to the town of Lupi, one of the many railroad towns in Camarines Sur that was accessible only by train. It was a town located within the Bicol National Park which became the haven for the disgruntled members of the Hukbalahap movement, who were not satisfied with the government.

50s Philippine barrio classroom

Although, it was the period after the end of the American occupation, the timber resources of Bicol was hardly touched. An official report made by the American colonial government placed the commercial forests of the Philippines covering an area of about 64,000 square miles, or about 57% of the total area of the archipelago.

No wonder the Bicol forested area became the same haven for outlawed group members of the Hukbalahap movement or as many in the town regarded as ‘taga labas’.My father was assigned to open a barrio school for the young children of families connected or whose incomes were derived from the lumber sawmill operation of the Philippine Lumber Company. When the firm was set up inside the Bicol National Park, a small community was formed and later became the barrio of Napolidan.

It was located at the heart of the forest area of the 1934 designated Bicol National Park. The lumber concession was part of the town of Lupi, close to the boundary with the town of Sipocot.It was an idylic existence. We, my three other brothers and me, as young children, enjoyed the new surroundings, very much different from the town of Bato, Camarines Sur, where I was born.During the ordinary day, although we were still of non-school ages, since my father was the only teacher in the barrio, we were allowed as observers in the class.

As ‘salimpusa’, I could remember that we had the liberty of coming and going out of the small purposely built one room school. The school building was a single structure made out of wooden planks hewn from big trees and donated to the school by the lumber company. Our wooden house too, also made of rough wooden slabs from the sawmill, was just nearby, so it was easy for us to leave the class and back to our house for merienda which our mother lovingly prepared.

As a young kid I can remember the clean waters of the river where we spent countless hours of swimming and playing. In many cases, we were gathering black shellfish called ‘tabagwang’ which my mother would cook in coconut milk, dried fish, and ‘malunggay’ leaves. Many times, we dined with wild deer or pig cooked meat on the table. Wild deer meat was aplenty. They were brought to the barrio by hunters and sold to the families of the lumber community. My mother would dry them under the sun and the meat called ‘tapa’, which we would had during breakfast.

Regino Perdon family in the 50s in the Philippines

he monkeys playing on top of the tall trees along the river bank did not frighten us children anymore. As long as we did not bother them, they would not bother us. But in some occasion when some mothers would wash their fish on the riverbank instead at home because there was no running water in all houses, the monkeys would steal the fish or meat being cleaned while they were busy with other things.

THE WATER we used at home were taken from the clear water of the Napolidan river. We did not take a bath or wash our clothes at home, it was the river that almost always provided the community with our daily need for water. Many times we would venture into the nearby forest which we were prohibited to go, because we might get lost in the jungle. But we always had reason to disobey our parents. We would go into the forest and scout for wild bananas.

This type of banana is almost like ‘saba’, but full of seeds, but not as plenty as in papaya. We called it ‘butuan’ because of the black seeds (buto) found in the banana. When we found a banana tree full of fruits, we would cut it and hied it in the forest, covered it with leaves. After a couple of weeks or a period when we thought the time to go back to a ripe banana, we would again venture into the forest and enjoyed a very sweet banana, spitting out the black seeds while eating them.

This contented life was disturbed only when the NPA started to become visible in the community. Initially, they would visit, usually at midnight, to talk to young residents, particularly to a beautiful lady teacher from Pangasinan who few months earlier arrived in the barrio to work as a teacher. She was being wooed by the underground movement to join them. I could not understand why she was being asked to join the movement. It was only much later I found that she was being enticed to join the movement to be a teacher in indoctrination program of the group.

When the visits, which later became regular, reached the knowledge of the military detachment assigned in the Bicol National Park, trouble started to surface. Often times, just after the Hukbalahap group left the barrio, the military would arrive. It was like a hide and seek situation and in few instances they almost clash in the barrio. One day, the community was informed that an encounter would actually take place in the barrio between the underground movement and the military which already established its home base in Napolidan, Lupi, Camarines Sur.

The community was asked to relocate and the operation of the lumber yard was suspended.My father followed the advice and relocated his young family to Sipocot, the closest to the barrio, where my younger brother, Nonoy, was born. My father was temporarily assigned a teaching job in Sipocot Elementary School.

Looking back now while doing this family history research, I found references to the activities of the underground movement that inhabited the national park even now. Insurgency is still alive even today in the area. In fact, the military operation now covers additional towns of Libmanan, Cabusao and some parts of Pasacao.

Its BN CP was established in Taisan, Sipocot, Camarines Sur.Stories of the members of the underground movement provide the reasons why ordinary people, particularly the youth, would be attracted to the fold of the movement.Ka Tina, who was involved in the organization of the municipal employees of a town in Camarines Sur for purposes of collecting 10% from their salary as their revolutionary tax, recalled an incident in 1987 where ‘the team of Ka Vergel destroyed the bridge connecting Sipocot and the towns going ito Naga City, the only passage going in and out of the First District of Camarines Sur.’

Later she became very much involved in the military Grand ‘Pulong-Pulong’ in the towns of Ragay, Sipocot and Lupi, the same area of operations she participated in when she was still an NPA. Her visits to various places in Bicol is aimed at sharing her life experience as a former NPA operating in Bicol Region. It was in the same area that she had her first encounter with the armed component of the movement.

She was then a budding Ateneo de Naga University student and a member of a front student organisation.In her return to the place, she recalled: ‘I was struck by too heavy a feeling of guilt and shame. This is the very same town where I was tested… tested by the ‘Bagong Hukbo ng Bayan’ to talk in front of the people, to sell the ideology that I believed then. ‘These are the very people whom I snared to render support to the armed component on the pretext that the NPA was their liberation from bondage of soil, tyranny of ‘compradores’ and elites, poverty and ignorance, only to find out later that I was a part of the sham and deceptions.

’As part of personal effort ‘to right the wrong’ that her group in the hinterlands of Bicol region committed, she participated in presenting a public forum among the remotest barangays in Camarines Sur. The educational program consisted of two parts and here is how she described it:‘The presentation was so simple, it depicts the ordinary lives of the people. In the first part showed the poverty and destitution of the residents of Barangay Patalunan during the time that the armed components or the ‘armado’ were present.

‘The hardships that they were experiencing because of the ‘forced revolutionary taxations’ imposed on them, which the people considered another financial burden on their part. The ‘fear’ wherein they considered as a prison because they could not move freely, live independently, and decides on their own.‘

The second part showed the transformation of the barangay when the government soldiers arrived. What was most striking in the presentation was the portion wherein the soldiers constructed a public toilet and sports courts thinking the people like basketball and volleyball sports and were needed most. ‘I realised then and there, that all the people need was to ‘feel’ that the government is concerned about their lot and their lives. That all they need was a simple expression of ‘caring’ and ‘concern’.