By BONIFACIO P. ILAGAN
The news spread rather fast among us in Manila: Something terrible had happened in a town called Lacub in Abra on the 4th of September 2014. It was a massacre of seven Red fighters and two civilians. One of the seven, Recca Noelle “Ka Tet” Monte, was a Manileña and was accorded a fitting tribute in a church in UP Diliman where she studied. There, the whispered accounts of the bloodbath were heard by all.
I scanned the pictures of the other former UP student, Arnold “Ka Mando” Jaramillo, or AJ. The name was not familiar, but the face was. I thought we might have met, or maybe not. Perhaps it was just the familiarity engendered among kindred spirits in the movement. At times like this, it felt like one knew another even if one actually did not. Why is it that when a hero or a martyr of the movement takes centerstage in death, we are drawn to an intimacy of a relationship that is thicker than blood?
And then I met AJ’s widow in, of all places, the belly of the beast. Arriving in Washington DC, USA, it was what our hosts greeted us with. “Welcome to the belly of the beast!” they said to us.
Before testifying in the International People’s Tribunal, Cynthia and I had first to travel to New York to participate in a human rights forum. It was the first time that I heard her speak before a crowd – and it was about her husband whose story I had previously known second-hand. Pouring her heart out about the Lacub massacre and how the fascist murderers brutalized AJ and his comrades, her voice quivered and broke. She had to shed tears. Many among the audience also did. I did, but tried hard not to show it. I knew exactly Cynthia’s pain, having also lost my wife a month after AJ died.
Even as the widow’s voice trembled, there was a palpable hardness to it. Even if it was the way she ordinarily spoke of iniquities, I sensed the particular bitterness, the rage, the fervor to pursue justice. By sharing a personal grief, she spoke of a national anguish. By revealing a family’s sacrifice, she made known a collective forbearance.
The dramatist in me sensed the all too human conflict in the story of AJ, which is at the heart of drama. I didn’t tell Cynthia that I was angling for a love story, of which she was going to be one half. I could even write a movie script, and wished for a producer willing to risk a few millions of pesos. I started to think about research.
And then she told me that a book on AJ was coming out, which was being edited by Luchi Maranan, who happens to be a cousin of mine. That should take care of research for what I would want to do. She sent me a soft copy.
Even if I may find More than a Red Warrior not sufficiently structured dramatically to make for a rising action, all the drama is already embedded in this nonfiction. AJ is spoken of by people who have known him up close at home, in school, in the streets, in the countryside, and the battlefield. There are endless letters by one and all who mattered in his life, but most especially by his wife and children, and by AJ to them. There are accounts of his living and dying, of his militancy, comradeship, steadfastness, and leadership. This is one book about one man authored by quite a lot speaking as one in tribute to his humanity.
More than a Red Warrior provides a three-dimensional study of a protagonist who has, by dying, become larger than life. It shows us a mortal character imbued with an immortal vision, which has become his personification. Here we have a hero who is torn by conflicts which he himself resolves at the expense of the personal. How he treasured the personal at the heart of his politics is what makes AJ completely human.
More than a Red Warrior is a book of virtues that is articulated by AJ in his unique terms; yet not surprising if one knew enough of the heroes and martyrs of the revolutionary movement that has withstood the test of time. What strikes me most is that this book mot merely introduces AJ to us; it makes us intimate with a hero of a just revolution. Now looming larger than life, he prods us to think beyond concerns that, by his, and the Lacub martyrs’ ultimate sacrifice, have become rather petty.
Just exactly, how does one pay respects to Arnold “Ka Mando” Borja Jaramillo?
To Recca Noelle “Ka Tet” Monte?
To Brandon “Ka Sly” Madranga?
To Robert “Ka Dawyan” Beyao?
To Ricardo “Ka Tubong” Reyes?
To Pedring “Ka Jess” Banggao?
To Robert “Ka Limbo” Perez?
And to the two martyred civilians, Engineer Fidela Bugarin Salvador and farmer Noel Viste?
Reading More than a Red Warrior is one. Helping find justice for them and the rest of the heroes and martyrs of the revolutionary movement is another. Being part of this movement in any which way we can is yet one.
I must admit, I’ve said to other people what I told Cynthia, that I’d like to make a play or a movie out of their life stories. But in AJ, I did feel a stronger prodding, perhaps because with the tragedy comes the catharsis: that of knowing that AJ has not died in vain. In fact, the book says he shall live – in the memory of Cynthia and the children AJ left behind, Raia and Cholo, all those who said their piece about the Red Warrior, and in each of us whose lives have been touched by AJ and his tribe.
Another Red Warrior of an earlier generation spoke of thoughts that AJ, away from family and in the thick of the armed struggle, must have entertained as well. In his poem Open Letter to the Filipino Youth, Eman Lacaba mused:
You want to know, companions of my youth,
How much has changed the wild but shy poet
Forever writing last poem after last poem
You hear he’s dark as earth, barefoot
A turban around his head, a bolo at his side,
His ballpen blown up to a long-barreled gun:
Deeper still the struggling change inside.
Like husks of coconut he tears away
The billion layers of his selfishness
Or learns to cage his longing like the bird
Of legend, fire, and a song within his chest.
The road less travelled by (AJ has) taken…
And that has made all the difference…. # nordis.net
(Delivered in the launching of More than a Red Warrior, UP Baguio, 10 October 2015)