RITE OF PASSAGE: ADOLESCENCE
In June 1968, I and six other boys boarded a boat that brought us to
My parents wanted to come along and deliver me to the seminary. But I told them it was not necessary. Besides, I didn't want to appear like a little boy being brought to school by his protective parents. At 13, I no longer thought of myself a child although I only stood at four feet and ten inches.
As the boat was leaving, we all went to
deck and tearfully waved goodbye to our parents and siblings. For most of us
this was our first time to be on a boat. We sat on our cots the whole night
talking. It was difficult to get some sleep. The boat kept rocking as we passed
When we reached St. Alphonsus' Seminary,
we were welcomed by the director, Fr. Ramon Fruto. He seemed to be in a hurry so he asked
another seminarian to give us a tour of the place after we have taken our
breakfast. The seminary appeared so massive. On the first floor were the
refectory, the visitor's parlor and the offices of the staff. On the second floor were the classrooms and
the library. The dormitories and the
chapel were located on the third floor.
There was a sprawling field in front of the building and a huge gym at
the back with four basketball courts.
We met the other seminarians who had also just arrived. There were more
than a hundred of us coming from Visayas and
That night, as I lay on my bed wearing my new pajamas, I thought about home. I missed my parents and siblings. I tried to hold back my tears as I heard the sobbing of other new seminarians who were probably homesick like me. But I also felt excited thinking about my new life.
Classes began a week after and we followed the order of the day:
- morning prayer
- lunch break and siesta
- visit to the blessed sacrament
- evening prayer
- supper, recreation
- study period
- night prayer, bed
This was the daily schedule that we followed on weekdays. When the bell rang at in the morning we would jump out of our bed, rush to the sink to wash our faces and put on our clothes. Every morning there was a race to the chapel. Edward Yap usually won. I once beat him by waking up before and washing my face silently. I went back to bed fully dressed. As soon as the bell rang I jumped up and ran to the chapel and waited in the dark. When Edward came and triumphantly put on the lights he was surprised to see me ahead of him. I grinned and waved at him.
I had to get used to praying with over a hundred seminarians in the early hours of the morning. At the beginning, I would feel sleepy and longed to go back to bed. But as time went by I felt fully awake, feeling the morning breeze and glancing at the changing hues of the sky as we recited together the psalms of praise and thanksgiving.
We usually celebrated the morning Mass in the chapel every other day and at the Redemptorist church on other days. Most of us looked forward to the mass at the church because the interns of St. Theresa's College were there. Our attention was divided between listening to the priest and glancing at the attractive Theresians. They were probably doing the same thing. That was the only time that we could see girls who, like us, were at the age of awakening. We were discovering how attractive girls could be although we kept reminding ourselves that we were seminarians.
We spent most of our time attending classes. Out of the 33 students in the second year, three were newcomers: Claro Conde, Eddie Romero and myself. Most of our teachers were lay people. We were taught all the basic subjects: English, Math, Algebra, Science, Biology, Social Studies, Geography. Besides these we were also taught Latin, Spanish and Religion.
Mrs. Flores was our teacher in biology. One day she announced nervously, "Class, today we will talk about sex." Suddenly, the whole class became quiet and attentive. "Do you know how babies are made?"
I didn't have a clue but I just nodded -- I didn’t want to appear ignorant. She began to talk about sexual intercourse and the whole reproductive process. It was all very technical. No talk about passion and love. But it was the beginning of my enlightenment.
I whispered to my classmate, "I thought that only dogs do that."
He looked at me with disbelief and giggled. Sex was something that we did not talk about at home or at school. I presumed that it was God's will that babies were born and that all my Papa and Mama did at night was to sleep soundly. No wonder Mama could put up with Papa's snoring. I was going to be a celibate and I did not even know what I was giving up.
Fr. Fruto taught us Latin. We often recited at the top of our voice, "amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant!" (I love, you love, he/she loves, we love, you love, they love). We were only learning the words. Nobody questioned whether it was still necessary to learn Latin. The Second Vatican Council had already taken place a few years back but the reforms have not yet reached the seminary.
The most difficult subject for me was Algebra. My classmates had started studying algebra in first year. I was overwhelmed by the numbers and the formula. I got a failing grade in the first grading period (74%). I was so devastated. Everything around me seemed dark. This was the first time in my life that I flunked a subject. I tried harder and asked the help of my teacher, Mr. Sumile. By the sixth grading I got 90%.
Fr. Fruto was our teacher in elocution. He told us that we had to develop a strong preaching voice. He usually brought the class to the gym and we would take turns projecting our voice. We usually stood at the end of the gym and harangued our classmates with gibberish like: “Aaahhh…Ooohhh…” and “She sells sea shells by the shore!" He said that if we keep on practicing this way we would not need a microphone.
Our English teacher was Fr. Michael
Minihan. He was a grumpy Irish Redemptorist in his 50s. But he was an excellent teacher. We spent a
lot of time parsing sentences. He also
taught us English Literature. I can never forget the first poem he taught us
which I liked very much -- the
English was not only taught in the classroom, it was also imposed as the official language in the seminary and we were required to speak to each other in English. There was a time when, to make sure that this rule was observed, several coins were secretly distributed in the morning. These coins were handed over to anyone who spoke Cebuano or any Philippine language. Thus, the coins continued to circulate throughout the day. We were very careful not to converse with anybody in our language, since they might have the coin and pass it on to us. At five in the afternoon, the last guys who were holding the coins were given the punishment of cleaning the toilets and the showers. I was caught a number of times holding a coin at the end of the day. Scrubbing and washing so many shower blocks and toilet bowls for an hour before supper was no fun at all especially when there were only six of us doing the work.
Fr. Dominic McKenna, a red-faced Irishman, taught us religion. We covered the articles of the faith -- God that Father, Jesus Christ, Mary, the Catholic Church, the Sacraments, etc. His hypnotic voice would often put me to sleep.
During meal times we were expected to eat quietly. No conversation allowed. A seminarian usually read aloud passages from a spiritual reading book while we were eating. Fr. Fruto, who had his own table at the head of the refectory, ate alone. When the meal was over he would ring the bell or strike the glass with a fork three times. It was a signal for us to stand up and say a prayer of thanksgiving. We took turns washing the dishes.
The study period after supper was strictly imposed. We were all expected to be in the study hall from to and study our lessons. Our director would sometimes make a surprise visit to check if we were really studying. Once I was playing chess with my classmate Juin during study period. When it took him a long time to move his piece, I told him, "Juin, it's your turn."
He just froze and looked at someone behind me. When I turned around, I saw Fr. Fruto glaring at me. My classmates also looked at me and snickered without a sound. I felt very small and my knees were shaking. Then he spoke, "Since both of you have not been studying, you will remain in the study hall after the study period. You will continue to study until . I am warning you -- if you keep on misbehaving I will send you home."
We were expected to be in bed after the night prayer at . However, a lot of mischief was happening in the dark. Some would come together and have snacks. Others would quietly go to the kitchen and raid the refrigerator. Once we found some jack-fruit in an ice-cream container. We ate everything and put water on the container. The following morning the cook complained that the jack-fruit had turned to ice.
The bolder ones played pranks on others. Once, a group told Sammy Javelosa that they had some sticks of marijuana and they were having a pot session. Sammy asked for a few puffs. After a while he thought he was stoned. He exclaimed, "Oh, I am high already!"
Everybody laughed and someone told him, "You fool, that it is only lomboy."
Night-time was also the time to settle scores. This was the time of prearranged combat between seminarians who had a row earlier during the day. I was once challenged by Victor to a fistfight for making fun of his Ilongo accent. After the lights were turned off, we waited until we were sure that Fr. Fruto had fallen asleep before the two of us and all the other seminarians crept out of our dormitories and went down to the ground floor. I was scared. I didn't want to fight him but I had to prove to everyone that I was not a sissy. I was wondering how I could get away from it. I didn't want to be sent home by Fr. Fruto for slugging it out with a fellow seminarian. As the fight was about to start, I had a bright idea. I flexed my knees and assumed a Kung Fu fighting stance that I copied from Bruce Lee's movie. I challenged him to make the first move. I told him, "I don't want to fight you, but if you force me, I will break your bones. For your information, I studied Karate before entering the seminary." Victor hesitated. I could see the fear in his eyes. I immediately said,"Why don't we forget about this and go to sleep. Fr. Fruto might wake up and we will all be in trouble." He finally agreed and we went back to our dormitories.
Of course, these things did not happen every night. Most nights we would fall peacefully asleep. To maintain the peace, Fr. McKenna, sometimes patrolled the dormitories with Pinky -- the German shepherd -- trailing behind him. It was quite effective since we were afraid of the dog. But he couldn't do this every night.
We had a different schedule during weekends. On Saturday morning after breakfast, we would march to the church and make our confession. It was an activity that many of us dreaded. We preferred to confess to Fr. Nulty because he was a bit deaf and he hardly had any idea what were talking about. We were terrified to go to Fr. Minihan for confession. Whenever we had the misfortune of having him as confessor, some of us would change our voices so that he would not recognize us. It didn't work for Rex Mission. He thought that he was able to fool Fr. Minihan, but after receiving his absolution, Fr. Minihan told him, "Alright Rex, go in peace your sins are forgiven."
After making our confession we would spend the whole morning doing what we like -- playing basketball, practicing various musical instruments, going out for a haircut. I enjoyed playing basketball. In spite of my small size, I was very fast and could shoot a lot of baskets. Since I no longer had formal piano lessons, I learned to play by ear with the help of Rex Mission who knew how to play classical pieces and also to improvise. I also learned to play the organ and the guitar. I loved to play the songs popularized by the Beatles (e.g. Let it Be, Yesterday, Michelle, When I'm Sixty-Four, etc.). I also tried my hand on the violin but I kept on having a stiff neck. Besides, the screeching sound I produced annoyed others.
On weekends we could receive visitors. I envied the seminarians whose parents and relatives visited them often. I got an occasional visit from my granduncle -- Lolo Enteng and my mother's cousin -- Uncle Dodong and his wife -- Inday. Mama and Papa visited me once. I was thrilled when Papa brought me to watch the movie-- "The Green Beret" -- and treated me to a Chinese dinner afterwards. This reminded me of the time I spent with him as a little boy. I knew he was fond of me but as usual he was not demonstrative with his affection. But being with him even for a brief moment was enough. I sometimes wondered if he had the same experience with his father.
We were allowed to go home for a couple of weeks during Christmas breaks. The first time I went home for Christmas, members of my family were surprised to see me taller than my mother and my voice had become deeper. In Christmas gatherings, my parents would proudly introduce me to their friends, "This is our son Amado, the seminarian." It seemed that my whole identity was summed by up the term "seminarian." I felt that everyone expected me to act as a pious and chaste seminarian instead of a normal adolescent or teenager capable of fun and mischief and attracted to girls. So I tried to live up to their expectations. I behaved properly and avoided talking to girls -- although I continued to glance appreciatively at the pretty ones.
The summer vacations lasted for two months. Instead of spending more time at home with Mama and my siblings, I went with Papa to his projects in the Muslim area in Lanao del Sur. He was building a bridge in Masiu and later in Ramain. I was older now, so I worked with him as time-keeper in the constructions sites. A squad of PC soldiers were assigned to give protection to my father and his men. We shared the same quarters and we ate together. The sergeant who was in charge often talked about his exploits in Jolo -- especially the military operations against Kamlon -- a Moro bandit. I became fascinated with the soldiers. I often draw them in their camouflaged uniforms and their carbines and Browning Automatic Rifles. We were the only Christians in the area. The Maranaos were not friendly and the soldiers were always on the alert. The soldiers said that the Maranaos were treacherous and that they could not be trusted. There were times when we ran out of food supply. The workers decided to slaughter the dogs that they had brought along. So for the whole week we tasted different dog meat recipes. When I got home, our pet dog kept on barking at me.
Papa at this time was a private contractor constructing bridges for the provincial government in Lanao del Sur. I sometimes accompanied him to the provincial engineer's office and the Bureau of Public Highways to collect the amount the government owed him. We oftentimes went home empty-handed. He had to borrow money to pay his workers and keep the operations going. At times he had to wait for six months before getting paid. Whenever funds arrived, the government officials would ask for "kickbacks" before releasing the money. Papa kept complaining about this but was resigned to it. This was the system. So at the age of fifteen years old, I learned the meaning of the word "kickback." I became aware of corruption in government.
In 1969, as I was into my junior year in the minor seminary, President Marcos was re-elected. Many people believed that Marcos won because he used government funds and kickbacks to buy votes and bribe the poll watchers. After a while we heard news about anti-government demonstrations and rallies that were held mostly in Manila. There were also church people -- priests, religious and lay -- who were getting involved in these protest actions.
During this period, an urban poor rally was held in Fuente Osmeña, in Cebu. The members of the OPRRA (Old Philippine Railway Residents' Association), were struggling to stay on the land that they had been occupying for so many years. The city government wanted to demolish their homes. They decided to occupy Fuente Osmeña and set up their tents. One of the leaders of this mass action was Fr. Fernando Yusingco, a Redemptorist priest. He was a scion of a wealthy Chinese-Filipino businessman who had logging concessions in Eastern Mindanao. He had undergone training in community organizing in Tondo, Manila and had been appointed by Cardinal Rosales as the social action director of the archdiocese of Cebu. He was just starting the Community Organizing (CO) program in Cebu. He helped organize the squatters living along the old railway. Fr. Yusingco was the classmate of our seminary director, Fr. Fruto. When some Irish Redemptorists questioned Fr. Yusingco's social involvement, Fr. Fruto supported him. He joined the rally and brought along with him some of the seminarians. We listened to various speakers talk about the plight of the poor who were squatters in their own land. They spoke about the great injustice where the land and the wealth of the country was being owned and controlled by a few while the majority lived in poverty and without land When evening came there were several priests concelebrating the mass at the center of the encampment with Fr. Yusingco as the main celebrant. There were colorful streamers and placards.This was my first experience of attending a protest rally. Out of this, I became aware of the inequality and injustice in the country and the need for priests and religious to be involved in changing society. Fr. Yusingco became for me a model of a new way of being a Redemptorist priest -- one who was close to the poor and who struggles with them for justice. I dreamed of becoming like him someday. I also began to admire Fr. Fruto for supporting the poor and for encouraging us to be involved with them. Because of this, the seminary lost a wealthy benefactor. This was the price we had to pay for our option for the poor.
Just as we were beginning to like Fr. Fruto, we lost him. The time came for his sabbatical year and he was replaced by Fr. Willy Jesena during our senior year. Fr. Jesena was a tall and chubby Ilongo whose grandparents were Chinese. He was the complete opposite of Fr. Fruto. He was always smiling and we were not afraid to approach him. We could easily joke with him and he always tried to see the best in us. He was father, mother and brother all rolled into one.
One time we attended a talk given by Ed Garcia -- a Jesuit scholastic. He was one of the founders of Lakasdiwa -- a student movement with a socialist democratic orientation. He spoke about the unjust political and economic system in the country and he presented an ideological vision: a democratic political system with a socialist economy. For him this was a more acceptable alternative to the Marxist-Maoist ideology being popularized by the extreme left groups like the Communist Party of the Philippines and the Kabataang Makabayan (KM). Some of those who attended his talk decided to set up a Lakasdiwa chapter in Cebu. Among the leaders of the group was Sam Javelosa -- a college seminarian who was studying at the University of San Carlos. His father was Colonel Javelosa, the deputy zone commander of the Philippine Constabulary based in Cebu. Many in our class joined the Lakasdiwa. During weekends we would go to the Lakasdiwa headquarters and have political education sessions. We joined rallies and demonstrations. We had exposure to the urban poor and the farmers during weekends. Student activism was on the rise all over the country. The First Quarter Storm had begun. However, a rivalry was already beginning to develop between the "moderates" who espoused social democracy (or democratic socialism) and the radicals (the Kabataang Makabayan - KM) who embraced Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. But these groups often came together for rallies against the government.
Eventually we brought our activism from the streets to the seminary. We had a new teacher who was very strict and abusive. Her name was Miss Padigos. We often referred to her as "small but terrible." She would scold us whenever we failed to answer her questions. Once, some of my classmates we so fed up with her that they spontaneously walked out of class in protest. They urged the rest of the class to follow. I was about to stand up and follow but then I had second thoughts. We haven't really discussed this course of action beforehand. Was this the right thing to do? Will this solve the problem? Would it have been better to dialogue with her? I was caught in a dilemma: should I follow the group or should I follow my own conscience? In the end I decided to stay put even with the pressure from my classmates. I didn't want to do things just because everybody was doing it. I had to be convinced that this was the right thing to do. The walk-out didn't have any effect. Miss Padigos reported the matter to the seminary director who ordered everybody back to class. Those who walked out were reprimanded but they were not punished. A week later, Pinky the German Shepherd bit Miss Padigos on the leg. She had to go on leave and she decided later to teach in another school. Pinky became a hero to the fourth year class.
But our senior year in the minor seminary was not only a time for student activism. It was also a time for more interaction with the girls of St. Theresa's. We were invited to tea parties in STC so that their senior students could practice their social graces on us. I felt so awkward talking to these sophisticated girls who probably came from wealthy families. I actually sat in the corner and just waited for anyone to come and talk to me. To my surprise, some did talk to me but it usually did not take long. I was too bashful to sustain conversation with them and they left me in my corner to look for others more interesting.
There were other opportunities to meet the girls. Some senior seminarians got the permission of Fr. Jesena and the STC directress to organize a choir composed of seminarians and Theresian interns. We were to sing together in the Sunday 10:00 am mass. This meant practicing regularly every Saturday evening. There were many of us who joined the choir -- even those who had terrible voices. The primary motive was not really singing but meeting the girls. In due time, some of our seminarians had girl friends. I was not one of the lucky guys. I was too shy and too scared. Besides I was fully convinced that seminarians should not have any girl friend. Of course, I was attracted to a number of pretty Theresian interns. But all I could do was to gaze at them from a safe distance.
At the end of the school year, there were 30 of us who graduated. Somebody got the bright idea of giving loyalty medals to those who had studied at the seminary from first year to fourth year. That therefore excluded those who had started in second year: Claro, Eddie and myself. But Claro received a service medal and Eddie a salutatorian's medal, so I was the only one in the whole graduating class who did not have any medal. We looked so elegant wearing our coat and tie during the graduation. My parents wanted to come but I told them not to bother. So I ended up also as the only graduate whose parents were not around. My only guest was my grand-uncle, Lolo Enteng, who had encouraged me to enter St. Alphonsus. Immediately after graduation, I and ten others took the entrance exam for the college seminary. We all passed. The rest who had received loyalty medals decided not to continue their priestly formation.
Before going home for summer vacation, I spent one month of immersion with the farmers in Aloguinsan, Cebu. They were members of the Federation of Free Farmers -- the biggest peasant organization in the country at that time. The exposure program was organized by the Kalihukan alang sa Katarungan (KASK) and the Lakasdiwa. Among the twenty who joined, there were seven seminarians including myself. There were also several pretty girls from the University of San Carlos and St. Theresa's. We hiked for several hours up the mountain until we reached the remote barrio. We were warmly welcomed by the leaders and some members of the peasant organization. During the day we would go out with the farmers to their farm. We helped in clearing the ground and sowing the seed. I was thrilled to ride a carabao for the first time. After supper we would gather with them around the gas lamp and listen to their stories. Each farmer had a similar story -- being poor and land-less like their parents and their grandparents. They shared with us their dreams: living and working on their own land instead of remaining tenants all their life. They spoke about their struggle for genuine land reform. The image that I can never forget during that summer was that of an emaciated child clinging to his mother. I mussed the boy's hair and asked the mother, "What is your dream for your child? Do you think that he will become an engineer or a doctor someday?"
It took her a long time to respond, "I don't know. We are very poor. Probably, he will be a land-less farmer, like his father and his father's father."
The exposure enabled me to enter the world of the poor and encounter the poor. Now poverty had a face. I knew that the majority in our country lived like this. I told myself that I would spend the rest of my life serving the poor, struggling with the poor and changing Philippine society. I was convinced that I could do this in the future as a priest. Meanwhile, I resolved to be more active in my involvement with the Lakasdiwa.
In June 1971, I started my college formation. Our batch consisted of 11 graduates from the minor seminary and three newcomers. While we continued residing in St. Alphonsus' Seminary, we attended classes at the University of San Carlos. By this time, a new system in seminary formation was being implemented. Instead of being confined within the walls of the seminary, we were "exposed to the real world" and to the life in the university. This was the effect of the reforms undertaken after Vatican II.
One of the blessings in going to the university was the opportunity to interact with other students -- male and female. I had to adjust to the pleasing sight of those pretty college girls in their miniskirts. Although I was enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts program, I had many classmates from different colleges or departments during the first two years.
On the first day of our class in mathematics, I noticed a girl with a short skirt and a bright smile sitting beside me. Her name was Carlota. Instead of listening to the teacher, I spent most of my time glancing at her and admiring her beauty. Once, our teacher asked me a question, I could not answer because my attention was constantly focused on her. I became obsessed with her and I tried to find out her address and phone number. I never got the courage to call her or to talk to her. The infatuation lasted for the whole semester.
I took a variety of subjects in the University: English, speech, literature, mathematics, physics, chemistry, history, Spanish, religious education, psychology, sociology, logic, economics, etc. One of the subjects I found interesting was "Love, Courtship and Marriage." Whenever Mr. Paul Rodriguez lectured about romantic love and married life, I imagined what it would be like to fall in love with someone and get married. It was a tantalizing thought. I became aware how difficult it would be for me to live a life of celibacy especially with my natural attraction to pretty girls. I thought it must be the blood of my grandfather, Bernardo, running in my veins that was responsible for my passion for beauty.
Our class in Philippine history was taught by Mr. Geoffrey Salgado. I learned from his lectures how the contemporary socio-economic and political structures were shaped by the history of Spanish colonialism and American imperialism. I also attended a class on Theodicy under Mr. Mario Bolasco, who discussed about God's existence from a philosophical perspective. He presented more questions than answers about God: Does God really exists? What are the proofs for God's existence? If God is good why does he allow evil to happen in the world? Is it true that religion is the opium of the people? I have always taken for granted that God exists. Now I was being confronted by these questions which I found very difficult to answer. Unfortunately, Mr. Bolasco stopped coming to class and he was replaced by another teacher. I wondered what happened to him.
The class in cosmology was very boring but I survived the semester because the teacher was young and attractive. On the first day of class, Miss Cherry Manzanares discussed the Greek cosmology. I had difficulty understanding the abstract lecture but I just kept on nodding and trying desperately to keep awake. When she finished her lecture she asked, "Any question class?"
I automatically raised my hand. She looked at me and waited. She was expecting an intelligent question. I stood up sheepishly and asked,"How old are you ma'm?"
Everybody burst out laughing. So from then on, I occasionally dropped in at the Philosophy faculty room with a small paper bag of peanuts.
I was not an exceptional student. My average grade for every semester during the first two years in college ranged from 1.7 to 1.8 . Once, the guidance counselor, who examined my records and my IQ tests, told me that I was under-achieving. She said that I was capable of a 1.2 average and I could get a magna cum laude if I seriously studied. I didn't believe her. I thought of myself as a mediocre student.
Like other male college students, I had to take up ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps). Although as seminarians we could have applied for exemption, we decided to undergo military training. I joined the elite Scout Ranger Company. I was attracted to the black uniform and the special training which was different from the ordinary cadets. Instead of spending our weekends marching, we were trained in unconventional warfare, counter-guerrilla tactics, escape and evasion, riot control, etc. We jogged in the early hours of the morning four days a week. Our training was held at Camp Lapulapu . Our instructors were members of the Special Forces unit and the Army Scout Rangers, many of whom had seen action in Mindanao. After a year, I was appointed as a Non-Commisioned Officer -- the First Sergeant of the Scout Ranger Company. The company commander relied on me to check the attendance, lead the morning jog, ensure discipline in the ranks and take charge of the formation in the absence of the commanding officer. I was proud to be part of the Scout Rangers. I readily embraced the image of myself as a warrior. Yet I began to wonder what we were being trained for. It became obvious that we were being trained to fight the "subversives" or those who were against the Marcos government. We were trained in "riot control" and how to deal with student demonstrators.
Besides military training, I continued my involvement with the student movement -- the Lakasdiwa. I was living a double life -- as a student activist and an ROTC scout ranger. During this period, the protest movement initiated by students had expanded all over the country. On August 21, 1971, the writ of habeas corpus was suspended and there were rumors that Martial Law was going to be imposed. We intensified our recruitment for Lakasdiwa. We held teach-ins and seminars for our recruits. We participated in demonstrations and rallies. We continued our immersion among the urban poor and the farmers.
In the 1971 local election, I joined a group of student activists from Cebu and Manila to monitor the elections in Bais, Negros Oriental. We went to observe the experiment on electoral struggle that was being tried by the community organizers among the Sacadas and sugar-workers. On the eve of the election we saw armed goons of the traditional politicians riding around in their jeeps, terrorizing the people. Consequently, the candidates of the Partido Kabos lost. That made us realize that participation in the elections was not enough to transform society.
In the summer of 1972, I had my first exposure to the Redemptorist mission. I went with Fr. Rudy Romano to the mission area in Balingoan, Misamis Oriental. Fr. Rudy had just been assigned to the Redemptorist community in Iligan. He was a very remarkable man -- full of life and enthusiasm. He was fond of telling stories and making people laugh. Many people flocked to the mission seminars he conducted. We would stay in one community for a week and then move on to another barrio. During the mission, the people would wake up at dawn every day for the whole week and make an Aurora dawn procession which would end at the chapel. After morning prayers and a short sermon they would go home and do their ordinary chores and work. During the day we usually visited the people in their homes. They would gather again in the chapel in the evening for the mission seminar and the celebration of the Eucharist. Fr. Rudy also officiated the mass wedding of the mancibados -- couples who had been living together with out receiving the sacrament of matrimony. The mission exposure gave me a foretaste of the kind of life that I was hoping to live in the future. My desire to become a priest deepened even more.
On September 23, 1972 I reported to Camp Lapulapu in my Ranger uniform. We were scheduled to continue our training in riot control. When I reached the camp I noticed that the troops were on red alert. Martial Law had been declared. President Marcos had signed Presidential Decree 1081 two days earlier. I immediately went home to the seminary and buried the Lakasdiwa reading materials and documents. That day many opposition politicians and activists were arrested all over the country. There was panic and confusion within our group. We did not know what to do. Many of our leaders and comrades decided to lie low. But a handful of us decided to work secretly against the dictatorial government. Our small cell was made up of Magno, Ann, Cynthia, Doy, Dick, Rey, Gerry and myself. Most of these were students of the University of San Carlos and St. Theresa's College. We met in various places -- in the seminary, at Magno's house and even in the cemetery. We were constantly discussing what we could do under the repressive regime. We were just a small isolated group without any contact with other groups and movements. Each of us later tried to organize our own secret cells in our respective schools. I was able to set up a cell within the seminary composed of five seminarians who helped me print and distribute anti-government leaflets.
While trying to establish an underground network, the relationship among the members of the group became deeper. We regarded ourselves not only as comrades but as friends. Among them, I considered Magno Briones as my closest friend. Magno was a gangling ex-seminarian whose Chinese eyes would disappear every time he laughed -- which was often. While studying engineering at the University of San Carlos he joined the Lakasdiwa. We became constant companions. I usually visited him in his house where we spent a lot of time talking about the democratic socialist ideology, the revolutionary movement and his doubts about God's existence. He also shared with me his interest in Heidegger, Martin Buber and other existentialist philosophers. I would also accompany Magno to the house of Ann, one of our comrades whom he was secretly in love with. I looked forward to those visits to Ann's home because it was an opportunity for me to talk to her younger sister, Cynthia. I usually chanced on her playing the piano or finishing an art project.
I first met Cynthia a few months before the declaration of Martial Law. One day, I went to our headquarters and saw this pretty girl wearing glasses accompanying Ann. Ann introduced me to her as Picx. When she asked me what my real name was, I answered, “Amado Guerrero.” She gave me a quizzical look. I laughed and I told her that it was Amado without the Guerrero. (Amado Guerrero was the nom de guerre of the founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines). I found out she was Ann's sister, that she studied at St. Theresa's and that she was the editor of their school paper.
The next time we met was during a seminar for Lakasdiwa recruits which was held in Busay, the Redemptorist rest house on top of the mountain overlooking the city of Cebu. I was giving a lecture on Democratic Socialism. She approached me after the lecture when she saw that I was grimacing in pain. She asked me if I was alright. I told her I had a stomach-ache. She went away and after a few minutes she was back with alka seltzer. She was very friendly and I found myself flirting with her without feeling shy or awkward. After that seminar, we constantly bumped into each other during meetings, rallies and demonstrations. When Martial was declared she was one of the few who remained active in the movement. We became close friends. Yet I was aware that what I felt for her was more than friendship. However, I kept my feelings to myself. I didn't want the other members of the cell to know how I felt about her since Doy, another comrade and friend, was courting her. I looked forward to our meetings. Whenever Magno and I went to their house, I would play on the piano the song popularized by Barbara Streisand: "The Way We Were." Another song I liked to play summed up what I felt: "When will I see you again… When will our hearts beat together … Are we in love or just friends… Is this the beginning or is this the end." At night, as I tried to get some sleep I often thought of her, wondering when we would see each other again.
Besides my involvement with Lakasdiwa, I also became involved with ABRA (Alaska Beach Residents' Association), an urban poor community organization in Mambaling, Cebu. They were living in a reclaimed area and were constantly under threat of demolition. Their homes had been demolished several times but they rebuilt these immediately. Prior to the declaration of Martial Law, Fr .Yusingco's group PECCO (Philippine Ecumenical Council for Community Organizing) had been organizing the residents. I became close to the president of ABRA, Tino Amora. He was a stocky man whose source of income was selling empty bottles and old newspapers that he scavenged from the garbage. He was poor yet he kept his dignity. On weekends, I would visit him in his shanty where he lived with his wife and seven children. I usually had supper with Tino and his family and slept on the wooden floor with them. Tino and his members trusted me that they often invited me to their meetings. I helped them draft and print their manifestos. I also accompanied them in their mobilization to the mayor's office asking the city to expropriate the land and award it to the residents. Once I was part of the negotiating panel that conducted a dialogue with Mayor Borres.
As my political involvement got deeper, I neglected my studies. I began to question the system of education and the relevance of what we were studying. A letter that I wrote to my mother expressed what I was thinking at that time:
Greeting from your delinquent son. I received your letter this morning and I'm very happy to hear from you again. We have just received our midterm grades and I'm enclosing it in this letter. I have an average of 1.69 which is not bad for a guy who never studies his lessons and who has already a big number of absences to his credit. I could easily get a much higher grade if I wanted to but that is not the point. I wonder how many of us realize that we can never measure the worth of a man by his academic achievement under the present system of education.
What is wrong with our educational system? The present educational system falls under the category of education as an instrument of domination. Instead of acting as an agent of social change, a catalyst in the birth of new ideas and the critic of society, our educational system fosters conformity and adjustment to the status quo. It produces adjusted men and women dedicated to the pursuit of their own selfish goals...
We do not need more scholars who will end up serving the status quo and enriching themselves. What we need are men and women who can think critically and creatively, with deeper understanding of reality, who can understand the real problems of Philippine society, who can expose the hypocrisy of the present system, and who have an alternative vision for the future...
I do not condemn education itself but the way education is used to perpetuate the culture of silence and oppression. The Marcos dictatorial regime is using the system of education to brainwash the students and suppress academic freedom... Christian education in the university is a myth because it does not produce real Christians but servants of the exploiting and ruling class in Philippine society. There is no honor in excelling in such an oppressive educational system. It is a shame because it means that we have become willing victims of domination. We don't like to be strangers to our own people. We will never close our eyes to reality, concentrating on our academic life - getting high grades while our people continue to suffer because of oppression and injustice... We can not remain silent in face of the crimes against the people perpetrated by the Marcos dictatorship. Silence means consent...
At the moment, I'm working with ABRA (a slums organization). I usually have supper in the area on weekends. I discuss with the slum-dwellers their problems until late at night. I have learned a lot from this experience. I have become closer to these people because I share their food, their misery, their frustrations and anxieties. I have become one with them. During the confrontation with the city mayor, I was made one of the three spokesmen who faced him. The mayor thought that I was one of the squatters.
You probably think that your son has become a "subversive." Well, it is not a crime to side with the oppressed and to fight for freedom.
Two weeks after I wrote this letter, Fr. Willy Jesena informed my mother and father that I was missing. He looked for me in various military camps and hospital morgues. But the military denied that I was in their custody. One even suggested that I might have eloped with my girlfriend. Fr. Jesena and my parents became very worried and wondered what happened to me.