February 9 2012 5 09 /02 /February /2012 13:05
Antonio Enriquez. Subanons (historical novel set during martial law, '70s), UP Press, Quezon City, Philippines, 1999.
Against the flickering petrol torches on a piece of land in Guipos,
Zamboanga peninsula, Mindanao, 400 or so nautical miles from
Manila, was the camp of an Army unit from the 10th IB. Here and
there, stumps of coconut trees protruded, and alongside a rutted
dirt path were the petrol torches of tattered cloths attached to the
ends of bamboo poles. In the soft wind, the flames slanted away
casting shimmering light and long shadows on the ground. Filled
with potholes the wheel-rutted path ran diagonally toward the
camp before making an abrupt slant, then went on in a straight line
for several meters, then ended where an empty uncovered
six-by-six Army truck was parked.
With dark clouds of petrol-smoke curling up toward the moonless
sky, throwing shadows that danced crazily on the stumps of coconut
tree-trunks, a pale-orange expanse of light shuddering about the
fringes of the coconut-lot—the camp looked more like a hideous
devil-worshipper cult camp than an Army barracks.
Into this camp, one dark night in July of ’85, the Subanon village
chief Datu Amado Bualan went quietly, unarmed without any sort of
weapon. Unlike his predecessors before him. Just about its
entrance were a bunker of coconut trunks and nipa-shingles, and
three layers of sandbags rose several feet before it, that served
both as a guardhouse and machine-gun nest. However no sentry
was in sight. As he went past the bunker he met no soldier and the
camp looked empty.
He only saw the first soldier when he was a few meters from a
nipa-roofed and sawali-walled building, shaped incongruously and
irregularly. For some portions, as if as an afterthought, jutted out
of the main structure and the building was the only temporary
structure there. Of course there was the usual outhouse and latrine,
which you couldn’t miss in military camps a distance away from the
entrance gate, and a small unused shed, and two unrecognizable
structures of light materials. Looked like it was about to collapse
any moment or its nipa roof down any second on your head. The
latter served as soldiers’ quarters as well as a room for operations,
where they plan to shoot either combatants or noncombatants. This
could mean anybody. Looking extremely bored was the man who
sat on a bench before a table. He didn’t turn his head as Datu
Amado had expected when he walked toward the barracks. Much
less raise his eyes to acknowledge his presence. You know what I
mean, not even when he almost brushed against the bench set close
to the barracks narrow door. The door was a mere hole in the
building and probably its single door-leaf had been discarded or
burnt as firewood by its former occupants. The hinges of the
missing door-leaf was still there and already rusty.
Inside the quarters was a ladder with rungs of round-wood. It led
to a bamboo-split platform that rose several feet from the earthen
floor of the barracks, a little over a man’s head. On it a number of
soldiers, mostly half-naked, were sleeping soundly. Barracks had
windows only on one side, left, opposite the raised platform, and so
the hall was damp and airless and suffocating.
On the wall hang some five oil lamps. Of empty milk cans. They
were the only source of light in the entire barracks, and so the
place was in half darkness and the side where the sleeping quarters
where was unlit full of unsteady shadows. If you were not to look
closely you would miss seeing on the wall above the oil lamps two
framed copies of oil paintings of the Dictator Ferdinand Marcos and
the First Lady Imelda Marcos. The couple was pictured as a royal
couple, complete with sash and emblem and crown, from an old
autocratic European country. Everyone knew Marcos came from a
barren dry, little place called Batac in Ilocos.
Before the ladder in sleeveless camouflage shirts stood three
soldiers, talking aimlessly with each other, in that sort of idle talk
to pass the hour. A third, with beer-belly and fat arms, was looking
toward some activity going on at the other end of the narrow hall.
There, two more soldiers, who unlike the three were naked to the
waist, were pushing a man against the wall, delivering blows to his
head and body.
Right away Datu Amado recognized him as the farmer he was
looking for--the unfortunate Rigîd, who had come looking for his
carabao late that afternoon. Every time the farmer lowered his
arms to cover himself –he had been stripped naked –to ward off the
blows, the two soldiers pounded his flanks with their fists and
jabbed them in the pit of his stomach. On the wall, their shadows
flitted crazily about, drawing a variety of shapes and images. From
the core of Rigîd’s tormented body flowed a stream of
aahed-screams like this: Ahhh-yayaya-ggaaayyyy!
‘Your hands up, up, up!’ said the two shirtless soldiers. Their
muscled arms swung viciously and hammered at the farmer’s naked
body with their fists.
‘No, no, no!’ the farmer cried. His arms came down, clipping his
flanks to ward off the blows, and at this the two shirtless soldiers
started punching and kicking him more viciously: from his flanks
and chest and belly came thud sounds as the blows fell. Again
through Rigîd’s bruised lips sprang a stream of cries.
‘Up, up, up with your hands!’ the two half-naked soldiers
commanded. ‘You mother-fucker, son of a communist whore!’
On the raised bamboo-split platform, the soldiers, used to scenes
of beatings and torture, slept on. Not one was awakened by the
cusses and cries for mercy. They were all drunk and satiated with
food taken during their drinking binge. Like logs they slept, many
snoring loudly, through their mouths and noses chugging sounds
emerged as from a tug-boats. Seemingly oblivious and deaf to the
farmer Rigîd’s groans and screams were the three camouflage-clad
soldiers by the ladder. A moment later, as if awakened from a deep
sleep, the two, who’d been talking earlier with each other,
seemingly ignoring the third soldier, walked quickly out of the
barracks. Left alone by himself the beer-bellied soldier continued
looking down one end of the hall, where the poor farmer was being
beaten. Flabby and immobile he stood there by the ladder.
Everything in him was in a state of momentary suspension: the only
sign of life were the rise and fall of his beer belly, and the whoosh
of his heavy fat man’s breathing.
Rigîd screamed in pain and for mercy. He begged: ‘Have pity
have pity on me! I only came looking for my carabao. It’s the truth.
Aayyyiieee, have pity!’
‘You mother-fucking liar.’ The two bare-breasted soldiers thrust
their elbows into his rib cage, ‘You’re an NPA, are you not? Hah?
You mother-fucking communist liar!’
Rigîd cowered and went down on his rump onto the earthen floor
of the hall. ‘No, no, no!’ he said. ‘Have pity have pity! I was only
looking for my carabao. That’s the eternal truth...’
But with kicks and fist-blows the soldier-tormentors forced him
to straighten up against the wall and raise both hands over his head.
Afterwards they commenced hitting him again.
‘Your hands ... up, up over your head,’ his tormentors said. ‘Son
of a mother-whore! Mother fucker communist liar! What? What did
‘—only looking for my carabao. That’s the truth honorable
soldiers. I’m just a poor farmer; not an NPA, good soldiers.’
‘What! You no-good lying communist! Pretending to be a farmer
hah? You won’t amen you are an NPA hah-hah? So you’re
After accusing him of being a member of the communist New
Peoples Army, the two soldiers struck him on the head with their
knuckles, slapped him not hard with the shell of their palms, as
when one slaps a boy around to call his attention. This last they
hadn’t done before. It was just as if they had discovered a new trick.
Slapping him in mockery, they now timed the knuckle blows on his
head to fall simultaneous with their cussing. So delighted the
soldiers became with this discovery, that hideous laughter rang in
All this while, not once had the poor farmer looked toward Datu
Amado Bualan. Shame and humiliation, not unmixed with confusion,
had held him back from returning the datu’s-village chieftain’s
gaze. But now exhausted, and in unbearable pain, he turned his
head to him and said, ‘Ay datu help me ...’ but a cry involuntarily
rose in his throat and gagged him.
Ignoring now his own terror, Datu Amado stepped up before the
beer-bellied soldier. ‘Sarge, excuse me,’ he said. ‘But I know this
farmer personally ... he isn’t an NPA, not a rebel. He’s from my
village ... Karpok. What he says is true, that he came here to your
camp to look for his carabao—’
The datu’s soft apologetic voice aroused in the beer-bellied
soldier contempt and anger, instead. He was that sort of a man you
meet quite rarely. To such a man human kindness is a weakness.
Right there, he rose from languor. His brows knitted, below them
his eyes, dark and fiery, pierced into Amado’s face.
Rapidly he said, ‘What, what –what!’
Datu Amado repeated, ‘He’s only looking for his carabao. Please,
Sarge, understand the poor farmer. It’s the only working animal he
The fat soldier shouted into his face, ‘Fuck you! If you don’t shut
up we’ll beat you up too.’
The fat soldier’s lips pursed bulbous, on his forehead folds of
flesh swelled. Looking like termites trenches. From a silent, unalert,
beer-bellied man, he had turned into an angry tuba wine-smelling
brute. It looked as though a magic wand had touched him, turning
the soldier into an ogre before the datu’s eyes.
Quickly Datu Amado turned his head away. He had never been
spoken to so hideously and shamefully. But the brute’s sour breath
of tuba palm wine stung his nostrils still. ‘These soldiers are
drunk,’ he thought. ‘Likely, they’ve feasted on the farmers missing
Just then a clanging sound was heard by the entrance. There
followed the reappearance of the two camouflage-clad soldiers.
They were the same soldiers, who had earlier stood by the wooden
ladder with Datu Amado and the beer-bellied soldier. In their hands
swung a big battered pail of slops. As the pair set it down before
Rigîd, the contents slapped round the side of the pail. Swishing
threatening to spill onto the earthen floor.
Into this pail the two camouflage-clad soldiers plunged their
hands. When they withdrew them, coils of huge slimy entrails were
strung round their arms and wrists. Pieces of animal meat oozed
between fingers, a few slid down on to the earthen floor.
Ruthlessly, the pair jammed the intestines and pieces of meat
into the farmer’s mouth.
‘Eat eat these now,’ said one of the two camouflage-clad
soldiers. ‘Lets see if this meat comes from your carabao … you
big-balled son of a communist whore!’
More handful of slops was forced into the poor farmers mouth by
the second soldier, who commanded, ‘Eat, eat, eat! What’s the
matter? Hah? Even a datu eats carabao meat! Are you more
delicate than a datu, hah-hah?’
‘No-no ayiieee mother!’ cried Rigîd, bringing his cupped hands
over his mouth.
A vicious fist crashed into it breaking the skin of his lips.
Methodically, blows were delivered to his stomach and flanks, and
thuds resounded from his rib cage, as if his ribs were made of guitar
The first two half-naked soldiers screamed at him: ‘Up, up, up
with your hands. You mother-fucker of a communist!’
With both hands raised to his face Rigîd’s body was left
unprotected and exposed to the kicks and blows. From one end of
the hall, the thud sounds could be heard as the blows fell on the
half-naked body. ‘No no I won’t eat the meat of my own carabao!’
said Rigîd. ‘Ayiieee mother help me!’
‘What?’ said the first camouflage-clad soldiers. ‘Did you say this
is your carabao’s meat? Did you say that you communist!’
The one camouflage-clad soldier thrust his hand into the pail for
more and more entrails and pieces of meat. With a look of scorn
and contempt, he pushed the intestines into Rigîd’s mouth with his
fingers. Then, in a slow and deliberate motion, he wiped them off
his hand on the farmers face.
‘Your carabao ...’ he said. ‘Did you say? Ah-hah then eat it! Go
on and eat it. Go on! Prove to us this his meat from your carabao.
‘No-no ayiieee mother!’ Under his cupped hands, his pleas were
muffled like this: Pfff-leeshhh, pfff-leeshhh, pfff-leeshhh.
‘You mother-fucker of a communist liar!’ the one went on.
‘What were you doing sneaking around here hah? You’re a
communist spy. Oo, o.’
On the raised bamboo-split platform, the drunken soldiers slept
on, their chests rose and fell like bellows with their snoring.
Four-five soldiers fidgeted or tossed round on the platform. One
with trouble in his bladder rose and went to the side of the building,
where he pissed. Not one of them gave any sign they’d been
bothered by the farmers beating and pleas for mercy.
Finally, after fistfuls of entrails and pieces of meat went down
Rigîd’s throat, his strength left him. Suddenly, his battered naked
body collapsed on to the earthen floor. Alongside his flanks, his
arms lay limp and elbows bent awkwardly by his body. Rigîd no
longer pleaded or complained. Only animal-like groans came
through his lips, on his naked body thud-sounds resounded like a
sounding board, because, methodically and mercilessly, the
soldiers continued beating him. Not hard enough or as frequent now
as to kill him. They knew their work well, and just how much
torture and pain a man could stand a hairbreadth from death,
having honed their skills through practice and brutality on helpless
victims. They inflicted just enough damage to his lungs and kidneys
before he would collapse.
Rigîd swayed forward on the balls of his feet. Up and down, his
head bobbed on the end of his neck, making funny spasmodic
movements before falling upon his bare chest. All at once, from
the very core of his body, it seemed pieces of meat and coiled
intestines flushed out through his mouth. Splattering on to the
earthen floor in an incessant flood. On the ground, before him, a
small pool of slops started to grow, expanding its fringes while the
entrails and pieces of discarded meat lay there in an uneven lump.
Realizing Rigîd couldn’t take more punishment; the second
camouflage-clad soldier flung him back his shirt and pants; though
his clothes missed him and instead fell in the pool of slops. The four
soldiers climbed up the upraised bamboo-split platform. Soon
afterwards, the four tormentors fell asleep. Snoring as loud as the
other drunken soldiers. Meanwhile, the beer-bellied soldier joined
the one at the door of the barracks. The latter looked just as bored
as before, when the datu came to the camp earlier that evening.
With his head in the shell of his hands, Datu Amado sat on a lower
rung of the ladder; the light from the oil lamps flickered on the mop
of his grey-streaked hair. Never had he felt so powerless, so
unworthy of being the datu of the Subanons.
Rigîd, stark naked, on his haunches on the earthen floor, was
finally left alone: his spirit broken and physically humiliated. By his
side lay the pail of slops, now half-empty, with the entrails of his
working animal. Inside it his trousers soaked in the pool of slops.
It was quiet now in the camp. No sound except for the drunken
snoring and occasional creaking of the bamboo-split platform. Up
on the wall, slightly to one side of the farmers head, the pictures of
the Despot Ferdinand Marcos and his First Lady Imelda Marcos hung
crookedly having been jarred during the beating of the poor farmer.
In the flickering oil lamps, Marcos’s confident and benign-dictator
disposition never faded, and the ‘Iron Butterfly,’ as the First Lady
was called, wore the knowing smile of a Mona Lisa on her lips.
Datu Amado patiently waited for the soldiers to allow him to take
Rigîd home. He wouldn’t dare to ask before he was told: had he not
just seen what animals they were! However the soldiers seemed to
have forgotten them. The beatings and cries of pain from the poor
farmer had never happened! The existence of the native Subanons
meant nothing to the 10th IB soldiers. At worse, their attitude was
that of a spoiled child, who got tired with his playthings.
But a quarter of an hour later, what seemed forever to Datu
Amado, the beer-bellied soldier told him to take the ‘trash’ away
back to the village. He growled at him to do it right away, as if it
were Amado’s fault they’d not left. Maybe, he would put the datu
in the camp’s stockade for the night.
So Datu Amado went to the other end of the hall, where the
farmer sat on his rump on the earthen floor, his legs spread out.
Against the sawali-woven wall, he had propped up his head and
shoulders. He couldn’t get up. He was inert and unable to move to
dress himself, when he saw Datu Amado approaching him from the
Datu Amado said, ‘Let me help you, Rigîd’ slipping the trousers
up the man’s legs. ‘Turn the other side ... Oo, o—that’s it.’ After he
wrung the slops out of the old patched shirt and pants, Datu Amado
helped him put them on.
‘It ... it’s all right,’ said Rigîd. ‘I can do it datu.’
But his arms were useless. They didn’t have any strength even
to button up his pants. Stabs of pain lanced at his flanks every time
he strained and flexed a muscle. ‘Aahhhh-gaaayyy!’ His voice low
as he held back the cry. ‘Wait, wait, my sides ... so painful.’
‘All right,’ said Datu Amado. ‘Don’t move. Let me do it for you:
but we must hurry.’ Before these devils change their minds, he
wanted to add.
Very slowly this time, he pulled the man’s trousers up to his
waist. He had not once looked at the farmers nakedness; of course,
he had seen men –and women too, ayiiee– nude before, but not like
the farmers nakedness that bared not just his uncovered body but
his very soul naked as well. It forced embarrassment and shame
from the onlooker too, though he himself the datu was a man.
‘I’m sorry very sorry ... my arms they’ve no strength left. I
cannot move them,’ said Rigîd as the datu helped him put on his
shirt, slipped an arm through its sleeve. ‘Aahhh-gaaayyy,
Datu Amado didn’t immediately take the poor farmer away. He
had to be sure the beer-bellied soldier wasn’t just making fun of
them. With his right hand around Rigîd’s waist, the other gripping
the farmer’s forearm slung over his shoulder—Datu Amado raised
him up from the earthen floor, and then dragged him toward the
door. ‘Sarge, sir, can we go now?’
But the beer-bellied soldier, by the side of the table, behind
which on a bench sat the bored soldier, seemed to be now playing a
game with them. He simply ignored the datu. A few anxious
moments passed. His heart knocked against his rib cage. When it
seemed both of them might be placed in the stockade, he once
again heard the beer-bellied soldiers growl: O what are you waiting
for? Are you deaf hah? Didn’t I tell you to get out of here? Go on,
move! Get this “trash” out of here now! ... Shit!’
Quickly, Datu Amado went past the door and the table, outside
half-carrying the limp Rigîd. Neither of the two soldiers by the table
so much as nodded or glanced at the passing figures. Once out of
the Army camp, the datu went as fast as he could on the path, while
Rigîd leaned heavily against him, holding back his cry of pain and
To buy: contact, Antonio Enriquez
Ramiroville cor Macanhan UCCP Church, Macanhan, Cagayan de Oro City