I was born in this small town, in the crook of Sierra Madre’s long arm that stretches from way down South, reaching to the North of the archipelago. My memories of being a three-year-old in September 21, 1972 is long forgotten. But I remember growing up with DWIZ and DZRH on AM Radio. My mother, a widow, was a great cook, and has her own recipes for popular delicacies and some entirely her own. Growing up, I was surrounded by the sound of hogs squealing in the morning, the smoke from the fire for cooking Suman, and the daily chores of peeling Santol being prepped for making Sweet Santol Preserve, slicing, chopping veggies for the Ulam to be sold at our makeshift store, Burong Mustasa, and the artistry that was Paete – all woodcarving, furniture making, paper-mache and music.
Our evenings were spent watching John & Marsha on our Toshiba Television, with the sliding covers, wood inlays, plugged to a big-ass power converter with the gauge that looks like something you’d see on a jeepney dashboard. My Mother insists on not being disturbed once Aawitan Kita is on. Of course, me and my four siblings (I’m the 4th , do the math) take turns watching our favorites. It was a time when Toyota and Crispa were the major Trophy contenders on Channel 4.
Now that I think about it, there was only a few channels we could really watch clearly. RPN9 is my choice, because GMA7 is full of buzz and noise. 13 is also a good reception, but BBC2 only had good programming only later after 1975, and that was when I started going to school.
You should realize, back then, it was just school-home and vice versa. Our house is next to an open space for receiving logs and logs of wood for carving, but when all these logs are gone, we have a playground for Jolen, taguan, and a small space in that lot serves as an open kitchen during Flores De mayo, Fiesta among other town festivities.
Paete, Laguna is really a small town. I know most people by face, if not by their names. Like the way I know politicians since Grade 1, wherein we memorize all their names from the President, the First Lady down to the Philippine Constabulary Officers. I remember watching Sesame Street and it was cut, because Marcos was saying something about the state of the nation. I switched channels, but somebody told me not to do it again, or else a constabulary might arrest me. It’s always like that: Don’t be too noisy or the PC will get you! Get inside or the Sipay will put you in a sack and offer you as sacrifice , your blood will be splashed on bridges!
Other than that, everything is A-okay. We get bus loads of tourists who buy Japanese-In-A-Barrel and big Spoon & Fork souvenirs, Images of Saints, and Last Suppers. Children shouting hey, Joe! whenever a white man walks the narrow street. Every foreigner is either Japanese or Kano. All white men are Kano.
I grew up knowing when a curfew is in effect, you don’t stay out in the streets, you get your ass inside and try to wait for screams should the police get one of your friends. At least hat is what we joke about while sitting under the sun, trying to see who can stare at it longer than anyboy. But all that passed and we soon stopped hearing that siren.
With my BMX, I had a paper route for Manila Bulletin, Balita, Liwayway and the occasional Songhits. Among other duties, I delivered newspaper since I was in Grade 4, delivering a few that turned into a full 4o households scattered all over the nine baranggays. After sorting out the papers, I read the comics section, and then the news. I was immersed with Philippine politics every morning. You could guess what the names Juan Ponce Enrile, Fidel V. Ramos, Doy Laurel and Blas Ople meant in my youth.
In 1980, Paete celebrated its Quadricentennial Year. There was talk about Benigno Aquino Jr. News about killings. Censorship. Bold Movies. Imelda’s beautiful face. My mother went to Ilocos for an Aglipayan Convention. We sang on stage at the plaza for a special arrangements of songs. Schools paraded with their colors. Makati is still a foreign land to me. And we still sing “Ang Bagong Lipunan” every morning after the Philippine National Anthem.
I won Php1,000 in Premyo Savings Bonds that I used to buy my first guitar.
When Martial Law was lifted, it was something I only read on the paper I deliver. Doesn’t mean that much to me. My baptism of fire for the silent brutalities and cruelty of Proclamation 1081 came on stage: I started acting with a theater group headed by Mrs. Felicidad San Luis, whom I think, is more beautiful than Imelda, but didn’t say it out loud for fear of being taken away to Iwahig, when I was in Grade 6. UP professors were our trainers, writers, choreographers and our plays are minimalist productions depicting oppression, war, farmers losing their land, singing songs by Joey Ayala and Heber Bartolome and the humor of being Indios since the Spanish era. In short, I have been bearing bad news every morning to my people in Paete, and it was only after Martial Law was lifted that I began to see.
I’m 43 now.
We enjoy so much freedom and liberty and yet we are chained for some reason. 40 years after Martial Law and a lot has changed. But then again, nothing changes. Seen the news on tv lately? Journalists are still being killed. Mindanao is at war with itself. The same names still bear the title Senator, Congressmen, Mayor, Governor. Sin is gone but his legacy of mixing with politics is still a staple preoccupation of the clergy.
I’ve seen Paete go from artful to artless.
Women still scream for equality and freedom of choice.
All these technology and connectivity.
We have remained backward in a lot of things.
Caught between a rock and a hard place.