How Lolo Pedro Swatted a Toratora and Died

While browsing the internet, I chanced on a science news article on the genetic susceptibility to schizophrenia among Han Chinese. The Nature article revealed  two independent studies that identified “sections of the human genome that, when deleted, can elevate the risk of developing schizophrenia by up to 15 times compared with the general population.” I won’t go into the details of the article because, aside from my lack of expertise on the subject matter, the popular version of the two articles is good enough for non-technical readers like myself.

This blog article however will share a cultural correlate to the science news article. While mental diseases are biological, these are expressed in specific cultural and historical circumstances. I take the medical anthropologist’s cue therefore of differentiating disease, which is biological, from illnesses, a cultural concept. It is within this light that I share my maternal relatives’ reckoning with pagkabuang (roughly translated as insanity). All behaviors or mental states that deviate from the “normal” is considered buang in Cebuano. Psychological illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, dementia, etc, are all subsumed under this general word category.

The family lore goes that at least one member, usually male, of every generation will succumb to a mental illness. I don’t know if there’s a biological basis to this story or whether a professional diagnosis was availed of (except for one), but as far as my mother is concerned, our “schizophrenia” simply runs in the blood–no need to question it, you just keep the grip on what’s real and what’s not and you won’t lose it. This story has been used as a warning to all my relatives to not overdo things or do drugs, because “we got craziness in our blood,” one slip and off we go to Lalaland.  Like us, my mother’s generation too had been told time and again to fear this supposed “genetic tendency” and thus must learn to negotiate life’s challenges with calm and ease. I believe this is not simply an old wives’ tale that older relatives concocted to keep us in check. Aside from the logical fact that they could’ve just scared us off with the usual monsters and the roasting pits of hell, my maternal relatives saw how a grandfather, an uncle, and two cousins were blighted by this illness.

The origin of the “schizophrenia” myth started with the unusual death of my mother’s maternal grandfather who was shot by Japanese soldiers in the dying days of World War II. When the villagers heard that the soldiers were on patrol, they fled to their mountain hideout except for Lolo Pedro. The soldiers spotted Lolo Pedro on top of a coconut tree cursing at toratora or zero fighter aircrafts flying overhead. He also brought with him a long stick to swat at these flying jetfighters, flaying at them everytime they passed by the coconut tree. He was an easy target for the patrolling soldiers. They trained their rifles towards Lolo Pedro, placed him in their rifles’ crosshairs, squeezed their triggers, and took the crazed man down from the tree.

You see, the tiny island of Po’o at that time was right smack in the middle of the largest naval battle in world history, The Battle of Leyte Gulf. This was the naval war when Allied forces first witnessed Japanese toratora planes diving straight at enemy warships and gunboats. The Allied Forces however routinely defeated the Japanese forces in less than a week. For older island residents, the impact of this war was such that time and history were only divided into three episodes: before the war (wala pay gera), during the war (panahon sa gera), and after the war (pistaym). Personal events, like birthdays, are remembered more along this organizing principle of time than the actual dates.

The war was a shock to many island residents. From a sleepy fishing village, the place had been converted into a battle zone. The villagers were rounded up and their movement monitored and restricted. Many were subjected to abuses. Rumors reached that children were flung to the air and then stabbed with bayonets. Some of those who escaped the encampment were pursued and killed. A relative of mine, who was then a child, escaped a gruesome death when she pretended to be dead after getting stabbed with a bayonet. With her guts spilling out of her abdomen, adult relatives sneaked the child out of the island on a canoe. They traveled a full day to the neighboring island of Leyte where she was nursed back to health.

Coconut Fiber Dress. My grandfather didn’t quite sew something as grandiose as this, but yes you got the point of him sewing clothes from coconut fibers.

Those who escaped the Japanese garrison fled to mountain hideouts. While there, they lived a semblance of a normal life, far from the reach of the occupying forces. My late maternal grandfather, a Chinese immigrant tailor (whose timberland-owning family scampered out of China because of the Nationalist Revolution of Sun Yat Sen–yet another interesting story to pursue!), remembered sewing clothes from coconut fibers for the refugees (see photo on the side to give you an idea). The violence spiraled that whenever there was a chance for retribution, the island residents grabbed every opportunity for revenge–Japanese soldiers, who survived the naval battle and found themselves beached on the island, were routinely attacked and killed.

If you’ve been to the island of Po’o, you would not imagine that this place had once witnessed so much bloodshed. Your day starts with a rooster’s call and ends with the warmth of bahalina down your throat. Yet World War II was a crazy time. And, apparently, we still feel the insanity of war in our “genes.”


Behind Prison Bars: An Interview With Jigger Geverola

This weekend’s post is slightly different from the other stories I blogged about. In remembrance of the then-dictator Ferdinand Marcosdeclaration of Martial Law in the Philippines, Time Travelling is featuring an interview of Jigger Geverola, a post-dictatorship political detainee, who has been languishing in prison since May 2004 on charges of rebellion and arson. The Philippine military claims that Jigger Geverola is a high ranking officer of the communist guerrilla movement.

More than 6 years ago, he was caught together with Ronald Sendrijas while visiting his parents in Argao, Cebu, Jigger’s hometown. Sendrijas was later released after spending years in jail but a few months after his freedom, unidentified assassins gunned him down–a fate shared by many activists and journalists in the Philippines these days.

Students of the University of San Carlos in the early 1990’s however remember Jigger Geverola more as a tireless student activist. With a calm yet determined demeanor, he was a frequent discussant in student fora and was articulate in bringing student issues before the university administration. Jigger was also a favorite photo icon during rallies for the local press: he was always seen on the news waving a flag on roofs of jeepneys or exhorting fellow protesters to continue with the march. This concern for social issues suited well with the courses he took during his college days. A sociology/anthropology major, Jigger was (and, I believe, still is) well-versed in the discourses on development politics, sociological/anthropological theories, and the like. For him, however, academic learning was stale compared to his involvement in the everyday politics of the Filipino people–where issues of corruption, land monopoly, and imperialist globalization are lived and are not mere academic concepts.

Without further ado, here’s Time Travelling’s  short interview with Jigger Geverola, 33-year old activist and political detainee, from behind the prison bars of Lahug, Cebu City:

Time Travelling: What got you interested in social issues and activism?

Jigger Geverola: I was brought up by a loving, young, poor peasant couple at a small and mountainous barrio in Argao, Cebu (central Philippines). My father started tending the farms at an early age and my mother came from a middle peasant family. They were able to reach high school but were not able to proceed to college. They were tenants in a small parcel of land and, to complement the family budget, they did odd jobs in the towns and cities and also did seasonal farm work. I remembered that our situation was really dire.

As the eldest of 3 siblings, I helped in the farm and household chores. I was assigned to tend the farm animals we had. Although life was hard, this very conditions of poverty strengthened the family bond. Industriousness was encouraged and so was austerity. Then in the 1990’s, due to a combination of perseverance and luck, my parents were hired in a local mining firm which alleviated our economic situation. For this reason, my parents were able to send me to University of San Carlos to take up BS Chemistry and then I shifted to AB Sociology/Anthropology.

With this background, it was easy for me to comprehend the local issues inside the campus and connect this to much bigger and broader social concerns. I strived to mould and hone my viewpoint, stand, and perspective through political education, group discussions at the round table (a site where university activists gather), integration with the peasants and workers, joining mass actions, and engaging in organizing work. These activities helped in raising my level of militancy.

Time Travelling: What made you decide to join the revolutionary underground movement?

Jigger Geverola: I decline to have an answer on this topic. This may prejudice the ongoing trial of trumped up cases filed against me.

Time Travelling: How long have you been in prison? On what charges? Did you experience torture?

Jigger Geverola: I have been incarcerated for more than 6 years already. Initially, I was falsely charged with four counts of murder, frustrated murder, and two counts of arson. But through court battle, the charges were downgraded to two simple rebellion and one arson charge.

I didn’t suffer any direct physical torture, but psychologically/mentally, yes. During the time of my captivity last 26 May 2004, I was blindfolded, underwent continuous interrogation, and was deprived of a lawyer’s assistance for almost 48 hours. They repeatedly tried to incriminate me and some legal personalities to the underground and armed revolutionary movement. I vehemently denied all of their accusations. At that moment, in spite of all the psychological stress, I was well-prepared and ready to face the consequences. I was very composed and present-minded. I did not feel any fear.  All I did was accept, afterall,  acceptance is the name of the game in this situation.

Time Travelling: What is life like for a political detainee? How do you fight boredom? Do you have regrets?

Jigger Geverola: For me, boredom is just a confluence of all negativity and pessimism. It is manifested also in the inability to accept the realities of life and putting too much expectations on one’s self. I simply fight boredom by appreciating anything that happens around me. I set routine activities for myself, even the smallest things are planned. I also find ways to exercise and get some sweat. Most importantly, I strive to maintain a positive attitude and I always keep a smile while avoiding their watchful eyes at the same time (i.e., referring to the guards).

I do not feel any remorse at all. I take this opportunity to deeply discover and search the inner depths of my soul, explore my spirituality, and know more about myself (my character and personality).

Time Travelling: Has your prison experience changed your political beliefs?

Jigger Geverola: Of course, it did not. I am strongly convinced on the correctness of the national democratic struggle, aspirations, and perspective. The recent worsening global disorder, the chronic national socioeconomic crisis, and the egregious exploitation of the basic masses justify the need for more extensive, intensive, and comprehensive people’s collective action and struggle.

Time Travelling: What do you think of the current Aquino administration? Given that the current president is a son of a political prisoner, do you think he’ll grant you release? If ever released, what are your future plans?

Jigger Geverola: Benigno Aquino III‘s administration still represents the ruling class and the oligarchy in the Philippines. Like his mother (i.e., Corazon Aquino), he is also bound to fail in transcending his landlord class interest. The current regime remains subservient to the dictates and policies of foreign monopoly capitalism. This regime will try to differentiate itself from the previous Arroyo regime by portraying itself as more democratic, less corrupt, transparent, and pro-people government. But there is nothing new to expect. It is just the same dog with a different collar.

Not only as a son of a former political prisoner but as the highest executive official in the land, Aquino can grant the release of any political detainee by recognizance. Unfortunately, Aquino opted to follow the judiciary department and let the case roll at its own course (i.e., which in the Philippines is very slow). Indecisiveness has been Aquino’s number one weakness.

Yet I am optimistic that sooner or later i will be free again, a much stronger and better person at the end.  It is early to call what will happen in the future. I believe I can draw a lot of lessons from my vast, golden, and meaningful experience. There’s still a lot of unfinished business that I have to attend to, puzzles to be solved, and missing links to be addressed–especially in matters of family, university education, and spirituality. In other words, the battle is still there and I will confront this head on.

Time Travelling: What is your message to your fellow activists?

Jigger Geverola: This is my simple message to the activists:  MAG-ARAL, MAGLINGKOD, MAKIBAKA HUWAG MATAKOT!!! (Study, Serve the People, and Struggle Fearlessly!)

Hugo Chavez and the Skeleton of Bolivar

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela ordered the exhumation of the remains of Simon Bolivar, Latin America’s liberator, in order to put an end to the speculation surrounding the hero’s death. While historians are generally in agreement that Bolivar died of tuberculosis in 1830, others maintained that the hero died of unintentional arsenic poisoning (since this was the standard medical treatment during his time).

Dr. Paul Auwaerter in a University of Maryland Conference argued that  death due to tuberculosis cannot explain Bolivar’s final six months. Auwaerter said that the hero did not exhibit symptoms of TB and may have had arsenic-induced bacterial infection. Dr. Auwaerter concluded that Bolivar “died of chronic arsenic poisoning that led to a serious respiratory illness…and most of the signs and symptoms point to slow, chronic poisoning, the kind that might result from drinking contaminated water.”

Chavez however is convinced that Bolivar might have been murdered, a suspicion bolstered by the many attempts on the life of the most illustrious Latin American military figure. One of the failed assassination plots was in September 1828, a month after Bolivar installed himself dictator of Gran Colombia (the short-lived republic that encompassed a great part of South and Central America). Bolivar narrowly escaped the attempt through the help of his lover, Manuela Saenz.

“They killed him. Here in my heart for years I’ve had the conviction that Bolivar didn’t die of tuberculosis,” Chavez said. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to prove it, but I think they assassinated Bolivar.”

Death by Arsenic

The examination of chronic arsenic poisoning is a well-established method in paleopathology. The Paleopathology Laboratory of the Virginia Commonwealth University, for example, has studied the long-term exposure to arsenic of a Chilean pre-Columban population. The mummies showed arsenic lesions on their internal organs. The nails, ribs, hairs, and skin also exhibited high concentrations of the compound.

In a similar vein, Boston and Ariaza (2009) examined the human remains of the Chinchorro Culture (5000 BP) in the Atacama desert coast of Chile, they suggested that the endemic presence of arsenic may have had a role in the mummification practice of the Chinchorros. To ascertain this, they examined teratogenic arsenic lesions (i.e., cleft palate, polydactyly, syndactyly, spina bifida, club foot, eye malformations, and hip joint dislocation), which are indicative of arsenic poisoning when found together. Although they only found spina bifida, they reported that the “presence of spina bifida in the three valleys suggests a genetic-environmental interplay within the populations.”

I imagine Auwaeter et al conducted a similar assessment to forward the arsenic poisoning hypothesis. Next step is the Hugo Chavez-commissioned DNA testing on Bolivar’s exhumed remains. This is the same procedure that put an end to the controversy surrounding Napoleon Bonaparte’s death. Bonaparte, once thought to have been poisoned by his prison guards, was found to have died of other causes (still up in debate) and not from arsenic poisoning.

Bolivar’s Skeleton

That the exhumation is ideologically-driven is not a secret. Chavez refers to his ideology as Bolivarianismo which advocates for participatory democracy, socialism, and Latin American unity. This is also a homage to the military figure who attempted to unite the entire Latin America against Spanish colonization. It comes as no surprise therefore to see Chavez beaming with pride when Simon Bolivar’s remains were exposed. He exclaimed, “Viva Bolivar! It’s not a skeleton. It’s the Great Bolivar, who has returned…Our father who is in the earth, the water and the air … You awake every hundred years when the people awaken. I confess that we have cried, we have sworn allegiance.”

This was not the first time however that leaders used the past to serve the political purposes of the present. Anthropology, archaeology in particular, is rife with examples that exploit the past for a nationalist project. The eminent archaeologist, Bruce Trigger, noted that “Political unrest, national crises, and rapid economic and social change frequently stimulate interests in a nation’s past, which often is romantically represented as having been more stable than the present and therefore as having more valuable lessons to teach the modern times.”

This is especially true in many places with strong nationalist movements. Archaeologists in Nazi Germany, for example, conducted excavations to prove that Germany was the origin of all civilizations. In the years of Mao Zedong’s rule in China, archaeology was encouraged as long as it supports the government’s theory of a linear evolutionary progression from “primitive promiscuous bands via matrilinearity to patrilinearity; from Savagery, Barbarism, Feudal Society to Civilization and so on–stages first proposed by Lewis Henry Morgan, borrowed by Engels, and systematized in the Soviet Union” (Glover, 2006).

The case of Bolivar’s exhumation is thus not an exemption. The team of Spanish and Venezuelan scientists’ study results might be scientifically neutral and valid in the end. They might even contradict Chavez. But that is not the point. Bolivar’s bones are not just a bunch of arsenic-drenched tissues. This is not just about Bolivar anymore.

On the Maguindanao Massacre

On that eventful day of November 23, I went cold when I got the news that one of the 57 massacre victims was Atty. Cynthia Oquendo, a fellow activist, friend, and mother. The last time I saw her was when we had a small gathering a few weeks before: sharing a few drinks and friendly banters over sisig and crispy pata with a few college friends.

There was never any indication that that would be the last time I would see Cynthia, no black butterfly hovering around nor stories of goodbyes that in Cebuano folklore denotes a discreet premonition of one’s passing. We were there gathered, partaking of the cozy warmth of shared memories and the usual fare of how-are-yous sprinkled with a dose of political rhetoric. It was a nice albeit short night.

Many weeks later, there she was plastered on the frontpage: her voice muffled forever, body riddled with bullets, covered in dirt, dumped with 56 other bodies in a shallow grave dug using the Maguindanao provincial government’s backhoe. Brutalized. Dehumanized.

I browsed through various online analyses to understand the morbid logic behind these deaths and all other victims of political violence. I wanted to understand because in less than ten years, I have lost friends through a murderer’s barrel, Cynthia among them. There was Marvin Marquez, a youth activist and my son’s godfather, felled by sniper bullets in the hinterlands of Bohol. Another was Rev. Edison Lapuz, a human rights defender and an occasional house visitor, brutally assassinated while relaxing in his father’s house. There were also farmer-leader friends like Mayong Auxilio and Victor Olayvar, whom I met during my days as an agrarian reform volunteer, killed while preaching peasant rights to landless farmers.

Grief did gnaw at the soul for every passing of a dear friend. It made me reflect on this monster of a social structure that breeds and coddles sociopaths.

According to Mike Dobbie of the International Federation of Journalists: The Maguindanao massacre “is a culmination of the decades-long culture of impunity, where it’s been okay to kill journalists and nothing will ever happen — there will be no prosecution, there will be no trial..” Extrajudicial executions have been so rampant that the United Nations sent a team to investigate. In a 2007 report, United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston said that:

Since 2001 the number of politically motivated killings in the Philippines has been high and the death toll has mounted steadily. These killings have eliminated civil society leaders, including human rights defenders, trade unionists, and land reform advocates, as well as many others on the left of the political spectrum. Of particular concern is the fact that those killed appear to have been carefully selected and intentionally targeted. The aim has been to intimidate a much larger number of civil society actors, many of whom have, as a result, been placed on notice that the same fate awaits them if they continue their activism. One of the consequences is that the democratic rights that the people of the Philippines fought so hard to assert are under serious threat.

The murders however went unabated even with strong international and local pressure exerted on the Arroyo government. From January to October of 2009 alone, KARAPATAN, a human rights organization, reported 78 extrajudicial killings of journalists and political activists raising the total to 1,119 victims under the Arroyo administration. For KARAPATAN, the blame squarely lies on the shoulders of the government:

In the first place, the massacre would not have happened had the AFP stopped supporting vigilantes and militiamen which it conveniently appropriates for its counter-insurgency program. It would not have happened had the PNP been serious in disbanding and dis-arming private armies as its billboard at Osmeña Boulevard brags. It would not have happened had the Gloria government junked the rule of the gun and its militarist Oplan Bantay Laya…These practices spawned a culture of lawlessness and worsening human rights violations across the land. Local warlords, like their national counterparts, impose their will as laws over their dominion. Worse, law enforcers, including military commanders, become warlords too.

Analysts point to a ‘weak’ or a ‘failed’ state as the structural cause for these deaths. Local elites like the Ampatuans ensure the political survival of national elites in exchange for largesse from the national coffer. To sustain this parasitism, any threat is muffled with weapons siphoned off from corrupt military brass. News reports relay that the Ampatuans maintain a weapons cache that could arm three full-sized battalions, replete with 60-mm mortars, machine guns, explosives, recoilless rifles, AK 47s, among others.

Truth be told, wherever political dynasties reign, a clan-owned military-supplied armory can surely be found. It comes as no surprise then that the massacre happened during the election period. Elections are often imagined as democratic exercises, instead these have become catalysts for intensified, and often violent, elite competition.

With Malacanang-pampered tinpot dictators spread all across the archipelago, the Ampatuan massacre will not be the last. Let’s just pray that no one we know will be the next victim. Again.

Gender story: Gay guerilla


This was a paper for my graduate class on gender in 2007. Judy Aguilar, our professor, required us to submit a gender story. I instead made a feature that incorporated stories from various activist friends and presented them as one coherent story. The “I” here consists of many people.


Back in the early 1990’s, I was a youthful revolutionary who was willing to sacrifice life and limb for the sake of the “people.” The mere mention of the word “people” evoked a sense that I could make my life and the people’s lives better; that somehow I could contribute a bit to the destruction of the structural problems besetting our country. I did not know who those “people” were—never knew their names. As far as I know then, they were faceless, nameless, depersonalized, disconnected from the stale classroom that I went to for the most of the day.

So, I decided that I need to know them better, their day to day life, what they eat, their hopes and dreams. Eventually, my forays in activism led me to decide to integrate with guerillas somewhere in the hinterlands of the Visayas. I knew that my knowledge of the revolution is conceptual and integrating this with revolutionary practice is necessary if I were to transform waging war into a science and an art. Besides, in a poor country with a rich revolutionary tradition like the Philippines, the romantic idea of turning into a guerilla is always an attractive option.

With me during that integration were Maria and Mario, health activists from an urban area in the Visayas. Maria was a lovely chinita nurse who can alternate cheerfulness and sadness as fast as bullets from an automatic rifle. Mario, on the other hand, is laughter personified. I was fortunate to have been in a guerilla camp with them. I think they are aliens because they made nocturnal walking in a very harsh terrain seem shorter. And, as if by magic, they can turn a sack of rice that I used to transport almost every week for more than five kilometers into a kilo of cotton. I also met Brando, a partisan operative from the feared (now defunct?) Sparrow unit of the 1980’s NPA, who also part-timed as the unofficial barber of the guerilla camp.

The context

My gender story revolves around my observations about Mario, an openly gay revolutionary, and Brando, a “remolded” guerilla. Back then, homosexuality was seen by NPA cadres as a product of bourgeois decadence. One cadre explained to me that being gay is the cultural consequence of the leisured class, which eventually gets replicated among the lower classes (read: the impact of ruling class ideology on the subordinate classes).  He reasoned out that those that are more involved in production, such as the workers and farmers, have a lower incidence of homosexuality—which he rationalized as the outcome of the incipient formation of a proletarian identity among the lower classes.  For many cadres, being proletarian meant to be disciplined, fearless, objective, and logical. Traits that are associated with being masculine in mainstream Filipino culture.

The document that served as the guidebook for the relationship between the sexes in the revolutionary movement was the Oryentasyon sa Proletaryong Relasyong Sekswal (OPRS or ORS). This document had been crafted during the early years of the guerilla movement, putting more importance on maintaining class love (love for the proletarian class’s mission) over bourgeois love (which pertains to the personal). OPRS ensured that the revolution is always the primary focus of the relationship—thus necessitating the involvement of various yunit (red collective) in the decision-making process from courtship to divorce. The relationship is not simply an agreement between two individuals but is part and parcel of the revolutionary movement (thus, marital conditions and plans are integrated into the collective planning process). However, the guidelines were solely on heterosexual relations; it was silent about homosexuality.

A good revolutionary aspires for a proletarian character. While the definition of what is proletarian is conceptually clear (from various readings on proletarian morality, for example, the Five Golden Rays of Mao Tse Tung), the meaning of what is a good proletarian however takes a variety of forms in everyday life. One can be a good proletarian in the theatre of war by being adept in military tactics and strategy, by being wounded in an attack, or by refusing alcohol and denying oneself of “bourgeois” pleasures. For the guerillas, the all-embracing concept is self-discipline “to get rid of the vestiges of bourgeois and feudal influence;” thus, the necessity of undergoing the process of “remolding,” a process of  embracing the “seal of the proletarian class.” The difficulty however of defining what is proletarian, bourgeois, and feudal remains problematic among many activists and guerillas. For example, one joke goes that a real proletarian who is in the act of procreating will raise a clenched fist while doing it. In another instance, a student activist segregated her clothes according to bourgeois or proletarian fashion and ended up as confused as I was.

Guerillas euphemistically call homosexuals as mahuyang (weak) and not bayot (from babayeng otinan or woman with a penis). If do spoken, bayot is usually used in jest while mahuyang is more frequently used during formal meetings and casual conversations. I think the preference for mahuyang as a word carries with it a metaphorical weight that is connected to the guerillas’ desire to serve the weak. In some instances, Mario was spared “manly” tasks (involving manual labor) and was assigned to “feminine” tasks like the washing of dishes and cooking.


Mario and Brando

Days after Mario arrived, the whole guerilla camp was abuzz. All were talking about a gay urban-bred nurse who was willing to learn the ways of the guerilla. For many, this was a surprise. Many questioned whether a homosexual, urban-bred at that, could survive the rigors of living along the crevices of hillocks, standing guard against the enemy troops, and, much less, firing a gun.

Mario was very open about his sexuality despite the stares and the occasional smiles of amusement. Although most of the guerillas embraced his coming as a change in atmosphere, questions remain about his endurance and determination. In a highly disciplined (and I should say, veeerrry silent) guerilla environment, I could see that the coming of Mario was a welcome respite. The nights became livelier with him around as he poked fun at almost anything. Eventually, his talent for the arts, if you will, did not go unnoticed. He was assigned to oversee the makeshift theatre together with Brando, making the (ir)regular guerilla celebrations more animated.

At times, he was assigned to conduct organizing activities among the farmers to form revolutionary groups. He was very active in raising the awareness of the peasants. However, some of the feedback of his organizing activities was viewed as unseemly by many of the NPA cadres when the peasants started asking whether the NPAs are accepting homosexuals. Mario is expressive of his gayness. He traversed muddied pathways with swaying hips and raised pinkies. He talked in a sugary voice with the the last syllables sounding as if it were rubber. Although he had a receding hairline, this was covered by long bangs that reach to the ear, which appeared in clumps when wet thus exposing his rather long forehead. Yet he was a good educator. He could relate the peasants’ sud-an, which was usually salt, to the burning issues of the day and then to the need for a revolution.

Despite the adeptness of Mario in educating the peasants, many guerillas found the peasants’ comments disturbing. They feared that the peasants might not believe in them. I mean, they must have imagined how out-of-sync it was to bear arms against the government with a gumamela (red hibiscus) stuck by the flaps of the ears (they have not heard of that gay muay thai champion at that time).  The concern of the guerillas was understandable considering their interpretation of what a peasant mindset was: as basically feudal and patriarchal, thus intolerant of homosexuality. To remedy this, some of the guerillas followed up Mario’s work and explained to the peasants that Mario was still in the process of “remolding”—that it would be helpful if the farmers understand Mario’s predicament and help him return to “being a real man.”

However, Mario was adamant about his sexuality and maintained that he does not need to be a man to be considered a good revolutionary; that his many years of service to the revolution are a testament to his dedication and commitment to the cause. Despite this however, stories were recounted about how a gay armed partisan operative turned traitor because military intelligence units were able “to discover his weakness for handsome men.” Thus, being homosexual was imagined also as being mahuyang sa baruganan (weak in principles) and not only as being physically weak.

In spite of the rumors, Mario’s dealings with the guerillas remained warm, fun, and friendly. The polysemic character of Mario’s sexual identity perhaps explained this ambivalence, added to this was the fact that the cadres themselves were still in the learning process (in their continuing search for the “correct proletarian” approach vis-à-vis homosexuals). In Maoist revolutionary parlance, this conflict was merely a contradiction among the people and not a contradiction between the people and the enemy. Lastly, the long record of Mario’s revolutionary service could not be simply dismissed. He had shown fortitude in the face of the enemy albeit in an urban setting where the enemy is armed with “mere” truncheons and water hoses.

What the guerillas insisted was for Mario to follow Brando’s way back to “being a man, the casting away of bourgeois decadence,” as part of his remolding process. By turning into a man, Brando was seen as a “better guerilla” because there is less weakness in him that the enemy can exploit. It appeared to me then that maybe the guerillas are afraid that the enemy might “out-man” them in this war of men, where the jargon is steeped in “manly words” like insertion, penetration, finding the enemy’s weakness, coaxing and teasing the enemy, etc. (This reminds me of a poem by Adonis Durado where he used the encircling-the-cities-from-the-countryside metaphor in a very sexual verse).

One night, Brando, the guerilla barber, confided that he was gay but had turned back from homosexuality to serve the people better. He said that by being a man, he does not need to explain to the masses why he is gay and thus the discussion is more about them and their predicament and not about him. His sexuality is secondary to his proletarian mission of liberating the people. He na  his initial struggles in containing his sexuality and was only able to get through it by remembering what the revolution means to him. “Anyways,” he concluded, “in the last analysis, in the society that we are striving to build, people will not be relating to each other as man, woman, or gay, but as persons.” So, for him, the words bayot, lalaki, or babaye become moot and academic. Gender becomes obsolete.[1]

I would have recounted more but I was reassigned to another guerilla zone and later to urban revolutionary work (besides, my memory is starting to fail me). A few years after, I reintegrated back to the mainstream society and went back to “normal” life. One day, I stood amused as I chanced upon a headline news about the Communist Party of the Philippines “legalizing” same-sex relationships and marriages. How times, indeed, have changed. I wonder if it took an increase of homosexual cadres within the revolutionary movement to finally break from this decades-old tradition of homophobia. Later on, I saw on the news that Brando was captured and was eventually released. Friends later told me that Brando finally embraced his homosexuality and was in a healthy relationship. Mario remains a health activist who balances his time with teaching and NGO work. He never “remolded” and thus remains a dyed-to-the-bone revolutionary gay.


Gender ideologies permeate all aspects of social life, including liberation movements that aspire for social justice and equality. These gender ideologies are not mere ideas that people can debate and intellectualize about and then move on. The em-bodiment of these ideas is a violent act, which Bourdieu calls as symbolic violence, where people need to reconfigure their selves and bodies to fit into the structural demands of society. The example of Brando and Mario also shows that individuals have a say in the formation of social structures. They contest and negotiate prevailing structures and thereby creating spaces by which these same structures are eventually changed. Gender structures are never fixed or static. They are, as Bourdieu said, structured structures as well as structuring structures.

While the question of class is important, I refuse to consider class as a determining factor in our total social life. The tendency of certain liberation movements to subsume other dimensions of social life to economic questions reduces the diversity of our human experience.  Reducing ideology to class interest largely ignores the independent existence of other factors, such as gender, race and ethnicity, in affecting a person’s social position or life chances.  However, I admire the reflexivity of the cadres in the mainstream revolutionary movement. They tackled the issue of heterosexism head on and presented a more progressive alternative than what the Philippine government currently offers. This is clearly a case of better late than never.

[1] Brando and Mario have gotten closer as the days went by. Certain NPA cadres feared that the frequent association of Brando with Mario might set back his remolding process. After three months, Mario finished his exposure trip and went back to the city. Brando remained with the NPA until his capture.