AWING Apuga was 5 years old when he was taken away from his parents to be educated in Salugpungan Ta’tanu Igkanugon Learning Center, Inc (STITILCI) --a school his father, the chieftain of the Ata Manobo tribe of Talaingod, Davao del Norte, Datu Guibang Apuga help found.
Together with other tribe elders, they welcomed the outsiders who had swooped down their village and proposed the creation of this school because they had no idea they were dealing with terrorists--wolves in sheep’s clothing--whose plan was to make this school the training and recruitment ground of the Communist Party of the Philippines, its armed wing New People's Army, and political arm National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) with their children as main targets for radicalization.
He remembers the excitement his parents felt for him and other children of their tribe. Finally, they were getting an education! Ignorance was prevalent and this school was seen as their beacon of hope.
It was here in this Salugpungan School where Awing first learned to read and write and where, too, his first notions of what love for country meant and what it was that was asked of him.
Because even as he learned to read and write, the destruction of his soul had begun.
His ABC’s were unlike ours.
Where A was for ‘armas’, B bala and K for kaaway. The ABC’s of hate and mistrust for government.
Here, Lupang Hinirang was banned.
This song that each and every Filipino child is taught to sing with great love and respect with the right hand over her chest?
Well, this song wasn’t only banned in Salugpungan schools. It was judged as ‘burgis’ and trash and called “Lupang Sinira”.
They were instead taught to sing the Internationale--the hymn that, according to the Master Bullshitter, Joma Sison, is “Exceedingly important to all proletarian internationalists. It expresses poetically and musically the revolutionary spirit and historic mission of the working class to liberate humankind from class oppression and exploitation, to overthrow the bourgeois class dictatorship and all forms of reaction and to build socialism wherever possible UNTIL COMMUNISM IS ACHIEVED.”
And on the strength of this gifted liar’s edict, this hymn took over as our IP children’s national anthem.
“Bangon sa pagkakabusabos
Bangon mga bihag ng gutom
Katwiran ay bulkang sasabog
Buong lakas na dadagundong”
Gapos ng kahapo’y lagutin
Tayong api ay magbalikwas
Tayo ngayo’y inaalipin
Subalit atin ang bukas
Ito’y huling paglalaban
Magkaisa ng masaklaw ng Internationale
Wala tayong maasahan
Bathala o manunubos
Kaya ang ating kaligtasa’y
Nasa ating pagkilos
Manggagawa bawiin ang yaman
Ang maso ang ating tanganan
Manggagawa at magsasaka,
Ating partido’y dakila.
Palayasin ang mga gahaman,
Sa anakpawis ang daigdigan
Ng mga buitre at uwak.
Sa umagang sila’y maglaho,
Mapulang araw ‘y sisikat.”
Datu Awing Apuga sang it to me one sleepy dinner after a full day at work and the rest of the IPs with us followed suit. Automatic.
It was here too in this Salugpungan School that Datu Awing Apuga was taught poetry--which would have made me exceedingly happy if my own child were taught poetry in school.
Only, the poems he was taught and asked to memorize and recite with fervor were poems that painted a country in deep despair whose only hope was the overthrow of the government and the installation of communism in its stead.
Poems like Amado V Hernandez’ “Lumuha ka Aking Bayan” which was standard grade school fare in Salugpungan Schools.
“Lumuha ka, aking Bayan;
buong lungkot mong iluha
Ang kawawang kapalaran ng lupain mong kawawa:
Ang bandilang sagisag mo’y lukob ng dayong bandila,
Pati wikang minana mo’y busabos ng ibang wika,
Ganito ring araw nang agawan ka ng laya,
Labintatlo ng Agosto nang saklutin ang Maynila,
Lumuha ka, habang sila ay palalong nagdiriwang,
Sa libingan ng maliit, ang malaki’y may libingan;
Katulad mo ay si Huli, naaliping bayad-utang,
Katulad mo ay si Sisa, binaliw ng kahirapan;
Walang lakas na magtanggol, walang tapang na lumaban,
Tumataghoy, kung paslangin; tumatangis, kung nakawan!
Iluha mo ang sambuntong kasawiang nagtalakop
Na sa iyo’y pampahirap, sa banyaga’y pampalusog:
Ang lahat mong kayamana’y kamal-kamal na naubos,
Ang lahat mong kalayaa’y sabay-sabay na natapos;
Masdan mo ang iyong lupa, dayong hukbo’y nakatanod,
Masdan mo ang iyong dagat, dayong bapor, nasa laot!
Lumuha ka kung sa puso ay nagmaliw na ang layon,
Kung ang araw sa langit mo ay lagi nang dapithapon,
Kung ang alon sa dagat mo ay ayaw nang magdaluyong,
Kung ang bulkan sa dibdib mo ay hindi man umuungol,
Kung wala nang maglalamay sa gabi ng pagbabangon,
Lumuha ka nang lumuha’t ang laya mo’y nakaburol.
May araw ding ang luha mo’y masasaid, matutuyo,
May araw ding di na luha sa mata mong namumugto
Ang dadaloy, kundi apoy, at apoy na kulay dugo,
Samantalang ang dugo mo ay aserong kumukulo;
Sisigaw kang buong giting sa liyab ng libong sulo
At ang lumang tanikala’y lalagutin mo ng punglo!”
26-year-old Awing recited this to me a few nights ago- a poem he learned as a child.
Kinda like “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer for me--which I will need ninja mind to erase from my memory but which didn’t require me to fight government nor kill anyone with my bare hands (except when it is recited to me these days.)
But there it was--a poem drilled into his mind, heart, and soul and that he recited at the top of his voice complete with grand gesticulations.
By 5 years old, he could assemble and disassemble guns.
By 10, he was taught to kill.
By 15 he had his first encounter with government troops.
By 17, Datu Awing Apuga was a squad leader and part of the Sparrow Unit because he was a crack shot.
“Alam nyo, nung bata kami sa school, masaya kami non. Naglalaro, nagtatawanan, daming laro.”
Had we visited this school, in other words, we would not have seen anything unusual.
It would, most likely, have even warmed the cockles of our hearts to witness a Salugpungan teacher sing such nationalistic songs and then see the children scatter out of the schoolhouse to play.
In reality, the systematic destruction of our IP children’s hearts, minds and souls had begun in those schools where their innocence was stolen from them and where their transformation into terrorists and anarchists was steady and relentless.
And so it came to pass, Awing Apuga had become a prized mercenary of the CPP-NPA-NDF.
Someone destined to rise up the ranks of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Until he learned to listen to himself and to question the horrendous things he saw.
How their elders who didn’t cooperate with these terrorists were killed one after the other so that thousands--yes THOUSANDS--of IP leaders have been decimated by these terrorists and their deaths blamed on the government.
Then these elders were replaced with non-IP NPA leaders-- the better to have their clutches on such a gentle people and do with them as they pleased.
“As they pleased” meant the theft of cultural concepts dear to them like ‘salugpungan’ which means ‘pagkakaisa’/’kabuuhan/pangkalahatan--and then to use it in however way they want to achieve their nefarious agenda.
So this term that is central to their identity as a tribe--salugpungan-- is no longer theirs but effectively stolen by these terrorists and therefore has become property of the CPP-NPA-NDF fronts--Salugpungan Schools (and its many incarnations and reincarnations like Save Our Schools, ALCADEV, etc) ---that they’ve used here and in the international community most pointedly to paint a terrible picture of our country for the express goal of raising funds--billions in euros and dollars have found its way into the pocket of the greatest mang-uuto, Joma Sison.
It is late and we are tired--me and our brave IP spokespersons who have gone on a heroes’ journey across the USA to break their silence and speak the TRUTH.
After dinner though, we linger as we always do because they know I am hungry to hear their stories and so ask a million questions.
On this particular night, I am surprised to learn that Datu Awing Apuga is just 26, my firstborn son’s age. His smile is warm and comes easily and tonight I hear his love story for the first time.
His is a love story I have kept in my heart for quite some time now.
The reason I am unable to put it down on paper is that it is a love story fraught with tragedy--and on so many levels.
And it is the kind of story no writer wishes to write because it is too difficult to think about --much less put into words.
It is a personal tragedy that has, at its heart, a national tragedy.
All politics is personal and this is the tragedy of Awing’s love story--that past presidents didn’t have the courage and the cunning to take on this national scourge, this salot ng bayan, this communist insurgency until it devoured him and those he loved whole.
At 19 years old, he falls in love with Gina--which, he says, might not have been her real name because that’s just how things are in the movement.
An Ateneo de Davao student who was seduced into leaving home by the League of Filipino Students, 18-year-old Gina joined an immersion she never left.
This intelligent 18-year-old with a bright future ahead of her turned her back on this promising future, learned to bear arms and to engage in warfare against government troops.
Love thrives in the most unlikely places and Awing and Gina, despite all odds, found and fell in love with each other.
And oh how he loved her!
They went through the usual stringent process of getting their relationship approved by the CPP-NPA-NDF where the requisite 6 months of separation was applied to them.
I asked him why this was done.
And he said relationships between cadres were discouraged because during a firefight, one of you could get hit fatally and they didn’t want you too attached that you would go back for the beloved and retrieve her body.
These terrorists have such hearts of gold, no?
Finally, the 6 months was over and they were given the go-signal to get married.
Awing tells me of the kubo he built for her.
And as he tells me this, the memory makes his eyes light up like a child.
He says, “Mataas para pwede siya tumayo. Matibay yung bubong para hindi siya mabasa ng ulan at para hindi mainitan sa sikat ng araw. Ang ganda ng kubo na ginawa ko para sa kanya…” His voice trails off.
Because the next day, they are caught in a firefight with government troops.
Gina is hit and Awing carries her and just as he is about to maneuver them to safety, a blast takes the top of Gina’s head off.
And this 18-year-old Ateneo student--someone’s daughter with a mother and father who doubtless waited for her to come home someday, the love of Datu Awing Apuga’s life, lies dead in his arms.
“Did you leave her as you were taught by the terrorists?”, I asked.
“No. Never.” He says.
He was forcibly dragged away by his comrades but he crawled his way back to her. And cradled the beloved in his arms.
Until morning came. Then he buried her.
He looks at me with pained eyes like he wants me to forgive him and says, “Pero mababaw lang ang libingan nya.”
But I say what I think is true, “Hindi mo sya iniwan. Yun ang importante.”
So I guess when high ranking party member of the CPP-NPA-NDF Teddy Casiño disingenuously calls the shit he is party to ‘activism’ instead of what it truly is -- ’the sacrifice of our children in the altar of terrorism’-- and when he justifies the seduction of our children by his party, we should, maybe, make sure Teddy’s children go to Salugpungan schools and let things take their natural course.
Joma Sison, Teddy Casiño, Renato Reyes and each and every member of the CPP-NPA-NDF and their legal fronts have blood on their hands and they must be made to answer for all the grief and heartache they have caused our country.
That, to me, is the long and short of it all.