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Dogs Barking at the Full Moon

1.

I was looking at the stars; I was trying to write a poem:

Sa likod ng kubo ni Mulawin
Ang mga bituin
Ay hagdang patungo sa langit
Na nagniningning.

I spent the whole morning and afternoon filming Mulawin. I filmed him in the hills gathering cogon grass; I filmed him bathing his two kids in the stream; I filmed him cutting small trees. I've been filming him for over a year now.

It was a few days before the full moon and we had just taken our supper. We were seated on one end of Mulawin's cart pulled beside the hut. Mulawin was puffing a cigarette.

"It's a wonderful evening," he said. The glow of his Champion was nearing the butt.

"Yes," I agreed. "Here, the sky is blue even at night. It's nice to walk in the lahar fields."

The shadow of the banana tree played at our feet. Our heads were still bent toward the sky.

"Can you photograph the stars?" he asked suddenly. "Can you take a video of them?"

"Ummm . . . " I said as I searched for an answer. "Not this time. I need a special lens and a special film to be able to take their pictures. However," I reassured him, "I can take a video of the moon right now."

"That's nice," he smiled, "I want to see it."

I took the video camera from my bag.

2.

Earlier during the day, I spent the whole morning and afternoon filming Mulawin. I filmed him in the hills gathering cogon grass; I filmed him bathing his two kids in the stream; I filmed him cutting small trees. I've been filming him for over a year now. I first met him one Christmas in Manila; he and his family and other members of the Aeta tribe were begging on the streets.

3.

I turned the camera on. I set the focus in manual mode, zoomed in and focused at the moon above us. I asked him to look through the viewfinder.

"Oh," he exclaimed, "the moon has become bigger. I didn't know it could look this big in your camera. This camera is good; it is like color-TV."

I pushed the red button and recorded the image. Later, I played it back for Mulawin and his two children. They were amused.

4.

Not far from where we were seated, to the west, was a tree called anonang. This tree, whose pea-like fruits when squeezed could produce a sticky substance like a paste, was illuminated by hundreds of fireflies. It was like a huge Bavarian Christmas tree with tiny lights all over it.

Looking at this tree, again, I tried to write a poem. I recited it to Mulawin.

Sa dami ng mga nagniningning
Na nakapalibot kay Mulawin,
Hindi ko na alam kung alin
Ang alitaptap at alin ang bituin.

He smiled.

"In Manila," I said, "the sky is dirty. You can never see the sky as bright as this."

"But your life there is better than ours. You have electricity, you have cars, you have big houses," he argued.

"But that doesn't mean that our life is better than yours,"
I countered.

5.

"This is an extraordinary night," I repeated, praising again the
moon, the stars and the fireflies. "There is really no need for electricity here."

Mulawin was obsessed with electricity. One
of the things he bought with the money he earned from begging was a 6-volt battery.

"That's what you say," he said a bit crossed, "because you lowlanders have the benefit of electricity. But with hill tribes like us, the government doesn't care."

"But did you ever notice the sky in Manila?" I asked, teasing him. "Did you ever see the moon there?"

"But you have no need for a moon in the city," he said. "You have lights 24-hours a day."

Mulawin was obsessed with electricity. One of the things he bought with the money he earned from begging was a 6-volt battery. He used this battery to operate his electric fishing gear and to produce light at suppertime.

"Take a rest now," he said, "you have to wake up early." The only jeep in the village going to town leaves at four in the morning."

6.

It was cold and the mosquitoes were stubborn and unforgiving. I covered myself from head to foot: socks and hiking shoes, denim jeans, winter jacket, towel around my neck and an Ifugao-made balaclava. Some mosquitoes managed to hurdle these obstacles and got a taste of my blood. I had no mosquito net. The rays of the moon penetrated through my balaclava. There was no enclosure around me except for the roof fashioned from banana leaves. Mulawin was snoring. I was tired and wanted to fall asleep at once, but I couldn't.

After a while, I heard a faint barking of dogs. It was a faint sound but a prolonged one. The barking disappeared and recurred. But every time it came back, it became louder and closer. Somebody, I said to myself, must be walking in the night, basking in the glory of the full moon. I tried to sleep again but the barking became louder and louder; nearer and nearer. I stretched the end of my headgear down to my neck. I didn't want the dogs to disturb my rest. But the barking continued. By now, I had no doubt the dogs were barking at some people in motion. Who could these people be? And where were they going? Maybe, I thought, consoling myself, these were drunks on the way home.

The barking didn't stop. Instead, it grew louder and louder until the puppies beneath my feet came out and started to bark. And these puppies only did this when somebody was approaching the house. I could hear voices in the air and sound of grasses brushing at passersby.

The puppies continued to bark until the steps and voices stopped near my feet. There was a brief moment of silence; I sensed there were a number of people around me.

"Tao po," came the voice of a young man. "Magandang gabi po."

Earlier in the morning, the news had spread that the "rustling of leaves" would be heard once again tonight. After long years of absence, the "taong-labas" or "outside-people" were returning to this village.

I pulled my balaclava up and rose. Still seated, I looked at the 'voice.' He was wearing a cap and I could see he was in fatigue uniform. I could see the muzzle of his rifle on his back. He came closer to me and took his cap off.

"I'm Comrade John," he said, "We are members of the New People's Army."

"I'm Rey," I said.

7.

I knew they were coming, but I didn't know they were coming to us. Earlier in the morning, the news had spread that the "rustling of leaves" would be heard once again tonight. After long years of absence, the "taong-labas" or "outside-people" were returning to this village.

This morning, Mulawin and his wife were engaged in a serious conversation with an old woman from a neighboring village. I rarely saw her coming to this part of the village, much more, having a chat with Mulawin. They were speaking in Zambal but I could get the drift of their conversation. The three of them had crumpled faces; at times they cursed the air.

"Tonight," Mulawin said, "the 'barefoot men' might come to
our village."

8.

I didn't believe they were coming. I didn't believe they could still rise from their fall. I thought that the ongoing peace talks between the communist rebels and the Philippine government were on the verge of completion and that both parties were about to sign an agreement. I thought they were preparing for that eventuality. I believe that there was no need for their going to villages like this. Because, I believe, their presence struck more fear than sympathy.

9.

Comrade John and I shook hands. The other rebels emerged from nowhere. They had surrounded the hut. They must have been observing us for a while, I thought.

Mulawin woke up. He heard me speaking to somebody. He came out. He couldn't believe his eyes: armed men had surrounded us.

Comrade John introduced himself to Mulawin. Mulawin, looking hesitant, extended his right hand; his grip was weak, touching only the tips of the rebel's fingers.

Some of the rebels also introduced themselves. There were about ten of them and to my surprise, half were like Mulawin—dark, crinkly hair—members of the same tribe. They were Aetas but they were not speaking in Zambal; they talked in the Tagalog and Pampango dialects.

"So," I said to myself, "some Aetas too have joined the revolution."

And like any other typical Filipino family, when visitors come
you just don't let them gaze at the moon or
the stars. We entertained our guests.

By now, Mulawin's wife and two kids woke up. The glorious moon had leaned towards the west. Comrade John apologized to Mulawin's wife for the disturbance they caused. He was polite.

Now, we had visitors in the middle of the night. And like any other typical Filipino family, when visitors come you just don't let them gaze at the moon or the stars. We entertained our guests.

We boiled water and served coffee to them. We served once, twice, three times. The rebels gathered around the fire directly beside my bed. They laid their sleeping bags on the ground, their long arms beside them.

Their lone female member couldn't find a space so I offered her my bed.

"Thank you," she said, "I'm Comrade Mary." She had long hair, a round face and a dark complexion. She moved with grace; she was quite feminine. She wore a fatigue uniform but didn't carry a rifle. She had a handgun that she wrapped with a cloth and put beside her pillow when she went to sleep.

Comrade John beckoned me to sit beside him. He wanted to talk
to me.

10.

"Comrade Rey," he began, "it must be clear to you that you are now under the jurisdiction of the people's revolutionary government spearheaded by its most advanced forces the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People's Army."

How could I disagree with him?

"From now on," he went on, "we expect you to obey all revolutionary laws of this guerilla zone. And from now on, you are under our custody and you cannot leave this zone while the revolutionary forces are still here. This is for our security and likewise, yours. You are not being detained."

Comrade John was a mild-mannered person. I didn't feel threatened or scared at all. In fact, I welcomed this encounter with them. It had been over decade since I last spoke to them. I thought this could be an opportunity for a good conversation.

"We heard," Comrade John said, "that you are from Philvolcs (Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology). We gathered that you climbed Mount Pinatubo." All eyes were on me and I could sense Mulawin was beginning to get worried. His wife and kids went back to sleep.

"It was my dream," he said, "to be a scientist. In a way, I am a frustrated scientist. But I have transcended this selfish, personal ambition by becoming
a revolutionary."

"We have a comrade with us," Comrade John continued, as he patted the shoulder of a boyish rebel behind him, "whose idols include the scientist Kelvin Rodolfo."

"Hi," the young rebel raised his hand as he acknowledged me, "I'm Comrade Mark." He was nineteen. He said he used to be a scholar at a science school in Manila. He left the bourgeois school, he said, to serve the masses. "It was my dream," he said, "to be a scientist. In a way, I am a frustrated scientist. But I have transcended this selfish, personal ambition by becoming a revolutionary."

11.

The whole village knew me simply as "Fiboks." I was often referred to as "fiboks"—the man with antuku (goggles)."

Before the advent of electric fishing gears, the Aetas fished in the traditional way. By the aid of antuku, or rubberized spectacles, they caught fish in the river using only a simple iron rod and sometimes only by their bare hands.

My video camera was described as a fishing glass. By their antuku, they caught fish. By my camera, I caught images.

Comrade John started to ask me about maps: topographic maps, military maps, mining maps and other information related to the terrain of the province. I couldn't sustain his illusion. I decided to cut him off.

"I'm sorry," I said, "I'm not from Phivolcs. I'm a journalist." I show my press ID. Everybody looks at it as if a photograph of Ho Chih Mihn were shown to them.

"But we were told," Comrade John said, "that you were from Philvocs."

"No," I said. "They mistook my camera and tripod for a volcano scientist's equipment."

"So, what are you filming," he asked.

I told him I'd filmed Mulawin the day before, cutting bamboos. He asked me if I had filmed a particular path or a road or a particular place. I assured him immediately that I only filmed Mulawin doing his daily chores.

12.

Comrade John's men (and a woman) were already dozing. . . their feet stretched toward the fire. Mulawin was still awake; after all, he was the host. He was restless and I sensed he was nervous.

What if the military suddenly arrive and attack them here? How could they distinguish a combatant from a civilian even under a full moon and starry night like this? I am sleepy but I do not want to fall asleep. I am nervous.

Comrade John was still in high spirits. This young rebel continued to pester me with questions. He asked about my work, my education, my family, my salary as a journalist, the places I visited in the Philippines and abroad.

"I have lived with the Aetas," I said, "ate their food, joined them in their farm work, and traveled with them to Mount Pinatubo.

He took notice of the phrase "lived with them" or in Tagalog, "makisalamuha sa masa."

"How did you get this idea," he said, surprised, "of living with the masses. How did you learn that?"

"There's nothing special in that," I said. I just thought it's the best way to make a documentary—you live the life of your subject."

"What were your extracurricular activities in college?" he asked. "What organizations did you join?"

13.

The chickens roosting on the banana trees started to crow. Other roosters from neighboring trees joined one after the other. The fire beneath our feet had become coals, its glow starting to fade. Comrade Mark, the frustrated scientist, was already snoring.

"I joined," I said to Comrade John, "the FBI—the full-blooded Ilocano fraternity." This was a lie and a truth. A lie because I'm too squeamish a person to join a fraternity and a truth because I am a full-blooded Ilocano mammal just like the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. But how I wish I could have told him that I was once a member of the Kabataang Makabayan and was once a candidate member of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

14.

By this time, my rapport with Comrade John was already excellent. We'd been talking like real friends. I felt I gained his trust. So I asked if I could do an interview with him on camera. This digital camera had cost my office Y250,000 (US$ 2,000 approximately).

"We have learned our lessons," he said. "Educating the masses, working with them, helping them in their daily activities is the only way to win the revolution..."

He agreed instantly but I should not show his face, which I didn't mind. I framed him showing only his feet and his Armalite.

I asked him about the peace talks. If they succeed, will they come in the open? What will they do with their arms?

He said that peace talks have their own purposes but have no bearing at all on the work they are doing in the countryside. "We have learned our lessons," he said. "Educating the masses, working with them, helping them in their daily activities is the only way to win the revolution. We came here to once again win the hearts and minds of the villagers. We are willing to humble ourselves to gain their trust. We are willing to kiss the earth just to gain their confidence. We have to begin again," he said.

15.

When the sun rose, the village was unusually quiet. No screaming children, no quarrelling husbands and wives.

Where have all the villagers gone? I am getting anxious—about my safety and the safety of my footage and equipment. I have with me ten hours of footage. I am most concerned with my Pinatubo films. I cannot afford to physically and financially spend another week of journey to the peak of the volcano.

During the day, the guerrillas made their rounds in the village. I took this chance to hide my footage and exposed films separately in my three bags.

16.

I spent the whole day helping Mulawin and his wife prepare and serve food and Nescafe to the guerillas. I gathered banana blossoms, shredded these into pieces to assist Mulawin's wife in cooking.

The rest of my time, I sat under the banana tree and did some bamboo crafts. I was able to make three pairs of chopsticks.

In the evening, they tried to gather the whole village for a 'teach in' but the people were nowhere to be found. Only Mulawin and his relatives were left to listen to them. They did not allow me to
join them.

17.

Mulawin and his wife were not happy with what was happening. They had become host to unwelcome guests. They had work to do. Mulawin had to go to the neighboring hills to get his products for the next market day; he was in the 'buy and sell' business. He had to gather more wood and bamboo for the new house he was about to build.

But what worried her most was that the half-sack of rice they bought last week was coming to its quick end. She had not had a happy face since that morning.

Mulawin's wife had to wash their clothes in the river; she had to wash her kids, too. But what worried her most was that the half-sack of rice they bought last week was coming to its quick end. She had not had a happy face since that morning.

18.

I took the opportunity to talk to some of the guerrillas around. I spoke to the youngest members: Comrade Mary and Comrade Mark. I did not have the confidence to talk to the Aeta rebels. They were reticent and they looked mysterious to me.

Comrade Mary was 18 and had been a guerrilla for two years. She was known in the group as 'the doctor.' This afternoon, I watched her dress a wound of a villager. Some villagers also came to ask her for tablets. Mulawin told me she also treated a child bitten by a dog. I asked her how she became a guerilla.

"I joined the revolution because I want to serve the people. I could have been a nurse working in a hospital if I wanted it, but I took a different path," she said.

"Apart from serving the people, what other reasons do you have?"

"I'm from this province. I like working with my own people," she said.

Comrade Mark, seated beside her, was very eager to speak. He said: "I joined the movement because I want to change our society. I want to end the exploitation of the ruling elite against the Filipino masses."

"Apart from serving the masses and exploitation by the ruling elite, is there any other reason that motivated you to become a guerilla?" I asked calmly.

"What do you mean?" they asked almost simultaneously.

Not far from where we were seated, Comrade Joshua, one of the Aeta rebels, was toying with Mulawin's pickaxe; he was digging the ground, picking the grass. He had been listening to our conversation.

"Could you repeat your question?" he asked, dropping the pickaxe and coming close to us. "Why did we join the revolution?" His voice was high; he seemed to have been offended by my question. "We have no other reason," he said, his voice threatening. "We joined the revolution because of exploitation—by the imperialists, by the capitalists, by big landlords, by bureaucrats-capitalists, and by the ruling class. Exploitation is the only reason, there's no other."

Comrade Joshua, I observed, often talked to Mulawin. He tried to speak in Zambal but it was obvious he was not fluent in their native language. Mulawin often answered him in Tagalog. He spoke in the Pampango dialect to his fellow Aeta guerillas.

19.

Comrade John, I felt, was a lot friendlier. He came to talk to me every now and then. He said he liked Japanese culture.

"...the moment you deliberately stunt the growth of a tree, you violate the very essence of that being. So how could there be beauty in that?"

"Do you like bonsai?" he asked. "I can make you one."

"That's very nice of you," I said. "But I'm sorry, I don't like bonsai."

"Why?" he asked, bewildered. "Why don't you like bonsai?"

"Bonsai," I said, forced to give my opinion, "is a demonstration of man's desire to control nature, to conquer nature."

"How could that be?" he asked.

"When you make a bonsai," I said, "the plant painfully obeys your command. She follows your order because you have twisted her arms and legs. She follows your ego."

He argued: "But the objective is to create beauty, to create a living replica of a living tree."

"Maybe you don't need to," I said boldly. "Because the moment you deliberately stunt the growth of a tree, you violate the very essence of that being. So how could there be beauty in that?"

"Okay," he said, moving away from our discussion. "Let's talk more about this when you come and visit us in our guerilla front. There you can make a good documentary about the longest-running Maoist-Marxist-Leninist guerrilla movement in the world.

"But remember, when you go to Japan, please get me a set of acupuncture needles and a military compass," he reminded me.

I said, "I'll try."

20.

A new group of guerillas, I heard, was arriving that night. This group had conducted a meeting in one of the big villages near the town. And when one of their couriers arrived early in the evening, he reported that close to 300 people attended. The meeting, he said, was presided over by Comrade Jude, their highest leader.

"I've given you the chance to tell me your story, but you failed. As a result, under our revolutionary government, you are banned from filming in our guerrilla zone..."

Just after supper, the group of Comrade Jude arrived. There were about ten of them, two were young females. They were all in combat uniforms and were fully armed.

Mulawin and his wife had to serve them food and coffee because our new guests were just as hungry as the first batch. But they brought with them some rice. While they were eating, Comrade Jude noticed me.

"Let's eat," he offered. He was eating with his hands.

Other members, too, noticed me. The two girls noticed me. These two ladies had short hair, muscles, and a certain roughness of attitude. They started to ask me questions right away. They asked the same questions as yesterday's rebels. I gave them the same answers.

21.

"May I see your camera?" was Comrade Jude's subtle request when he had finished eating.

I took the camera from my bag and handed it to him. I turned it on for his benefit.

He looked through its viewfinder. He returned the camera without giving any comment.

He asked me about the cost of the camera, my monthly salary, and things about the documentary.

"The camera isn't mine," I said. "It was loaned to me by my office." Then I gave him an approximation of my salary. As for the documentary I'm doing: "It is about the Aetas as an indigenous people and their struggle to survive after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo."

"What 'struggle to survive'?" His voice was high and mightily sarcastic. "They have been struggling to survive even before the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. You have no story!"

If their Revolution succeeds, say in 2004, would there be press freedom under their regime?

"I've given you the chance to tell me your story, but you failed. As a result, under our revolutionary government, you are banned from filming in our guerrilla zone. If you try to enter our zone, we will arrest you. You will be tried under a people's court."

Who will be my lawyer? Who will be the judge? Where is the court? Where is "their" revolutionary government? They have yet to win in their Revolution and already they're acting like Pinochet. But how much more fascistic can they get if they win?

"The story here," he said pointing his forefinger to the ground "is about land-grabbing and open-pit mining. You should make films about these issues."

"But these very subjects will be tackled in passing in my story," I said after regaining my composure.

"No, I've already given you the chance to explain yourself but you failed," he was vehement in his stalinist dogmatism. "I know," he went on, "you are making a documentary because you want to earn big money. I know they pay you thousands of dollars to make films like that. This film is not for the Aetas. It is for your self. You want to become rich and make a name for yourself. You are making a film about the Aetas because you want to expose and ridicule (the primitiveness of) the Aeta race."

What rubbish!

"Why don't you make your own film about your favorite issues?" I challenged him in my subversive mind.

"We have to take your camera!" he exploded.

If I were a farmer, he is depriving me of my carabao. If I were a rebel like him, he is depriving me of my M-16. He wants to deprive me of a tool I use for living.

Turning to Mulawin, he said: "We must not allow outsiders to enter our place. We must protect our ancestral lands. If we allow others to enter here, sooner or later, big multinational companies will come and destroy our lands. They will bulldoze our mountains and get all the gold. Our ancestral lands would vanish."

But Mulawin came to my rescue. He told Comrade Jude that we have been good friends and that I've been trying to help his family. He told him I have not done anything wrong in his village.

Mulawin went on to defend me. "But if you do this, do you think
you can gain the trust
of the Aeta people
to your cause?"

Comrade Joshua, the Aeta leader, answered Mulawin. "The first thing you should remember," he said, "is the future of our ancestral land. What your friend is doing is purely for his selfish interest. We should first protect the interest of our own race." Comrade Joshua, being an Aeta, had more authority to speak on ancestral lands than Comrade Jude, who, like me, is a lowlander.

Speaking meekly and politely, Mulawin continued to defend me. "But comrades, you should not take my friend's camera. I'm begging you, please don't take his camera," he said. Mulawin and his wife were on the verge of tears.

"We already told you," Comrade Jude turned to Mulawin "why we're taking your friend's camera." His voice was firm. But he was conscious not to openly antagonize Mulawin.

Mulawin went on to defend me. "But if you do this, do you think you can gain the trust of the Aeta people to your cause?"

Brave words! I applaud my friend, silently, for those courageous words.

"You really can't understand," Comrade Jude said. He was visibly restraining his anger. "We've explained everything and still you can't understand!"

Realizing his faux pas, Mulawin said: "If that's your decision, I cannot do anything." He kept silent.

During this time, Comrade John didn't say a single word in my behalf. For Comrade Jude was not only the eldest of the rebels, he was also the most powerful.

22.

Comrade Jude, Comrade John and Comrade Joshua talked among themselves. I gathered from their gestures that they were talking about me. I saw that Comrade Jude was giving instructions to Comrade John. After a few minutes of discussion, they called Mulawin. Comrade Jude and Comrade John told him something. Mulawin suddenly became silent.

It is already midnight but no one seems to be going to sleep. It is a good sign for me because I know they are going to leave soon. But on the other hand, I am terribly scared, not so much because of the camera but more so with the prospect of being taken as a prisoner by them. I dread every second of their presence.

The meeting of the three was done. Comrade John then approached me. Comrade Jude kept his distance, at a listening distance.

"Comrade Rey," he spoke gently, "I'm sorry we have to take your camera. You are making a film, not for the interest of the Aeta people but for your own personal interest. We could not see how our comrades here in this village could benefit from your project."

I pity Comrade John for having been humiliated by his own comrade right in front of me. Those words are not his, but Comrade Jude's. It would have been better if Comrade Jude said these words himself to me. Comrade John doesn't need to be humiliated.

"Don't worry," I said to Comrade John, acquiescing to the rebels' wishes, "I know you don't want to do this, but you have to. You can give my camera to Comrade Jude." I opened my bag and gave the camera to Comrade John. He handed it to Comrade Jude.

Now they were ready to go. The rebels packed up at lightning speed. Once done, they all stood up. Comrade Jude then gave his parting shot to me. "Make sure you're not going to report to the military after we've left. Because if you do, we will punish you..." he said.

"Remember, we can
kill the enemies
of the people...We can kill you."

"I'm not a spy," I said teary-eyed. "I'm a journalist."

"You have to prove that first," he said. "Wherever you go, even in Japan, if you betray us, we have allies all over the world to go after you."

It was Comrade Joshua's turn to speak: "Remember, we can kill the enemies of the people . . . We can kill you." Comrade John was unusually silent.

I said: "I know that, I know you can kill me. No doubt about that. But I assure you, I'm not a spy."

These armed propaganda units of the New People's Army quickly assembled into formation. They moved swiftly and silently under the light of the silvery moon. They disappeared in the hills. And there were no more dogs barking.

© Rey Ventura

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