It was Valentine’s Day, and Raymond was meeting his girl. It was a special day. They had been together a full year and a month. Plans were made the night before. They would spend the day together, meet at noon and wander down San Ildefonso’s main road to a street corner stall to buy fifty-peso lunches of Sprites and liver on sticks.
He called her early in the morning, but her phone was off. When she called, it was to say that she would be late, and that she would see him at five in the afternoon. Raymond didn’t mind.
Raymond was a farmer, the same as his girl’s family, the same as his father, the same as his father before him. They tilled their own land, grew their own food, and were accountable to no one but themselves and the fickle Bulacan sun. Raymond did not aspire for more. There was none of the moving to Manila for a better life, none of the flying abroad in search of the Filipino dream. Raymond was already living the dream
Every morning, at six, he would wake up to drink his one cup of black coffee mixed with the fresh milk his 68-year-old father milked from the family’s own carabao. He would walk out to the farm with his sickle to clear the fields of rats and frogs and the occasional snake. On that Valentine’s Day three years ago, he went home after and fell promptly asleep in his room beside his small cousin, while his parents watched “Eat Bulaga.”
Then there were shadows blocking the sunlight in his room. A banging door, the butt of a gun slamming into his stomach, rough voices demanding to know where his brother was. He knew he was going to die. Where is your brother, where is your brother, where is your brother? His brother, Bestre, who joined the New People’s Army at the age of 14 and had disappeared for years, Bestre who had woken up much the same way as Raymond had, more than a decade ago when the Philippine Constabulary in the 1980s forced their way into the farmhouse and demanded information on the NPA, Bestre who had watched his mother weep as his father was dragged out of the house with a 6-year-old Raymond in his arms, forced to stand with his small son for execution before three men with M16s.
At that time, said Raymond, the family knew nothing of the NPA. His father could offer no information, and had bent his head when he thought he was going to die. When the men lowered their guns, it was only at the commander’s whim.
Then Bestre disappeared into the mountains.
Raymond remembered all of this when he saw guns trained on his father and mother, as he was hauled out of the front door and out into the backyard. The men with guns called themselves vigilantes. They tied his wrists together, and dragged his hair down and his chin up until all he could see was the soft blue of a February sky. Around him, he saw members of the military’s civilian arm, some of whom he knew by name, as well as two local village officials. They identified Raymond as an NPA informer.
They walked him down the road, past his brother Reynaldo’s home, where his 38-year-old sibling was raking coal. They tossed apart his home looking for guns and found none. They forced him to the ground in front of his wife, beat him and demanded that he admit he was a member of the NPA. Reynaldo pleaded and begged and said he knew nothing. The brothers were blindfolded, laid on opposite benches of a white L300, beaten again as panic poured down their necks into pools of cold sweat. It was a long ride.
They were carried out of the vehicle, led past a door. They took his brother. Raymond raised his hands, bound at the wrist, and pushed up his blindfold. He was alone in a room 10 feet by 10, a dark, silent man bound and blindfolded in a corner. There were cement walls, a door, a small window. It was dark outside. He heard cicadas singing, and his brother screaming. He heard the slap of something hard against skin, almost musical. God, screamed his brother, God. Except God didn’t hear him.
It took all of 15 minutes. By then, Reynaldo had admitted everything they wanted. Yes, he was a member of the NPA. Yes, he had killed many, so many. Ten! Ten men. He had killed 10 men. He had killed everyone they mentioned. Yes, it was me, but please, stop.
They brought back Reynaldo, broken and shivering. Raymond had pulled down his blindfold. He followed the armed men out; he never thought of fighting. He found out what it was he heard, that heavy, repeated slapping against skin—chains, heavy metal chains, whipped into his back, flogged against his buttocks, slammed behind his knees, followed by two by four lengths of wood. His knees gave way, his feet gave way. He tried to scream, but a thick gardening hose was pressed against his nose, and Raymond Manalo looked up into a dark bowl of sky studded by stars, as a rush of cold water pushed into him, nose, mouth, throat, until he choked, until he couldn’t breathe. The voices never stopped. Where is your brother? Where are your comrades? Where do you hide your arms? Who killed Dante Mendoza? Who, where, when, chain to back, wood to knee, fist to his heaving chest.
Yes, yes, yes, he said. Yes, I am of the NPA. Yes, I solicit food, I solicit aid, yes, I am their messenger. Please, I said yes, please, stop.
They brought him back to his brother. For days they stayed in that room, ankles manacled, wrists manacled, a short length of chain connecting the ankles to wrists. They walked, backs bent, knees bent, buttocks close to the ground—they were monkeys, dragging themselves across grimy cement, pissing into liter bottles of Coke, unable to stop urine from spilling over onto the floors. They slept on their sides, curled, because the chains bit into their bruised skins.
One night, a man entered the room and kicked Raymond on the chest with a foot shod in combat boots. Why were they still alive, they should have been killed long ago, they had no right to be alive. Then the man took the bottle of Coke from the corner, poured the warm urine over Raymond’s head, poured boiling water after the piss, then a bucket of ice cold water. Beating again. Wood this time. When the man tired of Raymond, he started with Reynaldo, whose head poured out blood. They took lengths of burning wood, pressed the ends into the brothers’ bare skin.
Then the man left, promising to finish the job.
Raymond ran away. Forced his hand out of one manacle, squirmed out a window, walked, hunched over, across fields and forests. He used a rock to break open the cuffs on his feet, but could not remove the manacle and chain from his right. He walked, walked, walked, until he saw a firing range, and buildings, and a school. He was barefoot, and bleeding, and he asked an old man for directions home.
He was in Palayan City, he was told. Fort Magsaysay, under the jurisdiction of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
When they caught him, walking down the highway hours later, he ran. And when they poured gasoline over him, and surrounded him, when he knew he was going to die, he knew he would do anything to live.
Raymond Manalo is still alive. Someday, he will farm again. Today he has a story to tell.