Hindi Maaaring Ipikit
It was seven months after her arrest. Tina lay beside her mother in bed when they heard a loud knocking on their front door.
Her mother left to check why, but, for a long time, Tina was alone in the room. Finally, someone entered and took her consolingly by the thigh.
“Tina,” she said. It was her sister, Etta.
Then, Tina knew. She felt it. This was what she had long feared.
Tina knowingly muttered, “Kailan?”
Outside, her mother was wailing.
Maaliwalas ang Langit
She and her boyfriend split up in her fourth year of High School. It was around 1971.
“He didn’t support my activism,” Tina Bawagan said.
At the time, she was enrolled in Maryknoll, presently Miriam High School. Like today’s Miriam, Maryknoll was viewed as a school for the rich.
“I remember joining my very first rally [with my classmates and our teacher]. When we got off the bus, the other protesters kept on shouting, ‘Burgis! Burgis!’” Tina laughs.
Her mother — wife of a deceased Naval intelligence officer — used the pension and veteran’s educational benefits she received as a widow to pay for her children’s schooling.
Former President Ferdinand Marcos knew their family personally. He even gave Tina’s mother a position in the Philippine Veterans’ Administration Commission.
Her mother was once a Blue Lady — wives of military men or others who campaigned for Marcos the first time he ran.
“But as the years went by, my mother had a change of heart,” Tina said.
Tina wasn’t always politically active, however. Things changed when she joined the Young Christian Community in high school. The nuns introduced them to urban poor communities fronting Maryknoll and in Barangka, Marikina. She realized then that there really was a prevalence of poverty in the Philippines.
While she did not as yet make a connection between the condition of the marginalized and the actions of Marcos, she did realize it was “inequality brought about by people themselves and [by] the system.”
It took just one more English class to turn her into an activist.
Around that time, oil price hikes were a topic of discussion. Tina got curious as to why these were happening. But one classmate explained the issue so excellently. With them in the classroom was Teresita ‘Ging’ Quintos — the presidential adviser on the peace process and the lead convener of the National Anti-Poverty Commission from 2001–2003 in the ‘Noynoy’ Aquino administration. Back then, she was their English teacher.
It was this same English teacher who made arrangements to introduce Tina and some of her classmates to the first political demonstration most of them ever witnessed.
There, amid shouts of “Burgis! Burgis!,” Tina’s life was changed forever.
After that, she, along with a Maryknoll classmate, joined students and teachers of the University of the Philippines — Diliman in an organization called the Humanist League of the Philippines — allied with the National Democratic Movement.
“My boyfriend at the time broke up with me. Siguro because [activism and social issues] was all I talked about,” Tina chuckled.
Kasibulan ng Ulap
“Officially, Martial Law was signed on September 21, although other dates mentioned are Sept. 17 and Sept. 23. But the actual announcement was on September 23,” Tina claims.
It was 1972. At the time, she was an AB General Studies freshman in the University of the Philippines — Manila.
“I didn’t know what to take yet,” Tina giggled.
She seemed pretty adamant about activism, however.
At the time, they had to secretly pass around notes in the school restrooms. “There were a lot of spies,” Tina explained.
There was so much censorship and fear of the military that there was only one way they could express their sentiments.
“We would plan among ourselves and select positions along the corridors of the three floors of the building. Someone would give us a signal, then we would all shout ‘Marcos, Hitler, Diktador, Tuta!’,” Tina said, referring to the famous lightning rallies during the Marcos regime.
Apart from that, Tina joined the Constitution Hills Committee — volunteers who aided relocated urban poor dwellers from the North Triangle. They were resettled in the Constitution Hills (near the present-day Batasang Pambansa).
“They were in really poor conditions. Biruin mo, their houses were just around this high,” said a seated Tina, who was levelling her hands below her head.
By then, she had already transferred to the University of the Philippines — Diliman as an AB History student. Tina and the rest of the committee started an exhibit of photos of the relocated poor in what is presently called the College of Arts and Sciences.
One of her fellow volunteers was Jun Quimpo.
She remembered him as kenkoy and very musical. “He would write a lot of songs,” Tina remarked.
Initially a relationship of courtship, it didn’t take long before theirs turned into a legitimate romance.
“Anong tawag niyo ngayon? Cougar, ganoon ako,” Tina jokes.
Jun was three years younger than she was, yet they were both passionate about the same things.
Since she was in her fourth year of college, she eventually graduated. The year after that, Jun was a sophomore, but he devoted himself full-time to activism.
“Uso ang ganoon ‘nun e,” Tina claimed.
Jun was working as a community organizer in the Tatalon community when he was arrested.
“He was hurt to an extent,” Tina said. Immediately, she contacted her mother. Using their family’s military connections, her mother was able to arrange for Jun’s release.
Reunited with Tina, Jun popped the big question.
Tina would sometimes refer to herself as Twiggy (the name of a skinny 1960’s model).
With the strict regulation of mail, Tina had to find a way to inform her mother, who was at the time visitng her brothers in the U.S. Therefore, she wrote in a coded message (via snail mail):
“Ma, do you remember Twiggy? Well, she’s getting married soon.”
Tina said her mother was confused as to who Twiggy was. She only found out about Tina’s engagement to Jun after she got married.
Tina’s aunt wrote to her mother one day. “Ate, siguro naman by now, tapos ka nang umiyak,” the aunt said.
Her mother, still confused, had to have the situation explained to her.
“Iyak nang iyak ‘yung mother ko,” Tina claimed.
The wedding took place in November 1976.
Her mother returned to the Philippines in July 1977 for Tina’s birthday. However, Tina was no longer home.
It was Jun who left for Bicol first. He, along with fellow activists, organized students and professionals in the city. A month later, Tina followed.
On her way to Bicol, Tina remembered crying.
Before she left the house, she bid her sister and nieces farewell. Her younger niece, however, perhaps refusing to say goodbye, locked herself up in her room.
“Isang beses, kinuwento ko sa mga estudyante ko ang tungkol sa niece ko, umiyak ako,” Tina said.
While she weeped, she had only her husband’s guitar in her hand and the hopes of once more hearing him play her favorite tunes.
She would soon meet her mother again, however.
One day, she got rashes from talahib, which developed into serious infections. She could no longer walk. She was in a camp with other comrades and they had no means of transporting her to a more comfortable place.
“Dinuyan ako,” Tina smiled. “For me, it was a most memorable experience.”
She remembered the feeling of being on a duyan at night, under all those stars.
“It was really a most memorable experience,” Tina said. “Pero siyempre nahihiya ako sa mga farmers na nagbubuhat sa akin.”
It took a long time before she recovered, as medicine wasn’t readily available then. But around that time, she also suspected she was pregnant.
“I wasn’t having my period,” Tina explained.
But before long, she felt it was an infection. She said it was possible she developed this as she bathed in a river where a carabao swam upstream. She had to seek medical aid. Her husband thought she had to go back to Manila. That was October 1977.
She went back to Manila; her mother still there.
By December, she had been cured. Her mother arranged for a family trip to the Hidden Valley. Just before the planned trip, however, a messenger from Bicol arrived to pick Tina up. As communication was difficult and the security of activists like her was compromised, Tina had to leave immediately.
It broke her heart to see her mother cry once again.
Nanlalabong mga Mata
It was late 1978 or early 1979. Tina was busy educating farmers. Jun engaged in more physical, more dangerous activities.
“Si Jun ang hilig mag-volunteer,” Tina complained.
She recalls that once, when they were being bordered and had to run, Jun volunteered to lead the delaying team. The delaying team stayed behind to face the soldiers, allowing the others to run for safety. Those were terrible times for Tina. Jun was one to take risks.
“I was really afraid. My thoughts then were: ‘If he dies, I don’t think I’d be able to take it. If I die, I don’t think my mother could take it,’” Tina said.
Armed struggle brought her horrors — so much that she had stopped educating farmers.
“I just couldn’t,” Tina insisted.
Her fears had paralyzed her. How could she inspire farmers to build the courage to take action if she herself was scared? She wrote all of these down in a diary.
“Nabasa ni Jun mga sinulat ko sa diary,” Tina said.
She and Jun talked. He suggested that she go home to Manila to “mull over her thoughts.”
Tina, though back in Manila, didn’t stop working.
“As I mulled over my thoughts, I did organizing work in Manila among professionals and students to gather support for Bicol activities. By 1980, I felt that I had mustered enough courage to go back to the countryside, so I did,” Tina narrated.
However, after several months, she and Jun requested to be transferred to Nueva Ecija.
Wala Pang Araw
They returned to Manila for a while, before moving on to Nueva Ecija.
“I had a fear of heights. E sa Bicol, puro bangin,” Tina explained.
Nueva Ecija is known for its flat-plain topography. While convenient for Tina’s phobia, being there had other setbacks.
“Hindi kami makalabas tuwing may araw. E, ang init-init doon tapos mga bubong pa namin, yero. Hindi tulad sa Bicol, maraming trees,” Tina described.
She and her husband also didn’t see each other that much. They were in separate groups, and their meetings were rare and brief.
In Nueva Ecija, misfortune befell Tina as well. It was May 1981 and the military conducted a raid one morning. Jun was not there.
A soldier who saw Tina had a hunch about her. He went inside the place she was staying and found her diary under a stack of garlic. She was immediately arrested, and, in the evening, brought to a safehouse.
“In the safehouse, only the military were safe,” Tina remarked.
Before that, however, the military tried to intercept a meeting which involved Tina.
“They saw in my diary that I had a 2PM meeting… They went to the roadside and asked tricycle drivers and passengers who passed by if they knew me. Of course, they didn’t [admit]. Nobody [would admit they] knew anybody,” Tina said.
Afterwards, she was brought to the safehouse, where, for a night, she was interrogated, tortured, and molested.
“They beat my thighs black and blue. And they were molesting me so sumisigaw ako,” Tina remembered.
That night, she also thought she had her period. She assumed it was stress which induced it. She asked her guards if she could be allowed to wear cloth napkins. She was permitted to — with her blindfolds on.
Constant torture and sexual molestation marked that night. She could clearly remember the voice of her torturer, a Lieutenant.
“Siyempre, kapag naka-blindfold ka, mas [acute] ang pandinig mo,” Tina explained.
Her blindfold was also gradually loosening. For some moments, she would see the face of the head of the torture tea.
“He was sitting on a chair, which he tilted toward the back. Curiously, I reported this to my interrogator. And so he tightened my blindfold. I thought, on hindsight, this was a good move. Had my blindfold totally dropped, they could have killed me, right there and then,” Tina said.
That night, after the first violent interrogation was over, her thighs slapped blue and dress torn, her two guards were conversing in Ilokano. Unbeknownst to them, Tina could understand what they said.
“Sabi ng isa, ’Siguro, kaya sinabi nito na meron siya para ‘di natin siya galawin.’ Sabi naman ng isa, ‘Smart din ano?’ Sa isip-isipan ko ‘Good!’ I mean, good that I thought I had my period,” Tina exclaimed.
By that time, the officers had left the safehouse.
She recalled a train pass by. It must have been morning. Then, the second round of interrogation and molestation began. Despite her screams, no one seemed to bother.
“As the questions were being asked, someone radio-ed one of the soldiers over his walkie-talkie. There were no cellphones then. The soldier went up a flight of stairs, perhaps to get a better signal. The male voice on the other end of the line asked, ‘Ang pangalan ba niya ay Tina o Celestina?’,” Tina said.
By then, Tina understood that her mother must have been able to contact her military friends. She had not given her true name, for fear that they might search her compound in Manila, where her activist sister was residing.
Thus, when the soldier returned to her and asked the same question, she readily replied, “Tina.” Immediately, the torture stopped.
The barrio was an organized community. They managed to inform her husband, and her husband immediately notified her mother, who again used their family’s connections to arrange for her release.
Her mother was able to contact a friend, the Undersecretary of National Defense. When the friend heard this, he was in shock. He said, “Bakit ngayon mo lang sinabi? ‘Di mo ba alam kung ano ang pwede nilang gawin sa kanya?”
After a long night, Tina was finally out of the safehouse.
She was then moved to Camp Olivas for five mandatory days of solitary confinement. After the five days elapsed, visitors were allowed. She had a total one month of detention.
There, she had neither blindfolds nor handcuffs.
Kung Ako’y Masawi
Tina and Jun never met again.
While still in solitary confinement, her lawyer and her brother-in-law, gave her a letter from her husband. She refused to open it.
“Siyempre, I was scared. I didn’t want to touch anything that was dangerous. Sinabi ko, sana kung verbal, pero ‘wag naman nakasulat,” Tina said.
She never read what was in that letter. She did, however, maintain communication with her husband. It was very rare though, as it could only be done with the help of couriers.
It was seven months after her arrest when news came that he died. Someone was loudly knocking on their door while Tina and her mother were sleeping. Her mother left to check, but didn’t come back for a long time. Then, Tina she knew. She felt it.
But she guessed she always knew this was going to happen. Seven months of separation had prepared her for the worst, she said. She had expected, but hoped not, that something like this would happen.
Still, after her sister took her consolingly by the thigh and said “Tina,” Tina cried her heart out.
Soon after, a bulk of letters was given to Tina. It contained all the unsent words Jun wanted to say to her.
It wasn’t even the military who killed Jun.
“Back then, we [the New People’s Army], had criticism sessions. We would just openly talk and express any grievances we had, if needed. We also criticized ourselves for misdeeds we had done, and atoned for the mistakes. The consequences for misdeeds were usually a demotion and the like,” Tina said.
A girl claimed to have been molested by a man named Simoun. Simoun, perhaps in fear of death, escaped.
Tina said he wasn’t to be killed, however.
Eventually, Jun was able to communicate with Simoun, who expressed his willingness to return to the group. So Jun, along with a barrio activist, went to fetch him.
But it seems that Simoun had other intentions at that point. As he raised his gun toward Jun, the barrio activist tried to push it away.
“Takbo!” Jun shouted to the barrio activist, who then ran for safety. Jun was shot but was still able to run some distance.
Simoun was able to catch up with him. There, in the middle of a rice field, he finished Jun off point-blank.
After that, Simoun surrendered to Fidel V. Ramos, who was then still supporting Marcos. He pointed out farmers and other people affiliated with the NPA, and the military would shoot them in front of him.
Simoun died not long after. Officially, his death was declared a suicide. Whether it really was a suicide or an execution by the military who no longer found any use for him, no one knew.
It was little less than half a decade after Jun died that the EDSA Revolution occurred. It was also a little less than half a decade after Tina was arrested. It was almost two decades since people started dying for a cause.
Tina describes their feelings at the time.
“Jubilant,” she smiles.
There were people burning tires on the streets in celebration. Many people were out on the streets.
Tina describes the state of Malacanang after the Marcos family fled. There was a tank inside. There were plates with some left-over food on a table. People were looting the Palace.
“Of course, we weren’t one of the looters,” Tina joked.
Corazon ‘Cory’ Aquino was then installed as the Philippine President. While Tina admitted that Cory was lacking in certain aspects, she considers her a far-cry from Marcos.
“We had freedom of expression, and we loved that,” Tina remarked. “She also freed political prisoners from Marcos’s time.”
Many things have happened after that.
In April 1986, she remarried. She said Jun had told her that he strongly felt he would die at a young age and for her to remarry, if that happened.
She continued her activism until she gave birth. Her sister, Etta Rosales, became Chair of the Commission on Human Rights under the the PNoy administration.
Forty-four years after the declaration of Martial Law, she is 62 years old, a wife, a teacher, and an environmental activist.
Things are well now.
Hindi Maaaring Ipikit
This is a story she tells time and again. Every batch of students she has taught since the 40th Anniversary of Martial Law knows her story; every time she retells the narrative, she remembers exactly how she felt. Sometimes, she breaks down in tears.
But this is something she must tell and something she has devoted herself to telling. She knows what it means to never forget.
Tina tells of a song Jun sang. It was a Cuban poem by Luis Marre that was translated by Marra PL. Lanot. Jun slightly revised the translation, and gave it a tune. He changed the title of the translation from “Awit” to “Kasama”. With his guitar, his kakulitan, and his bright-eyed love for country, he would sing:
Kasama ang iyong mga mata’y
Hindi maaaring ipikit
Makita mo sanang walang ulap
Ang araw kung ako’y masawi
This is the verse engraved on his tombstone.
“And that’s just the first stanza,” Tina smiled.
The author and the editorial staff of the Science Scholar would like to extend their utmost gratitude to Ma’am Bawagan for sharing her story.