Christmas in the boondocks, barracksBy Delfin T. Mallari Jr. |Philippine Daily Inquirer
For protagonists in the bloody communist insurgency still raging in the country’s rural areas for the past four decades, Christmas is not only one awaited moment to temporarily rest their guns.
Just like any other Filipino scattered around the world, they also long for the company of families back home—the traditional Yuletide celebration, warm hugs and kisses, sumptuous food, jovial atmosphere and the genuine feeling of peace and comfort.
Ka Alexa, a New People’s Army (NPA) guerrilla, recalled the loneliness she felt when she spent Christmas away from her family for the first time six years ago. She belongs to the Apolonio Mendoza Command operating in Quezon.
“I have lots of fond memories of Christmas back home. I really missed them all,” the 30-year-old told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in an e-mail interview sent through one of their urban-based comrades. She was a student activist before she decided to embrace the hard life of a rebel.
Ka Alexa recalled how she and her siblings would jump at the stroke of midnight before partaking of the holiday delicacies prepared by their mother on the dining table. “Spaghetti, fruit salad and maja (white pudding) were our all-time favorites,” she said.
Army Private First Class Bernie Villanueva, a member of the 74th Infantry Battalion based in Mulanay, Quezon, also longs to embrace his wife and his 8-month-old daughter.
“With my three years in the service, this is my most lonesome Christmas. How I wish I can be with my wife and baby girl in this special day for the family. But I have to face the truth that in my chosen field—it is duty first,” Villanueva said in a phone interview on Christmas eve.
Villanueva, 29, a native of Bacnotan, La Union, married his girlfriend in February. His family lives in La Union.
Just like Ka Alexa, the soldier misses the past Yuletide seasons with his family. His father, a farmer, never failed to provide them with holiday food and native delicacies on Christmas Day, he said.
“We always have litson manok (roast chicken) and fried chicken on the table. Eating with the whole family was full of fun,” said Villanueva, the eldest in the brood of five.
Music and camaraderie
The soldier left his hometown three years ago and joined the Army. “I really want to be a soldier. Perhaps because of the influence of other town mates who also became soldiers ahead of me,” he said.
Asked how they cope with being away from their loved ones at the time when family reunions are being held everywhere, both Villanueva and Ka Alexa said they have learned to accept that their comrades and host communities are now their second family.
Ka Alexa said she would spend Christmas with the poor villagers in NPA strongholds.
“The kids also sing Christmas carols. Their favorite is ‘Ang Pasko ay Sumapit (Christmas has Arrived)’ … But there is no delicious food on the table. Bihon (noodles) with sardines is already a fiesta,” she said.
Her comrades would spend the whole night singing revolutionary songs and dancing in an occasion dubbed “Kulturang Walang Tanggihan (A Culture Without Refusal),” in which
everyone must perform, according to Ka Alexa.
“We don’t have Christmas lanterns or the traditional manger scene because of the absence of electricity but the genuine concern and warmth of every member of the collective and the Masses are more meaningful and memorable,” Ka Alexa said.
Children in NPA areas also solicit Christmas gifts from guerrillas, just like those elsewhere, she said.
“Since we don’t have money to spare, we just sing to them. But even if we don’t give them material gifts, our role to the children and even to their parents is more than as the traditional ninang (godmother). We’re their adviser, teacher, lawyer, doctor, nurse and problem-solver rolled into one,” she said.
Unlike the spartan practice in the mountains by their adversaries, soldiers inside Army headquarters can afford to engage in the traditional fiesta-like celebration of Christmas.
Villanueva said all of his comrades contributed for food and other goodies for the party.
“We also open the camp for the children in the community. They sing holiday carols and ask for money as a gift, which we readily give. It’s really fun. It lessens the loneliness from our respective families,” he said.
But leaving the camp for routine patrol operations is another matter, the soldier explained.
Lonely and cold
“I’ve been out of the camp one Christmas and it’s terribly lonely out there. It’s cold and tense because we don’t know what will happen next,” Villanueva said.
Ka Alexa said she had been away from her family for so long but she never regretted her decision to become a full-time fighter.
“I have to persevere because I believe that once the revolution succeeds, I can again feel the warm embrace of my loved ones. Time will come when a true Christmas will prevail, where no one will get hungry, where everyone will share each other’s grace and genuine peace will finally reign,” she said.
Asked for his Christmas wish, Villanueva also prays for peace but in a manner contradictory to that of Ka Alexa.
“How I wish that the NPA rebels forget their ideology and stop this senseless revolution so that we can all go home to our families and live in peace,” he said.
The protracted war has claimed more than 40,000 lives, according to government figures. Despite a series of peace talks by successive presidents, peace remains elusive.
Talks between the government and the communist-led National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) have been stalled since 2004. Both parties are adamant in pushing for their respective preconditions before the start of the negotiations.
The NDFP has been demanding the release of detained communist rebels, which the government rejects.
The government and the Communist Party of the Philippines agreed to a 27-day holiday truce from Dec. 20, 2012, to Jan. 15, 2013, to help restart the peace process.