Cartography of the Heart–a letter
July 12, 2010, 4:03 pm
Filed under: essay, history, memoir | Tags: , , , , , ,

all that remains of Bacarra tower that used to 'hold up the sky'. Photo which has been passed on to me was taken by kapidua Raymond Ramos

Dear Lito,

Is the past descending on us like a sudden storm? Recollections, memoirs, archives, monuments and biographies seem to have multiplied by degrees these past years as if people were scrambling to hoard memories. Is it merely a perception or perhaps, indeed, the world is spinning too fast we’re afraid we might just lose our histories soon?

Some are lucky, like you, in that you still can tell your stories as juxtapositions of the past and the present. Or am I luckier because I’m telling my story from a vivid past discounting the changes I’ve noted in my few visits back home in Bacarra, Ilocos Norte? For instance, it was quite painful to see how that imposing fractured tower which loomed like a petrified giant all our lives has been reduced to a stump. But instead of groveling, which I first felt like doing, I wrote and I am still writing about my memories, even asking others to join in for a collective memoir.

In history, Bacarra is apparently one of the most powerful towns in Ilocos as the Spaniards found it and early on in colonial times. Neighboring towns like Vintar and Pasuquin, in fact, were part of it. (I know this for a fact, having read it in frayed documents.) Apparently, there was gold somewhere, as well, and its rivers were teeming.

I once stumbled on a picture of our tower, in a blog and it unleashed images of childhood spent under its shadow. That tower loomed overwhlemingly in our lives in both reality and legend. No Bacarreno is without a treasure box.

This is my favorite: Legend has it that its people reflected their pride in their town by constructing a tower so high it ‘could hold up the heavens’. It is said that a Spanish soldier on horseback, holding a pennant up could ascend the steps in the tower and wave the pennant from the second window. And when the bells were rung, it could be heard as far the edges of Pasuquin and Vintar. That the first earthquake sometime in the 1930s happened on the feast of St. Joseph, the humble patron of all churches, could have been a bold and loud message.

I grew up toward the end of the first half of this century, going on to adulthood when the world began to slowly change. In my childhood, Bacarra was still an idyll—wildwoods still fringed a lot of places, darkness and moonlight still came as they should, not half-lit or half-black. We studied in the gas light, we played under full moons.

My walk to school had since turned into something like a, ‘cartography of the heart’. I had not realized since I began charting my past how each detail, each small turn on the road, each tree and vine that climbed walls, events that were routines, that first love letter and first dance were so vivid it felt like looking at myself in a snow globe.

In your recollection, I feel like I’ve known you though we may never meet: you could very well be one of my playmates who watched out for summer bees—those abal-abal and aruaros whose wings we used to tie with a thin thread like a leash and let fly, listening to the roar of their wings, cruelly without knowing it, tracing how they circle around searching for their freedom.

Childhood, the past—aren’t we rich with a clear globe of innocence and glee? If there was some still-unfound-wind to wash out some of the gray sometimes black cloud hanging over our much-too-troubled days, your recollections and mine as well as a growing mass of others might yet be the magic wind.

All the best,

also posted in

War Film premiered in BC top-billed in WWII filmfest

West Coast Heritage Month

 “Unsurrendered: 100 Voices”, screened for its world premiere in Vancouver last year and “Manila 1945: The Forgotten Atrocities”, winner, Best Documentary Award in Historical Category, 2007 Myrtle Beach International Film Festival South Carolina, USA  both by Ma. Miguel “Lucky” Guillermo, will top bill the West Coast’s “Philippine Heritage Month” this October. Also included is “Secret War” also by Guillermo, making up the third billing that will highlight the WWII Filmfest in Los Angeles and San Diego, which is part of the celebrations.

war memories

Before the filmfest, Seafood City, the major sponsor, will present the films in a road show at its newly opened mall at Concord in northern California. A benefit show will also be staged at the newly established Intramuros, a theatre-restaurant at downtown So. San Francisco. Beneficiaries of the dinner-concert proceeds are Ayala Foundation-USA and the Stingray Memorial in northern Philippines.

In Vancouver, both films shown at the 2008 World Peace Forum (WPF) rolled to an audi­ence of peace activists com­posed of intellectuals, historians, researchers, professionals, artists and students. In attendance were members of BC Alpha (Associa­tion of Learning and Preservation of World War II History in Asia) and Vancouver Save Article 9 Committee. For its world pre­miere at Marpole Place, “ Unsur­rendered…” played to members of the Philippine Veterans and Ex-Service Men Society of BC as well as members of MOACS (Marpole Oakridge Area Council Society), which included a retired professor of the University of Columbia and friends of Canadian war veterans.


Guillermo in his introduction of “Manila 1945 …”reflected how unprepared the Filipinos were, thus, “When people refer to “the war” in conversations now, it is often unclear as to what they are talking about. Not long ago, how­ever, it was The War, WWII, that is. And for those of us who lived in the Philippines before that war, during, and after, there was no other war.”


audience at the 2008 World Peace Conference, Vancouver

audience at the 2008 World Peace Conference, Vancouver

At the WPF, “Manila 1945…”drew out discussions that focused on “true paths to peace.” Elsie Dean, WPF organizer, said of the film “… we talk about the war but it is films like this that make us see war up close as it should …as we don’t know much about it”. The film presents with actual photographs and film footages from US archives the brutal acts committed by the Japanese in February 1945 on Manila, already declared an “open city”. Around 100,000 civilians as recorded, died, a figure that places Manila second only to Warsaw in extent of destruction.


Part of Guillermo’s introduc­tion revealed how he and Parsons “spent a lot of time researching on this subject. We do not subscribe to the old, politically-correct or revisionist version that the Japa­nese were innocent of the mas­sacre in Manila of February, 1945. The killing of Filipino civilians, men women and children, was a deliberately orchestrated series of events. The truth is, Japanese military were not trapped in Ma­nila dungeons, and well into Feb­ruary, they had escape routes.”


More than “ingredients” for peace, the films drew out emotional responses. At the screening of “ Unsurren­dered…”, Erie Maestro, member volunteer of Canada-Phil­ippines Solidarity for Human Rights and Migrante B.C., stated the legacy she would want to pass on to her chil­dren: “ how my father then a mere high school boy, joined the resistance. I t must be remembered that UD efforts focused on the European front, and after the Americans surrendered to the Japanese, no aid came from the US until MacArthur decided to return. It was the guerilla men and women, like my father, who continued the resistance against the Japanese during the war. It was the organized Filipino guerilla movement and the Filipino people who helped the guerillas liberate the Philippines; it was not Ma­cArthur. The Americans were the ones who surrendered, not us.”


Among the Filipino veterans at the Marpole Place world premiere, most relived guerilla days as teens: lanky boys joining up, young women crossing enemy lines to bring food, men hiding in bamboo groves. Riveting accounts rendered the audience speechless, especially in the truth­ful retelling of how in the midst of defeat, the guerillas started fighting each other, some turning in fellow Filipinos to the enemy.


But the film’s ending clinched emotions: how in that fierce fighting the guerillas waged alongside the Ameri­cans, and promised recognition on equal terms, the Filipi­nos to this day under the US Congress Recission Act have been denied of their claim. Miguel (Lucky) Guillermo, artistic director, is the son of a noted guerrilla leader in northern Philippines, Antonio Guillermo aka “Silver”. Peter Parsons, scriptwriter, is the son of Cmdr. Chick Parsons who organized the submarines that supplied the guerrillas with everything they needed. Other documentaries about WWII they have collaborat­ed on are: “Ships from Hell”; “Anchored in Freedom; Enshrined in Friendship”.

A Memorial to Memories

I would like to thank the 18 who have signed my petition to Pledge to End All Wars. Thank you greatly.

As Bataan Day or the date is again ‘in the past’ in the march of days, I’ll recast this petition in a few days toward the setting up of a memorial to memories. Intriguing? Enigmatic? Only in words if that is how it sounds. This memorial will perhaps be the first monument not cast in stone but built on words.

The landscape of memories on WWII in the Philippines might be crowded by now with all kinds of retelling. But, each time anything about it is said or discussed, a swarm of memories start buzzing. It is truly amazing how the telling seems endless.

No matter how long ago that war is often referred to, its reality re­mains as vivid as if it were the day before. Apparently, war never dies with its heroes or its traitors both know and unknown. Time actually doesn’t heal the wounds inflicted on families who are innocent of a war, or in the case of Filipinos, the only war they ever experienced–and it wasn’t even theirs.Time it seems merely suspended the grieving as families coped with survival.

I know because I was born into one such family–my grand­father was executed by the Japanese. A pall sort of hovered in my childhood among my mother, aunts and uncles whose lives the war drastically changed. Until I migrated to Vancouver two and a half years ago, I was still uncovering shards of that day they lost him forever as not even his body was recovered.

Mention of that war even here in Vancou­ver–years removed and thousands of miles from the Philippines–hardly ever fails to touch a painful chord among Filipinos. For example a small item that I sent and was published in the Vancouver Courier on the two documen­tary films my cousin Lucky Guillermo came to screen for the 2008 World Peace Forum in November drew a small group. Wounds refreshed with the films “Manila 1945: The Forgotten Atrocities” and “ Unsurrendered: 100 Voices” as children and grandchildren of veterans shared impassioned memories; most were told the first time, and thus, too precious to be lost. We all agreed the only memorial worthy of their memories is yet another collection of such stories. 

A collection of all collections of stories or a gathering of these is the memo­rial that is yet to happen, this memorial of memories. How and when would it turn out and what shape it would take in what way will words become solid depends on what value the world gives to peace and the world is you.

We will hold on to and nurture this pledge to peace by keeping our memories alive. What better flame is there indeed.