Days of valor recounted
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - November 14, 2019 - 12:00am

Americans celebrated Veterans Day on Nov. 11  a nationwide holiday that originates with the formal end of hostilities of World War I with the signing of the Armistice at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Since then, it  became a day to honor all veterans who served the United States including Filipinos.

In the Philippines the celebration honoring war veterans is called Araw ng Kagitingan, or Day of Valor, a non-working holiday that is part of a long weekend in April of every year. On this day, the veterans parade in different cities in the Philippines. Highlight of the event is the country’s president giving a speech at the Mt. Samat shrine in Bataan, to commemorate the heroism of the Filipinos and American troops during World War II.  

One of the Filipinos resisting the take-over of the Philippines by Japanese imperial forces during the Second World War  (1942-1945) was the fiction-writer and literary critic Edilberto K. Tiempo (1913-Sept. 1996). The valor and fierce nationalist spirit  of this iconic figure and the travails endured by his family during the war in Negros province  are reconstructed in an article posted on Facebook (Nov. 11, 2019) by his daughter Rowena Tiempo Torrevillas. I find it apropos to make her piece the guest writer in my column today.

Edilberto  and his wife, Edith L. Tiempo (1919-2011), founded the Silliman National Writers Workshop in Dumaguete City, the longest running creative writing workshop in Asia. Edith, a National Artist in Literature, and her husband Edilberto are held up as  two of the finest Filipino writers in English whose works have been translated in several countries.

Rowena, following in her parents’ footsteps, is a fictionist, poet and essayist.  She worked for the University of Iowa’s English department as an adjunct faculty member, and also been the director-in-residence of the Silliman National Writers Workshop.

She and her multimedia artist husband Lemuel Maristela Torrevillas reside in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. where she wrote the fascinating historical recollection below. 

Borrowed Memory, Now Mine

By Rowena Torrevillas-Tiempo

“Nov. 11, 2019. Today is Veterans’ Day, Armistice Day in Great Britain. My awareness of its significance is only at second hand: keeping alive the life-changing event that shaped my parents (and in many ways, their careers, and in the larger sense, the convictions and certainties of the world into which I was born).

“My father’s oeuvre took much of its narrative centrality from the second World War, and I had – as had all the kids of my Baby Boomer generation – grown up on stories about “sa panahon sa guerra.” It was a narrative both unimaginably large yet intimate, its actuality made tangible in the quotidian details recounted decades after Pearl Harbor: how Dad and Mom, newlywed and barely in their twenties, were determined not to bow before the invaders, and sought the free, untracked spaces of the mountains. Upriver from Bayawan, deep in the jungles my Dad walked barefoot gathering data of the Resistance, village to hamlet to nameless settlement; seeking and witnessing accounts of massacres and guerrilla deployments he recorded on the backs of old college term-papers when the typewriter paper ran out, and which he sent, by the submarines that landed off Si-it Bay by moonlight, to MacArthur in Australia.

“The privations surmounted by the survival of civility, the quotidian habits that delineated decency and personal order in the midst of chaos: these were made vivid to me when Mom spoke of how, at the outbreak of War, she went and bought as many toothbrushes as she could afford, and how those toothbrushes lasted through the five years our family lived in the jungle and stayed on the run, always a temporary hiding place ahead of the Japanese. I learned how Auntie Yen taught herself how to make soap, and how Lolo went back to the hut to save a small bag of seeds, drawing the rifle fire of a sniper, and my father arrived after two days’ march only to find Lolo’s body – and Dad numbly honoring his father’s remains with a funeral pyre. Sa panahon sa guerra.

“It was the friendships made in those remote evacuation settlements that sustained them, and lasted a lifetime. I only met these folks, closer almost than blood kin, at sporadic times in the subsequent years. I played Cordelia to Bobby Villasis’s King Lear; Bobby, for whose parents’ wedding my mother had been a sponsor. Tia Tutay, who used to secretly pass along an extra, newly-laid egg to my pregnant Mom, to keep Mom strong. Uncle Resting, Auntie Ter. How Uncle Resting, with his wry, dry humor, would remark on some tune that his sister-in-law Auntie Ter had strummed on her homemade ukulele: “Hmmm. Anindot…apan mura’g medyo, ah, tinukod ’to, dah.” (Nice, but it seemed a touch put-together.)

“Across the years, we’d kept touch with Auntie Ter, who’d come visiting our family in Dumaguete, bringing us huge sugar-butter ensaymada sweet rolls that were the specialty of a Bayawanon baker named Ah Un. Pastries as sweet and soft as Auntie Ter herself, with her bright, wistful smile…she remained unmarried, like my Auntie Yen (Dad’s younger sister), but, just like Auntie Yen, raised her nieces and nephews such that they ventured on their own into the wide world: Gen and Becky to Australia, from which they posted Facebook memories and photos of Auntie Ter. She was among the youngest of the evacuees in their settlement above Pagatban …and as such outlived them all, the evacuation family of friends and neighbors, by a number of years, seventy years after the war ended.

“I’m determined this should not be a sad recollection, and indeed it is not. Hearing my parents and my aunt recounting those years, it seemed to have been a remarkably buoyant time, moonlight transforming the banana leaves into silver splendor, and the simplicity of songs sung by friends as the rainforest leaves pattered onto the thatched roof of one bamboo hut after another. Dad walked those mountains, and Mom stayed solitary in the darkness of the hut recovering from one miscarriage after another, bleeding but determined to keep trying to have a child in the blazing hope that at least some part of my Dad would live on…these are my history now, too, though I was then still ten unknown years away into the future.’’ – Nov. 11, 2019, Iowa City

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