(EDITORS NOTE: This written passage is about Maria Lorena Barros, a woman in the midst of revolution and struggling for the emancipation of women in a semi feudal, semi colonial society. This was taken directly from In Memory of Lorena Barros blog page.)
MY DAUGHTER LAURIE
BY: Alicia Morelos
She was born on March 18, l948 – Thursday at 11:20 pm in a private hospital in Manila – a much awaited and very welcomed baby. She was christened Maria Lorena Barros and nicknamed Laurie after her mother’s favorite character in “Little Women.” She grew up cherished by everybody around her – mother, lolo, uncles and aunts. She never gave anybody much trouble during her infancy aside from the periodic colds which no doubt she would not have caught if her aunts and uncles didn’t kiss her too much. Dr. Spock and his little book were never far away from her crib. The do’s and don’ts were strictly followed to the annoyance of the old folks.
At age three months when most babies just kick and coo, Laurie in her crib had a most unusual stance. Lying there in her crib, she would raise her tiny clenched left fist above her heart which position she would hold for hours on end. It was remarkable and everybody used to wonder and predict all sorts of things but all agreed she would grow up to be fighter. A prediction which was almost unbelievable since she grew up to be as gentle and sweet as nobody else. She was never spanked and the only form of punishment she received was to be made to sit alone -when she was naughty – which was very rare. As a little girl of three, she could not stand to see her playmates cry without her shedding a few tears as well.
The family’s world revolved around her and although all the ingredients for being spoiled were around, she was never one. Her curiosity was endless and some astounding questions used to convulse the whole family like, are the minutes moving too fast and fell over each other that is why the clock stopped or where does night go in the morning. She knew unerringly when one is side stepping her most impossible questions and she would put on her you don’t fool me expression. Can you imagine how a bird would look with four feet she would ask. Or, do you think the birds think they are the real inhabitants of the earth and we are the beast. She was always encouraged to ask questions and answered correctly.
She was often taken on outings, sometimes in the country, usually in the park and there was always pity in her heart for the beggars and why do they have to beg. Although she was loved dearly by the family (being the only child in the house) she was a lonely child. She used to wait up nights (and be scolded for doing so) for her mother who saw the need for employment when she was barely one year old. She was left mostly physically under the care of yayas, of course under the direct supervision of her mother who was very strict with the yayas. Mother-daughter relationship was ideal and there was almost camaraderie between them. Laurie was made to feel that no remark of hers or questions would shock her mother. Anything under the sun was open to discussion. Her mother tried to fill in her loneliness by buying books that fit her age. Thus, she was exposed early to books and reading. Everybody in the family was a voracious reader.
At age four, her mother saw the need for outside contacts and had Laurie enrolled at a private kinder class. She very easily topped the class. Laurie was enrolled for Grade I at the Instituto de Mujeres which at the time was situated at the present site of the University of the East – College of Medicine, on to Grade II remaining consistently an honor student after which she was transferred to St. Joseph’s College where she stayed until Grade VII also an honor student throughout.
By this time, she had reached that awkward age, no more a child, still not a woman. And she was beginning to be aware of boys. And so, again, a need for broader contacts. At about this time, mother and daughter left the family house and moved to an apartment with a new step-father. Although there was a drastic change in their way of life, Laurie didn’t seem to mind. There was one more person to discuss things with – as her Tito Aling (as she called him) was an intellectual – high I.Q., well read, etc. and understanding to boot. Now her mother didn’t need to be tied down to a job and could stay home. No irksome complexes developed even when a brother was born – no sibling complex.
She was very sure of her special niche in her mother’s heart. At about this time too, there were serious discussions about country and nationalism and all the isms. She would ask and ask questions about the Commonwealth, the Japanese occupation, the resistance movement, the Americans and independence. Are we truly free? They would stay up far into the night in discussions. She herself was disengaging herself from her mother’s clasp, striking free and moving independently. She was beginning to have her own circle of friends and a first crush. A neighbor, the only son of a friend of her mother. This boy had a vocation for priesthood but when he met Laurie, for a while there everybody thought one candidate for priesthood would be lost to the profession. Happily for the mother, and unhappily for Laurie, at summer’s end, the boy trotted away to the seminary. Laurie showed a resiliency that belied her protestations of breaking heart. After several days, she was again biking away in glee. Never again, she said. Famous last words.
All thru that summer, before she entered the secondary course, her mother made her walk correctly, carry herself high, etc. Everything that would turn her into a proper young lady.
Laurie and her mother thought St. Joseph’s College was much too encircling and it was decided that she would transfer to Far Eastern University. At home, she helped in the household chores. Except when she was reading, a period which was usually endless and at which time any disturbance annoyed her.
In high school, she got the usual exemptions, scholarships and medals. All her subjects were for her interesting, except home economics and Math. In Math, she said, she found her Waterloo. She profoundly admired and was deeply awed by anybody who could find Math easy and interesting. Math periods were usually a constant battle to fight off yawning (which she was taught was impolite) and the deep urge to “lay me down to sleep” to quote her. Home Economics for her was a cord; taught to tie women down to hearth and home. Slowly, the woman in her was being liberated. There was a constant struggle between embroidery projects and cooking lessons. She was usually in tears and deep frustration on deadline for submissions of projects which her mother usually finished for her. She knew how to make outline stitches and french knots she would say and now will somebody finish this rag for her please.
Her cooking was outrageous. Frying eggs, she would wait for the edges to curl and color until by the time she got eggs separated from pan, fried eggs would be as crispy as bacon. Many a time the family sat down to a meal of slightly burned rice which she cooks while reading a book and promptly forgets until the smell of burning rice permeates the whole house at which time she would jump up and raise the lid, forgetting to use the pot holder and scalding her fingers in the process. She used to fry bangus armed with the largest pot cover she could find while staying miles away from the stove looking for all the world like a Crusader off for the Holy Wars. It used to intrigue her as to why the shooting lard always managed to land on her unprotected face and arms and not on her shield. Any cooking sessions in which she emerged whole and unscathed, i.e., no cuts, no burns, etc. were moments of ecstatic and Freudian delight. To find her with needle and thread in her hand instead of a book would be amazing and disastrous to the peace of mind of her mother.
The comfort room was a battleground between her and other members of the family. She would go in with a whole bundle of reading materials and emerge only when laid under siege by the others due to an instant emergency. Ate, what are you doing there, her little brother would ask meanwhile dancing on one foot after the other. Nag-la-library, ano pa she would answer. In the early mornings it was always a race for the bathroom before she woke up. She had her own room and all the privacy she needed but for her it was not as private as the bathroom from whence she would emerge soaking wet with perspiration as the tiny cubicle had only a high and as tiny a window.
She was starting to seriously write, although she wrote her first poem when she was ten years old or nine. Her mother begun to collect every bit of discarded writing while the budding genius furiously wrote and wrote and wrote.
During her high school days, she was president or vice -president of this and that organization, chairman of this and that. She was always at the core of every activity which left her with very little time to spend at home and made her mother remark from time to time – how you have grown since I saw you last. She outgrew her shyness and started to mingle with others. The parties and one crush after the other were the topics of the day. Coming home from school, she would gush, Nanay, I’ve met the man I’m going to marry. O.K., would be the answer, who is the lucky guy. As easily as a boy would interest her, just as easily and as soon she would be disinterested. It never reached the stage of going steady, as they called it. To questions of whatever happened to so and so, she would answer, oh that, he was such an egoist, always harping about the same subject, himself. Si ako, sometimes is also an interesting subject. Or, this one was mama’s boy. Or that one tells the corniest jokes and expects you to laugh.
Laurie used to call herself Cinderella. Home by midnight was the standing order before departure for any party, at which she would coax and wheedle her mother to extend the time an hour or so usually with help from unexpected quarters, her step-father. Her mother was out of step with the times. Nowadays no curfew was set on the youngsters. Not this youngster, would be the reply and certainly not this mother. And as Laurie was always an obedient child, midnight it always was.
At sixteen, Laurie had grown into a well-poised and not bad-looking young lady. She always drew second glances when she was walking, but her bearing plus her glasses forbade whistles and unsavory remarks. Abruptly the party-going ceased. No more crushes. Men are eternal egoists. She met Proust, Frost, Solzhenitsyn and the whole alphabet of writers and poets and really and truly, she said, she had found her love. It was now deep reading and her mother couldn’t be happier with the turn of events. The party going gave way to browsing in bookstores.
She graduated from high school with honors. The FEU Girls’ High School pinned on her a gold medal for Creative Writing. the only time such a medal was given out.
There were family discussions on what further studies she would take. The most logical courses would be A.B. English, Journalism or such related courses but her mother firmly believed that studying must be rigid to be able to exploit fully the capabilities of the mind and to exercise and discipline it. Taking up the arts wouldn’t really require any effort on her part at all as this was as symphony with her as fish is with water. So she must try to conquer her waterloo and take up Bio-Chem. After two or three semesters, during which time she really tried hard to stir up an interest in Mathematics, her mother noticed the deep frustration building within her (she was beginning to be insomniac, she would complain, as she gets her full quota of sleep during her subjects) and agreed to her switch in course which was Anthropology, a study which her mother always pretended to confuse with Archeology.
The discussions at home became livelier. Studying the ancients, her mother would begin, and the long buried races, when the present race makes a much more interesting, more complex and nearer home base study. But mother, you can’t really take up the present without going back to the past and will somebody please tell me why we always argue in English. Such a switch in the subject usually flabbergasted her opponent who would quickly dare her to talk in the vernacular for just one hour without any use of foreign words, a dare she never took up, blaming her mother instead for her un-mastery of her native tongue. The arguments and discussions made her more mentally alert and ready for more and more importantly, there was a two-way communication. There was never any antagonism in the arguments. It was more like a challenge to her and she knew how to argue, never letting personalities get in the way of arguments.
But Laurie was not a paragon of perfection. She had her faults and weaknesses. One such weakness was this terrible fright of cockroaches. On some silent night, there would suddenly be such a rumpus in her room with the sound of bare feet scampering all over and rushing down the stairs in such haste everybody was almost anticipating her fall. She would put her arms around her mother’s neck and in dramatic whisper – In the still of the night, the sounds of flitting wings, and lo, a flying cockroach, sublime in that it awakened the fear in my heart – or some such nonsensical poetry and anger in her mother’s heart would give way to gale after gale of laughter. The sight of her so big and the thought of the cockroach being so small, she with broom in hand swishing away at the insect was enough to start off another round of laughter. The battle should be short. As it was, she always ended up the vanquished. The thought of all that white nauseating substance oozing out of the body kept her from ever hitting the insect and the better part of valor she always said was running away to keep the insect from landing on her. None but her mother knew what great courage it took to shake off this distaste and fear of the repellent insects found in our jungles. Well, it seems that during her MAKIBAKA days, she laid down the law. The cockroach could fly till doomsday for all she cared and this law she kept.
While the rest of the room was neat and tidy, her study table was always in complete disarray. Thus it would stay for days and weeks on end. The moment anybody (usually her mother) made it look like a study table again, she would be demanding all over the house who has been messing up her table. There was this little piece of paper which she must absolutely have. This little piece of paper had been in this particular place on the table for eons of time and now that it had been neatly filed away, she misses it. Where is this and where is that. She suddenly needed everything that had been gathering dust all the while.
Out of the blue, with a dead pan expression on her face, would issue forth this deadly announcement, I am having a parthenogenic pregnancy. Fine, would come the retort, the moment your parthenogenic labor pains start, just let me know. Mother dear, your equanimity is boring. Would nothing ever shock you? Yes, one, if you were to tell me you’re not hungry. Laurie. Poor Laurie. The family then was living in what she called genteel poverty. She sometimes left for school with only twenty five centavos in her pocket. From the house, she used to walk to Nepa-Q-Mart and from there take a bus to UP which then cost ten centavos. Back and forth would take twenty from her twenty five centavos leaving her only with five centavos for her lunch which would be a stick of banana que consisting of three pieces. No matter that they were having dilis or tuyo for lunch, the placemats must be laid out just the same. Poverty shouldn’t be an excuse for primitivism would be her dictum. Eating sans placemat is being primitive? Watching her pick at the tuyo with spoon and fork one would think she was eating chicken instead. Dainty Laurie. And so fastidious. All these hardships will strengthen your character, she was told. All these hardships shouldn’t be any future crippled excuse for failure. It must be in spite of instead of because.
Soon there were suitors a plenty. People were in and out the house at all times of the day and it annoyed the rest of the family, so much so that her mother was forced to remonstrate. In my days, she would begin and Laurie would interrupt, in your days me was still in limbo. No Laurie, no excitement. Another object of disagreement was the Basement. When she first heart about it from Laurie she made a research on all the dictionaries she could find and it all turned up with the same definition: the lowest storey of a building usually underground. Her mother begun to ask herself in panic, what could these kids be doing underground. She soon exasperated Laurie to the point where she was taken on an inspection tour of all the places in the campus where the students congregate. The Basement looked comparatively harmless. Was it because Laurie chose the time when the place was almost empty just to pacify her mother’s fears? Still, one must realize and accept the fact that procreation could take place even in the most public and crowded places so taken all in all it would depend on one’s moral values and on such philosophy the Basement was laid to rest.
Her crowd took on a literary tinge. Majors in English most of them. Laurie became a member of the U.P. Writer’s Club and was at one time its chairman (or woman). Inevitably came the awakening.
That period of mass demonstrations and rallies found her in the thick of things, while at home her mother remained glued to the radio. Every pill box thrown or shot fired was a calamity for her family until one night she did come home with her left foot in bandages. She was told to be a little bit more careful as her work hasn’t even begun. Her mother was waging a private battle within herself. If such were your selfish feelings why did you instill in Laurie such love for country. Not now, not yet. Why not? Now is when she is needed. A mother’s natural reaction to the risks and occupational hazards dodging her revolutionary daughter’s footsteps.
By the 70’s, Laurie was immersed in student activism and slowly becoming aware of the true, sad state of the country. Every revelation was a shock to her. How could she have been so stupid, she used to remark, when the facts were so plain and simple that no explanation was really necessary for anybody with average intelligence. Capitalism and imperialism and the colonial mentality deeply ingrained in the Filipinos by past foreign rulers. And the subservient attitude of the so called present independent government to a foreign power. To her, it was unbelievable that it was some of her countrymen themselves who were practically handing over the country and the future of generations to come to foreign capitalism. The fawning attitude of some of our leaders was for her more nauseating than the cockroaches’ innards. She read the message of our most brilliant writers between the newspaper lines and publications. She brought home books, lots of them, and studied all the political isms. And then one day, she abruptly stopped reading and writing and assumed a deeply pensive attitude around the house. You were right, mother, she said one day. A government whose real power comes from the people and not a chosen few is the only kind that would work for the welfare of the whole country and brighten up the future of the masses and the generations to come. She was quick to realize that not words but only bullets could bring this about, and the whole stinking mess of the bureaucratic government must be shoved back across the oceans from whence it came. It made her sad thinking of all those lives that had to be lost in the process.
After group studies with several democratic movements, with several others, she organized the MAKIBAKA, early realizing the disorganization among the Filipino women and its potentials. Malayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan. From the very start it perked up the women and swiftly spread, with chapters all over the country. With its success, her freedom of movement was curtailed. The state posted out a reward for her capture with several others student leaders. She started to lead a semi-fugitive life. With the suspension of the habeas corpus, the danger to her life became very real and she bore deeper underground.
Her family was constantly harassed by the military. Through her letters, her mother followed her political awakening. She was an excellent letter writer with the ability to put her ideas and message across with very few words. The letters came sporadically depending on the political climate. There were furtive meetings between mother and daughter and thru one of these the information of a personal attachment with Felix R. One early dawn, she took him home to meet her mother who was so a-dither for their safety that the latter only had a vague impression of the man her daughter was going to marry, only that he seemed nice and soft spoken and so unlike a commander of the revolutionary army that he was. Several months after, he was killed in an encounter and Laurie wrote home that although everything seemed to come tumbling down, she knew that with her heart crying with the tragedy, she had to keep a cheerful facade and not transmit her feelings of grief to others. She would heal the wound herself – alone.
Being an honor student at the State University, she was offered a membership in the international honor society, Phi Kappa Phi which she promptly turned down. Commercializing one’s own intellect and academic pursuits was one step too far. She graduated in B.S. Anthropology without participating in the ceremonies, actually being outside the auditorium with several others protesting against the type of education being dished out by the schools to knowledge-hungry youths.
With her freedom of movement curtailed, she turned over chairmanship of MAKIBAKA to more capable hands and gave herself wholly to the masses. She worked with them tilling the fields, planting, harvesting with them, gathering firewood, cooking and washing with them. She wept with them when they buried their dead and she sometimes starved with them. Their joy (which was infinitesimal) was her joy and their sorrows (which were numerous) were her sorrows. The plight of the masses was her constant companion. She undertook jobs which before were totally unknown to her. From the masses, she learned ingenuity, making do with what is available. She acquired a wisdom which no school could ever impart which came down from generation to generation of our forefathers at the grass root level. She opened their eyes to cause and effect. There is no doubt that her share in building a strong, solid mass base was tremendous.
Inevitably in her letters, there was mention once again of a man’s name – Ramon S. And just as suddenly and stealthily as the first, they came home together one night and announced they were married.
Martial Law was declared and with this, everyone knew the fight was on in earnest. For Laurie, it was moving from one house to another. Many a time she wrote home asking for clothes as most of the time there was barely time to jump from windows to escape the raiders. Out in the rural areas, they had more freedom of movement. The youth of the land, the cream of the crop, sought the safety of the mountains to evade arrest and detention. And to spread the truth.
For Laurie, there were still visits to the urban area, meetings and talking with her mother. During this time, she became pregnant and as her condition hampered the movement of the others, she chose to stay where medical services were readily available and on the appointed time, in a little known private clinic, under an assumed name, she gave birth to a boy.
From then on, it was doubly hard for her. She was always on the run with the baby in her arms. At one time, with the baby in her arms, she had to scale a seven foot fence and jumped down and in the rain with no protection whatsoever she escaped the raiders, hiding with neighbors who took pity on her and the baby. Although it broke her heart, she knew she had to part with her baby.
Up to the mountains once more and in one of her descents, she was caught.. She tried to escape and she would have if her borrowed shoes, which were several sizes too big, didn’t prove a hindrance. On the way to the camp, she jumped from the jeep and ran once more and once again was caught. The exasperated state agent had to handcuff her to himself as he didn’t want to shoot her, so he said. To the camp commander, with arms akimbo, she stamped her feet and demanded the rights of a political prisoner.
She gave a fictitious name and profession to give time for her group to disperse. Her ploy was discovered one month after. She was very happy that after her arrest none other followed. She was taken to Camp Vicente Lim and interrogated heavily. Even here she tried to confuse her interrogators by giving a wide variety of stories from day to day. Her fertile imagination had a free run. Sometimes she was positively enjoying herself she said. In desperation the authorities invited her mother for a talk. They were just trying to straighten up her personal data they said and nothing more. Would she help? As there was nothing political in the questions, she tried as best she could without jeopardizing anybody. That her Arabian Thousand and One Nights, as exhausting for her as for her interrogators was discontinued, was a disappointment. But vigorously she turned herself to other tasks. She was so successful here that the authorities transferred her to Fort Bonifacio. Trouble maker, they called her.
Even there she refused to settle down to the humdrum life of a political prisoner and await her release. Right from the start, she began to plan her escape. Meanwhile, in the south, her husband surrendered. The real cause was still dim, but to Laurie, it was a betrayal both personal and political. She was still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and tried to make contact unsuccessfully. She felt personally she had to recapture lost ground brought about by the surrender and exceed with victories the damage done. Plans for the escape was pushed through and success! With five others, she did escape.
She joined the revolutionary army. Communication with the family was kept open but rare. Sometimes months passed between letters and in one of these, there was again mention of a man – Eliseo M. – a mathematical genius from UPLB. This man she really admired; Math being still the unconquerable for her. But coming from one of his tasks, he was detected and caught, tortured, then shot. It was one heartbreak after another for Laurie. After recovering from the shock which as usual she tried to hide from her companions, she took stock and inventory and the inevitable conclusion – the cause should be her one and only love and none other. It was extremely jealous and would permit no other rival for her attention and time.
March 24, l976 – Early dawn
There were unusual stealthy sounds and Laurie rushed to the door of the hut and whistled the pre-arranged signal for dispersal and escape and in the process was shot all over the body. All her companions escaped unhurt. Her family tried to claim her body at once, but it being a week-end, all the corresponding offices were closed. The military gave her a decent burial because even they admired her courage. Commander Mila, who had given them so much trouble, was no more.
This is Laurie, the woman, wife, mother and leader. She will live on and on, and there will be more like her, there must be, because only through them will the country be able to stand erect and truly free.
This is Laurie the baby, whose lullaby song was Bayan ko. Laurie, the little girl, who always had compassion in her heart for the beggars and stray waifs in the streets, Laurie the adolescent raised to awareness of her country’s sorry plight, Laurie the sweet girl, so soft-spoken until she raised her voice to shout “Makibaka!” This Laurie – daughter, sister and friend to many.
Laurie the sweetheart, wife, mother and comrade will be resurrected only when there is true freedom in our country.
Aking iniluluha, iyong pagkawala
Tangi kong panimdim
Kay raming gawain
Iyong iniwanan na dapat gampanin.
Sa iyong paglisan, sino
Sa luha ng ina,
Ng mga kasamang iyong inulila?
Pagsapit ng dilim, paglubog ng araw,
Ina, tahan na, ikaw ay kumilos, hayo na’t damputin
Sandatang bumagsak ng ako’y paslangin.
Huwag mong iluha aking pagkawala
Ako’y buhay pa,
Huag mong sikilin, huag mong ilibing, init ng
Damdamin at paghihimagsik sa pagkakagapos ng
At paghihikahos ng kawawang masa.
Oo nga’t tutoo, kay raming gawain
Na dapat tupdin
Kung bawa’t isa’‘y
Kikilos, tutulong, ang lahat ng iyan
Magagampanan, kay daling darating ang ating tagumpay.
Buhay ako, aking ina, aking mga kasama
Na sa pakikibaka
Pamalagiing nangunguna, masidhing adhika at
Pagmamahal sa ating dakilang bansa.
Naitong bandila, naitong sandata,
Ikaw ay bumulong, iyong sambitin at tulad ko’y isigaw
Makibaka, mga kasama, huag matakot, makibaka!