Editors note: The following article is based on more than 20 years of coverage of the armed insurgency in Negros by the writer as a general assignments reporter for a local paper in Bacolod, a radio news chief, a multimedia desk head in Metro Manila, and now as executive editor of DNX.
The text in italics are personal recollections and commentaries by the writer and are in first person.
“Ka, dili pwede mag plas (Comrade, we cannot use our flashlights),” Ka Corbari, our guide and a member of the rebel’s local militia told me in a hushed voice, the strong smell of chewed tobacco mixed with lime and betel nut hot on my cheek as we crested the hill.
He also told the others.
It was a December and the habagat rains have made the trails slippery with wet grass and wet stones on the clay-loam soil.
The trail becomes more treacherous when the rains stop.
That was the trail we were about to travel on to meet an elusive leader of the Negros revolutionaries then weak and small, battered by defections and what we knew later on were ceaseless military operations.
We had early dinner in a farmer’s nipa hut tilting to the left. Lack of repairs, the farmer told us apologetically in Bisaya.
It’s okey, we chorused in Hiligaynon.
Dinner was boiled corn grits and dried fish roasted on wood fire. We had to dust off the ashes before we flaked the tabagak.
The skies threatened to rain that day and it was getting darker outside as Corbari called us outside the house.
He was chewing on a new lime-tobacco-betel nut mixture. “Mascada” as it is called in Negros.
A farmer leading a water buffalo passed by. We exchanged greetings of “maayong gabii.”
Corbari spat out the red juice and adjusted what I learned later on was a 45 caliber pistol on his hip.
An old but original 1911 Colt. Possibly seized from government forces in an ambush.
“May naa ako walo ka bala sang 45 (or portepahayb as he pronounced it) ug usa ka granada [I have eight bullets and one hand grenade],” he said in lilting Bisaya typical in these parts of the island.
Two other guides, masa (masses) joined us and off we went on an almost 12-hour walk to the bivouac of the New People’s Army where Frank Fernandez former priest, spiritual leader of the Negros revolution was waiting for reporters for his first ever news conference deep in the mountains of Guihulngan town.
If this article were written in the 1990s, it would have been datelined “SOMEWHERE IN NEGROS ISLAND” perhaps in bold Times New Roman font on the page of a newspaper.
It was impossible to write about it during those years in the 90s when this writer was bound by embargo restrictions of his sources and “organizational” security condiderations.
And there was no benefit of hindsight.
This article is being written now to provide context as it is called in journalism or simply to link the past relevant to the present.