Friday, June 14, 2013

Mystery of the White Cross

Dr Abe V Rotor                           Mysterious white cross beside an old bangar tree, San Mariano, Isabela

He graduated from the famous Philippine Military Academy on top of his class.  On the day of graduation his father, a general of the Philippine Air Force, and his mother, a dean of the State University, proudly pinned the Medal of Excellence on their only son and child.  Nobody could be happier. God smiled at them. The world loved them. And they loved the world.  What more did they wish?

There was none, although his mother once said in whisper and in prayer, “How I wish we are like this forever – happy and united, and nothing to separate us.”

Secretly his father wished his son to become famous, too. He knew that a military career leads to many opportunities of greatness to one who adheres to his pledge to defend his country and stand for his people. His thoughts gleamed as he polished his medals he received in two war missions - the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He treasured most a medal given by the President of the Philippines for serving as a top military adviser during Martial Law.

“Those were troubled times,” he thought, “we are now living in peace,” and put away his fears that his son would be put in a similar test.

The young Lieutenant is indeed very lucky. How many young men in the world are endowed with caring parents, exclusive school, superior intelligence, good looks and excellent health?  Heads turned by his mere presence. Young women saw him a knight in shining armor. Children looked up to him a model, a hero. Would they grow up just like him?  Dreams! Oh, air castles!

But he was real.  He dressed simply.  He was friendly.  There was no air of arrogance in his actions and words.  He liked people, and people liked him. Many times he would go to the village of his birth in Pangasinan – Bigbiga near Anda.  He loved to visit and talk to farmers and fisher folks. He traced his relations, kinship and contemporary, as far as he could, calling them by nicknames, and with courtesy. With him around, work became light and gay. Always he had stories, varied, spontaneous, humorous, all interesting, to share. And if you happen to be around you will surely lose tract of the time.     

Housewives on errand bringing baon to the field workers had all sorts of alibi for returning late. Passersby would not just passed by.  On learning it was Lieutenant Carding Lopez, they took off their hats in greeting - and always, they were gladly acknowledged.  Crowd would easily grow by midday and double by late afternoon.  Children playing nearby would caution one another not to be rowdy, and they would display their best to impress their special guest.

And months passed.  The monsoon came and he joined the planters in the field as he joined them at harvest time. Came fishing season, and he would be pulling in the daklis (seine) net.  And when they gave him his share of the catch, he would simply refuse, or give it to the old people in the village.

One time he stopped to greet a crew draining a nearby swamp, the lowest part of the village. While telling a story on how the Panama Canal was built, people the next day came with their own shovels and drained the swamp in record time.  Farmers planted melons and watermelons on the reclaimed land early in season and made a lot of money.

But it was the marketplace he was fond of visiting on Sundays. The barangay chairman made everything clean and orderly.  More vendors came to sell their goods and wares.  And more people came to buy them.  

Once strolling on a dirt road, he paused to put some stones to fill up a rut.  The next day a gravel truck came.  With it were workers. What took an hour to reach Bigbiga from the highway, can now be reached in half the time.  

General Lopez and Dean Lopez who were living in Manila began to wonder at the kind of life their son was leading in the province.  Surely it is very strange to know of one who is full of dreams and raring to seek a bright future.  Not for a young and ambitious man, a  Pemeyer at that. No, not for their only child, now a fine gentlemen, a living gem .

“No, no, let’s talk to him,” the mother insisted, rising from her lounging chair.  “Hush, hush, let him be,” her husband soothingly reacted.

One day the young Lieutenant received a call to report for duty. In the next few days he was flying over Sierra Madre on a mission.  But alas! His fighter plane disappeared in the sky and crashed into some peak buried in cloud, far, far away from civilization. No one witnessed the accident, but guesses are not rare for such news. The plane plunged into the sea where three islands make a triangle, ventured one mystic who knew about the Bermuda Triangle that mysteriously “swallow up” airplanes and ships. Attempts to find him failed many times until search finally stopped.

Maybe it crashed on one of the Philippines’ tallest mountains, heretofore unreported, but taller than Mt. Apo or Mt. Pulag.  “That’s how high jets fly,” said an elderly native who knew too well about the flight of the Philippine eagle. “Oh,” exclaimed an activist, who said the young Lopez is an idealist, and it is possible that he defected to another country.

Guesses turned into hoax, rumors died down, only the enigma on how a promising young man suddenly disappeared without trace persisted. General Lopez shook his head in utter disbelief.  “Even in times of peace,” he realized, “danger can be just around the corner. You can’t rely on technology,” he muttered. Those planes – yes, those planes he remembered, they were very old. He knew it because they were acquired as donation after the Vietnam War. Mrs, Lopez  retired from the university, but how could you enjoy retirement if you were in her place? 

It has been five years since the young pilot mysteriously disappeared. The village people of his birth put up a cross in his memory at the center of the village cemetery. At all times they kept it white, and not a single weed grew around it.    

Tourists today come to Bigbiga, now a progressive community.  It boosts of a model cooperative.  It is a persistent winner of cleanliness in the whole province. A church has been built, around is a beautiful park frequented by people of all walks of life. Classes are no longer conducted under the big mango tree. Floods that accompany the monsoon are a thing of the past. The market is now a village mall, attracting people from nearby towns. An institute of science and technology was recently inaugurated. Young men and women are returning and changing the concept of balikbayan, at least in Bigbiga. They call it brain gain, whereas before they called it brain drain. The fields are green and at harvest time under the moonlight, some people would swear, they would see a handsome young man inaudibly talking and laughing – men and women and children huddled around him.

The general and his wife did not live long in their grief. A new generation had taken over the reins of command in the military. A new president has been installed in Malacañang.  He is young and handsome, friendly and there’s something they like in his eyes and the way he talks.  They trust him. Those who knew the late Lieutenant Lopez liken him to the new president.

One day there was a flash report that a community was discovered somewhere between Nueva Ecia and Aurora. It is hidden in a valley shrouded by forests and thick mist. That is why it remained obscure. There must be a mistake, commented a local government official who knew well about the region. Cautiously a survey team followed the trail. It is like searching for a lost city in the Andes of Peru, or a Shangri-La in the Himalayas.  But it is true.  There before their very eyes appeared a progressive community. It is actually the Viejo  Dakkel, the remotest barangay in San Mariano, Isabela.

The people in this newly discovered community are peace loving, industrious and self reliant.  They are highly respectable in every measure. They are farmers, craftsmen, many are professionals. They have children studying in Manila, and relatives working abroad. There is a progressive multiple cooperative, and the village market is always busy.  A chapel rises, around it is a beautiful park.  Nearby is a cemetery.  In the middle a white cross gleams in the distance, and no weed grows around it.  ~

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