NO GRAVEYARDS FOR FLOWERS AND CANDLES
“It’s been a long time! Where have you beeen ? I’ve missed you so much! I excitedly hug her full of warmth for a long lost friend and a comrade. You lost so much weight, don’t you? Everybody is missing you!”
She just responds with a gentle look at me followed by a deep silence.
Tamara, her teen-ager daughter is with her. It’s a surprise visit of Luing and Tamara at my home today. Oh! you know I really cried when I saw Tamara’s few days ago. I always read her letters for you and … “Yes,” she smilingly nod at me. Understanding the pain of what she meant, I give her a smile back.
While sitting together in our bamboo sala set, Luing excitedly opens her goody bags for us and Tamara keeps talking to her. I can still see the usual Luing who is so gentle and thoughtful in her ways. She loves to bring foods as “pasalubong” (presents) for everybody whenever she’s away for days. She always brings foods for Tamara after day’s work. I look at Tamara and I can feel the high spirits of a child being with her mom. It’s unexplainable feeling of happiness being united with a mother after two long years of waiting and agonizing uncertainty.
This is the fourth time of seeing Luing in my dreams after her abduction two years ago. She was a woman activist colleague, whom I work closely in our advocacy work on human rights. In my dreams, I always talked to her and asked how she and Nilo were. Nilo was another activist friend. He was a peasant leader and we spent good and bad times together in our advocacy campaign on electoral reform before he and Luing were abducted.
Luing and Nilo are names among the more than 200 Filipino activists disappeared under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s “War on Terror”. Enforced Disappearance is one of the many forms of human rights abuses committed against activists. Activists are labeled as ‘Enemies of the State”, making them targets of political persecution. Usually, the victims are forcibly taken even in broad day light by believed military agents, are brought in safe houses, tortured, interrogated and silenced forever.
The loss of a loved one being a desaparacidos is not strange to me. I’ve suffered the loss of my first husband Sandy twenty years ago. He was a trade union activist. It was the worst feeling I ever have. Four months of being married. Four rosy months of celebration of love, then came nights of constant nightmare.
I was so depressed for two years. I can’t even laugh to the funniest jokes my friends cracked for me. I always cried, whenever I remembered him even in front of others. There’s a feeling of guilt whenever I stopped searching for him. I feel so powerless and helpless where to find him.
I didn’t stop hoping that he will surface anytime of the day. Out of desperation, we went to faith healers, card readers and palm readers just to have grains of information. Some told me he is still alive and he will be home on his birthday. Yes, I did wait and wait and wait… but no one arrived home. It took time for me to let go, though after all those years there still pain whenever I remember him.
Yesterday was November1, almost all people of the world celebrated Halloween in many special ways. For us Filipinos, it was a day of remembering our departed love ones. As a tradition, we cooked native delicacies and set servings for the spirits of the departed. We visit graveyards, light candles and bring foods and flowers. Others spend overnight for a get together.
But for families and friends of desaparacidos, it’s different. There were no gardens of remembrance to bring flowers and foods and candles to light for them. No prayers for the dead. Just prayers, hoping they are still alive or eternal peace wherever they are.
I dreamed of Luing maybe because she reminds me that she and Nilo are still alive. Maybe she’s telling me that life after all is beautiful when it is given away and shared for a greater and noble cause. Maybe she’s telling me, “It’s okay, don’t worry about us. It doesn’t matter if we have no graveyards for your flowers and candles, what matters most is you remember us.”
It’s a constant struggle of uncertainty, of choices between life and death for those who are left behind. It took time for others to move on. For others it took lifetime letting them go. But for me, there’s certainly one place of their memories. They live within our hearts and within the hearts of millions Filipinos and women whom they fought for. They are our inspirations.
Sandy, Luing and Nilo and other fellow activists who perished without any traces of footprints are truly one of my many inspirations. Their living memories hold me on giving, hoping and fighting for freedom and a better tomorrow beyond my lifetime. They will be remembered forever in our hearts even they have no graveyards for our flowers and candles.