My favorite real-life ghost story is the one recounted by veteran activist Cesar Hernandez Lacara (1910-2000) in his memoir Sa Tungki ng Ilong ng Kaaway: Talambuhay ni Tatang [On the Tip of the Enemy’s Nose: Auto/Biography of Tatang] (Metro Manila: Kilusan ng Paglilinang ng Rebolusyonaryong Panitikan at Sining sa Kanayunan, 1988). This incident occurred in the early 1940s, around the time of the Japanese Occupation.
“May isang kwento akong di kapani-paniwala laluna sa mga Marxista at Leninistang materyalista. Isang gabi noon sa gubat na yaon sa Cabiao, marami kaming naroon sa daang papasok sa kinalalagyan ng aming mga kasama. Makitid ang daang ito, talahib at mga punungkahoy ang nasa magkabilang tabi. Siguro’y mga ala una na ng umaga, nakagwardya kami sa daan, na ang distansya naming sa isa’t isa ay mga 10 metro lamang. Nakatayo kaming lahat, bawat isa ay may baril. Kung bakit nakita ko na sa mismong harap ko ay dumaan ang isang malaking tao, parang Amerikano ang laki, maputing-maputi, na nakasuot-pari na itim ang kulay. Pero noong kasalukuyan itong nagdaan sa harap ko ay di ko naman naisip na patigilin. Tinanong ko ang susunod na gwardya, sabi niya ay wala raw siyang napansin. Hindi ko malaman kung ako’y nakatulog na nakatayo o kung tulog lamang ang aking dugo, pero palagay ko’y di ako tulog. Naalala ko tuloy yaong pamangkin kong kasama ko minsan na naglalakad sa kalsadang malaki. Maliwanag ang buwan, marahil ay alas 8 lamang ng gabi. Nauuna lamang ako ng isang metro sa bata. Nang matapat kami sa isang punungkahoy sa tabi ng daan ay biglang sinigawan ako ng bata, nasasagasaan ko na raw ang yaong malaking puting aso, samantalang wala naman akong makita.
“Kinabukasan matapos kong makita yaong parang paring Amerikano, nag-umpisa na ang reyd ng Hapon sa kagubatan ng Cabiao.” (pp. 104-105)
[I have a story that won’t be believable especially to Marxist-Leninist materialists. One night in the forest over in Cabiao, there were a lot of us on the pathway leading to where our companions were camped. The pathway was narrow, with thatch grass and trees growing on both sides. It might have been one o’ clock in the morning. We stood guard on the pathway, some ten meters apart from each other. We were all standing, each bearing a gun, when I saw a big person–tall as an American, very white, and wearing black priestly garb—pass right in front of me. It didn’t occur to me to stop the person as he passed me. I asked the next guard, and he said he didn’t notice anything. I didn’t know whether I had fallen asleep while standing or whether I was just not alert, but I thought that I wasn’t asleep. Then I remembered my nephew [or niece: pamangkin can refer to either boy or girl] with whom I once walked down the big road. The moon was bright; it was only about eight o’ clock at night. I was about a meter ahead of the child. When we drew near a tree by the side of the road, the child suddenly shouted that I was running into a big white dog, even though I didn’t see anything.
[The next day after I saw the one who looked like an American priest, the Japanese began their raids in the forest of Cabiao.]
A stalwart revolutionary, Tatang had come to Cabiao in 1927, when he was seventeen years old. Located south of Nueva Ecija, Cabiao is adjacent to Arayat, Pampanga to the southwest and San Miguel, Bulacan to the southeast.
West of Cabiao was a three-thousand-hectare forest, in one part of which Felipe Buencamino, Jr.—crony of Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon and scion of the Buencamino family whose most prominent patriarch, also named Felipe, has gone down in history for having been called a “traitor” and almost (but not quite) slapped by General Antonio Luna at a cabinet meeting of the Philippine revolutionary government under Emilio Aguinaldo for endorsing the American proposal to “grant autonomy” to the Philippines—had carved out his Hacienda Buencamino.
Tatang describes the magnificence of the Buencamino home in San Miguel, Bulacan, and contrasts it with the inhuman conditions under which the hacienda workers lived and worked—the latter squelched together like sardines, their stifling quarters lacking electricity, running water, kitchen, and washroom. Accidents happened in the hacienda and sugar central, and cost some workers their lives.
Tatang worked at a variety of jobs and would later be involved in organizing the workers’ strike there in 1930. He would also be active in the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas and Hukbalahap movement.
Tatang was, in other words, the last person on earth one would imagine encountering a ghost.
As Tatang tells it, he sees a tall, pale-skinned man dressed in what appears to be black clerical clothing pass right in front of him. Because the person is tall and white, he takes him for an American. He questions whether he had seen the “American” in his dream, or whether it had been a vision spun out of his dulled senses. But he thinks he had not been asleep. This incident then reminds him of the big white dog his young nephew or niece said Tatang had run into when they were walking down a road one night, even though Tatang himself hadn’t seen anything.
A tall, foreign-looking man in priest’s robes–what better embodiment of that dreaded mythical creature, the pale-skinned kapre (often depicted smoking a cigar while lounging atop a big tree) or, in the case of the big white dog, the shape-shifting aswang?
Tellingly, the term “kapre” derives from the Arabic kafir, literally, “one who covers the truth or covers something”, but most often used as the word for “infidel” or “unbeliever” (meaning, in this case, the anti-Muslim Spaniards who embarked on the Reconquista).
Bear in mind that the hacendero in Tatang’s time was a Spanish mestizo, a kind of “monster” who, if American intelligence reports were to be believed, liked to organize “stag parties” in his hacienda, the most “dissolute” being one where important guests–American and Filipino–were obliged to remove all their clothes, leaving only their underwear, and the “girl supply is virtually unlimited”: a veritable pimp, indeed, in both the political and sexual senses. It was said that the American film star, Douglas Fairbanks, took one look at the festivities, bid his host an abrupt farewell, jumped in his car, and left.*
A good Todos los Santos to all!
*Thanks to Mike Pante for sharing with me the archival documents relating to “The Who’s Who in Manila.”