Writers Against Impunity


By Randy Paul Gumanao

Tell me how much you loved your firstborn,
about how you could have kissed every inch
of his tender skin. I know because you told me so,
you only let him eat blended veggies
that you had carefully prepared. And you were sure
he could not sleep unless you ran while cradling him. . .
That was funny! I imagine how delighted you were
when he learned to play close-open with his tiny hands

while you sang to him such silly rhymes.
How proud you were at how soon he learned to talk,

and how quickly he learned to walk.
Was he really just seven months old then?
Ahh. . . so he is nineteen now.
Why do you worry when he leaves? It was you
who taught him how to walk. No, please,
please don't cry when he speaks out. He is just
thanking you because now he has learned

not to unclench his fist. No more open-close rhymes.
He has to be steadfast because many
do not even have veggies to eat.
And he told me, if he does not come back
and should you hear no more of him, follow his trail.
Pick up after him, bone after bone, and kiss him.
He will not sleep unless you run while cradling him.
I know you will. You told me you love your firstborn.



By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento

The fragrance of flowers or the odor of burning candles are the usual reminders that our loved ones are no longer with us. For Myrna "Bebot" Parangan Reblando, the widow of Alejandro "Bong" Reblando, the most senior journalist killed in the Ampatuan Massacre of Nov. 23, 2009, there was the silence and the absence of the smell of freshly brewed coffee. Nov. 24, 2009, the day after the Ampatuan Massacre, would have been the Reblando's wedding anniversary. Bong, a devoted family man with 7 children and 6 grandchildren, always called Bebot and the kids when he could not be home to celebrate an anniversary or a birthday with them. Last Nov. 24, 2009, Bebot Reblando and her sons had made the sad and arduous journey from Gen. Santos City to Bgy. Salman, Municipality of Ampatuan in the province of Maguindanao, to retrieve Bong's hog-tied, mutilated and shotgun-blasted corpse. They had been married for 35 years.

Mornings in the Reblando household had always begun with Bong carrying a cup of freshly brewed coffee to Bebot as she lay in their bed. Last Nov. 25, 2009, she woke up, feeling something was missing and wondered where Bong was. Then she remembered that he was never coming home, and that just a few hours ago, they had taken his body to St. Peter's Memorial Chapel in Gen. Santos City. Only then did she fully realize the horror and finality of their loss. She was wracked by agonizing sobs and it seemed as though her tears would never stop flowing.

In love with the girl next door Although they had been married for 35 years, Bong and Bebot Reblando had known each other for closer to 40. Bebot's older married sister lived next door to the Reblando family. Twelve year old Bebot was sent to live with her Manang Carmen to help take care of her young children. Fifteen year old Bong Reblando was smitten the moment he saw the winsome Bebot Parangan and decided then and there that she was the one. It was a classic case of love at first sight.

When Bebot joined the Ramon Magsaysay Colleges high school glee club, Bong suddenly developed an interest in music. He would get her to sing to him sentimental ballads like "I Won't Last a Day Without You" because he ostensibly wanted to learn the lyrics. It was a roundabout way of courtship where he had her serenading him. Pretty Bebot Parangan did not lack for other suitors but at 16 and fresh out of high school, she agreed to marry Bong who was only 19 and in college. Her mother wept and begged her to change her mind. Bong mingled his tears with hers and declared he could not live without her. Bebot stood by her man and she has remained steadfast to this day.

There are few photographs from those early struggling years, because they had no camera or money to celebrate. The young couple lived on their own, determined to prove to their elders that they could make it. Bong was a working student, a day laborer at MinCor. Short and slightly built, he hauled sacks of corn and feeds that weighed more than him. He walked the 3 km. back and forth from their tiny rented room to the corn mill to save on jeepney fare. The soles on his only pair of shoes wore through, so he patched them up with cardboard. Bebot took in laundry and was a food vendor to help their growing family survive. They would have 5 sons in 15 years and there were times when Bebot just wanted to give up.

Bong never lost faith that somehow, God would provide. When Bebot despaired and warned that she would not be long for this earth, he would gently chide her. He believed that she was stronger than him. She could be mother and father to their children, but he was sure that if she were gone, he would not last a day like in the song. Bong had always been prayerful and devout but more especially so in the last three years of his life. He doubled the recitation of the Pieta Prayers that he carried with him always. He even got a henna tattoo that proclaimed: To God be the Glory.

Celebrating Life Beyond Death. Despite the horrible circumstances of his death, Bong Reblando left his family with very special memories in his last months. That July, he had taken Bebot to Baguio. The only other time they had been there together was in 1988, when family lore has it that their 6th child and first daughter Mayhang (Maria Priscilla) was conceived. She was their honeymoon baby, although for Bong, the honeymoon had never really ended. "Ling (for "darling"), always remember that you are the only woman I have ever loved," he always told his wife.

The week before he was murdered, Bong took Bebot on a romantic get-away to the Nova Tierra Montana Resort. She was embarrassed that they, grandparents 6 times over, would be checking into a hotel, but for him, their love was ageless. Slowly, their life together had become materially better. Bong had recently been regularized by the Manila Bulletin after over 20 years of being a correspondent. He had just bought a new car. Bebot had always been enterprising. She had an internet café that was managed by their eldest son. The second son, James, a registered nurse and bachelor, was tagged as his mother's favorite. Before he left to work in Saudi that July, Bong treated mother and son to their first trip to Tagaytay. James could not return for his father's funeral in November. When Bebot's sister died in Cotabato in mid-September this year, she could not go to the funeral either as it would have been too dangerous for her to travel through Ampatuan territory.

First published in The Sunday Inquirer Magazine on Nov. 20, 2010



International Day to End Impunity is celebrated on November 23, 2013. The International Day to End Impunity is marked annually by advocates for free expression. The day is meant to raise awareness of, and demand justice for, artists, journalists, musicians, writers and free expression advocates around the world who are persecuted for exercising their right to free expression. 23 November is the anniversary of the 2009 Ampatuan massacre (also known as the Maguindanao massacre) in the Philippines, when 57 individuals were murdered, including 32 journalists and media workers. The massacre is the single deadliest attack against journalists to have taken place. (With material from: Wikipedia)