Friday, October 23, 2015

REVIEW | The Forest: A Personal Record of the Huk Guerilla Struggle in the Philippines

The Forest: A Personal Record of the Huk Guerilla Struggle in the Philippines
Authored by William Pomeroy (1963)

Filipiniana books at present are largely taken for granted y most of printing press thus resulting to insufficient materials that are vitally important for the awareness of students and common readers. Nevertheless, a lot of history books are scarcely distributed that it tends to created apocraphy in the minds of the people.

For this reason, Cacho Hermanos reprinted Filipiniana books and materials which have long been out of print and were no longer available, through Solar Publishing Corporation. A professor of history, Renato Constantino was then commissioned to select some of the finest historical write ups out of the hundreds deserving to be reissued.

As Constantino would put it, Filipiniana collections in the country are few and not readily accessible to the reading public. This is due to the fact that quite a number of items in these collections, which were printed here or abroad in small editions are now very rare and those who possess them understandably allow only limited use in order to preserve them.

As a result, The Forest was reprinted together with other books. It is one of the very few first-hand accounts by a participant of an armed struggle for national liberation. The author, William Pomeroy, played a leading role in the Huk movement and is the only American to have joined it.

Perhaps, the printing of these collections could facilitate the task of rewriting Philippine history from the point of view of the Filipinos. The past that was delicately handed down to the younger generation; a past which has been distorted, censored and misinterpreted masked the reality of exploitation by former colonizers and denigrated the many struggles of our people in search for freedom. A great deal of this past is contained in many publications which have now become rare and unavailable. Reprints will allow students of history with a pro-people outlook to examine the sources and perhaps reevaluate and reinterpret the conclusions offered in the annals of history.

The Author

William Pomeroy was born in a small town in upstate New York on November 25, 1916. He reached the Philippines during World War 2 when he served in the US Army as an historian attached to the Fifth Air Force. He came in contact by then with the Huk movement and learned the meaning of colonialism and of colonial liberation movement. After the war he returned to the Philippines as freelance writer of short stories, essays, and feature articles for the Manila Press and studied at the University of the Philippines. In 1948 he married a Filipina- Celia Mariano, daughter of a former auditor of the University of the Philippines. Together they graduated from UP and joined the Huk movement in the Sierra Madre mountains in 1950, with the role of teaching and writing. Captured in 1952 during a government military operation, they were both sentenced to life imprisonment for rebellion complexed with murder, robbery, arson and kidnapping. They served ten years as political prisoners before being released through pardon.

William Pomeroy was deported immediately to the United States. His wife was prevented from accompanying him by American immigration and laws and by the refusal of the Philippine government to grant her a passport, which also prevents her from joining him elsewhere. Separated ever since, they have been waging a fight to be together that has won broad support.

The Story

The book started off in 1950, when Wiilliam Pomeroy together with his wife Celia joined the guerilla forces in the mountains. Pomeroy, as an American soldier served the US during the height of the second World War. He was one of the many soldiers sent here in the Philippines to assist the Filipinos against the Japanese. When the war was over in 1946, he eventually went back to his native land. Erstwhile in the Philippines, after establishing a new form of government under Manuel Roxas as its preisdent, the Huk movement was declared as insurgents. From then on, the military would hunt for its members thus forcing the Huk to flee in the mountains of Central and Southern Luzon where they would be difficult to locate.

When Pomeroy returned to the Philippines, he met Celia whom he falls in love. However, Celia confessed that she is a Huk member and marrying her would mean embracing her commitment to the organization. Pomeroy accepted all the consequences that may arise upon marrying her. He eventually became a member of the Huk.

The Early Days in The Movement

He and Celia proceeded to the Regional Command No. 4, the Huk's settlement in the provinces of Laguna, souther Quezon, Batangas and Cavite. There were approximately 80 people there. At first, people in Reco (Regional Command) were amazed to have an American member in the group. Some of these people would doubt Pomeroy's loyalty and distrust him, because of the trauma brought by the early American colonizers. Despite all of these baggage, he strived to win the Filipinos' hearts and he did it.

He became a teacher in the camp, as did his wife. He would often teach students who are promising to be the future leaders of  the movement. Students with different educational backgrounds which made teaching more challenging. Also, the curriculum in the movement's modified educational system was noticeably focusing on social issues and land reforms.

In the camp, people are named not with their real identity but with aliases. Pomeroy was called Bob and Celia was Rene. Identities are kept in secret that you would only meet few people in the camp. It is like everything was hidden there. Messages are hand carried by couriers who travel distances, sometimes they were also tasked to fetch people from the camp. Ration of food are brought by specially initiated members. No means of transportation is used which meant every supply had to be carried. Pomeroy would wonder whether these people even feel weary from its weight and they would respond that exploitation is a heavier load.

The supply brought in the camp are separated equally. Once a wild pig was brought in the camp. It had to be carefully partitioned for every member depending on the size of his family. The Huks also buy some supplies in town. Contrary to what is perceived, the Huks don't loot goods from the people. During the early years, people would give the Huks food and other essential goods, but since the military discouraged the people from helping the Huks, the organization found it hard to collect any goods at that time. Besides, they also believe that anarchism or the belief that government and law should be abolished, was avoided.

During his stay in the camp, Pomeroy had witnessed how gaunt members of the organization really dedicated their lives toward the cause of the majority. They didn't live for themselves but for others, for the country.  He saw how many lived a simple  life, without  any possession aside from their weapons to be used against the enemies. He could have afforded a better life, but what better could he ask for more than what he has.

Living with the Huks, he realized the continued oppression of the peasants. Most of the members of the organization are peasants who were forced to revolt due to misery. And yet often times he woould think who the real enemy is. They say the enemy is the government because it is manned by politicians greedy for power, others would point to the military for they are terrorizing the ordinary people. Many would say that the real enemy are the Americans. Yet many would also agree that the true enemy is imperialism itself.

Huk discipline was severely implemented. Mere disobedience might cost death to the guilty. Capital punishment in the camp is usually executed by firing squad. Once, there had been an encounter in the forest. A member of the organization retreated and deserted his companions in the middle of the cross fire, his reason being that he had headache and experienced dizziness. The organization deemed it as unreasonable and believed otherwise that he only fled back to the camp to protect his wife. He was sentenced to death. It was hard for the adjudicators, but it was an example to be shown. Self-interest has no room in the organization.  In another case, a courier by the name Virgie was caught by the military and was tortured eliciting the whereabouts of the Huks. Virgie confessed, pointing out the secret bases. When she was retrieved by the movement, she was tried and sentenced to death.

A lot of times, Po,eroy would worry about military infiltration of the camp. A thunder in the sky was enough to raise his heart to his mouth, thinking it was gun fires. And when the real infiltration happened, he and his wife would pack some of their things for another hideout.

Life in the Huk was never easy. In the dry season, the basil[1] from the trees crawl in the forest canopy which eventually find itself in people's huts.  A single hair from the creature is enough to drive itching all over one's body. In the wet season, limatik[2] would be on prey for any passer-by to suck its blood. These slimy leeches are really awful for they stick into one's body, unnoticed until they are bloated from sucking blood. When taken off from the skin, a wound profuse blood.

Aside from that, food ration is quite inconsistent too. Sometimes they would only get a half can of rice and dried fish with beans. If there is no food available, they would end up with ubod, the soft part of the tree stems. They would eat it fresh or boiled. It is tasteless but food for the stomach nonetheless.

The Capture of Pomeroy and Celia

Most of the time, a Huk when not killed in confrontations with the military is held captive, tortured to death until they point out other Huks. Unfortunately, Pomeroy and Celia along with other Huks were caught by the military in an operation. For ten years, they sat in separate cells serving their life sentence. The five years of solitary confinement, continuous pressure and brain-washing were all but part of the brutal experience.

In December 1961, Celia and Pomeroy were released through pardon after a campaign conducted on a world scale was staged.

Reader's Thoughts: A Good Insider Account Lacking Enough Emotional Touch

The deliberate attempt of the author to convey the struggle of a Huk was clearly depicted in the story. Important day to day details in the movement regarding their operations and committee formations are presented in a way that the reader can understand. The personal insights of the author added a fringe of enthusiasm and sparked interest on the pertinent social upheavals in Filipino society such as fascism, imperialism and anarchism.

However, the story is not well plotted. From the start, events were narrated in a very dull uninspiring mode easy for a reader to lose interest to flip through the next pages. That goes without saying that chapters are peppered with jargons fit for literary professionals. The font was also an eye strainer. If the publishers aimed at popularizing books like this, then they may have just defeated the purpose.  Although the story was about human encounters, there is some serious lack of emotional touch to it. The book trying to be objective has lost the human spirit, which is the emotion that may have been experienced by different prominent characters in the story. Overall, it felt like reading a textbook rather than a literary work.

In any case, the book is recommended for war veterans with high grasp on the English language. It would serve a good reference point for Filipino historians who are interested to trace the Huk's history and insider information. If the book can be translated to Filipino language, then I would definitely recommend it to the common Filipinos to understand why they have to fight for t heir rights and denounce oppression.

[1] Basil, is a small hairy caterpillar which can induce excessive itching and skin rashes
[2] Limatik is a leech that thrives in wetlands

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