June 25, 2010 By Carmelita Cochingco Ballesteros.
More than a century ago today, Valeriano Hernandez y Peña wrote the novel Mag-inang Mahirap. Being the Father of the Tagalog novel, he is a very important writer in Philippine literature. I believe that his novel Mag-inang Mahirap is an essential piece of historical fiction. Thus, every Filipino and everyone with Filipino roots should get to read Mag-inang Mahirap. I am translating it for the benefit of those who cannot read old Tagalog.
The two escapees had arrived at Putol na Sapa. They would have walked on and would have taken advantage of the cool afternoon had they not remembered the appointed time when they were supposed to meet Limbas. Because they had no weapons, they were apprehensive of the soldiers who would surely pursue them.
All of a sudden, they saw a hut from afar. They immediately headed towards it. They found an old man in it and when they asked him how life was treating him in such a deserted place, he answered with zest and said that he was not afraid of anyone. The two young men were both filled with admiration and thought that the old man had innate courage.
Although they did not know him, they took the liberty of borrowing weapons from him, in case somebody pursued them. The old man did not refuse them and gave them two long daggers right away, but spoke ambiguously:
“You are the masters of those weapons and not they, your masters. It’s all up to you!”
“What Ingkong just said was Tagalog, too, wasn’t it?” Alberto who was smiling said in jest.
“This young man!… You probably don’t understand the meaning of what I said. What I meant was that if you cannot use them and they will be your masters, then it’s useless that I have given them to you. Only the brave use these weapons.”
The three men were speechless for a few moments, but Alberto’s eyes remained on the old man. It seemed that Alberto liked his amiable appearance very much. It gave a clue to his admirable inner character and because of this, Alberto could not help but ask a question:
“What do you think, Ingkong, about the Tagalog’s revolution? Is it good or bad?”
“Of course, it’s good. There’s only one thing that worries me, just in case…”
“What is it, Ingkong? Would you like to tell us?”
“I’m worried about the rivalries because most of us want to become kings.”
“What has that to do with the revolution?”
“You must be very young, indeed. Don’t you know that the aim of the revolution is to set us free from Spanish rule so that our country can enjoy freedom and independence?”
“That’s right, Ingkong. So why are you worried about the desire of many to become kings?”
“If heaven should grant our victory, each one would compete with the other for leadership. Can you imagine the chaos it shall bring if that happens? We’ll be killing one another.”
“May I say something, Ingkong?” said Halimaw. “After we’ve won, there’ll be intelligent leaders around. We have enough educated people and they won’t allow such chaos to happen.”
“That’s a viewpoint which you should re-consider. I believe the meddling of intellectuals shall cause the resentment of many. I hope my opinion is wrong.”
“But why, Ingkong?”
“Don’t you know that most of those who originally joined the revolution were just farmers? And now, they’re giving up their lives fearlessly in defense of our rights. Wouldn’t they desire to lead afterwards?”
“Don’t worry about that, Ingkong,” Alberto said, “let’s just hope that the revolution succeeds. What should worry you is the sad plight of our people. Oh! If you could only see what they do to them in prison, you would say that it was better to die fighting in real battles than to be falsely accused of being part of the revolution.”
“Well, everything shall pass no matter what the odds. What I can say is that as they become more cruel, more and more people get bolder.”
“That’s true, Ingkong. Were it not for the indignation that I felt, I wouldn’t have escaped this soon.”
“So you are prisoners?” asked the old man in surprise.
“Yes, Ingkong,” answered Halimaw, but not because of this revolution.”
“And in which revolution?”
“What I mean, Ingkong, is that I was imprisoned because of another crime, not because of the revolution.”
“Another crime! Which crime?”
“And this young man, is he your comrade?”
“We were arrested together because, unfortunately, he was with me when I was caught by the guardia civil.”
“Ah! … in that case, you should be on your way now. I’m not driving you away, but I’m worried that your pursuers might catch up with you.”
“That’s true, Ingkong. Thank you so much for your kindness. But we’re waiting for another comrade who shall arrive by midnight.”
“What if your pursuers find you?”
“God shall take care of us, Ingkong. That’s why we borrowed weapons from you.”
“That’s the fighting spirit! That’s what I’ve been waiting to hear from you. But you ignored me when I said ‘only the brave use these weapons.’”
“It’s arrogant, Ingkong, to pretend. And so Alberto said ‘God shall take care of us.’ And that’s my answer, too.”
“Good, that’s good!” the old man said repeatedly, then said to the two young men:
“I will leave you for a short while. We’ll soon get hungry if we keep on talking. I’ll make a light; it’s getting really dark.”
“Ingkong, can the light feed our hunger?” Alberto said half-jokingly, not because of disrespect for the old man but because of a great liking for him which the old man felt likewise for Alberto. The old man laughed and said, “How can we cook without a light? You like to make fun of me, don’t you? Leave me alone, young man, and let me do what I have to in peace.”
Right away, the kind old man got his flint stone, the only source of fire. After making a light, he started cooking something to share with his two guests, though he moved about with difficulty.
A few minutes later, the two young men heard noises which made their hearts beat in fear. The old man, though a little hard of hearing, heard the noises, too, and so he whispered as he approached:
“Be prepared. Most probably, those are your pursuers.”
“You’re right, Ingkong,” said Halimaw.
“It sounds like they’re very near,” Alberto put in.
“Keep quiet,” the old man admonished, “I’ll show myself to them. I’ll talk kindly to them. If they refuse to go away, then be ready to fight.”
“Let’s put out the light,” Alberto suggested.
“We shouldn’t. It will be good for you to go out of the hut and to hide in the northern part of the forest.”
“Our weapons shall take care of us,” said Halimaw.
“It’s better to be careful,” objected Alberto. “Let’s go and hide.”
“That’s right,” advised the owner of the hut who led the way out. “Hurry up; they’re getting nearer.”
Suddenly, out of the multitude of noises, Alberto and Halimaw detected the hooting of a mountain owl and so they felt assured and guessed that it was Limbas who was coming.
“Start howling,” said Halimaw and stopped Alberto from climbing down the hut.
“Let them get closer.”
“Hurry up,” the old man who had returned to the hut admonished Alberto and Halimaw.
“There’s no need, Ingkong. That’s the comrade we’ve been waiting for. Please don’t worry about us anymore. Thank you for looking after us.”
“You might be mistaken. It sounds like a number of men are approaching. That might not be your comrade. It’s better that you hide first.”
“No, Ingkong. We’ve heard a mountain owl and that’s the countersign we’ve agreed upon. Probably, many prisoners escaped together with our comrade.”
The old man did not say anything more and Alberto howled like a dog as agreed upon. On the other hand, the mountain owl which they had detected came nearer and nearer and soon the three conspirators were reunited.
“Why are you so early?” Halimaw blurted out.
“I have companions,” answered Limbas, “and I went ahead of them so that you won’t be afraid.”
“Where are your companions?” asked Alberto.
“They’re still back there.”
“Let’s wait for them before we go,” advised the two.
“Is that your comrade?” asked the old man.
“Yes, Ingkong, and there are more back there.”
“Let’s eat if there’s no more danger. I’m sure you’re all hungry.”
“Who’s that old man?” whispered Limbas.
“He’s a kind man and it was he who gave us weapons.”
After the old man had prepared supper, he invited the three but Limbas refused firmly and insisted that he was not hungry. His refusal to eat remained firm, though he was really hungry. And so as the three men ate, his mouth watered and he had to swallow several times.
Supper was not yet half-way when they heard very loud crackling sounds coming from dry leaves which were strewn all over the forest floor.
“They’re here,” said Limbas who showed himself right away to meet them, but what a big misfortune! The new arrivals were prison guards who had been pursuing them.
“Anybody who runs away shall die!” shouted one who asked as he approached:
“Who are you?”
“It is I, come in,” Limbas answered boldly.
“What a great misfortune,” said the old man to the two men who were eating with him. “Hide; they’re here.”
The two sneaked out through the back of the hut and looked for a hiding place there. Limbas did not have time to retreat and he was grabbed by the man who had just arrived. The use of force by this man was overheard by the old man and he was compelled “What’s that?” shouted an approaching group.
“Hurry up,” was the reply of the guard.
“Is that the one?”
“Yes, hurry up. He seems capable of some mischief.”
When they were about to grab the old man, his own people who were just hiding around the area rushed in and grappled with the six guards who wanted to attack their leader. When the commotion died down, the old man asked the government soldiers:
“Do you want to join us or do you want to be buried alive?”
“Forgive us,” answered one, “and have pity on us. We’re only servants and we’re just obeying orders.”
“Whose orders? Those of your Spanish forefathers? And have pity on you! You gutless fools! … You’re not worthy of the Tagalog people!”
And the old man ordered his men angrily:
“If they don’t want to join us, tie them all up,” and he looked at the government soldiers with burning eyes.
“You’re not ashamed to side with them who belittle our honor? Tie them up!”
“Don’t, sir! We’ll leave behind the prisoners who escaped if you’ll allow us to go back to the capitol.”
“Tie them up!”
“Who’s this old man?” Alberto asked Halimaw as they hid somewhere. “Why does he have many followers? Could he be a bandit like you?”
“I don’t think so. I would’ve recognized him if he were a leader like me.”
“Then why does he have a horn for calling his followers like forest leaders?”
“If ever, he’s probably a leader of the revolution. Look, he’s asking his men to tie up the prison guards.”
“Oho! Is that true?”
“Yes, come here and peep.”
“Why should we peep? Let’s go and show ourselves to them right away. So this old man whom we asked for help wields power. I knew it; I knew that this old man was extraordinary. Ah, let’s go.”
The two walked forward, and from afar, Alberto recognized a prison guard to whom he owed many favors. So he walked faster and went closer to the old man and pleaded:
“Ingkong, please entrust that man to me. I owe him much debt of gratitude.”
“What do you mean?”
“Please have him untied and don’t let him suffer whatever punishment you would deal on his companions.”
“Don’t be too trusting. If we let that one go back, he’ll inform the Spaniards and they shall pursue us here. That’s what you should not do. There are many who pretend to be good but secretly cause the downfall of others.
“You can ask me for something else, but not that one which shall cause the ruin of us all.”
“No, Ingkong, he doesn’t side with the Spaniards. I’ve known him for a long time.”
“Is that true?”
“You shall see, sir, when I become one of your people,” said the man whom Alberto was defending.
“Are you going to join us?”
And so he was untied and because of this, his five other companions pledged to do the same. All of them were untied and they shouted:
“Long live the revolution!!”