Bedtime stories are meant to be reassuring and soothing so a child slowly falls into a deep slumber without a hint of fear or dread. My maternal grandmother whom I called Oyay used to scold my yaya for putting me to sleep with frightful stories of kapre, tikbalang and manananggal, denizens of Filipino mythology which tickled my imagination, but gave me nightmares.
Strange, but Oyay did not seem to realize that her bedtime stories, and that of my grandfather’s, Oyoy, were no less disturbing and frightful. With dramatic flair, Oyoy told tales of the Spanish conquest, Lapu Lapu’s valor and the tragic execution of Jose Rizal which he dramatized. He was an eyewitness at age ten. Oyay shared poignant childhood memories of conflagrations in Sampaloc district where she grew up. Their furniture was always being repaired because whenever a fire broke out, they would throw everything out of the window, collect their personal belongings in a tampipi and run for their lives. But who started those fires, I once asked in horror. “The Americanos, those gringos”. That was her way of telling me about the Philippine-American War.
To this day, I am distraught that many of my contemporaries have either no knowledge or very scanty information about that darkest chapter of Philippine history. Didn’t they have grandparents? My dear Oyoy and Oyay, Alfredo Maria Guerrero and Filomena Franciso, were twice victims of “los Americanos”, first when Manifest Destiny cast its ugly shadow on our shores and then some forty -five years later, during the “ Battle for Manila”.
Despite the anti-American undertones, I was sent to Maryknoll College (now Miriam) a girls’ school established by, of all people, American nuns. How could those gentle, sweet and motherly creatures have descended from “los Americanos” who set the hills of Sampaloc ablaze? I could not figure it out. But, before I became paranoid about it, my mother explained that we should always make a distinction between the American people and the foreign policy of the government of the United States of America. Often enough, the American people themselves have to pay the price of their government’s interventionist foreign policies.
The USA has declared war against terrorism and wants all its allies to be unconditionally and actively supportive. Some sectors of Philippine trimedia seem to have shaken the dust off history books. Sometimes news channels and other platforms show flip clips about the Battle of Balangiga which took place in Samar in 1901, where Filipinos killed about 54 soldiers of US 19th Infantry while they were having breakfast. Their victory provoked the ire of the USA and aroused a thirst for vengeance in General Jacob Smith who gave the inglorious order: “I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn, the more you kill and burn, the better you will please me, I want all persons killed who are capable of bearing arms in actual hostilities against the United States.” Gen. Smith said that anyone above nine years had to be killed because at that age natives could already bear arms. He ordered that Samar be left a “howling wilderness”.
Unfortunately, the producers of that clip were obviously confused because instead of showing scenes of a turn-of-the-century battle, they presented pictures of American troops invading Intramuros during World War II. Maybe their grandparents told them different bedtime stories.