By PSYCHE ROXAS-MENDOZA
I haven’t seen my brother for 25 years. His name is Marcel D. Roxas and he would have been 57 years old today.
Hardly anyone ever looks for Marcel anymore. No one talks about him much. Not in laughter. Not in anger. Not in tears. Not among his friends and comrades. Not in the house where we shared our childhood and growing up years. Not in the home where his children grew up.
His wife told me once that their youngest son had a dream and in that dream, he saw his father.
“Did you call him?” Marcel’s wife asked.
“No,” the youngest son said, “I didn’t feel comfortable, I do not know him.”
It was hard not to know Marcel when he was here. Standing about 5-feet-6 inches, he possessed a lanky, athletic frame, with smiling eyes, bushy eyebrows, wavy, curly hair and a healthy beard that reminded you of a young Karl Marx.
His laughter was contagious and he knew the funniest jokes that he loved to share whenever we were all gathered in the house, like when the rain stopped us from playing outside or when there was a brownout on nights too hot for sleeping. He taught us how to stand against the wall, in front of a flickering candle, and move our fingers to form shadow animals – a dog, a rabbit, a snake.
On Sundays, we’d all ride the family car and attend mass at Sto. Domingo church. There we saw Marcel, dressed as an acolyte, in a white, long sleeved shirt and black pants, assisting the priest during Holy Communion.
“We had to be careful when Father_____ was the officiating priest,” he told us once, “That priest would kick us to remind us to stop pouring too much water on the wine in the chalice that he would raise as he said ‘This is the blood of Christ…’ We all got to be wary of that kick,” he said chuckling.
Marcel taught me gymnastics. We were like circus performers. At age 12, he would lie on his back and place his hands, palms up on the floor. I would firmly plant my left and right foot on either palm and with one heave, he would lift me up and up. I could balance myself perfectly in the air at age 6. I never feared I’d fall. I had full confidence in my brother’s steady hands.
Marcel could do a mean bronco and a swan dive, and competed for his school, the Far Eastern University Boys High School, in gymnastics and diving competitions. He was also good in painting and the visual arts. Once, as Christmas neared, he made a huge, red lantern shaped like a farmer with a carabao. It lit many Christmases before it got worn.
Growing up, I began to see him less and less. Marcel was now a freshman student at the University of the Philippines at Los Baños, taking up B.S. Agriculture. It was the early years of Martial Law and my brother, I later found out, was an activist, a member of the Samahan ng Demokratikong Kabataan (SDK).
He would bring his friends to the house. They would stay for hours in our attic. When I asked him what they did upstairs, he’d say they were studying. They were always studying Lenin and Marx and Mao. An entire sky-blue wall in his bedroom had this phrase painted all in white: “Where there is struggle, there is sacrifice, and death is a common occurrence.”
Marcel didn’t graduate. Over the years, we learned to accept what he wanted to do in life. Even when he got married, he remained a trade union organizer in Mindanao, where he and his wife eventually settled.
Some of my elder siblings started out as activists but they stopped when Martial Law was declared. Marcel was different. He was the only one who never worked in a government office or a private company. He’d be off for days and when he came back, he would tell us stories of poor people who lived in houses that had the soil for a floor and rusty, galvanized iron sheets for walls. To him, poverty had names and faces; men, women, and children who lived in the direst of circumstances.
Marcel loved his wife and kids. He would write letters telling about his sons; of how handsome his eldest was and that his kids were growing up fast.
“When Marcel is home, I am a queen. He does everything,” his wife would often say.
I believe her. It was the same when Marcel visited us. He scrubbed floors and windows and kept the bathroom smelling fresh and clean. He introduced us to simple dishes, like Ligo sardines cooked in egg. One time, he surprised us with boiled misua (wheat noodle) that was so tasty even when it had no meat or fish, no other ingredient but ginger.
“Learned it from the workers,” he said.
Then one day in September 1985, Marcel was suddenly gone.
“He was supposed to go to a farmers meeting and then no more word,” his wife related.
It was the last months of the Marcos years and our family resorted to seek the help of our late father’s long-time, writer friends in Malacañang. The late short story writer Juan Tuvera, then executive secretary of deposed President Ferdinand Marcos, helped us secure from then Defense secretary Juan Ponce Enrile a letter of authorization to comb the camps in Mindanao.
My elder sister went to Davao, visiting camps and later, even morgues, to look for Marcel. To this day, she cannot recount the experience without her voice breaking, her face near tears. Marcel was not in any of the camps. Nor was he in the morgue.
Months after the EDSA 1 People Power Revolution, I opted to work full-time at the Families of the Involuntarily Disappeared (FIND), an NGO for desaparecidos. We went to protest rally after protest rally for the missing. But we never discussed the steps we would take to locate any of the missing. It does not surprise me now that they never found any of the disappeared.
During the 1987 peace talks, I took the opportunity to talk to Left leaders to ask about Marcel. They all promised to help and asked me to submit a narrative of the events leading to his disappearance. This, I promptly did, right then and there. But afterward, I could no longer find any of them, even those who were not from the underground movement.
For five years, the Left made us believe that the Marcos military took Marcel. Until 1990, when a college friend, who had just left Utrecht, told me the true story.
It was June 12, 1990, Independence Day, and we were sitting at a canteen inside Isetan Cubao.
“Your brother was killed at Kampanyang Ahos, the communist purge in Mindanao,” my friend said.
I could not believe my ears.
“Why weren’t we told?”
“They said, it was your brother’s last request.”
“They said Marcel admitted he was a deep penetration agent. But he recanted it when they were about to… That was when… according to those who knew about it… that was when your brother requested that his family not be told of what the movement did to him.”
“Was he tortured?”
My friend nodded.
I don’t know if I cried. All I remember is that the florescent lights in the canteen suddenly seemed so bright. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t hear what other things my friend was saying. I had difficulty breathing.
It took another three years to piece together what happened to my brother Marcel. Unfortunately, the facts we now have are still not enough to locate him.
The time I was asking people about my brother, the prevailing view in the Left was that he was a deep penetration agent because the movement upheld the rightness of Kampanyang Ahos. It was only after the ideological split in the movement that they “rectified” their error and cleared Marcel. At least, that was what I was told.
The movement, to this day, NEVER told us the details of Marcel’s disappearance. They admitted, through channels, that they took him but they never told us where we can find his body.
No human rights group identified with the movement has ever approached us to offer help in finding Marcel.
To this day, I want to find my brother. I have been looking for him for 25 years. I know some of you who are in the movement or sympathize with the movement, may take this narrative negatively. I only wish you will find it in your heart to understand my need to find him.
I ask forgiveness from my loved ones, my family and kin, most especially, Marcel’s sons and his wife, for ventilating my grief.
I am old and I do not want to die without letting you, his sons, know just how special, how selfless, how good a man your father Marcel was, and how much he loved you and your mother.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MARCEL!
(Psyche Mendoza-Roxas is former managing editor of Philippines Graphic weekly magazine)