Calauan in 1993 (1)
“That characters deteriorate in time of need possibly did not occur to Henchard.” —from Thomas Hardy’s “The Mayor of Casterbridge”
“We are all cowards,” sighs a woman. “Cowards,” she repeats. Mea culpa, mea culpa. She is beside herself with regret, beats her breast now that Calauan, the quiet town where she blossomed into a woman, is in the headlines as the “killing fields” of Laguna, its deep, dark secrets being exhumed and brought out in the open air. She believes that something evil is abroad in Calauan.
Why has no one spoken out before?, she asks. Why did we keep silent, why did we wait until two young lives — the latest of so many this killing season — were snuffed out and dumped on the wet grass like fallen banana stalks? Mea maxima culpa.
Not all is well in Calauan. Not even after suspects have been put behind bars by bickering government agencies, not even after media has pounded the crime beat relentlessly in pursuit of the beasts and the brutes who authored the murders that once more rocked a perennially outraged nation.
Not all is well in Calauan. People there are still incredulous, similarly outraged, that their town has been tagged as a can of worms or a whitened sepulchre, and their Lord Mayor pointed to as one of the suspects in the June 28 gang rape-murder of Eileen Sarmenta and the murder of Allan Gomez, students of UP Los Baños.
The reverse of the biblical question begs asking. Could anything bad come out of Calauan’s Mayor Sanchez? Hailed by his loyal subalterns as the epitome of generosity, and from whom oozes the milk of human kindness? He who attends to the sick and the needy, and gives free burials to the poor? He who gives large sums to the Church, adorns religious images with glitter and walks on his calloused knees to the altar?
Rapist, murderer, “jueteng” lord, tax evader, womanizer. He’s been accused of graft and corruption, amassing illegal wealth, and other crimes in the book. Is Sanchez all these and more? Where was everybody all this time?
“He is like Jesus Christ,” a small woman bristles to defend her benighted, beleaguered hero. “His sufferings will redeem us all.”
“Media is lying,” says an angry Calauan resident. “How could they say all those about our mayor? We don’t believe anything the press says.” The loyalty is unnerving.
The way to Calauan is smooth and breezy. It is 75 kilometers from Manila, only an hour’s drive from where Metro Manila ends. Going toward that direction is an uplifting experience. One zooms through the south expressway, drives past Jose Rizal’s Calamba, now a bustling town, and then, it is Los Baños with its myths, mists and mystical buko pie. Bay town is a short strip to be crossed in a wink. The last few miles are a stretch of concrete that rips the wet rice fields and connects to Calauan. From a distance one can see the church — white like a birthday cake — waiting for the traveler at the end of the road.
Suddenly, it is Calauan.
Yet another story goes back to the early Spanish colonial days. In a village, so the story goes, an old man came upon a stone cross. The townspeople, who had just been introduced to Christianity at that time, considered the find an auspicious sign. They venerated the cross and held Mass and celebrations on the spot where it was found. To the people’s astonishment, water with a rusty color flowed from the holy spot. To commemorate the wondrous happening, the people built a church and named their town Kalawang, later hispanized to Calauan.
A huge portion of the town used to be a large agricultural estate owned by the Sorianos. Before the war, senior citizens recall, part of the Soriano property was planted to flowers, mostly gladioli. Manila got a regular supply of cut flowers from there.
When the bodies of Mary Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez were found separately in Calauan, people didn’t realize that this would signal the digging up of graves long covered with grass, and the unearthing of dark secrets long kept under the ground.
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