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A guerrilla’s love story

12:09 AM February 02, 2016

FIL-AMERICAN expatriate Rodolfo “Rudy” de Lara died of old age in Pasadena, California, two years after he launched his autobiography “Boy Guerrilla” in 2010.

But what better way to live the 71st anniversary of the Liberation of Manila than with this distant kin and just departed town mate summoning my earliest memories? In Rudy’s words, I began to understand the anxiety that the hum of low-flying planes always triggered in my childhood. With my mother’s story of the first word I ever spoke—“Ry!” (for “Victory!”), welcoming the first GIs marching into Manila—his book fell like a heavy stone in the deep well of my formative memories.

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The first chapters on Rudy’s ancestry, childhood and youth are set in our hometown, Parañaque, also the birthplace of the nationwide Hunters ROTC Guerrillas founded by our “Tito Jim” Ferrer. Rudy, the quick-thinking neighborhood toughie, joined them at 16, a schoolboy reporting on the number and make of Japanese planes flying from the Nichols Airfield they’d taken over. As he grew older, he was smuggling ammo through enemy lines from Infanta, Quezon, to the underground guerrilla depot in Parañaque.

Never has the terror to which our generation was born been more intimate than with what Rudy saw of our kinfolk’s mangled bodies and bombed-out homes, Japanese sentries watching Manila Bay from our childhood beach, scores of mere guerrilla suspects tortured and killed, the Ibayo river in whose clear waters he swam to avoid detection from an ammo mission.

Rudy’s well-born great grandparents, who lost their wealth for defying the frailes, were coevals of the first recorded Parañaque Mayuga—Narciso, who held Emilio Aguinaldo’s southern flank in the revolution. Like Rudy, my parents imbibed the same US public school system’s standards. In time, I, like him, went to graduate school in America.

But these patterns in our multigenerational struggle for sovereignty turn into his classic love story when his neighbor Stella, the love of his life, perished from TB without penicillin in wartime. Their dream of a life in America—he as engineer, she as concert pianist—was shattered like our country as war ended in the massive slaughter that was “liberation.” Their love song, Schubert’s “Serenade,” would haunt him for the rest of his days.

Rudy’s trauma came in threes in postwar turmoil. First he was kidnapped for ransom by brigands, but managed to escape. Next he was arrested and tried as an accessory to the assassination of Parañaque’s wartime mayor, Juan Gabriel.

Ignorant about their “top-secret mission” to nearby Imus, Cavite, eager only to see Stella in evacuation, he insisted on taking the guerrillas in a rundown vehicle only he could drive. Not realizing that they had abducted the mayor, Rudy was ordered to leave them as the older men took Gabriel—and, despite his arguable innocence, shot him in their HQ as a Japanese collaborator.

Devastated at finding out, Rudy barely listened as his hotshot lawyers, young Ferdinand Marcos among them, got him exonerated. Grimly, he moved on to finish college “for Stella’s sake” and flew to America alone. With the graduate degree he earned from Stanford University, he landed a big-deal job in Bechtel. But then lonely Rudy got his girlfriend pregnant, and married her with great hesitation.

War was far from over for the dark-skinned Rudy, who now had to claw for a place in racist America. The irony was not lost on him. His wife, Jean White, was Afro-American but looked white, acceptable in the “white” hotels that refused him. Her parents even warned them not to be seen together in the flashy new car they drove to her native Atlanta in Georgia.

Tired of being a second-class citizen more competent than his less-experienced, better-paid white bosses, Rudy quit his job. He returned to the Philippines flush with dollars and started his own engineering firm.

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He was back in his native Barangay Don Galo with a lovely home, an American wife and two sons. And his autobiography unexpectedly deepens into psychohistory as memories of Stella overwhelm him. Anguish drives him back to the nightly drinking and gambling of his dissolute prewar youth.

His marriage to a woman he did not truly love began to unravel. Still trying to escape his inner turmoil from the past, he returned to America with wife and kids, trying to save their marriage until it finally snapped. Jean, with the kids, returned to her parents. Rudy welcomed a new assignment in Germany.

The Old World opened to a new life for a structural engineer at the top of his game. Missing his sons but relieved by freedom from America’s color bar, the exotic-looking American citizen, now a dollar-denominated bachelor, drove the latest Porsche, dated beauties, worked and holiday-ed all over Europe, dancing weekends away in Pinoy joie de vivre.

The war memories were fading. Rudy was coming to terms with Stella’s searing loss. One day a job that took him all over the world brought a striking new woman into his life. His new assistant, the “beautiful, witty and humorous” German engineer Ute Hamann, delighted the man of the world he had become. Schubert’s “Serenade” still gave him wistful pause, but feeling more and more at home with Ute was slowly freeing him from the past.

Time had come for a man, who’d known his depths in war and peace, to love a warm-blooded woman again, start a new family, and spend the next three decades of his life a man fulfilled. War finally ended for Boy Guerrilla.

(Rudy de Lara’s book is available in Amazon, Barnes & Noble and National Bookstore, Manila. Proceeds will be donated to the underprivileged in his Barangay Don Galo.)

Sylvia L. Mayuga is an essayist, sometime columnist, poet, documentary filmmaker and environmentalist. She has three National Book Awards to her name.

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TAGS: Commentary, expat, expatriate, guerilla, opinion, Rudy de Lara
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