The Bamboo and the Fury

(So you’ll know more about me. This is a published story–Bong)

History initially got in the way of Candido “Bong” O. Wenceslao’s affair with writing. Sun.Star Cebu’s opinion editor recalls he was still in high school when he discovered his “love for creatively stringing words into some unique product.”my photo

A voracious devourer of novels, he told himself after finishing every title that “I can do it.” But since there was no high school publication in Southwestern University (SWU), where he transferred after dropping out of Cebu City National Science High School, he contented himself by reading books about writing.

“We were not well off and we were nine siblings but the little money I got I used to buy a book, Reading and Writing the Essay or something like it. I used it like a bible and read and reread it hangtud nga nadunot ang cover (the cover rotted).”

Bong got his fervent wish when he became a writer for SWU’s The Quill. The college freshman also trained under the Broadcast Production and Training Center, and worked part-time in dyLA for a very small allowance. Visayan Herald (now defunct) offered him a reporter slot.

Were it not for Bong’s choice of sides in the historical divide, he would have been a journalist as early as the 80s. By the time he became a sophomore though, he was already working full-time in the underground, organizing students.

When he sought his comrades’ advice on the direction to take, they wanted him to use his writing for the class struggle instead.

“So I let go of the opportunity to fulfill my ambition to become a professional writer in exchange for the ‘greater good’ that was the revolution.”

Writing in cramped places

Though he was eventually tasked to handle propaganda (prop) work for the underground movement in Cebu, Bong continued to write fiction. He even composed a Bisaya song or two while organizing in the countryside.

But the subterfuge still took its toll, making it difficult for him to finish the few poems and short stories he started. His cell had to keep transferring bases, from the plains and the rice fields of Talisay to the hinterland barangays. Bong and comrades set up camp under a bamboo grove, near creeks, under a secret World War II tunnel dug by the Japanese.

The group even cleared the inner growth of a bamboo stand so their cell could hide out in the hollow center.

Despite these cramped places, the prop staff still had to move around with their tools: typewriters, mimeo machines, reams of paper, ink, etc. He carried on his person a notebook containing his creative works and meditations.

“But everything is transient in the movement.” Bong accepted that, should he be arrested, he would have to lose his notebooks.

Arrested twice, he lost the words he hoarded but came to accept that nothing was wasted. The high school writing he did—all for his eyes’ only as he had no publication to submit to—tempered him.

“In a way, it helped me improve my craft,” he says of his second detention, which he considers as his most productive years. He was allowed to do odd jobs around the military camp. He washed dishes, swept the floor and yard, ran errands for his guards.

“Those were uncertain times, wa ko kahibawo sa akong future (I did not know what lay in store for me).”

The only thing that held constant was the writing. “In my free time, I wrote several short stories, essays, poems all published by Sun.Star Weekend Magazine from 1989 to 1990.”

Beyond bars

When he was finally freed, the first thing he did was to join a creative writing workshop. He wrote his drafts by hand, typing the manuscripts with a portable typewriter borrowed from his former jailers.

He was even surprised to be told one day by a soldier that then Sun.Star editor Thea Riñen was looking for him. “Nagtipun-og na kuno akong honorarium so kinahanglan nang kolektahon (my writer’s honoraria had already piled up and needed to be collected).”

Many of the notebooks he saved from his years in camp were lost in the fire that left many B. Rodriguez residents homeless in 2003. Remaining unscathed was a notebook he asked his captors to spare him while he was under solitary confinement for a month (during his second arrest in 1988).

In this journal, Bong wrote a note, with these closing lines: “Today, I am trying to look as far away as I can. But the fog of uncertainty is covering the future that I am trying to reach. An old chapter has ended. A new one has, perhaps, begun. And if given the chance to move onwards, I have the lessons of the past to guide me.

“And I have this pen in my hand and the Muse in my heart—they are my crutch, my shield, my sword.” (The entire article, “Solitary Confinement,” is found in his blog, cebuano.wordpress.com).

While in solitary confinement, Bong could not bear listening to the radio because it only reminded him of his lack of freedom. “I kept myself sane by writing.”

Multi-awarded—twice for his Sun.Star columns by the Cebu Archdiocesan Mass Media Awards and once for his Cebuano short story by the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature—Bong realizes the value of writing in his life.

“With writing, I was free.” Though a journalist now by profession, he keeps going back to creative writing. Aside from ideas for a poem or short story, he writes about the underground years in his blog. He has even been rewriting for the longest time the first chapter of what he hopes to be a novel.

“I won’t let go gyod. I will be writing and writing.”

-Written by Mayette Q. Tabada for the September 22, 2007 issue of Sun.Star Cebu. This was at the tailend of the Cebu Press Freedom Week.

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