27 years ago today, my grandfather Pedro Sangil died. His death came as a surprise, because we thought he wasn’t ailing, and looked healthier than most septuagenarians. His wife, my grandma Beatrice, passed on four months earlier. I guess her death left him unprepared and dealt a great blow on him, emotionally. We hear of men who are likely to die after being recently widowed. Lolo Pedro’s case proved that heightened mortality amongst widowers.
I wish I got to know Lolo better. He lived in Porac which was quite far from my hometown San Fernando, and our visits there were infrequent. Perhaps, the Sangil brood was too big for him to spend more time with his Consunji grandchildren. But he did try. Even up to his death, the old man would divide his Sundays amongst his eight children, and commute by bus or jeepney to visit each and every family in Porac, Angeles and San Fernando. He’d be in our home around 7am, quietly sipping his coffee. He’d bring us a basketful of camachile, the sweetish and acidic fruit that gave us a good fart in summertime.
Lolo was an atypical Pampangan – low-key, humble and not talkative at all. I can only remember one exchange we had, and this happened a few months before he died. I’ve always been a World War II geek. I take delight in listening to stories from the war. So one Sunday morning, I went up to him and asked if he had stories for me. And he did. It’s one amazing tale that has to be re-told.
He was active in the Huk movement (Pinoy insurgents against the Japs) in the early 1940s and served as its treasurer in Pampanga. After years of fighting the Japanese in the mountains of Central Luzon, he was captured along with hundreds of men from Pampanga. Eventually, he found himself marching to Camp O’Donnell in Tarlac in the infamous Bataan Death March, where thousands of Filipinos and American soldiers were beaten and bayoneted.
He recounted that the Japanese would instantly kill anyone who was suspected to be a Huk. At the time of his capture, as the movement’s treasurer, he had loads of cash on his person. He had time to carefully strap and conceal all the bills onto his body, probably like how Brad Davis smuggled his hashish in Midnight Express. He was very afraid, and thought it was just matter of time before he’d be found out.
Lolo, however, didn’t make it to Tarlac. He managed to escape somewhere in Northern Pampanga with the help of some townsfolk. A group of women hollered “Quick, the Japanese aren’t looking”. He immediately fell out of line and joined the women by the roadside. The women put women’s clothes and a bandana on him so he could blend with the crowd. And that’s how he survived the Death March.
To this day I regret not having spent more time to hear his other stories. That void is amplified whenever I see my Dad playing with his grandson Joaquin. Joaquin is lucky to have a deep relationship with his own lolo. He’s witness to his lolo’s second chance as a parent. Maybe the bond is tighter because they have a common enemy: my brother? Lol. Seriously, I see my Dad like I’ve never seen before – patient, smiling, good-natured, nurturing, indulgent. A grandparent’s love for his son must be one of the purest forms of love.
I didn’t have as much quality time with my lolo. But he’s left me with enough memories that were testament to his brand of pure love – he knew I liked camachile and he didn’t mind lugging the heavy basket in his commute; public transport for an old man was pure sacrifice (and I should never complain about the slightest urban discomforts); and his heroism.
Rest in peace, Lolo Pedro.