Wer Na U?

‘Wer Na U?’

By Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 10:30:00 08/24/2008 Sunday Inquirer Magazine, Filed Under: Armed conflict, Family  

MANILA, Philippines - As a child Alleyne Julia "Bonini" Enriquez had always wondered why her father didn't come home. She received greeting cards, supposedly from him, but from where? Where was he? she would ask her mother. Working somewhere, her mother would answer unfailingly, and Bonini had no reason not to believe her.   But her father, leftist activist Josemari "Joey" Enriquez (a.k.a. Kristo, Pao) had been dead even before his only daughter turned two. He disappeared one day in 1988 and was never heard from again.

Joey was a victim of the massive and horrifying internal purges in the communist underground in the late 1980s that saw hundreds executed by their own comrades on suspicion that they were "deep penetration agents" (DPA). Paranoia swept the underground Left, leaving in its wake dead innocents and bereaved families searching in vain for their missing kin, with no one telling them what had happened.   It was on the eve of her 11th birthday, 10 years after her father vanished, when Bonini learned why her father was never home. Her mother Annabelle sat her down and told her, in a somewhat abstract way, that Joey was dead.   This is how the short feature film, "Wer na u?" starts.

"Wer na u?" is Bonini's graduation project at the Ateneo de Manila University, where she recently graduated with a degree in Communication Arts. She dedicates the film "para sa lahat ng nawawala at sa lahat ng naghahanap" (to those who are missing and those who are searching for them). The question-title which reads like a text message may sound whimsical, but it is also the sound of a young contemporary woman's angst, her search for answers and her longing for a father long lost.   "I was playing with a Shape or Toy when my mother told me,"  Bonini recalls. Her mother used the idea of shapes to explain what had happened to her father.

As the film animation demonstrates, Joey is a circle among circles. One day the triangles with pitchforks come to infiltrate the circles and wipe them out. Joey stands his ground but the triangles shoot him dead. The triangle happens to be the shape of the logo of the leftist National Democratic Front.   "I didn't cry,"  Bonini says of her mother's disclosure. "Alam ko, wala na siya (I knew he was no more). But (the revelation) gave significance to my 11th birthday."   It did not mean immediate closure for the girl, however. "Wer na u?" in fact shows Bonini riding an emotional roller coaster through her young life. It also reveals how she found ways to cope, expressing her loss to friends with similar angst, over bottles of beer, amidst a lot of ribbing and repartee in their favorite nocturnal haunt. Bonini directs, but does not play herself in the 25-minute film.  

Her mother, recounts Bonini, had her reservations about her graduation project. What was her daughter going to find out? Bonini herself thought she was not ready to face the truth. She just knew enough that she could handle.   "I still felt broken then," she says. What she had learned at 11 occupied her mind every now and then, but she knew that one day she would have to take a long hard look at the facts and ask questions.  

During Bonini's early childhood years, Annabelle had woven a scenario for her daughter. She mailed cards which Bonini had believed were from her father. This was Annabelle's way of shielding the young girl from the pain that the family was going through as they hoped against hope that Joey would one day come back alive.   Joey disappeared on July 27, 1988. It was in 1991 that his family―mother Tita and father Jose, sisters Marie, Joyce, Jean and Macy, wife Annabelle―as well as friends, received confirmation that Joey had indeed been killed. It was all a mistake and they received an apology. (His mother Tita continues to believe that he is alive because of sightings and information that, she says, she has received from Joey?s friends. But that is another story.)  

Born in 1961, Joey attended Don Bosco-Mandaluyong in high school and went to the University of the Philippines to study engineering. He was a great kuya (older brother), his sisters say, who showed affection in a gruff but endearing way.   At UP, Joey was drawn into activism and into the underground movement. He became a full-time cadre and held an important position. Putting his university education on hold, he married a fellow activist, had a child and continued his underground work. His comrades remember him as a bright and good leader. They gave him the nom de guerre Pao and Kristo because of his resemblance to the image of the Christ.   Then Joey became one of the countless victims of 'Operation Olympia,' one of the purges that saw comrade suspecting fellow comrade, and eventually killing them on orders of the underground Left's hierarchy.  

And how exactly did his death come about? Among Bonini's sources in her research on her father's fate was a survivor of the purge who had first-hand information of the event. As the story goes, Joey suffered detention and torture, all the while protesting his innocence and going on a protest fast. He was already weak and emaciated when his accusers decided to end his life with a bullet.  

"I was told that he was put inside a sack," Bonini narrates. "And that he was still breathing when they buried him." She also sought out her father's other comrades and family members for their recollections.   Some years after Joey's disappearance, the Enriquez family would embark on a search for his remains. They gathered information and followed leads. They dug the earth hoping to find pieces of him. But their efforts were in vain.   Stories about this gruesome episode that spanned several years are told by other purge survivors in the book, To Suffer Thy Comrades by Robert Francis Garcia, who similarly suffered inside a torture chamber.  

On July 26 this year, the eve of the 20th year of Joey's disappearance, the Enriquez family hosted a first-ever gathering to celebrate his life. His friends came to remember. "We want to put together pieces of him," one of his sisters said.   Bonini's film was the highlight of the gathering. It is not a masterpiece in the artistic sense, but is an honest portrayal of a young adult's search for her father. Which meant asking unsettling questions and setting off into forbidden zones.  

For her effort, Bonini laughs, she got a grade of B+. The film is choppy in many parts, as choppy as the waters and as rough as the terrain she had chosen to tread to make this project. It is not so much about Joey as it is about Bonini. In the film, the time comes when she can no longer make facetious answers to her beer buddies' questions about her father, like Nausog. Kinuha ng nuno sa punso. (He had been enchanted. He had been abducted by elementals.) One day, she tells them what she knows.  

These days, this member of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) is busy honing her thespic abilities on stage. Brown and beautiful, Bonini has the eyes of her father. At one PETA production, she recalls, she was tasked to carry the symbol of hope. "I found it hard at that time," she confesses. But attending a Pag-asa (Hope) workshop for the idealistic young under environmentalist Nicky Perlas helped a lot. "He spoke about imaginal cells and turning into butterflies. We all need to heal. As a people, we need to."   Making the film exposed raw wounds but it also brought about healing. "It brought closure," Bonini says at last