The assassination of General Antonio Luna in Cabanatuan on June 5, 1899, by Cavite soldiers blindly loyal to President Emilio Aguinaldo, fell like a thunderbolt upon the staff of the revolutionary newspaper “La Independencia.”
Poet-crusading journalist Fernando Ma. Guerrero (my grandfather), staffer of “La Independencia,” recalled the dreadful event and its aftermath many years later to his daughters Nilda and Liliana. Written in Spanish and Tagalog, the inflammatory articles and poems of the newspaper had incited revolt first against Spain and then against the new invaders, the Americans.
“La Independencia” was so effective that the enemy believed it was written and edited by Spaniards. This, of course, incensed the staff, who were certainly not Europeans but Filipinos with a sacred cause.
With Luna’s treacherous killing (“Asasinos! Traidores!”), the staff continued to put out the newspaper, riding a train, with the Americans hot on their heels. But the situation was becoming untenable and Fernando, the Palma brothers Rafael and José, and Cecilio Apostol, put out the last two issues, dated November 1899, and buried the small printing press near the train station in Bayambang, Pangasinan.
A few years ago I passed through the area, and was haunted by the thought that the printing press was still buried somewhere there.
My grandfather made his back to Manila, protected along the way by locals, and resumed his career as a journalist. His biggest triumph was when he and his colleagues (among them Martin Ocampo, Rafael Palma and Lope K. Santos) exposed atrocities of the American-led Constabulary in Bacoor, Cavite, in 1905.
They were charged with libel, haled to court, but vindicated. This led to great rejoicing and there was a big victory celebration given by the publishers and businessmen.
Love and Death
Abuelito Fernando’s first love was Carmen Entrala, daughter of Francisco de Paula Entrala, a Spanish adventurer, author of a novel of manners and at one time acting governor-general. They met in a train. “Era un amor de primer vista,” (It was love at first sight), as my aunt Nilda Guerrero Barranco recalled to me during the 1980s.
Tragically, Carmen died after giving Fernando two sons. The first, Edmundo, died in infancy. The second, Alberto, lived only till the age of 14.
In 1903, Fernando married again—to Carmen’s younger sister, Remedios, my grandmother.
Like many men and women of that era, my grandfather was a Renaissance man. Apart from being a poet, artist and journalist, he was a lawyer, legislator who upheld workers’ rights, delegate to the Malolos Congress of 1898 and to the Philippine Assembly of 1907, Manila councilor, and the first Senate Secretary (appointed by President Quezon).
Abuelito Fernando died of kidney failure on June 12, 1929; he was only 57.
A Widow During the 1930s
Remedios gave Fernando 11 children: Evangelina, Oscar, Nilda, Tristan (my father), Lourdes, Fernando Jr., Liliana, Efrain, Fulvio, Yolanda and Florian. All are gone now except Yolanda, who in an earlier time refused to migrate to the US to be with her son because she would not feel at home in a foreign country which seems to cast such a spell on many other Filipinos.
Now in her mid-’90s, my aunt Yoly is being taken care of by Latin American nuns.
I remember my mother Estrella telling me that my grandmother (Tia Meding to her nephew and nieces), although with scarce resources, produced a doctor (Tristan), a lawyer (Efrain), an architect (Fernando Jr.) and an engineer (Oscar). And, of course, there was her eldest child, Evangelina, an acclaimed poet in Spanish like her father.
Manila in Flames
Remedios’ time of trial came during World War II, with the southern districts of Manila in flames. In the terror and confusion of the evacuation from Ermita, our Yaya Maria dressed me up in my sister’s attire. And an American soldier accosted her: “Hey lady that baby you’re carrying, boy or girl? With some amusement, my mother translated. Indignant, Yaya Maria raised my skirt to reveal my little pititing.
One uncle was killed in a bombing raid, while Japanese soldiers raided the residence of an aunt and took away her husband. My father Tristan, a doctor, remains missing to this day. My grandmother and mother, at war’s end, scoured the war-ravaged streets of Manila but never found out what happened.
Later, one psychic in a vision said my father had been taken away by Japanese soldiers. Another claimed my father’s ascent to the spirit world had been peaceful, because he had sacrificed himself for a family in need.
My grandmother never talked much about the war, but years later when there was talk of another conflict that could affect the Philippines, the trauma returned: “No podre aguantar otra guerra” (I will not endure another war).
Age finally caught up with her in 1973, by which time she was over 90. As she lay dying, she was asked if she wanted to send for a priest so she could confess. She calmly replied: “No. No tengo ningun pecado que confessor” (I don’t have any sins to confess).
Unlike the father of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, this poet’s widow did not rage against the dying of the light, but went gentle into the night.