When his mother was disappeared in 2006, Ipe Soco found his voice in writing, through which he continues to cry for justice for all desaparecidos.
By CHARIS MAE RIVERA
Ipe Soco has been writing poems and essays in the past 11 years. A typical but older Millenial at 30, Ipe posts his poems on Facebook, on his blog, or contributes them to online publications, zines and literary publications. But writing was a talent he found only after a major tragedy: the disappearance of his mother.
In the past 11 years, Ipe has been searching for his adoptive mother, Gloria Soco, who was abducted by suspected soldiers along with four others: his granduncle and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Prudencio Calubid, his wife Celina Palma, and NDFP staff Ariel Beloy and Antonio Lacno.
On June 26, 2006, the group was traveling on a desolate road in Sipocot, Camarines Sur when their vehicle was blocked by suspected military agents. They were brought to a safehouse where they were heavily tortured and interrogated. One of them, Lacno, was able to escape. But the four remain missing.
Then only 19, Ipe joined the search for Gloria and her companions. He later became an activist, joining human rights defenders and seeking justice for desaparecidos (the disappeared). And for the past 11 years, Ipe wrote poems and essays with a consistent thread of sadness, reflective of his longing for his mother. But as the written word tend to do, they also reflect the growth of the poet, from a lost, grieving son, into an artist who has found his place in a mass movement that hopes to change the world.
A mother leaves
Ipe did not have an easy life growing up. After he graduated high school, he worked at a factory that made snacks and junk food. At that time, his parents were already separated. They lived beside a railroad in Valenzuela where his mother, Gloria, run a small sari-sari store.
In 2005, their house was demolished and they were relocated to another village in Valenzuela. The place, the way he described it, was a small lot covered with grass, and the only thing that separated their house from their neighbor’s were the appliances they had pushed together.
In 2006, Gloria needed to go to their province in Samar to visit her father whom she had not seen for years and was then quite ill. Since they were strapped for cash, their mother’s uncle, Prudencio Calubid, offered to give her a ride and dropped her off in the province, which they will pass through on their way to another region.
In his essay, Laban! Anak ng Desaparacido! Ipe recalled the last time he and his Ate, his older sister, saw his mother:
“Tandang-tanda ko pa ang huling sinabi sa akin ni Mama bago siya ihatid nina Ate sa Cubao, ‘Isang linggo lang ako mawawala.’ Isang paalala na pabiro kong sinagot ng, ‘Ingat ka ha! ‘Wag magpapapawis ng likod. ‘Yung vitamins mo ‘wag mong kakalimutang inumin ha. Pakabait ka!’ sabay tawa. Gaya ng pagaakala ko na hindi mangyayari sa kanya ang gano’n, hindi ko rin inasahan na yun na pala ang huli naming pagkikita.”
(I can still remember her last words as Ate and I brought her to Cubao: ‘I will be gone for only a week.’ I jokingly reminded her: ‘Take care! Don’t let your back get wet from sweat. Don’t forget to take your vitamins. Be good!’ and I laughed. Like how I never expected that such tragedy will happen, I never thought that was the last time we would see each other.)
It was not unusual that it takes a while for their mother to come back from her trips to the province, but what was unusual was that a week passed, yet she had not contact them. His sister knew something was wrong so she asked him to buy pre-paid load for their mother, because she might not have load to text or call them. But after they sent the load, there was still no reply from her and she did not even acknowledge receiving the load in the first place. After they bought and sent the second load, they knew they had to contact their relatives.
They found out that Gloria never reached Samar. After calling several relatives, one of their cousins asked them to call the Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights, or Karapatan. That was the only time that they were given a straight answer that their mother was missing. At that time, they did not know about desaparacidos, and they thought that Karapatan was a morgue. His sister came to Karapatan’s office crying and asked, “Where is the body of our mother?” And Karapatan did not know what to say since his sister was not the only one who was asking.
At that time in 2006, a lot of people went missing and Ipe and his sister had a chance to meet other relatives of the desaparecidos. But in their mother’s case, there was a survivor, Antonio Lacno, who gave a detailed account of what happened, their capture and subsequent torture.
Lacno said that on the third day of their captivity, they were brought out of the safehouse and were probably about to be killed, but Prudencio Calubid made a distraction, which gave Lacno a chance to loosen his bindings, hit his guard and run.
Hearing the account, Ipe felt like the world stopped. He did not know what to do. He and his sister asked if there was still a chance to see their mother or if she will be released.
In his poem, “Hindi kwentong pambata (Not a children’s story),” he recalled the feeling of loss:
“Dalawang beses akong nawalan ng nanay.
Una, noong sabihin ni Nanay na iba ang nanay ko. May pakiramdam na ipinipilit ko ang isang identidad na hindi talagang akin
Pangalawa, noong panumpaan ni Antonio Lacno ang kanyang salaysay sa pagdukot at sapilitang pagkawala nina Prudencio Calubid, Celina Palma, Ariel Beloy at Gloria Soco”
(I lost my mother twice.
First, when Mother told me that she is not my real mother. I felt that I had an identity that was not really mine
Second, when Antonio Lacnio gave his sworn testimony about the abduction and enforced disappearance of Prudencio Calubid, Celina Palma, Ariel Beloy at Gloria Soco)
Along with the families of the other victims, they filed a case with the Supreme Court, which was raffled to the Regional Trial Court in Manila. They even went to different government agencies to ask for help. Since Ipe’s sister was pregnant during that time, he was the one who continued the search. He got in touch with the Desaparecidos, an organization of the families of those who are missing. He also became a member of the group Hustisya, which was newly founded by victims of extra judicial killings and other human rights violations. Under President Gloria Arroyo, activists were getting killed every other day, he said.
Finding a family among others who also lost a kin
Getting to know other relatives of the victims was a huge help to Ipe. With them, he found a support group where he gets his will to fight for justice. Knowing that there are people who feel the same way as he did and knowing that he is not alone in the fight gives him courage to do what is right. Even though they had only met for the first time, they share a common emotional language that help them bond and support each other through their ordeal.
“When I meet new people in these organizations, they share stories and their experiences with their love ones who went missing, who, in that way, come to life. They have no physical presence, but when you hear how they touched another person’s life, it is such a good feeling,” Ipe said.
His flash fiction, “Rally,” written in 2009, depicted such feeling, in an exchange between him and a character, an activist:
“’Sa tingin mo ba, hanggang kailan mo gagawin ito?’
‘Hangga’t may naniniwala sa pagbabago,’ buo niyang sagot. ‘At sa tingin ko, ito lang yung magagawa ko, kahit maliit, para suportahan ang mga paniniwala nila na pinaniniwalaan ko din,’ pagpapatuloy niya.
Natutuwa ako sa sagot niya. Pinatibay niya ang loob ko para magpatuloy. Nagkaroon ako ng kasiguruhan na may kasama kaming sumusuporta sa aming pinaglalaban. Hindi man kami patuluyin ng mga pulis sa pupuntahan naming ngayon, hindi pa rin sila mawawala sa panig namin. Silang naniniwala na kaya naming magtagumpay.”
(‘How long do you think you will be doing this?’
‘As long as someone believes in bringing about change,’ he answered firmly. ‘And although my contribution maybe small, it supports the larger work in which I believe in.’
I was cheered by his answer. He encouraged me to continue. I am assured that I have others with me in the struggle. We may be blocked on our way by police, but we have our friends on our side. Those who believe that we will triumph.)
All the cases that they filed in court – the cases for the desaparacidos, as well as those for the victims of extra judicial killings – were all dismissed, one by one, for the lack of evidence. This enraged Ipe because many people got killed, went missing and a lot of families had lost a loved one but no one was made to answer. But his anger also gave him courage to still strive for justice.
“Does it mean that if the case got dismissed, we will stop fighting? It hurts to think that we will just let the abusers win. This is their goal, to silence the people,” Ipe said.
Finding his voice, picking up the pen
As a member of Desaparacidos, Ipe underwent workshops and therapies with other families of the victims, which helped them understand and cope with the situation. It gave them the chance to write about their feelings, insights and thoughts. In one of the workshops, a facilitator suggested that he should take Creative Writing in Filipino, a certificate course in University of the Philippines. Ipe applied and was admitted into the two-year course. But he did not get to finish it, mainly because he could not afford the tuition.
From the first few months of Gloria’s disappearance, that eventually turned into years, he asked himself, “Should I still hope that they are alive?” But he knows that if they are still alive, it could mean that they are still being tortured. He thinks that it might be better if they could at least see their remains.
“But a part of you still wishes that she’s still alive. There is a lot of things you want to tell her after all the years of waiting. To be able to tell her, ‘Ay, mature na ako, Ma,’ Ipe stated.
His 2009 poem, ”Sa panaginip, Kahit Sandali (In dreams, if only for a moment),” is heavy with such longing.
“Sa panaginip, doon kita hihintayin.
Para kahit sandali ika’y makapiling.
Hindi ako takot sa haplos ng pangungulila,
Dahil haplos ng iyong pagmamahal ang madarama.
Sa panaginip, doon kita hihintayin.
Para maipadamang ika’y mahal pa rin.”
(In my dream, I will wait for you
To be with you, even just for a moment.
I do not fear the tinge of loneliness,
And will instead feel your warmth.
In my dream, I will wait for you
To let you feel I still love you.)
Although all families wish to know the fate of their loved ones, Ipe recalled how a daughter of a desaparecido warned them about it when she shared how she felt when her missing father was surfaced as dead. She said it was harder when they physically see how the victim was tortured and killed. She told them that they have to prepare if that day comes, because the pain they felt when their loved ones went missing will be nothing compared to the pain that will come when they find their bodies. But along with such hardship, she said, they will also find their closure.
Now, Ipe is a member of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP), the progressive writers’ group Kataga, and a number of cultural groups. Most of the poems he has written are about struggles around the country that has moved him, such as the peasants’ struggle for land reform.
In this interview, he told Bulatlat he feels the need to break free because he is worn out from writing about grief. For him, there are a lot of things to write about and he feels that once he moves on from writing about desaparecidos, he can finally say that he has “matured.”
Yet on June 25, he posted a poem on his Facebook account, with the same echoing sadness:
“Ayaw ko nang tumula
Naroon sa parehong
Ang larawan mong
Ng tulang alay…
At naroon akong
Sa nawawala mong
(I don’t want to write poems anymore
But in that very same space
Sits your portrait
For an offered verse
And I am there
For your lost
Lang Leav, a popular poet, said, “I don’t think all writers are sad…I think it’s the other way around; all sad people write.”
On the contrary, Ipe may keep writing sad poems about desaparecidos and his mother, but he does it not simply out of sadness, or “immaturity.” It is now just one among many things he writes about as the activist that he has become, and as part of his commitment to find justice, not just for his mother and missing kin, but for all desaparecidos and victims of human rights violations.