Tales From Pilarland – Bonifacia Bacanto Abaldonado

That woman was Paciang. She refused to leave. Repeated pleas from Lolo were ignored so he ordered a man, perhaps a bodyguard to physically lift and carry her. Let’s go…Da-li na Lola, he told her as he tried
to take her in his arms. Well, then Paciang immediately scratched his face, pulled his hair and even tried to gouge his eyes out. Two more men were ordered to do the same to no avail. All failed to even lift Paciang off the ground.

Finally, the men pleaded to Lolo that they could no longer bear her assaults so Lolo made
the decision to leave her behind, probably resigned that he will find the body of his mother, with multiple stab wounds like that of Uncle Mancio Matillano. So Lolo told her –“Nanay, i-bilin ka namon,” and Paciang calmly answered – wa- ay ko nahadluk sa Hapon – with all the confidence of a seasoned general surrounded by his battalion.

Lolo then warned her not to cook rice during the day as the smoke from the fire would instantly alert the roving Japanese soldiers who know only to kill Filipinos when they see one. For months, Paciang lived on her own – she was left with a sack of rice and for other food sources, she would scour the tidal flat for clams, crablets or little fishes. She foraged and gathered edible greens and in defiance of her son’s orders, she cooked rice in broad daylight.

As children, my siblings and I, plus countless cousins played on that same tidal flat, little knowing that years before, a certain Bonifacia Abaldonado had counted on those little crabs we chased, the clams we dug up, the little fishes left behind as food to eat so she can survive and make it through another day.

And then the inevitable happened – Paciang encountered the Japanese!

She was unpertubed, unbothered, unruffled… definitely unafraid! Wa-ay ko nahadluk sa Hapon. This was not a mantra nor a motto for Bonifacia. She truly was not afraid of the Japs. As she repeatedly told Lolo, “Wa-ay ko nahadluk sa Hapon.”

Upon seeing them, Paciang stood her ground. She raised her stick and said in a loud voice A-ri na kamo, mga a-mu nga madamo, mga i-bud nga naga si-bud. Be–t—mo kamo!

To any reader who doesn’t know the dialect, I apologize, but there is no direct translation for these words. Try Goggle translate and let me know. What I do know is that Paciang, my feisty great- grandmother had called them – the Japanese soldiers monkeys… yes, a-mu means monkey and pronounce that second syllable with a hard ‘uu’. Then she added slyly…’and several of these monkeys had just arrived and were roaming around’… followed by words that were so vulgar that the familiar f–ck y–u does not come close!

The soldiers must have stopped in their tracks, their mouths agape, mesmerized by this tiny woman hurling words at them that they can’t understand but from the look on her face and her gestures she was telling them to scram, go away and leave her alone. Recovering from their amazement, one soldier smiled, put his arm around her and gave her a salute!

Paciang was very, very fortunate…the soldiers she encountered were not the inhuman beasts that the Japanese got renowned for during the war. Maybe she reminded that particular soldier of his own mother.

Lolo Paciong could barely believe his eyes and ears upon seeing her after all that time… but there she was – alive and recounting how she stood up to the Japanese, insulted them and lived to tell her tale.

Lolo Paciong must have been very proud of his mother and could only utter…Abaw, is that so Nanay? Is that so? I could imagine his delight after hearing an enemy had saluted his mother.

This fierceness of Paciang did serve her well and would attain legendary status in the family lore. Mommy loves telling the story and I, in turn, take delight in retelling it to Dominick; even more so after we watched war documentaries on the NHK-Japan channel. The Japanese were no match for my Lola, I proudly declared to my husband. And then promptly told him the story of Paciang’s lone-woman resistance. It’s\ funny but Dominick too, loves to hear it again and again.

Writing this now, I was filled with an even bigger awe for her courage, maybe stubbornness, that particular fierceness that made her survive day after day, very much alone; not just for a weekend but for weeks and weeks that stretched into months. All by herself.

Amongst the enemy!

She died of dysentery a few years after the war ended.

Lola Paciang may have lost a lot of card games in Panguingue and was a sore loser in Bug-oy… but in life, she was a winner, a spectacular winner, who bet her life against the Japanese and singlehandedly won!*