The Saga of Fray Paco
Book 5: The Indomitable Lucrezia
Chapter 5. Victor Vencer
“Hatred has kept me going all these years. I find that it has been good for me and my vengeful deeds today fill me with enormous satisfaction. Those who say that vengeance eats away at your inner self are wrong. Vengeance is the best armament to have and to hold. I could not have perpetrated this ambush without your dedicated support. You are the best guerillas in Asia. I will forever remain grateful,” declared Victor Vencer.
The Marxist –Stalinist guerillas that formed part of the PLA, the Philippine Liberation Army had gathered around him in the stream. Fully clothed they attempted to cleanse themselves of the blood and gristle, which had crusted on their clothes.
“This part of the Tanay stream is teeming with leeches and mosquitoes," he reminded his men.
The mosquitoes had gifted them with malaria and the leeches could kill you if enough of them sucked your blood. Their poisons thinned your blood in such a way that you bled to death internally.
Their expressions remained somber and impassive. It wasn’t easy to do your ablutions covered in blood from head to toe. They used rubber gloves and each of them held a smooth oval stone found on the banks of the river to scrape off the bloody remains of the Ortigas Nieto clan and their loathsome employees.
I am an authentic self-made bastard, mused Victor Vencer, leader of the Philippine Liberation Army (the PLA), natural son of Don Rodrigo De La Rama. This was not due to the fact that he was illegitimate, which certainly was not his fault – the only event in his raging life he had not been responsible for.
Victor Vencer de la Rama had spent most of his childhood, youth and adult life perfecting his hatred, rage, envy, frustration, and above all, his thirst for blood against the “Haves” and the “Mores” as he called and described “them".
The oligarchy and the small, middle class exhaustedly emerging from the bloody horrors of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, which had ended in February of 1946; needed to be eliminated from the planet.
I particularly loathe members of the Philippine Army, especially those officers who graduated from West Point. Chinese merchants are also part and parcel of the hit list of the PLA. All military personnel, government employees and Chinese merchants are the enemies of the Filipino people. What makes up the people? The poor peasants and farmers, and the workers exploited by the USA, their multi-national corporations, and the rich Chinese.
Victor Vencer nurtured an undying and ferocious rancor for the Ortigas Nieto clan.
The despicable Don Cesar whom I had never met ruined my father’s family – the De La Rama clan. At times like this I am sorry I don’t believe in God. I would kill him again and again – and rejoice in the eye for an eye. Oh! But I have killed him repeatedly. What were the ambush and the executions of the Ortigas Nieto all about? Don Cesar, you should have been there. All your blood kin torn to bits by the machine guns and then my men worked what was left of their corpses into pulp with our machetes. We hacked away heads, arms, legs, and feet. What a feeling. I am truly liberated.
His men walked out of the stream slowly. They did not wish to disturb whatever was churning in their leader’s mind. It was a wild and untamable thing. They shivered. The jungle was always dark and forbidding, like Victor.
Not only have I endured my bastardry, I had to swallow the humiliation of being a bastard son of those deranged, dissolute and depraved “failures in everything”, the De La Rama.
I was but a year old when Don Cesar, the Tycoon (how that word makes me gag to this day whenever I come across it in the newspapers) had taken over the De La Rama International Shipping Lines, all our warehouses, possessions, farmlands and plantations. By the prevailing laws of the period, which was American Law, Don Cesar owned the houses and properties we lived in.
The beau geste of Don Cesar after the terrifying typhoon of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day 1912 wherein he legally transferred the houses of his father Don Rodrigo, his slimy uncle Don Cristobal and his “whatever you say Cristobal Uncle Diego” back to the De La Ramas made the poison too humiliating to swallow.
“Why do you abhor them so much?” his mother Leticia would often ask, referring to the Ortigas Nieto clan and Don Cesar, in particular. “If it wasn’t for Don Cesar, I would have had to return to my former profession as a dancer; we would have been homeless too.”
I know the story to vomitus. How the young Don Alcibiade had informed his mother, the cabaret dancer cum prostitute, addressing her as “Senora/Dona (Mrs. And Lady) several days after the typhoon, that the small house they lived in was being transferred back to her, the nobody, the poor concubine of Don Rodrigo.
“Would you be so kind, Senora, as to give us your formal names so that this transfer of ownership can be expedited?” Don Alcibiade had asked politely.
“Leticia Santos de la Rama, I mean Leticia Santos,” she blurted out because his unexpected kindness had disconcerted her.
Don Alcibiade pretended not to notice as he wrote down her name on a small leather notebook.
“It will take a little time to register this with the authorities. A courier will notify you. My uncle, Don Cesar, will see to the letter himself. I wish you a good day and a good year, Senora.” Don Alcibiade bowed slightly as he took his leave of Senora Leticia.
She had been packing alone in the small house facing the green meadows of Paranaque, a town close to Manila. When the news of Don Cesar’s takeover hit Leticia, she had been forced to dismiss her servants on orders of Don Rodrigo. How was she going to cope with dancing and caring for her infant son?
“I mean this Victor, you should be grateful to Don Cesar, I am – and will be – the rest of my life. Until that beautiful day Don Alcibiade gave me the news, I was so desperate I had been thinking about taking you to the Orphanage of Saint Joseph. I was prepared to give you up rather than see you suffer privations in childhood as I did,” the distraught Leticia told her son.
“You are a poor, crazy and foolish slut,” screamed Victor when he was about 13 years old. “I can’t stand to hear another word about the Ortigas clan.”
“Apologize immediately Victor. I am your Mother. I am no longer a slut. I make my living fairly and squarely as a seamstress.”
I’ll have to think of something quickly. Where would I go? Who will take me? The time isn’t right yet. So he apologized and simulated genuine shame and regret. His mother embraced him; he had to hug her back.
“Well …” he mulled, “perhaps you’re no longer a slut. I grant you that, but you are still a poor and foolish woman for being grateful to those robber barons, the Ortigas clan. Someday, I’ll get even.”
Don Rodrigo had recognized Victor as his legitimate son when Victor was nearly 18 and about to graduate Valedictorian from High School, Letran College.
“I know you’re my son, damn the devil! You are my cursing image, but my hated ugly wife now holds the purse strings since her inheritance from her even more hateful father. If we hadn’t been ruined and robbed by Don Cesar and his clan … you’ll have to wait until she dies, I pray for her death everyday – not to God, of course. What the damnation are you bleating about? I paid for your education at the best schools in Manila, did I not?”
At Victor’s furious silence, Don Rodrigo de la Rama repeated, “Did I not? I mean, I didn’t have to do that, but your intelligence since kindergarten was impressive and I thought it would be a shame not to give you the best opportunity I could afford.”
“Second best schools, Rodrigo De La Rama, second best. San Sebastian Elementary School and Letran are not the crème de la crème. You know that. I know that.” He spat out “Your children by your wife went to Ateneo de Manila, the Jesuit school for the elite. Your Alma Mater!”
“I have told you again and again, my father-in law paid for the schooling and other expenses for the children by my legal wife. Let’s be precise here. The other children I have sired have had to fend for themselves. But for the Ortigas Nieto clan, you too would have attended Ateneo de Manila,” Don Rodrigo declared.
“That’s a lie!” Victor roared.
“Don’t you dare call me a liar, you ungrateful and disgraceful half-breed wretch,” Don Rodrigo slapped his son so hard and so unexpectedly, he stumbled backwards and fell.
The tragedy of misunderstandings and quarrels is that sometimes, out of the rubble of prevarications, falsehoods and half-truths, unvarnished truths are spoken. This was one of those rare occasions. Of all his progeny (legitimate and bar sinister, the coat of arms drawn across the left side to denote bastardry), the brightest and most promising was Victor.
“Now hear this,” a foaming-at-the-mouth Don Rodrigo yelled at the stunned Victor, “the day La Sposa Fea (the Ugly Wife) croaks is the day you’ll become a De La Rama officially. You truly are ungrateful. Aren’t you enrolled in school as a De La Rama? Yes or no?”
Victor felt like beating up his father’s face and body to mincemeat but that would be letting off the detested “no balls, sin cojones” Rodrigo De La Rama lightly and quickly. Instead he wiped the blood seeping from his mouth with the hand embroidered linen handkerchief his mother had given him and meekly replied, “Yes, thank you.”
"That's better. Get off the floor and get back to your books. There's an economic depression in the United States and it is also affecting the Philippines. No one knows when it's going to end. You should kiss my feet for what I do for you!"
Don Rodrigo stormed out of Dona Leticia’s little house in Paranaque and slammed the door so violently the heavy walls reverberated and shook.
Having attained the status of Valedictorian at Letran College is an empty victory as far as I am concerned. Now, if I had been Number One in the Jesuit Ateneo, that would have been something to throw at my mentally average half brothers, at my father, my uncles, and at Society.
In truth Letran was an excellent school run by Dominican priests from Spain. Many of the so-called oligarchy sent their sons to study there. Alas! It was not the “fashionable” school it had once been under Spanish colonial rule. It did not have the snob appeal of the Ateneo de Manila or De La Salle because both these schools had many English and American priests. It was the “In” thing in those days.
My valedictory speech was eloquent and stirring. Even then, I had the perfect instincts of a rouser of the masses. My speech contained the kind of words the Establishment, the Elite and the priests, those known as "they" reveled in hearing. “ We must strive for political and economic Stability, the future belongs to those who work hard for their families, their country - the Commonwealth of the Philippines. We must hold our Benefactors and brothers, the United States of America in the highest regard. Long live our two countries! And then I clearly remember that I lifted up both my arms and looked to the center, left and right and boomed, "The Philippines and America."
Don Rodrigo was in the audience. He was in the first row solely because his son Victor was Valedictorian. It had been almost 20 years since a De La Rama had sat in such a prominent position in a public place.
"God and Satan damn Don Cesar and his clan, the Ortigas for all eternity!"
Victor, the only talented De La Rama, the one who had triumphed in a class of 150 students divided into three sections A, B, and C, could not receive the elite schooling he deserved.
“May idiots, monsters and defectives be born to the descendants of Don Cesar and every last person who has a drop of Ortigas Nieto blood in them. The more deformed and hideous their progeny the happier I shall be. At last! There would be something to feel good about.”
Don Rodrigo never reflected even for a moment in those 20 years that the De La Rama family's profligate spending, their abusive treatment of their staff and their employees, the family's pernicious addiction to opium (and he was one of the worst), their wasteful and self-destructive habits, such as obsessive gambling and constant womanizing, had inexorably led to the ruin and inevitable bankruptcy of the colossus De La Rama International Lines.
He forgot about the three attempts his family had made on Don Cesar’s life. ‘I shall never forgive myself for failing to kill him on that first attempt,” he confessed to Victor years ago when he had drunk more absinthe than he should have and his tongue was looser than usual.
My father has 15 children with 9 different women. I think it’s disgusting. Now he has virtually abandoned them because they are average individuals and he can’t be troubled to look after them financially.
“Well, the women went after me because I was rich then and my name was De La Rama. Fuck them. They asked for it.”
My Uncle Diego has stopped counting his children.
“What’s with these women? They could have refused to couple with me. But sordid and spurious sex with a De La Rama was just fine then. It’s not my problem.”
Only Uncle Don Cristobal, the Calculator, produced legitimate offspring ... but then he considered sex a duty at the worst of times; at the best, something banal, like a bodily need to fit into your active book of appointments and finish off quickly. Uncle Cristobal was a homosexual, who only lusted after adolescent boys. My stupid parents are unaware that I know some of the secrets of the De La Rama. I have heard comments here and there that the beauteous Dona Urraca, Don Cesar’s sister had been his first and last heterosexual love. I wondered what took place?
The most repugnant thing Victor was forced to accept was the scholarship he had won for four years study in Scotland financed by the ON Foundation (Ortigas Nieto). His mother had gone to the Banco Hispano Filipino and implored Don Alcibiade the banker to consider her son Victor as one of the most likely candidates for attending Saint Andrew's University in Scotland, one of the oldest and finest schools in Europe.
Over the objections of his niece Dona Esperanza who served on the Board of Directors and Governors of the Bank - "I see nothing but hate in that young man's eyes," Don Alcibiade had heralded the opportunity to heal the long festering cankers between the Ortigas and the De La Rama clans.
“The young man deserves a chance Esperanza. Acts of kindness can never hurt us,” said Don Alcibiade who had never seen evil up close the way Esperanza had.
"So be it, Uncle," Dona Esperanza had acquiesced. "Since 1903 when the first attempt on Great Uncle Cesar’s life by the De La Rama, Don Rodrigo in particular, was perpetrated - we have recited the "success is the best revenge" adage - the resentment has increased. This young man is the next generation - it can only get worse. I fear this decision will come back to haunt us. I pray I am wrong.
Of course – she wasn't.