El Fili Chapter 5: A Cochero's Christmas Eve

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It was evening when the Christmas Eve (noche buena) procession commenced, when Basilio arrived in San Diego. He got delayed along the way because the cochero or rig driver (the guy who drives the karitela or horse-driven carriage) forgot his cedula (Residence Certificate). Why the delay? The Guardia Civil had to beat up the cochero first.

The image of Methusalem (Methuselah, world’s oldest person) was paraded during the procession, followed by the three magi (wise men). The cochero asked Basilio if Bernardo Carpio was able to free his other leg from the mountains of San Mateo (nope, not in California). Following the procession were sad-faced kids holding torches. They were followed by San Jose, and then kids holding “parol” or Christmas lanterns. And the end of the procession was the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The procession ended and the guardia civil noticed that there was no light in the cochero’s carriage. The guards again beat up poor old Sinong.

Basilio decided to just walk. (Can you blame him?)

Among the houses Basilio passed, it seemed that only the house of Capitan Basilio appeared lively. Chickens were being slaughtered and Basilio espied the Capitan speaking with the parish priest, the alferes and with Simoun. Capitan Basilio agreed with Simoun that they will go to Tiani to examine Simoun’s jewelry. The alferez asked for a watch chain, while the parish priest asked for a — get this — pair of earrings!

Basilio found Simoun unbearable because Simoun was able to do business in the Philippines unlike other people.

Basilio is well-respected in the home of Capitan Tiago, especially by the elder household help who saw Basilio perform surgery with extreme calmness. The old man tried to give Basilio some fresh news — an old man who took care of the forest died of old age and the parish priest didn’t want to give him burial as a poor man. Basilio was disheartened to learn that the someone died because of old age; he wanted to perform autopsies on those who died of sickness.

(Sicko doctor. Made me lose my appetite…)

Then the old household help told Basilio about the kidnapping of Cabezang Tales. Basilio lost his appetite.

Some Notes

* Basilio is one of Capitan Tiago’s trusted men.

* The assets and properties of Ibarra were taken by the government and the church and were sold to a few people. Capitan Tiago was the one who purchased the forest of Ibarra. It was that forest which was cared for by the man who died of old age.

Questions and Answers

1. Why did Sinong, the rig driver, say that there probably were no guardia civiles during the time of the saints? What a funny guy… Methusalem wouldn’t have lived to such a ripe old age if guardia civiles were constantly beating him up. In addition, Melchor (the dark-skinned magus) would not have been allowed to travel in between the two fair-skinned magi.

2. Why did the ignorant indios strongly believe in the legend of Bernardo Carpio? The Spaniards allowed this tale to spread. Bernardo Carpio is a mythical figure adopted from Mexican folklore (Bernardo Del Carpio?). He is chained between two mountains in San Mateo in Montalban, Rizal but is slowly freeing himself. He is said to have already freed his arms and his left leg, each struggle causing earthquakes. Indios believed that when Carpio finally frees his right leg, he will lead the Filipinos in a revolution against the Spaniards.

We do not know if this myth was started by the natives or by the parish priests. All we know is that the Spaniards allowed this tale to spread and even helped propagate it. They taught the indios that bearing sufferings and hardships is good and will lead them to heavenly salvation.

Stories like this dampened the desire of Filipinos to find solutions to their oppressed situation. They preferred, instead, to just wait for Bernardo Carpio.

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