Written by Gail Howard
Fat chance of a Montelibano going to jail. Montelibanos owned not only land, but banks, shopping centers, and all the radio and television stations, so the scandal was 'blacked out' from the local news.
The lawyer offered me $1,000.
I threatened to go to the Manila newspapers and sue through the Embassy.
"Be reasonable," the lawyer said. "Think it over. We will meet again in a couple of days."
For the next two days, a steady stream of 'advisors' appeared at the Hotel Bascon. Each one was a plant, paid to put fear in me. "Don't demand too much. It costs only 600 pesos to have a person killed in the Philippines."
At our second meeting, the lawyer offered $2,000. Their final offer. Meeting was over. They stood up to leave.
"Just a moment," I said. "The X-ray and medical report and your name and your client's name and full details of the assault are now winging their way to the United States. If my family does not hear from me within two weeks, they have been instructed to contact the American Embassy in Manila with all the facts.
"If you decide to pay a thug to do away with me, it will cause an international incident. I will not accept one dollar less than $5,000. This sum is not negotiable."
We struck an immediate deal for $5,000.
This was not America where one can collect a fortune for a spilled cup of hot coffee. This was the Philippines where there was little justice, power in the hands of few, and court cases dragged on for years.
News of my settlement leaked out and word spread fast. Not only were my 'advisors' amazed, but they expected a reward for the part they claim to have played. "If I hadn't put in the right words for you to Montelibano, you would have gotten nothing."
Junior Montelibano met me at the bank with 18,000 pesos in cash, the equivalent of $5,000 US dollars. I would not accept the money until his lawyer and his cousin accompanied me inside the bank. There I bought two bank drafts. After that, I signed the release.
At the bank, Montelibano apologized to me, "I was very drunk. The liquor turned me into a crazy animal. I am very sorry."
Not only did Montelibano apologize, but his lawyer bought me a new suitcase to replace the one Junior had broken when he fell on it during the attack.
Although my life was no longer in danger from the Montelibanos, my arm was as useful as a dead weight. To speed up the healing, I ate a balut every day for its high calcium content. Balut is an egg with a baby chicken inside. It turned my stomach to look at it because I could see the veins, claws, feathers and head. I ate balut in a dark closet so I wouldn't have to look at it. It didn't have a bad flavor. It's just that when I bit on something hard, I wondered if it was the beak or the little feet.
Actually, I could not have had a more ideal 'accident.' It was a lucky 'break.' (Not a pun.) If it had been a leg, I couldn't walk during the healing process. If it had been an eye, I couldn't read or sightsee. Although, if given a choice, I would have preferred breaking the left arm rather than the right, but my left arm learned fast to write and to sign my name. I was optimistic that my arm would heal faster than the doctor predicted.
When I was up to it, I did some sightseeing. I took the 50-minute trip by hydrofoil to Corregidor, 48 miles west of Manila, where the Philippine-American forces held their last stand against the Japanese. The tunnel, barracks and rusting cannons (12-inch mortars), were still there. It was eerie walking around where everything was left just as it was in 1942.
I flew to Zamboanga, where the houses were built on stilts over the water. I bought a huge wavy clam shell that was a monstrous 21-inches long and 14-inches wide. From Zamboanga, I continued down to the Philippines' southern-most island of Jolo, seat of the ancient Sultanate of Sulu. The region was inhabited by Tausogs, referred to as Moros (Muslims). I had been warned not to go to Jolo alone because of the violence of the people who lived there. They consider it honorable to slice off a person's head. In spite of the warning, I flew to Jolo, had a look around and managed to avoid getting my head sliced off.
After Jolo, I stopped over in Cotabato before proceeding to Davao. A gentleman carried my bag off the plane. His wife saw us disembark together and was convinced I was her husband's mistress. Crazed with jealousy, she berated me and was ready to land a punch. I was more in danger of getting my head sliced off by her than by the Tausogs. She finally calmed down after I convinced her that her husband and I were total strangers by showing her my flight schedule.
In Davao, I had my first taste of durian. It is a fruit that, as they say, "Smells like Hell and tastes like Heaven." Durian is the size of a fat football. The outer skin has mean sharp spikes about a half-inch long. When opened, the ripe meat feels like rotting flesh attached to a huge seed.
It was love at first bite. I wanted to take some back to my hotel. But then I remembered seeing a sign that said, 'No Durian or Women Visitors Allowed in the Room.' When I asked why I had never seen delicious durian in the markets in Manila, I was told they were not allowed to be carried as cargo on planes because of the odor. Once I tasted durian, I loved its strong pungent aroma.
A few hours after I flew to Manila, the worst typhoon since 1937 blew in behind me. All night long, the wind roared and the hotel swayed and shook. I was afraid that any minute the hotel would topple over. Every now and then, I'd hear a crash outside from a falling tree or a glass window or a wall.
Next day, huge trees were down all over. Old trees that lined Mabini Street were uprooted, lifting concrete pavement. Steel was ripped up like so much ribbon. There was no telephone service, no electricity and no water — except in the streets, where it was up to my knees.
I learned about an amazing healer in the Philippines named Eleuterio Terte from reading the 1957 book, Into the Strange Unknown, by Ron Ormand and Ormand McGill. Terte belonged to a spiritual group of healers and mediums called Espiritistas Christiana de Filipinas, led by Guillermo Tolentino.
I made an appointment to see Guillermo Tolentino, who happened to be the foremost sculptor of the Philippines. He had created thousands of life-size statues since he began sculpting in 1915.
As I entered the famous sculptor's house in La Loma, I smiled at the old man standing in the corner of the room. I had a creepy feeling when I realized that this life-like being was a work of art — a former president of the Philippines.
Tolentino came down the stairs and welcomed me. First we talked about his work and about art. He said that modern art was primitive art.
"Remember the legend of Pygmalion and Galatea?" he asked. "Of how Pygmalion made a beautiful statue, fell in love with it, and when it gained life, he was happily enamored? Well, think of our modern Pygmalions. If their creations came to life, they would not fall in love — they would run away. Classical painters can look upon their creations with pride, having created figures of men in the image of God. We classical artists are trying to perfect our work. Modern artists know only how to destroy."
Tolentino explained how he turned to spiritism many years ago when Jesus Christ visited him. He was reading a book when suddenly the bed dented down as if a body were sitting there. Then a magnificent being materialized and Tolentino thought it was Christ.