The hours leading to my scheduled interview with Ronnie Ventayen were dismaying. He was coming from Bulacan, and I was traveling from Cavite. I was late and stuck in traffic, while he was prompt. He was waiting for me outside the mall where the temperature is hot enough to scald a lizard because neither of us knew that the mall’s opening time had changed. We could have easily rescheduled, but it was a good thing that we did not.
I arrived at the café, practicing my apologies for arriving late and for not knowing the mall hours. Ronnie inched toward my table, clothed in black with a bag in tow. As if unfazed by my tardiness and the inconvenience of waiting outside the mall, he smiled at me and offered his hand for a shake.
It was time for his homecoming story.
A Difficult Childhood in Quezon City
Ronnie Ventayen came from a broken family in Quezon City. His father was a security guard who only came home twice a month due to the nature of his job. When he did, he was drunk and penniless. Eventually, he stopped returning home, causing Ronnie’s mother to turn to gambling for a living. Her gambling turned into adultery and then escalated into drug addiction. With both parents missing from their lives, Ronnie and his six siblings turned to one another for love and support.
At six years old and the third child in a brood of seven, Bro. Ronnie manned up for work. He knew and understood poverty. At times, he and his siblings would eat spoiled rice just to get by. He understood that for them to eat decent food, he had to work hard. His love for his family drove him to work diligently and responsibly. He helped his eldest sister put food on the table by doing a variety of work. He collected junk and scrap and sold them. He worked from morning till evening.
When his eldest sister married, and their second eldest left with their mom, Ronnie became the breadwinner of the family. His boy-sized shoulders carried a man-sized weight. He recalled cooking one pack of noodles in liters of water so that all of his younger siblings could eat. Despite being left to fend for themselves, his memories of the past weren’t all bad. They were once invited to a church service. They sang. They danced. It was a happy moment for the Ventayen siblings.
A New Home
One day, Ronnie’s father returned home. He brought his children to Lingayen, Pangasinan, to start afresh and anew. Their father introduced them to their grandfather, uncles, aunts, cousins, and other relatives. Ronnie and his siblings became part of their bigger family in the province where they started to rebuild not only their lives, but also their home.
Their father carried on with his job. He would leave Ronnie and his siblings in the care of their grandfather, returning home after a couple of weeks with food. But just like before, their father abandoned them once again.
Also, their new-found family revealed their true colors. While the relatives ate delicious food, Ronnie and his siblings ate nothing. Their relatives were also physically and verbally abusive. Ronnie and his siblings were beaten up, scolded, and called demeaning names. Their dark and bleak situation made Ronnie yearn for a bright and loving family who would truly care for them.
Instead of collecting and selling scrap, Ronnie decided to work as a fisherman. When the ponds were emptied, he blindly felt his way around the remaining knee-high muddy water, in the hope of finding at least one bangus (milkfish) for his siblings and himself to eat. Sometimes, he went to kanipahans (mangrove of the nipa palm) to look for lukan (clam). Once he gathered at least a pail of these clams, he sold them to buy food. At other times, he hired himself out as a helper in handaans (celebrations) and chose to be compensated with food that he could share with his siblings. Ronnie stood as the provider for his siblings at the tender age of seven years old.
A Turn for the Worst
Just when Ronnie thought things couldn’t get worse, his younger sister disclosed to him that their grandfather had been raping her at night. Ronnie wanted to defend his sister, but he thought, “What can a young boy like me do?” He was no match for his grandfather’s strength. And so every night when the gasera (lamp) was put out, fear gripped the Ventayen siblings by their necks. Breathing was stifled until morning came.
“Then one night, nakipagpalit sakin yung kapatid kong babae,” (“Then one night, my younger sister asked me to switch places with her,”) Ronnie narrated.
He agreed to take his younger sister’s place that night, and the next, and the next. His grandfather sexually abused him. Before his grandfather committed his nightly crimes, he would press a sharp bolo against the neck of Ronnie (and his sister, when it was her turn), threatening to kill them if they screamed.
Helplessness overcame Ronnie. The relatives knew what their grandfather was doing, yet they chose to look the other way. The family whom Ronnie hoped and expected to love him and his siblings caused them immense pain instead. This was no home. None of their many uncles, aunts, cousins, and relatives helped them. “Nakakahiya daw. Patawarin na lang daw,” (“They said it’s shameful. Just forgive him,”) responded their relatives.
Ronnie’s voice faltered as he said this. I glanced around the café to check if there were people listening to Ronnie’s story. I wanted to see if their eyes were watery, like mine were. I took a pack of tissues from my bag and pulled one up for myself. I placed the tissue pack gently on the table in front of Ronnie. He pulled some out and wiped his own tears. He took a deep breath and then he smiled at me. For a few seconds, we both sat quietly. This was a story that had to continue… .
Stay tuned for PART 2 of “The Story of Ronnie Ventayen: From Rape Victim to Redeemed Victor.” Only here in One Voice Magazine!
Editor’s Note: This story was first published on June 10, 2020.