Tuesday, December 11, 2012

One death and a thousand more

My grandmother let go of life fom her shriveling body, while death's toll was rising at 200 by night time on the second day since Typhoon "Pablo" made landfall in the provinces of the Davao region.

She had a relief as well as everybody else in the family who had been anticipating her permanent rest rather than suffering, either from a thought of separation from all worldly things or the pain that hid under her fragile skin.

Almost a week had passed and Pablo continued to devour lives and properties, especially in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental. Authorities reported that as of Tuesday noon, 850 people were killed and nearly a thousand are still missing who might soon increase the count if search and rescue operations failed to save them.

Death comes to us all, subtly or radically.

Losing a beloved brings an unfathomable grief like a conditioned reflex despite the science and philosophy about life and death, despite one's resolve that Death had been waiting at the betrothed doorstep.

My grandma's death was a confirmation of a nagging thought that she would not last.

But, a death that comes swiftly as the strong winds and flash floods and landslides that hit the poor communities without knocking at their doors brings not only sorrow, but also compunction that one does not have to feel for a bed-ridden grandma or a seriously-ill father.

It is a kind of death that is unnecessary, if death could sometimes be a need for the unconventional.

As days moved forward, lost lives reduced to numerals like in counting sheep to draw a sleep. Bodies became objects, non-living things like the rocks, mud and felled trees and ripped houses. And, missing persons became subjects of a hunting game.

No more eulogies nor funerals for them unlike that of my grandma but they're all be buried on the ground and  will become a part of the soil.

No matter how they'd lived and died, death comes to everyone, no matter how, when, and whether or not it's necessary.

And, what matters most then is the life that remains here, and how to resolve the guilt that will surely bother if transformation doesn't follow.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Of storm, death and dying

A storm "Pablo", stronger than last year's Sendong that killed more than a thousand people in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, is expected to hit this town anytime soon.

While everyone is preparing for the grave impacts of the typhoon, death continues to take its toll just like an ordinary day of living and dying.

Last Sunday, my dear friend lost his father and on the same day, I saw my grandmother in her bed as if lifeless if not with intermittent breathing through her mouth. Her teary eyes can no longer see, and I doubt if she could still hear my whisper.

Some lives ended yesterday, while some are diminishing today or waiting to be taken by a storm tomorrow.

Although life's limit is relative, life is arguably short.

And, when being reminded with the reality of dying, one begins thinking about living and loving.

Tonight, my friend bared how much he loves his father while listening to eulogies, and I listened to the crescendo of rainfall overlapping the music from my headphones.

Then, we started exchanging stanzas of a great poem ever written in between two towns that are 220.6 kilometers apart.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Alkansya vendor

It was the heavy traffic in Uyanguren Street on Friday afternoon that I noticed a kid selling "alkansya" or cylinder coin banks made of wood, covered with printed papers like that of gift wrappers. He displayed his products in front of a big food chain here, the one with a big red bee mascot.

While the coin banks were neatly filed according to sizes and placed on top of a used sack or was it an old cloth that marks his turf, the boy was squatting at the side, facing the wall, his hands on the head, grasping his hair in a frequent manner.

The jeepney slowly moved along and I had not seen his face. Until now, I am imagining how his face looks like, or what was its expression at the time when he was pulling his hair with a bit of force.

It was about 3:00 PM, when I saw that boy. Then, I said a short prayer, I wish someone would buy one of those coin banks that day. Before Christmas, I will buy my godchildren those alkansya from that boy. Hopefully, I will find him again on the same spot so that I will not only finally see his face, but share with him my smile.

Photo by Ace Morandante / www.davaotoday.com

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

From Bertolucci to Bob Dylan

Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers reminded me of a song I used to listen when I was living in Quezon City in 2009. I thought I heard one of Bob Dylan's songs, although I wasn't sure if it was his, but his voice was so nostalgic.

It felt like sitting at a table near the window at the third floor of an apartment I shared with my colleagues. There was nothing to see outside but another building, but I could smell the garbage and life of Payatas dancing in the breeze.

It was like at this time---two hours and forty minutes past midnight. I was a bit sleepy, but my head wouldn't sleep. I was just listening to "Mr. Tambourine Man" more than four times (apart from what I said in my previous post  as I wrote exactly after listening to it four times).

But, until the movie ended, I tried to figure out who was the artist and what was that song I used to listen to all the time. I failed. I felt so betrayed by myself. How could I forget something that I like? Something that I listen to all the time only three years ago?

I had to open this blog to check on my blog post. Yes, the one that's entitled the title of Dylan's song. And, I so I listened to it again and to some other songs of Dylan and Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and so on and on...

Then, I realized there are so many movies that I want to watch but I don't have the leisure to download all those movies. If only that friend I used to watch movies with (usually in his home on weekends) and who has all the enthusiasm in the world to download movies from the internet were still my friend... Sigh.

I'd like to watch more movies of Bertolucci's and that of Lino Brocka, have all discography of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, and... Well, that's too much to ask for now. But, because I don't have the luxury to make this happen, I tend to comfort myself with Mr. Tambourine Man until I fall asleep.

Listen to Mr Tambourine Man

Sunday, October 14, 2012

University of the Waves

Skimboarders wait for bigger waves at Dahican, Mati City.

It was five o’clock in the morning on Sunday in a fine weather when players of Team Amihan, a Filipino term for northeast monsoon, gathered at Dahican Beach.

Carrying their skimboards in different sizes and designs, the children of this poor fisher folk village lined up at the shore while waiting for their mentor’s call.

George Plaza, 40, also known as Jun or Botchok for the Amihan members, has been their mentor and trainer in a sport that poverty does not limit them to engage in.

Here, there is neither tuition nor miscellaneous fee as the long stretch of white shore and the waves are for everybody.

One needs only a piece of oval-shaped wooden board with two pointed ends that will carry a slim body as it skates away along the waves.

This side of the Pacific had just produced a champion, 19-year-old Sonny Boy Aporbo, in the 6th Penang International Skimboarding Competition in Malaysia.

Bayogyog for most of his friends, Aporbo has quit schooling several times to focus on what he does best – skimboarding.

“There is no course in college for skimboarding,” he said, while grilling fish for everybody’s breakfast.

He started Grade 1 at eight, but immediately stopped as he was itching to become a pro in skimboarding at an early age.

He came back to school after four years of learning more tricks, but quit school again after finishing Grade 4 when he was 14 years old.

It took him another four years to finally complete elementary through the Alternative Learning System (ALS), a program of the Department of Education for every Filipino, regardless of age, to be able to complete basic education by passing some examinations.

Bayogyog passed the exams that made him a first year high school student without going through two more years in elementary.

But, he quickly told MindaNews, he does not want to finish the school year.

He needs to practice more to champion again another international skimboarding competition on October 16 in Hong Kong. He said in February next year, they will compete in California.

Bayogyog had won two championships this year – one in Leyte aside from the one in Malaysia.

His goal now is to look for sponsorships to play in other countries and raise the banner of the Philippines in this water sport.

He is adamant about not taking up any course in college, but finishing high school, yes, he will.

“I can finish high school even when I’m already 50,” he said and grinned. By then, he would have achieved his dreams of becoming the world’s best skimboarder, he added.
Sonny Boy "Bayogyog" Aporbo takes a break from a his practice for the Hong Kong competition. 

Read, write and compute

Unlike her brother Bayogyog, who is the only son among five siblings, Julieta Aporbo or Lang-Lang, 14, has been diligent in studying.

In fact, she is now in second year high school at Doña Rosa G. Rabat Memorial National High School, where Bayogyog used to attend.

But, like him, she does not want to take up a college degree anymore.

“High school is enough,” she said in a pensive mood. “As long as I can write my name, read and compute, I can surely find a job.”

The only female in the Amihan Team, Lang-Lang admitted that studying in school is tiresome, but she never gets tired playing with the waves every day.

“I want to become a champion like my brother,” she said, while chilling out in a makeshift lifeguard station after a bountiful lunch of fish and rice.

She thinks winning in a competition is better than getting a job somewhere in the city.

She revealed that Bayogyog’s prizes had helped their family economically. For one, in the 2010 annual skimboarding competition held in Dahican, he won a boat that their father, Ricardo, 50, uses for fishing.

At a similar event in 2011, Bayogyog won a motorcycle; and in Leyte this year, he won a cash prize of about P20,000.

Lang-Lang said they spent some of the amount to buy them a television, while saved the rest for rainy days.

His P6,000 prize from Malaysia was used to pay their debts and for some household needs, she said.

Her family saved most of Bayogyog’s cash prizes to build them a more decent house and to support their daily needs, especially that their mother, Teresita, 52, stopped selling fish in the market. And, there were times when their father returned home with a few catch as the sea would not yield so much fish.

Lang-Lang began competing in the 2010 annual skimboarding competition in Dahican and won third runner-up among some 20 male rivals for beginner’s category.

Hers was not so much for a prize, but she thought it was a good sign for reaching her dreams like how her brother did it.

That’s why she would rather continue learning skimboarding than going to college when she finishes high school.

Lang-Lang poses with her Amihan team mates.

If all else fails

Jonilo Catubig or Anjot, 11, seems to be the youngest Amihan member because he is barely three feet tall.

Unlike the Aporbo siblings, he wants to become a soldier when he grows up, let alone his stunting.

“My father was a soldier a long time ago,” he said, waiting for a cue from Jun, the mentor, to play on the waves again.

“But if I won’t become a soldier like my father, I’d rather skim. I want to become a champion like Bayogyog,” he added.

Anjot is the sixth of 11 siblings, and he is in Grade 4 at Don Luis Rabat Sr. Memorial School.

He knows that education may sail him away from poverty, but to become a champion in skimboarding by training with Amihan is his contingency plan.

That’s why he practices with the team every day after school, and helps in maintaining cleanliness in the beach.

He regularly joins the team for dinner, washes a couple of coal-stained pots that are used for cooking their meals, and then goes home to his parents’ house.

But his parents were not in their house on that Sunday night. His mother, pregnant of her 12th child, had been sick for almost a week and was later admitted in a hospital.

Richard Villacorte, Mati’s city administrator, worries about these children who chose not to continue their studies. He is concerned about “what happens when they grow old, which is the usual dilemma of athletes, actresses and singers.”

“With or without skimboarding, these children are out-of-school,” he said.

Three years ago, the local government of Mati offered scholarships for the kids in Dahican. But according to him, it did not work because some are too old to be Grade 1 or Grade 3 students.

“They were ashamed to go to school,” he said, adding that they were introduced to ALS to bring them to a certain level where going to school is viable and practicable.

Anjot smiles for posterity.

Lessons: way of life

For Amihan member Winston Plaza, 28, skimboarding and surfing is a way of life.

“Here, one learns self-discipline, healthy lifestyle, endurance that can be applied in real life situations, and friendliness among players,” he said while gathering coconut husks, which he would use later to build a fire for cooking.

He finished a vocational course after graduating high school, but he decided to quit his job in Davao City to become a full time skimboarder and surfer.

He won second in a stand-up category during the recent international skimboarding competition in Malaysia, along with Bayogyog, and will also compete in Hong Kong this month.

Jun, his brother and mentor, strictly prohibits the Amihan members to indulge in alcohol, smoking and unhealthy diet.

He also makes sure that everyone learns to be responsible of the natural environment, which has not only been their place to learn the sport, but also a source of livelihood for their families.

Jun and the children in Dahican have been guarding the sea from illegal fishing, and cleaning up the shore for more than a decade now.

Because of their efforts to bring back the balance of nature in Dahican, the sea turtles, locally known as pawikan, have returned to lay eggs here again.

Along with his wife Bing, Jun welcomes everyone who wants to learn surfing and skimboarding with the Amihan.

“Everyone is welcome to come here even to simply enjoy the beach with their family and friends,” he said.

He himself quit his job in the city to live here and continue training the children.

Empowering the community by educating them on how to take care of their environment and living by example has been his greatest achievement.

He believes that someday, these sons and daughters of the northeast monsoon will be champions in their own chosen fields.

Whether or not they will pursue skimboarding in the future, they will surely come out as professionals in maneuvering greater waves that will come into their lives.

For the Dahican skimboarders, the actual experience of life and struggle is the best course one can learn in the University of the Waves.

Monday, July 2, 2012


Happy new year! 
The first semester had passed and yet it's my first time to post something here. Maybe, journalism has taken much of my time to write personal stuff. And, I was too busy (the way my gay friend always commented everytime my relationship status is changed), too busy to contemplate and write my thoughts. 
I have a feeling that in the next months, this blog will once again perform its role as my sanctuary. I have a feeling that writing here again will help bring me back to myself or should I say pick up the pieces of me (if there's still something left)...  

C'est la vie... As my friend Jef said "dawat dawat" (acceptance).   
See you in my next session.