Friday, October 06, 2017

Missing Files

There's a full moon outside.  I went home, excited to open the new USB that Ja just mailed from Davao, thinking I'd finally find the missing journals that I thought would make my life complete.  But just as I suspected, Ja got it wrong again. I was looking for the 2015 and 2016 journals which have been missing in my collection of files which started back in 2008. So, I asked him to do the impossible thing of having my old USB cleaned by a technician.  It did not take very long for him to do that.  He soon texted me saying all my files, including my journals, were safe inside. I discovered, though, that all that the flash disk drive contained were useless files.  The drive only contained all my attempted projects for Adobe Premiere that would no longer open because their photos have been moved somewhere else. Suddenly, I  felt very tired. I opened my old photo files and found that even the photos can make a journal. This picture, for instance, says it was taken on March 7, 2016, a Monday; when I was alternating every two or three days going home to B'la to find out how Ma and Pa were doing.  It was the height of the drought but I couldn't sit down long enough to write.  I wanted to connect the drought happening in this part of the world with the melting of the glaciers somewhere in the Himalayas. That drought took rather long and I saw grass and vegetation begin to wilt.  But life, for me, was also speeding very fast.  The drought ended while I was inside the buses, or aboard a SkyLab on my way  to Bansalan and back.  The days moved even faster than a click of a camera shutter, a blink of an eyelid.  I mastered all kinds of public transport about this time. I also went to all kinds of strange places, saw all kinds of sadness and horror,  met lots of beautiful people, among them was the driver named Benny, who told me never to leave my Pa, no matter what. Did I follow what he said? I felt I did, though, I also felt I did not, and would sometimes feel bad about it.  But most of the time, I feel that I was right. 
I met lots of people who were kind and eager to help at times I least expected help. [I have to stop now because I'm having a sore throat that threatens to be a full-blown flu. I feel I need to rest. I think I'm sick.]

Monday, July 31, 2017


Do you remember when I talked to you that night when it was raining and the rain had soaked my shoes I left outside the door? I discovered it only in the morning when it was time to go and I realized I didn't feel like walking on a wet pair of shoes, so, Eve let me use her pair of black thongs which until now I haven't returned?
No, maybe, my memories got mixed up and I was talking of a different night. 
Maybe, it was not raining that night; but you, as usual, had your old tantrum. You called us names. You said words we never heard at home when we were growing up; words that made us wince with loathing. Ione must have given up on you, she merely sighed a tired sigh.  She had taken cared of you, night and day, and all she got was humiliation. Was that what she was thinking as she closed the door and went outside? 
Ma, I brought her upstairs to rest, ignoring your nagging, Beth-Beth! Asa ka, Beth?! Beth! She was looking very frail. I said, Eve, let Ma sleep here, I will be the one to watch Pa.  
For anyone to watch you at this time meant that one would not sleep a wink until morning. You would ask us for help to sit up and once you're up, you'd ask for help to lie down; and when you're already lying down, you'd say you want to sit up again; and this way over and over all the way till morning. I said, puslan man, Pa, you don't want to sleep, let's have a good talk, Pa. You said, what?! Your eyes glaring. I said, let's talk, and quizzed you about Lola, your father, your sisters. 
"Why do you keep asking me about the dead?" you retorted. 
I did not give up but backed out a bit by asking you about Upper. What the place was like before you came. Who was Ayok, Bagobo. How did he look like. 
"I don't take stock of people in the past," you said. 
I said I'm sick and tired of the city, I want to live in a place like Upper.  I want to plant trees. I want to live in the rainforest (and read Dostoyevsky, Foucault, Annie Proulx). 
You said I can squat there in Upper, there are lots of places to squat. "Squat?!" I asked, wildly amused, feeling betrayed. "Yes, squat," you said. "Many people squat there. You can be like them, squatter." 
"But how will I live?" I asked, feeling you just fenced me off your property.  
"You can plant corn, bananas."
I had that sinking feeling again.
"But I can't live there, Pa," I said, after a while. "I will still stay and work in the city until the boys got to finish college. I will see to it that they finish first, no matter what it takes, before I go and live in a place like Upper."
I heard you pause when you heard this.
It was only much, much later, after I've gone home and taken a bath and was watering my Oregano when I realized what that pause could have meant.
I remember our conversations in the past and I remember that boy who desperately wanted to go to school, but no one else out there had staked it out for him.  Instead, he ended up sending his younger siblings to school. Later, I would hear this boy asking his mother, why? Why? Long after his mother was gone.  He felt betrayed. No one remembered. Or so, he felt. 
You used to say to me, "and that's because I sent you there." "You have your life now because of me." 
You felt abandoned. 
No one come back to return the favor.   
So, when you paused that night, did you finally get it, Pa? Did you finally see a break from the past, did you see a return of a favor, did you see that no one is going to be left behind?

That conversation with my father

I posted this on social media, exactly three months after we brought him to the hospital and we grappled for the first time with the seriousness of his condition. By this time, he must have already been staying with me somewhere in Novatierra; or, was he already taken to that rented room in Ecoland? I could no longer remember exactly. I only knew the days during this time had bled unto each other, I could no longer tell when one ended and the other one began as I precariously struggled to eke a living, while at the same time, trying to face up to that reality that was Pa. 
But I took this picture some time in October 2012 or 2013, when he was still relatively strong. I decided to post this here because that conversation I had with him the night before was probably the last sane conversation I had with him. Perhaps, it was the only conversation in my entire life when I told him what was on my mind (or my heart, actually); what I've been longing to do for a long time; but which I never got the courage (or the time, the resources) to start:

July 1, 2015. He was still strong when I left home to take these pictures. He walked three kilometers, looking for me, thinking that I had gone away to the farm. He did not know I was only crouched in a neighboring ricefield; so, when months ago, I first saw him being wheeled to the x-ray room unable to get up, I looked back to this particular day, when he walked three kilometers looking for me; and when he did not find me, he walked back another three kilometers to the house; and I said, wow, Pa, you're still strong to cover all that distance in one morning!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Timber Dreams

“I want to plant timber, Pa, I want to collect them all,” I said, “I will cover the land with molave, Philippine teak, dipterocarp, Philippine mahogany, even the old lauans which used to thrive here.”
I told him how I loved indigenous trees and had already befriended someone who knew where I can source the Red Lauan.  I said I knew where I can find the seedlings of Ilang Ilang and all kinds of trees, including what other people think are useless ones. I said there is no such thing as a useless tree. I’ve been hunting for a tree called Makuno, or Ironwood, which an environment director once described to me as a wood so hard it could replace real iron needed for an important part of a ship engine; and in one area hit by a landslide, people talked about the fall of an old ironwood tree, which caused the number of the dead to swell. There, people began to fear an ironwood as they feared something evil but I figured out, the ironwood was only getting back what had been taken from the environment. After years of neglect and abuse, the soil where the ironwood stood, had loosened; causing it to fall.
I remember Pa beaming with excitement. In the morning, I had set out with my camera.  I found him sitting in the sofa and I said, I’m going outside to take some pictures, are you going with me, Pa? He smiled. I must have sensed him wanting to go.  I must have seen something in his eyes. But I only planned to go somewhere near the rice fields, where for an hour or so, I lay crouched under a rectangular trellis, the one used perhaps for ampalaya or upo or other crawling vine, which was not there anymore.  
I was trying to compose a picture, experimenting with different angles, while a farmer or two had passed me by, wondering what I was doing there. 
When I went back to the house, someone from the farm had been calling on my phone. “Are you coming? Your Pa is here, looking for you.”
He expected me to go to the farm.
He must have been excited by my dream to plant timber.  But my love for images, the impulse to capture the world through the lens of the camera, got in the way

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Argao belfry mirrored in the puddle of water

Shortly after the traditional nine-day prayer (novenas are always nine days, stupid), sister made an edict that Ma should spend some time in  Argao, Ma's hometown, just to see people from her childhood--and perhaps--to keep her mind off the memories of Pa (how can she keep off memories?!); and that, I should accompany Ma make the historical trip. I didn't know how sister got this outlandish idea, but I did not protest, and had accompanied Ma to the place, which also held my endless fascination since I was a child. "We should all go there, one of these days," I told my boys, "The soil there is white because it's made of limestone, unlike here in Mindanao, where the soil black," I said, without bothering to explain what difference the white limestone and the loamy black soil brings to farmers. 
But when we reached Argao, I never got the chance to go to the house on the hill where Ma grew up, and where we had summer memories looking out of its big windows out to sea. 
Right in the morning of our arrival, I missed the apple cider vinegar I've been taking to heal my skin rashes and skin sores, and decided to substitute it with two or three spoonfuls of the vinegar I found on the table.  Later, I was seized by chills and a fever.[Are you crazy? What did you do?" my Aunt, a biologist teaching at the Pamantasan ng Maynila, called in, angry, "You can't substitute that vinegar for apple cider--it's acetic acid!]   The doctor, also a relative, kept repeating, "No doctor ever recommended that you take apple cider," a veiled criticism for the relative she had seen for the first time.  She suspected that my stomach pain could have been caused by the vinegar  -  but she can't explain the chills and the fever, so she sent us to  the laboratory to have some tests taken but when  we got there, the lab was closed and would open only at 8 am the following day.
So, we went home and saw this puddle that caught the image of the Argao's belfry on water.  I never got to have that lab exams, though.  I know that it will still show the running allergy that kept showing in my past laboratory results and which I continued to ignore. I should go see the doctor soon! Promptly!   

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Things that fascinate me

September 13, 2012 

What did photographer Nick Onken say in his book “photo trekking?” 

Choose the subjects that interest you. 

Don’t only photograph subjects just because you are paid to do it  but explore also those that naturally fascinate you and attract you for some reasons.

This is how you develop your style, he wrote. 

Just a bit like writing, I think. But what are the things that really fascinate me? 

Alleyways. Skies (although I just found  how their colors change at different hours of day, as Ja used to point out to me). Mirrors. Doors. Windows. Labyrinth. Churches. Buildings. People. Roads. Shapes. Sillhouettes. Books. Shadows. Ceramics. Jugs and Jars.  Signs and writings on the walls. Cats.

Roads. Especially roads.


I discover this journal because I was looking for traces of Pa among the things I wrote before.

Monday, June 19, 2017

My greatest pleasure

Japanese Zero

As soon as we were back in Davao, I had asked Sean what he remembers about his Lolo; and he said, "That particular moment when we went home to B'la, and Dad and I were so crazy about airplanes, we were making airplanes made of cardboard, and suddenly, Lolo noticed what we were doing and said, Uy, eroplano man na sa Hapon!" For Sean and Ja used to make  Japanese Zero out of cardboard and scotch tape.  I remember holding one cardboard Zero when we left Nova Tierra a year after Pa's first attack; holding it up to Ja for I wanted to give it to one of the neighborhood kids, and Ja said, "Leave it alone with the garbage," and I remember feeling sorry both for the Zero and the neighborhood kid, who would be deprived of the joy of playing with an airplane replica, even if it was only made of cardboard, even if it played a cruel role in the war theater, I was only interested in it as a toy.
Yet, I remember, too, leaving a pot of wounded Oregano--its branch had been unwittingly cut off in the midst of our moving, and saw the aghast face of our next door neighbor when I left it to her to care for.  She never really loved plants, and never knew anything about Oregano, so, how can I expect her to appreciate the extraordinary mission of healing a wounded plant? It was only later when I realized my stupidity, for she actually  expected me to leave the healthy ones, and not what she considered a reject! So, to avoid further embarrassment, I followed Ja's order to leave the Japanese Zero to the garbage, instead of handing it out to Jamal, the Maguindanaoan boy who was our next door neighbor, because maybe, Jamal would not really love to have a  Japanese Zero made of cardboard.  (But still, I strongly suspect that he'd love it!)
Now, I'm warming to the fact that when Sean thinks of his grandfather, he remembers those times, he and his Dad were so crazy about airplanes, they were building Japanese Zero out of scotch tape and cardboard, and it was his Lolo who first took notice of what they were doing. Did they, at least, leave one Japanese Zero for him?  I wonder what Karl is thinking when he thinks of his Lolo, but as for me, I remember so many things, including an unfinished conversation when he was in pain and sleepless throughout the night.  I had a deluge of memories that needed to be sort out and taken down, one by one, never to be forgotten.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pa voted in 1965

But for whom? Did he vote for Ferdinand Marcos, who won that year and later, plunged the country into the darkest era of its history? Or, did he vote for Diosdado Macapagal, who lost that year but whose daughter, who got the taste of Malacanang at age 14, also became the president in the post-Marcos years, one of the presidents who faced a plunder case toward the end of her  term? I don't know to whom did he cast his vote but the moment I first laid eyes on his voter's ID, I was simply awestruck  by how young he looked. "So, this is the guy who had smitten Ma?" I asked.  A quick math showed he was still 28; if the birth year on the ID was right; though, we were told all our life that he was born in 1935, just like Ma; and later, I would discover another document which showed he was born in 1936. The place in Mambusao, Capiz, which held the documents of his birth had been burned during the war.
I found his voter's ID sometime in 2016, when he was in his 80s [age count based on the latest document]; and he was in Davao City, struggling with lung cancer, taken under the care of my sister Ai-Ai, while I had to rush to the house in B'la to oversee the sale of copra the following day.  I was alone in the house the whole night, when in the wee hours, armed with a flashlight and my reading glasses, I decided to trespass my way through his dust-covered nito bag, to rummage his old and yellowing documents.  I wonder about the life of that young man, then. Below the word occupation, the clerk had written, farmer. His entire life was the land and the coconut farm. I wonder what gave him so much pleasure then, what made him wince in pain, what made him sad, what were the dreams he dreamed of, what were the things he thought about so often, what were the monsters he feared. "I used to have lots of money because I was always working," he had told me, over and over, while we were in the hospital waiting for his diagnosis.  
"But I've always been working since the day I left college, Pa," I had wanted to say because my experience was different.  "I always had a lot of cash," he kept repeating.  
He told me all about his abundance of cash at the time when I never had enough to survive, so poor, I could not even afford to take a few days off from work. I had wanted to ask, so, where is your money, Pa? Can you save a daughter with your lots of money? But an admission of poverty would surely anger him.  "Pobre?! Kinsa'y ingon, pobre?!" he'd say, and so, I kept everything to myself. 
After delighting at the picture of the younger Pa, my eyes fell on the rather strong and uneven handwriting on the card's left corner, the same cursive that appeared on my birth certificate.  Even the handwriting spoke about my Pa.  It may have lacked the grace and spontaneity of someone accustomed to hold the pen but it showed the stubborn firmness, the grit and determination of the boy who was already working the farm since he was still nine years old.   When they got to Mindanao, he had wanted to study and be a pilot, just like his Uncle, he said. But when the family was able to buy land, he had set aside the dream and helped four of his younger siblings go to school.  At times, when he was bedridden, he still had his memories of Uncle Erin or of Uncle Jose--which of the two uncles was the pilot or the priest, I still kept confusing, until now--and how, he was taken in an airplane with the Uncle once, when he was still a boy.
The back of the card showed his thumb mark and the date, March 29, 1965, when the voter's ID was issued.  Both the presidential and legislative elections was slated in November that year, still a good eight months away.  Pa used to be either dismissive or tyrannical about his views of politics. Some time in the past, I could have picked up a hint whether he voted for Macapagal or Marcos. Sometimes, in fact, I had the vague memory of hearing it, not from his mouth but from the things he refused to say. 
Marcos had won the elections that year, which eventually paved his way to becoming a Dictator.  
I had the feeling that Pa wouldn't have voted for him. 
But that's only a daughter's opinion. 

Sunrise Breaking

This picture, taken when sunrise was breaking beyond the veranda of our home in B'la outlining the leaves of the Song of India, makes me think of my Pa. 
At the height of his ailment - those long uncertain months after his first hospital stay when we deemed it good to let him stay in the city - I used to leave Davao City at dawn to go to Bansalan to oversee the weighing of copra.  I was so insecure about the whole proceeding because: first, I didn't even know how to read the weighing scales used by the Chinese merchants to weigh sacks and sacks of our produce, so, you can imagine how strained I was, standing there, pretending to understand, when all the while, I was feeling like an idiot (of course, this did not last long because Pamela Chua, a Tsinay from Binondo, whispered to me the secret code--okay, this part is purely isturyang hubog, see, I put it inside the parenthesis?!); second, there was no one in the family overseeing the workers in the farm, which actually meant, we are slowly, gradually but surely, losing control of things over there.  So, to calm my nerves, I used to leave Davao City too early, when everyone else was still snoring;  to see to it that I arrived at the house at dawn so that I had enough time to be at the farm at 6 am, when everybody least expected me.  This would allow some time for me to get to know the people and to observe what was going on in the farm (though, I hardly had two hours to do all these).  During those months, I had studied the proceedings of the farm and studied the people there just like the way I read my books.  [Of course, I eventually developed a grasp of the politics and economics of the place, developed a feel of whom to trust and whom to be wary, honed my skills to read people's hearts and people's intentions; but I admit that up to now, I still can't tell a coconut ready for harvest  from a buko or a banana!  Uh-okay, I can tell a banana, but to tell a mature coconut fruit ready for harvest from a buko continues to be a puzzle to my untrained eyes! To compensate for this, however, I knew someone I can trust who can tell the difference.] 
Once, I overshot my target hour of arrival in Bansalan and had left Davao City at 2 am, which was rather too early. I arrived home when it was still dark and drank the loneliness of the house. I went to the upper bedroom and saw Pa's things and shirts scattered in different places in our frantic search for things to bring that day we left for the hospital. I felt this searing pain as I saw the pillow where Pa's head used to lie, the old Bisaya magazines he used to thumb through and had left in the corner, still half-folded; the glass, still half-full of water, where he drank that night, before he was seized by the pain which made him say, "Dios ko, Dios ko, Gino-o," as he made the sign of the cross; which made me send a text message to my sisters, "It must really be painful because I've never ever heard him say, Dios ko, before;" which made my sisters, hundreds of kilometers away, race for home days after. 
Still, I can't forget the sight: his slippers which were scattered in different directions, the discarded clothes, the poor state of his old shoes, worn, weather-beaten, gathering dust in a cordizo;  and even the dusty nito basket hooked to a nail on the wall, where he kept his documents.