Saturday, January 27, 2018

Walking in Makati

Last night, a woman stopped her car in the middle of the street to talk to me.  I was walking home on Pasong Tamo, lost in thought, when I heard a  car stop and a voice calling out,  “Where’s Guijo, can you help me?
” I looked up to see a white car, and bending forward from the  driver’s seat, a woman , her hair silhouetted by the soft glow of the city lights, asking for direction.  “It’s somewhere there,” I said, waving my hand to where she just came from. For although I can’t tell exactly the exact location of the street she was looking for,  I was pretty sure it was not where she was headed.
Have I gone past it? she asked with a sigh.  I nodded sympathetically. “I think so.”
 “How about Bagtikan?” the woman asked again.  I threw her a glance which said I was as lost as much as she was.  “It’s one or two blocks away, I think,” I said, gesturing again. “Though, I could not tell you exactly where, it’s there.”    
The encounter was brief and noncommittal and yet it was for me a deep human connection.  If you spend a large part of your day feeling invisible, lost, to be asked for a direction and to have an answer that is readily accepted would be enough to feel good. Getting lost is part of a life here; this is a city of lost people like me; a city of transients; a city where nothing stays the same, including its buildings.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Nights at Edsa

Chrismas shift at the newsroom

This was the second Christmas I spent inside the newsroom. Many things were happening in the regions, so, we could hardly look up from our desk to consider what day it was.  Three days before, Vinta made landfall on Cateel, Davao Oriental; and had badly hit the provinces of Zamboanga del Norte, Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte, and we had to keep track as the stories--and the numbers--kept coming.  It was not until I was about to go out hours before Christmas Eve that I noticed the many gifts  gathering at the bottom of the staircase and remember what they meant. I said goodbye to the guards and the last few people left behind.  Everybody was asking where I was going and what I would be doing during the next happy hours! I went out as fast as I could, my heart beating fast. How I loved to be alone with my thoughts and my readings at the strike of Christmashour!  Merry Christmas belated!

Thursday, December 28, 2017


They had this beautiful church in my Pa's hometown.  When I first saw the image, months after he passed away, I regretted that I could no longer show it to him to ask how it was to run or walk around its grounds as a boy? And if he ever was allowed to climb up to its belfry and when he was there, what did he see? Did he see the entire Mambusao, did he see his mother looking everywhere for him? Did he see a girl? Did he see an angel? 
Then, I regretted, too, that I abandoned my desire to visit his hometown. I was always broke during those times, I worked too hard--even on Sundays and holidays--and earned too little that the only way for us to push through with the trip was for Pa to shoulder the expenses.  I was not aware that he could afford it but I took pity of him (for having a penniless daughter like me) when I thought about the idea. Besides, his temper was the worst during those times; he insulted me for the flimsiest things he caught me doing, such as, talking to my cats!  Smarting from all the insults I got from him, I retreated to the deepest corner of myself, licking my wounds. Inside my room, reading a book,  I heard him badgering Ma, "What was she saying? She wanted us to go to Mambusao? Why? Shall we go?"
But I never pursued the topic anymore.  With pursed lips, I stopped talking.
Months after he was gone, while editing stories from the regions, I came upon the old church named after Catherine of Alexandria, and was wondering what could Pa's memories be of that church. Did he ever run around those grounds and how did it feel to be there as a boy? 

Monday, December 18, 2017

How I nearly lost all the important papers

Sometime in November--no, it was on November 2, to be exact; which was an All Souls Day--I went out of the house in B'la to Mrs. M. to follow up some documents on Pa's property while Eve was on her way back to Davao.  Eve dropped me off at M.'s house, along with all the documents, which were all very important, to talk to Mrs. M.; after which, Mrs. M. also handed me another set of documents, which were also very important, I had a hard time carrying them all in my arms. 
Mrs. M.'s house was shielded by shrubs of gumamela in a garden she made in her yard and the moment I went out of Mrs. M's gate--Mrs. M. was even so generous as to accompany me outside her gate and to hail a SkyLab for me, I thought it was still too early to go home.  It was 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and the hot sun was beating down my cheeks, hotly and fervently, like a long lost lover and I asked the SkyLab to bring me to Bansalan. 
Earlier, upon saying goodbye, Ma'm M said I could hardly find a ride going home to B'la from there, though, I knew I could, if I would only give the Skylab driver the right price quotation; but for some reasons, I did not go straight home. 
But I only went to the public C-R when I got there. Yes, you're right, I merely went to the comfort room to see myself before a huge mirror, then, went off to board another SkyLab on my way home to B'la. 
It was only when I was already riding another SkyLab, and we were already passing by Mrs. M.'s place, that I noticed  I was no longer carrying anything in my arms; no folder, no documents, no nothing! Those were the moments you could never describe the color of my face. I was already moaning and mumbling incomprehensible syllables, when the driver and some passengers, figuring out what was going on, had dropped me off in an area where I could most likely take a ride back to Bansalan.  
Every step of the way along the provincial and national highway that day was fret with unearthly pleadings to God and to the dead. I asked my Pa to please, take care of those documents; to not let it fall in other people's hands (who might not need it anyway) and to return it to me.  I even promised many things to Pa.  I promised to keep my hands off the land he had worked for most of his life, though, I was not interested in it but for the story. 
Something happened to me along that road.  The SkyLab driver, a soft-spoken, gentle old man, did not know the anguish I was going through.  I tried to speak gently to him. I tried to suppress my panic. Those were probably the longest ride I ever endured in my life.  As soon as we reached the public mall, I literally jumped off the SkyLab, stopped breathing as I stepped into the public toilet, and saw--for all the goodness in the world, and all the Saints in Heaven--that the two folders entrusted to me, was just where I left them; a little disarrayed, maybe, someone must have looked through it and found nothing, but they were there. Intact. I promised to light a candle on All Souls Day. 
I went home very wet and tired.  There was a downpour on my way home but I managed to protect the documents with a set of plastic bags I bought from a sarisari store.  

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