(Today, February 23, 2007, is International Day of Action against Impunity. As we count the dead among us, we urge fellow journalists to wear black over the failure of government to solve the extra-judicial killings of journalists in the country, which has become more blatant by the day---a text message I got from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines-Davao chapter, which sent me rummaging into an old clothes bin, in search of a black T-shirt. )
I found myself talking to this little boy very recently. He was 13 years old and our topic was another boy who was about his age last year and whom he never met: my son. In a manner that was quite surprising, he was sharing with me some of his 13-year-old wisdom, giving out secrets how every mother should treat a son and how to keep little boys like him from telling a lie. “You should always keep your cool,” he said. “No matter how angry you are. If he senses that you’re mad, that will probably scare him and then, he’ll begin to tell a lie.”
“But what really prompts young people to tell a lie?” I asked.
“Fear,” he said. “Nobody in his right mind would ever want to tell a lie. Except when he’s afraid.”
My conversation with him would have been just another normal conversation with another 13-year-old child, except that we were in a room full of people, talking about how his mother and father were killed by unidentified assailants on their way home from work in Kidapawan city last year. A copy of the forensic report had been passed around to me to the little boy and I felt like snatching that document away from him. If the diagram of the bodies, showing bullet holes, had been too disturbing for a grown up like me, who has never known his parents when they were alive, how much more for this little boy? But the boy calmly held up the paper before his eyes, carefully touching the little dots with his fingers, counting them over and over, playfully maybe, but with calm solemnity he alone can muster. Those dots represented bullet holes on his mother's body. Then, a copy of a newspaper article was passed around showing a picture of his mother and father during happier times when they were still alive. “Do you miss them?” I asked, reluctantly because I didn’t want to touch the little boy, where he must still be hurting.
“Wala man (Not at all),” he said quickly, shrugging his shoulders. His reply reassured me for a while. Amazing! I said to myself as I looked at him again, seeing no trace of sadness, no resentment on his face as we listened to someone talked about how the couple were slain in broad daylight, in one of the city’s most populous areas, even in front of the house of a government official and everybody was saying nobody saw anything. Where were the people then?
Then, I heard the little boy speak to me again in the same jovial tone I’ve been very familiar with another 13 year old at home, only that for the first time, I heard in his voice that tinge of disappointment that up to that time, he had been trying so hard to conceal. “Why?” he asked. “How come nobody comes out? Was there really no one there? Not one? Siaro? Nganong wa juy mosulti? (How come nobody speaks up)?
Today, I feel the urgency of the little boy’s questions. The world has a lot of explaining to do to him because his parents’ death has ceased to be just his parents’ death. It has assumed another meaning to us who are living; and to every little boy growing up in these turbulent times, where you can easily get killed just for being “different.” What shall I tell this little boy? Shall I tell him that his pain is not my pain? Shall I tell him that he’s alone? Shall I tell him that I’m not his mother, so, I can’t feel what he’s going through? Shall I tell him to keep quiet? Shall I tell him to just follow what everyone else is doing because being himself might be a big risk? Shall I tell him not to speak his mind? Shall I tell him it’s all right for someone to keep quiet just to stay alive? What shall I tell my little boy at home? What shall I tell every little boy and girl that I meet in the street? What shall I tell every little girl and boy in school? What am I telling them in my silence? Shall I-who call myself a journalist, a mother--disappoint them by refusing to speak up when my freedom is under attack, by setting aside and refusing to answer their very pressing, very important questions???