I'm in the city of stone carabaos. I realized this as soon as I saw the beautiful creatures lining here in front of me, black as charcoal, not the muddy black of real carabaos we passed by the rice fields in Kialeg, but dark-night black, the whole clan of them, from baby carabaos to mother carabaos, artistically rendered, slim and shapely and in style in a garden fronting the bookstore, where I walked a good seven kilometers to find. Walking for me here is an art of reclaiming the space I have lost, and the sight of stone carabaos reminds me of the flock I once had a glimpse of, as I was passing by Liguasan Marsh on my way home from a coverage. I saw a flock of 10 to 20 of them, all working carabaos and all of the same size, looking small against the expanse of the Marsh landscape. It was the peak of the planting season and the scene was something that Ja would have described as a David Lean's rendition of a landscape. I was in a bus. I haven't seen a flock of carabaos that many occupying the same landscape before, that's why, it fascinated me.
In the rice fields of Kialeg, only one or two carabaos can be seen at a given time, no matter how the town boasts of itself as the province's rice granary. But we, too, do not live in Kialeg. We are just passing by, no matter how much I call it my home.
As a journalist, the Marsh has fascinated me in both its scale and its vastness; and although it may not have known me, I feel the Marsh is part of me because it is part of the entire landscape I call my home. I will always be attuned to its ramblings.
Here, the stone carabaos stand un-moving for hours, even as the gardener turns on the sprinklers to water the rosemary, the tarragons and the grasses around their unfeeling hooves. I remember the herbs I planted at home and the angle of light by the window which always made me want to read. I think of the cats, and the space I left behind. I think of you.
Sunday, November 13, 2016
I hear someone belting your Nonoy Zuniga songs in the neighborhood. In one of the houses, though I can’t tell which one, the man’s voice drifts, singing the lyrics in raw Tagalog. The voice is a mellifluous one, which, when scaling the high notes, tends to fade. I've become keenly aware of the ravages of time and broken dreams in the singer's voice. This is my second Sunday here. I am inside a tall black gate that protected us from the neighborhood. To our right somewhere, as we come out the gate, lies the bank of the Pasig river. I can see the grime-covered skinny feet of children playing outside the fence. I remember how, back home, we would look forward to our songs by now. Sean has outgrown us lately, so there's only the two of us to drop by the Booksale first to find some old copies of Harper's or The New Yorker. Then, we would take a seat at the nearest KFC, where you would take out the notes containing our song numbers, reviewing them one by one, while I read the magazines. Now, I'm here alone, watching the video of you singing Paul Anka’s Times of your Life on my phone. I see very clearly now how your shoulders sag, and how your chest heave deeply as you gulp for breath in between your song lines. I want to go home.
Friday, November 04, 2016
Cordoned off the seats reserved for government officials and priests, we were huddled in a small corner near the speakers, I, trying my best to stretch the limited capacity of my camera to capture the scene unfolding before me. When I told them I’ve been scolded by the PSG for going over the line to get a closer picture of the marble tablet etched with the names of those who died, Boyax only smirked, rolled his eyes; while Keith looked up at the starless night. Their gestures told me they have totally resigned themselves to faith, they have stopped trying another trick, what can you expect? As we crouched over, reviewing our shots, Boyax had helped me find the good ones that would do and the bad ones that had to be discarded. Kill your babies, as Ja used to say.
Then, I began telling myself, this one, I’d surely miss.
My good old days pretending to be a photographer would soon be over. But in the past months—or a year or two that I’ve been doing it—had been a fruitful one. It was an apprenticeship of sort. I had had a lot of lessons on the job. Unlike sitting on the bench, scrawling notes, I loved being with the cameras, to be at the forefront of things as they happened, to frame events through the lens I was holding. I got shouted at, and shoved away, at times, but it was part of the game. I loved to be among this ragged, throbbing crowd with all the equipment they carried and adored.
Once, at the height of the campaign, failing to get myself in the middle of the action, I had shouted my questions from under the tripod (it was that crowded), still aiming through with my camera. The would-be President had to look up and down the jungle of bodies, limbs and equipment to answer my questions.
I often heard of the arrogance of some photographers against some newcomers. But this crowd of photographers (where I felt I belonged) had readily welcomed me, allowed a small inch of space for me to stand, or crouch, in this too crammed world of photojournalism.
Then, I stopped bringing my camera. It proved too bulky, I’m afraid, in situations which demanded from me agility and lightness; situations that demanded most of the strength left in my weakening body. Covering the president has always been an exhausting job that requires us to stand for very long hours, skip meals, write stories on the phone, as fast as we can.
Soon, I may no longer be doing this anymore. I will always look back to my days among the photographers as one of the most memorable days of being a journalist. It allowed me new perspectives of telling stories; opened my eyes to a different medium, a medium that is more physical and more demanding of strength and alertness than the one I’ve been used to.
It allowed me to be myself, to go against rules and conventions, to try new angles, new worldviews, and even get dirty, doing it.