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!