At 21

At eleven, I came out as a geek with a horrible fashion sense. Mom accepted me for what I am.

At eleven, I came out as a geek with a horrible fashion sense. Mom accepted me for what I am.

At 21, I have big plans. Who doesn’t? You’re in that cusp to adulthood where you can still enjoy every inch of your youth. You had the money, the freedom, the energy to breathe in life and not give a damn about tomorrow. You’re still entitled and expected to mess up, but you can turn people down by being the luckiest, most successful bastard before you reach your prime.

I planned on having more travels with friends, more hang-outs and fooling around, late-night pizza deliveries and pulling pranks on sleep-over parties. I planned on buying more books, or more gadgets and tweet my adventures across the country. I planned on saving up enough money so I can set off by myself, or save up for my future international travels as I get lost in every continent. I planned on leaving the nest early and take on the sky, be a student of the world and people, set fire to the cannon and start a revolution that could overrule the ongoing status quo in this country of mine that’s in a deep squalor.

That is, well, until we discovered a huge tumor in my mother’s breast.

How can I describe my mom? She’s good, but life’s unfair. I guess there are more stories like hers in this world. She never had something bad to say to anyone. She has a way with people and I guess they are fond of her because she can still take the time to listen to every joy and sorrow, even if she barely knows that person. In her homeland town of Romblon, her friends and families would always prepare a big feast for her every homecoming, like she’s a queen or a saint. She used to say that we, her children, are her greatest treasures but I felt like she’d always been too good for us and we quite never deserve her.

I’ve always taken her for granted, thinking that she’d always be there during the milestones of my life like the time I had my (forced) concert at Makati when I was twelve, or during my college graduation when I bestowed to her my medal and black toga. Thinking that I would always see her weary smile when I take off to work, when she pecks my cheek goodbye and I let out a small grunt. It wasn’t cancer yet, the doctors assured us, but the tumor spelled trouble and its huge size haunted me every day of my waking life. In that instant, the shadow of time fell over me, the realization hitting me like a runaway train: What if one day we wake up and she’s gone? How would I be able to repay all the sacrifices she made for me?

At 21, my mom had big plans. She’s a graduate of a popular university in Manila, dream-eyed and ready to take on the world. Her sister, who’s in another country, has just found a big-shot job for her in that same country and they can live there together. She’s planning to save up for her own life savings. She’s planning to build a beautiful house for my grandparents in Romblon. Once she saved up, she’s planning of returning to the Philippines and take up masteral units so she can be a guidance counselor/teacher on a public school in Romblon that’s severely under-staffed. All these plans fell like a house of cards when she found out she had me.

They suggested of aborting me. “Motherhood will tie you down”. “You’re too promising. All your life, you will dedicate it to your child”. “The baby’s barely two months old, God will surely make an exception”. But my mom, painful as her decision may be, chose me. And before she knew it, she and my dad were married and the plane that’s supposedly meant for her took off without her. She still keeps her ticket in one of our worn-out photo albums, and when I was asked her what it was, she told me that she had forgotten what it’s for.

My dad, barely out of college that time, has to drop out from the university and began take all sorts of jobs; A Chocolate Factory worker, a pseudo construction drafter and a computer technician. All those jobs can never fully sustain a growing family like ours, and so, my mom decided to work as an assistant to her brother’s ceramic tiles business. She also managed small side-lines every now and then, with her newfound interest to business. A rich aunt opted to give money to my dad so he can continue his formative college education, as diplomas that time were tickets to greener pastures. So while my father studied, my mother toiled.

Growing up, my mom seemed to enjoy raising us as kids, but once in a while, I’ve glimpsed some shadow of regret casting over her face. My grandparents passed away without the dream house built, and I sensed she never quite get over it. Grandma and Grandpa were toiling hard all their lives for that small piece of land in Romblon just to send their children to schools. The Philippines is an agricultural country, but the policies and levies are ironically hard on farmers. Even after my grandpa met his unexpected end on the sea during the town’s grand fiesta, my grandma relentlessly continued to till the land herself, her aging hands firmly holding the carabao’s plow. My grandma may had never felt the luxuries and pampering she deserved at her old age, but she died knowing that her children have stable lives and that may have been enough. But my mom was wistful when she said that, as if somewhere in her heart she’s wishing that she could have done something for them to express her gratitude for their sacrifices to give her a better life.

The operation of my mom’s breast was a successful one. They had to take her left breast -a masectomy operation. After my dad talked to the doctor, he went straight to us and told me and my brothers they will have to take the whole thing off. It’s the standard procedure when the tumor is malignant. I remembered nodding silently, in an easy, calm way, loathing to be the eldest child and the only girl in the brood who can understand. Afterwards, I went up to the bathroom and cried the most soundless cry I can remember.

The operation’s over, but the chemotherapy sessions began. My savings account is all dried-up for the medicines and supplements, while my dad compensates for the sessions. My travel plans and bucketlist is currently on-hold. My books and gadgets have to take a backseat. I may even have to look for a higher pay job and forget going to film school for awhile. I’m broke as a young professional who has to survive off of Yakisoba noodles. What’s surprising is, I really don’t mind at all. I guess it’s time to take off my selfish self and let it hang on the wardrobe for awhile. I can have the time of my life later. In the meantime, I have to be my mom’s financial and emotional backbone.

I was never a good daughter, but I guess it’s never too late to start. Even at 21.

“Ma, bakit hindi mo ko tinuruan mag-Bisaya?”

bisaya

I grew up surrounded by the sound of three languages in our house: the native Filipino, English, and the language I know nothing about: Visaya.

My mom was born and raised in a tiny island of Romblon at the southern tip of Luzon island but its inhabitants consider themselves as Visayans. Childhood is having to go to Romblon and taste the sweet, salty taste of the sea, or running alongside the beach, or listening to this fascinating, fast language coming out of my mother’s mouth.

Visaya is an endearingly familiar language, yet it also acts like a distant stranger with no face. My tongue very seldom tastes its hard and thick words and accent. My vocabulary is mediocre at its best, but no language holds so much interest for me. I felt like if I can speak Visaya, I can understand this country more and more, with it being the 2nd most widely spoken native language in the Philippines.

“Why didn’t you teach me to speak Visaya?” I often ask my mom. My brothers and I were only taught of just plain  Filipino (which is heavily Tagalized) and cliche English.  My mom just smiled and said, “I don’t want you to have any problems with your Filipino and English pronunciations. It would be too embarrassing.”

My mom’s answer didn’t make any sense that time. How can you pass up the chance to raise your kid as multilingual? But growing up, I grew to realize what she means. Watching the TV, we are conditioned to laugh at the silly English pronunciation of Visayan maids. When a family friend mispronounced an English or Filipino word, my dad and uncles would be quick to laugh at him and say “Ay may Bisaya dito!” as if being a Visaya is equivalent of being dumb and ignorant. Overtime, the language of my childhood grew to have a connotation of ”baduy” or out-of-trend. Visayans in Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon have to disguise their accent with broken Tagalog words and English code-switching. Growing up, my Visayan relatives and cousins are always make fun of because of their thick accents and mispronunciation of Filipino words.

In fact, I’m very much envious of my Visayan cousins who can speak and write in English as well as I do (or even more so). They have three languages ready in their arsenal, while I only have two. It’s quite disconcerting, especially if some proud Visayans (Cebuanos, for instance) would prefer to talk to you in English than in Filipino with a silent mocking reproach on their faces as if saying, ‘You’re in our place. When we’re in Manila, we speak the vernacular Tagalog. Why can’t you do the same thing when you’re here?’

One of the random thoughts that comes out during my stuck-in-the-traffic musings is how the diverse variety of language affected our national psyche as Filipinos. You round up 7,000+ islands, with different languages or dialects on its own, each with different culture and way of life, and call it a country. While forced colonialism may be a factor to what have become of us in the present time, a lack of unifying, acceptable language that is of our own plays a large part to our maturity as a people.  And the fact that we make fun of a language and an accent (one of our own languages, mind you); the way we degrade it, the way we tolerate the ethnic slur in mass media and everyday interactions, shows how immature we really are (or most of our people are)

There is unity in diversity and with respect comes harmony. I’m not saying we should be fluent in all languages that exist in this beautiful country of ours, but that we should embrace (or at least, respect) the diversity that makes us what we are. No culture is greater than the other. Just as no language or accent is inferior to another.

And to my Visaya-speaking friends who have experienced being discriminated mercilessly or made fun endlessly because of your accent by non-Visaya speakers, just smile and say the most colorful cuss words you can think of in your native language. They have no way of understanding you anyway.

 

 

Is being ‘makabayan’ a rare thing nowadays?

A Facebook post made me smile today. It’s about a worker who paid his salute to the Philippine anthem by clasping his fist against his chest as our three stars and a sun was being raised up in front of the Municipal Hall. That in itself is already a moving sight, since most Filipinos seldom pay homage to the flag-raising ceremony if they weren’t part of the event. But the fact that this guy is doing it hundred foot from the ground, at the top of a church scaffolding, deserves a thousand ‘likes’ (twenty-thousand and counting by the way)

"Ain't no excuses for saluting for being Pinoy" Picture courtesy of Rikki Vallido.

“Ain’t no excuses for being Pinoy” Picture courtesy of Rikki Vallido.

The man himself, Alex Capati (Photo courtesy of ABS-CBN News...Finaaallly, a news-worthy post from these guys)

The man himself, Alex Capati (Photo courtesy of ABS-CBN News…Finaaallly, a news-worthy post from these guys)

This made me remember something that happened to me a few months ago at the MOA Arena before the opening of the International Pyromusical Festival. I was alone waiting for my office-mates at an open patio of a restaurant sitting beside the baywalk when I heard the faint tune of the Philippine anthem from a distance, signalling the opening of the program. I stood up and a few others also did. A waiter passed by, suddenly puzzled over why I am standing, and smiled at me. “Wow si ate, makabayan!”. (‘Bayan’ in Filipino means country so makabayan roughly translates to ‘someone who loves his country’)

He said it in a teasing, patronizing way as if expecting me to comb my bangs sideways and proclaim myself as ‘Rizal’. I took his jibe with a smile. He ought to be thankful I didn’t turn into a Bonifacio and chase after him with an itak for interrupting my sentimental reaffirmation of my allegiance to my country. (Honestly, is it that hard to stand still for a few minutes until the anthem ends?)

There are some things I can’t understand about Filipinos and this is one of them. When one from our brood gains worldwide recognition or achieves something worthy of international praise, we are quick to jump in the wagon and declare ‘Proud to be Pinoy!’ or ‘Philippines is blessed to have so many talented Filipinos.’ Personally, there’s nothing wrong with recognizing the achievements of your fellowmen, but purely identifying your national identity and pride to the success of some Filipinos who shed blood and tears just to get to the top, then I guess there’s something wrong with you.  You may be a proud Pinoy but you’re not a true Filipino at heart.

I admit there’s nothing much to be proud the country at first glance. We all have the cliche developing country problems like corruption, poverty, unequal treatment of rich and poor, lack of education, national apathy and a case of bad historical amnesia blah blah blah. In some corners of the internet, Filipino pride is the butt of all jokes by foreign and Filipino netizens. It didn’t help that some Filipinos are butthurt about the affronts these foreigners make, whether it’s only satire or just an outsider’s observation. But the thing is, all countries have these problems too. I didn’t say I’m proud that my country has these problems (even US residents are ashamed of how badly their government handled its foreign policy in the Middle-east). My take is that you should justify your pride with positive actions. If you’re itching to slapbitch an author who blatantly states Manila is the Gates of Hell, then do your part to revitalize Manila than vent your persona-non-grata rage to the internet. If you believed there’s something in our genes that makes us great, prove it to yourself and stop hitching your wagon to someone else.

You can show your national pride through simple yet meaningful gestures. You can still be the proudest Filipino out there by recognizing the flaws of your country and adapting a mindset that you can do something to change it. You can be wise and patriotic at the same time. You can criticize. You can praise. You can observe. You can be that ordinary Juan doing your job and looking forward to contribute your part. You can be that daredevil manong standing at the side of the church dome, paying homage to the flag.

Because being a makabayan for the right reasons may not be an ‘in’ right now but you’re still going to feel awesome.

Why I became a Heritage Warrior

Last May 2-4, 2014, I attended a 3-day conference sponsored by the National Commission of Culture and Arts and also Wikipedia Philippines. The agenda is simple: Build a cultural mapping site which will document all heritage and historical sites across the whole country. Now, I don’t really consider myself as someone who loves heritage house and old buildings just for its art, nor the aesthetics involved. I don’t have an eye on what beauty is, and if I do, I don’t have any words to explain it. For me, beauty is a matter of degree..not a lack of it. When you’re talking about an old house, the overall architectural beauty of the place comes in second for me after its historical value or the hidden stories it may contain.

I have a fondness for old buildings ever since I was in grade school when my grandmother, who was a school principal that time, used to take me along field trips of her school. Usually, the destinations are historical sights or old houses of our heroes. I like running over the long hallways and running my hand over wooden carvings and balustrades. When I stumbled upon a room with a four-poster bed, I would imagine a young lady sitting on her bedclothes and braiding her long, dark hair while singing a song that would calm the night. Old houses are invitation for wild imaginings. When you’re talking about old, you’re also talking about stories. I love stories. Whether it’s just a short rambling, or a funny anecdote, or some great history involving the place, I cling to every word. In my book, whoever preserves these old gems are worthy of praise because they’re not only preserving the place as a whole, but the stories they contain…the people and events they’ve lived by. They are the irreplaceable parts of our history as a people and I would surely feel the same way even when I’m looking at old houses in Mindanao and Visayas as I would tour the houses in Luzon. IMG_2398

Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite

Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite

Me at the grandeur of it all.

Me at the grandeur of it all.

The Ayuntamiento Building in Manila.

The Ayuntamiento Building in Manila.

Interior of the San Agustin Church, one of the oldest churches in the Philippines.

Interior of the San Agustin Church, one of the oldest churches in the Philippines.

So why heritage? I like to think that I’m fighting for something that’s irreplaceable. An old house, an old building, a battlefield or an artifact, whatever they may be, the value they hold is no less important than what they look or what stories they contain. It could be my sentimental self speaking, but I like the thought of preserving the memories of old because without them, what am I going to call myself to begin with?

An old house in Pandacan, Manila

An old house in Pandacan, Manila

When you’re doing your part on preserving the history, you’re passing down an identity, a consciousness to the future generation.  Loving our heritage, even if it’s influenced by our conquerors and colonizers, intricately connects and binds us together. You may love heritage for its art, or for its architectural wonder, or how it survived many generations, anywhere you look at it, it will remind us of what we endured and learned as a people.

Fantasies and Realities of The Graduate

It’s like I was playing some kind of game, but the rules don’t make any sense to me. They’re being made up by all the wrong people. I mean no one makes them up. They seem to make themselves up.
The Graduate. Based on the novel of the same title by Charles Webb and directed by Mike Nichols.

The Graduate. Based on the novel of the same title by Charles Webb and directed by Mike Nichols.

The Graduate is one of my favorite Classic films. It continues to echo the big question of: ‘What now?’. What’s remotely morbid about it is that, I and perhaps most people on my generation, can still relate to it even decades after.

The Graduate is about a promising young man named Benjamin who, after finishing college, was welcomed into a grand homecoming by his doting, overbearing parents. Benjamin finds himself in the crossroads where he has absolutely no idea what to do with his life, but he knew exactly what he wanted to be: To be different. And that itself humanizes his character and sets his actions in a logical response of what will be known as the (in)famous arrangement with sultry and enigmatic Mrs. Robinson.

Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson slightly opens up to each other.

Mrs. Robinson telling Benjamin about her happy life being cut off by an unwanted marriage

Benjamin, in his straight-laced, awkward glory, is not a difficult prey for the more experienced, more worldly Mrs. Robinson, who perhaps out of middle-class boredom or between a tragic unfulfilled life, chose the hapless Benjamin for an act which satisfies them both, physically and psychologically.  As shown in frequent symbolism in the movie, Benjamin spends his days drifting idly on the pool and sinking deeper into that ‘need’ to break the ‘rules’ by sleeping with a married woman twice his age. He then learns more about Mrs. Robinson’s character and we, as an audience, learned how she turned out to be one of the most sympathetic characters in movie history. Their arrangement took a sudden turn with the arrival of Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine, from college. Despite Mrs. Robinson’s warnings, Benjamin develops a relationship with Elaine and he sound found himself enamored with the thought of being in love with her. Shortly after, Elaine discovered her mother’s adultery and went off to college, angry over Benjamin for having ‘raped’ her mother. Benjamin runs off after her like a love-struck fool and in the end, he manages to regain her forgiveness and the two started a relationship.

But Elaine’s parents decided to marry her off to someone else. In movie history’s one of the most iconic moments, Benjamin runs off to the church to stop the wedding, calling Elaine’s name repeatedly while banging on church glass. Elaine turns around and screams his name just as dramatically. They escaped the church together, fighting off the angry shouts from their parents, and recklessly chasing a passing bus. In any typical romantic film, the movie would have ended with them laughing together at their great escape, or maybe with a passionate kiss. But The Graduate finishes in a note that’s both puzzling and enduring, one that leaves you with so much thought on how actually deep this movie truly is. As sickeningly cliche as this may sound, you have to see the movie to understand it.

Realization sinks in between Benjamin and Elaine. 'We're stuck with each other now'

Realization sinks in between Benjamin and Elaine. ‘We’re stuck with each other now’

From the very start, Benjamin’s life, coupled with over-controlling ‘weird’ parents, is literally contained inside this vision of grandeur his family and the society have constructed around him. When you think of it, him recklessly jumping off in an illicit affair with Mrs. Robinson provides a perfect ‘escape’ for him, a ground where he can be ‘different’ and break the rules after dully following them all his life. That also explains his defiance over Mrs. Robinson’s pleas to not develop a relationship with Elaine. Like Benjamin, Elaine is probably more or less controlled by her own parents, as emphasized by the marriage they forced her into by the end of the film. It’s safe to assume that Elaine and Benjamin are in the same shell, and probably by being together against the wishes of their parents, they are thinking that they can break away from that shell by running off and leaving everything else behind.

But as the road stretched before them, they sat in silence at the back of the bus, their laughter gradually fading. That’s the time they’ve realized that there is no ‘authority’ to struggle against anymore, no expectation they have to meet, and worse of all, they are burdened with each other now. There’s no turning back. It’s left to us viewers wondering if their rebellion bears a good fruit or not, and personally, these endings get on my nerves but I’m unable to stop myself from praising these classic finishing touches if they are well done. With the famous ‘Sounds of Silence’ creeping in, The Graduate leaves quite an impact it desired, one that’s both unforgettable and subject to endless debate. Does it end in
a happily-ever-after? Will Benjamin and Elaine grew to be like their parents, the very people they loathed to become? What exactly did their action accomplish? Do they really love each other or they’re just in love with the thought of freedom and seeing the satisfying anger their defiance brought?

Either ways, The Graduate manages to let the audience draw the conclusion based on our respective philosophies about life. Some of us would like to think it’s a happy ending, while others would draw to a more realistic conclusion. What we know is that the film has no intention to answer Benjamin’s big question at the very beginning of the film. Instead, it brings us to the same question we’ve all been struggling for at the beginning: What the hell happens now? And that, in itself, makes The Graduate one of the boldest movies of all time, contextually and metaphorically.

Manila Cathedral and Random Musings

The last time I ventured inside the vast Manila Cathedral was when I was in 2nd year college and had no idea of the historical relevance of the place. Yesterday, I bore witness to the grand re-opening of Manila’s cultural and religious jewel, the seat of the Catholic influence in the whole Philippines and a great heritage treasure we should cherish regardless of religion or absence of.

How beautiful is that?

How beautiful is that?

The Manila Cathedral sits at the center of Intramuros, the historic walled city, in the gardens of Plaza Roma in front of the Fort Santiago. It is one of the last cultural buildings that had retained its former glory and grandeur. Unlike the San Augustine Church, the original Cathedral didn’t survive the bombing of Manila during WW2 like most of the city’s old Hispanic buildings. Much of the old church was destroyed but the original plan and design were retained for old times’ sake.

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Even before the destruction of the churches in Cebu and Bohol due to the 7.8 magnitude quake that struck Visayas last year, it is already a great concern for the church administrators and Manila city officials to preserve the Cathedral for future disasters. Starting from 2011, the Cathedral was closed for retrofitting so it can withstand strong shockwaves from earthquakes. Donations and pledges are made and after two years, the Cathedral is now ready to open its doors to the local worshipers and foreign tourists. Undoubtedly, it will be another precious collection to Intramuros’ rich heritage for non-Filipinos to see.

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Stained windows

Stained windows depicting the patron of Manila, Immaculate Concepcion

A replication of the Pieta

A replication of the Pieta located at one of Cathedral’s inner chambers

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Forgive the blasphemy but I have to say this: Manila Cathedral, you are a heck of a sexy architecture and I hope your glory lives as long as there is still a Philippines.

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Random Musings 

The reopening of the Cathedral provided an excuse for a small college barkada reunion. And when you’re in a historic, solemn place with your nerdy, history-buff friends, discussions and stories are bound to be serious, if not philosophical.

Jayson, wearing his green-striped polo shirt tucked in his pants, has to sneak away from his work as a reporter to the local paper just to catch the event. When it comes to Philippine history, he’s the rockstar ever since our college days. Rene (my other friend) and I can only listen and nod agreeably when he’s spewing angry tirades and rants about anything from people ignoring and ambushing the performing Rondalla dancers once the doors of the Cathedral are opened, to the conspiracy involving the Bangsamoro peace deal. He knows the history of Intramuros in the palm of his hand and if there’s anyone who loves Manila inside and out, despite its blatant flaws, it’s him.

When you’re with a friend like Jayson, you will feel guilty of not being Filipino enough. He’s as precious as a heritage building: Few but true. That’s the most poetic description I could think of about a friend.

So late at night after the mass, as we strolled around the cobbled pathways of Intramuros, getting drunk over the mellow streetlights and melodic clamps of moving calesas, we engaged in our favorite pasttime of asking ourselves of what had gone wrong in Philippine history that condemned us in this culture of mediocrity and inferiority.

And the reason why I wrote down this anecdote is because of Jayson’s tirades. According to his lengthy but interesting exposition, even before the Spaniards came, the islands are already governed with several clans and tribes, each had the habit of waging war and killing each other off. In pre-Hispanic Manila alone, there are already three kingdoms thriving: The Kingdom of Maynila, Tundo and Namayan. Tribes across Luzon pledges loyalty to the Kingdom of Manila, but they are ruled autonomously, each with different leaders who seldom cooperate with each other.

“The Spaniards didn’t understand the complexity of the political system in the archipelago.” Jayson explains. “They didn’t understand that there’s a culture of strong regionalism in each island, in each province. Most people recognized Lapu-lapu as a hero of Cebu but Cebu and Mactan are ruled by different datus then and each held a bitter grudge against each other.”

What the Spaniards did, Jayson explained, is they rounded up all these kingdoms, tribes, clans, islands in one country in such a rush despite the obvious disagreements and grudges, hoping the hodge-podge would call itself a nation.

“Nasa dugo na ng mga Pilipino ‘yan.” (It’s in our genetic code). Jayson continues. “We inherently sided with the community than pledge our support to the greater society. That’s why we have political dynasties ruled by rich families  in each region or province until now. It is in our nature to be ‘loyal’ to this people. The lack of education didn’t help our situation.”

That observation can only come from someone who spent so much time thinking about the Philippines, and there’s no question that Jayson is like that.

The discussion moved from Filipino society to the Spratly Island tension against China. Rene pointed out that if there’s one thing that unites Filipinos, it’s the presence of a common enemy perceived as an invader or a bully, as what majority call China these past few weeks.

“Well, at least we have to thank China for that,” I quipped. “Without China the ‘bully’, we would be busy pulling each other down.”

“Mabuhay China!” we cheered, and a couple who were busy making out at the corner just sent us weird looks.

We enjoyed the sated calm that follows after the orgasmic discussion. Who knew having threesome could be so gratifying?

 

Traveliries: Leyte Three Months After

Ormoc Port, Leyte

Ormoc Port, Leyte

The first thing I have noticed are the coconut trees.

My first absurdly hilarious thought was that they were all suffering from a terrible haircut, their leaves frozen in mid-air as if time had stopped and they are left in that state even when the world began to move around them. You can easily tell the direction of the strong winds when Yolanda came. And how everything remained the same even after she left.

Before Yolanda, my view of Leyte was through the traveler’s eyes, just like everyone else. There’s nothing in my mind but the McArthur Monument, the San Juanico Bridge, the bustling fish port, the laidback and seaside life that is so common with Visayan cities. These thoughts didn’t come to me when I landed to the typhoon-ravaged Leyte the very first time. There were no statements, just questions. Are people getting enough food? How are they recovering? How are they all coping?

What happens now?

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A church undergoing a major renovation after Yolanda slammed it down.

Leyte, a simple place with beautiful pampas that stretched from miles and miles. How could a sweet place like this fell on the path of destruction that took so many lives?

Coconut trees with bad "haircuts"

Coconut trees with bad “haircuts”

But even if the coconut leaves remained frozen, the people continued living.

A school beside the road en route to Tacloban.

A school beside the road en route to Tacloban.

How can you expect people to move on with all these debris lying around?

How can you expect people to move on with all these debris lying around?

Shops and malls are opened. The port in Ormoc has become busy once again. The marketplace is bustling. The men are carting off construction materials for their homes. Everyone is moving on. The sky is clear, the sun is high, the clouds nowhere to be found…even the gummy tropical heat is mildly comforting because it’s familiar. Everything is normal. I could have been in any province of the Philippines.

Heritage houses also fell victims to Yolanda's wrath.

Heritage houses also fell victims to Yolanda’s wrath.

Everywhere in Leyte bears the physical scars brought by Yolanda, even a hundred days after the Typhoon, yet people remained steadfast despite of it all, and I don’t think I could ever find a more resilient people.

I’ve been asking myself all throughout the ride. What do these people did to deserve Yolanda? Why such a high price to pay just for a ‘lesson learned’? In Leyte, there are more questions than answers. And as cheerful and steady the people are surrounding me, I still felt helpless as I ever did on the day Yolanda came to Samar and Leyte, sitting safe and sound inside my office far away in Manila while monitoring the latest updates. No powers of empathy can make you feel of the terror these people had gone through.

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“It was a price we need to pay,” Juvs, our Waray host, said. “We have underestimated the storm and the surge it brought. We used to think that we were veterans when it comes to typhoons. One storm and it’s all back to normal. Until Yolanda. Now, even a tiny bit of rain can scare us all off.”

The wind was singing. One victim recounted. It was a shrill cry that would send shiver down your arms. It was the longest hour of our lives.

The memories, just like the coconut leaves, would remain frozen in their minds, haunting them when the sky begins to cry. Embedded in their lives. The fear is constant, an ever-present spirit that haunts them whenever the sky is gray and pregnant with rain.

We passed a cemetery along the road. An unpleasant smell lingered all over the place, and beside the gate, an ancient Acacia tree, the once-mighty guard of the dead, has fallen. Yolanda didn’t left a stone unturned.

“We are sending aids.” I told them in a way of slightly uplifting their spirits. I wished they could have taught us in college what should we say to people who lost so much in one day. What will you say? You were not there when the storm came. In times of grief, sometimes, words are just not enough. “The whole world is focused on you. Everywhere in the world, they are all sending aids.” But for how long?

“Good, because many of us would rely on the relief goods for a very long time.” they smiled wryly. What I noticed about Warays, or Filipinos in general, is the way they squeeze in the humor out of otherwise life-threatening experiences. Before long, the harrowing orderal is buried by laughter over the stories of fake NPA attacks and oversized shrimps that offered them a magnificent feast (“Para kaming di nabagyo!”) when the ocean retreated. In the end, It only occurred to me that they’re not laughing it out, they are merely focusing on the funny parts. The sad ones, they just kept to themselves.

They were curious on what the people outside Leyte knew about the number of people who perished that day.

“How many people died according to the news?”

“7,000″ I answered. According to the latest figures from the government and the media, ’bout 6,000+ people are officially declared as fatalities of the typhoon and it was already a big estimate on its own.

They shook their heads in wonder and dismay “Not even close.”

We passed a collapsed astrodome in Palo, Leyte that had became a temporary sanctuary of those fleeing from the storm. It was its first and last service to the community.

“About 10,000 people alone died in there.” they said.

The astrodome that became the final resting place of thousands of people.

The astrodome that became the final resting place of thousands of people.

“We’re angry not because of the slow government response, or the stinky NFA rice they gave to us,” Ate Juvs continued as we neared to Tacloban city. “We understand that no country in the world is prepared for Yolanda. We’re angry because they lied with the body count. For them it’s just numbers and figures. For us, it’s family and friends….loved ones we’ll never see again.”

“I wish the dead would haunt them” another one said piously.

The destruction grew more apparent when as we go nearer to Tacloban City.  Ormoc, Carigara, Palo…Tacloban. What of other provinces? How many people truly died in Samar alone? In northern Cebu? In Aklan? In Coron, Palawan?

“Why would they lie with the numbers?” I asked aloud. During the Ondoy incident in Marikina last 2009, rumors kept circulating that they lied with the number of casualties too. Why would they lie? To save face? To avoid international backlash?

But no country is prepared for Yolanda, right?

“Once they released a more accurate estimate of the dead, they said that UN will have to take over Leyte. And to be honest, we have no problem with that. For the relief distribution…the rehabilitation efforts. Until everything is back to normal, we want to be under the UN.”

And that means no more foreign and local donations to be pocketed by government officials, I thought cynically.

I said, “Oh, c’mon. You just don’t want to share all the goods with the government!”

“Waray-waray na nga, kukurakutin pa nila!” they replied back with a smile. “Waray” in Tagalog means ‘wala’, as in nothing.

We all laughed while we rode along the roofless houses, the dilapidated schools, the piles of debris, the unmoving coconut leaves.

Because we can only laugh through it all.

Because though the uncontrollable disaster, the loss of many lives, the injustice of  it all…. in the end, resilience is the only thing we have it going.

Yolanda bunkhouse

Yolanda bunkhouse

 

Tacloban airport resembling a bus terminal :(

Tacloban airport resembling a bus terminal :(