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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

His Eye Is On Me Too: Life's Journey

"Shattered lives. Dreams crushed. Grieving orphans. These are the gifts these thugs and their gangs of sympathizers could serve up on a platter."

For now, I am departing from my usual staple of palatable issues I may say, with broader relevance.  The urge came to me these past few days to write about me, my family and the things that are central to my existence. Perhaps a symptom of nostalgia that evokes how life metamorphosed into what it has become today.

Growing up in a big family like  mine with scarce resources available, I could barely remember the days when we were basically pampered with little luxuries in life. We practically led modest lives. No goals set or ambitions to follow. What I knew  then - to be able to  finish elementary school was to be my greatest achievement. 

We ten siblings were born and raised in a mountainous part of Northern Negros. My father was a farmer and worked for an haciendero as an overseer. My mother would occasionally sell homemade puto and bibingka around the hacienda. As the  ninth child, I was the one least concerned of our economic status. As long as I didn't get interrupted playing, I was not a bit too worried of how life went about in the family.

Days passed, and I would see my mother sobbing. I was too young to understand then, that my older siblings were leaving us one after the other. I just heard that my sister then 18, was leaving for Calinog in Iloilo. She will have to do baby-sitting for my cousin while studying  night school. My older brother also went to South Cotabato in Mindanao to work in rice plantations. Another sister who's 15 was hired by a neighbor to work as housemaid in Mandaue City, Cebu.

Life indeed was hard for us albeit literally. I could remember stones raining on our roof and slingshots aimed at our windows. Weeping hysterically, my mother would grab the bolo from my father who was rushing through the door to confront our attackers. We too were so scared to death. These mobsters all belonged in one family who were envious at my father's supposedly nice job. They once tried to find fault with him  but his boss couldn't find any wrong with him. During those difficult stages, my father steadfastly held on for our sake. 

Those also were the days when the advent of the so-called  NPA phenomenon became ubiquitous in every corner. Those were scary and turbulent times when everybody trusted nobody. It was difficult to recognize who were the communist sympathizers and who played neutral. Both members of the military and the Left were in a frantic race to recruit new members. News of fierce clashes between them frightened the communities. Ambushes, massacres, strafing and systematic killing of rumored traitors were randomly done at will by the NPAs. The scenes of them being ushered to our home in midnight is still current in my memory. They would knock in the middle of the night and demand for support to "advance their cause" - be it 2 kilos of rice, dried fish or a live rooster.

I was in third grade when my father decided to quit his job. Those were the times when some hacienderos had to give up their trade because lack of support for the NPAs would mean hectares of fully-grown sugarcanes are outright candidate for torching. This meant we had to toil our ass off just to fend for ourselves -  and there were no plenty of options to choose. At that stage, my life abruptly changed. We had to completely rely on our small farm, plant rootcrops and bananas or vegetables, to sell in the nearest market some 17 kilometers away. 

Life had been that cumbersome in every sense. I was already resigned to the fact that after completing elementary, high school would be amiss in my agenda. I had so many goals that went down the drain. Once I aspired to be a marathon runner, having been influenced by our local municipal team that perennially won every national competition. In my elementary days, no one could beat me in an endurance run.

The threat of insurgents brainwashing young people had intensified in our area.  Barely a teen, I myself did not escape from the prodding of the members of Propaganda Organizing Team (POT) to join their core group.  The leader of the group was a former valedictorian in our school who personally spent hours "enlightening" me about their cause. At his budding age, I was so amazed at how he could spontaneously articulate things that I myself find incomprehensible. Years would pass when we received news, he was gunned down by a "Ka" or comrade while hogtied. His remains have not been recovered till date.

Upon my graduation from sixth grade, my mother decided to send me away, perhaps to another relative. But Lady Destiny had something else in mind. My oldest brother who never visited us for years had emerged from obscurity. After his marriage, he started a small buy-and-sell business in the northernmost part of Negros where they settled. He came to know that I did not enroll in high school and so decided to take me with him. He promised to enroll me in high school, but required me  at the same time to miss my classes occasionally, to babysit my niece when they're both away on a business. I gladly accepted the rules just for a thrill of what high school life will be about.

The next  four years I spent with them, would  go down as the most oxymoronic stage in my life - the feeling of being the happiest and the saddest. Of being a winner and a loser. Getting oppressed and getting revenge. Those were the days I hoped had not come but grateful they did. If I were to ponder that experience, the bitterness in me will cease not to breathe, for those were gloomy days that had stolen my youth, fraught with anger, frustration and deprivation. I just wish  I could write my thoughts down on this paradox. Someday I hope.

While onstage accepting my high school diploma, I was trying to comfort myself that hell is no eternity. I was lucky then to graduate despite the conspicuously abundant axe-like marks in my report card. Initially, my brother had pledged to help finance my college education maybe because he saw in me some potentials. I  enrolled in a private but cheaper college in Bacolod,  purposely  chose classes in nighttime so that I could figure out how to be productive during the day. Later on, I would find myself playing catch-me-if-you-can  with the Bacolod Police for illegal peddling along the sidewalk of the Regional Hospital. Those were thrilling moments reminiscent of the MMDA stunts behind a backdrop of wailing hawkers.

My being a consistent topper in all my Accounting classes did not help my cause either, as scarcity would later take its toll on me. I was eighteen when I embarked on a self-imposed exile to the Big City. Armed with a few units in college, I ventured working in a garments factory as a warehouse helper. One month would be too short for a first job, but my frail frame would eventually give way to the rigors of lifting cumbrous heavier-than-me loads. Life in Metro Manila indeed offers no compassion for the faint-hearted, and so I did not rest a day in my search for destiny.

I braved rain on a queue just to hand in  my bio-data only to be turned away when I didn't carry proof I worship at the House of Manalo. I also got duped by phony local employment agencies, offering non-existent jobs by charging a fee, to test your analytical ability, but would refuse to give you your result, and advising you to try again for another fee. But I was unperturbed,  thinking that there is no dearth of opportunities here compared to the uncertainties of life that went my way.

Indeed when Mr. Opportunity knocks, one should not hesitate to welcome him. And I did with arms stretched. My six-month contract with a famous bookstore was about to end, when a batchmate told me he had been scheduled for an interview for Dubai. He encouraged me to give a shot at the prospect, but I was too young then to even entertain the thoughts of it. Later, Mr. Jeremy Johnston would wish me luck and whisper   "see you in Dubai" to my astonishment. Sadly for Tom my colleague, he was not picked.

How time flies and it soars so fast.  Almost a third of my years were spent far from the blaring guns and camouflaged sinister-looking comrades of the hills, who brandish their wares in utter arrogance. The culture of impunity now exist in a once serene and laidback community. I had wished to go back there and relive the fresh air that calms my every senses, with its reassuring breeze of  peace and contentment. But those were the days of yore, as the smell of wrath and death now pervades the air.

A father would be dragged down from his sleep and gunned down in front of his terrified kids and wife.  More killings would follow. My younger brother would  barely escape a death sentence arising from suspicion that he carries a gun. Down on her knees, his wife pleaded for their lives and their young girl. "The Bible is what we keep and not a gun", her voice trembling. As God intervened and softened the hearts of the tyrants, they turned to the next house and sprayed bullets on an unsuspecting father of three, who had a rift with a sympathizer.

Awakened to a strange diet of nonsense violence, one day  people had to take different routes contrary to the ordinary; with livelihoods displaced and so began chaotic lives. Such has become to many, who had to endure jostling under a suppressed rented roof in a nearby city, and seemingly eternally deprived of opportunities, at least to exist. Shattered lives. Dreams crushed. Grieving orphans. These are the gifts these thugs and their gangs of sympathizers could serve up on a platter. They will cut you down as they please. They show no remorse for advancing their "cause",  even if it means death - to the defenseless and to themselves as the law of retribution takes its course.

To set foot again on my beloved place does not belong in my agenda, at least for now. Our abandoned house where we were born, our farm that supplied our needs, and the dogs left behind will be sorely missed. The scattered hymnal copies and torn pages of Sunday school manuals, now clutter our once little but lively church on the courtyard, as volunteers had to flee for their safety.

In a sense life is unpredictable. And if the assumption only the fit survives holds true, who else the unfit can turn to? I may say luck was on my side, but behind these iota of questions, lies the answer seemingly beyond our grasp, yet powerful enough to prove that the One who sets his eyes on a sparrow has His eyes on us too. That the trajectory of one's life solely depends on Him, He who has planned no harm for us. My gratitude to Him  for sparing my loved ones from the vicious symptoms of  flawed ideologies, where human compassion is usurped by hatred and cynicism. To Him be the glory!

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The Pope said...

Your childhood life was filled with sorrows and pain yet your heart and soul is wrapped with courage and faith.

In our journey in life, we face challenges that are overwhelming and during our struggle it leaves some unsightly scars that reminds us of the painful past.

But let's be reminded that in the midst of our struggle, as the tug-of-war begins, God has been holding our arms, He did not and have not let us go, leaving a scar of His love in our arms.

God bless you.

Desert Aquaforce said...

Son, very well written! It brings tears to my eyes imagining those painful experiences you had in the past... it has now become part of your collection... a collection of stepping stones to success!

Don't fret my dear friend and brother,God is faithful to carry you through. For He who begun a good work in you will be faithful to complete it to the end.

Yes, definitely His eye is on you... not just on the sparrow!

jules said...

you are an epitomy of success :D

Anonymous said...

No matter how dire the situation is, we are always left with choices in how we can lead our lives.

May you always be inspired to write. Your family must be really proud of what you have become.

God Bless.

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