Monthly Archives: October 2012
October 30, 2012. Davao Penal Colony. Cashier’s Office. 5AM. The early morning drizzle greeted the dawn, an auspicious day like any other. It was a lazy Tuesday. As it was his routine, the armorer went through his normal duty. He assumed as shift officer as armorer, got the keys to the main office and proceeded to open the main door and to close the lights. It has been like that for years, at least for those designated with such responsibility.
As the armorer went through the motion of entering the main building, he noticed something unusual. The first office one would note is the cashier because it serves the fiduciary function of the institution. The door of the office was left ajar. There were even tell-tale signs that it was forcibly opened.
The officer withdrew and called his fellow officers on what he discovered. The reinforcements immediately appeared and in a few seconds, the entire building was cordoned off. They believed that the office had been violated. There was a break in.
The municipal police was called and the station immediately dispatched a team of PNP SOCO (Scene of the crime operatives) in the area.
The cashier, the one in charge, on the other hand, who was earlier informed on the state of disarray of her office was speechless and was almost in shock. She had a day earlier issued the payroll to the employees and she had a few envelopes still left for distribution. The pay envelopes containing cash and loose change were still in her drawers outside of the vault. If indeed her office was ransacked, everything there would have been carted away, an easy pick. Every valuable outside the steel cabinet would be fair game.
That fateful day, the cashier’s office was meticulously rigged with a cordon. No one was supposed to trespass. It was veritable “no man’s land” until the police and the institution’s investigators would have concluded their crime analysis.
The joint team of police and Dapecol investigators scoured the area for tell tale signs. They snooped around for clues. They wanted to know where the robber passed through. They had sketches drawn to determine the exact steps the culprit took until they (assuming it is a group) reached the cashier’s room. There were mudded rubber shoe prints. But the prints yielded a similar pattern, an indication that it came from just one person.
The robber entered through plywood covered window of the conference room where adjacent to said facility is the office of the Superintendent. Said office however was by passed. Several offices leading to the cashier’s office were also ignored. The intention was mainly to get through the cashier’s office. But it was an amateur’s effort since the cashier had already given what was withdrawn as payroll for the personnel the day before. If at all something could be amassed, it would mainly be stacks of promissory notes!
Investigators noted that the door of the cashier’s office was forcibly opened. The padlock was broken. Inside the room, the drawers of the personnel were likewise unlocked, leaving the entire contents displayed. Although most of the things that were strewn were empty pay envelopes, a gallon full of bills and coins, intended as donation for the construction of the community chapel, was left atop the desk for the taking. On the further end of the desk was a stack of coins but which was scattered as a result of the attempted heist. Again, there was no indication that they would bag the coins since it was left behind sprawling on the floor.
According to the cashier when finally she calmed down and had began to conduct an inventory of her things, the check books, the vouchers, the unsigned checks, forms and related documents were in their proper places and undisturbed. The vault where cash and valuables were safely kept remained as it were, untouched and without any trace of disruption.
It has been surmised by the joint operation of investigators that the regular patrol team which conducted their on-site inspection may have unsettled the culprit forcing them to leave their nefarious mission in haste.
The cashier and personnel of the cashier’s office were tasked by Dapecol leadership to counter check and conduct an instant inventory of property and valuable items especially a cash count of their belongings both personal and official to arrive at the total picture of the incident. As a result of their findings, nothing has been vanished nor went missing. The gallon full of bills and coins were still there for endorsement to the church officials.
Be that as it may, there was still something that was robbed and which consequently has been lost in the process—it was the officers’ complacency.
There is an old worn out cliché that says “Different folks, different strokes.” Appreciating life depends therefore on where the person is coming from. For a student, it is the completion of a school course. To a prisoner, his day of release. For a government worker, a salary increase and promotion. To a worker in a private firm, security of tenure. For a housewife, a stable domestic life. To children, a continuous supply of toys. So on and so forth.
On a bigger plane, life is appreciated in the context of public safety, on the prevailing peace and order, on the imposition of laws, on the proper application of social justice. This of course belongs to the realm of governance—that harmonious blending of government, private and citizen services towards a common goal. This area aptly is based on the leadership quality of the community and could hardly be contained by individual requirements. This is a collective choice.
On a personal note though, that which animates appreciation in life is basically a question of norms, a question of requirements in achieving happiness. Happiness at times is viewed in the prism of contentment, on basic satisfaction of a specific consideration. By and large, a healthy body promotes a happy disposition for living. Although, oftentimes it is ignored and relegated to a blind corner, health is nonetheless the apex of a person in achieving something worthy for himself. It is a pity that health at times is sacrificed to extract token and temporary happiness by immersing in vices like substance and drug abuse, consuming processed and toxic foods, idling time. Every unwholesome activity is savored until the costs are manifested through ailment and life threatening diseases. The happiness derived in these concerns became the prerequisite for a disillusioned and an unhealthy life. Here, the lesson on appreciating life becomes amplified and repentance or realization brought to the fore.
I recalled an instance in the past when I would pepper my father to buy me a bike. Every kid in the neighborhood had one (and at that time, there were no surpluses yet unlike now where every street corner one finds an ukay-ukay stall featuring every known commodity from furniture to toys, from cars to bikes). My father was an ordinary government worker then and could not as yet provide us such advantage. Peeved by my audacity in pleading for a bicycle, my father finally gave word.
“Ok Ven, dress up and I will take you a place where you can appreciate life better with or without a bike.” He said.
“Yeheyyy!” I was excited to hear father finally responding to my youthful demands even if he made certain comments that would douse my enthusiasm in the event he fails in buying me a bike. For me to get his attention was enough, I still hope I could convince him in the process. I had no idea then what working hard and saving money mean.
We boarded a bus and we alighted near the bus stop adjacent to a public hospital. I was a springy 9 year old tot at that time.
“Ven, let’s go. Let us check first a friend who is confined here before we proceed.” My father seriously instructed.
We went through the admission side of the hospital and went through a bend leading to the emergency room. The air had stench of alcohol, people in white uniforms were almost running side to side, and those in green duster had white gauge on their snouts. I had no idea who was a doctor and who was not.
There were several stretchers and steel beds, all brimming with helpless people, some in bandage, some bloodied, some motionless. It was a terrible sight. I had not seen anything like that. Those people milling along the corridors were crying, some looking like desperate, just like the desperation I pictured myself to be while prodding my father earlier on.
My father whispered. “Ven, have you seen that fellow wrapped in blanket, the face very youthful but grimacing pain?”
“Yes father. He must be hurting.”
“Look at those around him. They are probably members of his family.”
“They must be rich. Look at the them, they have jewelries and their dress must be expensive. Look at the bags and those that they possess, it must be costly.”
“They also look wealthy because they are clean.”
“Now, listen Ven. These are people who can afford to buy several bicycles for their kids, especially for the one on the bed wrapped in blanket. What do you think would the one on the bed wish for, a bike or his health?”
I smiled at the question which father posed to me. “Naturally, his health because he cannot enjoy a bicycle ride if he is that sick.”
“Precisely my son. Who is better? You, a healthy boy without a bike or that wealthy boy who can afford to buy several bikes but are very sick to enjoy even the air in the park. Who is wealthier therefore? Us or them? Or, simply put, who is happier, you or the poor kid agonizing on his bed?”
I know what father wanted me to realize then. I am better off than anyone in the hospital. I am better off even if I have no bike. I am better off because I am healthy.
My father would quip every time I would cast a teary eye on something which I would fancy somewhere along the line, “Health is wealth.” I would hear this almost everywhere, expressed in almost senseless way, but for me it has gained a new meaning, a valuable implication, a significant consideration. That health is everything and on top of every other mundane consideration whether it is material or something intellectual.
I took a leaf from the wisdom of that trip in the hospital with my father.
What is there to appreciate in life? It’s health, nothing more.
First off, employment. Nowadays, it does not pay to be unemployed, or even to be underemployed. If you are married, you have to grab with your smooth palm the proverbial sharp edge of the blade, just to be employed—-in whatever capacity, in whatever way. I you are single, the more you have to be liquid so that you could get the best deal in the world of technology (or gimmickry) —starting with a high end cellular phone. But working in government is a simple proposition if you have the credentials like the Civil Service eligibility. It works wonder if you have it. Passing the eligibility exam is not a breeze though but for those who regularly read the dailies, it is almost like a song. Readers have certain advantages over those who are not. That is one skill which the school ought to impose on its studentry but commercialism dictates that it is not the priority. Hence, most of the graduates have no interest, much more so, any penchant at all to read. In the private firm, it is even more difficult to get through. I am digressing though.
What is really there in the prison service in the first place? For the newcomer, it is the competitive remuneration. The allowances. It has to be that materialistic way since we are dealing with the profession in criminal justice administration specializing in corrections. And professionals, specialists at that, therefore must be paid accordingly. Like in NBA, a league of professional sportsmen, no pay-no play. Prison personnel are given a hazard pay on top of other perquisites, something which no government officer receives from their respective agency. Never mind the hazards and dangers. Never mind the unattractive environment. Never mind the usual indifferent attitude of some bureaucrats in the midst. Never mind the arrogance of the prison climate. Never mind the deceptive condition of the prison population. The professional worker must be there in his most objective and impartial manner. The professional is therefore to be distinguished with the amateur; the latter plays even if there is no pay. They work, even better and more audacious, than their counterpart in the regular outfit, but they, as newbie, are still emotionally and sentimentally attached to the work environment. This is a no-no in the prison service.
A prison worker, like an amateur, who begins to understand the plight of the prison community according to the lens and prism of inmates, signals the end of his neutrality. He becomes one of those he is supposed to govern and assist. He becomes biased and prejudiced. He becomes subjective and dependent. In other words, he becomes, whether he likes it or not, an inmate too. With that kind of immersion, he would just be surprised to find that he has never earned respect in the prison community and worst, even disrespected by his peers.
He should therefore concentrate on his post, in that area where he is posted or assigned. From there he could monitor that which is materializing in his presence without even his active participation. From where he is, he could appreciate the derelicts from the rest. He could verify the habitual from the conventional, the common from special, and the normal from subnormal or abnormal. Prison service is a world different from the rest of government service or even in the stretch of public service. Prison officers cater to the subliminal aspect of security administration. They must know when to react or not to react at all. They must understand character. They must know how to read behavior if only to respond properly.
What is there in the prison service for us therefore? Headaches, broken heart, dissatisfaction, disillusionment, even emphysema, diabetes, heart disease, depression and kidney failure. No, there is no contagion along that line. The prison community is never an infectious village, despite the filth and disorder; it is never given to episodes of epidemics. In prison however vices abound and everything compete with diversion. Oftentimes, the boredom felt by the prisoners get through into the consciousness of the prison worker until the latter gets monotonous, worn down and adopts the feeling of weariness. One gets sick because of this, because there is lack of focus. Employment in prison is more watching, as it should be, than working in the physical sense. Simply put, the work is in watching, in observing, in tailing. Then, at the end of the shift, the usual turn over to the succeeding officer. An important caveat should be noted: It is in mixing prison work with the concern for inmate personal requirements that serves as the mode providing conflict and confusion. It is there where focus is lost, cases at times are eventually brought into the fore, harassment the order of the day and the daunting challenge to survive, wreck havoc upon the health. Accidents and unnatural mishap at times are even heard.
However, for those neutral and are properly posted exuding cold detachment and has taken no sides in the prison community, there is something in the prison service for them. Its good health, confidence, warm peer relations, a healthy pocket full of savings and most of all raw wisdom, a shield against sudden misfortune.
My dear daughter,
I could understand how you felt when you were informed that there is once again, someone, the brother of your best friend, still youthful by today’s standard, in your long list of friends, who crossed over. (Sometime ago, you were there in the burial of your grandmother. And then after a while, attending the internment of your aunt. And as if it is not enough, a few days later, you were even the one who lay to rest your favorite pet dog. And now, as if your grief has as yet to wipe your tears away, you were a recipient of a request to check whether the brother of your best friend died alone in his own pad! You were there on rescue mode but your friend was correct, her brother died almost a day before you reached the place.) That is what life is all about. It is about getting born, having an education, being exposed to the vagaries of reality, competing, struggling, haggling and then the final outcome. It could be a long arduous climb to reach the top, or just to sustain what is there to find but nonetheless the end usually could spell a lot of difference.
It’s a pity that I am not always there to explain philosophy nor interpret for your easy comprehension the meaning of life but it is often shown to us, at times in a morbid way or in less tragic manner, as in witnessing how health deteriorates, how accidents claim a passersby, how pedestrians are hit or mauled, whatever, the termination of the most phenomenal consideration of humanity has always been there with us since the dawn of time—that is, the making and the fulfillment of life.
I tell you what. I have seen a lot of these matters, some before my eyes, as in executing the condemned men during my death penalty days; sometimes helplessly, waiting for time to claim a loved one whose body has been wracked by ailment, painfully at that; there are those who just called up to inform me of the passing of a friend, classmate, relative, neighbor, etc. Deaths are here, deaths are there. Where is it headed? When will be its turn for the rest, me included? Mortality has always been there, even to a busy mind. It reminds us of the end, and what should be done. Of course, we are all powerless when the time comes. No one is prepared anyway. It just arrives. It is a fact of reality which at times makes me envy on those who earn their upkeep in the process like insurance companies.
Let us have an example. An innocent ant on the way to a leftover food, helping itself, barely a dust disturbed while coursing through may be trampled upon, or may be slapped by a disgruntled human being. It may not matter to us, superior beings, but such is also our fate in the bigger picture of the universe. We do not also count if at all size matters compared with the entire galaxy system. Even our planet is just a speck, what more our mortal bodies. We are mere incidents if not accidents in the entire galactic consideration. We merely ascribe importance because we have cognition which can be trained and educated. The same can also be attributed to all living things—be it small or grand. Where we refer to some kind analytical skill as intelligence or even intellectualism, lower animals, those we like to ogle in zoos have similar if not more keen intelligence than man, they call it, or simply put, we assign it as sensitivity or plain instinct.
The problem with man is his ability to weep and be lonely. In the ant world, if one of their kinds is crushed, not one would sympathize. It may cause a little disruption and surprise but after a few seconds, they are off to their next station. The same can be said among elephants. But man is different. He is even given to vengeance if what happened has been deliberately committed against his friend or family, or even against himself, assuming he survives. Man’s sentiment carries him to a higher plane or conversely, brings him down to a dismal abyss of ignorance.
Life comes and it goes. That is how our universe is since the first nucleus of life came into being, what it constituted, what it was made of, and that is precisely what reality is all about. Life exudes consciousness, a certain degree of awareness but that is only a figment, a sudden flash on what is and what existence is all about. The essence is on perception.
Remember this dear child. Life is a celebration. Death is the culmination. That is how it is was, how it is and how it will be. That is one equation which we will always be encountering, as we have encountered and what we will in the near future expect to encounter.
So next time you hear of a loss, just think about history. Or, probably if you wish to be a little off beat once in a while, think about the ant.
Your loving father,
I do not feel any qualm of conscience or harbor any guilt feelings at all in admitting that I have been a smoker through and through. In the same manner that I would not expect anyone who would comb their hair every morning, brush their teeth after every meal or takes a bath daily as something offensive. No sir. It is part of routine unhealthy or unsightly it may be for others.
Smokers whatever their station in life is there for all of us to understand. I constantly seek it also for objectivity sake. I know and I have to. I am a smoker since my teen and I have never contracted any enemy for being such. Well, there are those who are allergic to smoke that is why I move away from people, from a crowd unless of course they flock to me while I am smoking.
I tried a lot of brands but settled on the cheapest. I would literally be burning money so why not burn the inexpensive ones. Habits at times are pricey but it could also be procured in the least costly way.
Any smoker will tell us that they learned it by association. Others through exposure and the rest, from the sheer expression of fulfilling their craft. There are those who munch on junk food while watching television, fixing their nostrils while reading, pulling ancillary growths, playing with their ding-a-ling while day dreaming, twitching their hair while having a phone conversation, dry-cleaning their skin while listening on the radio, biting nails while writing and a lot more. Smokers at least have a better way of projecting themselves alone by themselves or in public.
I am not lobbying for any brand of cigarette. As a matter of fact they can close shop anytime for all I care. I do not need them anyway. I can fix my own stick at any given time as long as there are withered leaves around and it is no brainer. For me what is important is the smoke. (I prefer papaya leaves because its fume is smooth and not as strong, like leaves of hardwood trees. But I am constantly exploring. I am sensitive to take down memories through smell. Hence, the scent of pines reminds me of Baguio City in my youth. With that in my nasal cavity, I feel I am young again. ) I am not particular about the taste although it helps but it is at the bottom of my concern. I am at ease using the pipe also and it is my preferred medium actually but at times it is too messy and troublesome.
If some people see me with a pipe, their impression is that I am pedantic and a snob. It does not matter to me anyhow though but it troubles me a lot to see friends pout once in a while. But if there is nothing to light up, the pipe and any dried leaves will do. I am not an inhaler anyway, I am just a puffer. Puffers however eventually occupy the lower shelf in the pyramid of a taster’s chain. Their taste buds may have been affected by the smoke. Anyway, they are never intrigued nor attracted with any good or tasty food. They may try it occasionally but they would never crave for it. Puffers have retained their body mass and their shirts and pants during their college years could still fit even in their midlife. Call it what you may, I am still a smoker by any standard and I am at peace with that consideration. My blood pressure is that of a juvenile and mind you, I am a warrior but I look like I have never gone to any war.
There is art in smoke. There is also inspiration. It appears like a spirit, ghost like and it reminds anyone of mortality. If the smoker is confined in a small room, it serves also as a mosquito repellant. Although it poses as a challenge to one’s lungs, it is already the smoker’s personal concern. A non smoker can die of an accident while crossing the street also. While there are reports indicating early deaths as a consequence of the smoking habit, I also know a lot of people who are centenarians and sworn smokers of the worst kind too.
This is not an apology from a burner. This is an admission, a confession, if you may, from someone who is in love with fumes.
I have been a prison administrator for more than three decades and the prison community is almost like my world. Actually it is the only universe I know outside of the solar system. Passing through, making way, getting to, working on has been a principal concern of my office right inside the prison compound. I am always in the habit of jotting down anything I could fancy, recording, taking notes on various aspects of institutional life, analyzing matters that border on the extraordinary. After all, the prison community is one such homogenous society, the exact opposite of the free community and completely different and composed of a galaxy of characters that pulsate on a different plane by its own right. It has its own culture and norm, language and even a share of something unusual and exceptional.
There is one aspect that invited curious attention. This is one group that stands out from the time the gates of prison is opened for visitation. 9 out of 10 visitors are closely related to the prison population. They are almost an institution in itself. They are the common-law-wives—the informal better-halves of prisoners. And there are two categories here of this marital situation. Those who were contracted before, that are, prior to incarceration. And those, while under detention.
The relationship forged before and after would intersect at the cross roads in prison and the effects are telling. This can be represented by two cases.
Mila regularly visits his common-law-husband in prison. They have five children and she was forced to do laundry to sustain the family. In between breaks from contracted household chore, she would pay a visit to the prison community. Sometimes she would bundle the youngest so that her spouse would have an inspiration while serving time. During visitation, the couple could be seen in one corner pledging undying support for one another and praying for another lease of opportunity to do the right thing after the period of incarceration.
Landa regularly visits his common-law-husband in prison too. She knew her husband through correspondence. She was a household help and she oftentimes spend her whole afternoon listening to radio while doing the chores. She heard the story of one prisoner who was in dire need of counsel and she would correspond to him regularly. She was impressed with the guy and so she braved to pay him a visit. She withdrew a part of her savings, bought some groceries and went to the penal facility to check on her new acquaintance. She expected something romantic since in their exchange of letters the man has been daring her for a relationship. From that time on, she would regularly attend to her beau and the man, who swore as estranged already from any relationship, would go further by writing authorities to record the name of the visitor as his common-law-wife.
For every Mila in the visitation hall, there were five Landas in the midst. The Milas would be repaid with fanatical loyalty when their loved ones see the light of freedom. The Landas on the other hand would partake a different path. They will be given a number of promises, sweet and encouraging ones, but when their spouse would be discharged they would be left only with a promise of a fulfilling company. The Landas would wait a lifetime for the promise to be fulfilled until she would again trek the prison to check on a common friend on the status of her man. The visit in prison would initiate another relationship after a word would be heard that her man has been declared as desaparacido—missing and presumed dead already. Although prisoners whose relationship was contracted while in detention would find the relationship as favorable while serving time, once released they find that having another at their back is a baggage and useless for a traveler. Besides, prisoners would rather go back to their community of orientation and to their families after a period of absence.
And so the Landas would be left holding an empty bag. They would however be consoled by their common friend, another prisoner who takes interest in them. They, individually, would be an assiduous visitor to her new found lover until release would separate them. She would be back in prison, already ageing and still hopeful. She knew prison like the back of her hand already, street smart and confident despite the numerous times she felt duped. She may not be able to project a competitive look among the new Landas in the midst but she could facilitate everything for the prison community. She can be a mule for their requirements, legal and illegal. They represent the silent but menacing third category among those queuing daily to enter the prison visitation hall.
For prison administrators, identifying this specific sector is already an accomplishment.
It has always been a sad day when a loved one passes away. But when a pet, say your favorite dog crosses over, it is a tragedy.
My sister and I had Peggy, a light brown native dog (askal as they say or a local mongrel), when we were young. Peggy was our universe next to our parents. She never made any complaint at all. She was one of us already. She may bark once in a while but that was meant only to remind us that she was a dog. But she is more than canine to us. She was a picture of loyalty, of devotion, of patience. She could also be a rabid follower, a protective company, a fanatical friend. She died a few years later and we, my sister and I, were never the same again. We became aloof, sensitive and vulnerable. We suffered a great loss that even our perceptions were terribly affected. We never allowed having pets anymore since that time on. We had grown to accept reality. It was a turning point. Our peggy made us mature overnight. Her death made my sister a scholar. And our pet had transformed me into an artist. We exuded in our respective field the same qualities we learned from her.
Years later, when I had my own family and kids, I would also introduce them in the same breath and cycle of emotional roller coaster by adopting a number of pets. I would even go further by having different pets in as many a specie I could find. We had a boa constrictor, a turtle, a goat, white mice, termite eating marsupial, bats, big ants, parrots, guinea pig, pangolin, arachnids, love birds, name it, we must have it. Our yard was once a veritable zoo and each specie we christened with names less than having them baptized. That was one orientation I initiated for my kids. They never became Kuya Kim or the popular Crocodile Dundee but I knew that my kids had a great time observing, caring and maintaining our pets. They had great fun and yes, education on what life was all about.
More years later, my kids would have their own preferences. They had cats of varying shades and color. They would even spring a surprise by picking up a lost kitten, black ones most especially near the garbage dump and would adopt it. It was not for once but several times. For a time, our house would be transformed into a veritable haven for the feline kind. Then a puppy would be brought in. As soon as the pretty canine becomes actively game as a member of the family, it would be lost. My kids had as many pet dogs later—shaggy furs, slim types, craggy ones.
And then, a dark colored puppy with crying and begging eyes was given them. It was for a time the center of my kid’s attention. The puppy was hugged, spoiled and coddled like a pillow and it responded with mirth, fidelity and some kind of piety for its masters.
The puppy in no time would grow up into a big hulking dog, fierce looking projecting a mean beast as it growls. It has grown almost 20 times its original size. It is menacing from a distance, it is intimidating up close. Its jaws were designed for the jugular and its paws are always mounted for assault. Not even a SWAT team would be capable of engaging the monster in a mortal combat!
We suspected all along that the dark colored pet had a foreign bloodline. It could have been a cross breed for a pointer, Labrador retriever, pomerarian and pit bull. It can easily terrorize anyone trying to annoy it. For a good number of years, it would be one pet which the kids would grow up with. It can determine its master’s presence a mile away except that it often overdoes its playfulness by accidentally biting hands that feed it. The injury would immediately be forgiven though. Dogs, especially pets, were never there to hurt their masters. There were even countless stories on the sworn loyalty of pet dogs. There was even a monument erected in Japan in their honor. The phrase “canine loyalty” was lifted directly from their instinctive attribute.
There were even studies conducted to determine the cognitive abilities of dogs. Accordingly, they share the same intelligence and emotional qualities as that of man. Science even had daring revelation that they could also determine with precision not only how dogs can memorize but also how they would describe their masters. When that time comes, it would be impractical to allow our pet dogs hang around inside our rooms anymore!
Going back to dear dark colored pet dog of my kids, it was a sweet occasion to have it always by their side. It barked a lot and for them it was music. Just as when things turn out not in accordance with my kid’s expectation, their pet would usually be there to lend its maximum presence. Hence, they rightly christened their pet as Maximus, a Roman name, bland yet brave, parsimonious yet compulsive, behave and alert.
Maxy was in charge of the house when everyone is out. It was the sentinel, the guard, the sentry. When everyone was in, it is the entertainer, the performer, an artiste. Maxy was almost a part of the family, a member of the clan, patient, enduring and uncomplaining. He had that quality which everyone loves.
Maxy was full of life, robust and active. Even at times when its ration was more on the fasting side rather than the feasting kind.
At the peak of his strength however he would die. His leash strangled his neck. Maxy lived well and was loved well. It left a vacant spot in the hearts of my family. My kids were never the same from that day on—they would all see life in the context of fate and faith. Fate as in having a timeline for everyone and faith, as in appreciating another life hereafter.
Nakamura Sang (or Mister Nakamura) was a gentleman of the old school. He was trained as a stone mason and became eventually a school teacher in Nagoya,Japan. His life would take certain twists and turn until he would encounter a problem he never dreamt of occurring. And it happened in another country where he chose to reside. His romantic view of life would be shattered by treachery and distrust. But that is getting ahead of the story.
A flourishing business
Nakamura was a friend of a fellow Jap whom sometime ago I saved from embarrassment. He was brought to me for consultation. Accordingly, he was duped by his adopted assistant, whom he sent to school and designated as right hand in his marble business.
Earlier on, he was part of a company package tour to visit the Philippines and he was instantly impressed. The people were hospitable, the girls are beautiful and economic activity slow but rather inviting. He was estranged from his family and he needed a place where he could reinvent himself. Months later, he would visit the country once again, this time convinced that he would stay for good. He applied for the status of migrant and tried to be a regular guy on the block. He started out hanging with Jap mainstays and would eventually explore some commercial undertaking by himself. It was a very rewarding experience. He got more involved in industries especially in construction.
It was a successful enterprise since he was able to bag a contract supplying the granite tiles for Ninoy Aquino Airport Terminal 3. The business was flourishing and he could not ask for more. He eventually married a beautiful lass and had two wonderful children. He could not ask for more blessings. He was always feeling on top of the world. He was a fledging school master in Japan but in the Philippines, he was already an accomplished industrialist.
One day, while checking on the receipts, his usual tact to complete his day, he noticed something odd. His receipts have automatic carbon trace at the back so that if one reflects the amount on the covering sheet, a duplicate is made without the usual carbon paper. There on the duplicate sheet were scribbles. The handwriting was very familiar. A letter was written atop the receipt and it marked on the secondary sheet. It was not an ordinary correspondence—it was a love letter! And the handwriting was that of his wife. It was intended for his adopted and trusted aide. Nakamura felt the heavens dropped from above.
He checked the vault and it was empty. His wife was nowhere and so was his staff. He was downtrodden and almost at a loss. Worst, every important document, land titles, contracts, notes and related business permits were all gone. He felt he was burned down literally. He never knew where to start except to call for a friend. If he could not contact anyone, for him that was enough reason to end everything. But his kids were still around and he was doing everything for them. For him, life must go on if only for his children. More so, he loved his wife so much that he wanted to find her so that their children would still continue to lead a normal life. His adopted staff must therefore be punished to the fullest. That was his promise to himself.
My friend’s friend
His alarmed colleague immediately arrived and he took note of what happened. He suggested to his friend that he report what happened to him to the police but Nakamura had a different plan. He wanted to talk to someone who can pull the trigger to rub off the treacherous fellow who duped him. His friend called me up. I was at that time always being interviewed on television as government functionary in charge in the execution of convicts pursuant to death penalty. I was a veritable icon in the world of law enforcement.
Days later, the two foreigners would appear on my door step. There were two expressions I would meet. One was full of excitement, another was gloomy. I was surprised at their visit since it was just the break of dawn, still very early for any transaction.
My friend opened up, “My dear boss, how are you?! It has been a long time since we had that pizza pie in Ermita.” I replied, “Yes, it was a thousand years ago, as a matter of fact. “ I continued, “What brought you here at this very early time? If you think you are trying to be an early bird out to catch a worm, you are in the wrong place. You are now inside a cage!” My friend had a hearty laughter, well, except for his buddy whose face turned from gloom to murkiness.
“What’s up?!!!” I inquired, while ushering them into the living room of my humble officer’s quarters. I was always alone in that place. “Please sit down, and if you care to have coffee, a thermos for hot water and a sachet of coffee is just on top of my dining table. You can help yourself.”
“Thank you dear friend. We had enough coffee the entire night and we just waited for the break of day to see you and consult on certain matters. You see, my friend here was cheated. It’s sordid. His wife was kidnapped by his staff and all his savings and important papers were taken away, including his money.”
“That’s very unfortunate. Why not report this to the police? I can do it for you if you think it deserves proper law enforcement action. Or, better report this to your embassy. It will merit instant response.”
“You see my friend, my colleague here is confused. Even if he wanted to tell authorities on what happened, he had a different approach which he wanted to propose to you.”
“Okay then let me hear it.” I pulled a cigarette stick and lighted it to project a figure of toughness.
The victim started with a hoarse voice but his language was understandable anyway. “Sir, I want to punish the guy who run away with my wife….”
“Wait a minute, I thought that your wife was kidnapped?…”
“Well…sort of…my wife was nowhere and my staff was not in his usual place. Both should be there at home as it has always been that way for more than a year. I saw a letter written by my wife addressed to my staff and they planned to elope.”
“Okay then. So there was no kidnapping. There was mutual agreement to abandon you. So what do you intend to do, what is your proposal then?”
“Well, sir, I am thinking if it is possible to take down my staff for disloyalty and treachery.”
“Let us include your wife because they both committed the same offense to you.”
“But sir, I love my wife …..very much and I wanted her to return……. to me, for our….. kids. Without the bastard fellow she may eventually go back……. to me. I wanted the guy…… taken down! ” He sobbed in between each phrase.
“You see, I have men who take orders from me. But we are different from the rest of equalizers. We study the case first and if in our judgment, there is basis for the imposition of extreme penalty, then we suggest it. If the incident happened because you started it, then I am sorry. We will just sympathize with what happened to you as a consequence.”
“But I am willing to pay. You see, I have a lot of collectibles, except that most of my papers were displaced but I can have it reproduced later.”
“No, don’t get me wrong. I am not after your money. Well it is material but not for me. I would assign someone to take on the case and your money will be used by my agent to settle down away from the heat generated by the revenge. But before he hits, he gets his blessings first from me. I must hear his report on the case before any action is to commence. If in my analysis, extreme penalty is not just, then everything is terminated. I will just inform you that there is no basis for any action. By the way, why not forgive your transgressors. That way you save so much and you get an instant peace of mind. Let the heavens punish your offenders, some kind of karmic justice. Take another leaf and begin a new life, this time wiser and shrewder than before. It’s a lesson on maturity and strength of resolve.”
“I want the fellow dead my dear sir.”
“I can introduce you to my agent and you get instant answer based on what you want. The problem there is that once the money you gave is gone and he expects for more from you, chances are you will forever be giving him so much on threat that he might implicate you in all his song numbers.”
“I prefer to negotiate with you only sir.”
“Then live with my standards or you can look for any other fellow. There is a lot of unemployed looking for hit jobs; you will never find any difficulty at all.”
“Okay Sir, how do you deal with my problem first? I have here 35k only but later I could give you more. How much do you think I should pay your agent?”
“35k is enough. My agent will be too happy to slap the face of your errand boy!”
“35k is just a down payment sir. How much would it cost for the hit job?”
“The cost is somewhere between the value of that which was lost to you. If I were you, I will never even entertain the thought of losing so much. Begin anew. Start once again. There is a saying that life is better the second time around. Brace yourself for more challenges and yes, more pain ahead that is how life is. Of course, there is always a silver lining in every cloud. Take it as a lesson. You are strengthened every time you pass through a problem. Believe me. Revenge is never a sign of happiness. It is a prelude to a lonely life.”
Nakamura was splayed and speechless for a minute. He could not decide on what to do. He could not respond anymore. He looked confused but a bit refreshed. He conferred with his buddy and they had some arguments as they stood up to take coffee.
I observed how the two argued in their language. Nipongo was spoken with inflection and done in shrieking baritone even if what were spoken were mere friendly and conversational dialogues. I could just imagine when a Jap is praying. From a distance it would look as if they are scolding the deity on the altar. Now, I understand why Japan has no religion at all.
Then my early morning visitors stretched out and bided me goodbye. They promised to be back. I said, “Call me up first so that I would set a time for our meeting.” They bowed in a Jap way, nodded and slowly walked away.
That was the last time I heard of my Jap friends.
My ever dearest daughter,
You expressed an air of relief or some kind of frustration last night when you sent this message to me “…sometimes I hope the world would be less complicated, less pruning. Glad friends and relatives keep me sane.” You may also, I submit for your perusal, include books and notebooks for that matter. Because if all else fail, it boils down to just one—your self. I remember sometime in the distant past when there was this quiz craze in the school campus when a question was circulated with the following inquiry: “If you will be marooned in an island all by yourself, what are the three things that you will bring?” We had fun answering it; we even intentionally answered it foolishly. We were young, unattached and the world was our playground. We never cared about life at all. Caring and well being were within the jurisdiction of our parents. We can safely afford to be care free.
But as one matures and is exposed to the vagaries of life—a short, at times, challenging and pain consuming life—one wonders, more so if he is all alone, by himself, what it is that makes him safe, secured, sane? He begins to think back and try to enumerate, perhaps appreciate where he is or where he should be or where he is headed to. Looking for meaning, defining every instance, wondering whether there is something to be done or probably folding up for doing something worth leaving, contemplating whether there is still something the world can offer or maybe some plans which the world is as yet to expect from one self. That is right. You said it correctly. Life is complicated nowadays. You add technology and presto! Life is a mixture of everything civilization has jumbled and muddled in the course of its evolution.
That is why there was this fad before, a “back to the basics” movement. There was wisdom in said activity although it never achieved quite a following. It was drowned with the latest innovation in the field of technology. The movement was something worth looking into anyway. It boiled down to contemplation, praying if you may, on reflecting in one corner, call it your room or your favorite side of the altar. No, not to perform a rite or ritual or some kind of incantation, but just to sit and focus on one matter, say a lighted candle, or a blank paper. In other words, only one activity (no multitasking). One tries to strip off everything that meant complication: processed foods, television shows, and dependency on Google or face book, malling, chatting, downloading apps, counting friends or savings, even expenses.
In my case, I scribble. I have an endless list to do as a matter of fact which makes me sane all throughout. I try to list down all my friends and describe them. I tell you its fun. Sometimes, I try to list down all those who became my opponents, those who try to pull me down and describe them physically and my fun is doubled. I have a lot of foolish ideas too; a separate notebook is reserved for that. I write a lot and it is not only very rewarding, it makes me stable and my thoughts always fresh. Thinking is what makes us human; reflection restores us back to humanity. A reading chore, even for a while, is a welcome break. But laughter, that capability to laugh at ourselves, at our mistakes, even at others (although you should not poke a rude joke at anyone, but you can write it down in your diary nonetheless) in other words, the capacity to see incongruity, fulfills our equilibrium. I tell you its more fun that way.
And when you begin to appreciate, to have fun, then life becomes meaningful. As your world becomes platonic and at times swirling through insanely, you feel you are alone in the universe enjoying every minute of the time.
And when that happens, no, you will not become a philosopher or a writer of note or a sage. You simply become your good old self, respectful, vibrant and ever youthful. Also, you will be projecting to your environment a capable, strong and a settled ally to those that matters to you. That in essence is what we really wanted to in the first place.
Take care always.
Your Loving Papey
It was supposed to be the last stage, the ultimate visit of a peer in college (Letran) because in a few weeks, he will have to undergo the final surgery. He was medically pronounced with an irreversible ailment pointing directly to an advanced stage of cancer. He had only a veritable number of weeks to live unless a miracle happens. It was conveyed to me and if it was a joke, which my friend often does, then it was a tasteless one. I merely presumed that he was not pulling my leg that time.
And so there he was, a dear friend, Dan Bassig, who immediately phoned me before flying back into the country. He wanted to know if I could still bring him to an herbalist which we visited before along with some close friends who were being treated for their ailments. Dan firmly believed that the herbalist cured his restless leg syndrome, an ailment which no hospital in US was able to treat. Honestly, I have forgotten how to navigate to the place anymore. I could not even ask those who frequent the healer because two of them died already. After learning on the status of his fellow patients, Dan was discouraged and instead begged to spend time with us in a laughter spree.
It was an awkward situation. Here was a friend in a terminal case trying to be relevant and enjoying every minute, fulfilling every moment with the rest of us who were in our pink of health. I tried to hide the seriousness of the situation and went along with our merry making. To further heighten the reunion, I invited my friends to visit a prison facility which I organized five years ago—the Correctional Institution for Women in Mindanao. From a fledging camp into a full blown school, the correctional institution for women became an instant hospice in Davao del Norte. There I would require my talented wards to present a musical number.
I acceded to join the presenters. The all female band required me to play the drums for them and we had fun singing retro songs. My friends were full of excitement. Dan even went up the stage and joined the singers. He gamely gyrated and advanced the current dance craze. Everybody had a great day.
Dan could not contain his emotions and disclosed his terminal condition. There was a moment of silence. For those in the audience, they were expecting a punch line. It could probably some kind of a joke. I took the microphone and attested to the disclosure. Indeed, it was true that Dan was in a terminal case and he was already expecting the worst.
I summoned those in attendance to believe that prayers can storm the heavens just by mere intention to pray for the safety and treatment of someone they loved. I knew it. I convinced a group of prisoners to conduct the same and the result was a resounding success. It’s a pity that I lost tract of that important intervention when my sister was also in a bad state of health. I was emotionally disturbed and could not compose my mind. I was banking on my children and her children to do the prayers. But my sister felt heavy and she could no longer contain the pain. She bowed out eventually.
I took the floor and began to seek a unity of purpose from the audience. I summoned everyone to give my friend that privileged to be prayed upon. Just for a second only. I never asked that a marathon prayer should be conducted; a simple prayer done in unison was what I was seeking. The audience responded positively. They would also include in their collective prayers the recuperation of my friend. I felt their concern that moment. After the brief program, we left.
I accosted my friends back to the hotel in the city and the next day, sent them off.
Two months later, my friend wrote on my face book wall declaring that he passed the medical examination. No, he never took the medical board to become a physician. He passed the rigors of medical procedures to determine his state of health following the findings on cancerous tissues affecting his internal organs and what was revealed was a good finding. The tissues they suspect as cancerous which may have metastasized had regressed and his internal organs were back to its normal functioning. In other words, my friend was completely healed.
The hospital attributed it to the medicine they applied. My friend thought that he was just lucky.
I personally believed that the prayers of prisoners made it happen.