Once Again

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Every morning when the dawn breaks, I have renewed hope. In this photo, the sun had just risen and was strolling under our pomelo tree in Candelaria, Quezon Province. For me, every morning was a sight to behold.

I’m back!

So, it’s been ages since my last post. And I never have imagined that I’d be writing once again. I’ll just take this opportunity to tell a very short story about what happened to me since my last post.

I’ve been struggling on how to fix my life. Turns out that the company I have worked with as a writer cannot financially sustain its operations and had to lay off several employees. And since I was the newest member, I was the weakest link. Up until know, I still wonder on how a media company would possibly be able to keep on running, broadcast worldwide, and pay about fifty employees with just selling geomancy and feng shui stuffs as source of income. I mean, seriously, I was very ambitious on the owner’s part. But then, that was a different story.

Just last year, I met a former co-worker from that company and told that sometime after we were laid-off, our former boss and owner of the media company faced a lawsuit, charged with estafa. Well, I thought, that figures.

Life was hard. Life of joblessness was churning my soul. I simply couldn’t figure out what was happening to my life. I have a family. I couldn’t simply give up, even if I desperately wanted to. They need me.

In the first months of 2014 things just got worse for me. Due to some dire circumstances me and my family were forced to move from our urban home in Bacoor City and to live in the rural backwaters of  Candelaria, Quezon Province. My father-in-law lived their in his childhood. And since his mother died recently and the house was left abandoned he offered me the house for us to live in. That time, I already have two sons – my eldest was four years and my youngest was turning one – and my wife was pregnant to our daughter.

I was used to living the life in the rural setting. During my own childhood and my teenage years, i used to spend my two-month summer vacation every year in my mother’s home village in Camarines Sur, Bicol Region. I had experienced living without electricity and running water, with the only means of connectivity to the modern civilization was a battery-powered transistor radio. So living in Candelaria wasn’t all that difficult for me – even if I have to gather firewood for cooking. As for my kids, they seem to be doing fine. They don’t mind at all living in the countryside. For my thinking, what’s wrong for them living there? They got to breath unpolluted air, the vegetables they eat are fresher, and the they got a quiet neighborhood.

My wife, however, wasn’t all that amused. She gave me all kinds of hell because she didn’t like living in the province. She was born and raised in the city and probably have no experiences whatsoever on living a rural life for more than a week. I totally understand her complaints and displeasure, I mean, I couldn’t agree more that we were facing a very serious problem of unemployment and having to borrow money from my mother to feed my family. But by that time, what choice do we have? We had nowhere to go. Candelaria was all where we can run to and  we had to make the most of it. We just had to be patient and wait and see and try to figure out how we can earn money to make ends meet.

To be honest, despite all the hardships, I found happiness in Candelaria. There was peace. There was quiet. The people are nice. During the first weeks of living there, I felt that I belong there. It was home. And although we were still struggling on figuring out on how to make money, I rediscovered my skills and talent. Or maybe I should say I was forced to. And I was happy about it. Because for once I get to realize that my future is in my hands. I’ve been overlooking my artistic skills for years. Maybe I could resume drawing and painting and other artworks then sell them. I could totally use the quietness and the tranquility of my new surroundings to regenerate my soul! I could totally use my passion for cooking for opening up a business!

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Pancit Habhab, one of the reasons I fell in love with Candelaria. Most eat it without the use of utensils, hence the word “habhab”, but I devour it using chopsticks.

Suddenly, the possibilities were enormous. There were still hard works that had to be done and odds are tremendous. But the possibilities were there. And that gave me hope.

But none ever happened. Nature has a way of rearranging itself, our lives, and our dreams. In July 2014 we were struck very hard by a devastating typhoon. Never in my entire life have I experienced such violence from nature. It was just the first one for the year’s typhoon season. In the middle of the night the house was flooded due to relentless rain brought by the typhoon. The house was not destroyed, though. But most of our things got soaked in the muddy flood water. We were so overwhelmed and the conditions unbearable for my family that we decided to go back to Bacoor City. That time, it was already alright for us to return there.

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Wild flowers bloom on our forested backyard.

Looking back, I had learned pretty hard lessons. It seems that I was purged. I was made to look deeply into myself and made me reassess my life. Of course I felt sorry for my family especially for my wife. But then again we had no choice.

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By June 2014, our pomelo started blooming, promising sweet pomelos. Something to look forward to.

Storms may come and go. They test our strength. The house was still there until now. Worn and neglected maybe, but it’s still there standing, waiting for its new occupant.

Looking back I am very grateful because in times of my troubles I found shelter. And in the middle of hardships I found true peace of mind and happiness. And most of all I found renewed hope. Everything happens for a reason.

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MY FIRST BREAK AS A JOURNALIST – MARKED WITH CHAOS AND BLOOD (Part 2)

A SWAT fires at one of the entrances of Silverio Compound
A SWAT fires at one of the entrances of Silverio Compound

In the middle of reality

At first, despite the violence, I stayed in the sidewalks right behind the angry crowds. But then, the police started heaving tear gas canisters near where I was standing. Most of the crowds started pulling back, but they were urged to get back into the battle field and face the police assault.

I stayed behind the angry crown for a little while. And when the situation intensified, I simply crossed towards the safer side of the street where it is safer and also to get a clearer view of the situation.

From where I was standing, some men from the crowd brought out a plastic bag of several Molotov cocktails in case the situation calls for their use. Part of me can’t believe what I was seeing. But there I was, standing in the middle of reality.

Afterwards, there came a wild roar of cheers. For the moment, the residents of Silverio Compound won a victory. Due to relentless hurling of rocks, wood blocks, slingshots, and the risks of being hit by fragments from home-made bombs known as “pillboxes”, the police phalanx fell and they hastily retreated in panic.

In the middle of chaos, I found my cameraman. We knew the imminent danger of being caught in the violence and be targeted by the angry crown ourselves. So I urged him that we get out from behind of the barricades and go somewhere safer while still able to cover the event.

But worse, we found ourselves in a sidewalk in the middle of the crowd and the police. But luckily, we were protected by a building from the flying rocks.

The crowd continued to advance in hopes that they can drive away the police once and for all. Huge chunks of rocks were falling on the street in front of us. There were also several pillboxes exploded in front of us. It never occurred to me that moment that we could have been hit by shrapnel.

The demolition teams tear down the southern barricade set up by the residents of Silverio Compound
The demolition teams tear down the southern barricade set up by the residents of Silverio Compound.

Unable to find them a live target of their fury, some men turned on their attention on the parked police car and a municipal service vehicle, shattering their windshields and battering them all over with batons.

 

Sudden turn of events

Finally, I can see men from the police side wearing black uniforms with actual firearms. They were from the Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT. They were already pointing their weapons towards the crowd.

Several more pillboxes were hurled and exploded in of us. Then the SWAT moved in front of us in a surgical fashion, first with a single column of very few men. There were gunshots. Too many to be distinguished as warning shots.

It was just too quick. Immediately, the crowds were pushed back. The SWAT teams were continually firing their weapons as they pass in front of us. At first fear came into my mind again, but for what I knew they were firing rubber bullets. And then I felt an excitement. The sting of burnt gun powder hung in the air.

For a second, I felt a very strange feeling. I suddenly liked what I was doing. Standing in the middle of the chaos, trying to make sense of things, hoping that one day I can tell the whole world of what happened according to what I saw.

 

A life lost

The police were rapidly advancing following the SWAT teams. We ran behind them in order to get a better cover of what was happening, not minding the pieces of broken glass and rocks that littered the street. We stopped and, ignoring the danger, we climbed on top of the center island that divides the Sucat Road and continued rolling of the camera. Despite the height advantage the center island gave us I held up my cell phone as high as I could to get a better shot.

Again, there were several more gunshots. Three? Four? Perhaps more.

Despite the pandemonium, there was that strange silence once again.

I heard someone from behind us yelled that someone had just been shot and killed.

As if by instinct, I leaped off from the center island and rushed towards where it was said someone had just been shot.

There it was – a limped body lie beside the center island. His left temple was shattered by what it seemed to me as a bullet impact. His forehead was splattered with pieces of his brain. Blood were gushing out from the back of his head. His jaw was still moving as if he was still clinging on to life or wanted to say something. But I know he was already dead. That was the very first time for me to see a person that had just been killed. Shocked, all I can say was, “shit!”

For a few seconds I managed to take a video of his death. But I cannot hold my camera onto him much longer. I felt that instead of keeping my phone camera rolling, perhaps I could have done something else to help the man. But I know that for all of it, there was nothing much I could do. So I just decided to turn away, and tried not to think much about it.

There was a wild lamentation around, begging for someone to help and bring the man to the hospital.

 

A SWAT watches over to contain the renewed outbreak of violence.
A SWAT watches over to contain the renewed outbreak of violence.

Easing out of tensions

The SWAT team succeeded in pushing back the crowd into the compound. For a while, they kept on firing rubber bullets towards the entrances of the compound.

Then it was quiet now. The demolition team, comprised mainly of civilian workers employed by the local government sole for the job, started to tearing down the barricades.

There were again some few clashes. Rocks were again flung. But the renewed violence was immediately contained as the SWAT teams threatened to open fire again at the defiant residents.

Almost by the minutes there were arrests made. There were several rioters, whose faces covered in blood, were dragged out of the compound by the SWAT. We even saw one that was evidently under aged, while some of them were caught carrying deadly weapons.

 

An uncertain future

A few minutes later, the demolition teams were already tearing down the houses within the compound itself. Weary residents can no longer do anything but to simply watch as their houses were being razed.

While taking pictures and videos of the demolition, I cannot help but to think and wonder about the people that used to live there. Where would they sleep for the night? What kind of future there was in store for them?

I remember the words of one of the leaders of the militants present there, she lamented to me that no relocation plans were offered for them.

I wonder what happened to that woman right after the riot broke out.

When we thought that everything was over, and there were nothing more to cover, we decided to head back to office. As we walked towards our service vehicle through the street littered with rocks and broken glasses, I gazed upon the destruction caused by the demolition. It was like in the pictures of warzones in Chechnya in the internet.

Despite the anarchy and lawlessness that just happened, everything went back to normal as if nothing ever happened.

Sapphired Thoughts

Through eons of time I'll wait for you.
Through eons of time I'll wait for you.

SAPPHIRED THOUGHTS

By Christopher Barja

 

A vibrant flower springs amidst the arid soil

Gentle and unstable, I dared not to touch it

Lest I might clumsily cause it to spoil

As some tried to do so, but they faltered

 

If it happened you tried to look around

And I was nowhere to be found

It was when I tried to find the precious tears

To ease her from the burden she bears

 

Or perhaps live you still in darkness within

But then, my message reached you

You felt and heard my distant hymn

Who am I to meddle?

 

I heard your own prayers

But they were inconspicuous

Nothing was brought up

For there were so many clutters

 

Heavy rains will cease to fall

The dawn promises a new affection

New one replaces the broken reflection

Now, hear my own revelation

 

I tagged along and you shined like a jewel

So fine and gentle as far as I can tell

Your fragile soul dances so subtle

Silently, helplessly, in fantasies I fell

 

Fields so green like jade

Skies so blue like sapphire

I’ll return to where I used to lay

I’ll wait for words you want to say