Sunday, December 31, 2006

Bang the drums slowly...

It will be just hours before New Year’s Day in the Philippines and Filipinos will literally welcome 2007 with a big big Bang!

Yes, we are a riotous lot and very loud revelers at that; just drive by or walk around in every nook and cranny in the 7,107 islands be it low tide or high tide when the clock strikes at midnight and you will know what I mean--

From the loud, energetic dancing in the streets to the boisterous drinking sessions like there is no tomorrow to the never-ending explosions in the air and smoke-filled surroundings, we’re one hell of a nation that really knows how to party come hell or high water.

And many of our countrymen will pay the heavy price literally and figuratively in terms of money and limb for we really are a stubborn people and inherent in each one of us is his/ her own set of beliefs/ views on things that would put Rizal’s Filosofong Tasyo to shame and the most glaring one in our character is that we don’t want to be told, period.

So, the usual warnings from authorities on the dangers of firecrackers or firing guns during the revelry will once again fall on deaf ears and we can be sure of hundreds of horror stories about the celebration gone awry the day after.

I remember when I was a little kid in my hometown of Tiwi, Albay where my playmates and I would scour the riverbanks where the bamboos are a-plenty looking for the biggest ones in order to have the best and loudest bamboo cannons in the barangay. All you can hear during the night are the booming exchanges between the bamboo cannons manned by different group of kids trying to “out- bomb” each other in a safe and friendly manner. The distinct sounds of the bamboo cannons fueled by kerosene were unmistakable that usually brought joy and happiness to the neighborhood kids, burnt eyelashes, hair and all. Alas, firecrackers were unheard of then. Now the native bamboo cannons are extinct at least in our place.

I remember when I was in my teens, where my friends and I would play with firecrackers until kingdom come. We literally burned whatever money in our pockets then and everything else in our way for at the stroke of midnight; we would light up some used automobile tires on the road and explode those Whistle Bombs, Rebentadors, 5- Stars, Super Lolos, Pla-plas and Bawangs with wild abandon to the consternations of the “old-timers" who could only shake their heads in amusement as well as resignation regarding the way we welcome the new year. Some show - offs would even hold the tip of the firecracker until it exploded; fortunately for them they emerged from their stunts unharmed. We surely had fun and more.

Believe you me, I’ve seen every conceivable and inconceivable act perpetrated by our countrymen just to celebrate the new year -- numerous victims of bullets, knives, fists and firecrackers all being rushed to the emergency room screaming in agony and some were ultimately hushed by death.

I’ve seen a friend rushing to help an uncle being ganged up by a group of drunken men and getting stabbed 13 times in the process. My friend survived but his uncle did not what with the “beinte -nueve” being stuck into his neck and hitting the Carotid Arteries that spurt blood like a fountain until he staggered to the ground lifeless.

I’ve seen a drunk old man brought to a nearby clinic with a towel wrapped around his right hand and when the young intern removed the made- up bandage, she screamed in horror for what’s left of his hand was just the three metacarpals and you could see the “white” bones protruding amid the scarlet liquids oozing from within. Just another case and a useless entry on the notorious “Pla- pla” in the hospital’s log book.

I’ve seen a very young boy with a bullet hole in the face courtesy of his drunken uncle- policeman doing an impersonation of Dirty Harry with his supposedly “empty” pistol and “accidentally” hitting his nephew with a “phantom” bullet or so he claims while doing the “make my day“ dialogue.

I’ve seen a young man with an ice-pick lodged in his chest, courtesy of his best friend obtained from a drinking session gone sour where they argued on some inane subjects like the “chicken and the egg.”

I’ve seen a 12- year old girl with a broken skull lying in a makeshift stretcher, a hit and run victim followed by a broken man who was driving under the influence earlier and tried top sped away from the crime scene but was chased and caught up by the angry crowd when he ran into a dead end and was meted street justice swiftly. Both he and his victim were brought to the same place where despite the interventions and everything, nothing could really save them.

In all of these tragic events there is only one common denominator---


Drink responsibly and have a Happy New Year!

And here's something that I have written on New Year's Eve a long time ago during a lull in the chaotic ER of one of the busiest hospitals in Quezon City, Philippines...

Chemical Warfare

Throw the bomb
before it explodes
right into your own hands.

In this age of broken bones
and mangled hands,
you explode firecrackers for fun!

But I don’t have the heart for such
I am nothing but a fat coward.

So, whenever I want to have some fun
I have my gaseous fart to trust!

It’s the safest that you can get
Without endangering any limb.

Try it if you must
And you can kick my butt
If it doesn’t work out right.

Manigong Bagong Taon po sainyong lahat!

Monday, December 25, 2006

X-mas Three

Three poems on Christmas, that is.

Written on three different occasions that show my moods at a certain time.
It’s nothing special though, just some inane scribbles on my notepad while trying to pass the time.

Anyway, read ’em and weep...

It's midnight and here I am once again tapping on the computer keyboard
Trying my best not to fall asleep as I try to write my piece.

It’s been going on like this since I started this pointless exercise one quiet and cold evening a month ago today--

I am still here at the crossroads unable to take the necessary steps to move on
and get on with it.

I wonder if how many people in this place are still awake at this very moment?

I can now hear the noise of the people next door;
the hurried footsteps, the gaily laughs and inaudible chatters
The rush of people passing by at my doorsteps.

I wonder why they’re also up and about at this very unholy hour?

At a distance, I heard the Church Bells ringing.

It was only then that I remember that it is

Christmas day!

Blue Christmas

Icy December, lonely winter
Dreamily watching the snow flakes falling
In my flat just south of Lansing

Weary thoughts circling in mind-boggling proportions
To a far away country, a warm home in the tropics
Noche Buena, Puto Bumbong, and Misa de Gallo.

Christmas in a foreign country, alone in a cold bedroom
Just passing the time with nothing else to do

This time when I call home long distance
I'll tell my mother that --

I was blinded by the snow.

©2003 Philippine Daily Inquirer/ YOU Section

Instead of frolicking in the snow
I will have to color my world in sorrow

Instead of wearing green and red
I will have to wear the color of the dead

Instead of going to the ballgames
I’ll have to go to church and pray
For the people who lost everything.

Requiem for the dead…

Albay 2006

Sunday, December 24, 2006

' Twas the night before X'mas...

Christmas Eve
unlike last year there is no snow yet
but the wind chill is quiet cold--

Numbing your skin
tearing into your bones
freezing your emotions…

In the dead of night I am awake--
lying in my bedroom
staring into the gloom with nothing else to do

But I like the quiet;
the stillness of the place
the serenity of the moment.

For I am at peace with myself when I am alone in total darkness.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Albay is in the Heart

I was about to punch in to start my day at the Emergency Room of Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital in Michigan when my cell phone buzzed. I could feel the heat of my blood rushing under my skin when I heard what the person on the other line have to say. It took me a moment or two before I summoned the courage to ask the Clinical Coordinator for the day to allow me to go home and check the news online myself--

And there it was on the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippines Star, ABS- CBNNews and other news websites the grim reality and horrific pictures of the devastation brought by the super typhoon Reming (International codename: Durian) to Albay Province and Legaspi City, places that I am very familiar with and known like the palms of my hands.

I scanned the pages and my eyes caught the heart-rending, gut-wrenching stories of tragedy and despair of the people; my people, of whom I am very much familiar with their way of life and customs but you could only take a deep breath to relieve the heaviness in your chest and grieve alone in silence half a world away.

I grew up in Tiwi, a rustic and sleepy town almost 50 kilometers from Legaspi City, the capital of Albay Province where I went to college for four years to earn my Bachelor’s Degree for my Pre- Medical course years ago from the College of Arts and Sciences in the Dominican- run Aquinas University, a university by the heavily silted Yawa river that make our school look like Venice minus the gondolas in those days usually right after a heavy downpour especially during the monsoon season that have earned the university a derisive name albeit jokingly of being the only “floating university in the Philippines” among its students.

It was in this city by the sea where I spent some of my formative years; my rude awakenings to the real world; my youthful fire and enthusiasm for things that were once forbidden. It was also in this city where I spent some of the happiest times of my young life.

It was in the streets of Legaspi City and the neighboring town of Daraga where together with some childhood friends, we had our baptisms of fire about the joys of friendship and the sad realities of life. Barangays Bonot, Rawis, Arimbay, Pag- Asa, Padang, Victory Village, Baybay and San Roque in Legaspi City used to be our playground as well as dark sections and alleys of Daraga.

There we were-- young, care-free, wet behind the ears teenagers tasting “freedom” for the first time in a city far from home doing crazy unimaginable stuff like watching four movies in succession until our eyes were bloodshot and dry in those dingy and rickety downtown movie houses; making countless pranks in school and not being caught; bloody street fights and numerous fisticuffs with other gangs that left some of us with busted beaks or two and broken bones on the side; darting in and out in those seedy smoke- filled beerhouses near the Legaspi Police Station with names like Mark Anthony, Vejors, Melon Patch, etc.; chain smoking Marlboros like there is no tomorrow; heavy drinking sessions with the stainless Ginebra from dusk until dawn; sleeping along the shores and on the sands of the beach of Lagunoy Gulf while fighting a nasty hang- over and of course, chasing girls while living in the fast lane. Those were the days and they were really damn good days.

All these things occurred under the watchful eyes of the tempest and temperamental volcano that is Mayon, towering over the city and the province of Albay with its nearly perfect cone that makes her natural beauty beyond compare, a Daragang Magayon in our midst and like the dusky beautiful Bicolana maiden, she is not only a beauty in her peaceful slumber but a fiery and deadly one in her wrath and anger.

Mount Mayon
is legendary for her volatile temperament and Bicolanos are so accustomed to her fickle-mindedness and constant grumblings. In fact, it was only months ago where I had written about her in this blog (see Daragang Magayon) when she had shown once again her legendary temper and spewed ashes into Albay’s azure sky and red- hot lava flowed on her belly that left a lot of people, locals and tourists alike, awed and captivated by her beauty and splendor especially in the night time where the spectacle is far more grand and colorful.

After some fireworks here and there, she was back to her quiet self or so we thought until…

entered the picture and conspired with her to change the landscape of the city that I am so fond of and the province of my roots. The once peaceful, happy and lively place that I know of has been obliterated from the face of the earth and death, devastation and despair replaced it. When disaster struck so close to home, a piece of ourselves is also lost no matter where we are.

The people never had a chance. They never knew it coming. It was sudden and deadly, in one stroke, their lives and property were gone and washed by the strong current into the vast Pacific Ocean. We may never know the total number of casualties in the tragedy but I know that I have lots of friends, classmates and acquaintances who live in those places. And I know for a fact that some of them never made it back alive after the deluge. Their lives and property were now buried under the mud, the place is deserted and now a wasteland but their memories will forever live in my heart.

How come something like this happened in this day and age? How come nobody in our so- called “experts” has predicted this to happen? After all, the build- up of lava in the slopes of Mt. Mayon does not happen overnight, it has been months before this thing happened!

As usual, the inept and incompetent local politicians have no idea and the national leadership was blind as a bat as well. Finger- pointing on who was to blame for the disaster is the name of the game. Some even blame the people who were living there whose only fault was trying to earn an honest living which cannot be said though of our political leaders who were busy amassing ill- gotten wealths and playing political intramurals rather than attending to the basic needs of their constituents.

As long as the Philippine political system is corrupt and our so- called leaders are indifferent to the plight and sufferings of the people, tragedies like this will always occur. It will be just a vicious cycle of death and destruction. It’s not too late for our “leaders” to change but change has to come first within ourselves. I know this is just another pipe dream but hope springs eternal they say. Hopefully, it will be for the better of our country.

Now, I grieve for those who perished and pray for those who survive for life will be a long struggle for them to get back on their feet again.

But I believe in the human courage, the Bicolano spirit and the resiliency of the Albayanos in particular. Mga Uragon baga kita!

And just like the mythical Phoenix, the people of Albay will rise from the ashes and will crawl out from the rubble and rebuild whatever’s left of their shattered lives.

I know that we will succeed for that’s how we Bicolanos are, we are a hardened and determined lot and at the end of the day we will always have those beautiful smiles on our faces, those glowing sparks in our eyes and the inherent kindness in our hearts to live by.


The official death toll of Typhoon Reming (International Codename: Durian) is currently pegged at 1,266 people dead or missing based on body counts and survivor accounts and is growing day by day. It was believed that nobody could really tell the exact number of casualties due to the lack of official data or census of the number of people living in a particular area during that particular time.

Hardest hit were Barangay Padang in Legaspi City and Barangay Maipon in Guinobatan, Albay where entire families were buried alive.

The boarding houses that dotted the banks of the Yawa River near Aquinas University were swept by the rampaging waters into the sea taking with them the students who were sleeping at that time in the process.

The loss of human lives and damages to properties in the province of Albay is enormous and can never be quantified. Power and communication lines were cut, roads were damaged and rendered inaccessible. Food, gas, and water shortages are a sad reality and the probability of a disease outbreak is a given.

The whole province is in a State of Calamity.

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