April 09, 2015

The Commander & I

Yesterday, we celebrated Yuri’s second birthday at the old but still chic Country Chicken Restaurant near the famous Pasonanca Park. The place hosted a-many events for our family primarily because it gave us the best deal we could ever get in town; affordability, the food is great and the place is just so wide that parents could just leave their kids running around without having to worry about passing cars or unworldly strangers prowling around. We had a grand time and the party was lively enough even though it was on a strictly family and close friends basis. I’ll put some pictures here in the coming days if they come soon.

As it was always it had seemed, like mostly what happens, like in the years that passed, Yuri’s birthday was celebrated not on the very day he was born due to scheduling factors. If the day falls on a working day, we have to move it to a weekend date in order that the invited guests may be able come. So much fuzz ain’t it? Ha.ha.ha. I would laugh at myself thinking that in the generation of my kids, this sort of events took us into a lot concerns like the place where to celebrate, how much to spend, and who’s to invite and who’s to come. When I was a kid, our aunts or older cousins would just bake us some chiffon cake (at times without icings anymore) and some Chinese pansit and family-size Coca-Colas and then we neighborhood kids would just troop down to the table, and munch like we never eaten for the longest days. “Take a shower!” said my older cousin Minda as I head home from a torrid afternoon playing session, “ and eat” she would continue, “it’s your birthday today”. Without further adieu and introduction, we just sang happy birthdays and blew candles and ate cakes without icings on them and then we go back to playing like nothing happened. In some birthdays then, when person like Aunt Minda were gone, (she is now in Seattle working as a nurse), and nobody really cared whose birthday is it anyway, I just collect all my friends into our backyard and announce to them that it was my birthday and since it was my birthday, I am giving them one cheese curls one by one. Some would jump would glee while some of ‘em complain what a cheapskate I was. “It’s your birthday and all we get is this cheese curls?” I just said something like (my memory now a little feint) all of you are lucky because it is my favorite cheese curls (the one with a mouse posing as a cowboy and a gun on the package) and usually I informed them, I just kept them to myself in our bedroom and eat them alone. Now shut up all of you and let’s continue to cook the maya bird we just slingered earlier. They taste just like chickens, these birds, you know. When we were lucky in some days, we would cook a dove felled from a neighbor’s birdcages.

We would fish also in nearby ponds and tried to cook our catch in those younger days. The first time we cooked a Martiniko, the taste was just so bad that we puked it out. Despite knowing that we could exactly do nothing with our catch except to stare at it until it dies inside tin cans that we used as makeshift aquariums, we still continue to fish. I bet that’s why fishing is such a major pastime for grown up men in the States because it was just a lot of fun fishing. American men love to fish although most of ‘em need not fish no more to have food on their table.

So in the afternoons, we spend hours after hours sitting by the pond, talking of dreams when we grow up, and of rocketships and satellites in the sky, and aliens and kapres, and boats, while we wait for some fish to pull on our baits. Boats seem to be the favorite topic back then, although I ain’t particular why this was so. Perhaps as kids, we all want to sail into the unknown and see if the people and kids at the other side of the world looks and talks like us or dress like we do and have the same kind of food in their tummies. We had a neighborly friend named Dodong. He was not a regular in our group because of a very strict and recluse of a father. He was kinda weird and stupid that when his around, some of my friends would do some tricks on him when like one day a friend named Michael taught him how to use the sling by pointing it the other way around. And so a fairly size stone struck his forehead and he cried of course, running to his father. I was so worried about that particular incident happened so way back in the past that I could not forget it even up to know. One of the reasons why it stuck in my head is perhaps not mainly because of how tragic it was but it was more to the amazing discovery then of how stupid some kids like Dodong was. At first, I was just relaxing a bit and assume that Dodong was just playing dumb and would not really slinger himself on the face with the sling pointing at himself. But he did for goodness sake. He just pulled the rubber and hit himself. I got scared and felt a little guilty as a conspirator that I could not look him in the eye for days and years to come.

One particular memory is still about the hapless and clueless Dodong. One day he just got brave enough to escape in the afternoon when he thought his daddy wasn’t around the whole afternoon. So he came with us to go fish in a nearby pond. But alas, his father arrived home and immediately came looking for him. He said he was just fishing but his father said what could he do with the fish he caught? His daddy just went nuts and asked for our day’s catch—a milk can full of Martinikos. And for fear, we just gave the whole of them fish to Dodong’s Dad. We got worried about what might happened to our friend and as kids we always like to see some spanking of some other kids. But I believe that day that we were just concerned over Dodong so we followed him and his dad without getting noticed. From a place unknown to Dodong and his father, we sneak and see for ourselves if he would get the major spanking that we foresaw. But he didn’t. What happened was queer enough that it was for the books. Dodong’s father cooked the whole batch of the highly insipid Martinikos in just plain boiling water outside their yard, as if he knew that we were watching them and was warning as of dire consequences. And then he made Dodong eat all the boiled fish. Jesus, it was so achingly awful to see Dodong gobbled all the fish while his tears was running down from his eyes like a flood. Dodong did not play with us ever again even when he did grow up into a young man. By the way, Michael is now in Los Angeles as an emigrant. He sent pictures the last time and we could not believe he drives a red car that looked like a Lamborghini—but I believe he got it from some second hand store.

Back to the present. And so Tony, Russell and Sheva were with me yesterday with their kids celebrating Yuri’s grand day out. We made some discussion on the formation of our organization and when Evelyn finally sat down on our table, we mulled over the possibility of tapping resources from the health sector like doctors and nurses willing to assist us in medical missions in the future. Already, even while our constitution and by-laws are yet to be instituted, we had invites from TESDA for a livelihood seminar in Basilan. And by early January, we are heading to Sibuco for a reconnoitering activity, introducing ourselves to our pilot area and see for ourselves the geographical, societal, and economical make up of the locality. (See the proposed logo for PPRO below)

Some active juices came rushing from my head as Tony narrated the coming itineraries for it reminded of days when I was the President of the student council in the Western Mindanao State University. It was sort of this kind of activities we pursued in those days. We travel and inspect places. We sat in many sessions of trainings and seminars. We met a lot of people. We create and initiate activities out of nothing. When I run for the presidency, my slogan was “ we can make things happen”, and although not much happening in my own term (in a year, the time is so short for a student regime), still my rendezvous as a student leader made me realize that with perseverance and a lot of talking to lots of people and going to a lot of places can make materialize anything that you have in mind. I remember this particular project that I had in school, a mural painting contest that I mulled over with a battalion commander of a Marines infantry based in Jolo at that time. He was so young and a friend of my law classmate Arlene Pelaez, already an attorney now. I went ahead with all the nitty-gritty works—scheduling, planning the opening and closing programs, approaching city councilors as guest speakers, soliciting for sponsorship funds for trophies and free paint, seeking permission from University President Eldigario Gonzales, (we had to negotiate for a particular schedule ‘no, I am not here at this date’, ‘oh, you must see the vice-president for something about this’, ‘ no program for this date, the gymnasium is in use’)—and everything came to place except that when the contest day came so nearly approaching, the said Marines battalion commander wasn’t around no more. He had insisted on providing the paint and the judges. So I got worried but did not stop at worrying. I went to the Southern Command camp where the Marines were based and was informed that the commander was in Jolo. I requested to have some contact with him. The few soldiers in their barracks lugging around like tired horses, said he was in the middle of combat embarking on a major assault on the Abu Sayyaf. I was disheartened and went home thinking, there would be no time to cover up for the task of looking for judges and sponsors for the paints, in so short a time remaining. So the next day, I went back to the barracks and insisted that I talked to the commander. I said there must be some way of communicating to him. You are the military; you must have all the gadgets. And surely enough they have the gadgets. So we called him on the kind of enormous phone kit that we see on some soldiers awkwardly lugging at their back when they are in the heat of battle. The phone was like no phone at all. It felt and sounded like a SMW radio receiver but it did work through crackling voices and interrupted conversation. As if there was a miracle, the commander said that he is heading to Zamboanga the soonest possible time after he asked permission from his higher-ups. And so the project pushed through in grand colors and it was the first time I spoke in front of TV as the ABS-CBN local news program gave a live on-sight interview of the commander and me. Now I remember that he wasn’t really a commander but I get use to call him that in the few days we were together and I forgot his name now. He could not have been a commander for he was so young and very young looking at that. He was then a lieutenant leading a unit of Marines. Maybe he was just an infantry leader. I just do not have the proper coinage for these military hierarchies as of this moment.

(A re-post from 2004)
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