Sunday, December 2, 2012

The sports writer

Back-to-back MVP Nico Salva, Jeric Teng and Kiefer Ravena in action at the recently concluded UAAP Season 75 Championship. Photo courtesy of UAAP website. No intention of copyright infringement.

I don’t know how it begun. I just found myself sitting in a middle of a packed stadium with swirling colors of banners, drums banging relentlessly in what seemed like some tribal ritual. There I was, watching the clock, clutching my notepad bearing scribbles of numbers and familiar surnames as I let the game progresses in front.  It just happened. Now people are commenting on how I turned myself into a sports writer and I don’t why but there’s that twinge of pride whenever I hear people say that.

I was a not really a sports fan although I’m a huge worshipper of basketball. Of course it’s never enough to be able to write reports or articles about it. Last season of UAAP was a huge test for me. For one, I did not cover the game from the beginning and I only entered during the semi-finals. Second, I’m not very familiar with the play – like the teams, players, and coaches – primarily because I came from a school which is not part of the league. I’ve heard of and knew about Kiefer Ravena, but I couldn’t tell you then his average score per game, or who are the “Ateneo Big 3” which I think are important because they’re all part of what you’ll write about.

In less than a month, I managed to get along. Maybe it’s because of my love for basketball that made me learn that quick. But I also did the Azkals, and if not articles, I also did broadcast scripts for Wimbledon and the US Open and of course, boxing.

I’m not really that clueless when it comes to sports coverage. In fact, part of my internship went for the government’s radio station dedicated to sports. The SEA Games, PBA and the former PBL are among those of which I was part of the coverage then. While I enjoyed the experience, I didn’t imagine I would do it for a career. And yet here I am.

Being a sports writer gives me a whole new kind of satisfaction in my life as a journalist. Ultimately, it’s as stressful as sitting in a whole day legislative or judicial hearing or translating a court resolution into something that ordinary people would be able to grasp. But it’s something that I really love. And I love doing politics and justice beat as well, but doing sports to me is the same as being paid to travel around the world or getting to wear all those expensive clothes with the only requirement of reporting how the experience went. That’s sports writing to me. The adrenaline, the excessive machismo, and even all the troubles coming with it – I love them all.

One time, a friend asked me if I’m doing this to prove something. Now, to be honest, that’s another thing. I’m gay, but my officemates and colleagues, if not clueless, at least, are not privy to my sexuality. Although I hate to be prejudice about all these, but do you think the editors would gamble on an inexperienced like me to cover a basketball game knowing that I’m gay? I think not. That’s why I also find it liberating, thinking that I’m breaking their pre-conceived way of thinking while hoping that someday I will be able to prove they’re wrong.

Everyone knows I love a good challenge. This one is. Writing down your stats (for example in basketball: points, assists, rebounds, free throws, turnovers etc. because I want everything to be coming from my hands, thank you very much) while staying focus on the game and jotting down your own analysis and other things to remind you on the article you are about to write later – all these are only a slab of your stressors. Oh, and did I mention the deadline? But then again, nothing beats the thought of doing what you’re passionate about and what you really love. I don’t know where will this bring me, but I’ll take my chances. Who knows what will happen next?

Monday, November 12, 2012

When kids grow up

"If growing up means it would be beneath my dignity to climb a tree, I'll never grow up, never grow up
never grow up! Not me!" -J.M. Barrie

Sunday before the previous one, I got a text message that said I need to be available by Saturday because one of our friends, let’s call her V, will make an important announcement. Instantly, the group went abuzz with talks on what could it be and with few exchanges, we concluded that it's either she’s pregnant, or she’s getting married, or she's pregnant and she's getting married, or she’s pregnant but she aborted the baby. During our chat, I said I’d rather hear her say she got pregnant but went for abortion because I didn't think V should be a mother at this age and at this point in our life.

We’ve been friends for eight years since college and while most people would say we’re old enough in our age of 25, I don’t think the level of thinking required for such age is something we all have right now. What do we know? We live with our parents. We talk about art, sex, drinking, drugs, boys, girls, and then sex again. How can any of us be a mother, or a father? Least of all having a family of our own. It’s unfathomable and everyone agreed.

Saturday night arrived and the planned bar hopping started in Metrowalk. We’re already impatient. V said she’ll be late because they just finished their taping. Around 11 in the evening, she finally arrived wearing a black loose dress. She’s pregnant.

Almost all of us in the group are working for different media networks. Writers, producers, production staff – that’s who we are. Meet-ups are rare and are hard to plan. We have conflicting schedules. We’re always on-call and everything is just too unpredictable. It was two months ago since the last time we met and we really had no clue as to what’s happening or what happened to her.

She kissed and hugged each and every one of us and asked, “so, what now?” We’re all smiling but I know all of us were confused and flooded with questions. So I led the way and said “you tell us.” At that point, she spilled everything out.

V is six months pregnant and until the last time we’ve met, she herself didn’t have a clue. She said at times she had morning sickness but she thought it’s only natural because of her demanding job. After going to the doctor who confirmed everything, she told her parents of her condition. Naturally, they were mad. But I guess what made it worse is that the baby’s father is married and have two kids. He’s an agent of the country’s law enforcement agency and acted as “source” for V. The “source-journalist” relationship turned into a romantic one but all these happened with V keeping his boyfriend of four to five years. We all knew about this except for the baby part. She said she already broke up with her “official boyfriend” and tried doing the same with Mr. Soon-to-be-daddy. He refused. He said they’re keeping the baby and their relationship as well.

“Are you afraid?” I asked her.

“No. Takot lang ako manganak kasi masakit. (I’m just afraid of giving birth because I know it’s painful.)

I got sad. Maybe because I’m afraid for her or I’m selfish enough to be afraid of losing her to motherhood. I guess she thought of this as our initial reaction so she said,” ano ba kayo wala namang magbabago. We’ll still party, travel all around and do crazy stuff.”

As the night went on, the mood slowly changed. “Grief” turned into excitement. After all, the baby will be the first for the group. Our conversation went from feeding bottles, cribs, baby shower to “who’s got the bigger dick, Mr. Agent or Mr. Former Le Boyfriend?” Of course she didn’t take even a drop of alcohol that night but she still danced with us.

By the end of the night, I delivered a melodramatic speech where I said she didn’t have to worry even a bit. That no matter what happens, we’re here for her and her baby and that we love her just as much. At 4:30 in the morning, we slept together in mattresses sprawled on the floor in the bedroom of one of our friend's house in Pasig. By morning before going home, we dropped by at Rustans and checked on the infant section.

I realized this is a mark of an end of an era for us. No matter how hard we try to be Peter Pans, we cannot deny that we’re getting older. Everyday, we earn a certain responsibility that needs maturity. We’re 25 and in a few months we’ll be 26 and then a few more years and we’ll hit the big three zero. My head is swelling just by thinking. It’s scary and I don’t know if I could handle the meaning of getting old. Today we’re partying and having sex, the next we could be fathers and mothers buying diapers and milk. In a near future our skins would get dry and crumpled our hair silver, our knees weak.

These are thoughts brought about by the idea of one of my closest friends having a baby. Maybe that was the reason for the initial sadness doubled by fear. This is the reality. This is where we are heading - the world of adulthood. Ready or not, it's coming on our way. 

It’s the irony of life and no one can evade it. In the end, we could only hope that the child within our hearts rise above, like the song says. But right now, we decided this calls for a celebration. They reminded me that night I was the one who promised them that we will be young forever. Right now I'm not sure if I can keep with that promise, but you know what? It's always worth the try. 

Come now baby. Your beautiful godfathers and godmothers are waiting anxiously for you.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Finally an honest to goodness piece

I have not been writing in good impression lately and I know that. I was so full of emotion which usually stands a requirement for me to write well, but I guess there are too many of them I'm being drowned by my own words. I don't know anymore which to summon - the proper, the rhymed, the beautiful, the romantic - I would pick the nearest, too tired to search for the right one. But I needed it. I needed to write and spit out the few words I can or I would get burned by my own fire. 

The attempt to hide behind the towering political write-ups and the grandeur of literature failed dismally. Although nowhere in my attempts did I honestly expect to succeed. They were just escapes even then. But I consider it a sin which I know I must pay despite the grave sentence of Fate I am already serving now. 

But the biggest sin I guess is not writing truthfully. No, I'm not referring to my job as a journalist (so you can rest assure that my reports are factual and are written in greatest tune of objectivity). I meant that I am not writing truthfully about myself. 

To be honest, I am ashamed of my recent failure. I am ashamed because of the repetitious cycle of my journey to romance. The people I've met are now happy enough with their respective partners. Yes, they found love in this hopeless place. It was great and all and believe me when I say that I am very happy for them especially for this person which I think most of you here know. But as I watch them from afar, I cannot help but feel humiliated. There were no more delights on my pretenses. I am becoming the very same character I adore, Erik the Phantom of the Opera, pretending to be an Angel of Music, trying to deceive the world he's Don Juan behind the cloak of deceit, though even himself he could not convince. Alas I could no longer pretend. 

So I present myself in front of you now, down on my knees, collecting the pieces of what’s left that are good trying to rebuild. You can throw stones. You can laugh at the silly young boy, bastardize his frail body and pleasure yourself with it. But you see, one day I will rise. I may have yearned for him, but I don’t need him or anyone of you to pick myself up. That I can do alone. 

Lately, I was finally blessed with the opportunity to play a carillon. In case of those who didn’t know, a carillon is technically a musical instrument consisting of at least 23 bells (two octaves) housed in a bell tower and are played serially or simultaneously to produce a chord. From Wikipedia, it explains that it is played by "striking a keyboard - the keys of which are sometimes called batons - with the fists, and by pressing the keys of a pedal keyboard with the feet." Unlike any other instrument, the artist who plays the carillon is not seen, that only the captivating music emanating from it reaches its spectators. In UP, they say this is a show of the perfect surrender of artist to the music. That what was important was "for the bells to be heard, for the listeners to be reassured that there was order in their universe." 

For now I think that's what I need to do: surrender and just let the sweet music of my grief be carried by the vagrant wind. That’s why I’m writing this down. Let it be heard to reassure others ravaged by the same fate befallen unto me that they're not alone. And for friends and dear ones I've been avoiding, let this serve as a reminder that no matter how the vicious pain of failure binds me, it can never imprison my music, my hope that someday the right one will step forward. I cannot promise that Life will be kinder next time, but this I swear: I will be just fine no matter what. 

Once in my humble job as a journalist, I met a man that said this: Move on. It’s just another chapter of your life. But don’t close the book. Just turn the page. In music, just when you thought the final chord is about to fly by, a note is carried half place higher and you’ll know it isn’t the end yet. Now I understand it better. Maybe that’s why they call the move “sustain.”

Monday, October 15, 2012

I'm just here

Oscar Wilde said all art is useless. I think it's only useless when I don't see your face in it anymore. Self portrait, 2011.

For even in your lukewarm words
there I found comfort,
hope, maybe for a tomorrow
that you'll cease not caring,
ignoring my doting

I would look up to the heavens
and there pray for the day,
that one day I'll be good enough
and then I'll close my eyes
imagining you
and I'll plead: love me, love me.

But you don't seem to see
how I hold dear
the slightest heed
the tiniest lead
I embrace myself and make them all big
an inch of nothing
making my soul bleed

In greatest contempt I deny this
for I don't know how long I can stand
the writhing pain of your unfeeling
this neverending duress
this overwhelming sadness
is it madness
to offer myself like this?

I don't mean to scare
I'm not asking why tomorrow? And why not now?
A little ray of light
is all I need in sight
Content, I'll wait
Until your heart allows my love. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Free Paco now!

I am no law expert, but this I learned and I can say with conviction that from the beginning of his arrest, a string of justice protocols were violated by the very same persons who swore to uphold them. I admit I am a journalist of this country yet honestly and lamentably, I know that his case was a glaring proof of the existing irresponsible and shameful shadow of the very same industry I live in. Lastly, I am a Filipino and until such time before seeing the film, I was one among the many who didn't care.

He fits the criteria of a hoodlum-in-the-making. Paco Larrañaga, a half Filipino, half Spanish teenage boy at that time, hailing from a popular clan in the Philippines, was the prime accused of the rape and murder of Chiong sisters, Jacqueline and Marijoy, in Cebu City. This was in 1997 and Paco was only 19. Fifteen years later, after being condemned to death by the Philippine Supreme Court, after spending years inside the hellish prison of the same country, Paco is now spending the rest of a seemingly unending sentence in some lonely Spanish cell.

The judge and justices, even the mob during then, didn't mind that Paco was 350 miles away from Cebu at the time the crime was said to have occurred. With at least 40 eyewitnesses plus supporting documents and photographs to prove it, nobody cared. This is what they saw and what the media that time portrayed: a privileged mestizo burly looking guy backed by a powerful political family and a record of petty offenses. Of course, he must be the criminal. No, they concluded instantly: he is the criminal.

Death! People shouted. Curses echoed making its way in every corner of Cebu's disturbed streets. Justice triumphed, they said. People celebrated, feasting at the thought if incarcerating the bad guy. Police was hailed for doing their job. David Rusia, the star witness who, based on his own testimony, raped and conspired to the murder of the Chiong sisters, was declared a hero.

The case is a web of inconsistencies, a disgusting mirror of a rotten criminal justice system always attached to the dingy politics. It did not matter that there was a system. It did not matter that there should be a hearing of the case. It did not matter that Paco had witnesses and that he himself wanted to testify but was denied because the judge was too sleepy to hear the defense. It did not matter that Paco is also protected by the very same laws they said they are trying to uphold. It did not matter that he should be presumed innocent. People wanted blood, and they game them that. From the moment Paco appeared before the public's eyes, he was already sentenced to death.

I understand that people should be angry, enraged of the thought of two innocent young ladies murdered in cold blood. But shouldn't we be angry at the thought of dragging a boy in the center of the arena of death just to satisfy our thirst for justice?

The government is at fault, the justice system and the media. Somehow I understand that because we are living in such harsh reality every waking day. But what I find appalling is our sick perversion to quickly judge. I couldn't fathom how people at that time missed the crucial points or did they really chose to ignore them? Blindly turned their backs to reason?

We wish not to belittle the suffering of the Chiong family, but I wish they did not conspire to the grand scheme of antagonizing an innocent man, coddling a questionable witness, just to have a bite of justice. And a fake one at that.

And so we march now and with conviction call for the release of Paco. I thank Marty and Michael because if not for their film, I would be one of those who didn't care. Free Paco. Now. Not only because Paco is innocent, not only because Paco could be anyone of us, but because Paco's story is happening as we speak now.

For feedback e-mail to desoleboy@yahoo.com

Catch "Give Up Tomorrow" in its extended local screening: 

-SM Cebu and Greenbelt 3 until October 16
-Gateway Cineplex October 17-23

For more details visit paco.docu.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/giveuptomorrow
Twitter: http://twitter.com/GiveUpTomorrow  

Monday, October 8, 2012

Nobody said it was easy

Tonight is when I'll go back to the star
from where I'm from
distant and afar
I'm going back now
away from where you all are
there beyond your foul
far from such spitting war.

But first I must die
for I cannot bring there these vile
I must be light and take the flight high
carry myself, my spirit anew
kiss the sun in the bursting sky
for no more I'm afraid of the blinding pain
I'm ready to depart, fly high, fly.

Alas, let my cold body stand proof
of my blissful heydays
let my scars be map
to a journey of weigh.

It is as they say:
second star to the right, straight on 'til morning
feel the blows of goodbye
of the phantomly air
no more looking back
no more heaving sigh
from here on it's easy.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Like a storm in the desert

(Would you mind playing this first? I apologized, I don't know how to make mixtapes. But this is one of my favorites.)

September 30, 2012

Dear Charlie,

I’ll be really honest.

First, I don’t really intend to write you a letter, answer those bunch you’ve sent, but please know that I am very honored of the faith you gave to a stranger as myself entrusting your story. It’s just that I thought I should be silent about it. But I listened, believe me, and I think I understand and I know where you’re coming from. So I write to you now because I know you of all people would understand. I think I need to bring things out of my system and that you’re the perfect person for it.

Things had been tough. And by tough, I mean hell tough. But it’s mostly me. I just can’t control the images anymore and they keep on coming during unguarded moments, plaguing. It was so dark and all I could hear is the sound of my own tears trickling down, but not on my face, but down to my insides. I’m fighting it. Honest. But I’m losing.

One time, I went home late night very tired from work and all. Down there at our street, Diego, my aunt’s dog is waiting. I guess he’s always delighted to see me for he’s always there waiting, wagging his tail in anticipation. I would give him food in return so I wasn’t sure if he cares genuinely or he’s only interested with the food he gets. Nevertheless, his company wards off unnecessary fears on my nighttime prowling.

So we were walking in this stretch of a driveway leading to our house. The neighbor’s dog barked at us and Diego angrily retaliated. I ignored the two dogs’ alpha male posturing and proceeded instead. Once in our terrace, instead of getting inside like the usual, I sat at one of those two wooden chairs outside, settled my bag in a table nearby and looked above at the heavens.

Dark clouds enveloped its entirety and the cool night breeze smelled a coming rain. At that point I realized it’s been so long since that last time I took the time to look above the night sky. And what bad luck, I wanted to see the stars and be amazed like I used to when I was a kid swinging my scrawny legs beyond the rusty gutter of our roof, but no, they weren’t there.

“It’s been so long” – those are the words that came up out of nowhere. I didn’t know what it fully meant, but it came like a sound of a yovel reverberating from all direction taunting me to meltdown, forcing those sad images. It’s one of those moments of weakness when you question when will it finally gets better. Because that’s what they would normally say, right? That things will be better. I’m just wondering why it never did for me.

So I cried and cried sitting on that chair until a weird noise came and I just noticed Diego was already sitting in front of me with a weird expression on his face. Like he’s trying to fathom what’s happening to me. I don’t really like pets, but at that point I felt the urge to stroke him. I reached for him, but instead, he stood up and placed his head on my lap.

Days after that, I was ready to sink once again into the oblivion of my depression. Then came flashbacks of those two instances when I tried committing suicide. I just want to be with my Lolo Martin again. Because you know, when I was a kid and my lolo was still alive, there was never a moment when I felt alone. I feel so alone Charlie. And I feel very tired.

But then I remember this boy I know. His name is Keanu. This boy, who despite Science telling him he’s not going to live long and that his days are numbered because of some stupid illness in his blood, fights his way to live. He smiles and dreams of becoming a doctor someday, not minding those purple blotches in his arms and back and a machine pinched through his skin to monitor the amount of iron in his blood. He stood there and I hugged him. Although to be honest, at that point, I don’t know anymore who’s comforting who. It just felt precious to me.

I really want to help him, and those sick children who, thank God, finally found a new home after almost getting evicted from their last shelter. It might sound arrogant and assuming, but I think they need me. And I need them. Also my lolos and lolas in this mountainous area in Rizal . Also my sister. Also my mother – my family, they need me. And then I saw myself and here I thought: I need me.

I thought of how much I love them and how much I want to give them so many things (whatever those things are). I remember how you said we accept the love we thought we deserve. To add to that, I think we could only give love that we have for ourselves. And I also think that I want to give as much love as I can especially to those people who need me, those who want it and those who are willing enough to take it. 

I can’t just be a sad story forever, right? I’m alive!

So it’s decided. I’m gonna love myself so I can love more those people who need me. And I’m not waiting anymore for things to get better. I’m just going to live.

I’m afraid this will be my last letter here and I guess I owe it to you and perhaps, let’s say someone might be accidentally reading this letter as well, I owe it to him/her/them for simply listening. But please know that I’m not turning my back. It’s just that I think, from here on, I’m going to be too busy “participating.”

I will be fine and I believe the same goes for you. I just know. I have so much faith in you.

Love always,

Désolé Boy

Monday, September 17, 2012

'Phantom,' a dream come true

"Close your eyes and surrender to your darkest dreams. Purge your thoughts of the life you knew before."

As the clasped hands of the casts raise their hands and took their final curtain call for the night, as the familiar melody of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s genius fills the packed theater, I was surprised to find my sight blurring. Tears began to sparkle, flowing shamelessly on my face. It was a dream come true. The Phantom in front of me. Erik, the Phantom that was and is always me.

As we settle ourselves inside the theater, one my friends commented that most of the biggest fans of the Phantom of the Opera are either hopeless romantics or those who have repeatedly fallen victim of the vicious curse of unrequited love. This left me contemplating.

I first knew of the story of Phantom years ago in the pages of a book in high school. Curiosity turned into obsession and obsession became love. I searched for materials bearing “Andrew Lloyd Webber,” “Michael Crawford,” Sarah “Brightman” and the rest. Then came into my possession its music score. I immediately fell in love with it especially the character of Erik, the ghost of the Opera Populaire. Wickedly, I immediately saw myself as the Phantom.

I supposed it was his genius when it comes to music that I related so well. I was a very young musician then. At 17, I was already playing this haunting part in the organ, sneaking at the school’s music room. The intro after which the Phantom and Christine disappeared going to the vast underground lair beneath the opera house:

Upon reaching adulthood, curiously, I found myself wearing the same mask as the Phantom. Disfigured, a lone creature in a world of unending night, I gave my music to a person whom I thought the only one that can make my song take flight. You know the story. I wasn’t chosen and I had to let go of everything and disappear just as that person and the Raoul he chose are beginning to sing the melody of their togetherness.

Madness and brilliance. Magic and painful truths. I did not have the slightest hint that I would get to experience the surreal world of the Phantom. I am poor, and so I knew even then that I wouldn’t get the chance to travel in Broadway or in London to watch the musical I always dreamed of. But last Sunday night, the dream became a reality.

Everything was perfect that night. I gasped as the chandelier soars high above the theater ceiling. I marvel at familiar music and melody I’ve been singing and playing since I was young. I sobbed during the part when the Phantom sang that very simple “Christine, I love you” only to cry again when he sang “it’s over now the music of the night.”

For me, it's never about the grand costume, the sophisticated ballet, the fireworks and beautifully laden stage set. It’s the old story of broken romance, the cunning deceit, the genius, madness, the mystery, cruelty, denial, betrayal and man’s ultimate search for acceptance and of course – love. It is the way the Phantom’s music speaks those word my heart quietly sings. Old yet always in place.

So maybe there really is a hint of truth to what my friend said. It is the musical of the hopeless romantics, the drama of the denied, of the unloved. But what made the Phantom’s story special is the sacrifice he showed in the scene of Final Lair. He seeks redemption. He seeks that normal life he'd never known. Despite admitting he was the angel in hell, he wants to be saved, for someone to actually care and look in his eyes with no more pity but love.

An apology for I couldn’t put into any more words the surreal experience, the magic that has befallen me watching the Phantom. It’s probably the same mystery of le fantome de l’opera casted more than 25 years ago that made it the longest running theater musical ever conceived – inexplicable. That night, I left the theater with a little trace of sadness. Although not really. I did not really believe that the music of the night was finished. After all, love never dies, right?


Author's note:

Although quite impossible for them to read this, I would like to thank those people who made dream come true. You don't know how much happiness you brought to a boy dreaming of becoming the phantom in a white mask.

To the people behind the bringing of this epic musical into the Philippine stage, my warmest thanks.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Assalamu alaikum

Peace be unto you. Assalamu alaikum is a shorter form of a grand greeting assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakutah (Peace be unto you and so may the mercy of Allah and His blessings). The greeting is recommended to be only used between Muslims.

Filipino Cannes winning director Brillante Mendoza returns to the silver screen with his new masterpiece “Captive.” The grand scale of issues depicted in the film is such of great weight: the government’s squashy attempt to demolish terrorism, the flourishing business of kidnap-for-ransom south of the Philippines, corruption in government, military’s poor intel, religion – are among many others captured. Mendoza through his film wishes not to tell you a story, he wants you to experience it, contemplate on it and then live with it.

“Captive” dramatizes Mendoza’s picture of 2001 abduction of a number of foreigners including locals at Dos Palmas Resort in Palawan by the Abu Sayyaf Group. It brings forth the journey of the rebels along with their hostages to Abu’s stronghold Basilan. Conflicted between the military’s attempt to launch offensive attacks and the Abu's aim for survival, the story centers on Therese (Isabelle Huppert) a French social worker and her exchanges with her abductors and fellow victims – an American couple, which is a clear nod to real-life Martin and Gracia Burnham, medical practitioners and other locals. It stresses on particular dates true to the history of Abu Sayyaf’s atrocities like the Lamitan Siege, rape, attacks to Christianity, and the beheadings of soldiers and one of the captives that served a gift to a nation then celebrating Independence Day. Until the 7th of June 2002, finally, in an operation of the military, Therese was saved along with the few others and the Abu’s operation fell.

The entire 2-hours devoted to the film is almost a non-resting experience of Mendoza’s shaky camera works, although dizzying at certain point, is proven effective technique to put you in the world inhabited by his characters. Most of the shots are tight, as if you yourself is also huddled, tied by a rope joining the rest of the captives. There is fear as to the director’s success of providing no leeway where and when riffles will start firing from all directions. You sense the danger. 

Commendable is the way the actors are not in any way shown acting out their roles. You will not question the authenticity of their characters. They are real – the emotions, the expressions – every movement are carried in a driving way to push the narrative. There are no flimsy dialogues. The words are true enough to their fear, anxiousness and hunger, not only for food but for freedom.

It has been criticized by former film critics, the said “properly subdued” atrocities it tries to project. To this I disagree. Mendoza’s image of crossfire is properly distanced to Hollywood-esque explosion after explosion underscored through a slow motion of debris flying in all directions punctuated by smoke. The culture of impunity portrayed, with all the proper elements, is plain and good enough to get the feel and get the message across. No sensationalism.

There are parts that are vividly haunting, challenging enough for interpretation. There was a review that scoffed over a part in which the character of Huppert, Therese, argued against an angry Abu throwing away to the open sea her box full of Bibles. The critic said it was poorly written. On the contrary, I find it essential in the building of Huppert’s character. If you will notice it was the first time she cried, the first time she manifested weakness, an emotional breakdown after they were abducted. She was indignant yet there was fear.

It is important because it created a balance to the Abu’s religiosity. When Dr. Rustica Carpio’s character, Soledad, her companion for 5 years of social works, died there she stood up once more to the Abus saying “she’s a Christian and I will bury her” clutching a rosary in one hand. In this very small scale, the battle of religion, the battle of gods happening in all corners of the world, is presented. Add to that a scene in the Lamitan siege where upon taking control of an entire hospital, an Abu Sayyaf member smashed an image of the Virgin Mary.

Another commendable thing about Captive is that despite the apparent atrocity depicted, it doesn’t try to preach or sell an ideology. It tells you a story, plain and simple, but nevertheless it provokes you to think and hopefully create a ripple. Somehow, it presented the side of the Muslim rebels, how they perceived the fighting to be part of a grand Holy War (jihad); everything in subservience to Allah. They shout Allah Akbar (God is Greatest) as they slash a person’s head. They greet each other peace (assalamu alaikum) clutching high powered guns. They kneel, bow and often would pray, putting them in a vulnerable state despite the imminent danger.

At the risk of being accused of “glamorizing terrorism” like journalist Arlyn dela Cruz, the film offers a short peak on the human side of the Abus. A number of them are kids, the youngest probably 11 or 12, like the character that drew close to Therese. The idea that they are fighting for their freedom, to reclaim Mindanao, the land that according to them owned and flourished by the hands of their ancestors. It is such a century old fight that you’ll stop and contemplate, who are you really rooting for in all these?

The success of the film is actually what the naysayers are focusing on. You get angry, you get bored and you get tired during the entire experience because you yourself is a hostage in the film. In the end, there is a sigh of relief although not really. Because you know it did not really end at all. 

Monday, September 3, 2012


Bonita Baran, 21 (photo courtesy of abs-cbnNews.com)

She came to Manila, like everybody else that did, dreaming of that small job, of those small earnings to be sent to a waiting family in the province, eyes set in an unknown future with hopes for a better one. But after four years of humble servitude to her employers, her right eye is now blind, her face and ears burned, scars are all over her body and she can barely walk that from time to time she uses a wheelchair to course through around. This is the story of Bonita Baran. This is a story of a girl in a sudden twist of fate, that from a tale of voyage to simple dreams, nightmares unfurled and the journey to justice begins. 

From the province of Catanduanes, Bonita arrived in the home of Analiza and Reynold Marzan in 2007. All is well during the first year of her job as a maid. She was happy enough with her P700.00 (about $16.00) salary a month, cleaning and ironing clothes for the family. After a year of servitude, Bonita’s Calvary arrived.

Dissatisfied with her cleanings and ironing of clothes, Analiza Marzan would repeatedly hit Bonita with reed broom all over her body until the broom itself is destroyed. Hard objects are thrown to her while figurines are smashed on her head.

“Isang taon po akong hindi sinasaktan tapos po noong unang beses na naranasan ko, araw-araw na po. Sa paglilinis ko po, kapag nakitang hindi maganda sa kaniya, hindi malinis, sinasaktan niya po ako.”

“Hinampas niya po ako dito sa ulo ng walis tambo. Tapos po dito sa dalawang braso, tapos sa binti, sa paa. Halos nagkaputol-putol [yung walis tambo] tapos namaga. Tapos dito naman sa ulo hinampas niya ako ng figurine na matigas tapos natanggalan po ako ng buhok.”

Wounded and bleeding, Bonita saw no medical attention and succumbed to wiping her blood and washing them with running water. One time she was ironing clothes of her masters, Analiza Marzan picked the iron and stroked it on Bonita’s face, on her arms and on her back. Flesh burned and in turn, the matron poured over Bonita a dipper of water.

“Dito po sa mukha ko pinlantsa niya. Tapos pinlantsa niya dito po sa may ulo, tapos dalawang braso tapos sa may likod po. Hindi po nila ako pinapagamot, hindi po ako dinadala sa ospital. Nasunog po siya. Binuhusan niya po ako ng isang tabong tubig sa C.R. tapos lumobo po siya. ‘Pag nakita na niya po na nasugatan niya ko sasabihin niya ‘sorry hindi ko sinasadya.”

Every night, Bonita said she would pray. That if the neighbors couldn’t hear her pleadings as her mistress would cover her mouth and threaten her with more physical abuse, she hopes that God will. But her nightmare is just beginning.

Analiza Marzan repeatedly punched Bonita straight in her eyes like a standing dummy. Now, Bonita lost her right eyesight and the left one is in danger of following. According to Dr. Erwin Erfe, the medico legal of Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), Bonita’s right eye has only 10 % of vision as of present and that she needs medical attention to save her from turning completely blind.

“Sinusuntok niya po itong dalawang mata ko. Tapos ilang araw naman parang namamaga siya, binuhusan niya ako ng isang tabong tubig. Tapos ilang araw naman po, susuntukin niya ulit ‘yung mata ko.”

The abuse went on for four years straight. Bonita was also stabbed by Mrs. Marzan using scissors, forced-fed with cockroaches and spoiled food, choked her and locked her in the house. Her communication with her family was limited. To this, the Marzan children would just watch, even the father, Reynold Marzan. Bonita tried fighting, but she was no match to her masters.

One time, Bonita recounted how Mrs. Marzan asked her what’s taking her too long before she died. To which Mr. Marzan, according to Bonita, replied urging his wife to just kill her.

“Ang sabi niya po sa akin bakit ang tagal-tagal ko daw pong mamatay. Tapos ang tanong ng lalaki sa babae, ‘bakit gusto mo ba siyang patayin?’ ‘Patayin mo na. Saan mo ba itatapon?’”

When Bonita was too worn-out to work, the Marzans threw her back to her family in the province. It took Bonita a lot of courage to step-up against her old masters. Now, she is marching her way towards justice.

Analiza Marzan is now facing seven counts of physical injury, two counts of attempted homicide and serious illegal detention at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court under Judge Germano Legaspi of Branch 77. Reynold Marzan, meanwhile, is also facing rap of serious illegal detention. A hold departure order was also issued against the Marzan couple. The latest is that the court already released warrant of arrest and the couple is now said to be in hiding.

The Philippine Senate through its Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development headed by Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada is also conducting its own investigation. After two invitations to attend the hearing, the Marzan couple is still evading Senate’s call and so another warrant of arrest is issued.

In an interview over GMA News, Analiza Marzan denied all the allegations. She said Bonita’s wounds and scars are self-inflicted and that she even ironed herself in the face and her back.

I’ve been following Bonita’s case since I saw her with her scarred face and battered self. In a lopsided world we inhabit, she’s proof to the saying that if hard work really is the key to success, then the slaves would’ve been rich. But if Bonita believes in a system of justice which I denounced many times having faced with all its debauchery in the conduct of my job as a journalist, then I too can hope for that elusive justice. As the song says, even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.

For those who would like to extend their help to Bonita, please contact the Public Attorney's Office at 929-9436. Comments, messages and other feed backs are welcome. You may e-mail the author at desoleboy@yahoo.com

Monday, August 27, 2012

So you think you can love me and leave me to die

"So free we seem, so fettered fast we are." Self portrait. Puerto Galera, Summer of 2012

In the middle of the battle of political words, artsy collects, sugar-coated rants, spite and nonsensical stuff flooding my Facebook timeline, I found a gem of words that made me contemplate real hard and I thought it is genuinely worth sharing. So allow me to share it although I will paraphrase. And yes, the idea is entirely not mine and this is not in any way an attempt to plagiarize:

Once there was a well-known speaker who started his talk by holding up a $20.00 bill and asked “who would like this $20 bill?” Hands started going up. He then said, “I’m going to give this $20 to one of you but first, let me do this.” And he proceeded to crumple up the bill and spoke once more. “Who still wants it?” Still, hands were up in the air. The speaker then replied, “what if I do this?” And he dropped it on the ground and started to grind it into the floor with his shoe. He picked it up, now crumpled and dirty. “Now who still wants it?”  Still, hands went into the air. “My friends,” the speaker said. “We learned a very valuable lesson. No matter what I did to the money, you still wanted it because it did not decrease in value. It was still worth $20. Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled and ground into the dirt by the decisions we make and the circumstances that come our way. We may feel as though we are worthless. But no matter what has happened or what will happen, you will never lose your value. Dirty or clean, crumpled or finely creased, you are still priceless.

The past days have been quiet agony for me. I was suffering from depression attacks in the least conducive timing of all. Although to be honest, I think there could never be a fitting time to feel severe depression, but everything that happened the past three to four days required me to be in my sanest form. And yet I wasn’t.

I wish I could explain how and why. But I could only apologize to people who became wary, insulted maybe, or I hope, misunderstood, my behavior.

Depression could be anything. One triggering factor and it would come down rushing like an avalanche. One of the creeping thought during this time is the feeling of worthlessness. It is an effect of recollections of dejections, mostly failures that came like ghouls tearing your flesh for supper.

I’m glad to say I’m better now. And what perfect timing for I will be celebrating my second year of feat against death this September 8. Two years ago, I almost died of dengue fever. But after days of terrible hospitalization, exactly the day of the Holy Mother’s birthday, I was miraculously saved.

Often times I would forget this. Often times I would feel my life is so insignificant especially for those who rejected me countless times. But then, days of reckoning would also pop out of nowhere like my depression and I would feel well and realize it did not and will not matter if my heart is broken into million pieces, or I’m beaten up and would fall on my knees like always. That for as long as I have my hands to extend for others, I will be just fine and there I’ll have my worth.

I remember this poem I’ve written almost two years ago and for some of you who have remained with me, it would sound very familiar. It goes like this:

I survived the war but I did not win the battle
The guns no longer in anger, the canons now tamed
The air is silent, the deceased scattered
Look! A mighty soul standing.
He is not alone.

I’ve been to many battles since the day I wrote this and often times I found myself on the losing side. Curiously, the former Great Soltero replied to this post back in 2010 and asked, “isn’t surviving winning in itself already?” Indeed, he was right. And to add to that, I learned that it doesn’t matter losing or winning, what matters is how you fought your battles and how willing you are to take the next leap onto the next ones. 

To freedom! 

So you think you can stop me and spit in my eye from Freddie Mercury's Bohemian Rhapsody 

Désolé Boy | Year 1, Seq 1
Désolé Boy - Indeed | Year 1, Seq 2
Désolé Boy - Nothing really matters | Year 1, Seq 3
Désolé Boy - Anywhere the wind blows | Year 2, Seq 4
Désolé Boy - We beheld the stars once again | Year 2, Seq 5
Désolé Boy - No escape from reality | Year 2, Seq 6
Désolé Boy - I just gotta get out of this prison cell | Year 3, Seq 7
Désolé Boy - So you think you can stop me and spit in my eye | Year 3, Seq 8

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

When a renegade prays

Dance like no one is watching you. Love like you've never been hurt before. Self portrait. circa 2011

Recently, I was asked by a very close friend if I’m praying for “the one” to finally “step forward” and finally “enter my life.” By the slight twitch in his mouth, I understand immediately we are to talk about my seemingly endless singlehood. Yet again. Of course, he was asking if I’m pleading to the heavens above for a partner to come. In all honesty, I answered a plain no.

Edward, my friend, said that maybe I should start praying for it. Sensing a topic to argue about, I retaliated and said I don’t think it’s a proper thing to ask God. I mean, how would a gay man like myself pray for a boyfriend to come, right? I added that whenever I pray, it is mostly that I try listen to God than me dictating what I want. Edward then said what I’m doing is not entirely wrong.

“My rabii told me that God, as our Father, wants to hear us telling Him the things we want despite knowing them already,” he said. “He wants you to open up to Him. And asking for that person who will make you happy, to be honest, is something you shouldn’t be ashamed off to ask from God.”

I smiled. It was almost the same thing my favorite priest, Fr. Nick, said in one of his sermons at the Cathedral. “Talk to Him,” he said. “Talk to Him the same way you would talk to your friends about the greatest desires of your heart. Your ambitions, the things that bother you, your pains, He wants to hear them straight from you. You are His child.”

In one of Kuya Joms’ blog entries before he left the “single men’s club,” he recounted how he would light a candle in a church, praying for that unknown special person that lies in the same unknown future. Praying not only for him to finally arrive, but for his safety and well-being. And then one day, JC arrives at his door.

Years ago, I thought my JC finally arrived. He left though for he couldn’t love me the way I wanted him. He went and chose the handsome Viscounts leaving a heavily scarred Phantom as myself. As I make my way then in the altar of Quiapo Church, dragging my knees in the cold granite aisle, I swore an oath to God that I will never ever ask for a JC anymore.

I am a renegade of love. Not that I don’t believe in it. I just left its battlefield. It’s a fight where I lost too many a times. And why not? It’s the noble thing to do for the defeated. After all, the winner takes it all, yes?

But even for the most wounded ones, sometimes, at times when you least expect it, hope would come knocking down your walls. Sometimes you get very lonely and would realize how tragically, no one stood up for you. That nobody fought for you, or at the very least, realize your best intentions. When lovers parade in front of you, you smile because you feel their happiness. But then you bleed inside. Because by then, you feel your loneliness. Sometimes you get very lonely. This is one of those.

I don’t want to pray for it. But not because I’m ashamed of God, or that I don’t know how to tell Him my desires, or tell Him “Lord malungkot na ‘ko at pagod na rin ako.”  It’s just that I’m afraid even God would answer me “no.”

But in case that He changes His mind, I hope He’ll heed my call. That finally, He will give me the one for me I’ve waited for so long. I pray it’s soon.  

My apologies for dragging Kuya Joms and JC's name in this whole literally farce (or to be honest, a sugar coated rant to God)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

His final lesson

Today is my lolo’s birthday. However, it’s been years since he passed away. Thirteen years to be exact.

I’m not writing this in a manner that would employ a thousand words and a pile of metaphors to deliver what I feel right now. I miss him, as simple as that. I miss him so much. I wish I could still sit on his lap. I wish I could still lay beside him during afternoon naps. I wish I could still see his face, walk with him, laugh with him.

But during moments like this when I would cry and long for his presence, I would remember his words like it was only yesterday.

You see, I was the youngest among us cousins. Because of this, they would often bully me, tease me and would not allow me join whatever games and plans they hatch. I would cry and run to my lolo. He would then chase my cousins and spank their little butts with a stick.

To more proof of my wimpy childhood, I was scared of the dark, of cockroaches, of large spiders lurking in the bathroom, lizards and crickets at night. With all these, lolo would come to my rescue. And I will finally feel safe, protected from whatever harm and forces imagined by my youth.

He never scolded me for being afraid, for being weak or wimpy. Instead, what he gently told me was this: “Dapat maging matapang ka. Hindi ako laging nandito para samahan ka. Wala ka namang dapat ikatakot. Kaya mo ‘yan.” (You have to be brave for yourself for I cannot stay here with you forever. You don’t have to be afraid.)

He’s the bravest man I know. That’s why it was always hard for me to accept that he could just leave like that. I thought because he was always the strongest in my eyes, not even death could defeat him.

Like this blog entry, there was no way to end the feeling of missing him, of wishing for more moments with him, more comforting words and memories. So allow me to end this with the excellent words of Joan Didion in her book “Year of Magical Thinking.”

“I know why we try keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves, there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead.”

Monday, August 13, 2012

Ground zero

“It’s part of our psyche as journalists. You go the extra mile when the going gets tough. Crisis is your job. You head into war zones as civilians are fleeing. You walk into the storm while others are looking for sanctuary. It’s your job. Why? Because the stories you tell may save a life.”Maria Ressa, former ABS-CBN News Head, former CNN Manila and Jakarta Bureau Chief and presently Rappler CEO

As I stepped inside the office, I was greeted with questions of the state of the place I’ve left, our house in Bulacan. I told them the living room and the bathroom was flooded and that we evacuated and carry stuff upstairs. A few more exchange of banter and everybody went back to work and got serious once more. A few more and I would find myself inside a crew cab making our way around Quezon City to check out the flood situation. And then back at the base, calls from local government officials would pile up announcing class suspensions, reports on how their constituents are faring with the bad weather, and declarations of state of calamity.

The truth is I did not just leave a flooded house. I left my family inside a flooded house.

It all begun Tuesday, August 7. I woke up to a pandemonium. Downstairs, flood was rising faster than any of us in Malolos could’ve expected. A few inches away that time and the water would come surging inside our house. A few minutes more and we’re done readying for the worst. We waited.

After securing everything, I planned my way to work. I knew I have to. Calamities waiting to unfold send shiver, a twinge of anticipation to any journalist. The first thought is always “I have to be on it.” So despite my family’s usual protest, I packed my things, everything I thought I’d need, then called the office to inform them I’m coming and I’m on my way.

But then, ABS-CBN’s Ron Gagalac appeared on television giving a picture of what was happening at North Luzon Expressway. The water level reached as high as half of a bus and vehicles are stranded in the middle of it. People are trailing the concrete barrier dividing the northbound and southbound of the highway as the torrential rain kept pounding on everybody’s head. People watch in awe and helplessness as water kept rising and rising, gushing down from everywhere. I couldn’t leave anymore.

So imagine my frustration. I knew I needed to be at work. I knew what I had to do. I was ready to leave my family despite knowing they needed me during that time of uncertainty. 

Early next day, as soon as NLEX became passable to motorists, I braved the flooded streets of Malolos with a definite thinking on my mind: I need to do my job. But as I submerge myself in flood, as I watch families trapped in their roofs, as I interview fathers and mothers who lost their sons and daughters, I couldn’t help but see my mother, my lola and my sister’s face in them.

My family is a victim of the recent flooding that displaced thousands of families in Luzon. Eight provinces, four municipalities and twelve cities are currently under state of calamity, including my hometown. Since the house was reconstructed back in 1999, flood never came even in 2009 when thousands as well were displaced by Ondoy.

I wanted to call home from time to time, but I can’t. My job requires my full attention. I remember my poor mother. I knew she's more worried for me than the state of our home. Now, not only her husband left her to work far away, even her son did, and is doing the same.

It’s the silly thing about being a journalist. When most people would rush to their family during times of calamity, we do the opposite. We run towards the danger. We run against the current. You try and help a distressed family while you seem to neglect your own. Most would say you’ll get used to it as the time goes, but in all honesty, I don’t think I will.

The night I stayed in a hotel provided by the company, I didn’t sleep at all. Outside the rain was still pounding and we just delivered the news that Angat Dam started spilling. Finally I called home.

Today, August 12, is my day off. Cleaning started Friday. The screen door is broken. Magazines, newspapers and few important files got wet and the refrigerator is still upstairs. The image of the Inmaculate Concepcion, which I acquired three years ago, is in my room because the stool where she used to stand also got broken. All in all, still, life is good.

In the future, there will be more intense rain, devastating storms, war and other catastrophes. And if the gods are merciful and I’d still be here, I would still have to leave my family doing my job as a journalist. By then, still, all I can do is pray, hope for the best like the rest of us all. 

Monday, August 6, 2012


"I wish I could tie you up in my shoes make you feel unpretty, too." 
Self portrait. (Note: DB has coulrophobia) 

I wasn’t always aware that I am no good looking. Growing up, I noticed how people would hail my older cousin, my kuya who’s a year older than me, and people would end up saying he’s “gwapo.” I was very jealous of him. I wanted to be called “gwapo” as well. But no matter what I do, no matter how I rubbed those cottons dipped in facial cleansers, no matter how many of those over-the-counter night creams I put on my garish face at that young age, still, nobody bothered calling me “gwapo.”

Unlike my cousin and the many other good looking guys that you’ll spot nowadays gracing divine ledges among countless bars, I don’t have the necessary qualities to pass one. For one, I am not a mestizo. My skin is burned brown; a combination of genetics and early prowling under the glaring high noon sun. You see, when I was a kid, I was part of a marching band that played music on fiestas, parades and the likes. Naturally, the heat of those afternoons didn’t fare well with my young skin.

My eyes aren’t anywhere near dazzling. They’re black; the other one slightly disproportionate to the other with dark circles around due to lack of decent sleep. I don’t have those red tempting lips, or a sparkling teeth or an inviting face. During the height of my puberty, I was cursed by those nasty pimples; the ghosts of them remaining visible to present. Also, I only stand 5’7, with a short torso and a slightly problematic belly.

God knows how hard I prayed. I thought if I please Him well, talked Him into making me good looking, I’ll have my one great wish come true. That I would wake up one day, look straight in the mirror and find a face that would command the world. But after twenty five years, God still is not merciful enough to grant me that prayer.

It’s unfair how the world conspires for the good looking ones. Imagine the rejection you get just because you don’t have a face of a god. Imagine being ignored. Imagine the disappointment after seeing what lies behind your mask. Countless, people will come and tell me I’m ugly. Now tell me how beauty becomes skin deep?

I tried being the best with those areas I’m good at. There’s music, dancing, acting, speech, making friends, arrogance. Some would even say I have my own charm. But it’s never enough and truth is, they will never be in this world slave to physical traits and worships the pre-determined call of beauty.

No matter how honest your intentions, no matter how good your insides, people couldn’t care. Have you experienced bargaining for love? I did. Wasn’t the worst moment of my life but standing there, giving out all the cards you got yet still not being enough, you just want to die. Why live in a world where you couldn’t be loved for how you look? Tell me, is this what God meant when He said He created me in His own image? That I’m special?

There is this song sung by the world’s most famous frog, Kermit, and it’s called “Bein’ Green.” It goes like this:

It’s not that easy being green
Having to spend each day the color of the leaves
When I think it could be nicer being red, or yellow or gold
Or something much more colorful like that
It’s not that easy being green
It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things
And people tend to pass you over ‘cause you’re
Not standing our like flashy sparkles in the water
Or stars in the sky

It’s not easy being ugly, or unpretty, or fugly – whatever the mean boys and girls of this society call us nowadays. But at some point, I accepted the fact that I could never pass as “gwapo.” I’ll never be good looking for this world.

And so I’ve learned to shun myself away from time to time; away from people who can’t accept me. I went with the vagabonds, the scavengers, thieves. Those people you see every day, but ignored, forgotten by a world obsessed with sparkles and gems. To them, it don’t matter how I look, if I have the right haircut or the right proportion of nose to my face. That’s why I fight with them. That’s why sometimes I disappear from the universe. To talk to them, to be with them and share that neglect this world cursed us with.

With that I find my worth, I find my beauty amidst all ugliness and harshness. I no longer want to be beautiful, good looking or “gwapo.” I think I’m going to be just fine even most of you are not. I know and now I am aware I am not "gwapo" and that I will never be. But like what the song says, even if the world will never agree, I think it's beautiful enough, and this is what I want to be. 

But green’s the color of Spring
And green can be cool and friendly-like
And green can be big like an ocean, or important
Like a mountain, or tall like a tree
When green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why
Wonder, I am green and it’ll do fine, it’s beautiful
And I think it’s what I want to be. 

Désolé Boy, en route to Laguna, 01 July 2012

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Magic, they say, is a product of fraud, a trick of the eye, an illusion. I went up to Baguio last weekend with little expectation of fun. It was raining the past days and the piles of work I had to endure before leaving were such intense, I no longer had the energy and enthusiasm to explore the old city I’ve never been to. But there behind the cold mist, the jagged mountain peaks and the sprawling shades of green, there I'm telling you, I saw and experienced magic.

There was a feeling of home when I stepped inside our rented place. Must be the sight of our landlady’s small dog at her gates, or the smell of pine trees around. It could be the quiet neighborhood. Or most likely, the six other men that went with me.

I’ll tell you about Bino, who orchestrated a mini birthday celebration with a cake and a candle that says I’m 25, a gallon of ice cream and a bowl of spaghetti with a cheese that gave it an extra kick. There was Carlo, my co-celebrant. At the age of 26, he prides himself the sturdy “suplado;” the small boy ripping his muscles in a journey he calls “road to hotness.”

And then there was Leo and Nimmy who changed my view on relationships, even marriage. It’s just that it was hard to believe in something that caused you so much pain, destruction, something that was never real to me. You see them en sync with their actions, sweet but subtle, so that something beyond the goofiness and puns there I saw a simple truth, even hope springing beyond their clasped hands.

I never knew Mar neither Theo. But I know that Mar is a gentleman and that Theo is not as quiet as people perceived him to be after spending days with them.

Like those two, I never knew Baguio before. The quiet hillside, those towering pine trees, lustful flowers tempting you to pick them, the sun peaking behind the threatening clouds, the morning mist, the crisp sound of the sing-song melody of Ilocano words – all are but foreign before.

In Tam-Awan Village, a little far from the main city, lies a pinch of the splendor of the Igorot culture. It rained on our way up the mountain, mud gushing down beneath our wet feet as countless Northern birds taunt us with their surreal chirpings. You look up and you notice how closer you are to heaven, to the gods and goddesses to whom my forefathers once prayed mightily for good harvest, for sons and wives and other worldly graces. I said “forefathers” because my dear lolo was an Igorot from the Mountain Province. 

The locals danced their ritual in colorful bahag and tapis, black feathers gleaming as their hands swayed in rhythm of two. There was a fertility hut, a house with three rice guardians in it and a maiden goddess hidden behind the bushes watching our every move.

The Baguio I heard is home to many people I know. They would say it is magical. That magic lies within a university where they completed four years of education. Some calls the magic by ghostly stories; tales of apparition and ladies in white picking on the tourists. Others found magic in rows of strawberry beds, the many ritual dances, with those cheap sumptuous meals and the cry of bamboo flute.

But Baguio indeed to me is magical. I don’t know but I don’t think it’s the horses pretending to be unicorns in their pink skins and flowers and rainbows attached to their heads. There was neither delusion nor illusion in its thick fog hovering around its fields.

When Carlo cooked dinner of daing na bangus, tuyo, salted eggs mixed with tomatoes and we feasted on them with our bare hands, there I saw the works of magic. There was magic when I blew that candle on top of our birthday cake. There was magic as we heave, catching our breath as we hike over that hillside with no cab in sight to take us home. There was magic when Theo slammed my arm laughing at my jokes. There was magic when Mar took that picture of me with mountains and trees and clouds and laughter.

Magic. It’s a cliché, of course. But clichés tell us what we experienced, what we went through is something that others already walked upon and that we are not alone after all.

As we bid goodbye in that cold dank bus terminal, there was the usual fear of separation. This is something silly about me, what they call SAD (separation anxiety disorder) although I’d like to think of it as normal, the human side of me as opposed to treating it as a disorder. I thought as we part ways that night, I’d lose the magic. But as I browse on our countless photos, the neverending jokes in Twitter and BBM and future plans of more adventure, I think, and I hope, that the magical stories I’m about to tell are only beginning.

"A vacation spot out of season always has a very special magic."
Max von Sydow

For Bino, Carlo, Leo, Nimmy, Theo and Mar

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