The picture above was taken from the Facebook album of Danny Durante, whom I assume is a Baguio resident. The place looks to be like Cresencia Village, which can give a completely SFW portrait of things I can’t bear to imagine. For those living in the lowlands, this is what a landslide looks like. It carries away homes… and indeed, it carries away lives. It’s like an avalanche without snow, yet as cold and unforgiving as anyone could imagine it.
As I write this, I’m fresh off a drinking session at Cubao X in the effort to forget. I want to forget about things I don’t want to – and I cannot in good conscience – write about stories I heard today, like that of the taxi driver. The taxi I rode in was driven by a driver from Cagayan who lives in Marikina. His words tore at me like I would pieces of paper when I fold paper cranes:
“Pangaasi yo, Apo.”
It’s one of those Ilocano phrases that are only said in desperation, where the ever self-reliant Northerner would never ask for help or charity beyond the courtesies of being a good neighbor, unless absolutely necessary. Adversity may strip down the human being into helplessness, yet there is an unarticulated beyond that cannot be phrased in any language. The raw humanity of suffering, sickness, and death that could leave any witness to it emotionally scarred. “Pangaasi yo, Apo” speaks to that level of desperation, desolation, and destitution: the appeal to mercy, the willingness to be subservient for a chance at life.
My friend Bigenya is much more fluent in Ilocano than I am. She writes:
Makasangit nak, ading. Nagrigat la ngarud iti biag idiay ayantayon, kastoy pay lang mapasamak.
Roughly translated: “I’m moved to tears, my young friend. Life is hard enough for us where we’re from, and this happens.”
I’ve seen the lay of the land in our Christmas trips to my father’s hometown in La Union, and I’ve seen his brothers and nephews look over the parched soil that bear what remains of corn stalks, as his nephews carry the bundles of kamote muro for us to take home. I can only imagine that once-arid land turned into giant puddles of mud unfit to grow anything on. Even weeds would die from drowning or from blight.
True enough, the people should take the blame. Development and encroachment has disrespected and desecrated the mountains and the spirits that dwell in it, not to mention make the soil unstable. Yet the loss of life and property can be too much to bear. Especially for people too far from relief operations, where roads are too damaged or submerged for trucks to get through. People who need blankets, food, shelter, and a way out of that mess.
Perhaps it’s the frustration of and about everything that builds up inside me to keep me awake. The frustration that comes with being unable to contact my sister. The frustration that comes with being unable to contact my friends. The frustration that comes with years of underdevelopment and neglect. The frustration that comes with being unable to help because the relief centers were closed for the night. The frustration that comes with calamities happening all the time, in different places and in different scales, yet treated differently, as if dealing with apples and oranges.
The frustration that comes with being unable to come back home.
The taxi driver dropped me off near the apartment, and I was stuck with a story that right now, I cannot tell. I propped myself up a lamp post, weak-kneed from the harrowing story of starving children and flooded fields. I lit a cigarette and thought of Christmas lights that will never be lit, of dinner tables that will never be filled, and lives that will be anything but complete.
With all the clarity I can muster from a night of drinking, I looked up the stars and the half-moon, looking for an explanation for the devastation that befell the place I called home.
“Pangaasi yo, Apo,” I mouthed out loud, as I stubbed out my cigarette butt and walked up to my apartment.