Some things never change

published on page A5, MST, 21 December 2013

I had the chance to rummage through some old files recently and I found clippings of articles I wrote for my high school newspaper more than 20 years ago.

One reflection piece particularly stood out, given the string of tragedies that our country had seen this year. It is entitled “Once upon a journey” – my account of an outreach activity to Bacolor, Pampanga in 1991, just weeks after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo and the resulting lahar flow.

Reading this now and noting my observation of the lahar-affected communities, I cannot help noticing the same spirit of strength, resiliency and optimism that truly defines us as a people.

For my Christmas column, I yield the rest of this space to 15-year-old me:

“Backpack, coleman and all, I left the house at seven am on November 16, half-expecting a picnic. Not everyone had the chance of going to Bacolor, Pampanga to give relief goods to the victims of Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption, so I was literally bubbling with excitement and was curious as a cat.

“But as the two busloads of sisters, teachers, students and maintenance staff from both the grade school and high school departments braved the ash-stricken roads of the province, I changed my mind. I felt that I was still very lucky, after all.

“The buses made two stops, at the barrios of San Juan and San Antonio. While we distributed some pre-packed goods like rice and canned products (from the monetary contributions and offerings in kind of the Graceans) the PampangueƱos beamed at us gratefully. A chorus of ‘thank yous’  simultaneously spoken in Tagalog and Kapampangan could be heard. I was amazed that they could still smile as though nothing had happened.

“Within the long line of ticket-holders, one can get a picture of how normal seems to have become to them again. Children running after each other, women gabbing among themselves, teenagers huddled together – all signs that they have become accustomed to their new life.

“One man from San Juan recounted his experiences on the dawn of September 21. Struggling in Filipino, he told us how his mother in law died from the sudden mudflow. When we asked how he felt, he replied: ‘Syempre kaba, takot, parang wala kang kawala dahil alas kuwatro ng umaga umagos ang lahar...’

“He continued that when they came back to their houses a few days after, it was difficult to recognize which were owned by whom. The lahar-affected roads rose five to six feet high.

“An Iglesia ni Kristo church, usually a very tall structure, has been reduced to half. All that have been left in some houses were the last two steps of the stairs, and the second floors. A large piece of land has become a mini-desert.

“As we were driving past the inhabited places, people were waving and smiling to us as if to say ‘you’re lucky, we’re not quite, but thanks, anyway.’

“The trip to me was all too brief, and by three o’clock we were  crusing along the North Expressway, headed back. From Pampanga I brought home a piece of rock, a package of chicharon, a new understanding of the words ‘reach out’.

“This is one image I will not forget. There on the wall of a half-buried house was written:

‘Merry Christmas to all
Don’t worry, this will pass soon.’

“That eventful Saturday was not worth my excitement and curiosity. It was more than worth it. It made me grow.”