Monday, September 24, 2012

Twisting History

I was just barely nine years old in 1972 when Ferdinand Marcos placed the entire country under military rule and ushered in more than a decade of authoritarian rule.  I remember playing with other kids on the street outside our rented apartment in Cebu City late in the afternoon of September 23 of that year and being admonished by a frantic grownup neighbor to all go back home because "martial law" had been declared.  As the sirens wailed that night to announce the nightly curfew that was to become a daily fixture of the lives of all Filipinos of those times, I laid awake in bed wondering what in the hell was "martial law" and why was such a fuss being made about it.

On vacation in Lianga some months after, I not only noticed but felt the heavy military and police presence everywhere. Piles and mounds of old, rusted firearms, shotguns and rifles, all surrendered or confiscated (many of them of World War II vintage), dotted the front yards of police stations and military camps.  Every night, as curfew hour approached, policemen or constables of the Philippine Constabulary then would man checkpoints at strategic areas all over Lianga.  The sight of an elderly police officer in uniform sitting on a wooden chair with only the light of a kerosene lamp to drive away the darkness and dozing off, one hand on the butt of his holstered revolver, while manning a lonely street corner post near our house in Lianga would always be one of my enduring images of the early martial law years in this town.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Main Street

In Lianga even today, we have little use for street names even if they do exist.  Directions for finding a particular house or any other location are always given in terms of the nearest prominent landmark or simply by diagramming through words, gestures and hand signs the general direction that had to be taken and the twists and turns that have to be made in order that one can get to where one is supposed to go.  It's a small town anyway where everyone virtually knows everybody.  Even strangers and outsiders are not expected to get really and hopelessly lost unless, by sheer stupidity or the lack of even any modicum of common sense, they deserve to.

That is why it was only when I was in my late teens when I learned by an accidental glance at a street map (yes, Lianga did have a street map even then) mounted on the wall of one of the offices at the municipal hall that the main street of the town, on which southern leg our family house was located, was named Rizal after the national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal.

It actually stretches straight and true the entire length of Lianga from south to north and runs parallel to the national highway just a short town block to its left.  On the opposite side lies a narrow strip of land mostly reclaimed over the decades from the sea and now cluttered tightly with residential houses except for the middle part right across the town's parish church which has always been set aside for the major structures and buildings that constitute Lianga's business and commercial center.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Look Back

My average day in Lianga nowadays starts with a routine so familiar that I often go through it it with nary a conscious thought as if I am on autopilot or cruise control.

As I get out of bed at about six in the morning, one hand immediately reaches out to flick on a switch on a power strip fixed to the wall on the right side of the headboard of my bed.  This turns on an internet modem and a WiFi router.  Then I grab my trusty Samsung tablet on a side table and, while still in pajamas, is quickly out of the bedroom and off to the kitchen to brew a cup of  hot coffee (sugar free but most certainly not decaf).

Then in the lanai of the house facing the sea and the slowly brightening horizon beyond the expanse of Lianga Bay and the blue-green waters of the Pacific Ocean, I would sit hunched over an old wooden table that used to belong to my paternal grandfather, steaming mug within easy reach, and leisurely checking my email inbox plus the day's latest news online while the sunrise of the new day breaks out in front of me.  A video call or two may occasionally interrupt my web trolling then it's on to Facebook for messages and updates from friends.

I am sure, the breathtaking sunrise vista taken aside, this routine is not exactly uncommon for a lot of people even here in the Philippines and more so elsewhere in the civilized world.  What makes it notable in my case in Lianga is that just six years ago, it could have been only not possible but the kind of stuff a local tech junkie of that time could have only dreamed about.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Shaken Again

It started with the faintest hint of shudder.  I remember I was sitting in front of my computer, eyes on the monitor, and trolling through Google News, since I was not able to watch television the whole day.  I looked up instinctively and as I turned around to check what was wrong, the shaking suddenly grew stronger.

Earthquake! The tremors became more violent, certainly the strongest I had ever felt in my entire life and as the walls vibrated and the windows panels of my room in the first floor of our house in Lianga started to jiggle in earnest, my eyes involuntarily turned to the time display on the task bar of the computer monitor.  It was about 10 minutes to nine in the evening of the last day of August just a week ago and, in those harrowing seconds that seemed to drag on endlessly, I had a mental image of myself still frozen in a sitting position, fingers still on the computer keyboard and seemingly waiting for the house to fall down on me.

The shaking went on for more than a minute, ebbing and gaining strength in a cycle as if a series of underground sea waves were pounding and crashing through the bedrock underneath Lianga and still I sat there still immobile and still.  Then it finally subsided and as everything grew still. It was only then when I managed to shake myself loose and despite a sudden queasy feeling in my stomach as if I just came off a roller coaster ride, I jumped up to check on everyone else in the house.