A hero's death

I hardly know him. In fact, I don’t—except from the vague personal sketches I’ve heard from the ones who did.

He went to the same high school as my brother but almost half a decade earlier. He lived from a nearby town, about an hour drive from Koronadal City. But I don’t remember ever seeing him, not even vaguely. His name, though, has a familiar ring into it. Weirdly, Michael tells me my father were friends with his.

Is it just my memory, or we’ve never really been introduced?

My friend Katrina tells me he was a math genius. Days before Kat would join math contests, she’d run to him for some tutoring, which he’d do gladly and for free. Michael tells me he was quiet. He’d probably only talk when it was called for, with every word from his mouth eliciting some sense.

His dream was to become a soldier, so goes the Inquirer article. When he was young, he liked to play military drills. Funny, when I think of it, because I never had that phase in my life. To me, the most perplexing question was whether I’d be a botanist or a zoologist. It’d be interesting to know why he wished that kind of life.

He was a man who wasn’t afraid to follow his dreams. He eventually got into the Philippine Military Academy, ranking ninth in his graduating class. I can imagine his family with tears of pride, his father probably shouting, “That’s my son!” as his name was being called in the graduation rites.

But his life ended when enemy bullets hit him during clashes in Ungkaya Pukan in Basilan. They were running after the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group. He was probably carrying his gun. The sound of bullets must have sounded like thunder. His feet must have been soiled by the dirt and grime of the jungle. But he must’ve thought that everything—there and then—he might just have to say goodbye. What was he thinking before he breathed his last?

Ermin Soloren was only 22. And he died a hero.

Room 125



June 2007, Start of First Sem (2007-2008)

The room looked the same when I left it two months ago, except for the tiny shreds of paper a summer resident may have left on my desk. I switched the lights on and opened the windows to let some air in. It was so quiet I could hear my steady breathing.

It was like this, too, when I first came to Yakal. My brother was with me, and we were both tired carrying our luggage. When he left me to get a drink nearby, I sat in a corner, thinking what would happen next. Would I call this place home? Would it be as fun as Kalayaan? Would I meet friends here? Silence has a way of keeping our mouths shut and our minds talking.



2005-2006

I was roommates with my brother for a whole year. It was a mistake, I thought at first, for we would only quarrel like immature brats in front of others. But we did get along, and the only disagreements we had was when he played music while I was solving math equations. He works better with the Media Player turned on; I get distracted so easily. And there was my big, loud mouth, of course, which was always an issue.

There was Art, too, who would still be my roommate for another year—Art who never once failed to bring us food whenever he went to org activities (which was almost nightly), Art whose looks can disarm any woman’s thinking, Art whose cell phone would always ring incessantly for minutes and wake us all up but not him.

Chesson was the fourth resident, but he was always out, always at home in Tondo, so I never got to know him that much. He only came to sleep during times when he had to study, and it was usually with the same clothes he had during the day. But he’s a cool guy, always smiling even at times when it’s least expected. Once I asked him, “Who’s your calculus professor?” and he smiled for two minutes before I got an answer. His gentle voice has always given me the impression that if we were words, we’d be antonyms—I’d be “noisy”; he’d be “quiet.” Chesson’s cool like that.



First Sem, 2006-2007

Manong graduated, Chesson didn’t apply for dorm readmission, so Art and I were the only ones left.

Two roommates moved in with us. This was a hard time for me, especially now that my brother was staying somewhere else and left me to fend for myself and wash my own socks. But when I think of it, we’ve been roommates since the day we were born, so I called it “change for the better.”

Al, the first, took what was originally my space: my bed in the lower deck near the window, my brother’s desk that I had used the summer before, even my favorite sockets. I was mad at first—the unwritten, unspoken dormitory rule of seniority provides that the older resident has the right to choose first. Just when I was about to explode, my mother told me to let him have what he wanted as long as I was comfortable where I was. My angry phase died off quickly, and we lived along happily.

The second was Mac. He never failed to make me laugh with his sarcastic antics. At first he never spoke until asked, never made a noise except when he yawned, but I couldn’t forget the time when he cracked his first joke at me. I couldn’t remember what it was about exactly, but it was good—had me jumping at my seat. Nightly we were visited by many of his friends. It was crazy to have them around. He’s a great kid—Mac—and I miss him.



Second Sem, 2006-2007

Art graduated that sem, so in came Ronnie, a short guy with a pierced right earlobe. He was originally from the noisy area of the corridor and decided to move in with us in hope of a sounder sleep. I’d always remember Ronnie as someone courageous in sharing his life story openly, something I could not do so easily. Until now he still yells at my window to say hello.

It was at this point when dorm life was at its worst. I was in conflict with another roommate. His loud music was unbearable. He wouldn’t listen. He was getting scarier every minute. For weeks I hardly slept at my room and had to rush to good friends to spend the night in silence. I didn’t report him to the authorities—I guess I was too scared, too afraid to be the cause of his probable eviction from the dorm.

It was at this point when I had learned a lot from God. My patience was like a frayed piece of rope carrying a piano from the sixteenth story. But I asked God to help me piece my patience together—to persevere in praying for him instead of biting his back when he wasn’t looking. At that point my friends were with me all the way, always asking me how I was, even taking the courage to face him when I found no strength in me.

Every night I asked, “When will this end, Lord?”



First Sem, 2007-2008

I wasn’t done exploring the room when I heard something stir in the opposite corner. There were already people sleeping. I walked slowly to take a look at the beds, curious who my new roommates were.

In the midst of the investigation, the fact didn’t sink in completely yet: Mac, Ronnie, and Al were no longer admitted because of the new dorm policy. In a way, it was an answered prayer. He was out, finally. For a time I looked forward to more peaceful nights and was actually excited. It was a chance to retrieve my original desk, by bed space, and my favorite sockets. But on the other hand, I was saddened—I’ll definitely miss the others.

I saw the first one sleeping on the bed above mine. Adroel, he’d tell me two days later—his name’s Adroel. Later on I would learn that he sleeps at irregular hours, usually during most of the day, and can withstand hours and hours and hours of watching movies on his newly-acquired laptop. Very polite and respectful, he’d always say sorry whenever he dropped his phone in my bed during times when he did sleep. Plays a great selection of songs, too, and listens to this radio program where people call and talk—live on air—of their love problems. The last topic was, “Did you ever commit suicide because of love?” How corny can you get.

The second is Felix, just as polite as Adroel. There’s always a bright smile on his face the moment he wakes up. He’s the renaissance sports man—plays well in basketball, volleyball, table tennis, badminton, which makes me wonder if he’s good in rhythmic gymnastics, too. I watch a lot of movies on my PC with him, usually after I’m done reviewing for tomorrow’s exam. Before we’d begin, I’d give him instructions: turn the PC off if and when I fall asleep, which happens 20 minutes after the movie has started. Perhaps he’ll never forget me for the things I often tell him, usually during corny movie scenes: enjoy your single-hood before you decide to marry, marry a sweet, bright, godly girl, and don’t iron your future wife’s face when you get angry. Nuggets of wisdom from yours truly—maybe I should right a book?

The third is Clinton. Yes, that Clinton. He used to live in the room beside mine in Kalayaan. A great guy, too, albeit corny. One of his friends told me, “Ibang klase ‘yang si Clint. Gawin lang singkit ang poste at lagyan mo ng skirt, maiinlab na ‘yan.”



As I write this, the rain just keeps falling, without regret nor restraint, washing the dirt and dust and grime of the previous sunny days. The coolness helps in my thinking. All the sounds I hear are the dripping water, the staccato of my keyboard, the electric fan in full blast, but the loudest of them all—the echoing memories of the past three years.

Cellular


I thank the Lord, for never have I regretted my decision of shifting to MBB. It's my third year in the program, which means I'm nearing the finish line, but still not there yet. So far it's been a learning experience. When people ask me (and they normally do, usually with bewildered eyes and gaping mouths) why I shifted from English Studies to Molecular Biology, I'd normally tell them that I no longer wanted to be a lawyer, English being a recommended pre-law course, but that I wanted to save lives by being a doctor. It's true, of course, but not exactly complete. I shifted because I wanted to know God more through His creation. My utmost consideration for a course was this: where I was going, would I come to a deeper understanding of God? I thank the Lord because now my answer is a resounding yes.

For the past years I've learned so much, my mind like a sponge being soaked in information. And each time, I'd be amazed at how things work in the molecular level: the precision, the speed, and the sheer complexity of biological systems. I often tell friends of my amazement, to which they'd conclude, with a deep-seated surprise, that God's glory isn't only reflected in the immensity of the universe, it's also manifested in the cellular level. And I agree.

It's because of grace that I'm able to see things in this perspective: one that acknowledges that everything is created by God and is under His sovereign control. I could very well dismiss that everything was created because of some theoretical explosion, that the intricate design we see both in the micro- and macro-levels was borne out of probability...but I find these things hard to swallow.

The things I've learned must create in me a sense of humility. "When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?" (Psalm 8:3,4). The God who created my cells is the same God who provides for my orange juice during class breaks, my PhP 6.50 Ikot jeep fare, and a cozy bed to sleep on at night.

Dear readers (at least, for those still studying), the challenge is to find God in the things you're learning. If you're studying philosophy, you should see that logical reasoning leads to the inevitable conclusion that God exists. If you're pursuing law, you should see that God is the giver of the Law and that His law is perfect. If you're taking up engineering, you should at least remember that Noah's Ark was created with His instructions (He knows buoyancy more than you ever will). If you're studying literature, you should see how wonderfully written and refreshing His word is. Do that friends, and you will never waiver in your desire to finish a degree.

As for me, it's still a long way before graduation!

Photo: Philippine Military Academy, Baguio City. Summer Break. May 2007.

Summers of childhood


An hour and a half of watching Gulong reminded me of the summers of my childhood: afternoons spent playing under the sun, hanging out in the quiet neighborhood, and going where our feet led us. Life, like everything else, was enjoyed in simplicity.

Gulong, directed by Sockie Fernandez, is a finalist in the Cinemalaya Film Festival (Full Length Films Category) now showing at the UP Film Institute.

The story is told by Apao, a kindhearted boy who wants to buy an old bicycle. With his cousin Momoy and friend Tom-tom, they work for weeks to purchase the bike--all these for the price of going to a fishpond where beautiful women are found bathing.

But they learn that life isn't so easy after several instances that hinder them from finally buying it. And each time, Apao's kindness would prevail, like a waft of cold mist in the sweltering heat.

The movie isn't pretentious.; it tells the story as it ought to be told. It's also distinctly Filipino, definitely one of the movies that will destroy age-old notions that films made in this country are only about teenage lovers with Korean blood and American accents. It's engaging, funny, heartwarming, and romantic in its unique way.



I watched the film with Es, arguably my favorite movie buddy because she howls at sad scenes and rocks the moviehouse with her infectious laughter. On our way out, we spotted Momoy, a robust, polite child, and had our pictures taken with him. Good work, kid.

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Pawis

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Basa ng pawis ang likuran ko nang ginising ako ng pagkahulog ko sa kama. Parating maalinsangan ang kuwarto tuwing alas tres ng hapon, puwera na lang kung umuulan. Ang sarap matulog, sabi ko sa sarili ko. Kelan nga ba ako huling natulog nang ganito kahimbing?

Napanaginipan kong pumapanhik ako sa tabi ng dagat. Parang walang pinoproblema. Parang napakagaan ng pakiramdam. Kung ang buhay sana'y panaginip na lang.

Nagpalit ako ng damit, naghilamos ng mukha, at sabay na itinapat ang bentilador sa harap ko. Parang ayoko pang gumalaw pero kailangan. Bigla kong naalala ang dami ng dapat kong tapusin. Mahirap ang buhay estudyante.

Lumabas muna ako ng kuwarto, naghanap ng mga kaibigang makakausap. Wala pa akong ganang magbasa ng mga aklat, mag-intindi ng mga leksyon, at magsulat ng mga report. Pero napakatahimik ng dormitoryo. Halos walang tao--kung hindi man naglalaro ng basketball sa labas ay pumunta na sa SM para manood ng sine.

Hay buhay.

Bumalik ako sa kuwarto at napahiga sa kama. Naalala ko ang bahay namin. Ganito rin katahimik tuwing ganitong oras: maririnig mo ang paghinga mo. Naalala ko tuloy ang pamilya ko. Nagkakape si Tatay; si Nanay, nasa ospital; si Manong, nanonood ng HBO; si Sean, tumatambay kina Mac. Parang napakasimple ng buhay noon. Pagdating galing eskwela, kakain na lang ng hapunan at matutulog na.

Pero mas komplikado na ngayon. Maraming kailangang tapusin at gawin. Pero inisip ko, habang nakatitig sa kisameng puno ng sapot ng gagamba, habang nakatodo ang ikot ng bentilador, habang unti-unting nababasa ng pawis ang likuran ko ... insip ko: kanino nga ba ako kumukuha ng lakas?

Sa matinding alinsangan ng hapong iyon, naalala kong kahit gaano man kakomplikado ang buhay, kahit gaano pa karami ang tatapusin, nariyan ang Diyos, gumagabay, handang tulungan ang sinumang tunay na nangangailangan.

The week in photos: last week of July 2007

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Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketWest Wing 1 lost to West East Wing 2 in Monday's volleyball match as part of the dorm's on-going Sportsfest. The morning thereafter, I saw this note posted in the hallway mirror. Vengeance.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketYakal lawn front view after a heavy downpour. Who made the angels cry?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketMyself and Clint, with Rey hiding between us. Roomhopping makes dorm life exciting.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketNumber one roomhopper: JP Asong. Finally, he's been admitted to Yakal after years of torture in the Dorm on the Other Side of the Street. Feels like Kalayaan again.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketStacks of books piled above my shelf. Which reminds me: I should start reading again. If you think student life's a breeze; no, it's a hurricane.

And so, the month of July ends. Thank you, Lord, for keeping me this far.