Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Bicol agonistes

My high school batchmate Linus Escandor, who is one of the most talented photographers I know, has just returned from Albay where he covered the aftermath of Typhoon Reming for Manila Bulletin. The pictures he's brought back are heart-rending.

Although I grew up in Sorsogon, Albay is a place I am equally fond of because I spent two of the happiest years of my life in Legaspi City, its capital. I finished the last two years of my Philosophy course in Aquinas University, a Dominican-run school located in Rawis, only a few miles away from the foot of Mayon Volcano. Dumaguete's Silliman is the university by the sea, Aquinas is the university by a volcano--the most beautiful in the world. Beat that.

The campus lay on flat, sprawling grassland, so imagine going to school every morning and catching a glimpse of that majestic perfect cone from your classroom window. At night, whenever it acted up, Mayon's crater glowed like a giant firefly against the black sky. Those are sights that would stay with you forever.

Legaspi City was where I became an adult--or at least where I learned grown-up stuff. I was coming from six years of sheltered life in the seminary, and I moved to this city from my small-town roots freighted with dire warnings from everyone--parents, formators and neighbors alike. Be on guard always. Never trust anyone. Stay away from barkada. Hold on to your values (whatever that meant).

My first time in a large co-ed campus, and I was to be a wallflower? No way, Qu-say. We were many "ex-cons" from various seminaries in that batch ("Why is there an exodus?!," exclaimed the dean), so before long, we'd gone to Mr. Peanut, the city's most notorious girly joint, where the dancers did amazing stuff with a chair. We held all-night drinking binges in my rented place, checked out the nocturnal habitues of Penaranda Park, spent many afternoons horsing around in LCC (the equivalent of SM Department Store, but without air-conditioning), cut classes to watch "Ghost" (the Demi Moore-Patrick Swayze weepie) at the dingy La Trinidad theater.

It wasn't all rule-breaking for me. In my first year in Aquinas I took the qualifying exams for the campus paper and became its associate editor. Wow, now I could impress a bigger crowd with my writing skills. I was in my Teodoro Benigno phase then, so my first published piece was titled "Whither the Hope of the Fatherland?" Everybody, including teachers whose judgment I trusted, told me it was unreadable. Now I read it again, and I shudder in agreement with them.

Albay was only an hour-and-a-half away by bus from Sorsogon, but it meant an entire new planet for me, one where I could be on my own, free to test my limits and grow out of my juvenile skin. Every single snapshot in my mind of those exciting, exhilarating years in Legaspi City where I got to do things that would make my mother and our bishop disown me includes the shadow of that magnificent, temperamental mountain dancing in the margins. There was Mayon, a presence both a comfort and a rebuke--its dominance inspiring strength, its violence arousing insecurity.

I look at Linuz's pictures and feel indescribable sadness for Mayon, for Albay and for my region. One of the poorest in the country--but not for lack of trying--Bicol has endured the worst, from endless typhoons to bad politicians (a worse plague by any measure). Sorsogon just got back power recently after Milenyo's battering; Reming huffed and puffed and blew it right back to the Dark Ages. My father came on the phone after days of terrifying silence to tell me he and the house were okay, but that everything the province had repaired since the last typhoon had gone to waste--smashed to bits by the new one.

But, with the devastating mudslides from Mayon's slopes burying many of its towns (including streets and places I know by heart), Albay had it much worse this time. And so did Catanduanes and the Camarines provinces, to a lesser but no less painful degree.

Back to square one for the Bicol of my youth. Life as we know it.

[More pics in Linus Escandor's Flickr account and in his blog.]


Bill Mitsuru Shimizu said...

narumduman mo pa padi su nag acrobatic na sirena sa vejors na sige nindo ni jaime su ulok buda pintas? :) hahaha

anyway, just passing by.

migs, the manila gay guy said...

wow gibbs, i did not realize it was that bad. grabe.

and i was referring to the girly joint, the girl, and the chair. ching!

snglguy said...

Although I am Manila born and raised, Bicol, Albay especially, will always be second home to me.

Sorsogon is another place that will always have a special place in my heart, the entire family makes it a point to spend a couple of days at Rizal beach in Gubat for our yearly reunion of sorts during the Holy week.

I hope our fellow 'oragons'(was that correct?) will be able to overcome this latest tragedy that has befallen our beloved region.

PS: Hope you don't mind my "borrowing" those pics for my next post, with a hat tip to you of course. :-)

snglguy said...

Oh by the way, glad to know that your family is ok. :-)

gibbs cadiz said...

ey MITS, don't forget, you were the first one to bring me to mr. peanut! how's oregon? :)

hi MIGS, hahaha! :)

ey SNGLGUY, yep, oragon's the word. no problem about borrowing the pics, but do give the hat tip to my photog-friend linus escandor who took them. am only using them with his permission, so please mention him and his flickr/blog as well. thanks! :)

aryo said...

You drank?! And went to girlie joints?! Shame! Shame! Idol pa naman kita.

aryo said...

But I do grieve for Bicol. Together with my place, Samar, lagi na lang tayong pinagsasamantalahan ng bagyo at sandamukal pang ibang kalamidad. But being made of sterner stuff, am convinced, makakaraos din tayo. At pakisabi sa mga hinayupak nyong congressmen...oops! Ang puso ko..

bong said...

hi gibbs,
sigh. two super typhoons in a row... am still trying to get in touch with my best friend in legaspi and i am hoping she is okay. la lang, just wanted to reach out and say i feel the same way. kakalungkot.


aquinian said...

Hi gibbs,
This is the first time i visited your blog, and it's nice to know that we had almost the same experience during our college years. It seems that we are schoolmates in college, I'm sure i had seen you in the corridors of Aquinas University, your name really sounds familiar. Like you, I grew up in sorsogon and spent my college years in Albay and i had a sheltered life too prior to my Nursing Education. There was more to College life than just merely reading and studying, having friends and experiencing the best and the worst fun made me more in touch with my inner self. Sisay baya na bikolano and lain nagiinom maray kuta kun painominom lang, eh most of the time mauli sa harong boyongonon. Who will forget Mr.Peanut and there's also one near Aquinas, I'm not sure anymore if its Caligula's or VIP. Anyway, thanks sa blog mo i get to reminisce the time i had in BIKOL. It pained me a lot when i heard about what happened in bikol, I also heard that Aquinas also suffered tremendously from that typhoon. But, i'm sure in time, makakabawi din ang bikol.

I miss the country already but somehow pinoy blogs is filling that void. Keep Blogging kabayan.

Huh, i hope i used the word "HAD" correctly. HAHA

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