Thursday, August 11, 2016
THIS IS A VERY DIFFERENT morning. I can feel it in my nose. Aha! Yes! It is December 13, 2015 and it is the season of giving. I am the first in the parking lot of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. Then comes the people who lived from faraway Lapulapu City, one after the other. They never failed to amaze me. Richie Quijano, Nyor Pino and Locel Navarro.
As I sat on the front stairs of an unfinished building, the rest came in trickles. Across me, is another group who are on a mission today to Kahugan. They are kindred spirits. In a half hour we will have ours at Baksan. Fritz Jay Hortelano arrive with a plastic bag full of face towels while Justin Abella and Faith Gomez have two big vacuum-packed plastic filled with stuffed toys.
Aljew Frasco and Bonna Canga parked a maroon Toyota pick-up which will be useful transport soon for the volunteers among us. Jhurds Neo also with a Toyota Fortuner that has wife Zette, son Jacob and niece among the passengers and our guest Derek Manuel with wife and daughter. Also arriving is the Neo family's other transport – a Suzuki Every 660 – to be used for this event called Christmas United, which is in its fourth year.
We have held Christmas United in Kahugan for three straight years until we decide to transfer it to Baksan this year. An incident in July had caused our perennial hosts, the Roble Family, to transfer elsewhere. Their place was perfect for our outreach events like Christmas United and another one called Who Put the “N” in Nature, which we hold every May of each year before the opening of classes.
It is really sad on our part because a lot of children there will be deprived of the gifts we bring this December because of the deeds of one resident named Timoteo “Nonoy” Gabasan. He has been responsible in the attempt on the life of Fele Roble and the burning of their house after that. To show our sympathy to the Roble family, we decide to transfer to Baksan, with a heavy heart, until justice will be served on the suspect.
Already at Baksan as our advance party of yesterday are Mark and Mirasol Lepon, Nelson Orozco, Jonathan Apurado, Fritz Bustamante and Nelson Tan. They have stayed at the Ragasajo Homestead where it may well be being prepared for use today. They have carried the bulk of the gifts and some of the food stuffs which we will prepare for the children and, possibly, for their parents too.
The convoy of three vehicles with all volunteers and items aboard leave Guadalupe at almost nine. We reach the trailhead by the road at 09:10 and, slowly, we grab what we can carry with our hands towards the Ragasajo homestead. It is a short walk of undulating terrain but quite shady. An approaching tropical storm called “Nono” is threatening us with a light shower but we remain optimistic that it does not ruin our day.
I believe the children and their supportive parents are waiting for us now. Some of these children, walked with us, expectant of something on this beautiful morning. Two vats of street ice cream are being transferred from the vehicles to the outreach area as well as some of the gifts and the food ingredients that we will prepare and cook today for the children.
Supporting us and relishing to volunteer their time is Atty. Jose Mari Gochangco and his very modest wife-to-be. The guys from the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild are very honored by the presence the Gochangco couple and the Manuels. We behaved and watched our language and put our best foot forward. All hands took to their assigned tasks to the letter and most put on an extra effort.
Baby Quia, daughter of Aaron and Ann Jillian Binoya, exercised her social skills as well as her hiking legs as she is totally awestruck in this Christmas affair with so many children around her. Not to be outdone, 7-year old Jacob snared a lot of new friends – young and older – and became part of his fledgling pack. The Ragasajo homestead is a beehive of activities which the following montage shows:
When all the gifts are now in every kid’s safe clutch, when every morsel of food is wiped clean from the plates and the place is swept up of clutter and litter, it is time for us to go. A grateful local, Alex, showed and led us to a route down which would exit nearest to Guadalupe. We follow down a creek and walk the boulder-strewn streambed and its creekside trail.
I say this again: that if you show goodwill, routes which lay unknown will be opened up for you. The route is a lonely one since nobody – not even locals – go there anymore. They opt for the easier Baksan Road and hire a motorcycle when they go to the city center or, if they may have to walk, they go by way of Banika. It is really lonely. Something in the air imply that it is a cursed one.
Alex told tales of how this place became a stronghold of armed radicals in the ‘80s and it had been a battleground as well. There used to be a thriving community here but the residents abandoned their homes to seek peaceful and safer places. We passed by a crumbling hulk of concrete of what used to be a house. On its walls were bullet holes.
We found habitated houses but it is used only as resting places by locals who worked on small farmplots. By late afternoons, it is abandoned for their more secure abodes downstream like a woman with her infant who joined us. But what astonishes me is a good-looking couple who made this cursed place their home and they were not even locals.
We reach Guadalupe at 18:00 and proceed to my new water hole that would ensure me endless ice-cold bottles of beer – Cafe Angelica – which is located at the back of KIA Motors in Gorordo Avenue. There, we celebrate our success with the fourth edition of Christmas United. Despite that, I could not erase the faces of children of Kahugan whom I have known so well and who were deprived of another joyful and unforgettable Christmas because of this rogue named Timoteo “Nonoy” Gabasan.
It breaks my heart. Merry Christmas anyway to you all in Kahugan.
Document done LibreOffice 5.1 Writer