A tale of preordained things

Zeny-Linda Saipudin Nandu

✓ Pass the Bar Exams
✓ Take the Lawyer’s Oath
✓ Sign the Roll of Attorneys

Now officially, Atty. Zeny-Linda Saipudin Nandu, SCL.

It took me more than two decades to finally check off all the items on my bucket list above. With all honesty, I entered Ateneo de Davao University College of Law in 2002, and 10 years later, I graduated in 2012. Of course, there were regrets, frustrations, setbacks, and shortcomings. If I could go back in time, I would have gotten better grades and maybe, graduated on time. But it is comforting to know that everything that happens in life is preordained by God,

“Verily, we have created all things with Qadar (Divine Preordainments of all things before their creation, as written in the Book of Decrees Al-Lauh Al-Mahfuz).” -Qur’an 54:49

Life in law school wasn’t just about getting bad grades. In fact, most of my lifelong advocacy work occurred while I was in law school. Just when I was on the verge of having a mental breakdown due to my unfamiliar daily routine at law school – reading tons of books day and night in my dormitory and daily recitations in my classroom. The timing was perfect as I found a good alternative to keep me sane.

It all started when I happened to join the Ateneo de Davao Legal Advocacy Works (AdDLAW) after a schoolmate invited me to join, so I could travel to places for free. Just when I thought it was all about traveling for free, I became involved in alternative lawyering and human rights work. It was about studying law beyond the four corners of the classroom. It was about learning the human side of the law. I chose the so-called “road less traveled,” which even some lawyers are unfamiliar with. However, as none other than former Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr., said:

“Alternative lawyering is to practice law fundamentally for individuals, communities, and sectors that have been historically, culturally and economically marginalized and disenfranchised. To me, it is troubling that the lawyers who advocate such worthy causes are called the alternative. An alternative is a second choice. You should be considered the mainstream, the first choice, the true and ideal lawyers. Better yet, the conscience of the legal profession.”

Together with my AdDLAW colleagues, we had this seminar, which specifically focused on advocacy for the rights of children, women, indigenous peoples and communities, farmers and fisherfolks, environmental rights, and other human rights. After spending a week immersed in Samal Island’s agricultural, fishing, and IP communities and experiencing their daily lives, I chose the Paglilingkod Bayan Pangkapatiran Foundation (PBPF) for my internship in the Alternative Law Groups (ALG), which advocates for environmental rights, because I found the other advocacies too heavy for my heart to carry.  While at PBPF, I had to attend paralegal training and court hearings in Mati, Lanuza, San Franz, and as far away as Siargao. Even in my then ‘baluktot’ Bisaya, I was struck by how such a simple lecture on paralegals to fisherfolks can empower a community, and make them aware and vigilant of their rights.

After my summer internship, some volunteer interns from Ateneo Legal Services recruited me to join them. I was overwhelmed by how my experience with AdDLAW could impact the lives of people, especially those who are less fortunate. As volunteer legal aid interns, we were assigned to draft pleadings for labor cases that were filed in courts or with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). This experience honed my skills in legal research, client interviews, and drafting pleadings. In my years at Ateneo Legal Aid, I can proudly say that we have won every case assigned to me. The most memorable of all these cases was the illegal dismissal case, and the submission of the position paper coincided with my midterm exam in labor law, where my professor was the labor arbiter who eventually decided the case. Although I failed her exam, I won the illegal dismissal case without her knowing that the position paper was drafted by me. Indeed, in life, you win some and you lose some.

I then had the opportunity to attend the first Moro Law Interns Conference as the only participant from my law school. One of the participants’ recommendations was to establish a Moro law student organization at each participating law school in Mindanao to encourage Moro students to advocate for Bangsamoro rights. Having in mind the Moro situation, and with the support of other Moro law students at Ateneo, we were able to form the Ateneo Law Student Advocates for Bangsamoro Rights (AL-SABAR). We conducted seminars, paralegal training, and relief operations in Moro communities and joined other law groups in rallies and press conferences to voice out our statement on issues affecting the Bangsamoro. I became its first elected president, and AL-SABAR was for a long time the only law school-based Moro organization in the country.

My AdDLAW and ALG experiences also paved the way for me to represent my law school as a replicate intern at the Summer Internship Program of the Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC) in Makati. Again, I traveled to many places for free, including a week-long immersion trip to Bakun, Benguet, a month-long internship proper with the Environment Legal Assistance Center (ELAC) in Puerto Princesa, and Coron, Palawan, and an internship evaluation at Ilocos Norte and Sur. This summer was the best summer for me, I enjoyed it even more because I never thought I would be able to travel to these places, and it provided me with an opportunity to empower people. The following year, I was able to facilitate the next batch of AHRC interns in their orientation seminar in Laguna and immersion in Occidental Mindoro. Also, I was among those who were tapped by the AHRC Executive Director who also held the same position at the time with the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE), to establish the local chapter of LENTE at the Ateneo de Davao College of Law, the first in Mindanao.

I also joined the Fraternal Order of Saint Thomas More – Tau Mu Fraternity and Sigma Tau Mu Sorority and have been an active member for years, serving as an editor-in-chief of both The Messenger (the official newsletter) and The Freshmen Survival Manual, a member of the Academics Committee, and being elected Lady of the Scroll. As Tau Mu, I was also elected Vice President, and became an Acting President of the Ateneo Law Student Council.

When I decided to look for a job, my former law professor, who was also a city councilor at that time, hired me to work in her office in Sangguniang Panlungsod ng Davao (SP), where she chaired the Committee on Women and Children. I was assigned to her free legal assistance desk. Here, I was once again faced with handling women’s, children’s, and labor cases, including rape, child abuse, and VAWC cases, which were sometimes too much for me. Handling pro bono labor cases for illegally dismissed workers has always been rewarding for me, especially since we have won every labor case assigned to me. In one case I worked on, I was waiting for a public jeepney when a taxi driver suddenly stopped and asked me to get into the taxi. He happily shared that he was already driving a taxi and was able to send his son to college with the money he won in a labor case. He refused to take my fare, saying it was the only way to thank me for handling the case for free.

Although I may not have graduated on time and was active in various advocacy groups, I never took my law studies for granted as I also tried my best to excel in my studies. I also had the experience of seeing my name included in the Law Bulletin’s list of topnotchers in one of my final exams. However, as the song goes, “I did my best, but I guess my best wasn’t good enough.”

Luckily, I was still able to graduate from Ateneo de Davao, and I continue to live by the motto of being “a man (or woman) for others.” Then I realized that the long road to getting my law degree was not a waste of time because, even after failing the bar exams in 2012 and 2014, I still had an easy path to finding a job after law school. Indeed, every single thing that has ever happened in our lives is preparing us for a moment that’s meant to come.

Fast-forward to my 2023 bar journey, and there’s only one phrase to aptly describe it, “a leap of faith.” I’m not a religious person, but after not making it twice in the bar exams, and taking a break of nearly 10 years, I have been praying to The Almighty to show me signs, so I could try again, and hopefully one last time.

Miraculously, there were indeed a lot of signs. When the 2023 bar syllabus was released in early 2022, I had a dream that I found an old bar bulletin that contained simplified ways to answer the bar exams. I still remember realizing it was just a dream when two of my bar buddies asked me for a copy of this and I couldn’t find it. But the day before the last Sunday exams, I accidentally came across the 2020 handbook published online by the Philippine Association of Law Schools (PALS) and Rex Bookstore, and it contained almost exactly what I had seen in my dream. And I have been using the same format throughout the three-day bar exams.

Even with the hashtag #HernandoBar2023, named after 2023 Bar Chairperson Justice Ramon Paul Hernando, I took that as a sign. I changed the hashtag to #HerNanduBar2023, inserted my last name, and even wrote it in my review notes.

I also added my nickname and changed Tau Mu’s 2023 bar hashtag #Ascend to #AsZend. That was how desperate I was to look for signs. I even thought that the purple (law’s academic color) tumbler my bar buddy gave me was also a sign, and when I needed to replace the frame of my eyeglasses, purple was the only color that fit my lenses.

When I learned that our bar chair’s lucky number was 8, I decided to make my lucky number “3”. It’s true—the universe is colluding:

My birth month (March) is the 3rd month;
My age is 43, although it doesn’t look like it;
I am my parents’ 3rd child;
I have a family of 3 (with my always supportive husband, and our unica hija);
The year is 2023, and this bar was my 3rd take;
For the first time in bar exam history, the exam period was shortened to 3 days, and the bar exam results were released in almost 3 months;
When I received my notice of admission prior to the exams, my local testing center was on the 3rd floor, and my room number is 301;
When I entered the exam room on the first day, I got goosebumps when the proctor said, “You are seat number 3”;
After the bar exams, I’ve dreamed about it four times. In three of those dreams (the first, second, and fourth), there were no results of the bar exams, which I shared with family and friends. I kept my 3rd dream to myself until the bar exam results came out. In this dream, I failed again. I stick to it because many people would say that dreams are the exact opposite of reality, and that’s exactly what happened; and
Finally, at the oath and signing ceremony, I received my roll number, with the last digit being 3.

Spiritually, it was important for me to wake up at 3 a.m. (aligned with my lucky number) for the Tahajjudprayer from the start of my bar review on April 1 until the day of the bar exam results. Tahajjud is a voluntary prayer mentioned in the Qur’an and by the Prophet (peace be upon him):

And they who pass the night prostrating themselves before their Lord and standing.” (Quran, 25:64)

“The Lord descends every night to the lowest heaven when one-third of the night remains and says: ‘Who will call upon Me, that I may answer Him? Who will ask of Me, that I may give him? Who will seek My forgiveness that I may forgive him?’” (Bukhari, Muslim)

As have been told by those before me, the road to becoming an attorney was never easy. It wasn’t just a matter of looking for signs, as in my case. This experience may have been a leap of faith for me, but I know there is still no substitute for hard work and perseverance.

When I woke up at 3 a.m. during the review, I immediately started my readings after prayer. I hardly take naps or rest during the day, but I make sure to go to bed early at night, so I can easily wake up at 3 a.m. and maintain normal sleeping hours. I isolated myself from people for six months and only left the house when necessary. Furthermore, I enrolled in an online review center to stay up to date since my grueling six-month review was more focused on learning for the first time most of the coverage of the bar exams, as those were either not yet enacted, amended, revised, or part of jurisprudence when I was studying law 10 years ago.

My biggest worry was that I would hardly recall or forget what I’d been studying or reading for months because I have a short memory span and I forget quickly or forget about it completely because I have been surgically operated on twice under general anesthesia. Being the perennial crammer that I am, reading the last-minute tips from the time I entered the local testing center before 5 a.m. until the last minute when the first bell rang at 7:30 a.m. was like going through my 6-month review in a nutshell. Almost everything became fresh again in my memory.

All of this is made possible by The One Above. As the Qur’an 11:88 says, “My success is only by Allah.” Even those who accompanied me on this journey are God’s instruments to finally make my dream a reality. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a lawyer. I may not be able to name each person individually, but collectively, my parents, sisters, friends, relatives, in-laws, former teachers and professors, past and present employers, and colleagues I have worked with in a variety of fields, including advocacy groups, organizations I am affiliated with, bar lecturers and review centers, past and present house helpers, former doctors, physical therapists and faith healers, and last but not least, my husband and daughter. I am forever grateful to all of them.

Finally, I would like to thank the Almighty Allah for giving me these wonderful people, for my answered prayers, and for the abundant blessings He bestowed on me to share with others.

Looking back, it is the most triumphant moment of my life as of late and at the same time the most humbling experience by far. I do not know where my life takes me from this but one thing is for sure, my law school and bar journey before becoming an attorney taught me important lessons of selfless service, hard work, perseverance, patience, and strong faith. With these, I am forever grateful for everything that happened in my life. All praises belong to Allah. Alhamdulillah!

A drastic change

Arch. Sitti Maryam Misah Amirul

On one balmy afternoon, somewhere on the outskirts of our small town of Jolo in the province of Sulu, it was quite a busy day yet significant and remarkable to me. Together with my team, we trekked through the green expanse of the forest in Patikul, Sulu, anticipating reaching the site of one of our projects for a scheduled ocular inspection  It was one of the many site inspections we habituated in our daily grind since our sphere of competence is inclined to the engineering industry and committed to delivering quality infrastructure means and services effectively to the public. It was somewhat arduous traversing the area but we undoubtedly enjoyed the tour. It was mainly because of the ravishing scenery we came to observe along the way. The stretching leaves of huge tall trees are like a vast canopy covering us from above as if protecting us from the sun’s scorching heat. Beyond those trees is a wide panorama of the azure cloudless sky complementing the aerial view of the town in its kaleidoscopic landscape spread across the broad horizon. I tend to indulge in the serenity and quietude of the place as the wind somehow blows a caressing whisper as if to ensure me of a peaceful haven I can be in at the moment. I could feel the cold breeze touching my face which became even colder as tears rolled down my eyes at the spur of the moment. I could not contain my feelings. There was a pang of bizarre emotion engulfing my senses upon seeing in proximity remnants of the past, depicting testaments of past wars and conflicts that transpired in this very place. I felt a mixture of sorrow, remorse, and longing that consumed the entirety of me. Albeit we are seeing changes throughout, the old familiar fear we felt and the tormenting chaos we witnessed that displaced many residents and gravely destroyed communities still lingered in the abyss of our memories and never will be unremembered.

In the distant past, the province of Sulu was once a battleground that generated a bad impression across the country. This very ground where I am standing is just a part of the many areas here in Sulu that were deemed a no man’s land as it was deserted and neglected many years back making it a perilous place. Hence, Sulu is stereotyped as the breeding ground of the unruly and dubbed as a scary place to visit which has sadly become a historical prejudice. Verily, it was disheartening. My heart bleeds for my beloved hometown. And I felt the urge to redeem its glory. I wiped those tears that I couldn’t help falling and went on.

As we reached the peak of what seemed to be a slightly steep terrain, I was in awe at the sight of an old abandoned structure that appeared to be a primary school building built in the early 90s and was wrecked at the height of conflicts in which bullet holes were still visible on the concrete panels of its wall. This hit on the core so hard. A once notable institution was torn asunder and left to oblivion. The terror of war has not only destroyed the community. It took away the hopes and dreams of the generation. I could feel my knees starting to shiver and my heart pounded ceaselessly as if I was in agitation. There is a question running in my head that demands at once an answer. Thus, I ask myself with conviction. What does it take to be a true public servant? How far should one’s service go to be conceded as a true public service?

It is at this moment that I come to see the real meaning of public works. To revive a lifeless body of land and cultivate it with one’s blood, sweat, and tears to come to life again is something beyond service. And to set foot in those dangerous areas to transform them into a beaming community once again thereby furnishing quality service is no easy task. It takes considerable courage, strong will, hard work, and perseverance to begin and pave the way. On this premise, I realized that great leadership with utmost dedication, integrity, and commitment can serve as dynamic forces to genuine public service. Such leadership is a true catalyst for change. I now discern that to be a better public servant, take what possesses these strengths and virtues with a heart that truly cares for the people, the community, and the entire nation.

Perhaps, this was the calling I was destined to be after the doors of opportunity opened for me in the Bangsamoro bureaucracy. And yes, I belong to this Bangsa(nation), the Bangsa Sug in particular. I believe that taking part in this great endeavor will plant seeds of hope to humanity and bring lasting peace and development to the community. And to be part of this dedicated workforce is my humble attempt to be of better service. Public works being at the forefront of excellence in peace-keeping and nation-building, is certainly a true public service. Being part of this, I consider myself duty-bound to uphold its virtue.

At the approach of the night, we already exited the site and were navigating through the newly constructed road which our team had previously accomplished. The dazzling bright luminescence coming from the newly installed solar paneled lights above a six-metered height metallic post hued in stripes gave a clear vision of the surroundings and extensively lit our direction. Following the emergence of infrastructure developments in this locality, many crime-related activities were diminished and the peace and order situation in the vicinage was enhanced. On that account, many tourists were no longer afraid to visit Sulu and were astonished by the many beautiful scenic spots here especially when they get to experience the many attractive beaches on white powdery sand underneath the tall coconut trees, and the tranquility they get to feel upon the exquisite view of clear turquoise waters swashing around the vista. It is truly a sight to behold. This is an indication that tourism is also booming in the province. Sulu is flourishing and manifesting a gleam of hope. I found myself grinning at the thought of it. Indeed, my native land has withstood the tests of time and truly made a drastic transformation. It has metamorphosed radically from being a battleground into (I must say) a playground where children are free to explore the vicinity without the fear of getting trapped in the strings of chaos.

An Ama Reverie: Revisited

An-Nurhaiyden Mangelen

After staying for twenty-one days at Davao Doctor’s Hospital, it was time for Ama’s life support to be unplugged. It was a decision that Ama’s wife, sons, daughter, who was my mother, and other relatives came up with. Needless to say, it was an extremely difficult decision to make. It was decided upon after Ama’s doctor told the family that at that point, my grandfather had no chance of recovery. After all, in those twenty-one days, he was never able to even open his eyes. This time, the stroke proved fatal. Most members of the family also thought that if they were in his shoes, he would have preferred dying in his home back in Dalican, Maguindanao than in a hospital far away from the place he was born.

In those twenty-one days at the ICU, my grandfather died three times. During those three times, the life support was still able to revive him. He was brain-dead, but his heart kept on pumping, his lungs begging for air from the dull, rusted green oxygen tank beside his bed. That tank has witnessed plenty of deaths in its life; looking back at it now, how tragic it is that the only constant thing accompanying the patients in that ICU was that green-rusted tank. How ironic is it that the thing literally giving patients air to breath bore witness to countless more deaths than anybody in that ICU facility. In those twenty-one days, I only saw him once. I also never cried, or even felt the urge to cry. An oxygen tank was a better grandson than me.

That one time I saw him, I thought he looked like the cyborg from Teen Titans, with all the wires connected to his fingers, elbows, nose, mouth. He also had a translucent plastic tube inserted down his throat through what I assume is a long and wide cut covered only by plasters. My mother said that it helps get air into his lungs. I was still a little kid back then. As someone who engrossed himself in cartoons and toys, I never really felt the gravity of the situation. I could never fathom the pain he had to endure when the doctors intubated him. All the injections and bedsore he had gotten from not being able to move around the bed, or even the sensation of not being able to function and be the master of his body the way he wanted to.

If only I could, I would ask him how he felt during those moments: was he still conscious? Did he know that he was far from home? Did he feel any pain? Did the anesthesia work well or did he still feel all the pain from the procedures the doctors did to him? If we had the opportunity to talk before he let out his last machine-induced breath, I would’ve asked whether it was worth it: his additional twenty-one days of only laying down motionless, eyes closed, with only strangers to accompany him.

Looking back, I wanted to slap my younger self across the face for not realizing that after the first death, my grandfather might not even remember him anymore. He might not remember the face of his children, his wife, how he lived his life. He was brain-dead after all.

At that moment, I remember feeling sad. Sad, but not devastated. I even had fun during our stay at the hospital. I spent those twenty-one days watching anime in counterfeit compact disks I used to buy from Moro vendors across the hospital building. I would then go ahead and watch what I bought in a pink portable mini DVD player with a built-in screen. At that moment, I cared more about the lives of those hand-drawn characters than the life of my only then-living grandfather. In those twenty-one days, I only saw him once. It was by design. Call it children’s ignorance, but how I wish that I realized earlier that I ought to be standing there outside the ICU, fighting the battle that he was fighting, being there and him seeing me in a grand cosmic miracle that he wakes up, that I loved my grandfather this much to dedicate an essay to him. I was so very close, yet so emotionally far.

I remember nine cars in the convoy: the ambulance, our car, the other cars owned by our relatives. We arrived in Dalican, Maguindanao around five in the afternoon. Along the way, Ama’s oxygen tank was in a constant watch because when we were around Cabacan, the tank was awfully close to being empty. Dalican was still two and a half hours away; everyone seemed to draw their shared tense breaths from the depleted oxygen tank beside Ama. Drivers drove so fast that the cars seemed to fly. The ambulance ran at around 140-160 kilometers per hour, its siren blaring one moment and then gone the next. Mama did not stop crying for the rest of the trip. In desperation, we played verses in the Qur-an on repeat in our car, as if that would give the family, especially Ama enough air to breathe.

I also clearly remember enjoying the ride. That was the fastest one I had been, up until now. Before that afternoon, I just finished watching an anime about drifting and driving in the uphill mountain roads of Akina, Japan. This is just like Initial D, I thought. I felt the thrill, the speed, the exhilaration of experiencing what it’s like to be in the anime I watched. It felt like we were in a race. In retrospect, I want to scream at my former self for failing to realize that we were in a real race; not against other cars, but against time. That we were skating on thin ice. I even remember loving the moments the car zoomed past strangers on motorcycles, vehicles, and pedestrians.

Did he feel the speed? The thrill? Did his breathing get tougher, raspy, more elusive? Did he sense the anxiety and depressing atmosphere enveloping the convoy?

While inside the car, I never thought of what might happen in Dalican. I never even thought about what comes next if ever Ama gave up while we’re still on the road, or if the tank ran out of oxygen. I never thought of losing someone important, or maybe at that moment, he wasn’t important to me. Looking back, maybe I just lacked the compassion for my grandfather, or maybe at some point, I never even cared; after all, Ama and I never spent quality time together.

As a kid, I loathed his prickly mustache that stabbed me every time he kissed my forehead. I despised the times when he would ask for kisses. I hated the way he smelled; he smelled like a glass of warm milk, and I hated the smell of milk. Every time I asked him for five pesos to buy a sachet of Milo, he would intentionally give me four pesos and demanded a kiss on my forehead before he handed the last peso. “Kagyabu nengka, bulingit’n”, he would usually tease, telling me to stop eating Milo with my fingers because I looked gross and dirty every time I did. I also hated Ama’s big round eyes, which he used to scare children as a way of having fun. I cannot count the times I stopped playing and cried because of those eyes. Those eyes, they gave the scariest glares. But despite hating his mustache and his eyes, I liked his round belly. Every time he asked for a hug, I imagined that that was the sensation of hugging Barney the Purple Dinosaur.

That belly of his got severely small in those twenty-one days.

Now, how I wish he had gotten better, even for a few more months, or even weeks. That way, his belly could grow bigger again and I would then be able to hug him for a longer time. That way we could’ve spent more time together. I could’ve spent afternoons with him just sitting, sipping coffee, listening to stories only he could tell. I could’ve spent more time with the only grandfather I had, but also, I am uncertain whether my former self would have been able to appreciate that extra time, if granted by Allah and his ever-loving mercy. Children could be stupidly blissful and oblivious to the passage of life and time. For children, blind bliss starts off as a blessing that later becomes a curse that follows them around life: specters that menacingly haunt the hollows of retrospection and memory.

In the small amount of time that people were preparing his corpse for the burial, I felt like I did not belong in the room, that I shouldn’t be there, that that space was exclusive for those who loved Ama truly. Back then, the child in me loved him because he was the only one whom I can ask Milo money from, but further than that, I was not sure. If only I knew how to handle things more professionally at that early an age, my last moments with him wouldn’t be as useless. Looking back, I didn’t deserve to be present in his burial. No dead man deserves somebody who took them for granted in their own burial.

According to my mother, Ama had always been her companion since she was a little kid. Ina, Ama’s wife, never really treated my mother with compassion, especially when she married my father. As a child, my mother was a hardheaded, strong boy in the body of a girl.  She often disobeyed my grandmother and played with other boys her age, contrary to Ina’s commands. She would play, mingle, and socialize, as kids often do, which, for Ina, was conduct unbecoming of a young girl. Thereafter, Ina tried her hardest to keep my mother inside the house. She taught her how to knit and sew to take her time off  playing. She taught her how to cook to keep my mother in the kitchen. My mother never enjoyed this, and neither did Ama. He resisted for and with my mother. He would take her to Cotabato, which was a two-hour journey back then just to let her escape the housework. My mother bonded with Ama the most out of the seven siblings because of that. That’s the reason why it broke my mother gravely when he died. Then I learned how Ama played a gargantuan role in my parents’ wedding in 1998.

My grandmother was headstrong in disagreeing with the wedding. She was not in favor of my father because of his low financial capability. What Ama did was he faked being sick, demanded to be checked at Davao Doctors Hospital, and forced his wife to come with him, just to make leeway for my parents’ wedding. The wedding was kept secret from my grandmother. Of course, after she discovered it, she fumed and disowned my mother.

My mother walked down the aisle alone, without her parents to walk her towards the man she wanted to marry. She was accompanied by her eldest sibling, and he took the place of Ama in the Wali, a tradition among Muslims where the father entrusts her daughter to the groom and goes into an agreement between two noble men. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, accompanying my mother down the aisle as well as entrusting his only daughter to the man she loves, but he understood his role. His sacrifice was and will forever be unparalleled and beyond compare in my eyes, even if somebody force-fed me the best romantic movie featuring the most beautiful set of casts, with the most heart-wrenching and fulfilling plot to defeat all romantic plots ever thought of in the history of mankind. That sacrifice made my mother and father’s dream a reality. Without that sacrifice, I would have never been born.

He was also the one who coerced my mother’s six brothers and his relatives to chip in some money for my father’s dowry, to which they reluctantly agreed to. Until now, my parents’ wedding invitation, which Ama hid from my grandmother, is still in his most treasured, albeit beaten and decaying, leather attaché case, untouched and collecting dust. That was the only tangible thing he held or saw that had a direct relation to the wedding.

When my mother told me this story, a significant time has already passed since his demise. I realized the immense impact Ama had in my parents’ lives. That moment, envy started to form in me; I also longed for that impact, for that bond. After hearing that story, I longed for a much deeper interaction with my deceased grandfather. It left a hole in me, a type of jealousy that could never be filled. The end of that story took a part of me that I know I could never regain. A part forever lost with his passing, unregainable, unobtainable.

I long for his grandfatherly presence. In the future, it would be nice if he would be able to come to my wedding. Sadly, life took that opportunity away from me.

As a kid, I never enjoyed my time with Ama, and my most vivid memories of him were those I disliked. That changed when he got hit by his first stroke back in 2009. We brought him to Notre Dame Hospital in Cotabato, and we stayed there for fifteen days. Luckily, he wasn’t incapacitated by the sickness, but his memory got impaired.

Ever since then, he became extremely forgetful: we needed to introduce ourselves to him repeatedly whenever we meet. The only ones he could remember were his children and his wife. Around that time, he also lost track of his bowel movement. He cannot feel the urge to go to the bathroom anymore. When he stood up or walked around, pee dripped from his shorts, and he constantly pooped in his pants. Sometimes his poop got dragged on the floor by his own feet, which infuriated my grandmother. He would look my grandmother in the eyes, with tears in his: maybe from the guilt of not being able to control his own body? I will never know.

I can never imagine how my grandmother felt like, seeing those eyes and those tears that just fell from them. I wonder if she ever felt pity after all those moments she was infuriated and uttered painful words out of exasperation and spite. I wondered if he ever felt like speaking up, retaliating, or was it that he already felt numb from the uttered words that inflicted unimaginable pain. Or was it that the only thing that made him cry every time was seeing the woman he married, the first woman he can remember in bouts of confusion and failing memory, hurt him over and over again over something he cannot control?

Reflecting upon it, that type of treatment is unbecoming of a woman who had stayed in a marriage for so long. But at the end of the day, it was her who took care of him through thick and thin, in sickness and in health, despite the tedious job of cleaning after his waste, and she continued doing so until his last days. She was there with us at the hospital, at the burial, at the grieving period. I am sure that inside of her, there was also a gaping hole that came with his passing. I wonder, how did their wedding go? Was it consensual or arranged? How did the courting go? Was there even any courting?

I never heard of the story nor could I find someone willing to tell me. I couldn’t ask my grandmother for she doesn’t want to talk about it. Every time a conversation had closely veered towards that subject, she had skillfully diverted it into another topic most of the time without fail, like how is a relative doing at school or anything other than their marriage. In rare moments where the conversation had nowhere to go, she would tell us that she was not comfortable talking about it and that she would slap our mouths shut if we continued pressing. We would then laugh, and then she would laugh. It would be clear to us that they were jokes, but still, nobody dared to try because everyone was scared, especially if she were to become mad. I wish I could’ve asked Ama about it over  coffee. What if instead of taking his presence for granted, I asked him how it went? Were there hindrances? Oppositions? Was it like my mother and father’s wedding? What hardships did they encounter and overcome to be able to have seven children and stay married for as long as they lived?

The devastating part is that at this point, I could only speculate.

In 2011, hypertension and stroke got the better of him yet again, which led us to Davao Doctor’s Hospital. He finally took his rest on April 23 at Dalican.

Back then a part of me tried to assess the impact of his life on mine with this stupid brain of mine, his relevance, and the emotional connection I’ve had with him, but I failed.

I remember faking.

I remember forced tears.

It was hard to try and develop fake sympathy. I really tried but at the end of the day, I can only muster as much.

In the seven-day grieving period, hundreds of people came to his house in Dalican to pay their respects. They shared stories about how he helped them with their problems financially, emotionally, and in other aspects. Those stories that people told of him made me see him in a better light. I also realized that it wasn’t that we lacked the bonding moments necessary for me to feel attached to him; it was just that I tried my hardest to reject those opportunities instead of grabbing onto them. I rejected the moments when I should’ve just given him the kisses he repeatedly asked for.  I frowned at his prickly mustache and glaring eyes; I failed to see that those were the only prickly mustache and glaring eyes I’d experience from a grandfather ever. I took his presence for granted. I took the only grandfather I’ve had for granted. Now I’ve forever lost the chance to feel an extraordinary kind of love from a grandfather in the form of giving four pesos, of asking for hugs and kisses, of being stabbed by a ridiculously pointed mustache.

Before, my family visits his grave once a month, but due to life, college, post-graduate studies, and everything in between, I seldom have the opportunity to visit him. I usually bring nothing with me, except a bottle of water for when I get thirsty. Now that he is gone, I cannot bring him any gifts.

For now, this will have to do.

Goodbye to That

Hasmeyya Tiboron

One of the mixed blessings of being in your twenties is being old enough to take action on your goals but still young enough to take a different route in case you don’t want them anymore. I was twenty-one when I had the urge to pursue what I wanted to do, twenty-two when I found out I couldn’t, and twenty-three when I realized that the goals I set in my teenage years no longer matched the person I’d become.

We stopped at Bihing Tahik Resort one Saturday morning to pass the time. Our original plan was to hike to the peak of Bud Bongao but the sun was too intense for a hike and we were concerned more about Doc’s hypertension than the exhaustion and possible reptiles we might encounter later that day.

I was wearing a niqab but the salty air got through my nose I could feel it in my throat. We settled at the cottage at the far end of the resort. It’s so peaceful here. The ocean waves hitting the shore offer more than the relaxation we need.

“Banghunting banan sa trespasing.” Kuya said, referring to the sea vehicles in the distance. Those guys are looking out for trespassers.

“Katawan ka siki Rahma (not her real name) na sumyung samba, gyuto den mambo su mga wata, daden a mga kalek iran.” Doc said in a high-pitch outsounding the boat engines nearby. Did you know that Rahma and others went there once?

They exchanged stories about people who crossed the island adjacent to where we were. I wonder why it was such an issue. Is that a haunted island? Or a subject of mysterious urban legends we often see in movies?

“Di taw blu Doc?” I asked.
“Ababa mapya babay.” Doc said in her signature sarcastic Iranun tone.
“Malaysia den man anan Ma’am Has”. Kuya said. There were only three of us throughout our three-week fieldwork and if there’s something I learned about them, it’s that they can tell a joke and still maintain a poker face.
“Benar.” Doc said.
I pulled out my phone and checked our location and they were not joking. We were facing the sea borders with the Malaysian State of Sabah and North Kalimantan Province of Indonesia, and the sea vehicles Kuya pointed to a while ago were Coast Guard vessels protecting territorial waters from trespassers and intruders.

The blurry outline of Malaysia harked me back to how I mentioned it a lot in my college days. My degree in Philosophy tweaked my outlook, and to put it in an Islamic Perspective, I wanted to advance it in a Master’s Degree in Malaysia. Or at least that’s what I told people when we talked about my plan after I graduate. But deep down, I had this aching desire to run away. To go anywhere far from where I grew up. The world is so big and yet I have contained myself in the small city at the bottom part of the country. I promised myself I would pull myself out of that container.

I was twenty-one when I got married but my new responsibility as a wife didn’t decrease that desire. It strengthened it. I shared my idea of studying abroad with my husband and it resonated with him and we agreed we’d go there together. He would take Master of Science in Pharmaceutical Chemistry and I would take Master of Arts in Islamic Thought and Civilization. We were young and newlywed and full of dreams. I knew things were getting serious when we drafted our admission letters and started sending e-mails for scholarships. But just when our actions matched our optimism, I got pregnant and it was nerve-wracking.

I should be happy because I also dreamed of being a mother someday, but I should study abroad first and then become a mother second. I came from a dysfunctional family and growing up, I made a pact with myself that I’d build a home where my children can safely return to and launch from. I swear I wanted to be a mother. But I was only twenty-two. I should live abroad first and be a mother second and not the other way around. This single switch in the order of things would change a lot of things and I didn’t know what to feel about it.

I stared at the outline of Malaysia softened by the haze. I wondered how things would have turned out if I only left no stone unturned when I still could. But thinking of my baby back home and the lazy movements of his small limbs, I’m grateful for how my fate has turned out.
I was twenty-three when I gave birth to our firstborn. His coming made me appreciate life more and I want to immerse myself in every moment before it passes instead of rushing to crash off the next line on the list. According to conventional wisdom, you should take over the driver’s seat of your journey. The best way to predict your future is to create it. We live in a time where people put so much emphasis on having control over things. But having control over things is a heavy characteristic that only God can have. and I felt so relieved when I stopped trying to have a semblance of that characteristic. I am human, I am flawed, and I make imperfect goals.

They say that only dead fish go with the flow. But I don’t think going with the flow is a problem if it heads in the direction you want. I am learning to lean back and wait for what life has to offer. I still have goals but I no longer hold onto them like a lifeline so that when things don’t go as planned, I could easily bid them goodbye. Of course, it’s not all roses. There are still times when my heart aches for the things I wish had turned out differently but I wouldn’t trade them to what I have now. Because in the delivery room when I gave birth to my son on September 9 at 4:15 am, a large part of me, too, was born.

Reflections on the 2023 Gaza-Israel Conflict as a Filipino

Earl Carlo Mandi Guevarra

As I write this, I look out the window in sadness, feeling helpless at the terrible reality that tens of thousands of people are being systematically slaughtered in a place that’s just 41 kilometers long and 10 kilometers wide at its widest point. You can’t just make this up. Imagine cutting half of Metro Manila, placing it in an alternate dimension, and bombing it with all the kinds of ordnance you can think of, 24/7 nonstop – that’s what’s happening in the Gaza Strip right now.

On social media, it’s ironic that the majority of Filipinos support Israel’s actions, even when many around the world say otherwise. There are a couple of probable reasons why they might do so; they help with the defense requirements of the country, they equate it with the Holy Land, and the country is one of the rare people who would give Filipinos travel privileges (even in their security checks, Philippines is considered as one of those countries that will come right after their own citizens).

Ironically, a nation that is supposed to practice “makadiyos” (Godliness and excellence in service in the name of the Creator) and “makatao” (humanity and human excellence) as our core values are actively participating in dehumanizing people whose only fault was to be born on the wrong side of the planet.

I actually had an internal debate on whether I should reflect on the current conflict on paper or not. On one hand, I asked myself if there’s anything that has been written about the topic at hand that hasn’t already been written. On the other hand, it is pretty clear that many Filipinos, especially those outside of Mindanao, immediately demonize all Palestinians as terrorists – despite being completely innocent as far as the strictures of international law, war, and common human laws are concerned.

Sounds familiar? This was exactly the same situation that many people from this region had to face in the recent past. While there’s undeniably an actual and sustainable shot at lasting peace with the BARMM project (and yes, it’s way more peaceful now than before), it wasn’t that long ago when being from Mindanao (and being a Muslim) would raise eyebrows if you were walking in the streets of Manila – more so if you came from places like Maguindanao, Sulu, and the like.

I’ve even heard from one of my friends who lived in San Juan that there are rumors that other buyers wouldn’t buy a condominium unit if they found out that Muslims were living on the same floor. This isn’t the long-time-ago past of the early 2000s; I’m talking about something that happened just two or three years ago. This just shows that while the negative point of view towards Muslims may have been stifled over the past few years, it is still safe to say that many Filipinos still consider being a Muslim as a byword for being dangerous.

Now, on to the matter at hand: There are three things that we Filipinos should know about Gaza to understand the dynamics of the current and most destructive iteration of the conflict.

First, it’s ruled by a political entity called Hamas – yes, even its entry on the notorious Wikipedia lists it first as a political organization – who actually was elected democratically back in 2006 during the last Palestinian elections with 44.5% of the popular vote, and bagged 74 out of 132 seats. I can only think of a few big names here in the Philippine political landscape who have won by this margin fairly and squarely, and they had also to go up against a repressive and organized propaganda machine with virtually unlimited funding. With that being said, they also happen to be designated as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union; but at the same time, they’re the de facto government of Gaza that provides for its 2.2 million people living within a completely blockaded area of 365 square kilometers. Make that of what you will.

Second, Palestine, is on paper, a state, though it’s divided into two entities: Fatah, who nominally sits as the Palestinian Authority, controls the West Bank, while Hamas controls Gaza. A state is supposed to have people, territory, government, and recognition by other states (even the Philippines officially recognizes Palestinian statehood) – this is what we’ve all learned in World History during high school. There’s a fifth element that’s generally implied – that’s the right to self-defense.

Given that Palestine is a state that’s recognized by 138 countries around the world and is being attacked by multiple means, doesn’t it have the right to defend its people, territory, and government through any means possible? This is what Palestinians have tried to do for many years against illegal settlers (no less than the UN condemned them), oppressive security forces (for those of you who don’t know, they’re going up against a full-scale surveillance apparatus that rivals the one placed in Xinjiang in China), and external parties who simply don’t want them to be a viable state for varying reasons.

Finally, in any conflict, there’s the concept of proportionality. To put it in terms that someone on the street would understand: You can only use force that is necessary to defend yourself and you can’t systematically target others who are not a part of your fight. One can argue that the invaders acted in “self-defense” (objectively, Hamas struck first), but that went out the window shortly after they decided to actively target medical facilities, schools, residential buildings, places of worship (including an Orthodox church), power facilities, you name it. Then, there is the fact that journalists were taunted and bombed (Wael Dahdouh, the Gaza bureau chief for Al Jazeera Arabic, had to go live 15 minutes after he had to bury his family – his wife, son, daughter, and grandson – that’s three generations killed in one strike!) Worst of all, nearly half of the deaths in Gaza are children; due to the conflict, an entire generation’s right to basic education and knowledge is denied and wiped out. You can’t think of a greater injustice than this.

Even if we throw all societal, rules-based, religious, and values-based considerations out of the window, anyone with basic human dignity should show at least some sympathy for those thousands who are forever unalive. It’s not just the people who are being erased from existence; traditions, cultures, and tales are being methodically and permanently devastated forever – that’s the extent of the horror that’s happening today in Palestine.

We may be apathetic and dismissive now, saying that it’s halfway around the world. However, this might be the reality that we Filipinos will be facing in a few years unless by some miracle we are spared from it. We can all rest assured that everyone and their dog is currently taking notes on this conflict, gauging how much they could get away with in terms of destroying human lives and dignity as well as the techniques and procedures that they could apply to maximize said destruction.

Going back, I realized I’d run out of tears. Every day, there’s a new catastrophe; every hour, there’s a novel calamity…and every hour, the population of an entire state is being decimated while many all over the world just watch on impassively as if it was nothing but a tragic movie.

There’s this poem entitled “Oh Rascal Children of Gaza” by Palestinian writer Khaled Juma, written in 2014, that encapsulates my feelings pretty well:

Oh rascal children of Gaza.
You who constantly disturbed me
with your screams under my window.
You who filled every morning
with rush and chaos.
You who broke my vase
and stole the lonely flower on my balcony.
Come back,
and scream as you want
and break all the vases.
Steal all the flowers.
Come back…
Just come back.

The bitter truth is that they’re not coming back to this world; they’ve been denied their right to exist and the right to try to shape the world around them for a better, brighter future. Yet, I believe that they’ll be reborn in another world, in a place where they’ll be happy, gilded, and dignified.

I can’t comprehend the fact that I’m living in an age where it’s possible to see entire generations dead in the blink of an eye. Still, I pray that the people of Palestine may resist and outlast this grim period – and that they may enjoy the chance to attain lasting and sustainable peace and progress, just like what’s currently built up in the Bangsamoro. I also hope to see them one day becoming free from the river to the sea and spreading into the ocean and leaving their stamp on all the coasts of the world.