Thursday, December 19, 2013

TALES FROM THE STORM

This was my experience of supertyphoon Yolanda aka Haiyan.
The night before the storm, which was projected to hit Ormoc City at seven am, I posted one last message on Facebook to my friend Billy Ray in San Diego. It had been raining, and then the rain suddenly stopped. There was an eerie silence in the city, except for the occasional vroom of a motorcycle driven by a foolhardy idiot.
The rain stopping that way worried me, I told Billy Ray. Then I went to sleep. I woke up around six o’clock AM and noticed that the wind had started to rise. I  looked out the window. Strong gusts of wind were making short work of the tarpaulin roof of the used-clothes flea market (ukay-ukay) below me. I chuckled.
“Here we go,” I said to myself. It looked like a normal tropical cyclone, like the numerous ones I went through in the past both here and abroad (hurricanes in Florida!) Fun, but nothing to worry about.
At seven, the brunt of the storm descended and started really shaking the trees. The wind was so strong that it drove the rain almost horizontally. Still no need to  panic, I thought.  But I already felt that there was something different about this particular typhoon. The wind made too much noise and blew too many crumpled sheets of roofing across the streets like so much flimsy cardboard. The roofs of the tile store across from me were starting to shed like the scales of a skeletal insect.  The house shuddered, something it never used to do before.
After an hour of this caterwauling, the wind suddenly died. The sun tried to peep through an opening in the clouds. It was so eerily quiet.
“The eye of the storm is passing above us,” was our universal opinion.
“So that was it?” I remarked.
I went outside to survey the damage.  There were pieces of roofing everywhere. Posts leaned from the shock of the wind. Roofs lost their sheathing, but not a whole lot. I walked down to the bridge to see if the river had risen. It was frisky, but not by much. I had a tete-a-tete with my friend Godillo who lived beside the dike. His house bore little damage.
Then, as quickly as the wind died, the wind rose again and brought fresh drops of rain. It had changed direction, from the Northeast.
“I’m off,” I yelled at Godillo. “ This is the second round!”
I hurried back to the safety of my house and  with the rest of family tried to plug in the  nooks and holes and crannies that the wind and the rain seemed to find, exploit ,  and point out to us ruthlessly.  The kitchen took on water. The wind slammed against the  glass jalousies like a sledgehammer. I did not realize it at the time, but it was already smashing  down plate glass windows all over the city.
The wind rose, and rose and at a certain point, it did not shriek anymore. It hummed at a high pitch. This was something new and terrifying to me. I went up to my room and looked out the window. The flea-market  was totally roofless, and the tile and hardware store across from the house as well. This storm ate roofs like munchies. A tall leafy  caimito (star apple) tree had toppled on the street. Another one on the other side that I had grown up with had been bodily snatched and thrown down to the ground, roots and all by the wind. Later , I saw for myself that the wind had blasted trees , some ages-old, like kindling. Yolanda: Roof muncher. Tree-totaller.  And over on the other side of the island of the unfortunate  island of Leyte, a tidal wave of gross and obscene  proportions, something that we in Ormoc were spared from, but not the poor people over there.
In my room, I listened to the wind rise and rise and hum like a macabre, celestial spindle. And then I heard something even more terrifying: the sound of our roof being peeled back. I felt that I was living in a scene from the movie “Twister.” That was fiction. This was real life.
I rushed downstairs.
“The typhoon is peeling back the roof!” I announced. What had happened was the wind had already blown away most of the roofs in Ormoc. Ours were harder to blow away because the roof was made of old-fashioned high grade iron, as opposed to the flimsy ones sold nowadays. The iron sheets were fixed to solid wooden trusses that were tied together with a combination of  bolts, umbrella nails and iron clamps. Try as she might, Yolanda could only manage to peel back two side-panels. She could not destroy the roof system of the house that my late  father Uldarico Sr. built back in the 70’s. What she did manage to do was to dislodge all the gutters, break  the PVC pipes through which the rain coursed and cause the collapse of the eaves on the east side of the house. On the looks of it, compared to the rest of the houses, our house got off relatively undamaged. Two weeks later, I had the roof examined and fixed for damage. The carpenter told me that only six umbrella nails remained.  The rest had been pulled out by the force of the wind. One single nail held on to a line of corrugated iron roofing. 
"The typhoon stopped just in time, " said the carpenter. "If that nail went, you would have  lost  your roof".

When does a typhoon really live up to its billing as a super-duper feak?
When you look out the square window of the kitchen, staring horrified in the surreal darkness (remember, this was morning) at a branch of our backyard jackfruit tree being seized and grappled and thrown against the wall, with the noise rising as if there was a bombing raid consisting of shrieking steel and loud crashes and collapsing trees, and  the wind shakes the house as if  a giant is shaking a glass of wet rags with you in it, and the bile starts to rise from your stomach  and suddenly you start hating this typhoon and you yell : “Enough already!”   and nobody hears you because the wind is too strong and too noisy for that. And for a moment, you are afraid that this typhoon was an actual personality bent on making a point by wrecking your house, as if to say:” You think you’ve seen a typhoon? You ‘aint seen nothing yet, dahlink!.”
One storm is bad. Two storms is the worst. Two high winds occurring from two different directions  in less than half a day. Plus a devastating storm surge. And do you want fried tin roofs with that?
And that’s all I can say about supertyphoon Yolanda. The aftermath  had/has its own miseries, but at least she’s gone.
For now.
**********************************

My grandnephew  Aaron, who is seven years old, is a funny fellow. Her older sister Annika, three years her senior, who cares for him as much as a put-upon sister of a hyperactive PSP-addled addict can, reported to us amused adults that at the height of typhoon Yolanda, when the rafters were shaking and the walls threatening to tumble down, he  had cried melodramatically : “ I’m gonna die! I’m gonna die!”
“Didn’t he say ‘We?’” I asked.
“No,” Annika answered, “ just him.”
He had of course heard these same words on countless Hollywood films, so for a Filipino kid like him to utter such a typical movie line is both amusing and not too far from the truth. Yolanda, at the height of her fury, terrified me as well into nearly  thinking that we were  really all gonna die, or at least suffer grievous bodily harm.
*************************
My grandnephew Mark , 19 years of age, a culinary student and as much an addict of games and the internet, came visiting today from Valencia where they lived.  In that family estate, all the fruit trees that had so abundantly borne fruit last summer had all been felled by the typhoon. We would have no limes, mangoes, avocados, santol, rambutan, lanzones,  or coconuts next summer and in the years to come.  Mark had been helping cut the  downed trees into firewood.
“I’ve been doing  a lot of reading!” he announced excitedly as if it was a new experience for him. Before this blackout, I would always see his nose before the computer, playing internet games or doing Facebook stuff. I was not aware that he read books until today.
“What have you been reading?” I asked.
“Something about artists, by this Gor, or Ba something.”
“The Lives of Artists, Giorgio Vasari,” I said.
“That’s it!” he said.
“You know, it has a second volume,”
“Really?”
“Would you like to read it? It’s in my library above. Let’s go find it.”
We went up to my library, a whole wall of shelves lined with books. I easily found the book because I had cleaned up this long-neglected, unloved corner of my house and re-organized the books.
“Take any book you want,”  told him. “I recommend “Spycatcher”).
Mark left to return to Valencia, several books  in tow. My library was getting some use. I even noticed that Lorez, she of Naruto fixation and hours of YouTube watching K-Pop, was constantly reading books. Her favorite seemed to be a series of illustrated Bible stories for children. I’m sure the handsome Davids and Isaacs there who looked less Jewish  than US high school jocks, had something to do with it.
******************************
On the seventh night after  supertyphoon Yolanda’s onslaught on Ormoc City, I had a Kafkaesque nightmare. I dreamt I was trying to get into a McDonald’s in downtown  San Diego. However, instead of  entering a welcoming space where you went in, made your order at the counter and sit down at one of the formica tables to wolf down your burger and fries,  I now had to enter through a narrow turnstile, much like a TSA gauntlet, and  eventually ended up in front of a  high counter from which an unfriendly looking cashier looked down disdainfully on me. The cashier surprisingly looked like Charice Pempengco in her current lesbian-butch incarnation.
“Whaddaya want?” she barked down at me.
Appalled, I was going to say “ An Angus beef burger with mushrooms and Swiss cheese and a large Coke,” but what came out from my lips were: “This used to be a welcoming place. What happened?”
The cashier eyed me coldly and like a military drill sergeant snarled: “ What is your order, sir?” She was not going to give me the time of day.
I turned around and walked away. I found another McDonald’s nearby and found the same set-up and the same attitude from the employees. It seemed that McDonald’s had re-arranged the furniture to guard against terrorists and undesirables and instructed its employees be correct but cold, ruthless and unfriendly.
Typhoon Yolanda, in her own ruthless way, had re-arranged the furniture in Ormoc City. After her, Ormoc  would never look the same to me.

*************************
The families Lastimada and Batucan stayed at my house today.
This man came knocking on the door. He had seen the sign “Room for Rent” and asked if he could rent it. They  came from Tacloban and were on their way to Cebu, but they needed time to get tickets on the ferry. I asked him how many people were in his  party.
He replied nine: himself, his wife, his mother, two daughters, a one year old infant, two teen-age boys and a little girl. I explained to him that the room was basically good only for one person and they would not all fit in.
“We don’t mind”, said the man. “Just give us five hours till  we get our tickets for Cebu. “We don’t care for ourselves, it’s the baby we’re worried about and  my mother. She’s having some bleeding and we need to get her to Cebu as soon as possible.”
I agreed to let them stay for the five hours they needed. The five hours stretched to an overnight stay because there was absolutely no way they could just show up to get tickets on any of the fastcraft that went to Cebu. The port was jampacked with people from Tacloban and surrounding areas desperate to get out of Leyte. I had heard of rumors and reports earlier of some bad things happening in Tacloban, but could not confirm anything because we had no TV, newspapers or internet whatsoever.  The presence of this family was my first inkling that something terrible was happening in  Tacloban and that  people were in full flight from it. True, Ormoc was devastated as well, but water was plentiful, order was swiftly restored, and the people, used to having a calamity of this magnitude before, did not panic and commit mayhem. There were tempers at the gas station and bread lines but  in general everyone queued in an orderly manner. Tacloban, however, seemed to be a different story.
After I had ushered the family ito their small room, the relief on their faces at being able to just sit and rest on a bed and on the floor was  palpable. After mulling it a little bit, I had the spare room that was reserved for guests and family members from Australia  cleared and cleaned up and gave the family to use it as well.
‘Oh,” the matron informed me, “My sister and her family are arriving from Tacloban later this evening. Can they stay here as well for the night?”
I said yes.
I asked the  young man, the father of the infant ,  what was going on in Tacloban.
The young man looked at me with a slightly dazed expression on his face, as if he had just seen some unmentionably  horrible things, which he probably did, and replied: “ The people in Tacloban are not normal anymore.”
He told of the decision of the authorities to free the inmates of a prison so they could escape the storm surge. The unintended result  of this was a crime-spree that terrorized the Taclobanons.  Saddled by the storm, they were now seemingly at the mercy of thugs with  no police or military protection. He recounted the story, which I’ve heard before, of a prominent doctor who was killed and his daughter raped and murdered in their home presumably by escapees. He talked of people so gripped by hunger they would snatch the food from your hands. He talked of the looting of malls. He talked of the dead lying bloated  and stinking on the streets, uncollected and unmourned, the awfulness of their stench provoking people to flee for the sake of their children and their own sanity.
Their world, as they knew it, had ended “Yolanda” came screaming down from  the skies.
*********************
The little girl’s name was Sophia, just like my sister.
Sophia was a hyperactive kid of six. She became the ad hoc playmate of my grandniece Lorez, who was three years her senior. They played LEGO and Pirates  of the Caribbean cards. She was a very talkative and communicative girl. When our househelp  Veny asked her what happened to her home, she replied in Waray: “Nagbaha” ( It flooded.) “Kutob dida,” (Up to there), she said, indicating an area near the ceiling. “May-ada gin-rape,” (Somebody got raped). “Damo an patay” (There are many dead people).
Then she pranced off  to join Lorez in a game of tag.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
They lived outside Tacloban proper, near the San Juanico bridge, said the young man. After the storm  he and his brother went to explore the effects of the storm. The road to Tacloban was impassable due to debris and fallen powerlines, so they found a route over the hills into the city. Downtown Tacloban was a dead zone, a city that nature seemed to have wiped clean from the face of the earth. A two-storey McDonald’s beside the wharf still stood, but all its contents were washed out into the sea.
“I have a story to tell,” he told me, “about a friend of mine who survived the tidal wave. He was a trucker. He and other truckers normally parked their trucks at the Tacloban pier. He told me that he saw the big wave come in. He said the wind did not seem to strike the sea as much as suck it out. After the sea receded, the giant wave came crashing in to the pier and swept all his trucker friends out to sea except for one, who was clinging to his feet. For himself, he had managed to cling by two fingers to two nails on the roof of a building. He kicked his friend who was clinging to his feet for fear that he would be swept out as well. The friend let go and disappeared into the sea.”
He paused, then confessed that he had stood outside Robinson’s Mall as it was being looted. He was tempted to join in, but he did not. People were going crazy and smashing into stores, emptying them of their contents. A San Miguel Brewery warehouse was ransacked. He could see people trundling carts of stolen beer on their carts.  At first, he and his family were able to fly out to Manila on a private jet owned by Willie “Wowowee” Nepumoceno through the intercession of a connected aunt who lived in Manila. They stayed for a while in her condo in Manila. When her sister, who worked for Mercury Drug  was called back to work, she decided to return to Leyte, choosing Ormoc City as her temporary base. I asked him why she did not stay in Manila instead?
“She’s afraid of the big city,” he replied. He accompanied her back to Tacloban , together with their parents. His other family members, including a baby, remained behind in Manila.
****************************8
It was already dark, around 7 PM, when the Batucans arrived. The elderly Batucans worked at the department of Agrarian Reform. The matron looked weary and apologetic.
‘Pasensya ka na  han pagmerhuwisyo,” (So sorry for imposing on you), she said.  I eased them  to their room. They seemed as relieved as their other relatives to have been able to make it this far away from Tacloban city, within the relative comfort and safety of a rented room.
Afterwards they went to the plaza to get a bite to eat. They came back an hour later.
‘We just bought barbeque chicken to go,” she said. “There was no room to sit. There are so many people.”
I gathered that  they were eventually going to Danao City in Cebu. That was where the elderly Batucan was from. They were going back to Tacloban City only when the situation had normalized.
“That’s where my home and work is,” she said wistfully, almost in a bittersweet voice. . “ I don’t know where else I would work.” They lived in the V&G housing subdivision, a community  that was relatively unscathed from the storm surge but was  now under the grip of fear from marauding criminals and home invaders.  She told me that, aside from their home in the subdivision, they had an apartment in the city.  They were there when the storm started. A nurse who roomed with them rescued  them and guided them to safety. Her daughters who were with her were both nurses as well. The future for them was not very clear.
After a prolonged relay by family members queuing at the fastcraft offices through the night, the Lastimadas and Batucans were finally able to leave for Cebu at ten in the morning.  Sophia came running down the stairs and gaily announced: “We’re leaving! We’re leaving!”
I never saw such gratitude expressed in not so many words but with looks and smiles on their faces as they left to join their ship for Cebu. Sure, they paid me for the accommodations, but their thank-you’s were priceless.
They had the looks of people  who had just stepped back from the abyss.

*****************************
On the same day, in the afternoon, after the two families had left, there was a knock at the gate.
A gentleman and a young man, presumably his son, stood outside. I noticed the line of people outside queueing to withdraw from the ATM at the Land Bank. There were no functioning banks in Tacloban city and its environs. The ATM’s there were smashed and looted. Just round the corner, in the same building beside my house, there was another queue in front of the Mercury Drug store. There are two Mercury Drug store branches in  Ormoc  City. There were five or six  in Tacloban City. All of them were ransacked and looted. An apologist for the looters was quoted in the newspapers as saying that desperately hungry people were justified in looting the stores.  Looting for food, I can understand, but   baby diapers and  40-inch flat screen  TV’s? Without a doubt,  greed, not desperation, was at work there.  Without effective police or military protection, the result was anarchy.  I heard that the military was now starting to assert itself in Tacloban  City, effectively putting it under martial law.
“Can we please rent a room for the night,” said the man. “We need a place to rest. We are priority number 1500 in the hydrofoil to Cebu.”
 “How did you learn about me?” I asked.
“A woman told us about your place, the house with the red gate behind Land Bank. They stayed with you last night.”
Naturally I agreed. He left to fetch his family and half an hour later I showed them to their room. They had a son and a daughter.
“I was going to send my family to Manila and stay behind and watch the house in baras but they wouldn’t let me,” explained the gentleman. Are we safe  here?”
I assured him that it was. ”My children have become anxious about noises ouside,” he said.
Slowly I pieced the family’s story.
The man was originally from Guian and now lived  with his family in Baras, in Tacloban city, an area that was smack in the path of the storm surge. He was in Manila when the storm happened. In Baras, his wife and two kids, a boy and a girl, were nearly caught in the floodwaters and managed to escape to the roof. The girl fell into the water but was urged up into the roof by her mother and brother.  She suffered deep cuts and bruises.  After the storm, they  went to escape to the town of Alang-alang.  There they were terrified of reports that some armed men were knocking on doors and looking for well-to-do people from which to extort money or otherwise do harm upon.  Meanwhile, in Manila, the husband wangled a seat on a  C-130  flight from Manila and proceeded immediately  to Alang Alang. He was intending to stay behind to watch after their house, but his family nixed the idea, so they  rented a van and went to Ormoc instead . From there they would take a hydrofoil to  Cebu and eventually Manila.
Once inside their room, the wife and kids stayed inside all day. When the hm husband would go out for a while, th kids would call out to him in concern, if not panic: “Dad? Dad?”
A van driven by  the husband of the wife’s sister was supposed to fetch them  in Ormo and bring them to Davao. It turned out that the brother-in-law had family stranded in Tacloban City  whom he was going to rescue as well and bring to Davao. That meant that my guests would have to return to Tacloban City, a city they had just escaped from, back to the dragon’s lair, so to speak. They would then take the route to Southern Leyte via the decimated towns of Palo and  Tanauan.
From the jaws of hell and back again. Just like in the movies.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Not long after my  Davao-bound guests had made themselves confortable in my home, there was another knock on the gate. My househelp Veny opened it, listened to whoever was there and came back to me.
“These girls want to rent a room….for seventeen people,” she announced.
I gulped.
“Seventeen?”
“Just talk to them,” said Veny.
I went out. A young woman who had obviously done some travelling looked me with anxious eyes.
“Sir,” can we please rent a room in your house?” she asked.
“And how many would you be in your party?” I asked.
“Seventeen,” she replied. We have four kids, sir, please for their sake, rent us the room.”
“Why don’t you go to a hotel?” I asked.
“We would if there was any room available. There’s none. Please sir.”
“ I have two rooms that could hold ten people, but seventeen…” I replied doubtfully. “You’re too many.”
“We just need rooms for the kids and their nannies, sir. We don’t care about ourselves.”
Her pleas felt so heartfelt and desperate that I answered: “Come back later, I’ll see what I can do.”
I talked to my niece-in-law Erma about the seventeen people wanting to stay the night with us.
“That’s a lot of people,” she said.
Later, I talked to my nephew Butch about the situation. He had the same reservation. I knew they were leery about taking in guests in to the house, basically strangers. There had been a rumor that brigands disguised as beggars or destitute were knocking on doors in Tacloban. Once the door was opened, they would stage a home invasion and rob, if not kill, the occupants of the house.
I took a pause and sat down on the sofa facing the gilded wooden bust of the Enlightened Buddha that I had bought and laboriously shipped from Koh Samui, Thailand here to my hometown. My mind turned back to one of the shocking revelations I heard about the storm surge in the Palo-Tacloban area.
During the course of my conversations with the first guests in my house, the Lastimadas and the Batucans, they noted my fluency in the Waray dialect. I explained to them that I studied at theSacred Heart Seminary in Palo for eight years, hence my familiarity with  Waray. Despite barely speaking a word of it in the years after I left the seminary, the knowledge never left me. They asked me if I knew the late Monsignor Estanislao Abarca. Of course I did, I said. And Avestruz? Years below me, I replied. The sisters it turned out were from Barugo, a town I had occasion to visit many times as a seminariwan.
“And how is the seminary in Palo? Was it affected by the typhoon?” I asked quite disingenuously.
They looked at me with stricken faces.
“It’s totally destroyed,” said one. “ The waves went over it. Bodies were seen on the rooftop.”
If I remember rightly, the seminary had three floors. The first floor housed the classrooms and the two upper floors housed the dormitories.
“On the roofop?” I uttered incredulously. “Were there students there at the time?”
“There must have been,” said a woman. “They had classes, or they were staying there since it was the start of the semester.”
I fell silent. An institution  which was practically my home for eights years studying Latin, music, philosophy and theology: gone, its scholars dead, perhaps those bloated corpses reportedly on rooftops. The sea was distant enough from the school to discount any storm surge reaching it. But evidently, a tidal wave did reach it, as well as most of Palo.  What kind of providence was at work here, divine or demonic?
I decided to accommodate the troupe of seventeen in my home. I dedicated this act to any dead seminarian from my former alma mater.
Somehow  they fit into three rooms. I had given up my room and slept in my studio downstairs. When I agreed to let them in, the girls clasped their hands in gratitude. I never saw such desperation in their eyes followed by gratitude for my willingness to accommodate. Ironically, I was housing an old man  who was a retired seaman. His three sons were working on ships and were abroad at the moment, probably out their mind with worry. You see these were their kids and wives who I was giving shelter to. Back in Tacloban they all lived in a compound that the storm had destroyed.
Whatever it was they were fleeing was to horrible for me to imagine.   Ormoc has painful memories of the 1991 flood where thousands were killed as well. Now, although house were destroyed, few lives were lost. Not so in Tacloban.  This is something I wish I never had to deal with, ever, in my life.

*************************

This morning I served coffee to a group of travelers who  had come in the night from Davao and intended to drive to Tacloban to fetch family members of Armand  Dacuycuy of Davao. Armand was the brother in law of the wife , a Mrs. Yu, of Alang Alang, He had driven in a two car Toyota Grandia  caravan for eight hours from Davao City  to the ferry point in Matina.. They had intended to do the crossing over the Surigao strait and into Leyte at 10 AM and arrive in Ormoc by noon, but the relief trucks bearing food and  and supplies for the stricken people of Leyte and Samar were given priority on the ferries. They were only able to load their vans at 2  in the afternoon. By the time they arrived in Ormoc, it was already 7 PM and quite dark.I  had a discussion earlier with Enrique and his wife. They were hesitant to  go back to Tacloban, but they had no choice as they were just riding along. Armand  had an important mission, and that was to save his own kin and bring them to Davao.
At the very least, I said, try to tell him not to travel tonight but at dawn or early morning. Better safe than sorry.
They would try, they said.
As it turned out, Armand  had decided to stay for the night and drive in the early dawn because the drivers were exhausted from the long drive.
So I gave them a room to stay in the house free of charge.
In the early morning I boiled water for coffee at 3 AM.
Armand came down and I offered him and the rest coffee which he accepted.
They had decided to go early, Armand said.
We got to talking. It transpired that he used to be a member of the Kalipayan dance troupe. This was a famous and internationally well-travelled dance troupe  based in Tanauan, Leyte, one of the hardest-hit in the storm surge.
“Does it still exist?’ I asked him, meaning the Kalipayan  Dance Troupe, not  Tanauan.
“Yes, but the director is already old,” he replied.
He knew a few of the same people I knew:  Tex Almeria,  Fr. Aguilos, the late Fr. Ben Bacierra.
“We had  the same kind of typhoon in Davao, Typhoon Goring,” he said.  “My business suffered a lot. But  Yolanda  was definitely stronger. “
Later they left in a convoy of two Grandia Toyotas. I bade them bon voyage and not to stop for anybody on the road.
*******************
Mang Pilang  Arradaza lived in Tondo, Bagong  Buhay, outside Ormoc City proper. This is near our family rice farm. She was seventy years old and sold native rice cakes for a living. She lived in a ramshackle house made of cement blocks and wood. She was fond of her house, even if it was not soundly constructed. Before the storm hit, her children urged her to move out of the house and seek shelter in a safer  building. She refused. She considered the house strong enough for her. Besides, at seventy, she had seen her fair share of typhoons and not one managed to injure her. Her home had gone through unscathed. What was different about this one?
After the storm, they looked for her. They found her lifeless body crushed, pinned down by the rafters of her home that had collapsed on her.
********************
Here’s one thing that our no-electric power situation after typhoon Yolanda has taught me:
 without electricity, man’s current veneer of acquired civilization, his world of the internet, ipads, iphones, frozen foods and illumination on demand falls apart like a deck of cards. What is left staring him in the face are the stark basics: the need for food, shelter and clothing. When you sweep away the need for  TV, a laptop or Netflix, these are the needs that remain and that you must fulfill in order to survive. Then: family and, if you’re religious, God.
*******************************
Books I’ve read during this month of no electricity: “Doctor Sleep” by Stephen King, “The Blue Hour” by Jefferson T. Parker, “A Tidewater Morning” by William Styron, “The Alchemist”, by Paolo Coelho, the volume on The Renaissance by Will Durant. Currently halfway through Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”…an amazing achievement by my reckoning. Reading it is not  nearly the chore that I thought it would be. It helps that I have been to its main location, St. Petersburg, Russia. Simultaneously reading “The Age of Napoleon” by Will Durant on my iPad. The Napoleonic age seen from two different sides: the Russian and the French. Illuminating.  In the days of complete darkness (we have streetlights now), I studied the stars. Ask me what those stars are now and I’ll tell you what they are: Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, Sirius, Jupiter, Andromeda etc… I am inching towards the concluding chapters of my third novel, "The Time Breathers".  I am also working on a symphonic piece for chorus and orchestra, a Requiem for the people who died in this storm and the 1991 Ormoc floods. In my own way I will remember  those who lost their lives needlessly and are now buried in anonymous mass graves.  Strange how having been deprived of power and the internet, I now have all this free time to read, contemplate and create.


Saturday, May 4, 2013

REVIEW: DINGDONG FIEL PIANO CONCERT, ORMOC VILLA HOTEL, 4 MAY 2013






Although I am from Ormoc City, I had never heard of  the pianist Dingdong Fiel until a couple of weeks ago, on Facebook. I put this mainly to the fact that I have been abroad for the past five years and have only come home to roost back in my hometown in the past month or so. Also I am sure Dingdong had been busy building up his pianism and musical reputation in the past couple of years both in the Philippines and abroad. Hence the lacuna in my recognizing a pianist who happens to come from one of the oldest families in Ormoc, the Fiels.
     When I read his FB resume prior to his concert on May 4, 2013, my interest was piqued when it mentioned that he graduated from the UST conservatory and was a pupil of the late Ms. Erlinda Fule. I also studied at UST, in the Central Seminary back in the '70's, and, while there, I cross-enrolled at the UST conservatory and took a few piano lessons with the said Ms. Fule. I didn't last long with her, because like any self-respecting  classical purist, she used to yell into my ear whenever I played Mozart with jazz accents. She was also my teacher in harmony, and the way she stretched her writing arm and made her joints crackle was legendary among us students.
So, yes, even if Dingdong just played 'Ding Dong the Witch is Dead", I would still attend the concert to find what the late Ms. Fule had wrought. From what I eventually heard, she did well by him, or him by her.
Before presenting my thoughts on his concert, let me present my thoughts on what went on before the concert itself.
A cursory examination of the programme told me that this recital was going to be a heavy-hitter. Any concert that featured Liszt's "Tarantella" and Beethoven's "Appasionata" sonata was either overly ambitious or challenging the attention span of the audience. On the other hand, the presence of a grand piano onstage jolted me out of my low expectations. I had never seen a concert grand before in Ormoc City, so I figured that Dingdong and the organizers meant business.
In true provincial Philippine fashion, the concert started with a prayer. I was expecting a priest or a minister to deliver an invocation to God Almighty, but that notion of mine was disabused when they actually started playing a recording of "The Prayer", that Celine Dion-Andrea Bocelli home run hit. The audience dutifully stood while the song played on the PA. Normally the invocation, such as it was, would be immediately followed by a playing of the Philippine National Anthem but what followed was actually a projected video of the Philippine Anthem that was prefaced by a tableau of killings, namely, the killing of Magellan at the hands of Lapu-lapu, the garroting of the rebel priests Gomez, Burgos and Zamora, the bloody KKK revolution, and finally the execution of Dr. Jose Rizal. Over Rizal's dead body, the camera panned out to a triumphant rendition of "Bayang Magiliw". A slightly bizarre introduction to an evening of  Liszt, Chopin et al. you might say,  but, to me,as a native Ormocanon, there was also an attitude of sweetness and goodwill on the proceedings, not least because I had the chance to meet once again  my local friends. One of the concertgoers was a classmate of mine whom I hadn't seen since 1965!
    The concert, and the pianist Dingdong Fiel,  was a revelation. When Dingdong walked onstage in a dark suit, you could mistake him for a  sweet-looking nerd with glasses and a somewhat diffident smile. You would be wrong. Because when he launched into his first piece, Debussy's "Fireworks", I realized he had the strength of a horse and the delicacy of a hummingbird. The pieces that he \chose to play where not the usual potboilers, but knuckle-busters like Liszt's "Tarantella". Chopin's 3 preludes, Rachmanninoff's Moment Musical #4, Scarlatti's 3 sonatas and Beethoven's "Appasionata" Sonata. These were muscular pieces that only an athletic pianist could play. This is where I thought the spirit of Ms. Fule hovered over the piano: in Dingdong's muscular, yet delicate fingerwork. Ms. Fule, as I recall, inspired a  certain muscular technique in her students. I heard that she even advised a protegee to lift barbells to strengthen his fingers. Of course, Mr. Fiel, as his resume reveals, eventually had other teachers  in Europe, but I'm sure his UST Conservatory schooling gave him the solid foundations  for his technique and pianistic expressiveness.
    It was in his playing of the Chopin's "Raindrop Prelude", the Scarlatti Sonatas, and Chopin's Nocturne in C#minor that Dingdong impressed me. For, contrary to popular impression, the hardest piano pieces to play are the slow, thoughtful ones such as the "Raindrop" Prelude. This requires a lot of restraint and delineation of interwoven melodies. Dingdong had this restraint and clarity in the enunciation of this melancholy, and somewhat lugubrious, prelude. He also played Scarlatti's more cheerful sonatas with the clarity that they demanded so that they sparkled like little jewels in his hand. As for the Chopin nocturne, which was used in the movie "The Pianist", he gave this piece a thoughtful, unrushed reading.
   Mr. Fiel's final piece was the first movement of the "Appasionata" sonata of Beethoven. This sonata was one of the last five Beethoven wrote before his death, and is considered one of the hardest to play. Dingdong made short work of this, of course, a testament to his prodigious technique, and a tribute to whatever influence his later studies in Germany might have given him.
     For an encore, Dingdong played Rachmaninoff's " Prelude in C#minor", and if he suffered a few missed notes here and there, I probably would put it to the onset of exhaustion (yes, pianists and performers do get tired, even if what they do looks so easy to the uninitiated).
    Normally, in my experience, the end of the concert is where the audience goes wild, gives the artist a standing ovation, shouts "Bravos!", throws roses at Dingdong, brings down the confetti, etc.  But since this was Ormoc, whose audiences I know so well, there was none of the sort. Well, after the Beethoven Sonata, people did stand up and cheer the homecoming son of Ormoc. Then they sat down for an encore, and remained seated after it. There was one round of polite applause and a plea for another encore (not heeded) then a  post-concert session of "Thank You's" from the organizers of the event, followed by an awarding of a plaque of appreciation to the artist, who, it was announced, played "Gratis et Amore" to benefit a scholarship fund. Ormoc audiences are generally conservative. One woman once confessed to me apropos a past concert I did in the same venue that she wanted to stand up and applaud, but she was afraid of what people might think and  didn't want to be the first to stand up.
     However, I could tell that the audience of Ormocanons was enraptured by Dingdong's virtually flawless performance and I'm sure pretty proud to count such a fine artist to be a son of Ormoc City, Leyte. In a season of noisy and tawdry politicking, not to mention almost unbearable summer heat, Dingdong's concert was a breath of fresh air in a city that seldom sees presentations of this sort.
    

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

DON PU SOI'S TREASURE ( A SHORT STORY)

                                   
PART ONE - THE LEGEND

Rene Quinto had always heard the story since he was old enough to know his left hand from his right. There was a treasure buried under the foundations of his wife Clara's family's ancestral home, the one which, by virtue of her  being the eldest daughter, they now made their residence.
This was one of those old classic Philippine houses called bahay na bato, the type built during the Spanish colonial times by men who were wealthier than the rest of their neighbors. The house had two levels. The first level had supporting walls of blocks of coral. It had a hard-packed earthen floor. In olden times, the produce of the fields were stored here: sacks of rice stacked to the ceiling; bales of tobacco and demijohns of coconut vinegar; jars of rice wine and dried copra. Here the carriage was parked, and when that horse-drawn conveyance's usefulness had passed, the automobile. The smell of that dark space was dank, earthy and appetizing at the same time.
That was then, back in the 18th century, when this house was built. Subsequent heirs to the house  had subdivided it into smaller rooms. One room  housed the maids. Another was the sports room, equipped with a billiards and a mahjjong table. A larger space had been turned into a lanai with sliding glass doors that led out to the back  lawn beside the stream that flowed behind the  property. Clara  loved orchids, so she planted them in profusion everywhere there were branches or tree ferns to hang on to.
Clara's  family was of consequence in those days. Her great grandfather had been a Chinese adventurer  named Pu Soi from Amoy China. He had journeyed from Amoy across the straits to Taiwan, then called Formosa, and from there made his way to  the northern tip of Luzon. After a year of wandering, he eventually found himself in the  island of Leyte,in the town of Ormoc. Back then Ormoc was really just a village with a large Catholic church built of the same coral from the island across the bay and elsewhere on the mainland.The church served both as a place of worship and as a fortress in which the locals huddled to protect themselves from the marauding Moro pirates  who swooped in periodically from the sea. The red volcanic earth of Ormoc proved ideal for the cultivation of sugar cane. Pu Soi had some expertise in the boiling of cane juice and spinning it into muscovado, that dark-brown sweet sludge that hardened into sugar, packed into coconut shells or shaped into cones. He  found employment in  one of the small sugar mills, known as intusan outside the town. He also sold bolos and other farming implements to the local farmers on credit. When the farmers couldn't pay their debts, Pu Soi, a very shrewd businessman despite his impecunious appearance, accepted small bits of land as payment for their debts. In this manner, he amassed a considerable number of tracts of farmland which he leased back to their original owners, effectively making them his tenants. Thus began the wealth of Pu-Soi, whose name was later simplified into the unflattering Visayan word "pusoy" by disgruntled debtors. Although this hardly applied to the Chinaman, "pusoy" meant "loser".
Enriched with money contributed by the poor people of the land, Pu Soi decided to build a house in Ormoc. He decided that it would be grander than the gobernadorcillo's. On the first floor he had for retaining walls coral stone hewn from the rocky cliffs of Camotes island facing the town across the bay. The blocks were laboriously floated across the dangerous tides of Ormoc bay on a gigantic barge of wood and bamboo lashed with abaca rope, to the people's astonishment. For the flooring and beams of the second floor he procured  sturdy mahogany and ebony trees logged from the thickly-forested Magsanga mountains on the opposite arc of the bay. He had obtained, through the usual means,  a good-sized piece of land outside of Muelle Can-Adieng, across the stone bridge spanning one of the two rivers that bisected Ormoc City. The house was on an intersection facing the sea beside the road leading to the cemetery.  A fast brook ran behind the property, a ready source of water for laundry and other household duties. During Pu-Soi's era, the water in that stream had been pure and clean, originating as it did from the virgin forests above the city. Now, it was dirty, polluted by the garbage of squatters who had begun occupying and defecating on the banks upstream.
The years after Pu Soi died saw Ormoc and the entire Philippines, first in the grip of the Philippine revolt, then the American occupation, followed by the disastrous Japanese occupation during World War Two. This period also saw the house that Don Pu Soi built rise up in magnificence and fall into inevitable decay. With it went the fortunes of the Pu Soi family. The axiom that the first generation builds wealth, the second one expands it, and the third one wastes it stood true for the Pusoy family. A series of calamities both  natural and man- made had deprived the family of their lands and wealth. Now all that remained was the bahay na bato and with it the legend of its buried treasure.

Rene sat with a forlorn air on a chair in their back lawn. He had just signed away the last bit of land he owned in the sitio of Oac to a land developer. He was in a large measure responsible for the loss of their properties.For Rene was an inveterate gambler. He bet and lost thousands of pesos on cockfights. He also had a passion for the Chinese game of mahjongg. He frequented casinos in Cebu and Manila and contributed a lot to those establishments' coffers. He borrowed money to cover his losses and put up his properties as collateral. His wife, accustomed to a life of luxury, did not realize how much they owed until they received a notice of eviction from the bank. Rene, it turned out, had collateralized their ancestral home without his wife's knowledge. It was only by dint of the efforts of an infuriated and panicking Clara that they were able to save the home.She swallowed her pride and  borrowed money from her two younger brothers,  Frankie and Aaron, who, despite the loss of their great wealth, still managed to support themselves quite well  as professional cockfighters.  They were openly contemptuous of Rene's run of bad luck in business and gambling.
"We warned you," they told her.
"Please,  we'll lose the house if we can't make payment by next week," Clara had pleaded. "This is our ancestral house, remember?"
"It's your house now so what do we care?"
"I'll give up the rest of my share of papa's land in Mahayahay."
"Done."
__________________

Rene looked up when Clara joined to sit beside him .
As they sat in the backyard lawn overlooking the creek, they took stock of their situation.
"I'll make it up to you, inday, I promise," said Rene.
Clara's plain face was pale and ashen. She gave him a cold, unsmiling look.
"You've said that so many times if I got paid every time you said it, I could spend the rest of my life shopping in Hongkong."
Rene did not reply to her rebuke. He understood his wife's disappointment. There was no use arguing with her.
A rooster perched on the roof of his small shed crowed confidently to the world. Rene had planned to enter him in next month's derby in Valencia, the town near Ormoc that had a large cockfighting arena frequented by many wealthy breeders  from all over the Visayas region. That plan was now in the gutter.
"I should just wring that rooster's neck and make a stew out if it tonight," remarked Clara bitterly as she rose up to leave him on the lawn.
Rene said nothing. He knew he was guilty: guilty of losing thousands of pesos three derbies in a row, guilty of taking out too many loans from the banks, guilty of not thinking enough about what her wife would say when she found out that instead of paying back the loans as he promised her, he had spent the money they obtained from the bank at the Waterfront Casino in Cebu. What a disastrous night that was!
There has to be a way, he thought.
He looked at the old house. They had given it a fresh coat of white paint but that didn't disguise its dilapidated condition. One hundred years had been unkind to the ancient relic. He had suggested that they tear it down and build a modern house in its place. Clara would hear nothing of it. It was her ancestral home. What would her younger brothers say? She would hear no end of their jeering and "I-told-you-so's'". The bahay na bato stayed the way it was, creaky, decrepit and sinking slowly into the ground.
 He looked with leaden eyes at the rooster as it strutted across the lawn.
Then a thought struck him.
"I wonder..?"
He broached the topic to Clara at supper.
"Are you mad?"she shrieked at him. The maid nearly dropped a tureen of the chicken soup she was serving. She fled into the kitchen as soon as she had laid down the bowl, fearful of getting in the line of Clara's fury.
"I'll make sure it will be done properly," said Rene soothingly. "I'll ask Alfredo to supervise the excavation."
"That doddering old fool? What does he know about digging up a house? And that idea of yours....que barbaridad! I won't have it. Who knows if the house will collapse after you've dug around it?"
"If for nothing else," persisted Rene,"we can verify the truth of that cursed story. It's been driving me crazy the way people keep mentioning it to me. We should at least explore the possibility of the treasure under this house.If we find it, then who knows? That can certainly help us, considering that Gondoy wants to study in UP."

Gondoy was their only son who was in Cebu at the moment but was scheduled to arrive in a day or two for vacation.

"I will have to ask my brothers," said Clara, softening up a bit but still skeptical of the proposed enterprise.
"Why tell them?" asked Rene. " We'll keep it a secret. We'll just say we're having the house renovated. Surely they can't object to that. And they don't own the house. You do."

Clara stared at Rene. Her plain face looked even plainer when she did not wear any makeup. To Rene, she looked like a woman whose every joy and happiness had been sucked out, and in its stead was a stranger he identified as his wife, but not as his lover. Thank goodness for Mercedes, he thought, the obliging young fifteen year old maid. Otherwise, he would have to content himself with the prostitutes in La Suerte massage parlor, none of whom were too shy about broadcasting the identity of the men who patronized their establishment.
"Well," Clara finally said," I suppose there's no harm in trying to find out the truth."
Thus encouraged,  Rene called up Alfredo, the white-haired, dark-complexioned and parchment-skinned land surveyor who doubled as an architect, a not very good one. He was just two years shy of  seventy and, as Clara had stated, a doddering old fool.
"What a wonderful idea!" cried Alfredo. "Dig up under the house to find the Pusoy treasure!"
The surveyor paused to puff on a foul smelling cigar then said:
"And what will be my share if we succeed in digging up your treasure?"
Rene looked at Alfredo with a wounded look in his eyes.
"You know I'm going to take care of you."
"Good enough for me," said Alfredo. "When do we start digging?"
___________________________

The legend of Pu Soi's treasure went like this: When Pu Soi built the house,  he was said to have secretly buried a number of Spanish gold coins in the foundations of the house. This was to insure that his household would continue to enjoy prosperity in the future. Nobody   knew how much gold he buried or whether he really did bury them because  it was  such a long time ago. However, considering how the Chinese were such a superstitious people, obsessed with feng shui and good (or bad) luck as they were, the people of Ormoc believed that there had to some truth to the legend. Additionally, it was also rumored that the old Chinese had, over time, buried several boxes containing coins and other valuables as a hedge against bad times, such as getting robbed or attacked by sea-borne pirates. In the end, nobody dared make any attempt to dig up the alleged treasure. For like most treasures, it had a curse attached to it. A verse in the Visayan dialect floated around that was purported to be the Pusoy curse. It said:

                      Kung imong kawaton
                     Ang itlog nga gilumlum
                     Mangisog ang pusoy
                     Ug sa itlog bitayon.

Roughly translated, it meant:

                      If you go stealing
                     The egg incubating
                     Pusoy will get mad
                     And hang you by your gonad.

 This could have applied to other situations,of course,  since pusoy meant somebody who was luckless or a loser in general. It could, for example,  have been a metaphorical warning to a man not to steal somebody else's wife or else suffer undesirable consequences. It could also have been  an actual warning not to steal the eggs laid by someone's hens in those woven baskets that used to hang on people's rafters before the invention of hatcheries. Over time, the people of Ormoc  accepted this rhyme as the language of the curse. No man, (for most thieves were, with some exceptions, men), risked losing their balls over a pot of gold, real or not.
              
__________________________________
             
Alfredo recruited  two laborers to do the digging.
"Where shall we begin?" Alfredo asked Rene. Looking on was a skeptical Clara. She had sworn the maids to secrecy until it was proven that there was in fact treasure under the old house.
"The west side seems a good place to start," said Rene, "the side nearest the stream. Nobody can see us from there."
The stream itself was several feet below the foundations of the house. A cement dike had been built to buttress the banks, so even during typhoons and heavy rains, the house itself was safe from the rampaging flood.
Alfredo located the foundational posts and determined where to dig. The men shovelled the earth slowly and methodically. They piled the earth they had extracted outside in the lawn. They buttressed the pits with rocks and cement blocks. They were not about to let the house collapse on them.
What they discovered upon digging was that the posts had been sunk deeper into the earth than they had imagined. In fact it seemed that old man Pu Soi had uprooted entire trees and buried them halfway down the earth.
Alfredo shook his head.
"We have to dig deeper," he said. " This is harder than I thought. We may have to tunnel down at right angles."
Rene looked at Alfredo with determination in his eyes and said: " Do it".
He was thinking of the banks to whom he had collateralized the house, ready to pounce on it when he missed his payments. He was thinking of Clara's demonic brothers who were as arrogant and unhelpful as can be. He was thinking of the people of Ormoc who at this moment were making fun of him and his misfortunes. There had to be gold under the house. He must find it if only to prove them wrong.

On the second day of the excavations, Gondoy, the son, arrived from Cebu City.  He was tall for eighteen,  fed as he was with a diet of fastfood and sugary drinks. He had an absent air about him, as if he'd rather be in a different century than in the one he was living in. He was  taken aback by the upturned soil and general mess.
"But why, dad?" he protested. "Everybody knows that's just a legend."
"Don't tell me what to do, " replied Rene testily. " I'm doing this for you".
Gondoy was studying architecture at San Carlos University in Cebu, but what he really wanted to do was study music at the University of the Philippines in Dilliman, Quezon City. Rene and Clara tried to dissuade him from pursuing that line of study because they knew that there was no money in it. Gondoy was adamant. They had relented and agreed to enroll him next year, with the implied promise by Gondoy to return to a more fruitful line of studies, say, accounting, if music turned out to be a dead end. For this of course, they needed money. Manila was not a cheap place by any measure.
Gondoy shut his mouth and locked himself in his room listening to Beethoven.
The men continued digging, carefully buttressing the trenches to prevent soil collapse. On the third day of the dig, one of the men struck something metallic. They all excitedly rushed to find out what it was. It turned out to be a ceramic bottle of 19th century gin, its contents long gone. Perhaps the workers on the original building had drunk from it.
Alfrdo sadly shook his head. Rene looked away annoyed. Clara looked disgusted. She had hoped it was a piece of jewelry.
"I think we should stop this now " she hissed.
"Just a few days more, mahal " Rene pleaded.
"Three days more, " she agreed," but after that, you must cover those holes again."
The dig continued.
Gondoy would venture out of his room now and then and observe the doings of the men with a frown on his face, but otherwise he kept his peace.
****************
On the fourth day of the dig, one of the men let out a yell.
He held something up for the others to see.
It was discolored green, but there was no mistaking what it was: a coin that had somehow escaped corrosion.
With trembling fingers Rene rubbed off the clay encrusting the coin . Through the oxidized surface and grime he could make out the figure of a woman with a torch and a shield. On one side of the coin were the words: Firme y feliz. On the other side: Por la Union.
Trembling with excitement, and feeling extremely vindicated, he rushed up to the second floor, to their bedroom, and startled Clara who had just come out of the shower.
"Look, Clara!" His voice came out in a dusky hiss. "Look what we found!"
He handed here the black coin.
"Is that what I think it is?" cried Clara.
"The story is true," he replied, breathing heavily.
Clara peered closely at the coin, then gave her husband a stern look:
"So what are you waiting for?" she said. "Find the rest of them!"

                                END OF PART ONE 





                           PART TWO - THE FLOOD


How does a rumor start? It starts with somebody telling his wife about finding an old Spanish coin while excavating the earth under the old Pu Soi mansion. That somebody was the architect of the dig, the white-haired engineer Alfredo, who confessed to his wife about the discovery. His wife, unable to hold a secret, had announced the finding of the coin to her mahjong partners, who promised to keep their mouths shut. They in turn told their family members about the discovery of not one, but several coins, nay, a chest of gold coins, under the Pu Soi house.

It was not long before Clara’s own brothers finally heard about the discovery of treasure under their ancestral home. They were livid with anger, not so much because Rene and Clara did not tell them about the did, but that they found something that could make them wealthier than anyone else in  Ormoc. On the sixth day of the dig, they came to Clara’s house unannounced. They insisted on entering and looking at the dig, despite Rene’s protestations.

“My God!” blurted Frankie. “What have you done here?”

“And where is this treasure I’m hearing about?” demanded Aaron.

‘Come up and we’ll talk about it,” said Rene. Clara’s face was pale with apprehension. She knew what her brothers were capable of. 

“You have a lot of talking to do, that’s for sure,” warned Frankie.

“Look,” said Rene,” we were only digging to see if the legend was true. Yes, we should have told you earlier, but we were concerned that if nothing came to light, it would not go down very well.”

“But you found the treasure, right?” asked Aaron with some eagerness in his voice.

“We found a coin," confessed Rene. " It’s an old silver Spanish coin. We haven’t found anything else yet.”

“A Geiger counter would help a lot,” suggested Aaron.

“And you’ll tell us if you do find the rest of the treasure, right?" asked Frankie sternly.

“Of course,” said Rene “Isn’t that right, mahal?”

“Of course,” said Clara in a voice that was close to a disappointed whisper. She was right all along. She should have told her brothers. Now the cat was out of the bag.

Before departing, Frankie said: “We’ll keep tabs on the dig. We will know when you really find something more. Depend on it.”

When Rene, feeling like a dog with its tail between its legs,  went down to the dig, he was surprised to see his son Gondoy  standing there  in his overalls.  His hand clutched a spade.
“What are you going to do with that spade,Gondoy?” he asked.
“Yes, son,” chimed in Clara, “ what are you going to do with that?”
“I heard what my uncles said,” Gondoy replied. “ I am going to help you find that treasure  once and for all!”
Despite  Rene’s admonition, even orders, Gondoy would not be dissuaded. He took his place among the other two diggers and proceeded to dig and dig and dig till he flopped down, exhausted. So far they had not uncovered anything aside from the Spanish coin. Nothing but dirt and an increasing sense that the whole town of Ormoc was now scrutinizing their enterprise with ever more growing suspicion and obtrusiveness.
    Even the DENR got wind of  the   enterprise and sent a representative to check on their activities. Rene was more successful this time in preventing him from entering the house.
“It’s my private property,” he yelled at the DENR representative, a thin man with sun-burned skin and glasses that perched precariously on the edge of his equally thin nose. He did not seem to flinch at Rene’s show of temper. He had confronted illegal  loggers in the upland forests who threatened him with something worse than a scolding.
“Nevertheless, Mr.  Quinto,” said the DENR man, “ if you are digging under your house for whatever reason, you will be compromising the land around you. “
Clara came out and joined in Rene’s protests.
“We’re not doing anything wrong!” she  cried. “Leave us alone!”
The DENR man raised his right hand to calm the couple.
“As you wish, but you have been warned,” said the  environmental representative and left.
As they went upstairs, Clara sighed.
“He’s right, you know,” she said.
“About what?” asked Rene.
“This dig. It’s destroying us. One coin, that’s all we have. Let’s cover  the pits before  they swallow this house.”
“No!”
The sound did not come from either of them. It came from their son Gondoy, who had overheard what they said as he came up the stairs from the dig.
“We cannot stop until we find the treasure,” he insisted.
Rene stared at his son with surprise. He did not realize he cared that much.
“There has to be something there,” continued Gondoy.
“There is nothing there,” replied his mother.
“How about you, father,” asked Gondoy,  throwing his father a fierce look. “What do you think?”
His father looked out the window. It had suddenly grown dark, and he could hear thunder in the mountains. Rain started to fall in little drops, then invaded the room, propelled by gusts of  wind.
“Edna!” yelled Clara at her maid. “ Close the windows! It’s raining!”
The maids bustled into the room and closed the capiz-shell windows. The rain beat a tattoo against them. It was going to be a wet night.
“We’ll stop the dig,” said Rene. “I’ll tell the boys to go home  to rest and come back tomorrow so we can properly cover up the pits.”
Gondoy sniffed in disappointment and turned briskly into his room, slamming the door behind him.
“I’ll go tell Alfredo to stop now,” said Rene as he made his way downstairs. He barely gave a glance at his wife, such was his disappointment at his decision, the only sane one that he could make given his wife's discouraging opinion, the unholy interest that his dig was whipping up in Ormoc, the brothers' meddling, and most of all, his wish not to see his son Gondoy digging in the earth anymore , but playing a Chopin polonaise on a  Steinway Grand.
++++++++++++++++++++++
That night, the rain fell with  a ferocity that the people of Ormoc  hadn’t  experienced in a long time. In fact,  only those who were alive and conscious fifty years ago would have  realized on hindsight that there was such a rain then which caused immense floods, but no casualties. At that time, Ormoc was just little more than a sugar depot and the trees in the mountains had not been logged almost to extinction. Now things were different. There were more people living in the city. The old-growth trees that soaked up the rainwater  and prevented flooding had been cut for timber and exported to Japan and the US. Ormoc, with its twin rivers that described its western and eastern approaches still had second-growth trees that grew scantily amid the burnt-out kaingin patches  that allowed rainwater to slide over them and erode the hillsides.
The rain went on into the night and into a grey dawn. The colorless sky seemed to pour sheets of rain into the hapless city without let-up. The ground, soaked up with water, could no longer accept more. So cataracts fell into the two rivers and the numerous little creeks that snaked among the houses of the city, including the one that ran at the back of the Pusoy house .
It was the maid Edna who sounded the alarm with a heart-stopping shriek. Rene, Clara and Gondoy came rushing out of their rooms.
“What’s the matter, Edna?” demanded Clara.
“Senora,” sobbed the terrified maid,” the first floor! It’s flooded!”
They all rushed down to see floodwater starting to seep  and collect into the pits that they had dug in the fruitless search for treasure.
“Madre de Dios!” cried Clara. “ We have to leave now!”
Rene looked out at the back and saw that the water of the creek had risen above the dikes and were now spilling rapidly into their back lawn and into the excavations. He watched in horror and fascination as the earth crumbled at the floodwater’s assault. If  it went any further, the water would soften the foundations under the house and bring it crashing down.
“You’re right!” he  agreed immediately. “We must tell everyone to go now!”
Outside their house, the floodwater was  quickly rising, a phenomenon they had never seen before. If they could see what was happening in other parts of Ormoc, especially the sections closest to the rivers, they would have seen the same ominously rapid rise of the waters that, not properly controlled with dikes, was spilling out into higher ground.  At one river, the Anilao, the rain had softened the earth upriver, causing it to collapse  and create a temporary dam that threatened collapse at any moment, something that not a single soul in the city was aware of.
At the moment that all of them---maids, Clara, Rene—started  piling into the Toyota van, Gondoy froze and looked back in the direction of the flooded first floor.
“What  are you looking at?” demanded his hysterical mother.
“Yes,” asked Rene. "What is it?"
“I see something there,” said Gondoy, in a calm voice, despite the gusts of wind and the pelting rain.
“There is nothing there,” yelled Clara in panic,” it’s all going down!”
“What do you see, son?” asked  Rene, his curiosity piqued despite his growing panic.
“That  thing floating there, where we dug yesterday,” said Gondoy. Without waiting for a response, he quickly alighted from the van and waded into the flooded first floor. Clara  shrieked in terror.
“Where are you going, Gondoy!” she cried.
“Wait here, Clara,” said Rene. “ I’m going to get him back.”
Rene jumped out of the van and went after Gondoy. The water was now waist-high.
“Gondoy! Where are you going?” he cried.
Gondoy looked back at him, pale and shaking with excitement.
“Don’t you see what I see? There!” he pointed at an object that was bobbing on the water.
Rene  tried to focus his eyes in the dim light.  It was a chest. A wooden chest with iron clasps. Pu Soi’s treasure. It could not have held anything else.
Gondoy lurched forward and tried to grab the side of the chest. Unfortunately, in his excitement, he had forgotten how deep the pits they had dug had been. He took one step and disappeared into the muddy water. Horrified, Rene  paddled forward and tried to find his sunken son.  Instead, he was able to grab hold of the clasp of the chest. Of his son, he saw no sign.
The water continued rising steadily, rapidly and remorselessly.
There is a meteorological phenomenon, often observed, which create disastrous results for any locality that was both near the sea and a river. This was the  wedding of high tide  and flood conditions. While a flooding river can, of itself, cause destruction, the addition of the sea rolling into that same river during high tide can create extraordinary flooding that can cause more death and destruction than normal.
Thus, on the morning that Rene Quinto had decided to terminate  his search for the elusive Pu Soi treasure, the same morning that that the rain fell in such quantity that it caused the Pusoy creek to overflow and flood the excavations and  surprisingly, wonderfully even, extricated and floated the chest that Gondoy saw and was convinced contained the fable Pu Soi treasure,  the same morning where a despairing Rene saw his son Gondoy disappear in the swirl of muddy waters that invaded the pit-pocked soil beneath the Pu Soi mansion, on this morning, the  waters of the Ormoc Bay and the waters of the rivers met. And as they met, the temporary dam that the fallen soil of the Anilao River had created up near its source, suddenly could not contain the weight of the collected waters anymore  and collapsed, creating a  tidal force that bore, not inland, but outward towards the roaring sea. When ocean and flood embrace, the force of their union tore trees from the banks, floated trucks, cars and giant container vans that rammed into houses and people,  threw logs and debris into the roiling waters, broke huts and houses from their flimsy foundations and carried everything  into the sea with one great, murderous rush.
The Pu Soi mansion that had stood  a century in the same spot, its foundations weakened by Rene’s hapless digging, collapsed , its roof, walls and timber falling down on the Toyota van with the screaming Clara  and her maids still in it. To add insult to injury, giant waves of the sea came in, borne by the magnetic pull of the moon.  It boiled over the street fronting the Pusoy mansion and carried away its ruined heap, leaving  nothing but a piece of muddy ground from which two or three ancient wooden pilings and portions of the coral wall remained.  Thus did  Pu Soi's bahay-na-bato, the grand mansion he built from money earned by selling goods and exploiting peasants, meet its end.

                                                  EPILOGUE
A week later after  what they called the Ormoc  Flood Tragedy, where close to eight thousand  people perished in flashfloods and mudslides, with so many of the victims carried out willy-nilly into the sea and lost there forever,  Rene’s body, bloated, decomposing and barely recognizable  washed up on a beach  one hundred twenty two  kilometers away in Maasin. When they tried to open his rotted hand, they found, partially imbedded in the flesh, a  rounded piece of rusty metal that was later determined to be a portion of a metal clasp that was part of a lock of a baul, or chest.

Of Gondoy, Clara and her maids, and even their Toyota van, no trace was ever found.




                                                                  THE END