Her smiles are prominent in the community; she is as tough as the nails that persevered for decades attaching the dying cells of bamboo poles and scraps of wood to make up a foundation to their humble abode planted above the mixed waters from the running Davao River towards the ocean, that has been moving away as the number of both the residents and houses engulfed the space that can never be called their own; while Ate Mar is laughing in front of her laundry, she is also fearful of her children’s future.
Cirilina Dagasdas, the name that Ate Mar is not known for, told me about some tales that made Dapsa a fortress to its people. She told me that Dapsa cannot exist without its people; they are the true owners of it, not the Villa Abrille, a family name that kept on hunting most of the slum dwellers in Davao. Though, they never fear the Villa Abrilles for its power to steal their lands. What they are more afraid of is their power to steal the future of their children. The residents, according to Ate Mar, do not want Dapsa to be the same thriving place of their children’s dreams. Dapsa, she added, is too small for grandiose dreams.
From a personal vantage point, residents seem to have forgotten the centimeters of space that separate them. Every day, they are conscious of the possibility that their transient houses will suffer from crashing monstrous machines accompanied by the rage of the demolishing team and police officers until they become satiated by scenes of helpless residents trying to save what’s left. Sadly, most of the time, nothing is left for them.
It is almost lunch time, Ate Mar calls her children Balong and Ikay with a familiar whistle that reaches every inch of the community. After three blows, she returned her attention to the pile of used clothes and smiled: “Ana gyud diri, sir.”
When her children arrived, I glanced at the two of them. They are both thin, deprived of the nutrients the only the rich can afford, but are filled with profound energy. I admired how they give courtesy to a stranger like me. Then, they sprinted towards their only table in the house. “Tinapa napud ang sud-an ma?” Balong asked Ate Mar with an innocent tone driven by his hunger for a new meal, and the food on the table.
“Sige lang gud nak. Wala pa man tay kwarta,” Ate Mar replied. It was interesting how Ate Mar never reprimanded Balong for pointing out their repetitive meal. She never raised her voice. She never complained. It seemed predictable to her what her children would say about their condition.
“Basig ugma, lahi na pud atong sud-an, nak,” she continued pacifying Balong’s hunger and told me to join her children on the table.
Inside, you can never distinguish the boundaries of their kitchen, bedroom, comfort room, living room and washing area. All the sets of furniture blend with the other as if there is no dent between them – just like how the people have fitted into the patches of land distributed carefully.
Ate Mar feared about the conspiracies of burning Dapsa along with its people, as the government’s quickest way to get rid of them. She added that it is easier to burn them than demolish their houses; the media can always turn against the residents and paint it like a circumstance rather than a foul play. She added that the government is never for its people; it only serves the people who benefit those who are corrupt; the people are only the government’s pawn or scapegoat, especially the poor.
“Wala gyu’y gobyernong tarong, sir,” she exclaimed.
Ate Mar is one of Dapsa’s political critics. She hated former President Gloria Arroyo and her cronies, former President Erap Estrada, current President Rodrigo Duterte and other politicians whose self-interests are strategically masked, for dragging the country towards political jeopardy expressed through an exponentially increasing social woe of the masses as corruption becomes more of a culture than a sickness. She views Gloria as a wise woman whose intelligence has become her immunity from the criticisms of the Filipinos despite her involvement in scams enough for incarceration; Erap as a monster who wrapped himself in a idle blanket of a promising but clearly impossible stint, “Erap para sa mahirap”; and Duterte who gambled much of the Philippines’ territorial domains to foreign countries in exchange for staggering debts, and started the nationwide hunt for the Holy grail of culpability of the unending human rights abuses which had turned morgues as the end points of thousands of lives.
I never noticed how just sitting on the only functional plastic chair Ate Mar has lets me forget the change of time. The extremely squeezed houses made it impossible for the sun rays to hit us or for the natural air to intersect between the crevasses on the walls. I noticed that the hands of their clock are unique, they have the same lengths which make it really difficult to determine time. Pinched on the hardest part of the walls, a rusty nail carries the weight of the clock which is miraculously operational: it’s almost three o’clock in the afternoon. I excused myself from our conversation to get something from my backpack. It has become a part of my visiting tradition to share any food I bought from proximate stores near the terminal. Inside the rustling thin cellophane that creates tension with my right hand, is a whole chiffon cake from a local bakeshop at the mouth of Barangay Bucana. I humbly asked Ate Mar for a plate and knife; I can smell the aroma from the cheap cake which I bought for only 100 pesos, that swindles my olfactory even without tasting it. I initiated to cut the first slice, and gave it to Ate Mar. Unexpectedly, a tap on Ate Mar’s experiential registry happened as she recalled her best memories with the chiffon cake. She admitted that any chiffon cake is the best pastry; not only because of its unsophisticated taste, but also because his husband always brings the cake during special occasions may it be their marital anniversary, birthdays or holidays. It gave me a realization that the chiffon cake is the poor man’s symbol of true joy and satisfaction – values that we disregard when we almost have everything in life. Oftentimes, we forget the things on our table; we constantly look at the other and judge ourselves for what we lacked.
Jupiter is a college instructor and a thriving storyteller from Davao.