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Long dark nights

opinion / Columnists
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Pinoy Kasi

Long dark nights

/ 05:09 AM September 06, 2017

His father is from Southern Leyte, his mother from Quezon. He grew up in Makati and, the last two years, his family lived in a rented home in Cainta.

Seven years ago, his mother, Eva, left to work in Dubai. Each visit home, her son would try to convince her not to leave again, but she said it was hard making ends meet, and he seemed to understand.

Eva was proud of her son, who was consistently first in his class all through his elementary years in a public school. He ranked second among those who applied for the Makati Science High School where he again excelled.

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Only UP

In his senior year he took the tough UP College Admissions Test (UPCAT). He had not wanted to apply to other universities, insisting he would go to college only if admitted to UP. In the end he did apply to, and was accepted in, two leading private universities with offers of scholarships.

When the UPCAT results were released in December 2013, he sent his mother a screenshot of his name on the list of students who passed. I looked it up when I got home from the wake and can imagine how proud he was: Arnaiz, Carl Angelo Magat. There were 83,000 students who took UPCAT that year and Carl was one of the 3,800 who made it to UP Diliman, where he enrolled in the BS Interior Design program.

Carl was always telling his family about how good (magagaling) his classmates were but at his wake, his batchmates told Eva that Carl was the one who excelled, his classmates trying to “recruit” him whenever there were group projects because he did such good work.

Little did they know that Carl was grappling with depression and after one semester in UP, he had to stop schooling. He told his parents repeatedly that he would not resume college unless he could return to Diliman.

While dealing with his depression, he was able to start a small sari-sari store with the money sent by his mother. Eva explained that Carl wanted to make his mother’s earnings grow and to use this to care for his grandmother and a younger cousin. I spoke to that cousin, who is now in Grade 8, and she smiled, sadly, describing how Carl would tutor her and make sure she finished her assignments.

His family described him as a homebody with close family ties. He was an introvert but did have a circle of friends. On the rare occasions that he would not return home for the night, he would be sure to text his family.

He kept in close touch with his mother even when she was in Dubai. The last message she got from him was sent out shortly after midnight on Aug. 18. She didn’t hear from him again in the succeeding days and the silence worried her.

Eva had just visited her family in July but she asked for permission from her employer to leave again for the Philippines, where she and her family began their frantic search for her son. Carl was reported to have left his house with 14-year-old Reynaldo de Guzman late night on Aug. 17. De Guzman remains missing.

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On Aug. 28, Carl’s elder sister was contacted by a funeral parlor in Caloocan asking if she could identify the remains of a young man sent to their establishment a few days earlier.

Eva showed me a typed report from the Caloocan City police claiming Carl had held up a taxi driver along C3 in Caloocan at around 3 a.m. with a gun. The driver then sought help from the police who were able to find Carl, who was supposedly armed and shot at them. The police returned fire causing “instantaneous death.” The police also claimed they found “marijuana leaved” (a Freudian slip?) in his pocket, and shabu in his backpack.

The scripts, the props, are so terribly overused. Eva says Carl never even played with toy guns when he was growing up.

The Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) later did an autopsy and found five bullet wounds. The PAO also declared Carl had been tortured before being killed, likely in a kneeling or lying position. There was no evidence that he had fired a gun.

A new world

Carl entered UP Diliman in 2014, when we shifted our academic calendar to start in August. Carl and his fellow freshmen had a four-month vacation because of this transition, and UP used that long break to prepare a special welcome for the new students.

The first day of that new school year in Diliman was festive with ABS-CBN coming in with their early morning program hosts for a special live telecast of cultural performances and interviews with the new students. I can imagine how a whole new world had opened up for Carl.

Carl had to pay tuition, but at an 80-percent discount based on an assessment of his household socio-economic status. He still had to deal of course with living expenses and costs of books and supplies and I thought of how much easier life would have become this school year, with the implementation of no tuition-no fees in UP.

In the 1st semester of 2016, Carl applied for readmission but did not push through with the application. I suspect the depression, the long, dark nights, continued to be overwhelming.

I had intended to drop by the wake for half an hour, but his mother requested that I stay on another two hours, listening, and trying to make sense of the senseless. Like so many Filipino overseas workers, Eva had to deal with feelings of guilt. Should she have left, she asked several times and I assured her she had done what she thought was best for her family.

“Carl would have been proud his chancellor came here,” she said at one point and it was my turn to feel guilty. I had never even met Carl but wondered if we could have done more for him. Until recently, we only had counseling services for matters like career choices. We now offer psychosocial services, and a program to give more concessions to “students with additional needs” but much more still needs to be done.

It is always far more painful, far more inconsolable, when it is parents and teachers who have to mourn for the children wrenched away from us, especially as they approach the prime of their lives.

Difficult as it is, we learn to cope with the loss of our young when they die because of illnesses or accidents. It is a different matter when the young are murdered. Only two days before Carl, Kian delos Santos was killed also in Caloocan with a similar police script.

In times like these, we must allow ourselves to rage against the long dark nights and the sinister forces that slaughter our young and hijack the nation’s future. We must rage, and demand justice.

Carl would have turned 20 on Nov. 15.

mtan@inquirer.com.ph

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TAGS: Carl Angelo Arnaiz, drug killings, extrajudicial killings, Michael tan, Pinoy Kasi, war on drugs
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