The bridge at Congressional was mildly astir. Though rain poured, “uzis” had collected on it to look at the roiling waters of a creek, brown from mud and whatever else had been thrown into it over the years, whip into the shanties teetering beside it. The waters had already climbed to half the height of the ragged abodes and were threatening to overrun them.
Men, women, and children below were scurrying to retrieve articles—some clothes, monobloc stools and a table, various religious icons, particularly of the Sto. Niño—and stacking them above. The smaller kids had already climbed up atop the bridge and were tending to their still smaller siblings, one or two cradling a baby in their arms. The adults were threading their way carefully through the jumble of wires, pieces of plywood, and aluminum boards with the cut-up pictures of election candidates still on them, looking for sure footing as they pulled the items out. It gave whole new meanings to the phrase “precarious existence.”
When I got to where I was going, a guard was talking to his fellow, telling him he had thought he would not be able to report for work that day. But sayang the day’s pay, his family needed the money, he just decided to swim for it. Yes, swim, he said. He, too, lived near a creek in Muñoz and the floodwaters, courtesy of a night of nonstop rain, had risen chest-high. He packed his uniform and underwear in a plastic bag and held it high as he swam. Thankfully, when he got out of the water, there were still jeepneys plying their routes.
This was early Tuesday morning. As the rest of the day and the next day unfolded, I saw on TV extensive flooding in various parts of Metro Manila and Bulacan. Fairview and Marikina, which had borne the brunt of “Ondoy” some years ago, had many parts underwater, the waters also chest-high, the menfolk traversing streets by holding on to pieces of rope straddling them. Or, for the more intrepid and agile, by balancing on a dangling piece of rope above the water like a circus performer but holding on to another piece of rope overhead for support. Truly, necessity is the mother of invention, or creativity.
All in all, “only” 15 perished in the rains, though thousands had to be evacuated from the rising floodwaters, which reached rooftop levels in some places in Cavite. Which either said that the devastation wasn’t all that devastating or Pagasa and the relief agencies were doing their jobs. In any case, tell the devastated it wasn’t all that devastating. Nothing can be more devastating than having so little in life and having even that taken away from you.
Overnight, the rains washed out the tempest in a teacup—though the Church was threatening to turn it into a real storm—that was the RH debate. Just days before, the archbishops had been loudly fulminating against the RH advocates’ scorn for life, one of them saying, “contraception is corruption,” and that the RH advocates’ position says “babies are a nuisance.”
Who knows? Maybe the rains were heaven’s way of plucking the debate from the realm of fuzzy speculation and depositing it into the nitty-gritty of real life. A debate that isn’t over yet, a debate that’s only been thrown into a hiatus. There and then, in the midst of the rains and their furious effects, you saw what life was. There and then, in the women and children and old people huddled in gymnasiums turned evacuation centers, grateful for a mouthful or so of steaming Lucky Me, you saw what the specter of death was. There and then, in the throes of a people’s anguish and misery, you saw who had an appreciation for life and who had such contempt for it.
Life is not the hypothetical life that the thing you eject in a john could be if you only ejected it in a woman’s womb. Life is the small child cradling her baby brother or sister in her arms while her parents dangle over the thing being torn piece by piece by the onrushing waters, grabbing whatever they could before fretful nature, or wrathful fate, like Death itself, comes to claim its due. Life is the small child looking at the world with a vacant stare, all this has happened before, in another place, beside another estero, underneath another bridge, the skies have been dark before, the waters have churned before, the paglikas has been made before.
That is life: abject, wretched, precarious. Which is the life of most Filipinos in this country.
That is the life proponents of the RH bill see and want to do something about. That is the life the bishops and their allies do not see or pretend is not there. Seeing only, like a billboard that hides the slums behind it, like a billboard that proclaims “On this site will rise paradise,” the fantastical life of the Great Unborn.
You saw the devastated, the ravaged, the nasalanta, who are mainly the poor, the destitute, the down-and-out, and you ask, “You want to add more to their ranks because people are our asset and more people means more asset?” You saw the forcibly exiled, the flung out, the evacuated, who are mainly the dispossessed, the deprived, the children with the haunted and haunting eyes, and you want to multiply them a hundredfold, thereby making them even more dispossessed, deprived, and staring at the world with vacant eyes?
You retire to your soft bed and softer pillows in your pajamas and light sweater while the air-conditioner hums overhead and while the winds howl outside your window, happy in the knowledge you are safe and sound and have money in the bank—or better still, partly own the bank (the Church is the fourth biggest owner of BPI with shares worth P17 billion)—and can afford to cry for the life that isn’t there and laugh at the life that is. Who knows? Maybe this was truly God’s way of giving the people who speak in his name a not very gentle:
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