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Method To Madness

August 7

It was raining. A man stood on what used to be his home carrying a borrowed umbrella, black printed with a pattern of hearts, pink and purple and bright red. The water that rose to the ankles was the same red as the hillside that collapsed at 7:30 that morning.

The man with the umbrella stood on his home. Not inside, because his home was gone, crushed under soil and filth and stone, members of his family under it. Eight of them were found dead. Five were his children, three his grandchildren. His wife was found alive, but she died later that night in the hospital. One son is in the hospital. One daughter is unharmed.

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This is the story of Jessie Baylon Sr., 50 years old, told a day after the storm that had no name.

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I came from the city of Bacolod. I looked at the situation and I knew no matter what I dreamed of becoming, it didn’t matter. My parents were poor, and even if I wanted to study we couldn’t afford it.

My dream was to become a driver, because I thought it would be a better life than what I could get as a laborer on minimum wage. I thought it would be the only dream I could attain.

My first job was as a houseboy until my boss decided to put me through driving school. I learned how to drive, and I studied hard. I was a driver at a garments factory when I met my wife. She was a supervisor. That was when we fell in love. Even if you say she wasn’t beautiful, for me, she was beautiful, and she was kind. She took care of people. That was all.

When we started having children, my one dream was for the children to go to school. I don’t have much education, but I’ve seen people who have, and they get far in life and manage to secure good jobs, not like the rest of us. My wife felt the same way.

We ended up in Litex because I knew the land belonged to the government, and I didn’t have to pay anyone rent. I could build my house little by little. That was all I could afford, and I couldn’t build a house beyond my means because the children were studying. We could barely afford food and transportation. So I was grateful.

When I was choosing the place to build the house with the man who sold me the rights, there was barely any land left. Everything was occupied. I really didn’t have much of a choice. I said okay, at least I had a place to build a house and call it my own.

About 10 years ago there was a landslide. It didn’t do too much harm, just soil that fell on my house and a few cracks on my cement walls. The media noticed, anyway, and reported it. After that some geologists from the University of the Philippines came by and said that it was a danger zone. We ignored them, because the government’s option for relocation was in Montalban and it was too far away. My kids study in the area, my job is in Ortigas, everything I earned would go to transportation from there to work and I would be left exhausted. It’s only me who supports the family, and I couldn’t do it from Montalban.

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When we started having kids, I told my wife we would have only two children, and that we would space them with many years between. But sometimes with family planning, especially those rhythm things, we sort of understood a little but sometimes it would fail. So sometimes there would be a gap, sometimes it would be close, sometimes a few more years, and then there they were and I didn’t want to do those abortion things. So I let it be until we ended up with that, seven.

I can tell you the ages by year, but I don’t remember the months, my mind is a little confused now. My eldest will turn 25 on Dec. 23, he’s 24 now. The rest followed, one after the other—23, 22, 21, 19, something like that. The rest, their ages were close. My eldest is Jep, or Jessie Jr. The second is Jessica. The third, Jennelyn. The fourth, Jayvee, the fifth, Jethro. The sixth, Jason. The seventh is Jezelle.

My wife was ironing when I woke up that day. I bought coffee and spaghetti from the vendors down the street. My daughter Jennelyn leaves for work at 7:30, and I bought her breakfast so she could just eat and bathe before leaving. I left at 6:30. I got a phone call when I was on a jeep heading to work. It was one of my neighbors who was also a driver. He told me to go home, to come back, fast, because something had happened.

I went down from the jeep, and took a cab going back because I wanted to get there fast. The rain was pouring hard. I was running, running fast, down to our house. When I got there I saw a crowd around where I thought our house should be. Somebody said, “Jes, the landslide buried your house. Your family is underneath.”

I ran and kept running, right into this skinny alley where the water was rushing and I shouted if anyone was still alive. Is anyone still alive? It was Jep who answered. He said, “Pa, I’m here, I’m stuck, be careful getting me.” The people were trying to move the house off him and he was getting hurt. So I helped, I pushed until my fingers and feet were bleeding from scratches. We got him out little by little. We kept scrabbling at the dirt, and the rescuers kept coming. Fire, Army, MMDA, the local officials, they all came. But the place was so narrow, that was the problem with our place and the rescuers had to bring stretchers in. So we dug. We got Jep out first, then we saw Jethro. We saw his feet sticking out over the running water. There was cement both sides and on top of him and his feet had turned black. And I said to myself, God, that’s it. We dug for him, anyway, even knowing he was dead.

We dug and we dug and we dug and we dug until it was afternoon and we had found everyone, all the kids.

Now I’m focused on Jep. He has to survive. There are so few of us left, just him and Jennelyn. I don’t know how to begin again after this. Sometimes I think of what happened, and I can’t accept it. I keep seeing the bodies being pulled out, how they were dug out, and how my house fell.

If I had any regrets, it’s that I couldn’t provide my family with shelter. I couldn’t keep them safe. Maybe they knew my means are limited, maybe they understood. If I had the money it would have been different. What father would make his family live as squatters if he had a choice? You’d give your family a decent home if you could. I couldn’t.

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To donate to the Baylon family, please send donations via Jennelyn M. Baylon, BDO account number 3990193427. She can be contacted via 09194310255. This story was written with reporting by Aiah Fernandez and Rappler.com.

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TAGS: Disaster, Jessie Baylon Sr., landslide, Method to Madness, opinion, Patricia Evangelista, rains, weather
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