Ang buhay sa tumpok
“Hindi talaga ako papayag. Magbubuwis talaga ako ng dugo. Ipaglalaban ko talaga ang lugar na ito.”
Pol had been a cheerful, voluble man, inordinately fond of teasing his wife and playing pranks on his three children. He had tried out all sorts of odd jobs in his time — from painting buildings to driving tricycles — but continued to struggle because of debilitating bouts of asthma. He and his wife Trining had always dreamed of owning their own home and living someplace idyllic away from the capital, which remained congested and polluted, as always, except in the most privileged enclaves.
The new neighbourhood was called Paradise Park Village — 7.2 hectares of barren lands situated in Barangay San Vicente in San Pedro, Laguna. As more settlers had streamed in from other provinces, the land tenants — who had originally planted root crops and banana trees, and occasionally tended cattle — eventually found work in an adjacent piggery farm. By 1984, the entire property had been bought by Maximino Argana, who, it later turned out, had been a Marcos crony.
Which explains why, in the heady aftermath of the EDSA revolution, the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) chose to sequester the entire area altogether. What is more difficult to understand is how — and on what grounds — Crown Asia (a Vista Land company, the 2/3 supermajority of which belongs to the family of Manny Villar) was able to acquire the properties in 2002, using a title under the name of a certain Jose Nuñez. From that point onwards, guards began to monitor the movements of the residents in a 2.18-hectare zone in particular (Lot 157), which housed around 205 families. Almost overnight, it would seem, a giant wall had been erected around this perimeter, preventing the tenants from repairing their homes or building new structures. In the blink of an eye, they had suddenly been denied access to roads, which then made access to electricity and running water all the more scarce and difficult.
Pol, Jr. — “Qurico” to his parents — had no way of knowing that this is what would become of his new home. Neither did Trining, who had left her secluded life as a yaya to work in a factory in San Pedro. The de los Santoses were, at any rate, resourceful and happy, and had finally begun to enjoy the rustic existence they shared in Paradise Park with their three children. As Trining would fondly say of her husband, “Mabait, matulungin, concerned masyado sa amin, at napaka-sipag. Bago uminom, magbibigay muna ng pera. Alas quatro ng umaga, nagbi-byahe na iyan, at nag-gagarahe lang kapag alas singko na ng hapon.”
Sadly, life in Paradise Park had eventually become almost entirely untenable. According to Trining, Crown Asia wanted their land for luxury developments and was not above harassing the tenants on a regular basis. “May problema talaga dito. Laging may gulo. Lagi siyang may katabi na itak. Baka daw kung gabi ay bigla nalang kaming i-harass. Pero ano naman ang magagawa ng itak? Baril ang hawak ng mga gwardiya nila. Nang magkagulo, itak lang ang dala niya. Sila ang unang nagpaputok, ang mga gwardiya.”
That day, 29 September 2002 — a Sunday, and therefore a day off for both parents — Pol had been excited. He had planned to buy a DVD player for their second child, who was to celebrate his birthday the following week. Trining had not wanted to buy the player because she knew they couldn’t afford it, but Pol had been insistent, saying: “malay mo, wala na ako bukas.”
Their youngest child had wanted to eat at Jollibee afterwards but, having bought the player, they had no more money, so they settled on a lunch of rice and coffee. “Pag-uwi namin, wala kaming ulam, wala na kaming pera. Bigas lang.”
But Pol didn’t mind: the only thing he wanted to do was play the DVD before a scheduled meeting with the Paradise Park Neighbourhood Association, where he was now the acting director. It was a regular meeting, so he wasn’t worried. What he did mind was his eldest son not buying something for the tricycle as he had asked him to: “paano na kapag wala na ako?”
Pol was resting (and Trini singing on her videoke) when the commotion began. She didn’t notice Pol picking up his itak and rushing outside. In an unblinking instant, Pol — who had suddenly found himself at the centre of a swirling mêlée — had been shot in the lung. A few hours later, he was dead.
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