I never though
t lightning would strike twice in a couple of years
As I write this, it’s been a month since another family tragedy struck.
On the day the country was observing Andres Bonifacio Day on November 30. I got curious about a news item about another alleged encounter between military and rebel groups in barangay Kamansi, Kabankalan, Negros Occidental.
I immediately sounded off my media friends in Bacolod.
In another FB post on the same day, we learned that my son-in-law, Ericson Acosta and his companion, were arrested on the same day at about two in the morning.
I immediately asked my grandson to sound off his maternal grandmother, 90-year old Liwayway Acosta.
I took it lightly and hoped my grandson and I would still get to visit Ericson in a detention hall.
But before noon of the same on November 30, a friend confirmed another death in the family.
He wasn’t detained after arrest.
A witness confirmed he was made to walk around the house where he was arrested, then hacked and later riddled with bullets.
Meanwhile, the military fed local media with an alleged “encounter” story complete with photos of slain “rebels.”
When Ericson’s death was confirmed, I stared in my computer and let out a howl of grief.
I was only thinking of my grandson Emmanuel who was rendered orphan twice in a span of just two years.
He was with UP friends observing Bonifacio Day in Mendiola and got wind of the news ahead of me and his maternal grandma.
Somebody said he saw my grandson pause, seemingly stunned by the news and quietly walked on a street corner and cried.
I never saw him cry when his mother died.
One more time on the day we heard the news, we had to book tickets, fly to Bacolod and work on assorted permits before we could claim the body in a Kabankalan funeral parlor.
It is a two-hour ride to Kabankalan from Bacolod on an early morning trip.
First, we have to get an incident report from the barangay Camansi. Barangay head didn’t want to sign the incident report. With gentle prodding from our lawyers, he did sign but not before he made us aware that he is king of his turf.
My grandson knew it would be the same routine when he claimed his mother’s body in a Silay funeral parlor a year ago.
We need not just barangay clearance but police clearance, health clearance, city hall clearance and once done, we need an embalmer’s signature to see the body. We had a whole day doing that — running around various offices and got stuck with officers attending seminars elsewhere.
A doctor would be available to sign the health clearance on December 12.
We could not wait that long and it’s only December 1 when we arrived.
We decided that we would bring the body to Manila and cremate later.
The funeral parlor is in the outskirts of Kabankalan and it is surrounded by men in uniform.
We learned later that the owner is a traffic enforcer and a Christian pastor on the side.
This is the moment I feared: when my grandson would see his father lifeless in a roomful of dead people.
Some three years back before Christmas, he had a few days with his parents in Bacolod.
Just after my last concert at the Nelly Garden in Iloilo City in 2019, I met my grandson in an inn, gave him a room and breakfast before he headed to Bacolod by ferry boat.
That was the last time my grandson saw his parents alive.
Past reunions with his father included frequent visits to a Calbayog jail in 2012-2013.
When we finally saw the body of Ericson, I couldn’t help looking at my grandson.
I have never seen that face so devastated.
When his mother died, he took it all calmly. Or so I thought.
When he saw his father’s lifeless body, I thought I couldn’t bear it.
Then I made a quick look at my grandson’s face and saw loneliness of a devastating kind.
I retrieved the clothes of his father from the funeral parlor embalmer after which we headed back to Bacolod fast to get another permit to bring the body back to Manila.
“You like to see Tatay’s body before we bring him to the airline’s cargo office? We bought him new clothes,” said my grandson. “No,” I said. “I will see him in Manila anyway. Let’s just have a quick dinner.”
We realized we missed our Friday lunch busy as we were getting all those required permits.
Grandson and his ninang went ahead to Manila with his father’s body to arrange for cremation.
We followed later in the afternoon flight.
Back in Manila, we prepared for last Mass before cremation.
Grandson received a metal rose from a mother whose daughter was also incarcerated for years.
Then grandson and I watched Ericson’s body as it was brought to the hot furnace.
I realized my grandson and I were witness to cremations of his parents the past two years.
There was a two-day tribute to Ericson before his internment in the Pasig cemetery.
Bibeth Orteza intoned in her own tribute to Ericson: “Was it coincidental that National Artist for Film Lino Brocka was also paid tribute in the same Gumersindo Garcia Hall where poet Acosta is being honored now? Was it coincidental that Ericson died on the day the country was commemorating birth of Andres Bonifacio?”
Others who offered songs and poetry during the 4-hour tribute were flutist Jay Gomez and pianist Katherine Asis, Dong Abay, Jess Santiago, Renato Reyes, Jr. Patatag group and many others.
In the final tribute to his father at the Gumersindo Garcia Hall of UP Diliman, my grandson has come to terms with another death in the family.
On a lighter note, he spoke candidly of his father as musician: ” I am my father’s worst critic. I am always critical of everything he does. I notice he plays the guitar with just one chord. So I called him The One-Chord Wonder.”
Laughter from the audience.
Then his final remarks which went viral on the internet and reached more than 5 million netizens: “I have nothing against my parents for spending more time with the poor and the oppressed than with me. I believed in what they fought for. There is no rancor in my heart that my parents have other families — the masses. That was made clear to me by Tatay and Nanay. When they were heartlessly killed, the more I believed in their cause.”
On the day Ericson joined his grave with my daughter Kerima, I can only react with another poem
We are done
And wiping away
Like my grandson
Who let it all fall
Where it should
On a street corner
Where his parents used to tread
Along the hollowed street of Mendiola
What were those tears for?
He expected to reunite
With dear father
In a detention cell
And perhaps make music
For the last time
The next thing he knew
His father was arrested
In the hinterlands of Kabankalan
Then made to do a few turns
With his companion
Only to meet their imminent death
In a sudden rain of bullets
And bolos tearing away
At their skin
I always request
My late daughter
Now it is time
For that soulful music
To remember his father
I always ask my grandson
To seat with me in rehearsals
While Massenet’s Meditation
In the auditorium
Music has a way with grief
Perhaps it is a good way
To confront death
Perhaps the gentle way?
Now tell me
How should music metamorphose
For our weary spirit?
Can guide us
Into the periphery of acceptance
Even if the labyrinth
With excruciating pain
I did carry that urn
With his mother a year ago
Now I am torn with grief
Carrying his father’s ashes.
Time to move on
And fly on the wings