Friday, June 1, 2007


Mang Guillermo was a driver. For want of a thousand-peso increment on his measly daily wage, he served in the last elections as a poll watcher. He was willing to stay up the whole night, along with his wife, to monitor and secure the sanctity of the ballot in this small town.

But on the night of the counting of the ballots, at around 2 AM, as the last of the ballots were turned in and accounted for—just before a new town mayor was to be declared—seven armed men barged into the school, grabbed the ballot boxes, poured gasoline all over and set them ablaze. Amid the screams and pleas of the few people left inside the bungalow structure, the ruthless beasts set fire to all kinds of election paraphernalia they could find. Heedless of the innocent people who might be caught in the fire, they went about their deadly intent, prompted by an urge akin to that of creatures born sans a conscience. They who were once called men, now possessed the souls of the damned.

In the wake of the man-made tragedy, the cadavers of two women were found inside the shell of what once was the school comfort room. Mang Guillermo, his wife and their thirteen year old son who was just waiting for them that night—suffered third degree burns all over their body. Mang Guillermo was burned so badly he was not fit to be shown on TV. Only his wife was shown publicly and interviewed—the outer skin of her face totally obliterated, making you wonder how excruciating and immobilizing the pain must be, especially with her whole body having suffered the same damage. And then you also think about the child badly burned lying next to his mother in that ward, with the news camera crudely obscuring wayward shots to his bed.

The mother was appealing for financial help. Apparently, the plain and simple fact that they were there that night to protect the sanctity of the ballots was not even a guarantee that they would be compensated in the event they got injured in the line of duty. Ironically, they were calling on, no--begging the very same government that hired them, the same government that they tried, in a way, to protect, for some loose change. Some small financial aid that it could throw their way. In Mang Guillermo case, help if any—would have come too late. He succumbed to his injuries on the night of his wife’s interview.

A teacher and a mother of nine who worked as a poll watcher were killed instantly in the fire. Nellie Banaag’s, the teacher’s—hand was recovered separately in the vicinity around three days after the fire. On it still, was her gleaming wedding ring. A symbol of the life of love, she had lived, maybe.

I am writing this because in my own way I want this tragedy to be immortalized. I want the deeds of those godforsaken brutes to be remembered. They must know their legacy—they must be reminded without end, even in their sleep—of the children they have orphaned, the husbands and the wife they have widowed, the innocent people they have scarred and maimed.

It perplexes me what sort of incentive could have compelled them to do what they have done. Well only one thing’s for sure—they have bought a spot in history, one soaked in blood and entrenched in infamy.

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