Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. VI, No. 28      August 20 - 26, 2006      Quezon City, Philippines

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Expecting the Other ‘Eruption’ in Tabaco City

An eruption of a different kind is happening in Tabaco City, and this has nothing to do with the hot lava coming from Mayon Volcano, the Bicol region’s crown jewel and located to its south.

BY DANILO ARAÑA ARAO
Bulatat

THREATENING TO ERUPT: The Mayon volcano, viewed from Tabaco City, Albay

TABACO CITY – Isn’t it strange that this city appears to be detached from the social turmoil?

When I first visited Tabaco City in Albay (Bicol region) in June 2004, I immediately noticed that the only political posters and streamers are announcements of activities of the local government and civic organizations. There were no writings on the wall calling for the President’s ouster and other slogans that are seditious from the government’s standpoint.

“We all just want a quiet life here,” an in-law once told me later. This probably explains the subtle encouragement from some of my in-laws for me to just stay there after getting married in December 2004.

Another well-meaning in-law told me, “Manila is so chaotic. Here, there is no breakdown in peace and order. Cost of living here is also much lower.”

Indeed, one immediately notices that despite its being a city and the presence of establishments, pollution is not a problem. There are no traffic lights even on this city’s national roads and, ironically, motorists do not have to deal with heavy traffic. Banks and other establishments do not need fully-armed security guards. Market vendors sell their products, especially fish, for much lower prices. For a million pesos, my wife even told me that one can already build a mansion, very much unlike in Manila where couples have to settle for a small house and lot, or even a one-bedroom condominium unit, with that amount.

Ideal place

On the surface, Tabaco is an ideal place to settle down. Not surprisingly, the thought about transferring to Bicol crossed my mind, for how can one resist the opportunity to “escape” the turmoil?

Subsequent visits to this part of Albay, however, made me realize that one cannot really detach himself or herself from what’s happening in the entire country especially in Manila, the seat of political power. There may be a semblance of temporary escape from the crisis besetting the country, but there is a way for the social crisis to hound even those who want a quiet life.

From time to time, I noticed the posting of calls from workers’ groups for a salary increase, some of them conveniently torn down apparently by those who do not want any message of dissent spread. On the wall of a busy establishment, someone also painted over a call from the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People’s Army (NPA) to join the revolutionary movement.

The “peace” in Tabaco was all the more disturbed last March 29 when two unidentified men on motorcycle killed Sotero Llamas in Barangay Fatima here. Llamas was actively involved in the revolutionary movement but decided to live a normal life, having a scrap metal business and cooperative in the city. According to reports, he was shot twice in the head and once in the body at 8:30 a.m., in full view of bystanders, one of whom was hit by a stray bullet.

When Llamas’ sister was interviewed on television immediately after the incident, she said that Tabaco is a peaceful place and there should be no trouble here. She expressed surprise about what happened to her brother who had already left the revolutionary movement.

Open support

Obviously, Llamas’ fault in the eyes of those responsible for his death was his open support for the Bayan Muna (People First) party-list group, tagged by the military as among the CPP’s front organizations. Data from Bayan Muna party-list showed that 116 of its members were killed from April 15, 2001 to July 31, 2006; Llamas was the 109th.

Within the first seven months of the year, Llamas was the sixth Bayan Muna member from Bicol to be killed. The others were Councilor Maximo Frivaldo, killed last January 30 in Irosin, Sorsogon; Jayson Delen, last April 27 in Barangay Gubat, Daet, Camarines Norte; Jimmy Mirafuente, also last April 27 in Daraga, Albay; Jesus Bustinera, last April 28 in Barangay Caranday, Baao, Camarines Sur; and Ronald Comerciase last April 29 in Iriga City, Albay.

At present, life is back to normal as people go about their daily grind. Residents here do not even worry about the alert levels being raised from time to time due to Mayon Volcano’s eruption, not only because they have experienced the wrath of the volcano several times in the past and survived but also because Tabaco is not covered by the danger zone.

There is, however, reason to worry about the future as the wave of political killings has already reached this once peaceful city. Unlike the threat of a volcanic eruption, there are no lines to be drawn as to where one could be safe. Llamas’ murder in broad daylight shows that those responsible intend to send a strong message that to live a “normal” life means being quiet all the time.

In Bicolano, I learned that totoo means right and wala means left. For someone like me who is used to speaking Tagalog, I have become used to the meaning of totoo as true and wala as nothing.

Apparently, those who are responsible for the political killings may find it a strange coincidence that it is exactly what they are doing to those suspected to be left-leaning in Bicol and beyond – literally reduce them to nothing.

Indeed, an eruption of a different kind is expected to happen in Tabaco City, as the peace is disturbed and its tranquility is destroyed by those who only have murder and mayhem in mind. Tabaco, just like any other place in the country, has already been stripped bare of its serenity. Bulatlat

                                                                 

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© 2006 Bulatlat  Alipato Media Center

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