The Big One in Bantul

Death came in the early morning hours when the people were asleep.

Like a thief of the night.

Ladron, ladron, the mestiza Castila of a grandaunt would say.

Death toll in Bantul is 5000, the reports say.

This is Bantul's story, with the quake that came rushing in as the people slept the sleep of the just.

They were simple people, those who died, they who were in farming districts and villages, small-time merchants and fisherfolks.

Perhaps all of them did not how corruption and government ineptitude look like except now that they desperately need help so they could rejoin the earth through a proper burial.

Or those who have survived but would not know how to begin living again, what with their loved ones gone.

They say the grieving is not exactly for the dead but for those who have been left behind to pick up the pieces again like this one, this recent tragedy in Indonesia.

When was it that another earthquake struck?

When was it that a tsunami claimed the lives of hundreds again?

Like the Philippines, there is no end to this tragedy in Bantul--and in Indonesia for that matter.

When tragedy strikes and government response is so slow like the one that happened in New Orleans, the tragedy is multiplied a hundred times. We just simply cannot afford another Katrina whether we are in the First World or we are just simply Thirld World.

Reports have it that help has not come underway in a quick fashion.

There is bureaucracy while the people waited in tents, on roadsides, on streets, and on hospital entrances for the wounded to be attended to.

And then since help did not come as fast as it should, some decided to die their own death.

It was more decent that way rather than waiting for that something that is not coming anyway. It is the tragedy of a Godot--and it is not redeeming.

The sight is familiar: it happens the same way in my bloodstained country, the Manila with all the bruises of the sick and the impoverished, the Ilocos with the telltale signs of oppression and opportunism, the Leyte with its share of deaths every so often, the Samar with its share of landslides and boats sinking and storms.

In some cases, relief goods get into the hands of the wrong people in my country. I hope it does not happen in Bantul.

These people take the imported relief goods for themselves, stock them in their bodegas or the bodegas of their friends and alliances and sell them for profit afterwards.

So what goes into the back of people who need blankets to drive away the chill of the night?

Other blankets of the poorer variety, perhaps bought from the cheap stores of Divisoria or Binondo.

What happens to the canned goods, the good milk, the good medicines?

They all go to the profiteers. And they do not have any qualms doing that.

Habit is difficult to break once you have done the act a hundred times.

There is this ease in doing it again, and the conscience goes away in panic and in search of a better soul.

A, my poor country.

But this piece is about Bantul and its big earthquake.

The scenes are a repeat of what had happened many times.

I wonder why tragedies of this magnitude have always the poor as the victims.

What tought luck.

In the Philippines, the poor and the poorest get to sink with overcrowded boats and ships.

The poor and the poorest get held-up by the same poor and the poorest on jeepneys and buses and megataxis.

What tough luck.

We pray for blessing for the people of Bantul even as we pray for the kindness of strangers who will help them rebuild their broken lives, shattered to pieces by an angry mother nature.

Earthquake or no earthquake, the Big One in Bantul has spoken: We cannot take things in stride any longer.

Somewhere, just somewhere, there should be peace and quiet.

Just somewhere, we have to listen again to the same earth that has nurtured us, that has given birth to us.

Maybe, just maybe, we have been blind to the signs.

Maybe, just maybe, we have been deaf to the sounds.

Paging a Da Vinci code symbologist here, now, this time around.

A. S. Agcaoili
Torrance, CA
May 28, 2006

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