Odyssey | noun | od•ys•sey | \ ˈä-də-sē \
1 : a long wandering or voyage usually marked by many changes of fortune
2 : an intellectual or spiritual wandering or quest
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Saturday, February 10, 2018

Kuya BJ

Friday, February 9, 2018

There are some bonds formed early in life, if strong and meaningful enough, will hold despite distance, absence, and time.  It was that way for my cousin Kuya BJ (Billy Joel Marang) and I.

Relatives from my mother's side are close knit, and Kuya BJ was my lola's first apo/grandson, while I the second.  We grew up together during my early childhood in the Philippines, were often playmates, and had a brotherly bond.

I learned how to play most games, that Filipino children play, from him.  He was always the one with the experience, the one who had done it before I did, so I would ask him for his help and expertise.

He had an affinity for pigeons and doves, and also had a natural talent for art.  I too would grow to have an affinity for animals and also developed artistic abilities of my own -- perhaps inborn too, but maybe also because I first observed these from him.  Nature vs. nurture, environment vs. genetics -- I think there is a degree of both that tend to shape our lives -- and this was evident in my life and his.

We'd roam the neighborhood riding together (angkas) on a bicycle;  run through the bukid/fields catching dragonflies.  He would always be at my childhood birthday parties.  And if ever we were playing with the other kids in the area, we'd be a team and would always back each other up.  For a time, it was just us -- before my other cousins, and before my sister was born.  We were best buddies, a duo.

Memories of us tagging along with my lola to the mountains, school, church, Christmas caroling (and Aguinalduhan), and even the store on the street corner -- are all still alive in my mind.  But my cousin, Kuya BJ, died in October 2017, just a couple of days before his 34th birthday.

He was driving his motorcycle one night and had a "friend" riding with him.  He paused for a moment at a corner before turning into the highway.  At that moment, he was shot twice in the face by at least one masked individual.  The perpetrators along with the "friend" riding with him all fled the scene.  My cousin managed to walk for a short distance towards some of the nearby establishments, begging for help from anyone, but no one would do anything.  Soon, he collapsed and died from massive loss of blood.

The last time I saw Kuya BJ was in July 2017, when he attended my birthday event (that I wrote about a few posts ago).  Sadly, I didn't get a chance to talk to him then, and I didn't know this would happen to him.

I made the trip to Zambales for his funeral, bringing along a large poster of pictures that I had formed into a collage.  Faded pictures tucked away and not seen for a very long time, but had the power to bring forth tears and memories as clear as if they were from yesterday.  Though such stabbing pain coming to the realization that the person who looks so alive in the pictures is no longer here.

Apart from the collage, I also printed a few thousand flyers (the Remember Billy Joel Marang flyer you see below).  However, I cut the lower half of it before posting it here, since it was full of angry and vulgar language.  Anyway, I traveled to Zambales, via Victory Liner bus, as I have done in the past (standing and sitting in the aisle for the trip, since it was full), not only for the funeral, but I also wanted to do some actions on my own and not just let this all pass quietly into a black hole.

I arrived in Olongapo at around 1 AM with my heavy bag pack filled with flyers, along with my collage in one hand, and a big bucket of glue with a paint brush in the other.  I was from the Subic/Olongapo area, born there, spent my childhood there, lived there for a couple of years as an adult, and used to walk its streets both day and night, so I was not really expecting anything unfamiliar.  Plus, I always have this bold, intrepid demeanor -- a confidence unfazed and unafraid.

So, it came as an unexpected jolt to me, when not long after arriving, I was -- in one of the rare times in my life -- buckled by alarm, and my steadfastness and typical undaunted self was now disturbed and threatened.  It actually started out OK.  I got there, and I began pasting flyers on posts and walls, and handing them out to anyone I encountered.  Everyone seemed interested and cooperative.  But soon, the tone of the night changed.

I began to encounter some individuals who said they knew of my cousin or heard of the incident.  Some began ignoring me, some gave me hostile looks, and some even had screenshots of a Facebook post (see below) that was circulating in the area, showing my cousin's dead body laying on the street in a pool of blood, with some comments towards the margin of the screenshot showing disrespect or insensitivity.  I was angered by this, and even more so at the thought that people at the scene opted to instead take a picture instead of helping or bringing my cousin to a hospital.

Later, I walked towards a radio station (93.5 Brigada News FM Olongapo), as I learned that they were aware of the incident, so I wanted to talk to them to see what they knew or what they reported.  However, they turned me away, mentioning that they were not able to allow visitors during that hour of the night / early morning.

After leaving the radio station, I continued my pasting and giving out of flyers to anyone I met on the street.  It was during this time, that I met a security guard, who said that he saw my cousin's body the night he was killed.  At first, I was also dismayed that this person too did nothing to help my cousin when he claimed he was at the scene.  But then he felt sad upon seeing the pictures I had, learning that my cousin was a father and had two young children, and seeing that my cousin was dear to others like myself who was out here walking in the middle of the night trying to learn what happened in the hopes of seeking justice.

During this conversation with the security guard, two men came walking down the street, their faces familiar because I had seen them earlier and they ignored me when I tried to ask them about my cousin.  I thought nothing else of them, but as my conversation with the security guard came to a close and I flagged down a tricycle to take me back to the center of the city, I noticed that as I headed towards the tricycle to catch a ride, the two men also began to approach the tricycle in what seemed like an intent to ride with me.

As I glanced back at the security guard, he made signs gesturing that there was danger and that I should return back to him and not take that tricycle.  Alarmed, I hesitated and immediately told the tricycle driver that I changed my mind, so the two men left with the tricycle driver and I stayed.  Later, the security guard said that probably would have been my last trip, and that he was astonished that I would come to Olongapo in the middle of the night asking around about my murdered cousin with no weapon whatsoever.  He flagged down a tricycle driver he knew, and I was taken to the jeepney station.

At the jeepney station, I rode a jeepney to take me to Subic, where my relatives were at.  I was already off-kilter by the happenings of the night, but my caution remained as I began to notice a group of four men whispering towards the tail end of the jeepney.  Repeatedly, under the dim internal lighting of the vehicle, I would see them steal glances towards me.  I could tell that they knew who I was, as I heard them mention "BJ" as they snickered.

I prepared myself, because they stayed on the jeepney for a long time, so I thought they were planning on getting off at my stop and that this was going to lead to a confrontation upon stepping off the jeepney.  But they ended up leaving earlier, however they did not pay for their fare.  Arrogantly, they nonchalantly stepped off, ignoring the jeepney driver, knowing that the driver was too old and outnumbered to do anything about it.

As they expected, the jeepney driver did not step out and instead drove off.  A few minutes later it was my stop.  I made it to the funeral home and embraced my grieving relatives.  I did not waste any time and continued my mission to paste and give out flyers, this time with a few of my male cousins with me.  An hour or so after we started, a group of men approached us and yelled at me to turn off my flashlight.

Now face to face, a heated confrontation ensued.  They claimed that they passed by us earlier and observed that I had an arrogant posture which they did not like (and kept mentioning the word 'amba', which I was unfamiliar with).  They continued, by saying that this was their territory.  I responded not by backing away, but by getting closer, leaving about a foot separating our faces, and telling them that I have long lived in this area and so have my relatives.  A fistfight (or worse, if they had weapons hidden) was about to ensue, but fortunately, one of my cousins calmed the situation down by saying that we didn't mean any harm or disrespect and pacified them until they left.

Though I was startled by all the bizarre and troublesome string of incidents, and surprised that this would happen in an area I was so familiar with, I would push on and still continue the mission the next day, after my cousin's funeral.  I began to gather some information, with many saying that my cousin was serving as an informant for the police.  Some say it was revenge from those he helped turn in.  Though there are some who suggest that he may have been set up by the police themselves.

I don't know the reason for sure, but the police have not made headway and I don't know why there has been a lack of effort on their part.  I hope something will turn up that will help pinpoint the perpetrators and the masterminds.  But I don't have high expectations.  The string of incidents that occurred in just matter of hours in Zambales is a testament to that.  It's a very discouraging environment around us.  So many people have corrupted morals.  And this includes the police.

Memories are shared by those who were part of the experience. There were some moments only Kuya BJ and I shared, and now with him gone, only I will be the keeper of.  The same goes with bonds, it's typically only special to those who were a part of that bond.  If a person is gone, who will care?  Likely only those who had a bond with him.  For Kuya BJ, I am one who cares, and I will do my part to help obtain justice for his death.

For the Philippines' leaders, I hope you begin with yourselves and those in powerful positions (including the PNP) in upholding the highest standard of morals if you expect or wish the same from all citizens.  For the police/PNP, I hope duty and service for your countrymen still means something and that you realize the irony and rotten immorality if you yourself contribute to or participate in criminality.  And for our fellow citizens, I hope you do something to help your country and your fellow countrymen, and that starts by being less selfish, not inflicting harm upon others, not pulling each other down, and just in general do not do unto others what you do not want done unto you.

Kuya BJ --- Wherever you may be today, I hope you see how much you are missed and loved by your family and relatives.  I know we did not see each other very often as adults, but I remember that we used to take a break once in a while from the stresses in our lives, where we would escape, even just for a short while, searching for paradise where we could rest and have a bit of peace and happiness.  I hope you've found a place like that, Kuya.  Until we meet again. --- David


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