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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 14 May) — Salyo was a teen ager from Moalboal, Cebu when he decided to board  a boat to Mindanao. He found his way to our farm and has never left since. He became the “enkargado” of Papa and lorded it over all the farm workers inspite of his very small frame. He  was short and his voice was more of a shrill than a boom. He was so loyal and dependable that Mama gave him an additional task as “yayo” (male nanny) to my older sister Manang Ruby.

While gathered around the petromax in the evenings, my sister who was then a toddler, would sit on  his lap wanting to be  cradled in his arms to sleep. Before long, her tiny hands started to look for his nipples while making soft sucking noises and getting a resounding slap from Salyo. “Gilok, Ruby!” and hurriedly gave her back to my Mama who was overcome with  laughter. 

Papa has a pet monkey and the buffoon will only listen to Papa and Salyo. He was scared of the rifle that Papa carries around and Salyo was the only one given the authority to carry “that thing.” 

The monkey was tied to a bamboo pole placed  between two branches of  trees so he can run from one end to the other. One day, he managed to escape scaring all the ladies in the rambling farm house. They were crying for help and within minutes Salyo came to the rescue. Salyo only had to shout and the idiot scampered back to the tree, shivering from fear. 

Nobody picked a fight with Salyo because he was the “nino bonito”of my parents. Thus ,on Sundays, he drinks “tuba” to his heart’s content and by lunch time, starts brandishing his bolo. Almost all workers would run as he makes his way to the main house and starts castigating my mother. Mama would then confront him and  curse him and ask him to pack his clothes and return to Cebu. He would go to the bodega where he kept his clothes  and roll his mat around them and toss it on his shoulders. “I will never come back because of how shabbily you treat me through the years,” he would bark, and make a cross with his fingers: “more pa” and make a loud spat and leave.

The following morning, while Mama and her Bagobo househelps were busy preparing breakfast for the family and all farm hands and everyone was being called to the table, there was Salyo, seated on the head table ready to eat his breakfast. This did not only happen once but has become a regular spectacle in our household. Papa and Mama grew very fond of this tiny bundle of a man and could not bear to let him go.

While others called him Salyo, I fondly called him Pintong. Our house had a balcony covered with garlic flowers. My sister Ruby brings me there in the afternoons and points out the pupa hanging from the vines. They will soon become those beautiful yellow and black butterflies, she promised me. Thus I would spend entire  afternoons waiting for the butterflies to come out until Salyo arrives with his long bamboo “sugung” to gather tuba on a coconut tree fronting the balcony. To this day, I cannot remember who taught me the song but as soon as he starts climbing the tree, I heartily belt out this Bisayan song  “Si Pintong manananggot, sa lubing walay udlot, Pagkutkut sa bakukang,si Pintong nabulintong!” 

He married Sisa, a widow with two  children from a previous marriage. She came visiting  a relative who was one of our tenants. She bore him a son, Noel, who accompanied me around the farm looking for bird’s nest among the cogon grasses, climb mansanita trees, ride carabaos and swim in the river. Alas,Noel died in a swimming accident in the same river where we swam as toddlers.

While joyfully wading in the running water, we would hear the painful rhythm of the “palo palo” while his mother and Mama washed clothes nearby. Palo palo is a big flat wooden paddle used to whack dirt from clothes. 

We would stop frolicking when Nang Sisa or Mama calls for a halt so we can eat the rice wrapped in banana leaves topped with dried fish and tomatoes for “pamahaw” (breakfast) or brunch (between breakfast and lunch), We would eat while sitting on the flat stones with feet dangling in the cool waters of the river.

Nang Sisa died of a heart ailment. How she developed the ailment is another story.

The city was gripped in fear. Everyday, a soldier or policeman got killed in the streets. Agdao had become a killing field and the New People’s Army (NPA) had made their strong presence felt in the villages to include ours. Mama was then the barangay captain. 

During the day, the military came. At sundown, the NPAs arrived.

There are also times when the heavily armed  men of the Philippine Constabulary would appear on our doorstep at midnight after an operation in nearby barangays. 

We were in constant fear that the military and the NPAs would  meet in the house and all hell would break  loose. Thus, Mama told the NPAs to stop dropping by, in case the military arrives unannounced.

One day, the NPAs came. They were particularly tired. A group settled in the house of Pintong and Sisa while the others stayed in the house nearby, owned by Bino, the grown up  son of  Sisa. The NPAs were confident of their safety. After all, they had been to our farm a number of times and would even play patintero with us when the moon is full. 

Unfortunately for them, a “demonyo” lurked. Demonyo is a term for those who tipped the military on the movements and activities of the NPAs. Soon enough, there was a running battle between the two forces with Salyo and his family caught in the crossfire. There were many casualties among the NPAs with none from the government side. Many in the farm carried the burden of putting the dead bodies in a vehicle that would bring them to the morgue to be identified by their families.

They were all traumatized and not long after, Nang Sisa developed a heart ailment which eventually led to her early death.

Salyo would drink himself to a stupor until he developed tuberculosis. By then, Mama and Papa were long gone but I took the responsibility of looking after him. I brought  him to the hospital, paid his bills and brought him home to fully recuperate. When he was fully recovered, I allowed him to go back  to the farm.

Two years  later, he was gone but that ordinary man from Moalboal Cebu stayed forever in our hearts where he was meant to stay for good. 

(Susan Palad used to be in the government service and later ventured into the travel business. She has retired from both and spends more time at her farm. She is still on denial stage though by refusing to call herself a senior citizen. She still wants to maintain a busy lifestyle)

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