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Coming Back to the Mines: A Personal Academic Essay

I recently found some academic soft copies of paperwork from a Rhetorics class I took in order to complete the English units required in Law School.  I was forced to take this subject in 2002 from an MA in Language and Literature subject.  It was the only available subject I could find that would fit my work and law school schedules. The essay below is the first among a few of the course requirements I submitted.  Others will also be posted before I lose the files.  I made some minor edits in the version below and inserted some photos from "Taga-Philexako Tayo".

Thank you, Ma'am Vicky Rico-Costina, for adopting me in your class.  
It was a very enriching class.  Congratulations for your recently published book, "For Those Who Love Cats".  
          I was in a Baguio-bound bus and the driver kept playing folk songs.  The music so excited me as I rested on my half-reclined seat by the window.  It was just natural to send a text message to my old friend, Badad, whom I recently reconnected with years after High School.  I didn’t know exactly where he was at that time.  Somewhere in my conversations with my other friends I got lost in the details as to where the others were.  I’ve lost track of who’s where, who’s doing what, who’s married to whom, and who graduated from what school.  I don’t know why I didn’t know those simple facts.  Maybe it’s just the result of the natural course of life and distance as it ticks and as it blurs objects that are far away, and you are left simply with an impression of that which is really there.  Or Maybe it’s just that I have learned to live my own life in the midst of the busy, fast and competitive life that all of us are forced to live. 
I can make excuses.  I can offer my own reasons and analysis but maybe the easiest and perhaps the humblest recourse is to accept Marx’s manifesto.  We are alienated.  We are separated from the fruits of our labors.  We are cogs in a machine owned by an unfairly endowed, profit-drooling few.   We spend the day working so we could have our daily wages.  We get so tired and absorbed that we lose the capacity to listen and to be concerned for someone other than ourselves.
            It did not take so long to wait for Badad’s reply:  “I envy you because you have kept your dreams and you’re still pursuing it,” read his text message. 
I noticed a dark scar in his hand the last time I saw him.  We were at McDonald’s.  We haven't seen each other for years.  I didn’t foresee that a question directed towards a small patch of unnaturally colored skin would lead us directly and quickly to the sole topic of our conversation. 
He spilled nitric acid at the factory.  His hands were partly burned and the acid bore a hole on his shoe.  He was in Baguio City because he has just resigned.  I remember his hands.  I remember his shoes.  I remember his dreams.  Now I do remember these but there was a time when my memory slept in the steady, slow, sleepy, decade-long hum of a familiar folk song. 
             My mama retired from Philex Mines before I graduated from college.  She was an elementary school teacher.  Her longest assignment, at least as far as I could remember, was handling advisory classes in Grade Four at the main elementary school.  We lived at the teachers’ quarters, within the school compound.  At the back of our apartment flowed the skirt of the southern Cordillera mountains.  A few kilometers down the slopes was the second mine tailings dam; and beyond it, just clear enough for the bare eyes to see, was the plain of Pangasinan, and still beyond that, the Lingayen Gulf. 
The main elementary school, photo by TagaPhilexAko-Tayo

The western side of the Elementary School.  We lived in the room on the far right, partly covered by Pine trees,  after the earthquake and until my mother retired. Photo by TagaPhilexAko-Tayo

Camp buildings and the southern Cordillera mountains.  photo by TagaPhilexAko-Tayo
             My friends and I spent most of our days doing the usual stuff that kids normally did, with the school buildings and the mountains as our witnesses.  We played and met in mama’s classroom.  We played basketball, "sha-tong", entrance, "taksing lata", etc.  We watched TV.  We dreamed. 
When we were in high school we started to spend the early hours of evenings at the community bank.  It was a perfect place.  There were waist-high horizontal metal boundary railings that bound employees – from carpenters to miners, and teachers – to fall in line in order to receive their paychecks. 
In that mining community one wouldn’t care keep track of time.  What was important was that one knew that it was already 9:00 PM signalling the time to run home upon hearing the loud air-raid-like siren – or else, one risks the penalty of violating curfew hours under the pain of cleaning the Security department offices or a company warning to your parents.  Similarly, one wouldn’t care keeping track of dates unless it was a payday.  On paydays, especially for the dailies or the rank-and-file employees, the metal rails were not long enough to hold the long lines. 

Two photos of a payday scene (second photo shows the apartment that recently burned down).  Photos by TagaPhilexAko-Tayo
I’ve always wondered why they were called rank-and-file employees.  Before I left high school, with the pride of my then earned and accumulated knowledge, I was convinced that the phrase really meant “rank-and-fire”.  The term simply evolved with the passage of time, with the goal of what others now call shifting to the use of “more politically correct terms”.   Rank-and-file may be politically incorrect now, but perhaps during that time it was politically correct relative to the other term that I believed was it’s true origin.
            Now those who stood in those lines were not as eager to be there as one might naturally assume, because at least two other long lines ran parallel to theirs.  These were not queues for paychecks.  These were creditors waiting for their due.  There is no better place than this.  There was no credit collection scheme as clever as this.  One’s collection credits would surely cross the finish line ahead of other formal debts, and ahead of stores eager to sell their beer and chasers.  Surely their debtors could not find any reason to say that they have already applied their salaries to their other obligations.  In real life this is what you do.  You adopt in order to survive or gain some much sought for comfort. 
            This bank was the place where Badad and I, along with some of the gang often whiled away the happy days and nights in a mining community.  This was the place, aside from the church’s bell tower, where Badad mentioned that he will one day write a book about our mining community.  He will pattern it after Rizal’s “Noli me Tangere”.  We had our Padre Damaso.  We had our Dona Victorinas.  We had all the cast in Rizal’s novel.  They were still alive in our community.  They are still alive in every Filipino community.  Corruption, greed and nepotism is all too pervasive that computer engineers are hired to do the work of computer scientists, computer science graduates are hired as encoders and engineers work as regular factory workers, while the rich, who could not even compose and encode a clear and logical proposal wear fancy business suits as supervisors, managers and presidents.
            The bank where we spent our pre-curfew evenings allowed as a good view of the community’s basketball courts.  Despite our passion for basketball, we did not bother look at those who played basketball.  Instead our attention was more fixed at times at the better lighted, more exclusive tennis court right across the bank and the basketball courts.  On some evenings the wives of the staff would play tennis and there our fun would begin.  We would sit in the dark breathless, then as they swing their racquets we would shout, “heeeyaaah!” or “aaahhh”.  We didn’t know if we really distracted them.  Sometimes we already ran far enough to even take note of their reactions.
Mine employees and tennis court in the background, photo by TagaPhilexAko-Tayo
            We were typical Filipinos indeed.  Historians say that Philippine humor developed as a defense mechanism during the Spanish subjugation.  We were too powerless.  Our little revolts failed.  We could not raise our hands against the overlords.  Filipinos (or Indios, to be exact) coped by just laughing and poking fun at their foreign superiors.  We could not overthrow them in the battlefields but we could ridicule them in the privacy of our homes and in our all-indio gatherings.  My friends and I were just a step ahead of our ancestors in the evolution of the subversive and revolutionary defenses – we ridiculed them in their own turf, in their tennis court, then we would scram.
            In Corporation Law, corporations are considered as persons separate from the personality of its incorporators and stockholders.  This explains why we loved Philex Mines and hated, or at least mistrusted its engineers, managers, and other officers, who are all referred to as “Staff”.  
            Life is full of contradictions.  You love some and you hate some.  You love something at one time and hate it the next.  We love the mines and hated it at the same time.  It is a micro-mirror of the macro-Philippines.  Here we got a taste of the Filipino as someone you both hate and will give your life to die for.  That is why, despite the acid that bore a hole in Badad’s shoes, I know he will still go back to Manila and its environs to look for a job – after he rests in Philex Mines for a week or two.  His hopes will rise and it will fall the way it does for us too.
            I just hope that the text message I received from Badad is not his last.  I hope that he will continue to hope.  He will come back to the mines.  I know.  We all will.  One day the gold and all the greed that it attracts will all be gone.  Gold or not, we all shall return.  Maybe not all at the same time, but we will return.  The folk songs will wait for us.  The gold may not, but the folk songs will. 

          Finally, I hope that Badad would not think that in writing this essay I have deprived him of his desire to write his book, because this is my story too.  I want to steal his book so he will be forced to pick up his guitar and write his songs instead.  Whatever he decides on doing, whether it be a book or a song, I’m sure it will be about the mines, it will be about the country, it will be about me.
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