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Image from “The Master’s Table.”

SO MUCH HAS HAPPENED THIS PAST YEAR WITH MOST OF IT HAPPENING DURING THE LAST QUARTER. IT’S NOT JUST THE TRAVELS, THE WORK, THE ASSIGNMENTS, THE SMILES, CIDETTE AND I AT THE TAJ MAHAL, I AND MY BROTHERS  ENGINEER HARRY AND ATTY BRIAN BONDING FOR 5 DAYS IN TOKYO, BUT MOST OF ALL THE WEDDING OF MY DAUGHTER ATTY. JENICKA ELIZABETH ELEAZAR HOSAKA TO ATTY. JULIO MA. EDMUNDO DELFIN MANINGAT. ALL THIS CAPPED BY THE MOST WONDROUS SEASON-THE BIRTH OF OUR LORD.

I’LL BE POSTING SOMETHING ELSE BEFORE YEAR END FOR THE MEAN TIME HERE IS THE SHORT STORY I WROTE FOR THE NVM WORKSHOP, STILL UNTITLED. PLEASE PLAY THE YOUTUBE CLIP WHEN YOU GET TO IT.

A May December affair or relationship may sound romantic and cute. Having a trophy wife, much younger at that is not always a bed of roses relationship. So many things can happen to the relationship aside from an ending of living happily ever after. In her case, her partner had an affair with someone older than her but younger than him, when most senior men would rather philander with a younger woman like her. To make matters worse he had children with the other woman and a place of their own. They were, what we call a happy family. The news was dumped on her lap right during the Christmas holidays. She didn’t mind the FYI, thinking that he would still come home to her every night. But the biggest bombshell was that he would be moving in with the other woman, this Christmas. Now she knew why he was never around during the holidays these past years. She was assured that she gets to keep the house and that she would be well provided for.

At the height of this informational swirl, with thoughts forcibly intertwining themselves with confusion and denial, she decided to run away. The monogrammed leather duffel was thrown in the boot, she got behind the wheel and sped off northwards. The occasional stream of tears, the occasional banging of the steering wheel and constant thoughts of why did this happen occupied her. She was pretty and fit for her age, she was a doting mother and wife, a soccer Mom, as well as a lady who lunch. She even studied in culinary schools in Asia, Europe and the US so she could serve him. Longer, stronger streams of tears, now a tighter angrier grip on the steering wheel. Pia was headed to Baguio. She would be alone this Christmas.

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Baguio has changed so much through the years, some argue the inevitable urbanization others call it the rape of the original Baguio that Burnham built. There are photos of a present Baguio covered by rooftops mimicking a grotesque Hypostomus Plecostomus (janitor fish) albeit with colorful scales. Compared to an old photo of the beauty of Baguio when it was covered lushly with pine trees. Years ago, the glamour of Baguio started as early Camp 1 (depending on the season) as you could smell pine in the cold air. When you reached Camp 3, you would switch off the a/c of your car because the cold of Baguio could already be felt. But now, even the picturesque view of waterfalls, have all diminished if not totally gone. The omen they say was when the Pines Hotel burned down and not rebuilt. Then the property was bought by a mall magnate, the rest they say went down hill, literally.

But inspite of the loss of what gave her her glamour, Baguio still has her stature. Temperature readings dropping south to sub 10 degrees. At 15,000 meters altitude, the cold that is Baguio is still there and can be wrapped with just the right amount of fog, with enough sunshine or moonlight peering through, and still make a beautiful sight. Some say she never lost its glamour because it’s glamour is it’s memory, of what she was. She’s now called the “City in the Clouds” as compared to “City of Pines.” This time it is to be someone’s place of refuge.

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She was well bred, imported in dam. Her sire was a multi titled working Belgian Malinois in France and her dam was multi titled as well. The breeding was a proven Bruce-Lowe line breeding, making her line-bred to the top working and producing Belgian of all-time. Her breeder was like every rich man, some are into horses, fighting cocks, birds or fishes, all with one thing in common they don’t really care for them with only bragging rights on their mind. The breeder, kept his horses and fighting cocks in Lipa Batangas, his fishes and birds in Tagaytay, and his dogs in Baguio. All this would mean that he hardly had time for all of them.

The historical purpose of the Belgian Malinois was for it to be a herding dog. Through the years, it has evolved into a super dog. Its popularity has leaped frog the popular (think Rintintin) German Shepherd Dog. For SAR (Search and Rescue), tracking, bomb sniffing, sentry, military and police duty, chances are you will encounter a Belgian Malinois. Whether it is ground zero of a calamity, war zone, search and rescue or someone’s backyard or even a happy place such as your favorite mall, chances are the ubiquitous Belgian is doing those jobs. More stories have been written about the Belgian that was part of SEAL Team Six in taking down Bin laden than any individual member of Seal Team Six. In the Philippines, so popular is the Belgian, that she has been given her own monikers- “Mall Dog”, “Bomb Dog”, “K9” or “Canine.”

But like all breeds that become popular, right behind it are the backyard breeders with the intent to cash in on the bandwagon. Even if she was from a well bred litter, she unfortunately was the runt of it when it came to temperament. She was pounced on by her littermates that further weakened her drive. All her siblings are successful working dogs, with two of them sent to an east bloc country and a third to the US. She wasn’t so lucky, she was thrown in as a bonus to the purchase of one of her litter mates. She ended up in the hands of a trainer who believed in punishment than reward so she was further broken. She got passed on to someone else for bomb scent training who also gave up on her. At the age of 3 Baluts (because of her fondness of Balut, fertilized duck egg) would end up back home where she was whelped. She was going home.

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He loved December in Baguio but part of him would always be sad for being alone.

Born in Ilocos Norte, Laoag to be more specific. He was educated by the public education system of the time, his teachers were students of the Thomasite education system. So good was the public school system during his time that graduating High School gave you the same chance of entering any of the renowned universities in Manila as any other private high school graduate. Lakay (Ilocano term of respectful address to an older man) Pepe did not go to college and had to work early to provide for his siblings. He found employ at a tobacco plantation in Vigan. Lakay was everything Ilocano and because of this Lakay Pepe moved up the ranks. Like most Manongs (Ilocano term of respectful address of an older male sibling, Manang older female sibling) or Manangs who end up taking the cudgels raising and sending siblings to school, Lakay Pepe did not marry. His siblings would become professionals and have lives of their own. A brother settled in the West Coast, a sister in Canada, and another sister in Cagayan de Oro. He raised them with strong Ilocano values which is why they always made sure to provide for him.

He was a head above most, dark and leathery skin, lean and wiry for laboring under the sun. A stroke would make him aphasic. He had no other deficit from the stroke except speech would be difficult and resulted into a guttural note. His condition made it difficult for him to continue his managerial job. The owner of the tobacco farm trusted and valued his person so much that he was given a job to watch over his house and kennels in Baguio. Lakay was a natural at being a handyman at maintaining a house and most of all he turned out to be a natural dog person. Baluts is just one of many sob stories that he turned into a happy ending. It has been a good 2.5 years since she left his care.

When Baluts jumped out of the car, she ran all over the expansive yard. When Pepe stepped out of the house keepers cabin and gave that familiar whistle that only he and his aphasia could make, Baluts stopped on her tracks for a moment, cocked her head to where the sound came from, she would jump a quick twirl then took a deeper bead at where the whistle came from, and with a bark and gleam on her eyes sped off with that efficient gait only a sheepdog doing its job has and leaped into his arms. She would be Lakays constant companion thereon. Under the care and informal training of the old man, she would become an efficient watchdog. He knew she wasn’t sharp enough for protection, so he trained her to be a watchdog and she turned out to be very good at it. When he noticed her penchant to dig, he trained her for search and rescue, and found her calling.

Search and Rescue is one of the most rewarding canine work. However sometimes a search and rescue turns into a recovery, meaning the likelihood of a survivor is nil. Baluts was one of them, she never found anyone alive. During 9/11, a lot of the canines developed behavioral changes, a lot developed changes in eating habits and lost weight. It was labeled as canine depression but could not be proven as such. When handler and best friend arrived at Ground Zero, all the handlers would be overwhelmed by what they saw and could feel in their gut the expected carnage. All of the canines would be excited to work and serve their master, even when most of the masters had an ominous feeling. In a few days, after starting excited to serve, some of the dogs would show signs of sadness. A lack of enthusiasm, ears and tails down, triste eye expression, all easily observed even by non-dog persons. It was like they knew that 3000 bodies were lost in the depths of the wreckage of the worst attack on US soil.

Baluts never found anyone alive. She was one of the first in Leyte, she found 18, 18 without a heartbeat. She suddenly refused to eat, had to be given a tug to start working even after giving the command “Hanap na (search now)!” Lakay knew the tell and decided to pull her out. When the handler told him all this, he was instructed to bring her home. Her eating would be erratic for a month, she lost weight, blew her coat and wasn’t herself for a month. She had all the signs of what seemed to be canine depression, a diagnosis now easily made but difficult the prove. Lakay would scratch her head and tell “bantay ka nalang Hija, pahinga ka na. (Ok girl, you’ll be my watchdog, time to rest.) Not all working dogs, no matter how well bred make the cut when it comes to work. Baluts would retire from SAR at the age of 6, a good retirement age. She would become Lakays lap dog. She would now have the pun of a name-“Bum Dog.”

3 years later at 1 AM, early Christmas Eve day, the cell phone rings, Lakay picks it up with one hand and puts on his reading glasses with the other. Guttural phrases of “Retirado na siya, ocho anyos at wala sa kondisyon! (She’s retired, she’s 8 and not in shape)” followed by “Eh lintik, kahit ako wala sa kondisyon (Hell even I am not in shape)” could be heard. Baluts pricked an ear and popped an eyelid. He sat bedside and rubbed Baluts with his feet, “Trabaho tayo, huli na talaga ito (we have work, I promise you this is the last) he would tell Baluts. He gathered their gear and loaded it up on the vintage more derelict Land Cruiser Jeep. Apparently, the 3 SAR dogs in CAR (Cordillera Administrative Region) where still in Samar working and the retired unofficial Cadaver Dog was all they had.

Earlier a young man and someone who seemed to be his wife went to the front desk of the Country Club. Rang the manager and asked for assistance, he received a txt that sounded desperate and worrying. He gave a description of the guest. They entered the room that she was billeted in and found a neat and tidy room. Further investigation and queries revealed that she left noontime, dressed in jeans, running shoes and a hoody and was seen by some horsemen walking out to one of the trails behind the country club. Temperatures averaged single digits, constant fog with a visibility of a meter, with drizzling or short pours, being present the past days, all refusing to abate.

The local police and Barangay Kapitan (Village leader) were already at the take off point, a point that was just past a Barangay Chapel and the end of any vehicular traffic. Lakay suggested that she probably was headed towards the more difficult path, a path that is closed during the rainy and foggy season, locally called “Babala (warning)” trail. The Kapitan believed, because of the fog, she would follow the path she could see and would just keep walking. Lakay wanted to remind the Kapitan but didn’t, that the woman was depressed, alone, and ill prepared and with probably only one thing in mind…a reason why she would take the more difficult path, a reason Lakay tried not to think about. The search split up, the Kapitan and an EMT; Lakay, Baluts and a driver/EMT.

Lakay fit Baluts with an orange vest and a beacon. At a genuflect and Baluts smartly at sit, Lakay made the sign of the cross and evoked St. Anthony de Pauda and St. Roch, ”…please provide us the same star and its shining light that guided men to your humble manger” he prayed in his heart. He knew that there were so many red flags with this search, all of which troubled him. As he stood up he gave Baluts clothing of the missing woman to smell, he gave the long shelved command “Hanap na! (Search now) It was difficult to keep up with her, she always started with a few moments just standing, then galloping for 15 minutes then slowing down, the fog made it hard to keep up with her but the beacon kept her in sight. Some waist to shoulder high drops had to be jumped to keep up and a stream had to be crossed. All the difficulties of a search were present, fog, winds washing off scent pools, drop-offs and ravines that can misdirect winds and scents were all present in this search. All of this made the search difficult, all this made serious injury probable and survival almost impossible.

After 2 hours of slipping and sliding, of jumping and climbing, the beacon disappeared. They kept on hiking cautiously till they got to a ledge. It was something Lakay was aware of but hoped Baluts wouldn’t lead to. It was a cliff with a 30 foot drop, but had a path that would take 30 minutes to the bottom. They peered their best in the dark and managed to see the faint blink of a beacon at the bottom of the drop. 30 minutes later they made it down the path. He went to the beacon and there was no tail wagging but the triste eyes, the ears pulled back, patiently waiting beside a prostrate figure. When they shifted all their torches from their headlamps and handhelds and the lights pierced through the fog and lit the figure on the ground, their worst fear would squeeze their gut. She was prostrate, with a small pool of blood under her right lower leg. A quick trauma assessment was done which revealed her being barely alive. She did want to stay alive as she managed a tourniquet above the fracture wound. Breathing was very shallow, pulse was feeble, she was unconscious, distal to the leg wound, the pulses were next to none, all the extremities were cold, probably also her core. A collar was applied to her neck, a splint was applied to the fractured leg, she was carefully wrapped in a Mylar blanket, then transferred and strapped to a stretcher. He grunted to Baluts “balik yung madali (back the quickest). It was 3 in the morning and now the hike back included dead weight on a stretcher.

After a lot of grunting, huffing and puffing, counts of “on 3” and sprints on better terrain, they eventually made it to base camp. The 2.5 hour hike back, considering everything, was fairly quick. But not quick enough, initial vital signs were absent. CPR was started, an IV line was hooked, resuscitative procedures started. Baluts on a sit position, watched intently, when Pia was hooked to the defibrillator, the ominous tone of a heart that seized was what filled the cold dusk. Lakay decided to walk to the car that was further up the road, he was tired and knew. “Baluts tayo na! (Baluts let’s go)” he grunted as he walked away. This time Baluts uncharacteristically did not follow him, instead she suddenly stood on all fours, tail and ears up in full alert and took a step towards the 2 EMTs working. An anxious young couple watched and waited a few meters from the scene. Then a second defibrillation. Amidst the commotion of the resuscitating EMTs, Misa de Gallo at the Barangay Chapel was ending with the choir singing the Christmas song “Bituin (star)” for its closing hymm- “Hesus, bugtong na Anak ng Ama; Tala ng aming buhay; Liwanag, Kapayapaan; kahinahunan, kapanatagan ng Puso…”

Lakay was walking away when he heard the characteristic beep of a normal sinus rhythm, as he turned around to look, Baluts jumped into his arms and on to him, barked and licked his face as he landed on his back. The couple approached the patient while she was being loaded into the ambulance. “Giliw ng Diyos at pagasa ng maralita, ng abang ulila…” “Don’t worry Mom we’re here” as he held her hand, and just as she disappeared into the ambulance, she gave the young mans hand a firm grip. “Biyayaan Mo Kami…” Sunrise started to set aside dusk, with patches of fog and the just the right amount of crack of light, a vision that some scientists agree must have a powerful being as its artist. “ng pagtulad sa Iyo, nang ningning bilang ‘Yong mga bituin.”

Pikit matang napatingala sa kalangitan ng Kapaskohan si Lakay, huminga ng malalim, bahagyang ngumiti na parang nabiyayaan at ibinulong ng puso niya-“maraming salamat Po!” (Eyes closed, Lakay looks up to Christmas heavens, takes a deep breath, and with a slight smile as if blessed, whispers in his heart-“Thank you very much!”)

A SECOND CHANCE IS ALWAYS AVAILABLE TO EVERYONE, A SECOND CHANCE FOR GODS CREATIONS, A SECOND CHANCE FOR A RETIREE TO FIND PURPOSE, A SECOND CHANCE AFTER A FAILED HURDLE, A SECOND CHANCE TO DO BETTER. I KNOW EVERYONES SECOND CHANCE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, BUT MOST OF ALL BECAUSE I BELIEVE IT’S JUST IN OUR HEART TO GIVE TO THOSE WHO NEED IT. MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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