Tacurong City and I have seen good days. The atmosphere where I grew up in has continuously changed having something to do with my expanding horizons and growing consciousness of the various events.
When I was a child, all I thought was that Tacurong was my haven. I grew up with all the love and joy offered not only by the people around me, but also by the enchanted trees and the birds, I ran freely with the wind, I slept soundly with the crickets singing their songs.
I had a deep appreciation of the sunset that I always saw from afar – across the rice fields which were just meters away from our house, and across the mountains, the proud Daguma Range. My little eyes found pleasure watching the sun paint the sky with colors as it set. The mountain ranges looked as if they were palms embracing a crystal ball that predicted my future. I would always find myself leaning on our gate’s post, staring dreamily at the sun until it vanished and gave way to the stars.
An experience in grade school made me realize that Tacurong was not purely a paradise, something I would never forget. It was nearly lunch time, I was feeling the same way every time we were having our mathematics class – uninterested and I was comforted with the prospect of eating a hearty meal soon. All of a sudden, a parent came over to ask if he could take his son home: there was information that a rebel group was in the market and was already heading towards our school. Everyone, including our teacher, panicked. She let us all leave.
The public elementary school I was in had over a thousand students. The news was spread, sending students and parents running, the noise, the sound of crying children looking for parents, mothers calling out their children’s names, the voices in my head telling me both what to do. I did not know what to feel that moment, wanting to look for my sister and cousins, to cuddle with my mom and dad under my blanket. I wanted to cry.
I was in Grade three then, my sister was in Grade one. Eventually, we made it home riding an overloaded tricycle. My ‘kuyas’ decided to walk home because all tricycles were loaded with students. We were really worried. Our parents were not home when we arrived, then learning that the news was not true.
It was a joke, I suppose. But since then, I became more vigilant. I realized that the “joke” says more. By listening and being watchful, I learned that Tacurong was really prone to danger and we could be attacked anytime, by any means. I became more appreciative of the sunset. I thought that maybe in the near future I might not be able to enjoy it again.
I continued to live normally anyway, just like everyone else. After all, Tacurong was still a safer place than other cities/municipalities in ARMM or in neighboring regions suffering from armed struggles. Later on, from being a municipality, despite the threats, Tacurong made it as a city. My hopes were lifted. No one can ever hinder the Tacurongnons from striving for development, I thought.
The last night of 2002 was a joyous night for everyone. Tacurongnons and visitors crowded the city plaza to take a look at the trees adorned with a thousand Christmas lights and to buy firecrackers for the New Year’s Eve. Some took a night stroll with family and friends. Suddenly, a bomb exploded. The number of casualties, according to reports, went higher as hours passed; the small hospitals of Tacurong were awash with blood.
That night, I was at home watching “The Princess Diaries” when I heard a loud boom making me think that another stubborn kid threw a stone on the roof. I continued watching anyway. Minutes later, I was surprised to find out that the boom I heard was the echo of an explosion. After finding out where that explosion was, I was devastated because one of my closest aunts was out there touring my cousin and his family from Nueva Ecija. We called their house to check if they were already home. The phone just rang and rang. We were so nervous. Finally, after what seemed like forever, they called. It was such a great relief. Yet, we continued praying for the unknown victims.
Because of the incident, media flooded into Tacurong. I never dreamed that my haven will be known for bombs.
From that day on, bombs continued to explode in Tacurong. Every explosion meant death to innocent souls. There were times when planted bombs were found and discovered to be defective. They had been designed to tease the authorities. There were also times that bomb detonations were done in public. July of this year, a bomb was found near a police outpost. Since the authorities did not have enough time to detonate it, they surrounded it with barricades and the people were, of course, requested to stay away. One of my sisters witnessed the moment. She said, “It was great.” After the expected explosion, people cheered. It was like triumph over the wicked plans. Now, closing my eyes, I can imagine it, and I can imagine the sun and our hopes.
My weekends during my high school days were always ruined by red alerts. I would not be allowed to leave home during weekends. This left me chatting with my friend for hours on the phone about how difficult it is to live in a place like ours. Once, my friend said, “Wala ka pa nasanay haw?” (Haven’t you got used to it?). Well, why should I get used to bombs or bomb threats or the feeling of not being secured?
I realized that fear can make me do unusual things. It’s amazing how it can make me move and do things quick. If it was my turn to go to the market, I can buy all the needed supplies in minutes. I would always be scared of the thought that a bomb may be ticking beside me and will explode anytime, leaving me in bloody pieces.
Yet, aside from fear, I could also feel something warm in public places during the critical times. Looking at each other, the strangers in the market feel like a family. They looked at me as if saying, “Halong” (Take care). These concerned looks, silent prayers, and kindness, despite the fear, made me smile. They were like an embrace that made me feel secure — the warmth is priceless. It was like the feeling whenever I saw the sunset in Tacurong.
Yes, it is difficult to live in a place like ours, but Tacurong still never fails to please me. It is still my haven where I saw the good days and the bad; my haven that taught me not to lose hope amidst the atrocities. Despite the cruel attempts, I am glad to see Tacurong standing brave and strong.
The bombs will not crush our dreams. We will never let them. The City of Goodwill, Tacurong, can yet be known not for the bomb explosions, but for its warmth, its hopes, and its sunsets.
Tacurongnons have varying voices but we all have one big answer. Amidst the terror and fear, Tacurong City and its people choose to be firm and enjoy the upsets that promise better days to come — magnificent sunsets which reminds me that there is more to Tacurong than news on bombings.