Saving Graces

From:    Sun Star Davao

Date:     April 18, 2010

Title:      Saving Graces

By:          Stella A. Estremera


“Their inspiring stories are enough to rejuvenate my flagging spirit, which has been battered and made cynical by the election campaign that seems to get dirtier by the second.”


At a time where you’re just about ready to puke at the mere hint that somebody is going to break out in a speech, it’s a wonder to meet people you would love listening to even if they take hours and hours of your time.


Monday, The Voyage of the Balangay arrived in Davao, which saw me smooching an invitation to a dinner hosted for the team just to get the stories that do not get into the news. Like being able to talk to 62-year-old Danilo Cal, the oldest crewmember from Butuan and how he got in.


From the smooched dinner, I smooched a rider to Holcim the following day.


Balangay team leader Art Valdez said I should be at the Sta. Ana Pier by 7:30 a.m. I was there, gawking at the balangays by 6:30 a.m. and was told to ride the smaller boat Diwata ng Lahi.


The big but was we were going against the wind and the current. This meant no sail. The longer Masawa Hong Butuan and the 15-meter long Diwata ng Lahi were merely towed by the dinghy Tiririt. That was a real slow boat to Holcim that tool all of three hours from Sta. Ana Pier.


At Holcim I got to talk with Abdul, Gamar, Abdulla, the 32-year-old newpher of Sama Di Laya master boatbuilder Ibrahim Abdulla.


I smooched another rider back the following day, this time on  Masawa Hong Butuan and had the chance to gawk at the master-builder himself, and yes the sails. We were going with the wind then.


Friday was very busy, what with Andal Ampatuan Sr. being shipped out of Davao, a grenade exploding along downtown Camus Street, and Lakas-Kampi-CMD presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro paying a courtesy call on City Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte. Just waiting for photos and the stories to come in that whole Friday afternoon till early evening was enough to raise my blood pressure level, but a dinner invitation cannot be resisted. Not because it meant free dinner, but because the dinner was by Gawad Kalinga, with no less than Tony Meloto, and guest speaker and Gawad Kalinga green thumb former Environment Sec. Elisea Gozun.


I arrived just after everyone had dinner and Gozun was already being introduced; tummy had to take a backseat. And there I was again, gawking, awed, and was still gawking and awed an hour later (tummy behaving) when she ended her presentation and Meloto took the stage for yet another hour.

Art Valdez, the Mt. Everest team with the Balangay Voyage – Tagum’s Pastour Emata and Bukidnon’s Carina Dayondon, Danilo Calo, the master boatbuilders Abdul and Ibrahim, former Sec. Gozun, and Mr. Meloto – I say, their inspiring stories are enough to rejuvenate my flagging spirit, which has been battered and made cynical by the election campaign that seems to get dirtier by the second.


They are people who are just there, doing their part in being Filipinos and making us all proud to be one. It was more exhilarating than watching Manny Pacquiao win another fight. Because their stories, their perseverance, their visions, and yes, their spirits are so up there, and yet seem so reachable. On the contrary, Manny Pacquiao has to batter, be battered, and draw blood for 12 rounds to prop up our national pride.


Abdul and Ibrahim, who can whip out a sea-faring wooden boat using the steel tape only once – to measure the length – and then proceed from there just from an inculcated instinct with regards proportions and seaworthiness; Calo, who proved that for as long as you take like, with vim, you can keep up if not be better than younger team members; Valdez, who is out to prove that Kaya ng Pinoy – from the conquest to the traverse by women mountaineers at that of the world’s highest, and most dangerous peak, to the ongoing maritime adventure; Gozun who sees the barren Philippines through hopeful green spectacles starting out with the poorest of the poor who live in squalor because they were not given much choice and; Meloto who has lived his belief that giving the best for the least fortunate is a key to the country’s prosperity. All of them doing their part without falling into the trap of how we are seeing a lot of our politicians bask in their self-aggrandizement at the expense of the country.


That I got to meet the whole lot just when the world of politics has turned everything into a race for an individual’s selfish agenda is worth every early morning I had to drag myself out of bed even with just over three hours of sleep, and listen on for two long hours way past dinner time after a very busy, stressful day.


As Mr. Meloto said, there are a lot of Filipinos who are willing to give of themselves, what is lacking (if not absent) is trust. Trust in our leaders, trust in our capabilities. And as Mr. Valdez would repeatedy say, Kaya ng Pinoy!


And what have they to show? Poor communities who live in harmony with nature and each other, without the problem of having their homes stripped of their meager possession, because everyone in the community respect and trust each other; simple lads and lasses who climbed Mt. Everest and are now proving that the Filipinos of 320 AD were maritime wonders, and their selfless leaders who know that in each Filipino, even the most looked down on Badjaos (yes, the master boatbuilders are Badjaos although they prefer to be called Sama di Laya), are people who are innately proud and intelligent Filipinos.


And yes, I’m blabbering because I’ve never met this number of inspiring people in just four days (excluding the day reserved for the laundry). I swear, even if they talk on and on for hours, I’d listen to them on and on, and that’s because I know they are not smooching a vote from me to feather their nests with; a refreshing break from hubristic politics that we have been made witnesses and victims of this year. There’s hope.