Monday, October 19, 2015

The abduction at Shrine Hills

Big Mike’s Grill is a small bar offering imported beers and grilled meat specialties, the location is a hidden ridge at Shrine Hills which overlooks the vast Matina suburb.

Shrine Hills is leafy high ground that juts out of Matina. a growing suburban center south of Davao City’s central business district,  The hill is named after the shrine of the Holy Infant Jesus of Prague built by the wife of the former city mayor. 

Aside from the shrine, broadcast and telecommunication towers are situated along the main road, which bisects the hills.

The hillside forests are slowly giving way to residential communities cause-oriented groups have been calling for the preservation of the natural environment of the hills fearing that if the hillsides are stripped of forest cover the slopes would give way and cause a massive landslide.

Big Mike’s Grill is owned by Mike Mueller, a former PBA import who relocated to Davao City six years ago; The bar was a former residential bungalow whose owners sold to Mike when they migrated to Canada.

Mike who first settled in his wife’s hometown in Digos, would stay in the house whenever they would visit the big city.  When they resettled in Davao City, they bought a house and lot in a  gated subdivision in Matina and converted the house in Shrine Hills into a bar.

“This is where I will put the function room.” Mike points out to the vacant space adjacent to the former bungalow, a mango tree stands in the middle of the space flanked by a vegetable garden slowly being taken over by weeds and grasses.

“What will happen to the tree?” Ellen asks Mike.

“Of course it has to go. We need the space Ellen, if we can have the function room, we can accept private parties and meetings. We got so many inquiries   about hosting private parties but we can’t make the bar exclusive, we have so many loyal patrons who will feel left out. And besides we are surrounded by trees, that’s just one tree.”

“How about the sprits residing in that tree?

“Here we go again Ellen, you and your superstitions.”

Mike had fallen in love with the country of his wife, he had been smitten with the friendliness, the smiles, the genuine warmth of its people, however if there was one trait he didn’t like was that the people were a superstitious lot, a fact which annoyed him during their stay in Digos.

Their house in Digos was an old-two storey structure inside Ellen’s family compound, Mike wanted to landscape the front yard but was prevented by doing so by their neighbor, Ellen’s uncle because of the presence of a termite mound, which in vernacular means punso. A mythical being called nuno sa punso is known to inhabit the mound.

In another incident Angela’s yaya or babysitter was scolded by Mike’s mother in-law for allowing the kid to play around the compound during night-time. The spirits would not like children playing around the trees during sundown. This didn’t make sense to Mike.

 “Back in New Jersey, we used to play until the dead of the night, the reason I got good in basketball was my folks didn’t believe in grumpy spirits who don’t want children to play at night.”  Mike protested to Ellen.

Michael Mueller was big 10-year old kid, when their new neighbors, the Murphy’s built a basketball ring around their garage. During summers He and his brother Jack along with the three Murphy boys and Scott, another neighbor would play basketball from early afternoon lasting to the night. Mike learned to love the game and became good at it, a talent he parlayed to high school, college and overseas professional leagues.

“You don’t understand Mike, that’s our age-old beliefs, it is hard to change these people. ” Ellen gently argued her point.

“That’s why this country is still stuck in Third World Ellen, you believe in things that doesn’t exist and doesn’t make sense, you make it a part of your lives.”

When one of his home improvement project was stopped because of his meddlesome mother-in-law, Mike decided to pack up and move to Davao City, he was also getting bored and restless in the small provincial city.

Davao City would have provided a more urban and cosmopolitan environment, well suited to him.

“ I am sorry Mike, it was just a joke.” Ellen smiled at Mike trying to appease him. Her husband was an easy person to please.

 “Nahhh, come here, let’s not fool around, I’m talking about serious business len, I already got the cash to start the expansion.” Mike grabbed Ellen to his side and hugged her then giving a smack on her forehead.

Two days after, the contractor came to Big Mike’s Grill and began to inspect the proposed site of the expansion.

“This property used to be two separate lots, the original owners brought the other lot at a bargain price.” Mike said to the contractor.

“The expansion of the bar is a good idea sir Mike, this is a large space too good to be left idle.” The contractor said.

Mike and the contractor discussed the mango tree standing in the middle of the space, the contractor gave him an alternate plan of preserving the tree by building the structure around it but it would be expensive. Mike shot the idea down, the tree had to give way.

It was one fine evening at Big Mikes just a few days after Mike’s meeting with the contractor, when an angry customer demanded to meet the bar owner. Someone has stoned his parked SUV, its windshield shattered.

The police investigator from the Talomo Police Station which had jurisdiction over the Shrine Hills area, arrived at the scene, he checked the SUV, it had been hit by two large stones, there were no witnesses as to who threw the stones. The policeman questioned Tikboy, the stay-in all around helper at the bar.

Tikboy is the only person who lives in the bungalow, a small room had been assigned for him at the back of the bar. Aside from cleaning chores, He guards and maintains the property when the owners and the staff leaves for home. One of his tasks is to assist the customers during parking, sometimes he goes checking on the parked cars.

The parking space in front of the bar was full; the Mitsubishi SUV was forced to park a few meters from the vacant space. Tikboy was at the storeroom when the customer noticed the rocks that shattered his car’s windshield.

Tikboy vouched for the good character of the nearby residents, they wouldn’t do such a thing of throwing rocks at parked vehicles, and it was the first time it happened he told the investigator.

The policeman asked the owner, a doctor if he had some personal enemies or people with grudges against him. The owner answered in a negative.

Mike, Ellen and the car owner met and had a settlement, the bar agreed to pay for the shattered windshield. “Napag-tripan” the car owner might have been a victim of a random mischief.

Mike admitted lapses in the bar’s security, he immediately hired a security guard for the evening shift, and the security agency deployed Roland, a 35-year old security guard to Big Mike’s.

The following week, the contractor arrived with his foreman and some of the carpenters to do an ocular of the proposed project site, the vacant lot. They agreed that site clearing would be done by the next week, their priority was to cut the tree.
By the following morning, Mike was awakened by Ellen, Tikboy has called and said that burglars might have struck Big Mike’s.

Mike rushed to the bar, saw the upturned tables and chairs, the broken shards of glasses strewn all over the place. The wine, rhum, whiskeys and imported beers on display and the glasses were thrown all around the bar, it was as if a drunken customer went berserk inside Big Mike’s.

The same police investigator arrived at the scene and checked the bar in awry. 

Tikboy said he was awakened at around 4 a.m. by strange noises coming from inside the bar, thinking that of burglars, he got up to check the inside and saw the bar in disarray.

Except for broken liquor bottles and glasses, there was no attempt to steal anything, the cash register was left untouched and not equipment was missing. What baffled the police was that the bar’s doors remain closed, the windows were still secured, no one had entered the bar nor gained forcible entry.

The cop quizzed Tikboy and Roland, the security guard had not noticed something unusual when he left the premises at 3 am after his shift.

“ I finished cleaning the bar at around 3 pm sir, when Roland left after his shift, I locked the doors..” Tikboy answered the cop who was quizzing him on the nature of his job at Big Mike.

Tikboy said he was late to react to the noises because he had done heavy cleaning at the bar, Big Mike was full-house that night. He was in deep sleep after a tiring evening.

They decided to check the CCTV but strangely it stopped recording at around 3 am. The time Tikboy had finished cleaning and had locked the door.

The police investigator met up with Mike and Ellen, and told them that since the doors and windows were locked and there was no sign of forced entry, with a defective cctv not helping in the investigation he had reasons to believe that Tikboy was the main culprit.

“ Must have been Tikboy helped himself to drinks at the bar, had one drink too many and went wild and concocted the tale that he had been awakened at 4 am. Or we won’t discount the possibility that he tinkered with the cctv, he invited his friends to come over for a drink, they got drunk.” The cop theorized.

“Sir Mike, do you really know the background of Joel Bayo? Based on past records he was twice detained at the Sta. Ana police station, where he was involved in  gang riots, he was one of the gang leaders. But since he was a minor they had to set him free.” the cop shared Tikboy’s past transgressions.

“I’ve checked out this kid officer, he had a rough past but he has been all good since he started working for this bar.” Mike told the policeman.

19-year Joel Bayo alias Tikboy was a former street kid who once roamed the streets of downtown Davao, sniffing rugby and solvent and engaged in riots with his gang. He was encouraged to join a street-based alternative learning class program initiated by the Jaycees, wanting to straighten his life, he actively participated in the street class and by the time the project was completed he was already assisting the street classes.

Impressed by his progress, some Jaycees helped him out, a regular customer at Big Mike’s brought Tikboy to Mike, the former PBA import was impressed by Tikboy’s demeanor and touched by his life story.  He decided to hire him and sponsor his education at a Sunday high school program in a local school.

But with the recent incident he had doubts that Tikboy had  a case of a backslide
“ Tikboy, please be honest with me, are you doing drugs again. Sniffing rugby, smoking marijuana… tell me” Mike asked his ward.

“No sir, I stopped it for a very long time. Why sir Mike? I am being pointed to as a suspect? I am innocent sir, I did not do it, I was cleaning the entire time after the bar closed at 1 am. It was very tiring sir I slept in the room after I had locked the doors. I did not drink sir, I know it is against your policy. Believe me sir, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t even know how to manipulate the CCTV.” Tikboy explained in perfect English, he was in the verge of tears.

Mike believed in Tikboy’s story. Except for the recent incidents, the former street kid was exemplary in his work ethics. Tikboy was Mike’s underdog, he was genuinely rooting for the former street kid’s success.

One sunny Saturday, 13-year old Angela visited Big Mike’s Grill she accompanied her mom Ellen. Her dad Mike was playing in a golfing tournament at the Apo.

She watched as a dump truck squeezed along the narrow private road that connects the bar to the main road. The truck headed straight to the vacant space, it unloaded river sand at the weed-infested vegetable garden tended by Tikboy, Mike had told Tikboy to discontinue with the garden as construction will soon take place in the space.

Angela called the attention of Tikboy, the two were watching the sand being dumped on the erstwhile garden.

“What’s happening kuya Tikboy?” Angela was unaware of the recent developments at Mike’s Bar it was her first visit to their former house after two months.

“Didn’t you know Gel, your father is expanding the bar, he will be building a function room.”

“How about the tree?”

“They will cut it down gel.”

“Hah. Didn’t they ask permission from King?”

“Ambot lang gel” (I do not know)

After the truck had left, Angela went to the space and took a look at the stockpile of river sand, which will be used for construction. Afterwards she went to the mango tree and walked around it.

Tikboy watched as Angela slowly walked around the tree, she was wearing a pink shirt and white shorts, and was clutching her Iphone. He remembered the Mueller’s daughter, during her visits would go to the tree and sit at the bench he built under the shade.

Tikboy went inside the bar when Ellen called him for some errands.


Mike arrived at the bar at around 5 pm. He was again greeted by the sight of the police investigator and Ellen. Maybe the cop got new leads in the  bar incident. Mike surmised.

“ I tried calling you Mike.” Ellen face was visibly worried.

“What happened? batteries on my phone is empty, what’s with your face?” Mike sensed something was seriously wrong.

“Angela is missing.” Ellen relayed the news to Mike.

“What missing? When? Angela?” Mike initially was confused by the news.

“We arrived here at 10 am, when we were about to leave at 12 noon, I came looking for her, I couldn’t find her till now, I became worried I decided to call the police.”

“Maybe she just gone somewhere, have you tried contacting her? Huh.”

“Her number cannot be reached, Tikboy was the last person to see her, he said she was looking at the newly delivered sand and was walking over the mango tree.” Ellen was on the verge of tears.

“Tikboy what the fuck is happening here?” Mike raised his voice at the hapless helper.

“I last saw her walking around the tree, then ma’m Ellen called me inside the bar, that was the last time I saw Angela.” Tikboy stared helplessly at the glaring Mike.

“We decided to check out the vicinity, they have not seen a girl with pink shirt and white shorts, nor seen something unusual. “ the cop said.

Mike was pretty sure, her daughter was abducted by kidnappers perhaps, Davao City despite a haven of peace and order is located in Mindanao where several kidnap-for-ransom groups operate. Maybe his worst nightmare was coming true.

The next morning Mike met with the City Mayor in a clandestine location. The Mayor was the best hope in finding his still missing daughter. The Mayor in turn was worried that a potential kidnap-for-ransom group had infiltrated the city and the victim, the daughter of a former PBA import was high-profile case that would unduly worry the citizens of his city.

“I will be looking closely on this Mike.” The Mayor assured Mike that solving the case is a top priority. The mayor immediately ordered the city’s police chief to assemble a crack unit of top detectives.

Police Inspector Jumail Kadon went to the meeting place to represent the unit and to meet the victim’s father.

“Mike, this is police inspector Jumail Kadon, he will be the lead officer for this case. These are very competent policemen, I am very confident that they will find your daughter, so trust them, just trust them, they will need your full cooperation.” The Mayor told Mike before leaving.

“You and your fucking spirits again Ellen.” Mike raged. Ellen has theorized that Angela was taken by the engkantos angered by the plans to cut the mango tree.

Ellen wanted to take her opinion all by herself but each day the police were facing a blank wall. Her family and relatives in Digos had shared the same thought.

Gi-dagit siya sa mga di ingon nato (She was taken by not–like-ours) Estrella mentioned this to her daughter Ellen.

“ I know, but Mike wouldn’t believe in it, he believes she was taken by kidnappers. He just won’t listen to me.” Ellen in tears voiced out her frustration.

‘This American, he thinks he knows it all, remember when he was living in Digos he always makes a point to mock our tinu-uhan (beliefs) Gago nang imung bana Ellen (Your husband is a fool).” Ellen’s elder brother Vicente butted in the conversation.

At Camp Domingo Leonor, headquarters of the Davao City Police Office, Mike was meeting with Jumail for updates. With a huge chunk of the city government’s budget going to the peace and order fund, the city was able to establish a  wide and reliable intelligence network which has served the city in good stead. It allowed the police access to reliable information on activities of criminal groups operating along the region.

Inspector Jumail told Mike that based from intelligence sources, no kidnap for ransom gang had infiltrated the city in recent weeks, even years.

“Reports from Cotabato they are all in the negative, your daughter is not in central Mindanao. The New People’s Army had denied they have conducted any operations such as this.” Jumail briefed the hulking American, who covered his face with a hankie to mask his tears flowing from his eyes.

“Her iphone is turned off, the last known ping from the phone tracker app was at the bar two days ago, the day we reported her as missing.” Mike had put a phone tracker app on Angela’s phone so he could keep tabs of her whereabouts. He had always asked her to carry her phone always.


Jumail feared that some local criminal or thug might have abducted her, raped her and left her for dead. He deployed his detectives around the residential community along Shrine Hills, he employed K9 tracker teams to scour the vacant lots, farms and forests that crisscross the hills.

Angela was a pretty young girl, her dusky complexion she got from her mom, but the aquiline  nasal features and deep set blue eyes, she got from her dad, she was slender and tall.

Jumail had information that Angela had many admirers in her school. Maybe one of her admirers is crazy enough to do one nasty deed.

They zeroed in to one person-of-interest, a 14-year old teen named Kobe Guevarra who was Angela’s classmate; he was identified by Angela’s friend as her most ardent suitor.

“Yes sir, Angela was my crush, we communicate a lot on Viber and Facebook.” Kobe Guevarra told Inspector Jumail when the police task force visited the school.

“And? That is all, just a crush?”

“Angela would not entertain suitors at the moment sir.”

“So she is not your girlfriend?”

“No sir, but we are close, we always text a lot.”

“Since you always text a lot, do you have any idea where she is?”

“I haven’t heard from her since Saturday noon.  She just stopped replying to my text messages.”

“You two were texting Saturday noon? Inspector Jumail sensed a lead. “Anything unusual you noticed?”

“We were talking about the tree at the Big Mike’s. She told me she was sad and worried that it would be cut down. She said that King would really be angry.” Kobe’s answer lit up Jumail.  

Who is King? Jumail asked the 14-year old boy.


Mike, Ellen her mom Estrella, aunt Lucia, her brother Vicente and Inspector Jumail together with a police colleague watched as Manang Insiang spread chicken’s blood around the Mango tree to start her ritual, she was assisted by Tikboy who was holding the dead chicken from where the blood was sourced.

Insiang was an 80-year old healer from Malita whom Estrella contacted to help appease the supernatural entity named king.

The healer explained that the tree was a portal to the world of the engkantos, a friendly being named King lived as guardian of the portal, he was a benevolent engkanto who had befriended Angela.

“He is confused, he wants to protect the portal but he is friends with your daughter. He has taken your daughter to their world. But she is safe, she is treated as a guest. When will she be returned, we do not know” Insiang told Ellen and a disbelieving Mike.

The healer burned some herbs in front of the tree. A plate of unsalted steak was offered to King,  She kneeled while offering the unsalted food, speaking incantations in front of the mango tree.

Mama!!! Ellen screamed as her mom suddenly became unconscious and then  began jerking violently, she was being possessed. A confused Mike watched as Jumail, his fellow detective and Vicente trying to restrain the 70-year old Estrella.

“The engkanto had entered her. Bring her here.” Insiang in vernacular ordered the men restraining Estrella, she was brought nearer to the mango tree.

“Do not cut down the tree. I will bring back your Angela.” Estrella spoke, her voice sounded more like a man which shocked Mike.

“Where is Angela, asa si Angela?” Mike and Ellen frantically asked King who had possessed Estrella.

“She is in our world. Don’t worry  She is well.” King said in perfect English.

“Alright, alright I will not cut the tree. That tree is all yours, Just bring my daughter back.” Mike sounded desperate as he cut a deal with King.

“I trust you Michael, we are friends.” The possessed Estrella answered before passing out, which freaked Ellen, Vicente and Lucia.

Minutes later, a policeman detailed at Mike Mueller’s house called Jumail that Angela mysteriously reappeared and walked out from her room.

With her daughter’s reappearance, Mike Mueller’s disbelief and annoyance gave way to a deeper appreciation of his wife’s customs and beliefs, a compound of fervent Catholicism with a heavy dash of animism. It is said that we live among the spirits, the engkantos,  however their power and malevolence reined in by a much powerful God.

Mike, abandoned his expansion project. To appease King, he landscaped the vacant space surrounding the tree and planted varieties of tropical flowers. Insiang told Mike that King is a friendly engkanto and he will be watching not just the tree but also the whole property.

Two weeks after Angela was found, Mike was with the entire task force formed by the Mayor to search for his daughter inside the bar. Mike had treated them to dinner and drinks. The conversations rambled into the paranormal experiences of the policemen.

“When I was a young boy in Maganoy, I heard of a village girl who was said to be kidnapped by an engkanto. She was never found again.” Jumail recounted his childhood days in Maguindanao.

Basig ni-taban to sa inyo ser.” (maybe she eloped with you) one of the policemen quipped.

“ Dili jud dong, kay lake pa gusto nako sa una.” ( It cannot be because that time I used to prefer men) Jumail joked

His men reacted with boisterous laughter. Mike joined in the laughter when the policeman explained the remark.

The cops mood was jovial, they were not able to crack the case but the girl was found, safe and well.

Big Mike’s Grill was filled with customers, four nights in a row they had a full-house, they had to add tables outside and hired an additional cook and  two waiters.

“Sir,” Tomas the waiter gently tapped Mike’s shoulder.

“Yes, Tomas” Mike saw a customer standing behind the waiter.

“Sir Mike this is sir Jun. He wants to have a picture taken with you.”

Some of the policemen instantly recognized Jun and shook hands with him. Jun was a former policeman who struck it rich in the gold mines of Mt. Diwalwal. He had become a big-time businessman and had recently invested in a sprawling banana plantation in Compostela Valley.

“You were my idol in the PBA sir.” Jun greeted the owner.

“That was a long-time ago and it was just one conference for Anejo.”

“I am a huge fan of Jaworski sir, way back in the 1980s, you were a great import, you should have played more than one conference.” June complimented the former import.

“ Yeah but I promised to myself that after playing in the Philippines I would quit playing basketball overseas and stay in the States to save my marriage. But unfortunately my first marriage didn’t work out.”

The two had their photos taken by Jun’s bodyguard. Jun asked Mike if they could a brief chat outside before he leaves. He wanted to talk business.

“Mike, I have Japanese investors for our new banana plantation in Compostela, we are planning to build a  seaport in Pantukan for our banana shipments to Japan, I know your company is into building ports, I am interested in getting your company for this project. Let’s schedule a meeting soon.”

And ever since Mike had peace with King the engkanto that inhabits the Mango tree in his property, unexpected blessings had come his way.    

                                               THE END

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Mistress of Matina

 “Tomas, saan si sniper?”

“Good evening attorney.” Greeted the cheerful head waiter of Big Mike’s Grill.

“Where’s sniper?” Atty. Juanito asked Tomas. The owner of Big Mike’s Grill is Mike Mueller, former Syracuse University standout who played as an import for Anejo Rhum in the PBA  in the late 1980s, Joe Cantada the late celebrated basketball commentator  would give him the moniker the sniper for his accuracy in the three-point range.

“Didn’t you know attorney? He’s in Japan right now, sir Mike is meeting with sir Jimmy there.”

“Ahh ma-o ba. Mingaw ron (its lonely)”

“Its always lonely on a Wednesday sir, but yesterday we were full house, the place was filled with people from ABS-CBN. Last Monday, there were many customers also sir.” Tomas replied.

Big Mike’s Grill is a small bar located at a former residential bungalow in Shrine Hills. The house overlooks the vast Matina suburb. Aside from whiskeys and imported beers, its burgers and steaks are among its best-sellers.

Mike Mueller is currently in a short sojourn in Tokyo, he would be meeting his 33- year old son Jimmy. Mike along with his brother Jack owned a construction business that served US naval facilities in the Asia-Pacific. There is a great demand for their services as the navy was again strengthening its presence in Asia in the face of China’s growing military might.

Jack, a year ago had let Jimmy an engineer by profession managed the company. Jimmy was Mike’s eldest son in his first marriage. Barrack Obama’s Asia Pivot necessitated the expansion of current US navy bases in Japan; Mike was there to help his son in the ocular of their new projects.

The thin-reed Tomas was often called kalansay or skeleton because of his frame but he had an endearing work ethic particularly when serving bar patrons, he was alert, untiring always ready to please the clients, he could exchange a banter or two. Another waiter was Balong, who was hardworking and sociable as Tomas however his poor command of English and even Filipino Tagalog limited his exchanges with clients.

Gemma the waitress is known for her shapely legs, a hit among the male patrons, however she is reticent and shy, staying at the nook, waiting to be called to serve. Gemma’s aunt Flor, is the bar’s cashier and clerk. Flor is the first cousin of Ellen, Mike’s second wife who hails from nearby Digos City.

Ellen met Mike when she was working as a receptionist in a hotel in Singapore where Mike stayed for two weeks. They had a daughter Angela now 13.

“Tomas can I have Big Mike’s sausages and two cups of rice please.” Atty. Juanito placed his order.

“Sorry sir, but Sniper wasn’t able to make his sausages.”

“Ah ganun ba.   Just give me the Porterhouse and two cups of rice.”

“ok sir. Medium rare. Porterhouse. Drinks Attorney?”

“Coke zero muna.”

Atty. Crispin Juanito just celebrated his 50th  birthday a week ago at a grand party at the ballroom of the Marco Polo, Mike, Ellen and Angela attended the lawyer's milestone. It was said the celebration was financed by a wealthy client whose son’s homicide case was dismissed by the court thanks to the deft legal maneuvering of Atty. Juanito who questioned the manner of the arrest and the handling of the evidence.

An hour passed since Atty Juanito ate the last morsel of his meal, when he noticed through the bar’s window the arrival of a red Honda hatchback which parked near his Subaru. A few seconds later, a woman arrived at the bar.

Mona Lisa Acupang wore a white cotton polo and tight-fitting jeans. Long  black hair, almond-shaped eyes and full lips gave her a sensuous aura. One that Atty Juanito noticed when he first met her as a mass communication student tasked to do some research about libel in his law office. Their journalism teacher was Crispin’s sister who volunteered her brother to be Mona’s resource person having defended some journalists on libel cases.

“ You seemed sad?”

“Nothing  Attorney.”

“ I can feel it. I can see it in your eyes, why? Gi-buwagan ka sa imung boyfriend (your boyfriend broken up with you?)”

“Nothing attorney, it’s a family problem.”

Atty Juanito remembered that one fine afternoon at his law office along C.M. Recto Street. Mona confided that her father is suffering from End Stage Renal Disorder, when a person’s kidneys have been irreparably damaged.  The treatment was costly and a possibility that she would have to quit school with the family breadwinner sidelined by the disease ruffled the lass.

“Sige na, patulan mo na. (Come on hit on her) she is young and fresh.” His best buddy Ramoncito a known womanizer who had engaged in dalliances with young women prodded him.

And the affair began, Crispin used the wealth he had amassed from his practice as one of the top lawyers in the city to pamper Mona; he financed her college education, spent for her father’s treatment which included a costly kidney transplant.

He gave her a car  and bought a townhouse unit in a private subdivision in Matina where he kept her and where they had their illicit rendezvous.

But Mona was not like Ramoncito’s girls. Except for her father’s treatment and her education, Mona never badgered Crispin for material things. It was the lawyer who brought her the LVs, the Pradas, the Blahniks, the Apple gadgets. He saw those brands at her wife’s walk-in closet, maybe also Mona would want those things.

“Why here Cris?” Mona asked while looking around Mike’s Grill, it was virtually empty, only Tomas and Flor remained at the bar conversing in dialect.

“It’s been a long time since we went out for a date.”

“Shucks but not here in Davao City.” Mona rolled her eyes in slight disgust. She was careful, Davao is a small city for gossip to spread like a summer grassfire.

“Sorry na. I was careless tonight, would you like to order something?”

“No I’ve had dinner at the house in Agdao.”

Mona Lisa was a brilliant student, the most promising among the three Acupang siblings, her father was a mid-level employee of an obscure government agency, her mom tended a small eatery in Agdao.

Her father Pedro Acupang worked hard to have Mona enrolled in Ateneo de Davao, it was to his belief that Mona could easily find a job be successful in it. Her eldest brother joined the army while the youngest Acupang son enrolled in a vocational course.

But Mona aside from being intelligent and articulate had leanings towards the arts, she was a gifted storyteller and writer, in high school she would win awards in essay writing contests. In college she gravitated towards film and video productions. She began working on making short films and joined film festivals. One of her shorts even made it as a runner-up in a national film competition.

“ You seemed not in the mood tonight?” Crispin asked Mona.

Hay, our client had ordered another revision. It was their boss from Manila who ordered it. Deadline is tomorrow.”

“You should be working by it then.”

“Isn’t it obvious.” Mona expressed slight irritation that her precious time was spent on a date with a 50 year-old man.

Crispin knew that Mona would be receiving twenty-thousand pesos for editing a video documentary about a non-government organization building schools in the ancestral domain areas of Agusan del Sur. The amount was pittance for him, equivalent to his retainer’s fee for a big mining company. He offered to give that amount so that she can slack the project off, but Mona refused.

It was not the Mona he knew, the sweet caring college girl, who gave him love, comfort and sex.  He yearned for days when he could go to the house in Matina in the pretext of some business trip. The warm freshly cooked meals, the clean tidy homey atmosphere greeted him in the lovers’ abode which reminded him of his childhood home in Mati.

Crispin was born of lower bracket middle class family in Mati, his father worked in the provincial government while his mother was a public school teacher. A brilliant student much like Mona he received a college scholarship grant in Davao City. Inspired by his distant uncle, a fiscal, he enrolled and supported himself thru law school.

In law school he had a seatmate named Patricia de Lara, a scion of an old wealthy family in Bukidnon. The two became friends and later became intimate partners, against the objections of Patricia’s parents they carried on with their relationship. He passed the bar in 1991, they got married in 1992, they had two children Juris and Malcolm.

Juris is a flight stewardess based in Hongkong, while Malcolm is studying law in Ateneo de Manila. As the years passed the once carefree and adventurous couple became distant and cold. Patricia, a socialite spent more time with personal leisure and with friends belonging to the alta de sociedad.

Crispin saw and felt the palatial Juanito family home situated in an upscale village in Lanang as lonely and unloving.

“ Where is Patty?” he would ask the housemaid who is also his distant niece.

“Didn’t’ she tell you manong? She’s in Hongkong with her amigas.” The maid would answer.

And alone in the bed inside the master’s bedroom he would think of Ramoncito’s prodding to take the chick bait. He had felt unloved. His heart yearned for someone to care and who would take care of him.

And he remembered the time he laid down on the living room sofa in Matina, his head resting on Mona’s lap, she would tell her stories what transpired in school, the films she saw and he would tell of her of his youthful exploits as a probinsyano lad in Mati. They talked and they listened to their stories, their thoughts. All that mattered to him.

“So when will you be visiting Matina Cris?”

“When you are done with your video project Mamon.”


“okay prepare the house then. I really miss you Mamon.”

“Can we talk in the car Cris?” Mona seemed to ignore Atty. Juanito’s expression of affection.

“Sure Mamon.” Cris knew something was important that Mona was wanting to say, a trio of customers had arrived and occupied one table. There was now little privacy.

Inside the Subaru, Mona asked permission for Cris if she could take a 2-month film scholarship in Seoul, which was offered after her first short film about child laborers in Mt. Diwalwal was screened in a film festival in Busan.

“We’ve talked about it Mona, I cannot let you go, I need you here with me, two months is too long.”

Hard rain had started to pour as another group of customers entered the bar just in the nick of time before the downpour.

“I need this break, Cris. This is a great opportunity for me, this is a directorial workshop I need this so much, please allow me, I will return.”

“Mona don’t be a hard-headed fool. We can go to Seoul next month if you want, lets have a vacation there.”

“You don’t understand Cris, I am not looking for a vacation, I am interested at the workshop. You didn’t like me enrolling at the UP Film School, okay fine. But this workshop really mattered to me, please allow me. Babe.” Mona gently pinched Cris’ beer belly.

At her happiest, Mona would call Crispin “babe” a sign of affection which Crispin would crave, it was not always that Mona would call him Babe as he would call Mona, Mamon.

Two months without his beloved Mamon, two months living with a cold and distant socialite.

“Oh sige. I really cannot do anything about your decision, Kelan ka ba aalis? (when will you be leaving?) Cris asked his beloved mamon.

“A month from now. Don’t worry, it’s an all expense paid-trip by the South Korean filmmakers exchange program, and the pocket money, I have saved enough for this trip.”

Atty. Juanito nodded without uttering a word. He reached his hand and stroked Mona’s long black hair, he leaned towards the girl, his lips touching Mona’s lips.

One year  and four months later

“Here you go. Big Mike’s porterhouse and our famous homemade sausages.” Mike Mueller handed out the servings to a middle-aged couple seated at the new Big Mike’s Steaks bar in Obrero.

Located in a commercial-residential neighborhood north of Davao City’s central business district, Big Mike Steaks Bar is jointly owned by Mike and a group of Filipino-Chinese entrepreneurs who were regular clients of the bar at Shrine Hills. They had wanted to make his signature steaks, burgers and sausages more accessible.

tadaaan Happy Anniversary Patty.” Crispin greeted his wife

Hala ka, do you really think I can finish this plate?” Patricia, with her fine Castillian features, stared at the chunk of sizzling porterhouse steak served before her.

“Yes you can Patricia, these are the  best steaks in Davao City.  Happy anniversary to you two, the dinner’s tab is on me.”

“What? No, no. no, its too much, I am paying for this dinner Mike.” Crispin protested.

“No Mike and Cris, the bill is on me.” Patricia said letting out a guffaw.

Patricia and Cris later surrendered to Mike’s offer in footing the bill. Mike was happy that the couple was able to save their marriage; Cris and Pat joined a Catholic renewal movement, where they had become active members.

Crispin and Mona broke up a few months after she returned from Seoul. Mona left Davao to work for a big film company in Manila.

“How was your day, Cris?” Patricia asked her husband.

“Well it went fine, apart from a court appearance and a client meeting, I and Berting supervised the youth ministry’s choir practice for tomorrow’s praise and worship.”

“Oh where’s Neneng?

“Neneng is in Manila to visit their daughter studying there, being his prayer buddy I offered if I could help him in handling the youth ministry. I listened to their practice and bought them snacks.”

“Ah ganun ba, I can’t wait to hear the young ones tomorrow. Father Alfred will be officiating the corporal mass.”

“I am sure Father Alfred will be happy with the progress of the youth ministry, they’d be singing great worship songs, eh ikaw, how was your day.” Cris held Patty’s hand.

“Well after the bible-sharing at Sonya’s house, my prayer buddy Agnes and I watched a tagalog movie at Abreeza.

Hahaha, I thought you never watch Tagalog movies.”

“They say it’s an award-winning film. There were many who watched the film, it was beautiful.”

“What’s the title? Haven’t really been updated with the movies nowadays.” Crispin asked.

The Mistress of Manila. The director is a young woman from Davao, and would you believe it was her first film. “

“Ah is that so, Dabawenyos are really good in many fields?”

Magaling na bata, kasi maganda talaga ang pelikula, naiyak nga kami. (a talented kid because the movie was really beautiful, we even cried.) Patricia gushed over the film she just saw that afternoon.

“It’s not often you shed tears over a pelikula Patty.”

Anne Curtis is so pretty and she is so convincing, Christopher de Leon is a terrific actor. Anne plays the querida to Christopher de Leon, she wants to break free but she is beholden to him because of the many things he did for her, then…………”

Atty. Juanito can only nod and smile as Patricia with great enthusiasm tells the plot of the film.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Suitors

It was a quiet Thursday evening at Big Mike’s Grill, a small bar located along Shrine Hills overlooking the southern suburbs of Davao City.

“Here you go, big mike’s favorite grilled homemade sausages.” Mike Mueller placed the hot plate of chopped sausages at one of the bar’s tables, the two customers watched with anticipated glee.

“Wow, you made this yourself Mike?” Andy asked as he quickly placed a piece of the chopped sausage unto his fork and took a bite. “hmmm yumm.”

“Hey you try it.” Mike goads a rather shy looking Francis into trying the serving. Francis takes a fork and tries out the sausage, he puts up a thumb up sign.

“I’ve been doing this way back in the States. Just got preoccupied perfecting those damn steaks.”

Big Mike was known for its steaks and burgers, the clientele range from expats, retired American servicemen, yuppies. Mike’s local golfing buddies also would frequent the place.

The bar used to be a residential bungalow, Inside are nine tables, the bar's interiors appears plain, generic looking, in one part of the white colored wall a 32 inch LED TV is tuned to Basketball TV showing last night's NBA game.

In the left wall are three large picture frames, Mike’s collegiate basketball team in Syracuse, where he played shooting guard and another frame with the Anejo Basketball team where he once played as an import in the late 1980s. Another prominent frame  is a black and white photo of him with his coach Sonny Jaworski.

The name of the bar came from his PBA days when Jaworski would call out his hulking 6’5” import as Big Mike. But to ardent basketball fans who would visit his bar he was known as Mike “the sniper” Mueller, known for his deadly three-pointers.

After Anejo, Mike Mueller retired from professional basketball and worked as a civilian contractor for the U.S. Navy in Hawaii, Six years ago he decided to resettle in Davao with his Filipino wife who hails from Digos. Originally settling in his wife’s hometown, he got bored in Digos and chose the relative excitement of a bigger city.

Mike sat at the table for a small chit-chat concerning the bar’s new menu which involved Mike’s homemade sausages, Andy, a software developer working for a an outsourcing company based in the city is a frequent visitor to the bar.

“Mike, this is Francis. Francis this is Mike he owns the place.” Andy introduces the two.

“So you’re not one of those guys, Andy brings here?” Mike asks.

“This is my first time here, I just came from Andy’s house to look at his father’s pick-up.” Francis answered.

“Ow, you’re buying his dad’s pick-up? Mike asks.

“Yes sir, it’s a great deal. Me and my wife had been looking for a pick-up for our farming business.”

“So you are into farming?” Mike asks

“We grow pineapples at my father-in-law’s farm in Calinan. I used to work in a bank, but decided to become a businessman and a farmer.”

“Boy that’s great, I am currently developing a four hectare farm we recently bought in Toril, it’s planted with durian.” Mike clearly fascinated with Francis' venture.

“He came early evening at the house to look at the pick-up, he liked what he saw, we agreed on the price and asked him if we could go for a chill here and to finalize the transactions” Andy said.

Andy’s dad is selling sold his 2009 Ford Ranger, Francis saw Andy’s for sale post on a Facebook page and immediately contacted him. For Andy, there were a dozen private messages on his account inquiring about his father’s black pick-up but when he saw Francis’ message, he was surprised and piqued. Andy decided to ignore the other messages and only replied to Francis.

Five years ago, Andy and Francis had courted the same girl.

For a moment the topic between Mike, Andy and Francis was the black Ford Ranger pick-up which Andy’s family is selling. The reason for sale -Andy’s elder brother an engineer working in the Emirates has gifted their father with a brand new 4x4 Isuzu D-Max pick-up. The elder brother was the dad’s favorite and showered him with affection, the brother reciprocated the father’s love when he struck it rich in the Middle East through material gifts.

“I hope he comes over and visits your father, it’s different from giving gifts. When was the last time he visited the country” Mike said.

“About six years, he got so many projects there but he plans to come over next Christmas and spend about  a month here.” Andy said.

Andy remembers it well, after his near-fatal suicide attempt, having broken with his long-time girlfriend Mara. When his brother came to personally talk him out of it. Six years his senior, Kuya Tonyo served also as his closest friend and boyhood idol. Whatever Kuya Tonyo says he listens and follows much to the chagrin of their parents.

The following year, Kuya Tonyo played matchmaker he asked his college buddy  John to match his cousin Isabel with Andy after learning through social media that Isabel a few months back had broken up with her boyfriend.

Andy remembers their first blind date, his Kuya Tonyo sent money into Andy’s bank account to answer for the expenses during the date which consisted of a dinner at Marco Polo and coffee at the Matina Town Square.

“Excuse me I had to go over to my friends’ table, was nice talking to you guys, hope you’d enjoy the food.” Mike excused himself as his golfing buddies’ had arrived and settled at a table in the edge of the bar.

“Ey thanks for the time mike.” Andy pats Mike’s firm broad shoulders.”

“Nice food, the sausages were great.” Francis shakes Mike’s large hands.

“Thank You and congrats with that pick-up, you’re one lucky guy.” Mike winks at Francis.

Andy and Francis called out the waiter to order another round of beer, Andy was  near tipsy, he taps Francis arm on the table.

Bay, do you remember five years ago?” Andy asks tapping Francis arm.

“About Isabel?” Francis answers knowing that topic would be touched upon during the night.

“Isabel Mae Lee. The love of our lives then.” Andy places his right hand on his chest gently pounding it.

Tagal na nun. It’s been years bay” Francis tries to downplay Andy’s actions.

“Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten her?” Andy stares into Francis’s eyes.

“No I didn’t”

“You know, I was really angry, when you entered the picture. I felt I was really doing great until you came along.” Andy said giving out an awkward laugh.

“You two were exclusively dating?” Francis asked, a bit uncomfortable with Andy’s questioning.

“We were going out on dates, that was just it. How did you come to know her?” Andy took a gulp of beer and ordered a plate of sisig. The supposed a-few-bottles-of-beer at Big Mikes had took a different turn.

“I met her at the hospital, where she used to work as a nurse. I was admitted for dengue and my room was one of her  evening rounds. She was a caring nurse who would find time to talk and comfort her patients, I remember she would cheer me up during her rounds. I  was awfully sick that time.  After discharge, I asked for her Facebook account and added her up. We would chat often after that, I guess that’s how it started. Francis reminisced.

“Yeah she is really malambing, her friends would say many men would misinterpret her being so sweet and caring as something else and end up falling for her.”  Andy said.

Isabel Lee,  was born in Cebu to a mestizo Chinese father and a mother who hailed from Davao, Her parents separated when she was 8, her mother took the children to her hometown.

The two would recall how Isabel would talk glowingly about her mother who ventured into several businesses just to support her three children.  Her fervent dream of going to the United States is to work as a nurse to help her mom.

“Francis, do you remember, when her mother was a computer supplier for a government project and there was a delay in the payment, she was not able to take the college exams because the school did not honor the promissory note. Whenever she tells that story tears would flow from her eyes.”

Ay oo. I remember that. It’s a sad story, good thing that their I.T, business prospered and they were able to get many projects, I heard her mom is a bigtime supplier with projects even in the Visayas.” Francis said.

But even her mother’s business successes didn’t change Bel’s outlook in life. She yearned for the day when she would be in the US and work hard enough for her mom to retire.

“That is why she is careful entering into new relationships.” Andy said.

“I heard she has lots of suitors.” Francis asked.

Daghan jud. It’s not surprising.”

Her fair complexion she took from her mother but her chinita eyes showed her Chinese lineage. Bel was above average tall, long-legged and svelte, during her college days she used to dabble in ramp modelling so she could have extra money to spend for school, however she stopped when her boyfriend Gary disallowed her.

“I think Gary was her first boyfriend.”

“Who is Gary?” Francis asked.

“Gary Natividad, he’s a doctor now, he was an intern at Davao Doc when they met, she was a student nurse then” Andy said.

“She never tells me about her ex.”

You never really talked a lot when you’re together?” Andy asked

“Well when we’re together, I am always the one who talks a lot, it’s not that I love to talk about myself, but she always asked me questions about myself, so I end up talking about me and she would just intently listen, sigh that’s what I missed about her.”

“ Really, it would be the exact opposite for me. She would talk more about herself, especially her ex, perhaps because I came at the time when she had just broken up with Gary.  But yeah she is a sweet and caring person; she always asked me if I am ok na. If I had moved on. I guess she helped me moved on.” Andy said.

“I remembered the time, when I saw my ex-girlfriend’s photos on Facebook  with her new boyfriend, I told Bel about it, how I felt. It was on a date, she took out her phone and asked the waiter if he could take our picture, she put her arms around me so the photo looked liked we were a couple. She posted it on her account and tagged me on her photo, my friends got curious even my ex, the next morning I received a message from her, asking me if she is my new girlfriend and expressing happiness for me. Man, Bel was game.” Andy recalls laughingly.

“Why did you not become a couple?” Francis asked.

“Because of you hahahaha. Seriously after her breakup with Gary Bel became too prudent in going into relationships. She enjoyed our dates but cannot commit. Bay, I tried everything to change her mind. But she was deadset.” Andy answered.

“Me?? Hahaha, but sorry about that bay. I only knew when I was told by a common friend, that you were going out with her, you were not yet a couple, so I took my chance.  Well the thing with Bel is when I’m with her she makes me feel that I am the only man in the world.” Francis said.

Uy what do you mean by that?”

“Her attention is fixed unto you. She would avoid distractions, keep her phones in her bag and listen intently to you. Those kind of stuff.”

“So why did it not prosper?” Andy asked.

“Well honestly, I hope you won’t get angry, I am telling the truth, Bel told me she liked me.”

“What putang ina bai, is that true so what happened? You two were M.U.?” Andy was surprised by the revelation.

“But, yeah she was dead-set in not committing into a relationship. She told me about her dream of going to America, working there, settling there and having a family.”

“Since she likes you,  did something happened between you? You lucky guy?” Andy asked, feeling mischievous and the same time envious.

“Hmmm, we kissed. There was one date, I tried to make a move, I kissed her, she kissed back. Then she pushed me away and said no. I dropped her off at her house. That was the last time I saw her, she never replied to my messages, never responded to my invites. One day got a message from her, she said sorry and told me we should stop seeing each other, saw her once in Gaisano Mall, wanted to approach her but she was with you. I never got the chance to talk to her before she went to the States”

Sayanga uy, you nearly got into first base. Me, I was friendzoned” Andy said laughing.

Bitaw Andy if she would have chosen either one of us, it would have been different, she would have been still alive.” Francis stared into Andy’s eyes. Andy replied with a nod and drank his beer.

Four years ago Isabel realized her dream of going to the United States. There she met and later married an Americano. One day Isabel was found dead in her home in Vermont.

“Addict yung asawa.” Andy describes Bel as a victim of physical abuse a year after their marriage. Her husband Dwight was  heavily addicted to meth, a condition which he hid till a  year into their marriage.

“Grabe it was all over the news,. It happened a month before my wedding. I was shocked, couldn’t even think straight for days.” Francis recalled.

“Her husband was already suffering from psychosis an effect of his addiction. Bel hadn't known really that guy including his addiction, I heard it was a whirlwind romance, that guy swept her off her feet.” Andy said.

In one of their violent fights, Isabel Lee-McGill finally had enough and threatened to file for divorce, Dwight went inside their room took out his pistol and shot Bel multiple times. A responding police officer was also killed when the husband resisted arrest and engaged the police in a shoot-out. Dwight is now serving double life sentence in a Federal penitentiary.

“So sad, how she was so careful in giving out her heart, only to end up with a monster.”

“What can we do, Francis, that was her choice, sometimes life is a like a bet. We gamble with the choices we make.”

Andy took a last sip of his near-empty beer bottle and signalled to the waiter for the bill.

Mike seeing Andy’s signal to his waiter excused himself from the already boisterous conversations with his golfing buddies to rejoin Andy and Francis.