The Kati-kati Tribe of Guimaras Island

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Land, water, food, medicine and hope.

These are things that most of us take for granted. These have always been around. They generally have never been a problem for those of us who have the time and resources to access this blog.

We have places we can call ours – whether they’re just rented, owned by our parents or purchased. We have good pieces of real estate that we can call home, a place we can improve on and serve as our base of operations.

Water had always flowed for us too. Whether it comes from the faucet or a well, free-flowing or rationed, purchased in a water station or 711 – water had always been in abundant supply.

Food is in abundance for us. In every corner of our cities are fast food chains. Eat-all-you-can buffets are in most restaurants. Fish, meat, vegetables and fruits are in abundance in our markets.

We also have a steady supply of antibiotics, flu medications, wound-dressing items, pain-medication and others. Doctors are also in abundance. The difficulty for most of us is only in the choice of doctors to patronize and not where to find a reputable doctor.

And for most of us, hope is in abundance. It’s so abundant that we forget what it’s like not to have it. We and our kids are educated in good schools or even universities. There are new, high-tech courses that didn’t even exist 20 years ago promising unique professions. We have access to abundant industries where we could work in, or at least, apply for a job. Perhaps some of us have enough money in the bank to outlast a major crisis. Since the stock market crash of 2008, the world economy has been stabilizing according the some experts. Some say that the future economy is bright. Whether that’s true or we’re just living in another bubble is another topic altogether.

And so we do what most humans in times of abundance do: we leave behind a great amount of waste. We waste land, water, food, medicines and even hope. We waste everything, even our lives. Since everyone we know is abundant, we only think of ourselves. And since everyone is OK, we want to increase more than anyone else. Life, for us, is an adventure. For some though, life is daily survival.

This is what this article is about. To remind us that not everyone is OK. The problem with the abundance of these resources is their distribution in the world. There is no balance in this fallen world. There are indeed places abundant with basic needs. But there are places and people who are simply not equipped to secure enough land, water, food and medicine for themselves and for their families. If we expand our horizons enough, we’ll find them. For them, there is no hope of a better future. Every day, they wake up thinking only of one thing: “How can we survive today?”

But we want to dismiss this by simply saying, “It’s not my fault they’re in that mess. Why bother me? What did I ever do to harm them?”

Nothing, of course.

My prayer as I write this blog is that we would instead think like this, “I am living in abundance. These people are barely getting by. Maybe there’s a reason for that. Maybe what’s little for me is already lifesaving for them. Maybe I can help? Or is it I who needs their help?”

Is it not true that the rich, in the middle of their abundance, need help too that money could not buy? Is it not true that it is the poor who, in the middle of their lack, often have the most peaceful sleep and the heartiest laughter? Isn’t it curious that our Lord, when He visited us centuries ago, chose to be born among the poor? Isn’t it a wonder why He chose to entrust the most important story in the history of man to them and not to the rich and influential? I suspect that those who are poor have a lot to teach those who have more than enough.

The Aetas of the Kati-kati tribe of Guimaras Island, Philippines, is just one among many communities who need our help.

 

The Tribe

These thoughts were at the back of my mind when I went to visit the people of Kati-Kati a few weeks ago. I arrived there around 10am in the scorching heat. It was an almost cloudless day. The glare made me wish I brought my sun glasses along. The ground was so dry and hot I could feel my flip-flops soften. My shirt was already drenched with sweat. Thankfully, I brought a bottle of water with me.

The first thing I noticed were their smiles. They were the nicest people. They greeted me as I searched for a missionary friend of mine, Claire, who recently decided to devote her life living among the Aetas.

Claire with some of the people of Kati-kati.

Claire with some of the people of Kati-kati.

They were not wearing tribal loin cloths, strange tattoos, and piercings nor were they holding spears – as what we usually see in the movies. They dressed up like everybody else. There were a lot of little kids too. They cheerfully guided me to the tribe’s town hall where Claire was. She then introduced me to the tribe leader, Josephine, whom I found to be a very accommodating and cheerful woman.

Josephine is a teacher in a nearby Catholic school. She’s a mother of three and is the only person in the tribe who graduated from college and has a steady job. She’s been re-elected as tribe leader many times and wished others would take her place one day.

She gave me a brief background of her tribe. There were more than 80 families there. Many don’t have a steady income. Most of the men labored in the construction sites by day while the women took care of the households. To make ends meet, they seek out whatever odd job they could find. The women create native crafts to sell and, recently, they were taught by JCI (an NGO) to make liquid detergent soap to sell too. They don’t have any crops or any agricultural products that they can trade.

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The land they’re living on is not theirs. The government has directed them to transfer to a relocation site a few kilometers away. The lots in the new site will be donated to them, which is good. But there’s a catch. They have to spend their own money for the transfer of their belongings and the rebuilding of their homes to the new site. Money that they barely have. This was the situation of most of the tribe at the time of my visit. They have to relocate, but finances are keeping them from doing so. Minimum wage here in the Philippines is less than Php 300 or 7 USD a day. That is, if the individual is employed. The unemployment here is quite difficult for those who have graduated from college. But it’s even more desperate for the laborer who barely finished high school.

And then, there’s the water problem. In their current site, water is scarce. Claire pointed me to three wells in the distance. Josephine told me that the heat was drying up the wells and that they’re scraping the bottom already for it.

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I braved the angry sun and went to the wells. Truly, the water levels were very low. When I asked them how they get by if the wells dry up, Josephine said they would then have no choice but to buy from those who sell water by the gallon. One gallon jug of water is 5 pesos (less than 50 US cents), if I recall it correctly. For a family without a steady income, that’s another daily expense they have to take into account. I can only imagine how they would then have to save their water if they had four mouths to nourish in the punishing heat of every day. In the new site, to make things worse, there is no functioning water source yet and no news of a workable plan so far.

When Claire was done with her work with them, she took me for a brief tour of the place. She put on a sarong over her head to protect her from the heat. She offered me a hat. I declined. I would later on regret it. My nape was scorched by the time I got home.

We asked a girl, Wenwen, if we could tag along and see her part of the village. She reluctantly agreed. It was curious for me that a young girl, in a desperate situation, be reluctant to bring some people who might be able to help to her home. We followed her through the rocky path. I was amazed once again at how dry and hot the ground was. Claire showed me the “highlights” of the village as we went along. We passed by a mini-store. It was just a house made of wood and iron with its front converted into a store. It was one of the bigger homes in the area. And it was the only store in these parts offering cold soft drinks, water and ice.

As we got closer to Wenwen’s home, I saw the mini-houses. I call them mini because, well, that’s what they are. To us, they might look like miniature huts. I’ve seen mini huts like these in museums. But it was the first time I saw some with people actually living in them. I would wager that the comfort room of most of the readers of this blog are much bigger than these houses. I peered inside some of them, and I saw at least 2 adults and 3 little kids in one home. I can’t believe the heat that these people had to bear in their homes every day and the water they needed to consume to battle dehydration. I didn’t even start to think how they bathed or took care of nature’s call. There was just no room for toilets in those huts. And around the homes and along the paths, there was so much garbage littered.

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After snapping some pictures, I caught up with Claire and Wenwen. I was beginning to think of all the things in my life that I’ve taken for granted. There were just so many. I began to realize how much of a grumbler I really am. I am no different from the stiff-necked Israelites that God and Moses had to deal with in the desert who were never content with their blessings. I’ve spent only a few hours in Kati-kati, and I already have received precious gifts from them. The gifts of an opened eye and a humbled soul. All of my worries and concerns in my sheltered life are dwarfed by what these people are going through every day.

And God’s message was hammered deeper into my soul when I saw Nanay (Filipino term for mother) Virgie. Nanay Virgie is Wenwen’s mother. She’s a dwarf who couldn’t walk. She’s paralyzed from the waist down and couldn’t take care of herself. Earlier, when Josephine narrated to me Wenwen’s unique love story, she mentioned that Nanay Virgie was once abused by an unknown man and left her to care for Wenwen. I wasn’t able to ask how Nanay Virgie became paralyzed. When I saw her elbow wounds, I forgot everything. Some graphic pictures of her elbow wound is shown below. I wouldn’t recommend scrolling down if you’re eating.

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Being paralyzed, Nanay Virgie can only get around by crawling. She uses her elbows to do that. The ulcerations on her elbows come and go, they said. I’m not a doctor, so I’m not sure what I was looking at. But I was quite sure that it needed medical attention; a wound-dressing perhaps to cover it up. Some flies were already flying to it. And I was concerned that I was seeing the beginning parts of her elbow joint. I wished I brought some wound dressing materials along.

I understood, then, why Wenwen was reluctant to bring us there. She didn’t want to bother anyone with her difficult life. She used to be a college student. She was going to take up an IT course. But she had to quit for her mother. No one else could take care of her. She gives her baths, feeds her and transports her. She takes care of Nanay Virgie’s daily basic tasks. And they, along with their other relatives, depend only on Wenwen’s grandmother whose main livelihood was native crafts. This was probably why Wenwen and Nanay Virgie couldn’t get their hut fixed too. The floor, the walls and the ceiling had problems. When it rained, they get drenched. Due to the damages, Wenwen has to sleep with her uncle’s home nearby. Nanay Virgie has to call for her if she needs her.

After advising them to clean the wound and to look for a government health center, we said our goodbyes. My visit was done and I had to catch my boat at the port. As we walked through the hot fumes coming from the ground, Claire and I talked about how much work had to be done in the tribe; work that could not be done by only a handful of people. We had to look for more partners. Then, I saw a big home not so far away. From the looks of it, the people living in it must be rich. I asked Claire who owned it. She didn’t know. Then, questions, popped up in my thoughts, “Are they helping the tribe? Are they doing their part? They’re so near and so capable. How could the future change if they helped even just one family?”

Then something, or perhaps some One, in me turned the tables. As I traveled back home, the same questions faced me, “Am I helping the poor around me? Am I doing my part? I’m so near and so capable. How would the future change if I help just one family?”

And as I finish this article, these questions continue to move me. They say every Christian is touched by our Lord in a different way. Every Christian is moved by Christ in a different way. And, in my quiet times in the Lord and my reflections the past months, I think I have found what my soul has been struggling to hear from Him. My soul may have found the reason for its restlessness; what some authors would call, its holy discontent.

 

How To Get To Guimaras Island

Guimaras Island is part of the Philippines’ Western Visayas Islands. It’s nearest Panay Island. But it can also be accessed through Negros Island. But then you will have to cross to Iloilo City via a ferry.

Guimaras has two ports, Jordan and Buenavista, both of which are easily accessible from the ports of Iloilo City, Panay. I used the port to Jordan. It’s very cheap to get there if you use public transportation. The boat rides are about Php 30 or less than 1 USD, round trip. The vessel is a medium-sized boat made of wood (locally called a motor bangka) and the trip takes about 15 minutes. For those who have a fear of riding boats, it might help to know that these vessels have life jackets and the trips are quite uneventful.

To get from the Jordan port to the Kati-Kati village, you’ll need to go through the old market of the town of San Miguel. The jeepney fare going there is Php 8 or less than 50 US cents. From the San Miguel old market, you’ll need to charter a tricycle to Sitio Kati-kati. The fare is Php 30-50 or around 1 USD.

While I keep hearing rumors of improvements to the infrastructure and resorts of Guimaras, it has no big malls that I know of. But there are plenty of stores around selling the basics. I heard also that there are some small restaurants as well. I just thought to mention that in case there’s someone from the big cities reading this and planning to go. The motor bangka’s trips operate until 6 or 7PM only. You need to keep that in mind if you’re not planning to stay overnight in Guimaras. If you intend to stay in a hotel and take refuge in malls after visiting Kati-kati, it’s best to stay in Iloilo City.

 

How To Help The Tribe From A Distance

If you want to extend a helping hand but you can’t leave your job and family just now, you still can send help. The money we allot on a daily basis on non-essentials can mean life to the Kati-kati tribe.

The missionary friend I mentioned here, Claire, is connected with IRC-Guimaras. IRC stands for Ikthus Redeemed Community.

IRC Guimaras' Facebook Cover Photo

IRC Guimaras’ Facebook Cover Photo

They believe in helping depressed communities by helping them with their basic needs first before they share the gospel. They also do so by sending a missionary to live and interact with people they’re trying to reach. So they don’t just visit them, do a little project or worship service and then leave them to fend off for themselves. They don’t just provide a band-aid treatment to the poor. They aim to share in their difficulties, help them help themselves, and give the hope that only Christ brings. IRC is present in multiple communities in the country.

The government has leased IRC Guimaras a piece of land in Kati-kati’s new site for 15 years. And IRC will be building some structures there in the near future. I’m not an official part of IRC. So if you have more questions on their long-term plans, head over to their Facebook page.

If the Lord has touched your heart to give, here are the details as shared to me by Pastor Rey Del Rosario of IRC.

Account Name: Ikthus Redeemed Community – Philippines, Inc.

Account Number: 004528014841

Bank Name and Branch: Banco De Oro – Mandalagan, Bacolod City

Routing Number: 00002021000089 (for overseas remittances)

Special Instructions for donations:

For checks, please don’t abbreviate any detail. “IRC Phils.”, will not be honored for remittances.

There are 3 categories to write on the deposit slip of your donation for it to reach the Kati-kati tribe:

  1. “for Guimaras project designated funds” (email or PM IRC Guimaras on how to designate your donation. 100% of the net proceeds will be used entirely to the purpose for which it was given or designated.)
  2. “for Guimaras project general fund”
  3. “for Guimaras project worker (name of worker)”

In case you’re wondering why there are special instructions, IRC has been complying very strictly with BIR’s (Philippines’ Bureau of Internal Revenue) guidelines due to various corruption scandals associated with local NGOs.

 

Before You Go

If you’ve read this far, thank you. May the Lord Jesus pierce your soul and bless you with faith that bears everlasting fruits. I checked on Claire through SMS as of this writing. She reports that Nanay Virgie’s elbow wound is no longer open and “has gone black”. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing…

Before you leave, allow me to pass to you the same questions which, I believe, was the Lord’s message to me the day I visited the Kati-kati tribe:

“Are you helping the poor around you? Are you doing your part? You’re so near and so capable. How would the future change for them if you help just one family?”

God bless you.

 

 

 

10 Thoughts On Jesus

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Photo by Franciso Farias, Jr.

Here are a few things to ponder as you go through this Lenten season. It’s a brief collection of studies of Bible scholars and teachers I’ve encountered through the years. For a more thorough study, I would like to direct you to Lee Strobel’s The Case For The Real Jesus and The Apologetics Study Bible.

1. Jesus’ existence was well documented. His friends were not the only ones who wrote about Him (the New Testament writers). Even His opponents wrote of Him. Jewish historians who rejected Him acknowledged that Jesus did exist. His family tree (genealogy) is even published in the gospels for reference. It’s quite hard to refute that 2,000 years ago, there was a man who lived in Israel named Jesus, who was given a criminal’s death despite his innocence. It is just up to us to decide who He would be in our lives.

2. The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) were all written during the lifetime of their authors, making them reliable references about Jesus and the early church. The gospel of Mark by Peter was the earliest account of Jesus written before 69 AD. Other gospels that were not written early enough and had inconsistencies in them were excluded by the early Church fathers.

3. Dozens of ancient Jewish prophecies were fulfilled by the life and death of Jesus. These prophecies were recorded thousands of years before He was born. One such hair-raising prophecy is found in Psalm 22:14-18. John the Baptist, considered as one of the greatest prophets of Jesus’ time, pointed to Jesus as the promised Messiah.

4. The Bible was not written altogether at one time like what some skeptics think. The Old Testament is the book that Jesus grew up with while The New Testament are the books written by Jesus’ first followers. The whole Bible is composed of 66 books written by different authors across a wide expanse of time. It is based on ancient scrolls written and rewritten by Scribes and it’s also based on Jewish oral tradition, all with a very strict code of honesty and excellence. Multiple copies were made for each book. So even if some official manuscripts had holes in it, other copies can be referred to to check for missing words. If there are lost words in Scripture, they’re so minor that their absence don’t deduct anything from the saving message of the Bible. Modern scholarly Bibles today have footnotes telling the reader about missing texts and cross references to other ancient manuscripts and even to oral Jewish traditions.

5. Jesus was not the Messiah that the Jews were hoping for. They were hoping for a mighty and glamorous king like David or Solomon who would crush the Romans. Instead they had to deal with Jesus who was born under humble circumstances, rode a donkey instead of a war horse, was meek instead of combative and wore a crown of thorns instead of a crown of jewels. To this day, many Jews reject Jesus as Messiah and are still waiting for The One despite of the Jewish prophecies fulfilled by Jesus. And so, as Jesus’ parables pointed out, this great gift were given to the Gentiles instead (that’s us) .

6. Jesus knew His mission from the very beginning. He didn’t make up His story along the way. He lived deliberately for us. His mission was greater than what most were thinking during His time (the overthrow of the Roman Empire and the rebuilding of the Jewish temple). When His followers numbered thousands, He didn’t prepare them for a political revolution even if he easily could have. His influence was way off the charts. Think about it. Here’s a charismatic man that even kids loved, who could feed 5,000 if He wanted to, who could command nature, who could heal, who could shut the arrogant priests up and even had the respect of some Jewish leaders and Roman Soldiers. Jesus’ influence was quite powerful. But instead of using the crowds to create a rebellion, He sifted the thousands of His followers to a few. Instead of crying out for the public to arm themselves, He chose to be silent in front of the courts. Hanging on the cross, He asked for no rescue but for forgiveness for His tormentors. He knew His purpose: He was to die for us.

7. Jesus never said that He was only a human prophet like Isaiah and Jeremiah. He did refer to God the Father as a higher being and Himself a servant compared to the Father. But He didn’t downgrade Himself to being just a simple prophet. He did call Himself the Son of God and the Son of Man, hinting on His unique nature. And He did say that He and the Father are one and that no one else can come to the Father except through Him. Comparing Himself to God the Father, Jesus would always humble himself. But when He refers to salvation of souls, Jesus was also clear: it’s Him or nothing. Although He was in human form, Jesus also made it certain that He had a role that no ordinary human can fill in.

8. Jesus loved us intensely. It’s sad that some Christians still see things the way the Pharisees did. Some believers readily preach hell but reluctantly teach love. Although the Bible does speak of judgement and Jesus did too, He always had hope and love for all. Jesus was going to make a way. This ultimate solution was the good news. And He kept His promise. God knew it’s hard for us to be holy and no one can make it if only The Law and good works were to be the sole basis for salvation. So God made a solution, someone special had to fulfill The Law for everyone – once and for all. And Jesus chose to be that person. Yes, there is a place of eternal destruction. But no one has to go there. A way out has been provided.

9. Jesus makes the Christian movement so special. No other religion can say that they recieved instructions straight from God Himself. Others only recieved theirs from an angel, a human prophet or a messenger that no one else saw or interacted with. No other religion has a central figure who came, interacted with thousands, died, rose from the dead, got the job done and ascended back to heaven – all that well-documented by Scribes and sealed by the sufferings of marytrs. No other faith, too, offers a way to heaven apart from human efforts (good works, meditation, good behaviour, etc… ). Only Christianity has the story of a God who gave up His only Son to save them from an impossible situation.

10. To this day, Jesus changes lives. He changes them so powerfully that some have offered their lives for the faith. Jesus’ followers are unique because they offer their lives without recieving any lucrative incentives apart from Christ. While some religions acquire martyrs as they promote warfare, terrorism or suicide – Christians are the only ones who have had brothers and sister martyred just for telling the story of Jesus.

As you rethink Jesus this Holy Week, I hope these few thoughts help. He may not be here, currently, but He’s molding events as we speak. Even our own calendar speaks of Him (the year 2015 means it’s been approximately 2,015 years since Jesus’ death). There may have been people who did terrible, shameful things in His name, but Jesus’ story and name remain powerful. In the middle of cults and false Christs, it’s quite important to revisit the real Jesus in the Bible to keep in mind what Christianity is all about.

Let’s remember that many had given up their status, their future, their lives, faced torture, ridicule and death for Christ through the years and even this very minute. Why? So that the gospel would reach you and me, dear reader, even in this century. At the right time, He will return for His people. May we see each other in the New Heaven and New Earth when Jesus comes.

Grace be to you…

What Christians Often Choose To Forget

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I think most know how a Christian is supposed to be like. Just one look at the Gospels and it’s clear -even to the skeptic- that Jesus is worth knowing and following. The problem however, is that we Christians are often huge failures in representing the Lord of our lives.

Believers are often selective of Jesus’s traits that they choose to follow. Some focus on Him being righteously angry on the hypocrites, and then choose to forget that He was also filled with compassion for the lost and innocent. Some focus on Jesus the teacher and choose to forget that He too was a man of action. Some would focus on Jesus’s miracles and wonders and choose to forget that there were times when He refused to perform miracles and to even speak.

But what makes me scratch my head often is how we believers choose to forget that Jesus, and the Holy Spirit He sent after He left, is full of gentleness. To His disciples, yes, He was especially stern, of course. Any good teacher or leader would be towards his closest followers if the salvation of the world were to be placed on their shoulders. But to the sinners, to those ignorant of Him and even to those who crucified Him – He was filled with gentleness. In fact, He was filled with more than just gentleness. He was filled with mercy and love for them.

It was taboo for a Jew to speak to a Samaritan in those days, much more for a public figure like Jesus. But He chose to spoke to the Samaritan woman by the well guilty of adultery. And He did so candidly and without prejudice. But more remarkable is that He spoke with gentleness to her and to her whole village.

It was also an outrage for a Jew to be touched by people labeled as unclean during those days. But Jesus chose to talk to one who had been bleeding for years and then allowed healing to course through her. He never rebuked her for the disturbance. Rather, He was amazed at her faith and treated her gently while the others wouldn’t even touch her.

Tax collectors were the plague during Jesus’s time. They were seen as terrible traitors who overcharged their fellow Jews. But Jesus didn’t chastise Zaccheus. He chose to be gentle with Him and ate in his home – a big honor not suited for a guy like him. After seeing the change in him, Jesus even showed delight towards the man many saw as a hopeless case.

Jewish adulterers were condemned to death by public stoning in the past too. When one such woman was dragged to Jesus’s feet awaiting His nod for the stoning to begin, He had no rebuke for the woman. With a few words, He disarmed the would-be executioners and declared the condemned woman as clean. He treated her with what most probably believed at that time to be undeserved gentleness.

There are many more of these acts of gentleness of Jesus and of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. In the HCSB, the word gentle occurs 11 times and gentleness 10 times. Here’s one passage from 2 Timothy 2:24:

The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness.

It is quite distinct from love, this gentleness. Love can be expressed in many ways. One can discipline, reprimand or even punish a child out of love to drive home a very important and urgent message. So it is with love between lovers and friends. But gentleness speaks more of a conscious decision to be very delicate with someone or something as if he or she were a newborn baby.

Merriam-Webster defines gentle as “having or showing a kind and quiet nature: not harsh or violent: not hard or forceful: not strong or harsh in effect or quality”.

This gentle nature is what we Christians often choose to ignore and forget.

In the Christian’s desire to speak the truth, he discards gentleness. In his passion for Bible exposition, the believer lashes at the lost souls that their Lord and Savior would have embraced. The light of the world becomes pure hate as we condemn the homosexuals and the sexually immoral. To our shame, non-Christian organizations are better at gentleness and comfort than those who profess to be Jesus’s followers. While we pound our Bibles on the pulpit, while we have a great time with our churches and small groups, the hungry and poor and sick are being fed by those who don’t even know Christ. While we’re busy trying to reach megachurch status, the harassed and the shepherd-less find comfort somewhere else.

And we’re not even gentle towards each other. We’re full of foolish pride and arrogance. We call each other siblings, but fellow Christians would lash at each other more often than not. The protestants refuse to call the Catholics, “Christian”, and reserve the term exclusively for them. The Catholics declare that the protestants cannot be saved without their church and traditions. We save souls, forgetting that we’re not even capable of saving our own without the Lord. We throw condemnation at each other like daggers and talk behind each other’s backs. We thrust the neophytes into the spiritual battle without regard for their safety and maturity. We find comfort not on each other arms, but on the arms of those who don’t bother with theology. We can’t utter a paragraph without a Bible verse in it, and yet our embrace is so cold. To our detriment, we see our churches shrink over time. While the cults gain more and more followers.

To the lost souls who may be reading this. Whether you’ve been called a backslider, a homosexual, a thief, a prostitute… Remember that Jesus would’ve embraced you and given you another chance. If a Christian has hurt you, pray for him or her. But please don’t give up on the Lord who taught us to forgive seventy times seven. Don’t give up on His people in the same way that He never gave up on you.

To you, the proud, arrogant and hurtful Christian. You’re in my prayers. Please pray for me too. I pray that we would remember that when Jesus was here, He was hard on His followers and to those who professed to be God’s annointed leaders. Especially the hypocrtical ones. To those who claimed to be His servant, the God of the Old and New Testament was especially tough in His discipline towards them. But, to the sinners, He was only gentle and compassionate.

And He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow…

 

10 Things The Filipinos Can Be Thankful For

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It’s easy to be hopeless in the Philippines. I’ve only been living here 34 years so far, and I already can’t count the struggles of our society. Those older than I am surely have more stories to tell.

A year doesn’t pass by here without political scandals and those televised “investigations-in-aid-of-legislation”. I think most Filipinos find these entertaining and our politicians are more than happy to oblige.

Most of us here are underemployed. Yes, we have good schools, but there are few matching jobs that can get us above the poverty line. This force us to leave the country to seek better employment or settle for careers that we didn’t even think of touching with a ten-foot pole before.

The gap between rich and poor here is quite far. It keeps the prices down, but it also keeps us from progressing as a nation. The poorly educated, which outnumber the well-educated, are manipulated into voting for politicians ill-suited for government. And the cycle resets every generation. The effects of this trickle down to us citizens in the form of substandard infrastructure and half-hearted plans for the future.

The climate here swings from scorching-hot to destructive storms regularly. We’re right beside a typhoon nursery called the Pacific Ocean. So the chances of experiencing catastrophic super typhoons are high.

China also likes to kick some sand into our eyes while were down on the ground struggling to get up. Nothing makes you feel the gravity of the situation than a Superpower claiming some small islands that are obviously within your territory.

I don’t even want to talk about the taxes, Bilibid prison or the traffic congestion in Manila because I don’t want to be long.

There are endless reasons to complain.

But I would rather focus on the positive. It’s good to remember these as we approach Christmas and the New Year.

Here are just some of what most of us pinoys take for granted as the problems are magnified by the media…

1. The raw beauty of our islands. While people from other countries travel halfway around the world to go to a tropical paradise, we actually live in one. There are still undiscovered beaches, caves and dive spots here.

2. The freedom of speech and expression. In other places, people get imprisoned, tortured and/or killed for publicizing their views. Here, we’re generally free to do so. Many criticize the government publicly without punishment. It is legal here to hold strikes and rallies. Although there are cases of media men being murdered, it’s not a default reaction of those in power to do so.

3. The freedom of practicing one’s religion and beliefs without discrimination. It is a blessing to be allowed into establishments here regardless of your beliefs. Education and employment does not depend on one’s beliefs on these islands. One can even create his or her own religion, as many already have.

4. The freedom to gather in large groups. We can convene and have conferences without the government nosing around. We can also create groups or soceities, even if its politically wrong.

5. Close-knit families. While some societies kick out family members once they turn 18, here family support extends to adulthood. If somehow adulthood is never reached, there is generally no pressure here from family to stand on one’s own feet. Even when one successfuly does so, family ties are often closely maintained.

6. The abundance of food and water. Food is so abundant that restaurants and carinderias pop out of nowhere regularly. The food in fiestas also are testimonies to that. Running water may be worrisome, but it is available. For those who want cleaner alternatives, stores selling purified water are widely present. Starvation due to extreme poverty is present just like in other countries, but that’s a different issue altogether.

7. The option to live a low-cost, simple life. The cost of living here is delightfully low. Proof of that are the increasing number of foreigners who choose to live here. There are cities that are quite expensive like Makati. But there are more places that offer an affordable life.

8. Relatively stable market conditions. Local big banks are doing well and have been around for decades. The markets are free and bustling. Car sales are good. Smart phone sales and food businesses are booming. Real estate business is OK. Our OFWs’ remittances are a major reason for a moving economy. It can be a lot better and that’s what we’re hoping for. As of now, if one knows how to work hard and smart, there’s a good chance of thriving with business here.

9. Unrestricted internet connection and telecommunication. The internet and the telecoms are enjoying more freedom here than in other places. There is unrestricted access to information, news and simple contact to loved ones. As long as the infrastructures are intact, the internet and telecoms are always on. No one is monitoring and censoring the activities. If it is being monitored, chances are they’re not from around here. This, just like any other freedom has its drawbacks of course. The local government is mostly helpless when crimes are done through this medium.

10. The absence of widespread war. Thank God, there are no tanks rolling and firing in our streets. There are no curfews due to war, no soldiers taking cover in our houses and no suspension of our human rights. There are some skirmishes in Mindanao and some far-flung areas. There are rare terrorist attacks just like in other places. But generally, the Philippines remain peaceful.

When I think of things like this, the balance is tipped. It is still worth living here. Indeed, for men like me, it is still more fun in the Philippines.

Merry Christmas!

The Purity Pills

Image by rakratchada torsap via freedigitalphotos.net

Image by rakratchada torsap via freedigitalphotos.net

Halfway City used to be a great and awesome underground city. It was the most beautiful among the cities of refuge on this side of the world. It offered the best air technology that provided the cleanest air for free. It was also a very green dwelling place. Green because it was literally filled with plants and trees; and because it succeeded in using renewable energy and reusable resources. It was well-managed too. The government had great leaders and they took their mandate to take care of the citizens seriously. The people of Halfway City were probably the happiest in the blighted world of 2112. No one on earth was as happy as the people of Halfway City after the 2100 nuclear holocaust.

But that’s not true anymore.

Halfway City is now but a whisper of its former self. The predominant color is no longer lush greens but gray and brown. Its air-tech, that used to be the best, is now dilapidated and unmaintained. The smells of humanity are offensive. Airborne diseases have spread uncontrollably, TB being the most common. Old gas masks are now a common thing. The city is now a depressing, humid and suffocating place to live in.

This is where the brothers, Horencio and Mauricio, have lived for 30 years. Horencio was a sergeant in the police force and Mauricio was the city treasurer. They lived together in their house in floor 49. Just like all housing units, it was designed like a giant cement nodule sticking on the walls of the underground tunnel. There was a dimly-lit little porch outside their door just like everyone else. And from there, a ladder led to the main floor where the establishments were. They were looking down at random people as they had a few cold beers on their porch. This has become a tradition of theirs every Saturday night.

Mauricio, the older of the two, was reminiscing about the old days again.

“I miss the old days,” he said. “When one could smell clean, crisp air – not this fecal smell we smell every day. I remember it took a long time before we got used to this air – “

“6 months.”

“- 6 friggin’ months. Good god, was it that long?”

Horencio nodded.

“They said they’ve finally fixed it and the smells have gone away – “ Mauricio added. Horencio was shaking his head in protest. “But the truth is that they just threw away some muddy filters. And we all just got used to what’s left of the smells…”

Both men took a swig of their beers. Mauricio put a few nuts into his mouth before continuing.

“You know me. I don’t like to complain. But this government has failed us all. All you have to do to realize that is too look around and take a sniff of the air. If Mayor Gomez is as good as he says he is, where are the trees, shrubs and flowers that once grew on every floor? Where is the freely flowing clean water? Now we have to pay for clean water. And where are the beautiful lakes and falls we once had in the bottom floors 100 and 150?” Mauricio paused for another drink.
“Remind me again, why is Gomez and his idiotic friends in power?” he asked.

“Money.” Horencio said, being consistent with his quiet nature.

“No, no ,no. It’s the people’s fault. It’s not that Gomez had a lot of money. It’s because Halfway City wanted all the money it could get. It’s greed that got us here, brother. And it’s greed that will keep us here.”

There were a few moments of silence as Mauricio reached for two more bottles in their cooler. He opened both and gave one to Horencio.

“From being the best underground city, we’re now second from the bottom,” Mauricio said as he settled on his seat with beer in hand. “It’s times like this that I wonder why I’m still working for that prick. I mean I’m glad he didn’t sack us when he came into power. But it’s obvious now. In this little town, he can’t choose all the people he wants to have. We still have our jobs because Gomez and his people knows that were irreplaceable.”

Horencio grunted in approval.

“I understand why Jesse Magno had to leave. I mean, checking what’s going on in the surface is important, of course. But why hasn’t he sent us a letter all these years? A letter could’ve stopped the people from holding elections. If he’s still around, we wouldn’t be living in this poisoned air.”

“It’s been two decades. Maybe he’s dead.” Horencio said as he went inside.

“Well, if that’s true, this city has lost its only hope. That boy knew how to run things. It was as if he was made for this situation. He was an angel sent to us. I wish he didn’t have to leave.” Mauricio drank most of his beer this time.

Horencio came out with a bottle of Purity Pills. He shook two pills out and gave one to his brother.

“I’m done with that Ensyong.” Mauricio looked away as if the pills could hurt his eyes.

“You have to take it,” Horencio insisted, “they say it’s for the poisoned air. You want to get sick like the others? You don’t want to get out of here?”

“You and I know that that pill’s a fake,” Mauricio looked his brother in the eye, “That’s probably just a sugar-coated anti-depressant. All the antibiotics and vaccines were destroyed in the nuclear war.”

Horencio squatted to meet Mauricio at eye level, “Do you want to take the risk? What if they’re telling the truth? Maybe they’re research has paid off…”

“I highly doubt that…”

Horencio forced the pill on Marucio’s palm and said, “Your choice.”

Maurcio lingered in the porch as Horencio went inside to sleep. He stared at the pill for a while. Halfway City has been fooled into thinking that this little yelow pill could save them. The people consumed hundreds of the Purity Pill daily. The government claimed that when the time came for humans to resurface, only the purest would be allowed out. The huge steel gates will only open to the healthiest humans. And taking as many Purity Pills a day will guarantee one’s passage through the formidable gates in the future.

They’ve been consuming these for decades. Small as it may be, every citizen here is enslaved to this tiny pill. This was the only hope the city had for a better future.

Mauricio sighed and tossed the pill into his mouth and chased it with the rest of his beer. Desperation turns even the smartest man into prey.

He was woken by Horencio at dawn.

His brother was in full uniform and talking to his radio. The voices from the radio were stressed. Something was wrong. It took a while for Mauricio to realize that he fell asleep in the porch. He dreamt that he was a fighter losing to a formidable opponent. It was actually Horencio kicking his feet until he woke up. Seeing that the lights were still dimmed, he reclined again.

“What?” Mauricio groaned.

“Wake up.”

“Why?”

“You’re gonna want to come.” Horencio said.

Mauricio rolled onto his side and willed himself to sleep. It must not be 3am.

“Suit yourself. The gates are unlocking. I just thought you might want to come,” Horencio said as he climbed down the ladder.

Mauricio’s eyes snapped open. His sleepiness was suddenly gone.

“The gates?! You- you said they’re opening?!” He screamed excitedly as he hurriedly stood up and scrambled for the ladder. He grabbed his gas mask on his way down.

“Be quiet.” Horencio scolded him. “And be careful on your way down. All of the forces will be at the gates and if you fall down, help won’t come until things are cleared.”

Horencio kept walking as he heard the clanging of the metal ladder behind him. When Mauricio reached the bottom of the ladder, he scampered to his brother’s side. He then saw other police officers going the same way as they. Then he saw the level chairman with his officers. They didn’t even notice that Mauricio was there.

“I don’t think you’re cleared for this, so don’t do anything that would draw attention.”

Mauricio nodded.

Everyone boarded the huge elevators. There were 10 on this side of their floor and they fit on just 3. Someone pressed a button and they felt the lift respond with a nudge. They were on their way to level 2: the level where the city gates were.

Mauricio felt a tingling along his spine. His excitement was uncontrollable. And he saw that everyone felt the same too. Except for the gate keepers, no one has been near the gates for a long, long time.

The trip seemingly took a long time when it has only been a minute in the elevators. No one talked.

“This is taking forever,” someone finally said. Mauricio saw that it was their level chairman talking to his aides, “You might as well brief me now.”

“An hour ago the gates’ gears began moving. It hasn’t stopped since. It’s like it’s going through an unlocking phase…” a man Mauricio recognized as Major Manida reported.

“Who’s there now?” the chairman asked.

“Everyone is going up there, I would assume. Every floor was told.”

“When was the last time this happened?”

“The opening of the gates? The last time it opened was 20 years ago when Mayor Jesse Magno left against everyone’s wishes. He’s been missing since,” One of the chairman’s aides answered, “But it has never been opened from the outside.”

“What could it be?” the chairman pondered.

Mauricio too was clueless. The tunnels were interconnected by underground networks. But none of the networks reached to the surface. No one knew how the tunnels and its gates to the surface worked exactly. Did the gates automatically activate when the outside world cleared up? Everyone left on the surface died during the nuclear war. So could it be an alien machine opening the gates? Or has the other underground colonies found out that everything was clear and finally searched for us? Is it Magno finally returning? What took him 2 decades to return?

The elevator halted with a clang and they spilled out into a brightly lit room. The leaders quickly grouped together with Mayor Gomez. The police men and soldiers grouped together with their officers. Mauricio didn’t seem to belong anywhere at the moment and didn’t know where to put himself. He found himself grouped with the reporters after a while.

In front of them all were the enormous steel gates. It was big enough to fit a five-story building in it. Attached to the gates were gears and rods of varying sizes. And they kept on moving, making clanging and grating sounds as they move and snap into place from time to time. He heard a lot of chatter as they waited for the gate to open.

“This is the biggest story of the decade!”

“Could this be a political gimmick?”
“You know, if what comes through that gate is hostile, this is our last day on earth.”

That last comment turned Mauricio pale. It didn’t occur to him until now that he could be in potential danger. He involuntarily glanced at the elevators in his nervousness and started walking towards them.

Then there was a very loud metallic creak.

“The gates are finally opening! Gas masks on! Everyone suit up!” someone shouted.

Mauricio realized with dismay that he was among those who came without a radioactive suit. He searched for Horencio with a panic. He would know what to do. He hurriedly put his gas mask on and then resumed his search.

He finally saw his brother across from where he was. He was also looking at Mauricio. But he was not panicking like the others. He didn’t even bother to put on his mask. It bothered Mauricio that his brother even had a peaceful smile on his face.

He knows something, Mauricio thought.

The doors slammed against the concrete walls. In the middle of the entrance was a silhouette of a man. He was walking towards them casually. Mauricio didn’t expect their government’s response.

“Don’t come any closer! Stop in the name of the people of Halfway! I am Mayor Gomez. Identify yourself!” came the voice of the stout official through a megaphone.

The man just kept on approaching. The army pointed their guns at him at the mayor’s command.

“Stop or we will shoot!” The mayor had his hands up, threatening to give the signal to fire.

“Is this how you welcome back a son of Halway?” The man said.

This paralyzed everyone. They all wondered who it was. Why would he say that?

“It’s Jesse Magno! He’s back!” someone yelled.

A great chatter erupted in the pass. Then there was jubilation. Then came an applause as Jesse came near enough to see. Jesse’s appearance changed little if any at all. He seemed larger than before. The crowd pressed to the front. He shook the hands of the mayor and of the others nearby. Only the officials weren’t happy. Seeing that Jesse wasn’t wearing any gear, Mauricio took off his mask like the others. There was a breeze from the outside and everyone was elated to know that it smelled clean.

“Why have you returned Jesse?” Gomez asked. The jubilation died right away. Jesse’s eyebrows furrowed.

“I see. You’re not happy to see me,” Jesse looked around. “Perhaps, I have disturbed your happy existence here?”

“Make your business clear, and leave.” Gomez stated coldly.

Jesse shrugged and faced the crowd, turning his back on the mayor. The mayor was furious.

“Citizens of Halfway, I have returned as promised. When I left two decades ago, I thought it was the end of me. The air choked me. I thought it was the radiation, but I later realized that it was my lungs that were polluted. The air was pure, and my lungs were not accustomed to it. It took a while before my body accepted the pure air. However, the surface was desolate. For a long, long time, I saw no other human being. I was happy because the earth had been restored with its air, plants and waters. But I saw that there was a need to create a place for us. I was hoping to have a sustainable place for humans to live in, this time around.”

“And who are you to decide that for us? You should have told us right away. You have left us here to rot for decades,” Gomez interrupted. Jesse ignored him.

“I tested everything. I created a home and then a farm. After a while, I found more brave, wandering humans from other underground cities. I welcomed them to my home. It was such a blessing that our little group had the same hopes for humanity. Together, we agreed to create more habitats and test everything out in a larger scale. Now, we have families in these new habitats. We ate and drank what the earth gave us for 20 years. We found that it is now safe to live outside the surface once again. We and our children are well. Earth is no longer how it was. And we have created houses, mansions of many rooms for everyone. And today, we returned to the place where we came from to spread the news. And that is why I am here, today. It is time to surface!”

“Well, why didn’t you say so?” It was Gomez’s Chief of Staff. “You should’ve cut the blabber and told us. You’re too fond of delays.” He and Gomez’s group sneered.

“Everybody out, now!” Gomez ordered everyone.

“You can’t do that,” Jesse said.

“Watch us.”

Gomez and his army walked towards the exit. It didn’t take long before they broke into a jog. They were excited to see the surface.

Mauricio and the others stayed behind, waiting for Jesse’s permission despite their envy for those heading out. Jesse was simply smiling peacefully and calmly tapping his feet.

The shouts of joy by the men rushing out were abruptly silenced. Soon, they were jogging back into the pass. Mauricio saw that they were fleeing from something. Then the light from the outside darkened. An army of large humans in armor, shield and swords approached. Their size caused all to step backwards in fear. These giants look like they can tear people apart by hand.

The mayor panicked when they were about to be cornered. “Open fire!” he shrieked.

That was when Jesse calmly raised his hand. He was holding a device of some sort. He depressed a button on it and then all guns in the room erupted in fire and smoke. Those who had the weapons threw them down to avoid getting burned. Gomez looked small and frail now that he’s been disarmed.

“Now,” Jesse continued. ”As I was saying, it is time to surface – but in an orderly way. Earth was scorched in the past by an impatient, arrogant, incompetent civilization. As we begin again, we will cut-off wickedness and ignorance from the beginning.”

Jesse saw that everyone was still staring at the army of giants in front of them.

“Oh! I forgot,” Jesse said cooly, “these are the new children of the earth. They may be larger in size than you’re used to. But that is what the earth offers humans now. Because everything was miraculously reset, all the food and water and air is able to once again nurture us maximally. Thus, what you’re seeing here now. The effects are best seen on those born on the surface. Not only are they stronger, they are way smarter than us. We made sure that they got the education of the ancients. They built on that knowledge and surprised everyone with new sciences and technology – such as this Gunpowder Deactivator,” Jesse dangled the gadget in his hand. “This can cause any weapon, with primitive gun powder or the like, to set fire for a short period with little damage. It’s effective for 1000 kilometers. So don’t bother to call for reinforcements, mayor. All your weapons are useless now. And don’t attempt to reach those elevators either. These guys can beat you there in no time.”

The mayor went pale and didn’t know what to say.

“The only people allowed on the surface are the purest,” said Jesse.

At this, Mauricio’s hopes were extinguished. He hasn’t been very religious with his Purity Pills. The others, including the mayor and his goons, were elated.

He didn’t know what came over him, but Mauricio found himself asking, “What will become of us?”

“Sorry?” Jesse asked, looking for the person asking.

“Sir,” Mauricio stepped forward, “what will happen to men like me?”

“What’s wrong with you?” Jesse asked.

“Well…” Mauricio sighed, “I haven’t been taking my Purity Pills regularly. If you scan me, I’m sure, you’ll see that my blood is one of the most infected. I understand why you’re concerned about quarantining the sick. The earth must be filled with very healthy people like these kids now… But what would happen to me, sir?”

“Ah, the Purity Pills. That’s a hoax, really. It doesn’t really contain anything but sugar and anti-depressant.”

“That’s not true!” the mayor objected. “How would you know?!”

“Mr. Gomez,” Jesse looked at him calmly, “I know. I have spies within your ranks. I have eyes everywhere in the city.”

“Liar!”

Jesse sniggered. “All those working for me, please step forward and come to me.”

Everyone was astonished to see that Jesse indeed had many spies in this group. And Mauricio was even more stunned to see his brother to be among them. Horacio smiled at him from the front. He’s been playing Mauricio this whole time. But Mauricio didn’t feel anger, He felt a great sense of pride for his brother instead. He let out a short laugh and jokingly waved a fist at his brother. Horacio laughed as well.

“So… No one’s qualified to go up there?” someone asked.

“About the standards I mentioned a while ago, I wasn’t referring to physical purity. I was referring to character and attitude.” Jesse explained.

“But that’s absurd!” the mayor exclaimed. “You can’t screen us like job interviewees! How can you possibly know everything about us?!”

“You’re a bit slow for a mayor,” Jesse said. “In case you hadn’t noticed, I have reliable people who know everyone in this underground city. My spies know everyone from every walk of life and their tendencies. They were handpicked for the job.”

The mayor was wordless again.

“Your spiritual purity will be the basis to resurface. If you’ve been paying attention, you should know that the new children of the earth are smarter than we ever wished to be in the past. They have found the cure to every disease that ever plagued the earth. The hope of the people of Halfway City is here.”

“So let us all out!” the chief of staff yelled.

“We need to make sure that we don’t go back to what we were before. What we have now out there is very special. We might not have this chance for a better human race again. We have to make the right decisions, now.”

Jesse’s face turned serious. He was now like a powerful king about to give an order. “Now, let the rescue begin. We have created a database of the purest citizens in close coordination with our spies. Anyone found in this database will be waken and brought out now. Our soldiers will get in and get them out. Anyone not in the database will remain here.”

The soldiers moved towards the elevators. Everyone scuttled to get out of the way.

“You can’t do this! I am the mayor! You have no power here! We will resist you! This is war!” he protested with panic.

“You still don’t get it, do you?” Jesse said gravely. “We’re not here asking for your permission. We’re here to get our people out. After that, you can deal with whoever that’s left.”

Mauricio broke down in tears when his brother approached him.

“It’s time to go home, brother. Today is the day,” Horencio said.

“I guess we won’t need those pills after all, huh?” Mauricio asked as they approached the sunlight, arms intertwined.

“You were right. They were no cure at all.”

A blast of warm, fresh breeze hit them. Their lungs resisted, at first, the new atmosphere. But it quickly welcomed what it knows is pure air. The brothers gasped when they saw the world outside.

They were, at last, seeing the new earth.

The Leper

In the Kingdom of the Sun, there lived a king so powerful that no man can match. He had more than enough power to destroy the whole world and create another again just to please himself. Not only was he powerful, he also possessed immense wisdom that no man can equal. No one could play mind tricks around him for he was always a hundred steps ahead of any wise man. It is this wisdom that allowed the Kingdom of the Sun to become the wealthiest and most powerful place in the world.

And there’s another trait of this king that sets him apart from the other minor ones: he was in equal amounts good and pure as he is powerful and wise. Not only was he full of strength, he was also overflowing with love for the people of the Sun. And the people of the shining kingdom loved him back selflessly. They loved him so much that the people considered it a great honor for any man who would be able to put a smile on the king’s face. Making the king happy became a way of life for the kingdom. Annually, they would hold a spectacular feast and they called it, the Day of the King. That day of the year was spent only for one purpose: to see the most glorious creations the kingdom has made for the king.

Every man spent his every day seeking ways to honor the king. And the king, being perfect and all-wise, was quite difficult to please. Many spent their whole lives creating wonderful things that they thought would make the king break out in joyful tears, only to get a simple nod of approval from him. The Day of the King broke many men and women, and yet they would not give up and would keep trying again.

Seeing the dedication of his people, the king made a prize for the person with the best creation. It was a trophy made of all the jewels of the world encased in gold and silver. It was so beautiful that the whole kingdom wept when it was revealed. The king called it, The Glory of the World. And it became the yearly obsession of, not just the Kingdom of the Sun, but the whole world.

Every year, a man or woman won The Glory of the World on the Day of the King. The victors grew in number and they were called the Champions of the King. One champion created a new source of energy. One made water from nothing. One made a gadget that destroyed all lethal weapons. One unlocked the ability to fly. Another made a medicine that healed a person regardless of the disease. Such were the quality of the Champions of the King.

The hundredth Day of the King came. The whole world was feverish and was anxious for the 100th Champion of the King to be chosen. The finalists were on every lip in the world. There were new comers to the competition. And there were also old Champions who joined once again for the hope of winning the coveted title. The excitement was something that the world has never experienced before. The Glory of the World waited for the 100th Champion of the King.

The moment that the finalists were waiting for finally came. It was time to reveal the most splendid work of man in a hundred years. The Castle of the Sun was beautifully decorated. And so was the King. There were entertainers and magicians present. All important people of the world were there. Everyone was well prepared for the glamorous day. Everyone was beautiful and elegant.

The competition began. One finalist revealed the first ever invisible cloak – capable of making the wearer completely disappear at will. One showed his incredible nanites – capable of building anything from just the air in only a few minutes. One demonstrated his airborne chemical that can clean up polluted air and leave only the freshest breeze. The fourth presented to the king a drug that can regrow any amputated limb or organ. The fifth demonstrated a liquid that can turn any kind of garbage into fragrant, harmless perfumes. The sixth created a machine that can teleport anyone to the other side of the world. The seventh showed his ability to control the hotness of the sun. The eighth revealed a machine that can accurately predict and stop earthquakes and storms. The ninth demonstrated his device that can move planets, comets and asteroids. And the tenth showed that he can travel up to five days into to the future and then back again.

Every finalist earned awe and applause from the audience. The castle – no, the kingdom – was filled with celebration. For the Day of the King always turned out something that made human life better. And this year, the greatest so far were revealed.

The time came for the King to announce the winner. There was a sudden silence in the room. The king spoke rarely. But when he does, it felt like everyone’s insides shook. The ten finalists knelt before him on one knee – each one trembling in excitement. The Glory of Man stood nearby in its splendor. The king raised his arms as he always did before he made a proclamation. He was about to speak when someone shouted from the crowd.

“My king! My Lord! Please! Let me come to you!”

The crowd expressed indignation in chorus.

The king’s captain of the guards drew his sword and ordered his men, “Arrest whoever that man is! How dare he interrupt the king!”

But the king halted his men, “That is not my desire,” he said. His voice was like thunder. By instinct, people took one step back – even the captain. “Who speaks? Come.”

Everyone looked around – not wanting to be even mistaken for the interrupter.

Then a man covered with a hooded cloak came out from the crowd and presented himself. His cloak used to be white, but was now covered in dirt. He had a stink around him that made the people cringe. The crowd, the finalists, the champions and the soldiers shouted their disapproval.

“How dare you!”

“The king doesn’t deserve this!”

“Get him of here!”

The cloaked man began turning away. The crowd was more than eager to make a path for him.

“Wait.” The king said to everyone’s surprise. “You said you wanted to come to me. So come, that I may see you.”

The captain stepped forward, “My lord, whoever this is, he is not one of us. There are no beggars in your kingdom, my lord. And certainly none here stinks as bad as this.”

The people laughed. The hooded man was trembling now.

“Show yourself.” The king ordered him.

A croak came from the man covered in rags, “No, my lord! I only meant that you would let me see your face. I only wanted to give you my creation. I don’t even want to come too close…”

“He’s not even a finalist my king! We have a process to follow!” One of the ten finalists exclaimed. The other nine nodded in agreement. The champions shouted their support. But the king silenced them with his hand.

“Come closer. Show me this creation.” The king commanded. The crowd looked at each other, wondering if the king was ill.

The beggar came one step closer and no more. He moved as if he was on the edge of a very deep cliff. He raised his creation a little bit for the king to see, ashamed. It was only a humble basket of fruits. Those who saw sneered at first. And then there were murmurs all around. After a few moments, the castle was full of laughter. The beggar began to walk away.

“That’s the creation you’re going to give to the wealthiest king in the world?!” one of the champions said. His laughter created a shower of spittle. Another round of laughter filled the halls as the beggar took another step towards the door.

“I don’t recall giving you my leave,” the king said.

The beggar stopped. “My lord, I can see that this was a huge mistake. It won’t happen again. I will just leave my basket with your soldiers on the way out.”

“And what makes you think us soldiers will even touch that… filthy thing?” the captain remarked. “My king, let us get rid of this filth. You deserve only the best…”

“What fruits are those?” the king asked the beggar, ignoring the captain who now had wrinkles on his forehead.

The beggar turned to face the king. He answered with delight in his voice, “It came from my small farm, lord. In – in the Kingdom of Crows. I have been striving for many years to come up with my best. This, I think, is the best I could come up with…”

“The Kingdom of Crows…” the king repeated. The people buzzed once again with disapproval. The beggar looked around, not knowing what was going on.

“He does not know!” another champion mocked. “You don’t understand do you?”

The beggar, his face still hidden in the darkness of his hooded cloak, shook his head.

“Well, allow me to enlighten you,” one of the finalists explained, “not only is your creation unfit for our king, beggar… The kingdom, from which you and your fruits come from, is known only for three things – murderers, thieves and prostitutes. Nothing good has come out of your home – ever.”

“Get him out of here! Make sure that he never comes back!” The captain growled, stabbing the air with his sword as he spoke.

The guards grabbed the beggar. His basket fell as they dragged him out and his fruits spilled and rolled away. As he struggled against the guards, his cloak was pulled off of him. The crowd shouted and jumped as far away from the beggar and his fruits as they can. The soldiers threw away his cloak as if it was on fire.

“Leper! Leper! Oh ,dear god, a leper in the halls of the king!”

The panic of the crowd heightened. The leper tried to cover himself but could not find his robe. He struggled to pick up his fruits and carefully placed them in the basket he made.

I will leave it by the gate for my lord, he thought.

As he was reaching for the last apple, someone picked it up. The crowd screamed in horror. When the leper looked up to see who it was, he screamed as well and covered his eyes and as much of his skin as he could.

It was the king. And he was handing the apple to the leper.

Everyone, including the leper, screamed the same thing, “No! No! No, my lord! Get away! Don’t come any closer!”

But the king cupped the leper’s disfigured hands and gave him the apple. He embraced the beggar, unashamedly running his fingers through the bleeding cracks of skin on the leper’s back. The crowd held back their breath. The leper held back his tears. No one has ever touched the king.

The king found his robe and covered the beggar up.

“Let me finish this ceremony. Wait for me here,” He whispered to the leper.

No one seemed to exhale as the king walked back to his throne. He resumed his position before he was interrupted, and so did everyone present, although they were confused and cautious. The finalists knelt down once again before the king. The crowd settled down and stayed well away from the leper who was now in tears. The music resumed and filled the halls like nothing happened. Everyone was excited and warmed up once again. The crowd gave a round of applause as the king raised his hands.

“I proclaim the winner of this year’s Day of the King and the one who will take home the 100th Glory of Man: the tenth finalist – the time traveler.”

The crowd went wild. The king took the Glory of Man and awarded it to the 100th Champion of the King. The champions, the finalists, the important people present – crowded around the time traveler to give him pats on the back. There was jubilation and merrymaking. The music was playful. The leper stayed where he was and stared in amazement at the celebration.

The time traveler slowly approached the leper and showed him his Glory of Man and said to him, “You really thought you could win this with your basket of fruits?”

The leper shook his head, “No, no, no. I only wanted to offer my best to the king.”

The people nearby sneered, “Leave now leper. You’re not welcome here.”

“B-but the king – he told me to wait…” they were about to kick him out of the castle, hidden by the crowds, when the music died suddenly.

It was the king. His hands were up again and was about to make another proclamation.

The time traveler smiled brightly, “He’s going to call for me! I knew it. The 100th champion gets to be the first person to spend time with the king!” Another round of pats landed on his back.

“I have given you what you want. Now, please, everybody out.” The king said.

No one moved or made a sound. Everyone was stunned. This has never happened before and no one expected it. Everyone looked at the person next to him looking for answers.

It was the 100th champion who broke the silence, “Why my lord? This is your day. Don’t you want to spend time with us, your best citizens? We who sacrificed so much for you?”

“You are all great, no doubt about it. And I thank you for your service,” the king replied. “But I seek something that I have been looking for for so long…”

The king looked onto the leper and waved for him to come. The leper came running and was met by the king’s embrace.

“I seek someone who has a heart similar to mine…” the king said as he embraced the leper as if they’ve been friends for so long.

Then the king said once again to the others, “Now, please, resume your merrymaking outside. Take your glory and your trophy and your pride – and leave me with my kindred…”

The Companion

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Man wakes to another day with his companion. This companion he’s always had. He’s called it many names, but the trouble it brings remains the same.

This companion brings too many questions. Questions that are too deep for comfort. Questions that he has no answers to. Questions he runs away from. For they take whatever joy he has achieved to hold.

As man looks towards nature, the companion asks, “What is the purpose of such beauty? And when this beauty turns into chaos, who drives it?”

“It all came by accident. No one drives it.” Man answers like he’s always done before.

As he looks at his reflection in the mirror, the companion asks, “Such a masterpiece! Why were you made? Why are you here?”

“To work. To be a part of humanity. To leap from whatever adventure to another,” Man replied.

As man looked at the work of his hands, his companion asked, “What is the point of all your work? You will leave all this one day.”

“I know… You never fail to remind me behind closed doors. I don’t know. As long as it gives me the money I need to survive and thrive, I don’t care what the point is.”

As man looked at the world – the healthy, the sick, the rich the poor – his companion gives him another nudge and asks again, “What about the world around you? Why are they here? Is it an accident too that you’re in the midst of them?”

“The rich I despise. The athletic I despise. The poor and the sick I despise all the more. I want them all to look up to me. That is I think why I’m in the midst of them. Which reminds me, I must get to work. Go away.”

“One more question, if you will,” the companion pleaded, “Wouldn’t it be a great thing if a good God were in the middle of all this?”

“If he is, he doesn’t care. And he’s not much of a god, really. Look at all that’s happening! Why even seek him out? Besides, he’s too busy with the nice people. He has no love for me.”

And so man kept going the same way he’s always done. As the years go by, he became more determined to ignore his companion. Man didn’t like being alone or being still, for he knows that the companion will bother him again.

So he poured out all his resources and all his efforts to keep on moving. He did it all. Work. Business. Investments. School. Achievements. Entertainment. Fitness. Travel. Shopping. Gadgets. Properties. Dining. Partying. Fashion. And a tinge of good deeds here and there.

It went on for years and years. And one day, man realized that his companion has finally lost him. Behind closed doors, his companion was no longer there. With a smile, he said to himself, “I have found success and fulfillment.”

And then, The Time came. That time when all things faded and broke down. The man wanted to keep going, but his body was failing him. He felt his heart run out of control and his legs giving way. He lay on the floor, feeling the coldness creeping in.

Knowing that the end is knocking on his door, he forced himself to think of the good life he has lived. He thought about his loved ones and that made him glad. He thought about the work he will leave, it will continue without him. He thought about the money he’s accumulated, that gave him a good sense of accomplishment. He thought about having seen the world and all it had to offer, it made him happy. He remembers all the people he has helped, that gave him joy.

And then he remembered, all that cannot go where he’s going now. He will have to be alone when the cold overwhelms him. No one and nothing can come with him, he knows. He will go to a place with an iron door that no one could open once shut. And he didn’t know what’s on the other side. All the good feelings were suddenly snatched away.

Strangely, a few moments before his heart and lungs stops, he yearned for the questions of his old companion.

“This may sound strange, but I wish you were here old friend,” He whispered to no one.

“I have never left you,” came the reply. His companion was there.

“My old friend. I am glad that you’re here in my final moments. It’s strange to miss you. Your presence bring me peace,” man said with slight smile.

His companion did not reply. He came near and smiled, but with sorrow in his eyes.

As man felt his life ebbing away, he gathered all his strength to do what he always wanted to do but did not have the time. He wanted to ask the questions this time, to his companion. With gasping breaths, he began.

“What do you think is the point of all this? Nature? Me? Work? The world? People?” he struggled for his last few gasps of air and then continued, “Don’t you wish a good god is in the middle of it all?”

His companion wept. And then He replied, “I am the Alpha and the Omega. The Beginning and The End. I hold all things together. And all things were made by Me. I am the God whom you said did not do much of a job at all. And I have never left you.”

Man, struck with awe, struggled for words, “Why didn’t you –“ he tried to ask. But his strength was already leaving him.

“I have always loved you. You never did outrun me. I was always there as I am here now. I wanted you to know Me. That’s why I asked you all those questions. I didn’t want to force you to love Me back. Because, then, it wouldn’t be love at all. It would be fear… This world is fallen. I am about to replace it. I wanted you to be a part of it. I wish you didn’t drive me away. We could’ve done so many lasting things together…”

Man struggled to speak. He had tears in his eyes. He seized up. The words would not come out. But three words managed to escape his lips, “H-how do I –“

And then man’s clock finally stopped. His body went limp. His eyes closed for the last time. His companion wept once more.