By Ignatio Cogna Jr.
As a child, I vividly remembered that we were a picture of a happy family. We lived in the province of Bicol. I was born in Almendras Sorsogon, Sorsogon, and the only child in the family. All were just perfect until the day that I got home from school. That was the day that changed my life – a complete turn-around. I was in my third grade and was really looking forward to getting home as fast as I could, imagining the smiling faces of my parents who lovingly hugged me after school. A few steps from our house, my neighbor came rushing towards me. His greeting was unwelcome. He said that my parents were dead. There was numbness that covered my whole being.
That was year 1999. Adding to more heartbreak, it was the 3rd of March-my 7th birthday. It was a shock on my part. My neighbor that had seen how my parents were killed told me the whole story.
According to the witness, my cousin went to see my parents and tried to get some money. When they declined, he got furious as the witness saw it. He went there to get some financial support for his drug addiction. He was twenty three years old then. He got back and killed both my parents.
The witness cannot do anything because my cousin was with his gang. He was not alone while doing the crime. The witness had seen it all because he was able to peek at the hole to see everything.
After the murder, my cousin was nowhere to be found. I could not help but feel the anguish and much hatred that I had – to want to take revenge. Killing him was in my heart. I really wanted to go for him for taking the life of the people most dear to me. At 7 years old, my having that feeling of hatred for another especially towards my cousin was tormenting. Many issues wracked my brain, but first, how to survive was the all-encompassing one. Questions, questions, questions came to my mind, but I didn’t know… I didn’t know what to do.
After the wake, an aunt of mine took me back to Manila where she lived. The place was Poblacion, Mandaluyong. That only lasted for some time, however. As we know, living in Manila is hard and earning is just for a meal a day. Soon, she drove me away. She said that they could not take care of me anymore. Money was hard and it was difficult for her own family to survive. I was 8 years old by then. I felt sad that she had to push me away and never brought me to school.
For me to survive, I begged for alms along the sidewalks. I never tried rugby though, as other kids of my age did. I met someone my age and soon we became friends. We begged for alms, going through the small restaurants to eat the leftovers. I remember taking a bath and washing my clothes on the streets every time the MAYNILAD had some fixing to do over the drainage. At age 9, we learned to steal. We were taken by the head police in Quiapo to be their piggy banks. Every time we were caught, they took care of our freedom. They needed us to feed their gruesome stomachs. Those scumbags!
Does this sound like a movie you have seen? It may, but it’s true. Whenever we failed to steal, they would hurt us and poked their guns at our faces. We would beg for mercy for them not to kill us. At our young age, we were like professionals. We took anything and everything- in jeepneys, buses, sidewalks, every time an opportunity knocked. With the cops behind our backs, why worry.
The streets of Quiapo had become our home and jail was our pillow. That had been our routine; the jails were our recreation area. We were not placed together with the minors, but mixed with the hardened criminals. This had been going on until the age of 14 and we lived under the bridge of Quiapo near Cainta Market. My home was made up of sacks, plastics, cans, and I lay on cartons as my bed. As for my food, the small restaurants provided for that.
I remember that I almost got killed when I was 13 years old. I was caught when I tried to rob a jeepney driver. Lucky for him, he was able to drive fast to a nearby police station, but for me? They tortured me, and if not for one policeman that showed some mercy, I wouldn’t have gotten away from death. When they finally decided to let me go, I ran as fast as I could for dear life. I ran and walked and ran and walked, not noticing that I got back to Quiapo area by foot.
One night in 2007, I made a promise to the One above. I was asleep and someone knocked at my door. I measured the man from the other side and I felt safe by the way he spoke. He said to come along with him and won’t do me harm. I didn’t know what I had done to merit that kindness nor did I know him, but I got on my feet and tagged along with him. There was a sense of trust and calm on my part and I simply submitted to him. Calculating from his appearance, he was about fifty years old. The man brought me to a place and from the sign; I understood it was ANG DATING DAAN. I was confused why he brought me there because I was not a religious person. I was not in any manner into religions.
Nonetheless, we went in and I saw many people. That was in the old Quiapo theatre hall. When asked, I immediately said that I don’t know anything about any doctrine or anything connected to spirituality. They said that I just have to sit down and watch. I have no idea whatsoever. I remember calling Bro. Eli Soriano a pastor, which was immediately corrected afterwards. After watching Bro. Eli, my conscience dictated that I had to continue hearing the word of God. I related the story of my life to Bro. James Mallari, a Deacon in the locale of Malate, informing them about my status.
That very night, I went back to where I stayed and gathered all my things then stayed at Bro. James’ home. This was so because having relayed my story, they said I cannot go back there. The cops would kill me for the decision I’m making to turn back at them. For sure, they would seek every hole and every street just to wring my neck. During the indoctrination session, Bro. James took custody of me and finally I was baptized on May 11, 2007 by Bro. Roger Duriga.
With God’s help I haven’t missed any thanksgiving and worship services. After some gathering of opinions, brethren decided to let me stay at the locale of Malate. To be of help, I was active in the locales’ ADDPRO because there were no ADDPRO there. They let me learn how to operate the computer; I also served as a QUAT. For seven months I stayed there.
An announcement was made that ADD Construction needed some volunteers. I’ve presented myself and was interviewed by Sis. Baby de Jesus. I stayed for about five months in the old MMDO office. Bro. Narcing Soriano then asked me if I wanted to go to Apalit and I said yes. Then he decided to transfer me there. At first I was in the food committee, at the bakery, and anywhere there is need of service. Now, I am in a committee on general services called blue boys that are responsible for maintenance, specifically in the chapel area.
Above all, I’m really thankful to God and to our preachers because if not for them, I wouldn’t have known how to value life and its essence. As for me, it has always been a dream of mine to be freed of the pits that had stuck me in and with God’s help and mercy, I was called to His church, with Bro. Eli and Bro. Daniel as instruments.
I believe that anything and every decision made by our preachers are based solely on the bible and really different from other religious denominations, that are mainly really after their own benefit. The sense of sincerity in Bro. Eli and Bro. Daniel are seen through their works. As for me, as a living witness to the good deeds they have been doing ever since the congregation had started, Thanks be to God, is all I can say.
NOTE: The author asked the interviewer not to publish his real name. He said in November 2011, he received a text message from a former member of the gang, stating that policemen were tracking him down for different “crimes” including attempted murder, among others – crimes he never committed.