By Ulysses Glenn Arboleda
My childhood is nothing different from that of the others. My father was a Marine Master Sgt., and my mother, a typical housewife. I lived at Altabas, Aklan at Barangay Sinapian. It can be just another ordinary day but with the most confusing moments every time I remember my parents.
My father and their team were ambushed in Sulu. They had delivered his remains in a coffin. My mother sought protection and care from someone else that I cannot consider as my mother’s husband. When she conceived, the man was nowhere to be found. My heart had nothing more than anger to that man that added burden to our lives. My mother delivered the baby in our house and as a kid, I found myself helping out and became an assistant to the midwife. My mother died because of the amount of blood that she had lost during the labor.
I was only ten years old when April May was born and my mother left me to take care of her. I actually gave her that name too. I had no choice but to stop schooling. Our parents left us with a small acre of coconuts, fishpond, banana trees and different root crops. I would sell the coconuts whenever my neighbor went downtown and would tag the products in exchange for money to buy the baby’s Bear Brand milk. I was afraid to carry her because her limbs were so fragile. I just moved her around to change clothes.
There was a time I remembered that she was already crawling and had managed to hold her head without my support. It was the happiest thing that happened next to shock. When she was five years old, I had decided to pursue my studies and accept my aunt’s offer to live with them. I was glad because she had welcomed us with open arms.
But that happiness was short-lived for I have clearly seen her real purpose in allowing us to live with her. This was an instance where she and I had a little talk. She had convinced me to let her manage our monthly pension. April May and I were survivors of our father then. I agreed because of the promise that I can continue my studies and at the same time be in a secured household. She washes clothes for a living and later had built a small eatery (carinderia) for a small business. Our pension was 5,000 pesos monthly – a rather small amount but I and my little sister could live with that. Time passed and we haven’t had a taste of the supposed “pension,” plus my aunt got more and more irritable at my presence.
Aiming for higher grades I cleaned our classroom after school which could earn me extra points. But the distance between the house and school got in the way. My aunt was pissed off because she thought that I was just goofing around after class and appeared way too late from the time of dismissal. When my teacher visited her and told her about my cleaning the classroom after school, she didn’t believe her. Instead, she raised her voice and threatened her.
Nonetheless, I continued with that routine and still got the same shouting from here until later, she had gone as far as hurting me physically. She would throw things at me, with pots and pans, and knife. The time that she had thrown a pan at me, I got hit on the head; blood oozed and coated my white polo shirt and I fainted.
I was pleading for mercy, saying sorry, but her shouting and continuous kicking had made me realize that it must not happen again. I decided to leave without my sister, April May. Jumping into a ten-wheeler truck that entered the port, I found myself in Iloilo. There, I experienced sleeping on sidewalks and later soon met a Commanding Officer of the Coastguard, Mr. Gallardo.
He adopted me and I became one of the strikers. I was with them for about seven years. Learning that I was aiming to finish my studies, he supported me and later on gave me a motorcycle for conveyance and a license to drive it. The nature of job given by Mr. Gallardo had once again made me stop from going to school. They would tag me along and later on I became one of the “coastguards” at so young an age. I had been to the Spratleys, Palawan, General Santos, Ilocos Norte and other places I cannot remember.
Being in the company of coastguards, I had learned how to deal with illegal fishermen and those that cross the borders of the Philippine fishing parameters. I even owned a caliber 45. When it’s time for the coastguards to chill, they would drink beer and other hard liquor, but they wouldn’t include me. Learning of the story of my life, the staff of a TV station at that time also in Ilocos for taping, showed interest in me and had me interviewed. It was later on featured at the night time TV drama, Maalaala Mo Kaya (Do you remember) which was portrayed by Vhong Navarro. The episode was titled “Shoes” (Sapatos) because during the interview, they saw my collection of shoes: 221 pairs in all. The irony of it all was that I had not seen my own life from that small screen up to now.
An incident had paved the way for me to learn about the works of God and about God per se. One of my fellow coastguards named Anthony just finished on something and he just uttered thanks be to God (Salamat sa Dios). I immediately ran to the kitchen and came back running to give him a glass of juice. He looked at me with bewilderment and asked why I am making a joke out of him!
You said, thank you for the juice. It’s there now; go ahead and drink.
Why would I do that? You are foolish. I think you have no knowledge about God. It is to Him I am giving thanks. Dios, I said!
No, I am not foolish!
I said Dios. God. Have you heard about Him?
My aunt never mentioned about Dios. Who is Dios?
I remember my Aunt going to Sunday Mass, but never would she let us go with her. Anthony handed me a book that at first I thought to be some sort of pocketbook. Then I started reading it. Questions began springing out of my mind. Who is God? Who made the heaven and the earth? Who made everything that had been existing? In short, I became a member of Antony’s religion.
I was baptized and it lasted for about three years. I left because of the fact that I had seen our pastor blatantly breaking our supposed-to-be strict teachings. Born Again, they said, but not so in their works. The pastor had gone out of his way drinking beers together with his friends not only once, but in different occasions, going to cockpit fights, and hitting his own child. This pastor had tried to make me return to the fold but I declined and even threatened to hit him if he pursued further.
Later, I got affiliated with the Mormons. I was attracted because they included the younger ones in all activities. We had weekly testimonies but I felt that our testimonies were fake and scripted. I haven’t had the time to finalize my departure from the Mormon religion.
While on our work, we met an accident. It was an incident with the pirates. The detector had neglected to monitor at that time. I was in the gunnery room cleaning the guns when at the quick pace-turn of our vessel, the gun had fallen over me. I loosed consciousness, waking up in the hospital with bandages. I took advantage to make my way out of the group and made an alibi to visit my sister. However, I went directly to Manila, carrying with me big hopes for the promise of a good life ahead in the big busy city. I had planned to work as a taxi driver. As soon as I had set foot on Manila grounds, all my valuable things that I carried with me were taken by a thief, including my driver’s license.
But that was not the end of me. I found a way to stand again and be able to make a living as a driver. Who would have thought that surrendering somebody’s wallet would make a way for me for another unexpected job! It was Angel Locsin’s wallet that I have surrendered to ABS-CBN. In short, she made me her bodyguard and in some instances, be one of the extras in her shows. To top that, I was offered to do a movie scandal by a matronly woman that presented herself as scout manager. She had offered a big amount of money to convince me. Thinking the whole matter over, it surely was not my cup of tea. I stood pat on my belief not to do an immoral thing. What? Sell my soul and mar my whole being? Again, because I refused, I found myself sleeping on the sidewalks.
From the dirty pavement where I lay my back to rest, I would watch passers-by go to and fro. One time, an old woman approached me and said she would bring me to a transient home. The busy streets were not safe for a kid like me, she said. At first I hesitated but later tagged along with her. I didn’t know what or how to feel at that instance. My hairs were all standing on end!
At the Transient Home, the next morning, you have to go. But I told them that I had no place to go to. They let me stay and later on made me maintenance boy at the Transient Home. I got to see the programs being aired on TV. There was a Bro. Eli most of the time. Curiosity made me think of finding out more about the teachings of Bro. Eli. I was excited about what they call indoctrination because that was the first step towards baptism and becoming a member of the organization. There were some questions running through my mind as Bro. Eli preached. One by one, answers kept pouring in. I joined the indoctrination sessions and eventually finished them all.
The day of baptism arrived and we had to go to Apalit in Pampanga. I was wide-eyed when I first saw the big gates. I cannot believe how vast the place is. At first, I thought that it was a mansion. The school at the side was on the works at that time but the signage at the far end was that of the Ang Dating Convention Center. I remembered uttering words that I wanted to stay here and would want to meet a lot of new and real friends. That day was November 18, 2011 and I was baptized by Bro. Mel Magdaraog.
I am thinking that somehow, God had slowly shown me where to go. If not for my scheming Aunt, I would not have ridden on a ten-wheeler truck to arrive at Iloilo, I would not have come up to Manila, would not have slept on the streets at night. I would not have ended up in the Transient Home of Ang Dating Daan; I would not have discovered Bro. Eli. Thanks be to God I can now worship the true God with Bro. Eli as faithful messenger. Thanks be to God!